December 16, 2014

Tessa's story

by Zahra Barnes

Gia stared at me quizzically over her latte before finally asking, “You really didn’t tell me the exhibit was starting at midnight?”

“No. We’ve never done that before, so I had no reason to say that. I’d just love to hear the details again from you.” I’d asked Gia if I could treat her to coffee around the corner from Grey & Boehm before she and her sisters were set to perform. Our office was so cramped I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it there, and ever since the opening it had seemed like Liv lived and breathed Grey & Boehm. She was just always around.

I quashed the urge to apologize to Gia for being unprofessional by pumping her for information and instead decided to try to spin it as me actually being as professional as possible. “I need to handle the issue and make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’m just embarrassed on behalf of Grey & Boehm. Imagine if you hadn’t been able to make it!” I’d been doing that quite frequently and the thought made me want to hyperventilate each time.

“Yeah, well we probably would have sued you or something.” At least I knew I could count on Gia’s honesty. “Okay, what happened was that I called your phone—”

“My office line, right?” Since this had all happened, I made sure to forward my calls to my cellphone any time I wasn’t in the office. Too bad for me I hadn’t done that before.

She whipped out her phone. “Yeah,” she said as she spun it around to show me her call log. “It was your office phone.”

I resisted the urge to lunge for the phone, the first piece of real proof I had that I wasn’t going absolutely nuts and hallucinating the whole thing. “Can I see that, please?”

She handed her massive iPhone 6 over and I tapped on the entry that said there was an outgoing call to “Tessa curly hair gray and bome office” at 3:47 the day before the opening. Yep, it was my number. I mentally thanked my mother for instilling in me that I should always use a planner to document my schedule and made a note to find out where I’d been at that time. I handed the phone back.

“Okay, so you called me and someone picked up.”

“Yeah, and I was like, ‘Hey, it’s Gia, can we get an extra comp ticket because Lia took her gross boyfriend back,’ and you, or whoever was on the phone, said that was totally fine and asked for his name for the list.”

“Did she ever actually say she was me?” I felt absurd asking, like I was in a sci-fi movie involving a body double who was actually a murderous alien.

Gia stopped to think for a moment. “Actually, no. She didn’t. She just answered and said, ‘Grey & Boehm.’”

“Okay, so what happened after she said the extra plus one was fine?”

“I told her his name was Ray but it should have been Douchebag because he was a huge one, and then I said I was excited for the opening. And she said she had just talked something over with the team and she knew it was short notice but it would be a huge success for us if we pushed the opening back to midnight and I was like, ‘Um, that’s kind of weird but also really cool actually,’ and she said it would make a big splash and set the exhibit off with a bang.” Gia sucked in a breath, interrupting her run-on explanation. “And so I talked to my sisters and they were totally down. If you, like, the real you, hadn’t called the next day we just wouldn’t have shown.”

“Right. Okay, well, thank you so much. Like I said, you’ve gotten a ton of buzz for us and I’m so glad it all worked out in the end.”

“Me, too! Even though I swear, it’s making me want to kill my freaking sisters.”

I smiled and nodded like I knew that she meant it in the metaphorical way even though with the animosity between the three of them, I really couldn’t be sure. “Thank you so much for meeting with me. I’d really appreciate if you could keep this between us while I try to figure it out.” I read the protest in her eyes before it reached her lips. “I mean, of course you can tell your sisters! I just need to get this worked out on my own first when it comes to the company.” And cover my ass, I finished mentally.

“Oh, don’t worry. You’re like an art detective or something. It’s so cool. I won’t spill.”

I smiled gratefully and checked my phone. “You should probably go, but I’ll see you later today.” It was around the time we’d agreed upon for the triplets to set up for the day’s performance. It’s not like I could have shown up at the same time as her and have Liv watch us walk in together. Dead giveaway, much? I wanted to lure Liv into a false sense of security and hoped I could find something that proved she screwed this up. Even more, I needed to know that it had happened on purpose. If Liv had fessed up to getting confused and making a stupid mistake, I would have let it go with a stern warning. But now it seemed like she was deliberately messing with things.

On her way out, Gia stopped next to a display case featuring mounds of dark chocolate brownies. I watched in surprise as she turned and rushed back over to me.

“You know what I just remembered? After I said it was me, Gia, whoever was on the phone asked me to remind her which piece of art I did. I don’t think you’ve ever had to ask me that. I always liked that about you.”

She was right. While I had a tough time keeping track of who was who in person or telling the difference between their voices, I’d never had a problem remembering which triplet did which type of art. I used the mnemonic device “Gia blows glass, Lia works with lumps of clay, and Mia paints murals” until it was drilled into my head. I’d never mixed up which triplet worked in which medium.

“Thanks. That’s more helpful than you know.”

Gia shrugged and loped off through the door. As soon as she was gone, I checked my planner to see what I’d been up to when the call had come into the office. “3:00 p.m.: Hot Water Guy,” the entry read. I breathed a sigh of relief. Even though I knew I hadn’t been doing anything away from the office that could be frowned upon, I had actual evidence of it now. The hot water in our apartment had waved its white flag and gone kaput. The only time we could get it fixed was during business hours, and Celine hadn’t seemed too enthused about hanging around and waiting for someone to show up. Plus, given recent events, I didn’t fully trust her to handle it, so I’d made a last-minute appointment instead.

When I got into Grey & Boehm ten minutes later, Liv was sitting at her desk while the sisters set up in their half of the gallery space, out of view thanks to minimalist room separators we’d installed for the exhibit. “Good morning!” she chirped.

“Hi!” I mentally superimposed Marley’s face over Liv’s so I could give her a convincing warm smile. “How’s everything going here?”

“Totally fine. The triplets got here a little bit ago and they’re getting ready.”

“Is Marian here yet?”

“No, not yet.”

The second I sat down, my office phone lit up with a call. It was Marian. My stomach tightened in the way it had every time we’d talked since all of this started.

“Hi, Marian.”

“I need you to go to Del Posto and get my credit card. I left it there last night after dinner with Tom and his associates,” she started in, referencing Revel’s owner. She often left her card at the Italian eatery and I was usually tasked with picking it up. Even though it went against company policy, the owners knew her and would always let me take it, giving me a pitying look as they did so.

My mind fired quickly. If I could get her to send Liv instead, I could do some poking around. “I can definitely go! Although I was waiting to sign for a certain package you were expecting…”

"Send Olivia, then,” she said hastily. She was so secretive about the packages that came to the office, she hadn’t even let me hold a delivery for her until I’d been there for a year. Why she wouldn’t just send them to her building, I didn’t know and didn’t care to find out. “Tell her to go now! I need that card tonight.”
Perfect.

I said goodbye to Marian and swiveled around to face Liv. “Marian needs you to go to Del Posto to pick up her credit card. They know her there and they’ll give it to you, I’ve done it tons of times before.”

Liv glanced at her computer and slid her eyes back over to me. “Why did she call you if she wants me to go instead?”

I resisted the urge to give her a healthy serving of bitchface in return for her sass. “Because she needs to me wait around for an important delivery.”

“Oh, I can stay and sign for the package! I’m sure the people at Del Posto know you better. Like you said, you’ve done it before.” Even if I hadn’t jumped all over the chance to stay behind while Liv finally had to abandon her post, I would have been annoyed. Waiting for a package was clearly preferable to venturing out in New York City December weather. Did she not understand the passing of the duties baton of sorts that happened when someone like Marian had more than one assistant (or thought she did, since assisting her wasn’t really in either of our job descriptions)?

“Marian gave specific instructions for me to stay here and get the package and for you to get her card. If you really want to stay, you’re welcome to give her a call and ask her if it’s okay. Otherwise, I’ll hold down the fort.”

We stared at each other, and our eyes said it all. We each knew what the other was up to.

Liv smiled like she was wishing she’d spiked my water bottle with rat poison. “Totally fine. I could use a walk anyway.” She shook out her flaming hair and stood up to slip into her coat. I waited a few minutes after she left, just in case she faked me out and came back, claiming to forget something and trying to catch me in the snooping act.

Because, yeah, that’s what I was going to do. I’d been obsessing over my options, and although I could have always just stopped by Grey & Boehm at night to take my time looking through Liv’s stuff, I’d never seriously considered it. But hearing Gia’s version of events had snapped something deep inside me, sending me hurtling past my breaking point in search of the truth.

I’d never even snooped on a boyfriend in a serious way, much less looked through a coworker’s things. But as soon as five minutes had passed, I shot out of my chair and headed over to Liv’s desk. I knew there was no way she wouldn’t sprint to Del Posto and do the same on the way back, so I had maybe fifteen minutes to find something of value.

The issue was, I didn’t know what I was looking for. Liv had obviously taken her cell with her, and was I really okay signing into her computer to find some dirt?

Yes, it turns out, I was. Normally I would have never crossed that line, but what Liv had done was serious. I needed to know why she did it. I typed in a guess at Liv’s password. A few months ago she’d called me, frantic, begging me to sign into her computer to grab a document while she was on an errand. While her password was no longer “G&BOliVe!”, she’d replaced the “!” with an “#,” the symbols only separated by a number on the keyboard. Rookie mistake.

Her background blinked to life and my hand froze on the mouse. Finally, I decided to start in the most obvious place: her email. First, I memorized how everything looked on her computer screen. No way was I getting caught just because I left behind hints of where I’d been like an idiotic version of Hansel and Gretel.

I opened up her inbox and made a note of which email was highlighted before I typed my name into the search bar. Of course, tons of messages between the two of us came up. I tweaked the search fields so I was just looking for my name and excluding anything to or from me, and only one email was left. I double-clicked it and started to scan.

“Tessa?”

My stomach plunged into my feet. Caught red-handed, I whirled around, my heart in my throat. Thankfully, one of the triplets stared back at me, mirroring my own alarm.

“Jesus, what’s with you?”

“Sorry, I was just caught up in something. What’s up?”

“I wanted to let you know I’m running out to get coffee.” Okay, since we’d just gotten coffee this clearly wasn’t Gia. On the other hand, this was New York, the city where people either had caffeine or alcohol running through their veins 24/7.
by Zahra Barnes
“Okay, no problem. I’ll see you in a bit.”

I turned back to Liv’s computer screen and kept reading the email, heat spreading throughout my body with each consecutive word I devoured. I had her. Here it was in front of me, concrete proof that she’d given the wrong information to Gia with the express purpose of sinking my ship.

I looked toward the door to make sure she wasn’t walking in, then printed out a few copies of what was on the screen in front of me. I made sure to delete the print history to cover my tracks. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with what I’d found, but just knowing I had it was enough in the moment.

When Liv arrived, huffing like the Big Bad Wolf and face red from rushing back to the office, I didn’t have a hair out of place. Her computer was exactly how she’d left it, and I was calmly chugging along at my desk. She eyed me suspiciously but I just tapped away at my keyboard and asked how it had gone at Del Posto. She waved the credit card around and left it on Marian’s desk. We spent the rest of the day dealing with the triplets’ many quarrels and requests, and after work, I set off to meet Jack for drinks in a cool underground bar in the East Village.

I arrived ten minutes late and looked around for Jack’s curly head of hair, but all I saw was a sea of people who weren’t him. I was so hyped up to unload all of this on someone who could help me sort through my thoughts and shake each one free of its excess, then hang it up to dry like a darkroom photograph. I settled in at the bar and weighed whether I should wait for him before ordering a drink. After another ten minutes passed, I cursed the bar’s terrible cell service and headed upstairs to see if he’d texted me. Nothing. Annoyed, I sent him an “is my calendar lying to me or were we on for 8:30?” text. I told myself I’d stay aboveground for ten minutes to wait for a response.

After fifteen, there was still no Jack on either my phone or my arm. In disbelief, I headed back down to the bar. If I was getting stood up, I might as well console myself with a glass of red.

17 comments:

  1. It's almost disturbing that Liv would go so far out of her way to sabotage Tessa at work, that makes me so paranoid. Yikes. I'm dying to know how this is going to work itself out.... and I hope Jack had a good excuse for not showing.

    http://sluttyisthenewblack.blogspot.com/

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  2. Wasn't it Liv that took Tessa to the place where she met Jack in the first place? A connection perhaps? So much scheming.

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    1. You might be onto something... But did Liv take her there?

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    2. Yes, yes it was Liv who took her there.
      And I agree. The moment I read that Jack was a no-show, I immediately thought that Jack and Liv had planned together or something. Maybe Jack is Liv's secret boyfriend? They thrive on sabotaging others? Idk, I just hope there's a valid reason for Jack not showing up than actually being in cohorts with Liv.

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    3. Didn't Jake track her down and send her an email at "work" ?

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    4. Wow, does Liv have access to Tessa's email???

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  3. Seriously, MY stomach was in knots reading about her in Liv's computer. I really want to know what the email said. And I have a strong feeling that Liv and Jack are somehow connected, unfortunately. Hopefully not.

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  4. You go girl! I can't wait to see how things go down with Liv and what in the world Jack was up to. They have to be connected some way. Awesome post, love it!

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  5. Love this intrigue; want to see Liv get busted in the most satisfying way possible. Maybe something to do with Marian coming down on her in a really scary, ice-queen way, before firing her. Wonder if Liv has done anything illegal that could actually get her in hassles along those lines? *That'd* be a nice bonus; sneaky characters like her are so unlikeable. Go Tessa. Great building of tension in the storyline.

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  6. I might watch too many spy shows, but I doubt that Jack is working with Liv. If he was it would make more sense for him to KEEP the date and be a "sympathetic ear" to Tessa and find out what she knows so far. Him standing her up would be of no benefit to their plan because he loses his dependability factor with Tessa.

    My guess is Liv sent Jack an email or some communication cancelling the date. Liv knows Tessa is on to her and what better way than to mess with her personal life as well? It will make Tessa appear paranoid if her plan is to push her enough to snap and start accusing Liv of these things before she has proof.

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  7. Zahra, when Jessica's book is released and Elizabeth's story concludes are you going to keep up Tessas story?

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    1. I think my comment got eaten! Anyway, I was saying that at first I thought I'd definitely be done by the time Luckiest Girl Alive came out. Now that I realize how much I love developing different story lines (and then there's the fact that I'm getting new ideas all the time), I might have to take it over to a different domain when Jess is done so Tessa gets the ending she deserves.

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    2. thats the answer I was hoping for ;)
      keep the great posts comin!

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    3. Thanks so much for reading!

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  8. Thanks you very much for your informative and effective post. Again thanks for sharing. xnxx

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