by Zahra Barnes
“Can you meet us in the conference room in five minutes?”
I whirled around to see Savannah standing behind me. It was my first official day at Bloom, and I still couldn’t believe just how much I’d lucked out. Bathed in the perfume of the flowers that surrounded me, I felt the urge to pinch myself for the millionth time. What if it was just an especially nice-smelling dream?
“Sure. I’ll be there in just a second.” I gathered a pen and my new notebook, a fat stack of gilded paper bound into a floral watercolor cover that I’d figured was pretty fitting for the job. I watched Savannah and Dee move purposefully into an expansive conference room that overlooked the Hudson, the same twinkling view that had so charmed me during my interview.
I hustled in after the other new employees, hoping to stake out a good spot, and settled into a cushy chair close to the front of a long marble table. My nerves jangled so much that all I could focus on for a moment was how the table reminded me of my favorite Kanye West tweet, which I had memorized: “Do you know where to find marble conference tables? I’m looking to have a conference…not until I get the table though.”
I stifled a laugh and looked around at the other people Bloom had hired so far. We were a motley crew. One woman had 90s glitter eyeshadow that cozied up to her perfectly thick eyebrows. The man directly across from me sported a shaved head and ear gauges. The woman next to me had the coolest abstract black and white tattoo that wrapped around her forearm, tempting me to go under the needle right that very second. Things had been the opposite of corporate at Grey & Boehm, and I’d always avoided regular office work because I worried it would be too stuffy for my tastes. It was starting to seem like Bloom was the best of both worlds.
Dee moved to the head of the table. Her blazer, T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers were all the same shade of pristine white. She looked staggeringly cool.
“Welcome, everyone! We’re so glad to have you all on the team,” she said. Excited, I started clapping. Of course, no one joined me, so I quickly dropped my hands. Awesome first impression.
Thankfully, Savannah smiled from her spot next to Dee. “That’s the kind of enthusiasm we like to see, Tessa! How about you kick off our icebreaker? Everyone say your name, position, where you’re from, and a quick, interesting fact about yourself.” She looked around, her hair shining in the glimmering sunlight, then back at me. “Are you OK with starting?”
As if I could say no. “Sure! Hi, everyone. I’m Tessa, the Marketing Coordinator. I worked at an art gallery in Chelsea before I landed here, and I’m from Columbus, Ohio. My weird fact…let’s see.” My mind raced with things I couldn’t say, like the time Jack and I had used Bengay instead of lube. “My weird fact is probably that my favorite comfort food is secretly ketchup straight from the bottle.” I hadn’t even told Grant that until we’d been dating for a year.
I saw people exchange glances. Maybe I’d gone too far? Then everyone burst out laughing, and it seemed like it was with me, not at me. If they could see the benefits of condiments straight up, we were off to a good start. We spent the next half-hour on the icebreaker, then Dee got to business.
“You all are the team we’re counting on to make Bloom a success from the get-go. Will we have obstacles to face? Of course. Will we overcome them? Absolutely. And hopefully make some headlines in the process,” she said. “We’re aiming to have our first big event in a few weeks. April 25th. Not much time, but I expect it to be approaching perfection all the same. It’s going to be our official launch, so we want it to be something people will never forget.”
My pulse picked up. No doubt I was going to have a big role in this. Dee just confirmed my hunch when she shot a pointed glance my way. “This is the first big one, people.
We need all hands on deck. Any ideas you have, any contacts you know, any brilliance you think it would make sense to share. We want it all.”
She explained some of the logistics about what we could and couldn’t pull off, then told us to brainstorm for the rest of the day and be prepared to present our ideas to Savannah the next day. She released us from the meeting, but not before asking me to stay behind. Gulp.
I waited as everyone else trailed out, a few people throwing glances at me over their shoulders. There was no way I was already in trouble. I refused to even entertain the possibility.
Savannah and Dee remained. Savannah turned to me with a kind smile. “So, Tessa, a lot of the ideas, planning, and execution of this should come from you,” she said. “We’d talked about the fact that your role as Marketing Coordinator would really be a catch-all position, especially in the beginning. Are you up for that?”
“Absolutely,” I said without hesitation.
“Good. Now go get to work.”
A glow washed over me. I’d missed this type of excitement so much. Sure, the guy drama in my life seemed all-consuming at some points. But worrying over Grant and Jack and Finn just couldn’t compare to how delicious it was to forget all of them and immerse myself in a job I loved. If for some reason I woke up one day and never wanted another penis in my life, I should still have something exhilarating to live for. I was pretty sure that for the moment, I’d found it.
As I headed back to my cube, my brain stutter-stepped, and I worried I actually wasn't the ideas machine I’d sold myself as in my interview. Then a trickle became a flood, and I knew I’d actually have to sort through way too many options. Better that than the alternative.
The second I sat down at my desk, I started Googling. An hour after that, I kicked off my heels and slid my feet into flats, then dodged tourists on my way to a nearby art store. I returned, flushed and triumphant, with a pad of sketching paper and a load of pastels, markers, and charcoal. I shoved the memory of how Jack and I had met from my head, then got to work putting my vision on paper.
That’s how I spent the rest of the day: stockpiling a list of ideas so excitedly that they were rife with typos, then doing my best to draw how they would translate into the real world. I looked at the clock around 4:00, having forgotten to eat, which shows I was seriously preoccupied. I wanted to take my ideas straight to Savannah, but I decided to do what they’d said and sleep on it. Things always looked way better or way worse in the morning. That night, my ideas kept my mind so full, there wasn’t room to worry about Finn.
I hadn’t spoken to him since he’d planted that surprising kiss on me. I’d known Finn for years, and there must have been a reason I’d never felt anything for him. Even back in college, when I could have made a kiilling off selling hand fans to girls who threatened to faint from his mere presence, I’d never been tempted. I wasn’t one to subscribe to the idea that a spark could grow, either. Could I learn to love someone over time? Probably. But I preferred my attraction to be instant, electric, and uncontrollable.
What I really needed at the moment was friends. Finn seemed to disregard that and, like a lot of guys in high-intensity moments, let his little head take over. I didn’t know what to do with that, so I was letting his “Tessa, please let me explain!” and “Can I come over?” texts pile up in my inbox before I figured out how to deal with them. I wasn’t trying to punish him, just determine where to go from there.
The next day, I woke up bursting with the knowledge that my instinct for Bloom’s launch event was right. My idea was too good not to work. As soon as I got in, I headed over to Savannah’s office with my typo-free game plan and sketches, only to find she wasn’t there yet. I grabbed a coffee. Still not there. I looked over my document for the tenth time. No Savannah in sight. I was about to make the bad decision of getting another jitters-inducing jolt of caffeine when she swished down the hallway. I gave her a few minutes to get settled, then bounded over. She was staring at her computer, so I tapped on her open door to get her attention. She looked up and smiled expectantly.
“Good morning! I wanted to chat about some ideas I’ve come up with for our launch event. Is now a good time?”
Savannah waved me in and raised an eyebrow at my huge sketch pad.
“I’m not exactly an artist, but I figured it would help to get my idea down on paper,” I said. The spiel I’d rehearsed poured out of me, punctuated with some blips of nervous laughter and pauses for Savannah to ask any questions. She didn’t. Instead, she took the sketches and looked them over again, eventually letting out a “hm.” That one little hum punctured a hole in my hopeful spirit. I tried not to deflate like a wounded balloon. This wasn’t exactly the giddy reaction I’d been hoping for.
“You’re pretty good at this trial by fire thing, eh? Because this is really something,” she finally said. “So much so that we can’t pull all of it off,” she warned as my face lit up. “But I do quite like a lot of it, while some isn’t exactly what we have in mind for the brand. Let me talk to Dee and let you know if we can put the wheels in motion on some of this.”
In that moment, that kind of acknowledgement felt better than a kiss from any guy. And that was worth its weight in gold.