My phone buzzed. I leaped at it, electrified with excitement, then deflated instantly. It was Marley, sending me a command I had no urge to follow. “Get out of bed. I’ll be at your place in 30. Workout then shopping.” Ugh.
I tossed my phone into the mounds of downy pillows and blankets I’d turned into my fort of tears and fury. It had been three weeks since I’d heard from Savannah, and just a touch longer than that since I’d really spoken to Jack. My mind was like a hamster on a wheel. I kept replaying how everything had gone in both scenarios, and I couldn’t understand where any of it had gone wrong.
The week of my interview at Bloom, I’d sent Savannah my mock campaign early the morning of my deadline. I wouldn’t have been shocked if my file had been bleeding, sweating, and sobbing thanks to the amount of effort I’d poured into it. She’d responded almost immediately with a gracious “Thank you so much, Tessa. Excited to look it over. Will have news soon.”
In what world is three weeks “soon”? Since then, I’d only gotten short “hang tight, this is taking longer than expected” emails from her. I’d had the lovely experience of calling my parents and asking them to spot my rent. They weren’t exactly pleased, but saved my ass anyway because that’s kind of what you sign up for when you become a parent. Even though things at Bloom were moving at what felt like a torturously slow pace, I tried to reassure myself. Hiring takes a long time, especially for a new company. It made sense that it was dragging.
Things on the Jack front, however, were baffling. The night of my interview, he’d taken me out to to a little French bistro to celebrate. He’d held up a flute of champagne, and toasted my future. If only I’d known back then that it seemed like he didn’t want to be part of it. “To Tessa. It seems like your career is finally in bloom,” he’d said, a twinkle in his eye.
I’d laughed and responded, “OK, that pun gets a B.” He arched a skeptical eyebrow over his deep blue eye. Just that had been enough to win me over. “Fine. A+.” We clinked glasses, and the next day he helped me get my stuff into a taxi so I could finally start living in my old apartment. That was the last time things had been normal.
When his constant stream of emails slowed to a trickle, I got confused. When his text messages, which were usually so long they took up almost my entire iPhone screen, shrank to curt sentences, that confusion upgraded to worry. Had something happened to his family? His job? After a few days of hearing nothing from him, I could only assume the worst. He’d gotten increasingly sick while a disease lay waste to his body, paralyzing his fingers and keeping him from talking to me. Then he died. There was seriously no other acceptable reason for straight up disappearing.
Unfortunately, looking at his Twitter and Facebook accounts verified that, no, he was perfectly capable of communicating with the world, hanging out with friends, and basically continuing his life like nothing was off.
I was being ghosted by both my guy and my potential job. I was dazed and seriously fucking confused.
With Savannah, I had been the picture of professional perfection. I refused to hound her or ask what was going on, keeping faith that I would hear from her when she had news. The thing was, those smarts with Savannah transformed into stubbornness with Jack. I could tell he was moving along just fine, and I wasn’t going to be the one reaching out and begging for an explanation. If he could be done, so could I.
My buzzer bleated. Marley. She was convinced that exercising would flood my brain with endorphins that would help me see the positive side of life. And for the most part, I’d been trying to be optimistic. But it was also within my right to mope a little on days when the thought of squeezing into spandex would be enough to make me start refusing food and drink and just wait for the end. I buzzed Marley in anyway.
Soon enough, she was bounding through my door.
“Goooood morning!” Her hair was piled into its signature topknot. Decked out in highlighter-bright workout gear, I could tell she wanted her cheeriness and general life goals to rub off on me.
“Nope. No excuses. Come on. Get dressed. Sneakers. Leggings. Sports bra. Go.” She pointed sternly at my room. I really had no choice.
We made the trip down to a studio on Bowery, where Marley had booked us in some popular class. The second I got outside, I felt better. I inhaled deeply, sucked the fresh, non-stale, non-apartment air into my lungs. This felt good.
“So. I have a proposition for you,” Marley said as soon as we got onto the subway.
“Mmm?” It was probably something that would offer me a brush with death, like skydiving or vacationing in a nudist colony. I wasn’t going to act too gung-ho just yet.
“I want to set you up on a blind date.” Marley looked at me hopefully, with wide eyes that were so reminiscent of a puppy I had to stop myself from lovingly nuzzling her head. It was easy to do when the reality of what she was saying hit me.
“Yeah, right. No way. Blind dates? No one even does those anymore.” I realized how absurd that sounded, but it was true. At least with Tinder, you got to see the person and talk before meeting up and potentially getting killed.
“Tessa, be real. It’s the 21st century. Also, it’s been almost a freaking month since you heard from Jack,” Marley said. “What’s the harm in going on a little blind date?”
“I don’t know,” I groaned. “Blind dates aren’t my thing. And I’m not ready to be dating, anyway.”
“Oh? What? Are you too busy feeling sorry for yourself and refreshing your email?”
I glared at her, only because her description was a little too on the nose on my bad days. “I’ve been applying for lots of jobs, too!”
Which was true, although everything I’d seen had paled in comparison to Bloom. “I’ve also been trying out the stuff I learned in my mixology class.” Day drinking really was a great benefit of being unemployed.
Marley rolled her eyes. “Listen, don’t make me beg. Every girl in my high school would have killed to bone Cole. He just moved here, and apparently he’s only gotten better with age! He is like the finest of fine wines.”
I hesitated and she huffed impatiently. “Look, Jack is not treating you with anything remotely resembling respect. And—don’t hate me for this—did you guys ever even decide you were together? You know, officially?” I bashfully shook my head no. Somehow in between all his whisking me away on getaways and us exchanging “I can really see this going somewhere” sentiments, we hadn’t covered that very significant territory.
“OK, so then what’s the big deal?” Marley continued. “I know you want your perfect meet-cute in Trader Joe’s that ends with a happily ever after, but this isn’t some Katherine Heigl movie circa 2007! You have to make an effort, even when an assface like Jack disappears and makes you want to stay in bed and eat until you suffocate in a sea of takeout bags.”
“I’ll think about it.” That was as much as I’d give her in the moment.
She nodded, satisfied. Then she pointed at an advertisement above our heads. It showed a drawing of a person sitting down, splaying his legs out and taking up way more space than necessary. The sign read, “Dude, stop the spread, please. It’s a space issue.”
“Genius!” Marley exclaimed. “I once asked a guy if he had cantaloupes for balls, his legs were spread so wide. I wish I could have just shown him this.”
We spent the rest of the subway ride talking about everything except the blind date, which loomed over me like a silent threat.
We finally got off the subway and rushed to the studio. As soon as we walked in, I saw a pair of legs that could only be described as shapely, even though that’s something someone’s aunt would say on an 80s sitcom. They connected to a lithe torso, which led my eyes up to the face of the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in real life. My eyes darted to the women on the right and left of her. They were just as pretty. I looked around more. Everyone was this pretty.
“Mar,” I whispered. “Did you take us to some frat guy’s idea of heaven?”
“Did you not read the confirmation email I sent you?” Negative. “This is where all the models go. I figure, work out with them, look like them, right? Or as close to them as possible, at least?”
I nodded, then tried not to stare as a Victoria’s Secret model swanned past me.
“The best part, though, is what we’re doing today,” Marley said.
I was about to ask her to elaborate until the bald instructor clapped his hands and instructed us all to get gloves.
Boxing? Oh, I could get into this.
We punched and kicked until my entire body bore a sheen of sweat. When Marley and I teamed up for partner exercises, she yelled out, cheering me on. “Pretend it’s Jack! Beat him up! Engage your core and kick his ass!”
Instead of being embarrassed, I did exactly what she said, my strength spurred on by my anger. It was the best I’d felt in weeks.
After our cool-down stretch, I went to grab some more water. The model in front of me turned around and smiled, towering over me. She had creamy skin, blonde hair, and eyes that were set just far enough apart to be alien-esque but still gorgeous.
“You were good in there,” she said in halting, accented English.
“Thanks! You, too.” I’d honestly been shocked at the level of ferocity that had burst forth from her Bambi-like limbs.
“Who is this Jack your friend was speaking of?”
“Just this guy who is kind of breaking up with me. It’s a long story.”
She nodded understandingly. Apparently even models get dumped.
Marley popped up from behind me. “Yeah, and Tessa won’t go on a blind date to help get over him.”
The model glanced between us, uncomprehending. “Blind date?” she asked.
Marley explained, and the lightbulb blinked to life over the model’s head.
“Oh, but you must go!” She grabbed my hand. “That is the perfect way to, how you say, stick it to the man!”
I laughed, completely and utterly charmed. “Fine, fine. I’ll go! But if my danger alarms go off, I’m leaving.”
That night, I walked into a cozy wine bar in the East Village and instantly zeroed in on a Hemsworth-level gorgeous guy. My college friends didn’t brand me with the nickname “the heat-seeking missile” for nothing! I wanted to pounce and run my fingers through his hair, then make everyone tell him how sexy it looked pushed back.
He glanced at me. “Tessa?” I nodded, unable to speak. “Cole,” he pointed at himself and grinned. Marley gets dibs on my firstborn, I decided as I walked over.
“Marley’s told me a lot about you,” he started as I got settled.
“Only good things, I hope,” I purred with a wink. Haha! No. Like Marley said, life’s not a rom-com. Actually, I just stared at him like a freak until I realized it was my turn to talk.
Luckily, I relaxed as the night progressed. After some surprisingly witty small talk over wine, we headed to Upright Citizens Brigade for improv. Each time he laughed at a joke he glanced over to make sure I was laughing, too. Then, halfway through, he slid his hand onto my knee.
I immediately felt sick. It wasn’t Jack’s hand. It wasn’t even Grant’s hand. Was this going to be my life? Jumping from guy to guy?
He led me to another bar after the show, and I tried to mentally come back to earth.
Tessa, get real, I thought. You are not in any way ready for a new guy. Plus, he’s a hot lawyer with a good sense of humor. There’s no way he has a nice penis.
We spent another hour talking, covering everything from climate change to the trip he’d just gone on to Tulum with friends. “I can’t believe you’re single.” He shook his head as we sipped our cocktails. “You seem like everything a guy could want.” He stared at my lips, then back up into my eyes.
Even my grandma knows what that move means.
Forget Jack, Tessa, I thought to myself. This is just what you need to put him into your past.
I leaned in, just doing my part to make Sheryl Sandberg proud, and Cole jerked away like I had an infectious disease.
My face was on fire. “Um, I’m sorry, I thought…”
He avoided eye contact. “This isn’t right," he said quietly. "I don’t care about the money.”
The what, now?
“I have to tell you something.” Crap. Where were the cameras? He put his hand on mine. “This isn’t a real date,” he confessed.
My brow furrowed. “What do you mean?” Definitely on a hidden camera show.
“I work for a male companionship service called Rent A Gent,” He spoke slowly like I wasn’t capable of understanding which, let’s be real, I wasn’t. “Your friend hired me.”
“Wait. Are you an escort?!” I hissed.
“Absolutely not!” he insisted, offended. “Marley rented me to give you a confidence boost.” When he saw I was speechless, he barreled on. “She said you wouldn’t hook up. I guess I did my job a little too well.” Smug bastard. “But I’m contractually banned from having sexual contact with clients.”
“Clients?!” I yelped, yanking my hand away like I’d touched a hot stove.
Suddenly his face lit up and he scooted closer to me. “But I just realized you’re not actually the one paying me, so…”
If I had anything to do with it, Marley was about to be a dead woman.