by Zahra Barnes
I stared at my phone screen, jaw hanging in a way that would have made my mom chide in her signature Southern lilt, “Tessa, honey, close your mouth before the flies get in.” I blinked hard, just making sure my eyes weren’t fooling me. The din of the coffee shop faded into white noise.
“Helloooo?!” Marley waved a hand in front of my face. “You look about as spaced as Ryan Lochte on an average day. What’s up?” She sucked down the last dregs of her iced coffee.
I turned my phone around and pointed at the offending email. I only needed one word to sum it up. “Marian.”
Marley’s eyes grew saucer-like in disbelief. “Wait, this witch is emailing you? She must have gotten hacked.”
I swiveled my wrist so I was once again taking in an eyeful of my inbox, Marian’s name stamped across the top in bold. “Considering that she didn’t understand the point of having a password more secure than ‘Password123,’ that wouldn’t surprise me,” I said. But my gut told me this was the real Marian deal, not some obscure hacker hiding out behind a screen. There was no subject line, and my finger hovered over the email. My nerves were twitching, but my hand was still. I tapped on the email and read, confused at first.
———————— Forwarded Message ————————
From: Imogen LifeIsBeautiful Thomas
Date: Monday, April 6, 2015
Subject: July Event
To: Melville, Marian
Yes, the July event is all set. My main question is whether you have a box big enough for me to fit into (ORGANICALLY SOURCED, please. That part is non-negotiable) or if I need to bring my own.
Marian, I have to ask, what happened to Tessa? I know things got hairy with the contract issue, but I always loved working with her. I was going through an episode and threw much more of a fit than necessary, but my chakras are all aligned now. I know she normally handles bookings, but I would love to see both of you there!
That was it. Even though it was a forwarded message, everything between Marian and Imogen, the artist who had raised hell over my contract screwup, was gone. It was nice to know I was somewhat missed. My unceremonious firing had been so sudden that I hadn’t had a chance to email people to let them know I was moving on. The longer I waited, the more embarrassed I’d been to fill them in on what had happened, so I figured I’d check in with them as soon as I got a job. I was such a fresh hire at Bloom, though, and things were so busy, that I hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
I raced through the email again, new mysteries cropping up with each word. Why on earth had Marian emailed this to me? Was she having a fever dream? A wine-induced hallucination? Did she accidentally butt-email me? What was the point? Was I supposed to answer? How?
“You are the worst multitasker,” Marley said as she impatiently grabbed my phone. “I asked you what it said twice.”
“Sorry. It’s really bizarre,” was all I could manage while my mind fired on all cylinders. What the actual fuck?
A self-satisfied grin crept across Marley’s face. “They always come back, don’t they?” she said while shaking her head.
“What do you mean?”
“Marian didn’t just fire you. She dumped you. And people like that always come to regret it,” she said.
“No. There’s no way. This woman was so proud that I wasn’t supposed to make eye contact with her for the first three months I worked there. It has to be a mistake. Why wouldn’t she explain herself?”
Marley handed my phone back and arched an eyebrow. “Come on, Tessa. Was Marian really ever one to explain anything?”
She had a point.
“Are you going to respond?”
“No! I mean, what would I say? ‘Thanks? Did you tell him I’m gone because you kicked me out on my ass?’ Even if she did mean to pay me some insanely weird compliment, she probably already regrets it and would say something vicious about how she assumed in my destitute state, I could use something emotionally uplifting.”
Marley snorted. “True. Cruella could learn a few lessons from her.”
I pressed my phone’s lock button and flipped it facedown. “Whatever. At least before, I was paid to deal with Marian’s mind games. Not dealing with that right now.”
“Onward and upward! Tell me everything about Bloom.”
I couldn’t help breaking out into a smile so sunny, Marley couldn’t help but mimic it.
“That good, huh?”
“Mar, it’s unreal. I have so much control in a way I never had with Marian. Savannah and Dee are letting me take the reins in a way that would have taken actual years if I’d been with Grey & Boehm. That’s the benefit of working with a startup.”
“Right. And that big launch event is soon, right?”
“Yeah, but I’m keeping the details a surprise. I want you to experience it like everyone else.”
“OK, at least tell me something. You know I’m not good with waiting.” She shook her ice-filled cup at me, green-grey iridescent nails catching the light.
“Well, remember how I told you that amazing artist, Tamiko Mori, agreed to help out when I was pitching that mock campaign? She’s officially agreed to help us advertise the launch party, so my idea’s a go. She started creating the art today.” I turned my phone over to show Marley the images, half-hoping that Marian would have followed up her cryptic message with an explanation of some sort. Nothing. Mentally shaking it off, I paged through my photos to find what Tamiko had sent me. Even seeing the beginnings of her floral watercolors, all dabbed and dipped onto canvas, was arresting.
Marley alternated from exclamations and sighs as she went through the photos.
“That’s the general effect I’m going for,” I admitted.
“This artist is cool as hell. I want to meet her.”
“You will, she’ll definitely be at the launch.”
Marley nodded, pleased, then gave back my phone. Her face shifted into an expression that was foreign for her pretty features. It took a beat for me to realize the pursed lips and shifty eyes were her way of expressing discomfort.
“So, have you talked to Finn?” she asked.
“A little. I texted him that everything was fine,” I said, twirling an empty straw wrapper. “I just want everything to go back to normal. Which will all be blown up, I’m sure, the second we see each other.”
“About that…” Marley dragged the phrase out, clearly hoping I’d take the bait.
I did. “Marley,” I said in a warning tone. I knew her too well and could tell she was up to something. “About what?”
“I met him for a drink last night and he stupidly left his wallet with me. Well, I kind of stupidly took it.”
I was immediately suspicious. “How’d that happen?”
“You see this huge scarf?” She tugged on the monstrous oatmeal-colored number that was looped around her neck. “His wallet must have been on the table, and I put my scarf down, and I think I scooped it up when I left. He decided to walk home because it was close, so he didn’t realize he was missing it until this morning. And you know my bag is a shitshow, so I didn’t see it until he asked me.”
“So, go give it to him.”
“I can’t! My mom’s picking me up to head to our house upstate in a few hours. If I’m not ready, she’ll draw and quarter me.”
I groaned, knowing what was coming.
“Pleaseee, Tessa? Just drop it off with him? The poor guy can’t be without his wallet.”
“Then maybe he should have checked for it before he left!”
Marley leveled me with a look. “Really, says the girl who had to get her New York ID replaced twice before she’d made it to her second anniversary in the city?”
“Marley, come on, you forcing me into an awkward run-in with Finn isn’t going to work. As you’ve mentioned, my life is about the opposite of a Katherine Heigl movie. Why can’t he pick it up?”
“You know he has his apprenticeship. His boss is riding him and saying he has to finish all these pieces before he can leave. It’s like a Whiplash situation, I think.”
“Speaking of Whiplash,” I said, trying to change the topic, “Did I tell you about the Miles Teller dream I had? We were dating. Normally he doesn’t do it for me, but he was such a turn-on that it carried over into real life. I want him.”
Marley waved a hand. “You’re not going to distract me. This has all of Finn’s important things in it, including his metro card. Please imagine him walking 30 blocks from his apprenticeship to his place because he can’t take a subway or pay for a cab. He already had to do it on the way there.”
Right in the heart. I may have bitchy tendencies, but I’m not made of stone. “Fine. I’ll take it to him, but you owe me.”
“Yes! I’ll cook for you as repayment.”
“Deal. So, wait, did you guys talk about me?”
Marley’s eyes darted away again, and I immediately regretted the question.
“You know what? Forget it,” I said. “I’m probably better off not knowing.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I’m just going to pretend everything’s normal, and I don’t want to know anything that’ll make me feel otherwise. Will it be weird if I show up instead of you?”
“No, because I told him you’re dropping it off.” She held the worn leather wallet in her outstretched hand
“Of course you did. You have to go?”
“Yeah.” Marley glanced at her phone. “I’m running late as it is. Let me know that he gets it?”
“Will do, if I don’t pull an Alex Mack and melt into nothingness just to escape the situation.”
She rolled her eyes. “In your next life, remember that you should probably go into acting, drama queen.”
I laughed. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll let you know how it goes.”
Half an hour later, I emerged from a subway stop into Soho, breathing in the grime and street meat. Ah, New York City. I walked along, eyes trained on Google Maps, and almost tripped over a teeny yappy dog on the way. After a ten-minute walk and a pit stop to examine whether a vendor hawking bags had anything that looked remotely legitimate (he didn’t), I found myself in front of the shop, labeled with a sign that said “Armin’s Furniture.” I jiggled the handle of a wrought iron door adorned with swoops and curlicues that protected the actual glass door of the place, but it was locked. I put my hands around my eyes to better see inside the shop’s window, but it was too dark to make out much beyond hulking shapes. I called Finn but went to voicemail. Frustrated, I jabbed the doorbell a few times. The buzz rang out, surely loud enough that he could hear.
Within minutes, Finn appeared in a simple white T-shirt and jeans. We locked eyes, but his expression was as passive as it would be for a stranger. He pushed the door open, then used his wrist to push his glasses up and brush a lock of hair from his face. Sweat dotted his brow, and his hands were covered in sawdust. We both looked at each other, not knowing where to start in the aftermath of our kiss and the ensuing unease.
“Hi,” he finally said. “Do you want to come in?”