by Zahra Barnes
I clasped my new earrings onto my earlobes and wobbled over to the mirror. When one piece of jewelry goes out (or is stolen by your psycho roommate, rather), one must come in, so I’d bought myself a pair of Kate Spade statement earrings at Bloomingdales. I’d been drawn to an almost blindingly sparkly Dannijo set, but I could almost hear my bank account wailing when my gaze lingered too long. My AmEx evilly whispered that this was what credit cards were made for, but I summoned the type of strength that must course through mothers’ veins when they haul cars off their toddlers and resisted. The Kate Spades were a much more frugal option that still felt like they could be my accessory armor stand-in while I tried to figure out what Celine had done with my watch. I had a sinking suspicion I was never going to see it again.
I’d spent the week after the most recent Celine debacle at Jack’s place, and it was going surprisingly well. Even though I’d had a lock put on my bedroom door, which I’d probably have to tussle with my landlord over at some point, I just didn’t feel safe staying in the same apartment as Celine. My hunch was that some sort of dormant mental illness was rearing its head, but the cause didn’t matter. I didn’t care if she was a diagnosable kleptomaniac. It wasn’t a tenable situation.
When I’d hung up with the locksmith after I discovered Celine with my purse, I told her she should be the one finding somewhere else to stay. Her eyes got that hard glint I’d only seen a few times before. It had always unnerved me. She’d set her jaw and said, “I am going nowhere.” Even though she had a French accent, she’d sounded more like a Russian assassin in that moment. I cared less about my pride than waking up in the middle of the night to find Celine sitting in a corner of my bedroom, just biding her time until she could murder me, so I packed a suitcase, locked my door behind me, and left to Jack’s.
Of course, the ideal option would have been to crash at Marley’s, but she had no space. She’d had to get a roommate after almost missing rent a few months in a row, and her roommate’s mom was way overstaying her welcome to help her move in. “She’s this Southern mama’s girl and didn’t tell me her mom would be basically living with us for two weeks. Then they showed up looking like a Lilly Pulitzer outlet threw up all over them,” Marley had snarked.
After consulting both my landlord and the police, I was coming up empty-handed. Since I hadn’t installed a nanny cam in my room or anything, the officer told me (in a very bored voice) that I had absolutely no evidence, and therefore had no case. The landlord piled on and said I couldn’t break my lease without said evidence, which my research just corroborated. Yes, he agreed, I had a right to “quiet enjoyment” of the place, but I couldn’t prove what was going on. My intuition combined with Celine’s other bizarre behavior wouldn’t cut it.
My landlord suggested finding someone else to take over the lease for me, which he called “assigning” it. And even though I knew I had to look out for myself, I was struggling with the idea of enticing some poor unassuming soul into living with the speeding trainwreck that was Celine. “Your other option is to move somewhere else but continue paying the rent,” my landlord had told me. If I were made of that kind of cash, how would I have found myself living in a cramped apartment in the first place instead of a luxurious studio? After I’d gone from a panic into a sort of zombie “WTF am I supposed to do about this” daze, Jack stepped in and said I should stay with him until I got the situation figured out.
We’d eased into it pretty well, but I knew I couldn’t live there for more than another week or so without overstaying my welcome. When I first unzipped my suitcase, I’d asked Jack if he was really OK with it. He’d sweetly replied that I could stay as long as I wanted, then fucked me on top of my suitcase to prove it. Still, I wasn’t going to let this turn into some kind of shacking up arrangement, since we were still newish. Thankfully, Marley’s roommate’s mom would be gone soon and I could head over there. Until then, Jack and I would continue playing house.
We were getting ready for a huge pre-Valentine’s Day party Marley was throwing downtown, and it seemed like basically everybody she knew in the city would be attending.
Jack came up behind me and slid his arms around my waist. “Looking good,” he said.
“Pretty dapper yourself.” I turned around and wrapped my hands behind his neck, interlocking my fingers. “But you know what I need to do before we get going?” I bent my knees, looking up at him from beneath my eyelashes on my way down. He grinned so wide, I caught a flash of molar.
“What?” he breathed.
“Take off these boots!” I squatted and unbuckled the clasp on my incredibly uncomfortable heeled booties, which I’d stupidly bought even though they were a size too small. They had been on sale at DSW and I told myself I’d try that trick where you put sandwich bags of water in your shoes then freeze them so they expand. Three guesses as to whether I’d actually gotten around to that, even though I’d had them for a year.
Jack groaned at my fakeout, and I ran my hands up the insides of his thighs. “Later tonight, OK? After everything you’ve done for me this week, you deserve a little extra attention.”
The grin made a comeback.
After a cab ride that went at a crawl, we showed up at STK downtown. I immediately spotted Marley, who was being presented with a champagne bottle complete with sparklers. I knew there was no way she was paying for it. She always managed to score things for free, which was good considering her money situation. Not that I was one to talk.
I was in desperate need of a job and had spent the day applying to pretty much any and everything that involved working in an office. Tony from Crush hadn’t responded to my thank you note, so I didn’t even have that lead. I didn’t know how people thought being unemployed was like a vacation. If you consider a stress-induced rash, nightmares about being chased by a 15-foot tall Marian and constant check-ins from concerned parental units the same thing as jetting off to St. Lucia, then yeah, sure. I was excited to put it all out of my mind, even if it was just for a night.
“Guys! Over here!” Marley squealed and shot up from her seat, waving her arms in the air. She was wearing a slinky sleeveless black dress and should have been freezing, but judging by the arm candy sitting next to her, she was probably staying pretty warm.
I made my way over and threw my arms around her. “It’s so good to see you,” I yelled into her ear. Why was the music in those places always so loud? And when did I turn into an 80-year-old grandma?
She squeezed until I squeaked, then handed me a flute of champagne. “I’m glad you’re here.” She cupped her hand around the tangle of hair that covered my ear. “OK, don’t be obvious, but how freaking hot is Meathead Joe?” She’d taken to calling the latest guy she was dating by that not-so-flattering nickname, even though his name definitely wasn’t Joe. I didn’t remember it though, and there was a good chance she didn’t either.
I laughed. “Meathead Joe is very hot, yes.”
“As is your date, but we already knew that.” She reached past me to give Jack a hug. I looked around as the two of them chatted. A thrill of excitement ran through me when I saw Finn at the bar.
“Jack!” I poked him. “Come on, I want to introduce you to someone.”
Marley followed my line of vision, and her eyes got wide with gossip that was begging to be told. “Have you talked to Finn recently?”
I shook my head. I’d kind of dropped the ball, between all the craziness with work and Jack and Grant and Celine. So, no, Finn and I hadn’t talked much besides emailing each other the odd funny link. “What’s going on with him?”
“He explicitly told me to let him tell you. It’s pretty wild.”
We wound through the crowd over to Finn, whose eyes lit up. “Tessa! Jesus, it’s been forever.” He swept me up in a hug.
“I know! My fault. Things have been insane. This is Jack. Jack, this is my friend Finn. I’ve mentioned him to you before, remember?”
“Heard good things about you, man,” Jack said as he reached out his hand.
“Thanks, dude.” Finn shook vigorously and shot me a quick eyebrow raise. Even though we hadn’t talked in a bit, I could still interpret his look to say, “Who the heck is this?” Thanks to the champagne, I felt courageous enough to wink. Usually it came out as more of a “someone’s spiked heel is impaling my toe” wince, but I think I pulled it off.
Finn and Jack chatted about the Super Bowl, which I completely tuned out. I looked around for Finn’s girlfriend Amy but didn’t see her. Was that the big news Marley had been referring to? I shifted from foot to foot impatiently, overcome with curiosity.
I slipped back into the conversation when Jack touched the small of my back, sending a shiver through me and reminding me of the promise I’d made him earlier that night.
“I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll be back in a bit,” Jack said.
“OK!” I leaped at the chance to hear about what was going on with Finn. “We’ll be here.”
I wanted to pounce as soon as Jack was gone, but Finn could be like a turtle in that he’d startle and just retreat into his shell if I made any sudden movements. That was especially true for all things emotional, so I had to lead him into it rather than hit him with a barrage of questions.
“It’s been way too long.” I tapped his arm with my clutch. “How are you? Nice glasses, by the way.” Finn was wearing total hipster glasses, but they looked good, and the thing about him was that he probably had no idea they were trendy. He’d always been doing the geek chic thing, and now it was suddenly cool.
“Thanks.” He pushed them higher by gently nudging the upper corner of the frame instead of the Urkel-style aggressive shoving of the bridge. It was an infinitely better tactic. “I’m good! I’ve wanted to talk but, you know, Marley kind of told me you were in a weird place so I didn’t want to add to your plate,” Finn said.
“You would never be adding to my plate! Unless you needed me to find you a job, too. Getting one for myself is basically a full-time job as it is.”
He smiled empathetically. “Yeah, Mar didn’t give me details but it sounds rough. What’s going on?”
I filled him in on my recent Marian and Liv troubles. Finn was aghast. “But it’s looking up,” I lied. “How’s your job situation? Still sleeping on a mattress made of cash?”
I could tell he was torn between asking more about my job drama and spilling what was happening with him. “Not quite,” he said, deciding to go with the latter. He offered up nothing more except a hint of a teasing smile and another poke at his glasses.
I started. “What?! Did you quit?”
He nodded. The story poured out of him, uncertainty and tentative pride flashing across his face. He was done with the world of finance.
“I finally had enough. I found out my boss was screwing with his expenses, raking in way more than he was owed in reimbursements. And no one cared. It was like everyone was totally fine with that being the status quo, because if they climbed up the ranks, they’d be living that life,” said Finn. He shook his head and took a sip of his drink, his Adam’s apple bobbing hard as the whiskey flowed through him.
“Oh my god, Finn!” I beamed at him. “I’m so proud of you, refusing to deal with that. That’s huge!”
He smiled shyly, never one for the limelight. “Thank you. I mean, you helped. So I really do mean that.”
I cocked my head at him, ready to ask what he meant, when Jack strode up to us. “Tessa, you have to meet this guy I talked to in the bathroom,” he said excitedly, gripping my hand. A mind’s eye image popped up of Jack and some guy shooting the shit over side-by-side urinals. Not so much of an urban legend, apparently.
“He’s a recruiter, so maybe he can help you get a job.”
I opened my mouth to ask how they’d even ended up talking about that, then remembered how a few months before, I’d found myself scrolling through some girl’s phone at a bar bathroom sink as she showed me pictures of her six dogs. I wasn’t one to talk.
“Oh! Do you know where he went?”
Jack craned his head and Finn drained his drink. “Listen,” he said, “I’ve gotta get out of here. Need to get up early tomorrow morning.”
“No! Really? I want to hear more,” I begged. “We barely scratched the surface.”
“Let’s get lunch this week and I’ll tell you all about it. I’ll text you. Good meeting you, Jack,” he said. Mollified, I gave him a hug and watched him walk out. Could I have been so brave to give up a cushy job, and potentially my relationship with a mostly lovely but somewhat money-obsessed signifiant other in the process? I hoped so.
Jack and I wandered around in search of the recruiter, who we eventually found at a smaller bar across the room. The guy babbled on, practically unintelligible, clearly on some really strong upper that was making his words blur together. I tried to get a word in edgewise, but he was unstoppable. Jack had a bit more luck, so they got into a conversation I could barely hear over the music.
Bored, I absent-mindedly toyed with the small floral arrangement on the bar. All the white freesia was shoved to one side while some type of smaller, kind of frothy baby’s breath type overwhelmed the design, drowning out all the other prettiness I couldn’t quite name. I tried to contribute to the conversation when I could, but otherwise focused on balancing the flowers by shifting them around a little while Jack entertained the recruiter. At first the bartender eyed me warily, but then he shrugged once he realized I wasn’t trying to shove the flowers under my sweater dress and make a break for it. I finally stood back, satisfied, and that’s when I realized someone was watching me.
A woman in one of those sleek black outfits bloggers can wear but I cannot had her eyes trained closely on my every move. It would figure a place like this would have well-dressed, gorgeous hostesses in charge of kicking unfit people out, I thought. As she approached, I steeled myself to explain why I was digging around in the flowers.
“You looked like you were having fun there.” The woman flicked her eyes past me to the arrangement, which really did look better than it had minutes before. She had one of those lobs every celebrity on the planet was showing off on Instagram, along with a hoop nose ring.
“With the flowers? I mean, yeah. They looked off.” Tessa, she probably works here! I kicked myself. “I mean, I just thought they would look nicer if I played around a little bit.”
She nodded then looked me up and down. “They do. I like how you did that. I’m Savannah.” She extended her hand. Confused, I shook it.
“Tessa. Nice to meet you.”
“So you’re into flowers?”
“Yeah, I love them! I was always in charge of choosing floral arrangements for events at my old job,” I said, trying to ignore the pang of wistfulness at the memory.
Savannah watched me pensively, then reached into her bag. “Listen, I have to jet. I have breakfast with my girlfriend’s parents tomorrow—,” she rolled her eyes,“—but I just took a job doing social media for a really cool company, and we’re looking for talent. Are you on the market?”
I nodded so hard my neck cracked. Me? I could be talent?
“Good. It’s a really fresh startup, but it’s kind of hard to explain in a place like this with no time.” She took a business card from her purse and slipped it into my hand. “Email me, OK?”
Shocked and trying to fend off any preemptive excitement, I took the card and studied it. “Of course! I’ll email you tomorrow.”
Savannah walked away and I turned her card over in my hand. How a startup could afford to give its employees this kind of business card was beyond me. Her name and email address were embossed in front of a simple, yet striking set of three watercolor flowers. I looked up, but Savannah had already disappeared. I didn’t have many clues about what the company was and didn’t want to get my hopes up. This kind of serendipity couldn’t actually exist, right? Jack and the recruiter were still chattering away, so my eyes shifted back to the floral arrangement. I smiled, clutching something of a promise tight in my hand.