by Zahra Barnes
“What do you mean, the champagne is ruined?!” In a panic, I screeched at Nicole, one of Bloom’s interns. She promptly withered into herself like a dead flower. I took a deep breath. Now, the day of Bloom’s official launch event, was not the time to pull a Marian.
“I’m just a little stressed, everything’s OK,” I soothed. “Tell me what happened.”
“I think it’s best if you see it for yourself,” she said. “The delivery guy is waiting for your instructions.”
I grabbed my clipboard and phone from the table next to me and rushed out, right on Nicole’s heels. In hindsight, I should have told her no, it would have not been best for my blood pressure and sanity to see 20 bottles of premium champagne smashed against the sidewalk, glass shards glinting in the sun, next to the hangdog face of the deliveryman. The more you know.
I pinched my nose, fending off the throbbing that was building up somewhere in the middle of my skull, and turned to the deliveryman.
“How quickly can you bring a new batch?”
“I can run and go get them now, miss. I just wanted to reassure you that of course we will not charge—”
“OK, yes, we can discuss that later. Please rush back, and please, please be careful! We need to get these perfectly chilled. Look, here’s my number. Call me when you’re here and I’ll come out, or just come in and grab me. I’ll help you carry them in. It’ll be faster that way.” I smiled at him, praying he would get it right this time.
He nodded and scurried around the side of his van, hopped in, and zoomed off. I hustled back inside, another intern, Christie, hot on my trail.
“So, Tessa, I made sure both projectors are working. What next?”
“Yes,” she said confidently where Nicole would have squeaked. I’d quickly grown to trust Christie, thanks to her general on-top-of-it-ness. That didn’t mean I wasn’t going to triple-check the projectors when I had a second, though. So much of the evening hinged on them working perfectly.
I looked around the venue. It was a recently renovated warehouse composed of a main room, with two smaller rooms in the back. Imogen had recently exhibited there and, to apologize for the whole contract fiasco while I was at Grey & Boehm, hooked me up with the warehouse’s owner. He’d offered me a “friend of Imogen” discount. My vision was all coming together, shattered champagne non-withstanding.
Savannah and Dee were at the bar talking to Johnny, the bartender who had taught the cocktail course I’d taken. From that class, I knew he could make a drink that would knock you on your ass with happiness, but go down smoother than velvet. The best part was that his gruff, no-nonsense style correlated with not charging the insane prices a fancier bartender would. I’d recruited him and a few other guys from his bar, and asked them to dress in all black. They cleaned up pretty well.
I turned back to Christie. “Can you check in with Marley? She’s in the kitchen. Make sure they’re all still on the right schedule to have some good appetizers floating around when guests arrive.”
Christie nodded and scampered off. Marley was joining the catering crew for just this one night. I trusted her more than anyone else when it came to my tastebuds, and by extension, those of the people I most hoped to impress.
Over the next few hours, I lit candles, touched up dozens of floral arrangements, quadruple-checked the projectors, helped the champagne deliveryman bring in the bottles, and tried to tamp down the queasiness that threatened to send me running to the bathroom.
In a last-minute visit to the kitchen before we started letting guests in, Marley tried to corner me with a plate of food.
“No, Marley, I just realized the bud vases aren’t in their proper positions in the restroom—”
“Actually, no, you need to eat something. You haven’t all day, and you’re going to pass out.” She shoved a cracker with something whipped on top of it in front of my face. Reflexively, I opened my mouth and let her place it on my tongue.
“I know. I’m just nervous.”
“You really don’t need to be,” she said. She wiped her hands on her catering outfit. “I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s genius.”
“Let’s hope so. People are hashtagging Bloom like crazy already. It needs to be good.” Suddenly famished, I grabbed a few more crackers. Upon closer inspection, they each had a healthy spread of tuna mousse, topped off with a dollop of spicy mustard and a single caper each. Sounds gross, was orgasmic.
“When is Finn coming?”
“I told you, he’s not. If I had to deal with the stress of seeing him tonight, my head would absolutely 100 percent explode. But he asked to take me to dinner tomorrow to hear all about it.” My stomach jumped at the thought, and I couldn’t tell if it was the sick kind of nerves or the butterfly variety.
“I still think you should have invited him. He would be so impressed!”
“Well, that’s the beauty of photography. I’ll show him pictures tomorrow!” I stole another cracker and headed to the bathroom to deal with the bud vases and change. My dress was a dove gray silk and chiffon number with a tulip hem and cropped, oversized sleeves. I’d been tempted to go for a simple black dress and blend in, but Marley had insisted that would be the wrong choice. Now that I had the dress on, I had to admit she was right. Ethereal, dreamy, and soft. It was perfect.
I shook my hair out of its bun, my curls bouncing to life around my face before I fixed them into a deep side part, then tucked some behind my ear. I dotted my lips with a berry stain and added just a bit more mascara. That was all I had time for before I started to get the creeping suspicion that I was spending entirely too much time in the bathroom, while every single thing I’d meticulously planned potentially fell apart outside. I shoved my makeup, my work clothes, and my boots inside a small duffel that I’d leave behind the bar, then went to finalize the finishing touches.
And then, before I knew it, it was time. Right before we opened the doors to the waiting crowd, Savannah and Dee pulled me aside.
“Tessa, this truly looks incredible,” Savannah said, beaming. “It’s just lovely. And good on you for taking things like the champagne incident in stride.”
I started to respond, distraught that they even knew about that when I’d handled it on my own.
“The deliveryman told us how much he appreciated how kind you were,” said Dee, who couldn’t help but mimic Savannah’s smile. “You’ve certainly exceeded our expectations so far, even though they were quite high to begin with.”
“That’s why we wanted to give you these,” Savannah chimed in. She slipped a hand into her bag then pulled out a small set of cards. I realized what they were as she brought them out into the open, but it didn’t feel real until I had them in my hands. My very own Bloom business cards, with my name embossed across the front, surrounded by watercolor florals. Overwhelmed by the gesture and the stress of the day, I tried not to tear up.
“Wow, this is wonderful. I don’t even know what to say. Thank you both so much.”
“Of course,” said Dee. “Although the month-long try-out is technically still in effect, you can take this as a sign that if all goes well, you’ll be passing with flying colors.”
The doors opened, and people streamed in. Some were the out-there artist types, dressed up in outfits so loud, they were almost deafening. Others were various gallery employees I’d met while at Grey & Boehm, who exuded a much more reserved air while being almost too cool to function. For just one moment, I hung back in the corner. I knew in a second, I’d have to flit around the room like a hummingbird on speed, making sure everyone was having a good time. But for one second, I wanted to see it all come together.
Suspended lucite trays packed with thick, cream-colored candles and flower petals hung over the bar. Their light danced across the faces of the guests, my guests, many of whom were sipping our signature cocktail. Fresh Bloom was made with wild hibiscus syrup, champagne, and garnished with a raspberry. Floral arrangements were everywhere, spilling into the crowd, no two exactly alike.
I saw Savannah heading toward me, so I snapped out of it and met her halfway.
“Tessa, this is Roland Rivers, a reporter with Time Out!” she said excitedly. “Can you show him around? Roland, she’s the one who dreamed this up, so she’ll be able to give you the full spiel.”
I immediately knew Roland, a tall, rail-thin guy with huge circular glasses, was going to be hard to impress. He smiled politely and shook my hand, but I could see the boredom in his eyes. Guys like him went to a different event every night. I asked him to follow me and started telling him about Bloom’s mission.
When we got to the bar, I stopped and turned. “This is a good place to start. Take a deep breath in and you’ll see why,” I said. Then I pointed at the candles above our heads. “Those are scented with angelica and lemon, which mean inspiration and zest, respectively. The angelica is what’s giving off that kind of peppery smell. A little bit different, but it’s a symbolic touch of what we’re hoping for this evening.”
Roland nodded stoically, asked for a drink, then jotted a note down in his phone. I tried not to get discouraged by his lack of enthusiasm. When you plan every single detail of an event, all the invested time and headspace automatically make you think it’s the most wonderful thing ever to exist. The tough part is convincing other people of that fact.
Determined to get Roland on board, I smiled broadly, then asked him to follow me to the back rooms once he had his Old Fashioned (he wasn’t exactly a Fresh Bloom kind of guy). On the way, I asked him questions about himself in an effort to loosen him up. When we reached the first back room of the two, he stopped at the doorway and just blinked a few times.
I coaxed him in and could feel my mood change, my veins thrumming with energy. We were in Lust, the room devoted to evoking a sense of passion, infatuation, and every other thing that makes you feel like your nether regions have taken over your brain. Each of the two rooms was meant to focus on a different emotion, and I was almost giddy with excitement from having pulled it off. Different floral arrangements were stacked around us in a frenzy (as opposed to the more orderly nature of Love next door), and each one had a description of the flowers involved. A silent movie was projected onto a wall in front of us, doing its sexy, vampy art-house thing on loop. To top it all off, a table of themed drinks and hors d’oeuvres rested against the far wall, each one linked to the idea of lust in its own way. Think lots of figs, honey, and spices.
Roland wandered around the room, past a couple with their hands in each other’s back pockets and an older woman who was positively blushing, but very engaged in reading one arrangement’s description. He lingered by the drinks and food, taking notes, then slowly made his way back to me. Finally, he smiled.
“I like it,” he said simply. It was all I was going to get, but I’d take it.
“I’m so glad! Let me take you next door, to Love. It has more of an innocent vibe, so they play off each other—”
“You know what? I’m going to hang out here. Take it in a little more. And I’m going to email you tomorrow to set up an interview,” he said, his eyes following the gorgeous cater waiter who had come into the room to make sure there was enough food.
I bit the inside of my cheek, hiding my smile and tempted to point out that clearly the room’s intended effect was working on him. “Perfect. I’m happy to show you Love whenever you’re ready.”
Then I walked out, grinning and buzzing with excitement, and ran smack into Finn. He steadied me to keep me from toppling over, and clutched a jumbled bouquet in his other hand.
“Finn! What are you doing here?”
He looked at me, cocking his head in confusion. “You said I should come. Remember?”
I furrowed my brow, then it hit us both at the same time. “Marley,” we groaned. At this rate, I was going to have to change my iPhone passcode and wear it strapped to me at all times.
“Sorry, should I leave? I know you worried you’d be stressed,” he said.
“I am!” I saw the disappointment etched across his face and grabbed his arm. “I am, but you’re making it better. Stay. I’ll have to run around to take care of about ten billion things, but you can at least see what I’ve been working on. Let me take you to the bar, you have to smell these candles. Wait, what are those?” I pointed at the flowers in his hand, which were mostly concealed by the paper around them.
His face reddened. “They’re for you. I didn’t realize how they’d look next to all these professional ones.”
My heart, no match for that kind of sweetness, promptly melted. “Let me see them!”
“No, I’ll hold onto them until later. You’re going to be all over the place.”
I considered fighting him on it, but realized seeing them in full would be the perfect way to end my night and gave in.
At the bar, I asked Johnny to surprise Finn with something special, then just got a water for myself.
“This looks amazing,” Finn said, craning his neck to take in the candles. Johnny set Finn’s drink in front of him, and Finn offered me a sip.
“I wish I could, but I shouldn’t. Plus, what if my bosses saw?” I looked over my shoulder to see whether I could spot Savannah and Dee, but I saw someone very different instead. My face got all hot, then I felt the blood drain away. My hand started shaking ever so slightly, the ice rattling in my glass, as I took in the slow-motion vision of him walking toward me. He still had that long-lost Winklevoss triplet gleam in his eye.
I opened my mouth, and for a second, nothing came out. Then, finally, one word did. “Grant?”