I rested my chin on my hands and arched an eyebrow at Finn. We were at a little no-name pub more than a week after Marley’s party, making good on our promise to get lunch. Truth be told, I would very much have appreciated some alcohol.
After spending an hour agonizing over the best email to send Savannah the day after the party, I hadn’t heard back yet. I’d Googled every combination of “Savannah,” “flowers,” “startup,” and “New York City” with no results that made any sense. I was equal parts mystified and frustrated. My nerves were on a sharp edge that a drink could quickly buff down to something a little softer, at least for a few hours.
“What’s the point of being unemployed if you can’t drink during the day, right?” Finn asked, reading my mind.
I ordered a Bloody Mary with extra olives. Finn got a cocktail that, thanks to its special blend of liquors, just sounded like a dressed up Long Island that cost $18. The waitress hurried off to place our orders, and Finn grinned at me.
“This takes me back to studying for Planets and the Solar System,” he said. “Day drinking seemed like the only way I could get you to agree to study.”
I fanned my fingers in front of my mouth to hide my smile. “What are you talking about? I was so psyched about finding enlightenment through the stars.” I laughed at the absurdity of actually enjoying the class, which had routinely convinced me I was too dumb to function. “Look, it was a hard subject, OK?!”
“It was. And who would have ever imagined we’d go through all that just to end up doing virtually the same thing we did back then: drinking at an hour when most people are doing something productive,” said Finn.
“Whatever, you might not be in an office with all your productive, extremely loaded ex-coworkers, but that’s a good thing. I’m seriously so proud you quit.”
“It was time. Even though things are a lot less certain, I don’t wake up dreading the day, you know? But if you see me busking in Grand Central in a few months, do me a favor and throw me a quarter.”
“You’re not going to be a busker!” I protested. “Although if you were, Grand Central would be the place to do it. Listen, I still have dreams of Marian’s phone ringing. Nightmares, really. I can never find the stupid thing to answer it. Being unemployed is terrifying, but we’re both going to land on our feet.” If I were really being honest, not having a job was scarier than the thought of watching 50 Shades of Grey with my mother. But I was trying to be optimistic.
I shifted gears. “What are you doing now, then?”
Finn looked down, his cheeks pinking up just as the waitress brought our drinks. She set my Bloody in front of Finn, then presented his cocktail to me. We placed our orders, went silent as the waitress tripped away, then exchanged our drinks. I swirled the red pepper flakes in mine around and chewed on the straw. Finn still hadn’t said anything. His eyes were firmly trained on the table.
I nudged him with my knee. “Why so quiet?”
He finally made eye contact. “Remember how you told me about that drawing class you took in Brooklyn?” I cocked my head, actually not remembering at all. Then the memory came back to me; I’d mentioned it to him soon after it happened, laughing and detailing exactly how the nude drawing class had gone down.
I nodded, then shuddered. That was back when Liv had been fooling me so well.
Finn spoke haltingly. “I thought it sounded really cool, so I looked into it.”
I choked, then sputtered out precious rust-red drops of Bloody Mary. So ladylike, I know. “You’re going to be a nude model?!”
He goggled at me. “Tessa, are you joking? That’s not exactly my thing. I looked into the studio and they do some really cool classes. I’ve been taking a woodworking course, and now I’m actually doing an apprenticeship at a furniture place. I mean, I’m taking on some odd jobs so I can make my rent, but that’s what I’m doing when I’m not busy with other stuff.”
Whoa. “How very The Goldfinch of you. So you’re a carpenter now? Like Jesus?”
Finn laughed. “Not quite. I’m just learning, but it’s kind of a perfect situation right now. Before, I was doing all this financial stuff that was all about how fast my brain could make money. Now I’m working with my hands and, I don’t know, it feels really good to switch gears.”
I shook my hair back from my face, surprised and impressed. “I’d honestly never have expected that from you. Can I see some of your stuff? What do you make?”
“I didn’t really expect it either. Right now I’m just learning how to make things like cabinet doors and table legs. You know, the basics.”
“Oh, totally.” I nodded in a way that meant I really had no clue what he was talking about. “The basics.”
“I know I sound like a douche—” He ran a hand through his hair, clearly embarrassed.
“No! I’m kidding. It sounds amazing. I want to see what you’re working on.”
“You’ll have to come by one day.”
“Can you make me something? Like a throne, maybe? I need something to luxuriate on in my robe while browsing through Craigslist for someone to hire me.”
He rolled his eyes. “I’ll get right to work on that.”
I grinned, then sobered. “What does Amy think of this?”
Finn heaved a sigh. “It’s gone about as well as you’d think. She’s not exactly pleased with me right now. I love her, but I already feel so much better now that I don’t really know what to tell her. She’s kind of icing me out.”
“I mean, you have to do what makes you happy. If you could see yourself right now, you’re glowing. Seriously. I haven’t seen you look like this in ages. How’s your dad taking it?”
“I don’t even want to go there. To say he’s pissed is a huge understatement. And my brother keeps saying things like, ‘Thanks for letting us know you want to destroy the family legacy.’” Finn pursed his lips and took a moment before speaking. “It’s been hard.”
I reached out and grasped his hand. “It’s hard, but it’s worth it. You have to be true to yourself. It might take everyone time to come around, but when they do, they’ll regret not helping you through this. And maybe your dad and brother aren’t behind you, but you know your mom would have been.”
Finn took a sip of his drink. “Quitting was fucking hard. But you’re right. I just need to go for the life I want. And honestly, I know my mom would have loved what I’m doing.”
Finn rarely talked about his mom, who had died from from breast cancer when he was young. I swayed in my seat, touched. “Aw, Finn. I’m glad. I really think this is the right choice. If you and Amy don’t make it through this, then you just weren’t right together. It happens. Cheers to you and what you’re doing.” I held out my Bloody, the olives balancing precariously against the rim, and we clinked glasses.
“Speaking of right for each other, what’s up with this Jack guy? Grant is totally out of the picture?”
I smiled, the memory of Jack’s Valentine’s Day surprise still fresh in my mind. I’d returned home from running errands and Jack presented me with a lush bouquet of what he told me were sweet pea and snapdragon. “Because you’re sweet with some fire,” he’d said, his eyes glowing with excitement at what was coming next. He’d led me into the living room, where a chef was waiting to cook us our own private meal. It was perfect.
“Ohhh, look at that smile!” Finn crowed, assuming the big brother role he took on so well. “You must really like this guy.”
“I mean, things are good.” I ran through what had happened with both Jack and Grant.
“So Grant and I both know we’re dating other people, and it’s fine,” I finished up. “I mean, it’s a hard thing to navigate, but I really, really like Jack. It’s funny because everyone’s talking about how the guy in Taylor’s ‘Style’ video isn’t hot enough, and I’m like, if only she had met Jack first. He’d be perfect, thanks to the whole different-colored eyes thing.”
Finn stared at me blankly, my last sentence leaving him totally lost. He shook his head as if to clear it of my confusing pop culture speak. “Yeah, anyway, he seemed like a nice guy, but I’ll always be kind of sad you and Grant didn’t work out,” he said. “He’s a good one.”
I was tempted to be all, “Yeah, except when he cheated on me with Sophie, remember?” but I knew that wasn’t what Finn meant. I didn’t want to fight, anyway. He must have caught a flash of annoyance on my face, because he quickly followed up.
“I’m sure Jack’s great, though. Nude modeling and all. So you’re basically living together?”
“I mean, kind of. I’m just staying with him until Mar’s roommate’s mom leaves. It’s a convenience thing and I was nervous it would be too soon, but he’s been pretty perfect about it. I don’t want to rush things, you know?”
“Sounds good to me.”
We finished up and, after Finn enveloped me in the best of bear hugs, I decided to walk to Jack’s place. I’d spent far too much money on cabs recently, and I thought maybe the biting cold would shock me back into sobriety. Plus, with unemployment and crappy weather combining forces to keep me cooped up, I was getting a severe case of cabin fever.
When I neared Jack’s stoop, I noticed a woman sitting on the front steps. She looked to be in her 50s, and even though she was just sitting there, fiddling with the toggles on her jacket, something about her seemed familiar. I slowed down, trying to pinpoint what about her was making goosebumps rake across my skin. The way she moved was setting off alarm bells, warnings clanging inside me that signaled something was very wrong.
I approached cautiously, trying to get a look at her face. Her chin was tucked to her chest, so I couldn’t see her clearly. Suddenly her body shook, and she buried her head in her hands, clearly wracked with sobs. I paused, wondering if I should just follow my intuition and do a loop around the block so maybe she’d leave before I had to walk inside. She seemed emotionally disturbed, and the staircase was so narrow that I’d have to brush right by her to get to the front door. But at that point, my toes were aching and my legs were tired. I just wanted to get upstairs and under the covers.
When I came to a stop in front of the woman, she snapped her head up and made searing eye contact. I froze. Yes, she was older, and taller from what I could see of her long legs. Not quite as slight. But still, the resemblance was uncanny.
“Are you Tessa?” she asked, her accent unmistakable.
I nodded and clenched my fists in my pockets, bracing for what was coming next.
“I’m Bette.” Her eyes brimming with tears until they spilled over onto her pale cheeks, refusing to be contained. “I’m Celine’s mother. I need your help.”