Kind of a Big Deal

Ashley was in no shape to party, so I volunteered to take her back to my apartment and put her to bed. Nina offered to come as well, but Brad was there and he seemed really into her knee highs, and I figured at least one of us should get some that night.

Ashley wasn’t making any sense in the cab. I kept asking her what happened, why Tom broke up with her, and all she kept saying was that I didn’t understand. That I was so lucky, and I didn’t understand. “What don’t I understand?” I demanded. My good Samaritan patience was wearing thin.

“You just don’t,” she sniffled.

I got her upstairs and in my bed and then collapsed on my couch with a bowl of Halloween candy and a glass of wine. So my night wasn’t a total bust.

In the morning, I finally got the whole story: Tom’s sister found out about their ‘incident’ (I visibly gulped when Ashley told me this). Tom thought he could trust Ashley to keep their private business private, but clearly she was too immature to do that. So he ended it.

I’d been meaning to tell Ashley about my conversation with Isabel, but she hadn’t responded to any of my texts after the party. I could have called, I guess, pushed a little harder. But I did try.

“Okay,” I said, “first of all, you are not immature for telling people what happened. You were smart. Victims of domestic violence are usually—”

“Jesus, enough with the domestic violence crap,” Ashley groaned. She was sitting on my couch, her legs tucked underneath her and a big bottle of water balanced in her lap. “I was not a ‘victim’ of ‘domestic violence’. We had an argument that got a little heated. I pushed him first—does that make Tom a victim?”

“Okay, Ash,” I said, “I have to tell you something and you’re not going to like it.” I took her through my conversation with Tom’s sister. When I finished, Ashley laughed softly and shook her head.

“I knew you’d find a way to involve yourself in this,” Ashley said. “You couldn’t have just removed yourself from the situation, like Nina. You had to stay and insert yourself because you can’t stand when people don’t do things exactly the way you think they should be done.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I said. “Nina bailed on you and I stood by your side—I was your only freaking friend at your engagement party, and I blew off my plans last night to take you home—and I’m the one you’re mad at?”

“It’s like you’re incapable of doing nice things out of the goodness of your heart. You do them so you can hold them over my head!” Ashley said.

I took a deep breath. “Seriously, Ash? You may not like how I handled things, but I handled it the best I could. Sorry it wasn’t good enough for you.” I shook my head. “I think you should go.”

Ashley’s eyes welled up with tears. “Oh my God, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m such an idiot.” She buried her head in her hands and her shoulders started to shake. We just sat there in silence for a long time. Ashley is one of my oldest friends, and we’ve been through a lot together, but sometimes I just don’t know how much more this friendship can weather. As much as it pains me to say it, Ashley becomes more like her mother every day. Just a difficult person to be around. Someone who doesn’t believe it’s possible to really be happy. Someone who is always so suspicious of people and their motives. I’m no saint, but God that can wear on you.

So that was the rest of my weekend. Fun times! And I was so nervous to meet my new boss on Monday that I barely slept on Sunday night. I got in at my usual time, 830AM, about half an hour before everyone else. Right away, I noticed the light underneath William—I mean Frank’s—door. Evidently, my new boss is an early bird too.

I dropped my things by my desk and pinched my shoulder blades together. First impressions are everything and good posture is one way to make a good one (Thanks for that lesson, Mom!). Plus, as a short person, it gives the illusion of another inch or two.

I knocked on the door and Frank called me inside. “Hi, Frank?” I said. “I’m Josie.”

Frank was sitting at his computer and he stopped typing to give me a look like, who are you and what are you doing in here?

“Your assistant,” I said.

“Right,” he said. “Hi.”

Frank was a good ten years older and fifty pounds slimmer than William. He had stark white hair, delicate looking glasses, and he was wearing a bow tie my Mom would have described as ‘spiffy-looking’. He was also not a fan of a smile or speaking, apparently.

“So I just thought I would introduce myself since we’ll be working together,” I added, lamely. “Is there anything I should get started on today?”

Frank went back to typing. “Not right now,” he said so quietly I almost didn’t hear him.

Alrighty then! I stuck my tail between my legs and headed back to my desk.

Around 11, Frank finally emerged from his office and asked me to come and talk to him.

“So the first thing you should know about me is that I don’t like to be disturbed in the morning, because that’s when I’m in my flow,” Frank said.

“Noted!” I said.

“The second thing you should know about me is that I don’t do email,” Frank said.

“Okay,” I said. “How do you…I mean, how should I…I mean, how do you communicate with your assistants?”

“Exactly how mankind has been doing for millions of years and how we’re doing right now,” Frank said. “We talk.”

I nodded. “Okay. I mean, that sounds great actually.”

“Tell me about you,” Frank said. I realized I still hadn’t seen him smile yet.

“What do you mean?’

“I mean, what are your hobbies? Where are you from? What’s your favorite book?”

“Um, I’m from New Jersey,” I said, feeling like I was on the worst first date in the world. “And, I like to run. And read and write.”

“Who are you favorite authors?” Frank asked.

“Um, I’ve loved Gillian Flynn since before she was Gillian Flynn. Her first book is still my favorite.” Frank grimaced, so I quickly added, “but I also love, like, Donna Tartt, Jeffrey Eugenides,” the grimace was slowly disappearing from Frank’s face so I kept going, “and Louise Erdrich and Elizabeth Strout. Oh, and Alice Munro.”

“Isn’t it wonderful that she finally won?” Frank said, referring to her recent Nobel Prize get.

I nodded feverishly. “It is.” I once read a tip in an advice book written by a body language expert that Frank would certainly turn his nose up at, and it said that mimicking others either by copying their mannerisms or language is one way to get them to like you. “Really wonderful,” I added.

“So here’s my question,” Frank said, “it seems like you are a well-read young lady. So why,” Frank spun in his chair and picked up a pile of manuscripts William hadn’t taken with him, “are you pushing this crap.” His desk shook as he slammed the pile down in front of him.

“Um, it’s cheap. And fast. And people buy them,” I said.

“You know what I think?” Frank said. “I think people want good, quality books. I don’t want to read something by some downmarket blogger who thinks she’s Lauren Conrad. I don’t even want to read anything by Lauren Conrad.” He snickered. “Not like she actually writes herself. I want to read about Michael Douglas’s triumph with cancer, or Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace, in his own words. Quality, interesting stuff.”

“I mean, I’d love to read that,” I said.

“So why haven’t you gone after those people?”

Because William holds the complete opposite viewpoint that you do. He doesn’t think people want quality. He thinks they want quantity, the fluffier and easier to digest the better. “That just wasn’t the direction I was told to take,” I said, trying to be diplomatic.

“What if that’s the direction I want you to take?” Frank said.

“I’m game,” I said.

Frank smiled for the first time since I’d met him. “Good.”

Frank reminded me of Megan—serious, committed to maintaining the integrity of the book industry. I don’t know if I’ve been drinking the William kool-aid for too long, or if this is what I genuinely believe, but it seems like a lost cause to me. A noble one, and one I’d prefer to pursue over what I was doing with William if money weren’t an issue. Of course I’d prefer to work with more elevated writers, truly accomplished people who are talented and have great stories to tell, over the ‘writers’ I was currently working with. Every single one of those bloggers and YouTube personalities needs a ghost writer, and it’s a freaking joke. But when it comes down to what sells and what doesn’t, a quality book by a reputable writer just doesn’t sell as well as an easy read. Not only that, but it takes longer to produce, and it costs more money to produce. It may be what I prefer to read in my downtime, but if I ever want to make money in this industry, it seemed like the only way to do that was to do it William’s way. William was a business man, whereas people like Frank and Megan? They’re crusaders. They’re in it because they’re passionate about what they do. I’d love to be able to be passionate about what I do and pay New York City rent, but it doesn’t always pan out that way.

When I met William for dinner a few nights later, he was on me like Amanda Bynes on Drake about what direction Frank was taking the company in. It was uncomfortable—I need to play both sides of this, and I don’t want to alienate William or betray Frank’s confidence, since he is my boss now.

“He wants to go more upmarket,” I said. “He wants to reclaim the era of the writer. Back before the Internet was so ubiquitous and not everyone could be a writer.”

William snorted. “How idealistic.” He pointed his fork at me. It was shiny with the grease from his steak. We were at the Bobby Van’s in Midtown, and the entire staff knew William by name.  “I can’t wait to see this yo-yo crash and burn.”

I shrugged. “Maybe people are fatigued by all the crap out there. Maybe this works.”

William laughed. “He’s gotten to you already. Listen, there is always something to be learned from a new boss. Even if you hate him and you don’t agree with the way he handles his business at all.” He went back to sawing his fillet. “So take what you can from him. When I make a move, you know my door is always open for you. But,” he shrugged, “maybe you decide not to walk through it.”

He was testing me. “Of course I want to go with you wherever you end up,” I reaffirmed.

William grinned. His teeth were purple from the wine. “Good.”

After dinner, I decided to walk home. Halfway there, Richard, of all people, texted me. ‘I’m in your hood. Come to this Halloween party I’m at.’

‘I don’t have a costume,’ I wrote.

‘Of course you do, you’re a dick tease,’ he said, followed by a smiley face emoticon.

‘You’re such an asshole,’ I wrote back. ‘Where?’

The bar was three blocks from my apartment, so I decided to stop by for a drink. I hadn’t seen Richard since that night in my apartment, when I’d thrown that Social Media viewing party. It had only been for a few minutes because he had a date, and that had been weeks ago.

I showed my ID to the bouncer at the door, who was dressed as a SWAT team member. The bar was crowded and smelled like boy. I chalked it up to all of the guys, overheated and sweating in their costumes.

I finally spotted Richard. He was dressed as Ron Burgundy from Anchorman. It was actually a great costume for him because he’s so tall and lanky. I was glad to see he’d put on a little weight since the last time we saw each other. He’d been looking a little gaunt.

“Josie!” Richard said, and waved me over.

“You look awesome,” I said.

“Well,” Richard leaned in close, “I am kind of a big deal.”

I laughed.

“Oh and meet my co-anchor, Veronica Corningstone.” Richard gestured to a petite blond, who was dressed up as the Christina Applegate character.

“I’m Sam,” she said, and extended her hand.

“Josie,” I said.

Sam turned to Richard. “Babe, I’m getting a drink. You want anything?”

“Scotch!” Richard said.

“Right,” she said. “You?”

“Um, whatever you’re having,” I said.

“Be right back!” Sam turned on her heel and practically skipped off.

“She’s cute!” I said to Richard.

“I’m really happy,” Richard beamed. “I wanted you to meet her. Your approval means a lot to me.”

I searched his face for any sign that he might be putting it on, but he appeared totally earnest. “I’m happy for you,” I said, and I meant it.

I only stayed for a little bit. Frankly, it wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world to play third wheel to a couple still in their honeymoon stage. I am happy for Richard, but my gag reflex operates on another level than my emotional compass.

On my short walk home, I called Nina to tell her about Richard and his rapid fire 180. She didn’t pick up, so I ended the call and moved on to Ashley. Then I remembered, Ashley and I weren’t exactly speaking right now. It had been four days since she’d left my apartment, and I hadn’t heard from her since. I stared at her name on my phone a little longer, contemplating calling her anyway. Then I stuffed my phone back in my purse. I was tired of chasing after Ashley. Tired of her accusations that I’m the bad friend. If we were going to talk again, she had to come to me


Way back in the summer, when Ashley, Nina, and I were all in a better place, we had one of these hangover Sundays in my apartment where every meal was takeout and the TV was permanently tuned to Lifetime. A League of Their Own came on right as we were ordering our third meal of the day (there would be four), and someone mentioned what a great costume a Rockford Peach would make. And so our Halloween costumes of 2013 were born. Nina as ‘All the Way’ Mae, Ashley as Dottie, and me as her little sister, Kit (I’m shorter than Ashley by a lot).

The way things have been going the last few weeks, I assumed Ashley would not be celebrating Halloween with us. So I was tres surprised when I got a text from her asking if I got the Facebook invite to a costume party one of our guy friends was throwing.

I told her I would meet her and Nina there, because first, I was planning on stopping by this other costume party that Has invited me to. I was hoping that my cute costume would soften the blow of The Truth: This Rockford Peach was not a lawyer with a heart of gold, but a media chick with a Twitter addiction. But! Just like a lawyer, injustice gets me all riled up, so sometimes I tweet petitions. Practically the same thing.

Saturday night I suited up and hopped on the subway. The physical proof that light years separate twenty-something entry levelers and thirty-something doctors is in the location of their respective costume parties: Twenty somethings in sticky-floored bars, thirty-somethings in spectacular lofts in Tribeca.

Has was sporting a white headband, fake scratches on his face, and a rumpled suit. “What are you?” I asked.

“Mayhem,” he said. “From the insurance commercials.”

I snapped my fingers and nodded my head in approval. “Good one.”

“And this,” Has gestured at my uniform, which was not only adorable but the most comfortable thing I’ve ever worn out on a Saturday night. “This is amazing. I love Tom Hanks in that movie.”

Has led me to the kitchen and asked me what I wanted to drink. I spotted a bottle of Veuve in an ice bucket and nodded at it. I’d get my nourishment now, before it was on to lukewarm Bud Lites.

Has poured me a glass and I took a sip. The little bubbles set off a flare of courage inside of me. “So, there’s something I need to tell you. I should have mentioned this before but I was just so caught off guard that I think I got tongue tied or something. But I’m not a—”

“Has, my man!” Before I could finish, a guy dressed as a Thundercat swooped in.

“Beauman!”Has grabbed his hand and pulled him in for one of those chest-bump hug things that guys do.

Has introduced me. “Beauman was my roommate freshman year.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said, hoping he would go away so I had a chance to talk to Has alone again. Instead, the two started chatting.

“It’s been forever,” Has said. “How’s Rachel?”

Has put his arm around my shoulders, presumably so I didn’t feel left out as the two caught up. As they chattered away about ‘Rachel’, I let my eyes wander around the room. There were some pretty good costumes—a girl dressed in a red tube dress as a Solo cup, a guy as the Leg Lamp from A Christmas Story. There was a guy dressed in shades of grey, his hair spray painted to match, who caught my eye. Is he an old person? I wondered. When he turned around, I almost dropped my glass of champagne, which would have been bad because this was grown up party with crystal champagne flutes. The guy in grey was Justin.

He spotted me too, and gave a little wave. I waved back, praying he would stay where he was. But no, no, no! He started to make his way over to me. Okay, this would be fine, there was no reason for my occupation to come up. I’d just keep the conversation work-free! Oh, who am I kidding? All New Yorkers do is talk about their damn jobs, it’s their favorite!

“What’s up?” Justin said, once he reached our little group. Has and Beauman’s conversation came to a halt. “I’d give you a hug but I don’t want to get paint all over you.”

“How are you?” I asked, tightly. “Um, Has, this is Justin. Justin this is Has.”

“Hey, man.” Justin nodded at Has and Has nodded back.

“So, what are you?” I asked.

“Josie, come on,” Justin said. “You of all people should get this.”

“A decaying zombie?”

“Noooo,” Justin said. “Think about your little side writing job, and then you should get it.”

Oh my god, just shut up Justin. “He’s 50 Shades of Grey!” Beauman said.

Justin pointed at him, like thank you, and shook his head at me. “And you call yourself a writer.”

“You’re a writer?” Has asked. A few lines collected between his eyebrows.

“Just a little something I do on the side,” I said, quickly.

“I’ll tell you, this girl is amazing,” Has said, “head of the Pro Bono Program at her law firm, and a writer on the side.” It was like watching your hairstylist chop off five inches of hair when you only asked for a trim, and suddenly you have a bob (and you cannot pull off a bob), and it’s so terrible you can’t even process what just happened.

I closed my eyes, waiting for Justin to blow my cover. But he just said, “Oh yeah, she’s something alright.”

I opened one eye. Justin had a huge, knowing smile on his face.

After a few minutes of chit-chat, Has and Beauman returned to their conversation, and Justin and I stepped off to the side. “A lawyer?” he whispered.

“Shut up,” I said. “It was an honest screw-up.”

“Sure,” Justin laughed. He took a swig of his beer. “So how long are you going to keep this up?”

“I’m planning on telling him tonight,” I said. “I just haven’t had the chance.”

“You’re like the kookiest girl I’ve ever met,” Justin said. “Always something weird going on with you.”

I rolled my eyes. “Whatever. What are you doing here anyway?”

Justin nodded across the room to his older brother. “Some of my brother’s friends. Nothing else really going on tonight. Rick’s gotten all lame now that he’s engaged.” Rick is Justin’s roommate.

“How dare he.” I grinned.

Justin and I chatted for a few minutes more. “I gotta take a leak,” Justin said. “Good luck with…” he laughed, “this.”

“Thanks for not blowing my cover,” I said, and Justin winked at me. Sometimes it takes just a little distance to see that your exes aren’t bad people, they just aren’t right for you. Justin is such a bro, and I can’t believe I tried to turn him into a boyfriend. The guy will be the last of his friends to get married, (and it will be to a twenty-eight year old bombshell who all the forty-something wives will hate), and until then, he’s going to live it up.

After another few minutes, I finally had Has all to myself, and I seized the opportunity. “So I was trying to tell you something before,” I said. “It’s a little embarrassing.”

“You’re a Republican,” Has said.

I laughed. “No.” I took a deep breath. “I’m not a lawyer. I don’t know why you thought that. I think maybe there was another girl at the hospital who looked like me who told you she was a lawyer the same night I was there. Anyway, I didn’t correct you when you assumed, because you made a dig about media girls and…” I winced, “that is actually what I do.”

Has just looked at me for a while, like he was trying to process everything I’d said. “So you…lied. About being a lawyer?’

“Well, I didn’t correct you when you assumed. So I prefer to call it…unmeditated deceit.”

“Whatever it is,” Has said, “it’s pretty weird.”

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry, I just felt embarrassed because you had such a low opinion of what I really do.”

“And what is it you really do, exactly?”

“In a nut shell? I’m an editorial assistant at a publishing house that publishes famous people’s memoirs.”

“See,” Has said. “That’s actually a job to be proud of. I wish you told me that from the get-go.”

“I do too,” I said.

There was an awkward moment where neither of us spoke. Finally, Has said, “Didn’t you say you had another party to go to tonight?”

Well, that was a hint if I ever heard one. I thanked Has for inviting me and said goodnight, fully aware that I would probably never see him again.

It’s like the goddamn Hunger Games trying to get a cab the Saturday night before Halloween. I would have taken the subway, but I’d checked the MTA app and the train I needed to take wasn’t running.

I finally saw a cab with its light on, and I have never been so grateful that I was wearing sneakers as I chased it down. I was just a few steps away when some Miley Cyrus girl rounded the corner. Her eyes lit up at the empty cab in front of her that I had hailed.

“That’s mine!” I called, but she was closer than I was, and she got there first.

“Sorry!” she said, and slammed the door shut. And let me tell you, that bitch did not sound sorry at all. 

Just as I was about to shed my Peach costume as my anger turned me into the Incredible Hulk, I heard someone yelling my name.  It was Justin, climbing into an open cab. I jogged across the street.

“Where are you going?” Justin asked.

“Lower east side,” I said.

“I’m going to the East Village,” Justin said. “Get in, I’ll drop you.”

I didn’t hesitate. It was fucking freezing out and I was wearing a skirt and knee high socks.

“Your boyfriend bust you?” Justin asked.

“He’s not my boyfriend,” I said. “And I busted myself.”

Justin laughed. “You don’t want to date a doctor any way. They have the worst schedules.”

“Speaking from experience?” I asked.

We passed underneath a street light and Justin’s face lit up for a moment. He was giving me one of his cocky half-smiles and goddamn him, my stomach did a flip flop. “Maybe.”

“Where are you going anyway?” I asked, trying to steer the topic into safer ground.

“Co-worker’s party,” Justin said. Then he raised his eyebrows. “Hey, speaking of co-workers. I saw you on TV.” He snapped his fingers, trying to remember. “What was it called?”

Social Media,” I said. The show had two episodes left, but my plotline had been over for a while now.

“That’s it!” Justin said. “Pretty cool. You going to do more TV?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. William is all for it. He said you have to be able to put TV experience on your resume these days if this is the industry you want to be in. But he’s not my boss anymore.”

“What happened?” Justin asked, and I told him about the changes at Literatti.

“Shit,” Justin said. “That sucks. But good for you for making the cut.”

“We’ll see,” I said. “My new boss starts this week.”

Justin picked up the hem of my skirt and rubbed it between his fingers. “You warm enough in this?”

“No.” I laughed.

“Well,” Justin said, “you look pretty cute in it.”

I smiled. “That’s the point.”

The cab caught a pothole in the road and it jostled Justin and I closer together. Justin had been holding onto the hem of my skirt, but now he set it down, smoothing his fingers over my thigh. He leaned in and I did too. Our noses brushed, and then we were kissing. Justin’s hand was curled around the back of my neck, and tugged at one of my braided pigtails. “I like these,” he grinned.

“Miss!” The cab driver yelled. “We’re here.”

I pulled away from Justin and looked out the window. We were on Essex and Grand. I found my purse and dug around in it, located a ten, and handed it to Justin.

“How about you keep that and we just head back to my place?” Justin suggested.

It was tempting the way eating an entire birthday cake is tempting. Yeah, you want it, but you somehow find the strength to stop after a few slices. If you ate the whole thing you’d be mad at yourself. “I have to meet my friends,” I said. I pushed the ten at him.

“You sure?” Justin said. “’cause I’m in a particularly freaky mood and you’re one of my favorite people to get weird with.”

“You’re ridiculous.” I laughed. I leaned in and gave him one last kiss. “Good seeing you.” I slid to the right and pushed the door open.

“You too,” Justin said, right before I shut the door.

I spotted one of my fellow Peaches as soon as I walked in the door of the bar. Nina had stenciled a fake mole on her face and was wearing a pointy-cone bra underneath her uniform, her nod to Madonna, I guess.

“Josie!” Nina said. “Why do you have silver paint all over your face?”

I touched my fingers to my cheek. “Shit,” I said. “Help me get this off.”

“What is this from?” Nina asked.

“Justin,” I said.

Justin?” Nina repeated, incredulously.

I nodded slyly.

“Listen, I want to hear the whole story, but there’s something you should—”

Before Nina could finish, Ashley zig-zagged over. She knocked into some guy in a unicorn costume, causing him to spill half his beer on himself. “Hey!” he said, but Ashley either didn’t hear or chose to ignore him. “Josie!” Ashley stumbled into me and gave me a hug. “Best friend,” she said into my hair.

“Whoa,” I said. “Maybe let’s order you some water?”

“Gross, I hate water,” Ashley slurred. She must have noticed the paint on my face, because she licked her fingers and tried to rub it off. And that’s when I realized—Ashley wasn’t wearing her engagement ring.

“Ashley!” I said, and grabbed her hand. “Where’s your ring? Did you lose it?”

Ashley looked at her naked finger like she was just realizing the diamond was gone. Then suddenly, her eyes welled up with tears. “He broke up with me,” she wailed.

I looked at Nina. “That’s what I was trying to tell you,” she said. “Happy Halloween!”

The Lying Game

After getting my stitches out, I treated myself to a cab ride to the office because I was late and I didn’t have my fugly commuting shoes on me.

I knew something had gone down the moment I arrived. My co-workers were scattered in little groups across the floor, whispering amongst themselves.

Kate made a beeline for my cubicle as soon as I sat down. “Did you know?” she asked.

“Know what?”

“That William was leaving,” she said. “He’s gone. He must have cleaned out his office in the middle of the night or something.”

“What?” I shot out of my chair and went to see for myself. William’s corner office wasn’t completely empty, but all the important things—the movie poster of Big Lights, Bright City, autographed by Jay McInerney, his stupid lamp with the special red light bulb that was supposed to ‘increase energy’, and all of the manuscripts and contracts covering his desk—they were all gone. A little thrill went through me; William had really left, and if he kept his word, I really had a chance to go somewhere new and exciting with him.

“This is so weird,” I said, turning to Kate. I didn’t feel like I should tell anyone I knew this was happening, not even her. “I wonder what happened.”

Later in the day, my phone rang, and the caller ID read ‘Human Resources’. I took a deep breath and answered. I was told to come down to the fourth floor immediately. As I stepped onto the elevator, I wondered if this was how Richard felt when he took this ride: terrified but oddly relieved.

I was greeted by Barbara Duane, the head of HR. “Quite a day you’ve had, I can imagine.”

I nodded but didn’t say anything. It felt like my tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth.

“What happened here?” Barbara pointed to her own eyebrow.

“Oh,” I said. I’d almost forgotten about my injury. “I fell. On the subway.”

Barbara sucked air in through her teeth and winced. “Ouch.”

“It doesn’t hurt too much,” I offered. Just get to it, I wanted to say. This is torture.

“So,” Barbara said. “I’m sure you know that William has quit.”

“Uh-huh,” I said.

“And left us in quite a lurch,” Barbara added, huffily.

I wanted to say, Oh, like the one you would have left him in when you fire him in a few weeks’ time? But I just nodded again and kept my expression neutral.

“In any case,” Barbara said. “we happen to have a new editor-at-large starting next week, and he needs an assistant. We in HR all agree you are the most qualified candidate.”

So I wasn’t getting fired…yet. Barbara said that Frank, the new guy, was starting next week, and in the meantime I was to cease all work on any manuscripts William and I had developed together.

“Why?” I asked.

Barbara sighed. “Because it’s not the direction this company is going in. Bloggers, little no-nothing YouTuber stars. That is not the calibre of celebrity that Literatti aspires to work with.”

“YouTube,” I said.

Barbara narrowed her eyes at me. “Sorry?”

“YouTube,” I repeated. “Not YouTuber.” I suddenly understood why William was so frustrated with this place. They were old school, and they just didn’t get it.

“Right. Whatever.” Barbara flicked her hand at me.

“But those writers have already signed contracts,” I said.

“We’ll still pay them what we owe them,” Barbara said. “But we’re not moving forward with the printing process.”

“But why wouldn’t you?” I pushed. “That’s such a waste of money.”

“Frank will explain on Monday,” Barbara snipped. And that was that.

I sent a text to William when I was back at my desk, ‘I can’t believe you just left without telling me’.

‘It’s better this way,’ William wrote back. ‘This way you’re not involved and they can’t nail you on it.  What is everyone saying?’

I told him about my conversation with Barbara, and about Frank, the new editor-at-large. I was careful about how much I divulged though—even though my loyalty went to William first and foremost, I didn’t know what the future held for us, and I didn’t want to talk badly about my current employer. Who knows, it could end up being in my best interest to stay here. I had to look out for myself, and as tempting as it was to gossip with William and laugh about how this company had no vision, no creativity, it was just asking for a bad karmic return.

William suggested we grab dinner next week, after Frank had started, and after he’d had some time to follow up on a few feelers he’d put out.

The next morning, I woke up to a text from Dr. Ahmad. ‘Small opening in my schedule tonight between 7-8. Doesn’t happen very often. Coffee on the Upper East Side around 7?’

I had Ashley’s engagement party after work, but it didn’t start until 8:30, so I texted back and suggested a diner I liked by the hospital.

‘Love that place,’ Dr. Ahmad wrote back. ‘Good call’. I realized I had no idea what his first name was, which was a little weird.

I’ve definitely never met a guy for coffee during happy hour before, let alone under lights so bright they make me want to get all the botox even though I’m only 25. But maybe it would be good for a change not to get all gumby-legged and handsy over a few glasses of wine? Oh, who am I kidding. I live for that shit. But I was willing to make an exception for Dr. Ahmad, mostly because he looked like he belonged on Grey’s Anatomy.

I showered and got ready for work, annoyed I’d already worn my favorite LBD into the office just a few days before. I settled on my second favorite dress, a long sleeved black dress that Nina said makes me look like a witch. “But a sexy Halloween type witch, right?” I’d asked. To which she’d said, “Nope. Like you have a wart on your nose.” Different strokes.

I didn’t really have much to do at work, since everything I had been working on was on hold indefinitely. I spent the afternoon polishing my resume and updating my LinkedIn profile just in case. When I left to meet Dr. Ahmad, I realized it was the first time I’d left the office before 7PM in I couldn’t remember how long. It felt like I’d taken a half day.

Dr. Ahmad already had a cup of coffee in front of him when I arrived. He was wearing his scrubs and doing some serious justice to his five o’clock shadow scruff. Why, hello.

I stopped by his side. “Dr. Ahmad? Hi.”

“Josie,” he said, standing and gesturing for me to take a seat. “And it’s Hasan,” he added. “Has for short.”

Once we were settled in our seats, Has said, “Looking good,” and pointed to his eyebrow.

“I’ve been applying the Vitamin E oil every hour,” I said. “I do not want a scar.”

“Keep it up and it will be like it never happened.”

“Except it will always sting that I missed Pearl Jam.” I stuck out my lip and mock-pouted.

“That’s where you were headed?” he asked. We got to chatting about music, our favorite bands, and the best concerts we’d ever seen in person. Has told me he goes to Burning Man every year, and I pictured him treating all those concert-goers tweaked out on Molly. In my mind’s eye he was shirtless, sweating underneath the sun, and screaming, “If we don’t get this man to a hospital within the hour he will die. Do you hear me?!”

After I had a cup of coffee in front of me (decaf after three, otherwise I stay up all night fretting over things like how it’s been three years since I’ve been to the dentist), Has said, “Honestly, I was surprised you wanted to do this. I assumed you were, you know, involved with your friend.”

Nina and I? Lezzzbians? I’d never gotten that before. I mean, we were headed to a concert and I guess we were dressed a little on the tough side, but if that was all he was basing that assumption on it was pretty weak. The idea of Nina being my girlfriend made me laugh. “God, no.”

“Oh,” Has shrugged. “The way you were…I just assumed.”

I didn’t know what to make of that, so I just changed the subject. “So you have to go back to work after this?”

Has nodded. “Sucks, doesn’t it?”

I nodded. “But it’s so admirable, what you do.”

“Well,” Has pointed at me. “You too! The head of the Pro Bono program at your law firm. I mean, good for you. If I meet one more woman in this city who is in media, God.” He rolled his eyes dramatically.

I don’t know what came over me—a combination of female agreeability and good old fashion surprise—because instead of correcting him, and telling him that I was not, in fact, the do-gooder intellectual he thought I was, but instead the media-girl who he was so sick of meeting, I said, “I know, right?”

Thankfully, before I could dig myself any deeper, Has looked at his watch and said, “Sorry to do this. But I really have to get going.”

I was all prepared to never see Has again. But then out on the street, he leaned down and gave me a kiss goodbye, and he smelled like late nights and courage under fire, and when he said we should do this again, I nodded dumbly.

As soon as I was by myself, I called Nina and told her everything.

“This is amazing,” Nina said. “My very own little Elle Woods! I couldn’t be more proud.”

“Stop,” I said. “I’m honestly so confused about why he thought that though. Was there another girl at the hospital who looked like me or something?”

“Now that I think about it,” Nina said. “There was this one couple there. She’d done something to her head too, and she was holding a towel against her forehead. I think she had blonde hair.”

That had to be it, and Has’s comment about assuming I was ‘with’ my ‘friend’ hadn’t been in reference to Nina, it’d been in reference to this couple. It also explained the shock on his face when I first asked him out in the hospital hallway. He thought I was creeping around on mah man.

“Grand,” I said. “Anyway, I gotta go. Ashley’s thing.”

“Good luck,” Nina said. “Call me after and tell me everything.”

I was pretty surprised when I arrived at the engagement party. I knew it was at L’Artusi in the West Village, so I’d assumed Tom and Ashley had rented out the back room, which was on the small-ish side. But they’d actually rented the entire top floor, which could not have been cheap.

The first people I saw were Ashley’s parents. I said a lukewarm hello to them, doing the awkward lean in I always do before Ashley’s Mom makes it crystal freaking clear we are not hugging. Ashley’s parents are…well, I’m not really sure how to describe them. They’re good people, and they want the best for their daughter, obviously, but they’re a little cold. Not much personality and certainly the type that avoids confrontation at all costs. I can almost guarantee you that if I were to go to them and tell them about Tom, they would just shrug their shoulders and say it was between the two of them and Ashley would eventually figure it out. If a guy did to me what Tom did to Ashley and my Mom found out about it? It would be his balls.

Ashley also has an older half-sister, who she was never really close to because they’re twelve years apart. By the time Ashley was in middle school, Marissa was already out of college. Now, she lives in upstate New York with her husband and two kids, and the two hardly ever speak.

I didn’t know what to expect from Tom’s family, but I figured any family that turned out a man like him had to be broken in some way. So I was shocked to discover that they were exactly the opposite: A sweetheart of a younger sister, two loving parents who had been together for thirty something years, and tons of cousins and aunts and uncles, all loud, vivacious, and incredibly warm and welcoming. When Ashley introduced me to Tom’s Mom, Doreen, she threw her arms around me and jumped up and down, squealing, “I’m so happy to meet you, sweetheart! Ashley’s told me all about her best friend.”

Ugh, that made my heart hurt. I wanted nothing more than to be genuinely happy for Ashley, but this was just all kinds of wrong.

As I made my way around the room, giving hugs hello and meeting the rest of Tom’s family, it occurred to me that Doreen was the total opposite of Ashley’s Mom. Part of me wondered if half the draw of Tom was his family, since Ashley didn’t really have that going on for her. It just made me all the more determined to be a good friend to Ashley, to show her there are people who love her and will be there for her, even without Tom and his family.

I always have to dig deep to be pleasant towards Tom. And you know what makes it even more uncomfortable? The last time I saw him, and the night of the engagement party, he was one charming bastard. It would almost be easier if he was an asshole to me, because we could just exchange a bit of small talk and move on. But Tom complimented my dress and engaged me in a long conversation about my job. And what else can you do but respond as though he is a normal, decent person? The disconnect between how I feel about him and how I’m forced to act around him is massive.

At one point, I was idling in the corner, checking email on my phone, when Tom’s sister, Isabel, approached me. I’d put her in her late thirties/early forties, and she was there by herself. “Divorced.” She’d rolled her eyes at me when I asked if she was seeing anybody. I think she felt drawn to me because we were two of the only single people there.

“Anyone fun?” Isabel asked, nodding to my phone.

It took me a second to realize what she was asking. “I wish. Work email.”

Isabel groaned. “The worst. Like no respect for your personal time these days.”

I nodded, even though from what I’d heard from Ashley, Isabel had never worked a day in her life. She’d gone from her father’s payroll to her ex-husband’s. It’s like my worst nightmare.

“So we are in love with Ashley,” Isabel added.

“She’s a good one,” I said.

“And you know, it’s like thank God Tom got that problem fixed so they can just move on with their marriage and start afresh.”

I was really surprised Isabel would speak so candidly of Tom’s ‘problem’, but it was kind of a relief to have it out in the open, and to be able to talk about it with someone who was so close to Tom. “I wouldn’t say it’s fixed,” I said. “He needs to do a lot of work, but hopefully he gets better.”

Isabel cocked her head at me. “Of course it’s fixed. The vasectomy is reversed.” She clapped her hands, the noise so sharp I jumped. “Done and done.”

“Oh, right,” I stumbled. “I guess, I just didn’t know…how that worked.”

“No,” Isabel said, reproachfully, like I was her student and I’d answered a question to her oral pop quiz wrong. “You were talking about something else.”

“I wasn’t!” But my voice pitched, giving me away. I took a step back from Isabel. “I’m just going to quickly run to the bath—”

Isabel put her hand on my wrist, stopping me. “Did he hit her?”

Jesus, Josie. Way to put your foot in your big fat mouth for the second time that day. “I…I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do,” Isabel said. “Tell me.”

“There’s nothing to tell!”

“I mean it, tell me or I’ll create a scene. If you just tell me, I’ll wait and speak to my brother about it in private.”

I just gave up. I was tired of hiding this. “He did. Okay? He did.”

Isabel dropped my wrist and put her head in her hands. “God damnit!” she seethed. “He promised me…” she trailed off.

“He promised you what?”

“That he was getting help. After Jackie. His ex. He said he was all ‘fixed’ or whatever.” She picked her head up and looked at me. “This family does not condone that behavior. That’s not how Tom was raised. I don’t want you getting the wrong idea.”

“I’m not,” I said. “I don’t have any idea…about anything.” Oh God, someone save me from this conversation.

“Well, I won’t say anything here,” Isabel said. “But I am going to talk to him.”

“Please, don’t,” I said. “I’m actually afraid. If he finds out Ashley told me, and that I told you. I’m afraid what he would do to Ashley.”

“He’s not a murderer for Christ’s sake,” Isabel laughed. “He just has a little bit of a temper is all.” So that’s how the family excuses it. ‘Just a little bit of a temper’. People are so gross sometimes.

I was about to protest again, but at that moment Isabel’s aunt joined us, and the subject was dropped.

At the end of the night, I said goodbye to Ashley and all of her new family. Ashley thanked me over and over for coming. You won’t be thanking me when I tell you about my conversation with Isabel tomorrow, I thought. But deep down, I was hopeful that the news that Tom ‘tried’ to fix his problem, and clearly failed, would make her reconsider the engagement.

Doctor, Doctor

If I ever become famous enough to be featured in that US Weekly column, 25 Things You Don’t Know About Me, one of those ‘things’ will be that when I was in middle school, I went through this weird punk/goth/poseur phase. I had posters of Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder all over my bedroom, maroon streaks in my my hair, and I rocked oversized JNKO jeans from Hot Topic. I was very angsty and wrote purple prose-ish poetry while listening to Nirvana and Pearl Jam and burning incense. My poor parents.

So when I found out Pearl Jam was playing Barclays Center this past weekend, I jumped on tickets. Turns out Brad, Nina’s boyfriend, is a big fan too, so I was going with the two of them and Brad’s friend Darren, who was visiting from Boston.

Barclays Center is in Brooklyn, and the best meeting place for all of us was at this dive bar in Midtown.  We planned to have a few drinks before hopping on the subway.

Nina and I were the first to arrive, and upon finding a beer pong table in the back of the bar, decided to play a little one on one game while it was just the two of us and there were no boys to judge how terrible we were.

And the following story is what I get for pretending like I am still in college: Nina shot first, the ball fell on the ground, and as I bent over to pick it up, I whacked my head so hard on the wooden ledge of the bar that I heard a collective gasp go around the room. That, and the horrified look on Nina’s face when I stood up, told me it was bad.

“Shit,” Nina said, rushing over to me. “Are you okay? Does it hurt?”

“Not too much,” I said. I went to touch the spot I’d hit, but Nina grabbed my hand.

“Don’t touch it!” she said. “I think you need stitches.”

At this point, I was still in shock. I didn’t even realize that the skin right beneath my eyebrow was split in two. The bartender wrapped some ice in a paper towel and handed it to me before Nina took me to the bathroom.

I took one look in the mirror and knew I would not be making the concert. I needed to go to the emergency room right away. Nina insisted on coming with me, even though I told her she didn’t have to. “Are you kidding me?” she said. “You could have a concussion.” She texted Brad on our way out the door, letting him know our change of plans.

Even though a gash on your eyebrow hardly requires major medical surgery, it was a sobering moment to realize I had no idea where to go in the case of an emergency, and neither did Nina. We had to look up “ER NYC” on our phones, and finally decided to go to the one at Lenox Hill because it was closest to my apartment. “Maybe they can stitch me up quickly and we can still catch the second half of the concert,” I said, hopefully.

Nina looked at me. “Have you ever been to the emergency room before?”

I thought. Realized I hadn’t and shook my head.

Nina laughed. “Oh, this will be fun”

We sat in the waiting room for three hours. Once we were admitted, we sat on a gurney in the hallway for another two before a nurse finally came by and led us into a small examining room. She wrote down all my information and told me that the doctor would be with me shortly.

It was another forty-five minutes before the door opened and someone said,  “I’m Dr. Ahmad.” At this point all of the ice had completely melted and I was holding a wet paper towel against my head, half blind, delirious with hunger, and worried I had some kind of staph infection and/or a serious head injury.

I felt Dr. Ahmad’s hand on my knee and heard his gentle voice say, “Can you remove the paper towel so I can take a look?” I did, and it was like the clouds opened and the angels sang. Dr. Ahmad was gorgeous. And young. I put him in his early thirties. I looked over his shoulder and saw that Nina was humping the air and mouthing, “Yeahhhh.”

“That’s quite a bruiser,” Dr. Ahmad said. “How’d you get that?”

I was not about to tell this accomplished, sophisticated New York City doctor that I’d sliced my eyebrow in half playing beer pong at a dive bar in Midtown. “Someone pushed me and I fell down the subway stairs.”

Nina rolled her eyes at me behind his back.

Dr. Ahmad gave me an odd look. “But how did you…fall exactly?”

“It’s all just a blur,” I said, weakly.

Dr. Ahmad nodded and made his way over to the sink in the corner of the room. “You need three or four stitches,” he said. “But I have to clean it out first.”

“Um, will that hurt?” I asked.

“I’ll numb the area first.” Dr. Ahmad smiled at me over his shoulder and that was all the pain medication I needed.

“I’ll need you to put a gown on first.” He nodded at the paper hospital gown folded next to me on the bed. “I’ll give you a few minutes to do that.”

As soon as Dr. Ahmad was gone, Nina turned to me and said, “Someone pushed you down the subway stairs?”

I pointed my finger at her. “Don’t blow my cover.”

A few minutes later, Dr. Ahmad knocked on the door. “Decent?” he called out. If you consider a thin paper gown that pretty much exposes my entire butt, then yes I was decent.

Dr. Ahmad told me to lie down and then he cranked the handle on the side of the hospital bed to raise it up, and without a bra my enormous boobs flopped like a fish on land with every turn of the handle. It was awful.

Dr. Ahmad didn’t mention that in order to numb the area, he had to stick it with a needle several times. I tried to be strong and not cry but he was sticking a needle in an open wound and I couldn’t help it as a single tear rolled down the side of my face. Dr. Ahmad patted my arm and said, “It’s okay. The worst is over.” I almost told him I loved him.

Ten minutes later, I was all stitched up. I was sad to leave Dr. Ahmad, but he said he would see me in a few days when I came back to get the stitches out. I started planning my outfit immediately.

It was after midnight by the time Nina and I stepped out onto the street. We were starving, so we stopped at my favorite pizza place on our walk back to my apartment. I’m obviously on good terms with the owners, and when they saw the massive bandage over my eye, they gave me my slice for free! Who says New Yorkers are assholes?

Nina went to meet Brad at a bar in the West Village, but I was exhausted and I put myself to bed immediately. I hadn’t been planning on going into the office that weekend, mostly because I’d anticipated being mildly hungover on Saturday. But thanks to my injury that kept me from drinking eighty million Natty Ices and passionately singing “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” I woke up feeling refreshed and energized. I decided to go into the office for a few hours and get a head start on my work for the week.

I showered, changed the bandage over my eye, and started off on the walk to my office. It was a cloudy day, which I was thankful for because I don’t think my sunglasses would have properly fit over my makeshift eye patch.

I’d been in the office for only an hour when I heard the elevator doors ding open and voices in the hallway.

…”Just a transitional period,” one of the voices was saying. “Take what you can from William but don’t feel like you have to do things his way.”

“That won’t be a problem,” the other voice said. They both laughed.

I don’t know what came over me, but instinct told me to crouch down.

“He’s stubborn,” said the one guy, as they passed by my desk, thankfully on the other side of my cube, where I couldn’t be seen. “But just remind yourself it’s temporary and he’ll be out of your hair soon.”

I heard them go into William’s office. They were only in there a few minutes before they disappeared down the hallway, presumably to look at some of the empty offices left by the editors who had been fired. I didn’t know if I should use that opportunity to run, or if I should wait for them to leave first. I was just getting ready to make a move when I heard them, coming around the corner again. I froze.

“Definitely William’s office,” the one guy said, and they laughed again.

“A few more weeks and it’s yours.”

My heart was in my throat and as the great Cady Heron once said, I felt like my stomach was going to fall out of my butt. I never even saw the people attached to the voices, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out that William’s position as ‘acting” Editor in Chief wasn’t permanent.

I waited ten minutes before leaving. As soon as I was on the street, I texted William and told him I needed to speak to him ASAP.

When I didn’t hear back in an hour, I tried calling, but William’s phone went straight to voicemail. I didn’t have his personal email, only his work one, so I sent a cryptic message to that address.

I didn’t hear from William all weekend. I was a ball of stress (with an eye patch to boot)  come Monday morning. William doesn’t usually get into the office until 10:30 or 11, and the second I saw him walk through the elevator doors, I took off after him.

“Did you get any of my messages?” I asked.

“What happened to your face?” William asked.

“I fell,” I said.

“How much did you have to drink before you ‘fell’?” William cracked.

“Unfortunately, nothing,” I said. Once we were alone in his office, I shut his door. “Did you get my text or email?” I asked.

“I was out East,” William said. “I had terrible service. What is so important that it can’t wait until I get settled in?”

I told William exactly what I’d heard on Saturday morning. William made me repeat the story three times before asking me if I’d gotten a glimpse of the two men attached to the voices. “I didn’t,” I said, helplessly. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” William said. “I can pretty much bet my life on who it was. They’re bringing in an editor at large, to help us restrategize. I didn’t buy it for a second that this guy would just be ‘consulting.’ I’ve had my contacts good and ready to go in case he ends up taking my job.”

“But,” I said. “Where are you going to go?”

“Back to an agency,” William said. “Literary division. It’s better there, Josie. You work with all different departments—TV, film, branding. You think beyond just books. You package talent. That’s where the money’s at. That’s where the future’s at.”

“Can I go with you?”

William laughed. “Not if you’re wearing an eye patch.”

“I’m serious,” I said. “You’re going to need an assistant. Why wouldn’t you just bring me with you and then you can avoid re-training someone?”

“Josie,” William said. “I would gladly take you with me. But I don’t have another job yet. Are you really going to quit when I quit, with no guarantee?”

“Well,” I said. “How long would it take you to find another job?”

William shrugged. “It could be a month, it could be a year. I’m in a position, financially, to wait. You, my dear, are not.”

“I have that $25,000 from the show,” I said. “And some royalties from the book. It’s not much, but I could bartend or something, somewhere, until something comes through for you.”

William folded his arms across your chest. “You really want to go with me if I leave, don’t you?”

I did. I think William is one of the most forward-thinking bosses I’ve ever met. I compare him to the other editors, like Kate’s boss, and the difference is that William thinks big. He’s not content to just settle for a book deal—he wants more opportunity for his writers than that. And I needed to put myself in a position with growth potential. Staying in a books-centric industry, at a time when print was on its way out, wasn’t very smart. If I went to a Talent and Literary Agency, my focus would still be books, but I would get to learn about other mediums, like TV, that weren’t going away any time soon.

“Let’s do this,” William said. “Just hang on here, for now. There’s no reason for you to quit your job just because I’m planning to. When I find something, then I’ll poach you from this place.”

“But aren’t they going to fire me if you quit any way?”

William shrugged. “They might. Or you’ll be the new guy’s assistant. Even if they do fire you, at least you’ll get some severance.”

William had a point. “Will you give me your word that whenever you get a new job, I’ll be your assistant?”

William stuck his hand out. “You have my word.” We shook on it.

The next morning, I went back to the hospital to have my stitches removed. I wore my favorite LBD and peep toe booties for the occasion, so I was very disappointed when the doctor who entered the room was not my beautiful knight in shining scrubs.

His name was Dr. Gellington and he was ancient with long nose hairs. “Where’s Dr. Ahmad?” I asked, but Dr. Gellington just shrugged.

Dr. Gellington said I was healing ‘nicely’ as he snipped my stitches. Then he told me to apply Vitamin E oil to the area to avoid scarring. I thanked him and gathered my things to go.

I was rounding the corner when I practically ran into Dr. Ahmad.

“Sorry about that!” he said, at the same time I exclaimed, “Dr. Ahmad!”

Dr. Ahmad furrowed his brow and stared at me. “I’m sorry. Remind me of your name again.”

“Josie,” I said. “I was here on Friday night.” I pointed to my eyebrow. “Fell down the subway stairs.”

Dr. Ahmad snapped his fingers. “Right. Right. Looks like you’re healing nicely.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“Well,” Dr. Ahmad said. “Have a nice day.”

He turned on the heel of his white sneaker. Something in me was not okay with never seeing Dr. Ahmad again, and before I even had a chance to doubt myself, I was saying, “Wait!”

Dr. Ahmad turned around and faced me again. He looked like he was in a hurry, so I said, quickly, “Um, would you ever want to get a drink or coffee or something?”

I don’t think I’ve ever asked out a guy before. Ever. I mean, I’ve asked a guy to hang out after we’ve hooked up. But I’ve never cold hit on a handsome doctor in my grown up life.

Dr. Ahmad’s eyebrows jumped halfway up his forehead, and for a second I thought he was going to turn me down. But then he said, “Sure. Do you have a card or something?”

With shaking hands, I dug around in my purse and located my business card. I handed it to Dr. Ahmad, who glanced at it briefly. “I’ll call you,” he said. Then he smiled, revealing a row of teeth so perfect, they were clearly no stranger to Crest White Strips.

I practically skipped out of the hospital. An exciting new job and a date with a doctor—and I had my ‘fall’ to thank for both.

Bye, Brian

“Before you say anything,” Ashley said. “I just want you to know that Tom is going to see a therapist for anger management. Because I told him I would not marry him if anything like…you know…ever happened again.”

Pretty sure it’s a really bad sign if you have to couch your engagement news with the caveat that your fiance is going to anger management to avoid roughing you up again. I realized Ashley was just staring at me, because I had yet to have any reaction to the diamond on her finger, which was dazzling in the sun. “Sorry,” I said. “This is just a lot to take in.”

“I know,” Ashley said. “I know it is.” She held the door open for me so I could step inside. We climbed the stairs, Ashley chattering away, saying the word ‘know’ so many times I thought my head would spin off. “I know it’s going to take a lot for you to trust him, and Tom knows that too. He wants to get to know you better. I feel like you have such a bad impression of him.”

Well, domestic violence tends to cloud my judgement. We were at the the door to my apartment, and I unlocked that door and pushed it open with my shoulder. I dumped the pile of manuscripts on my little Ikea table, and the entire thing collapsed. “Motherfucker!” I yelled, much louder than I meant to. Part of it was my frustration with Tom. I just wanted to ride the train into Westchester like a fierce woman warrior and take him out.

Ashley dropped to the floor and helped me clean up the mess. “Thanks,” I said. “This thing is such a piece of crap.”

We cleaned up in silence. When we were done, Ashley rocked back on her heels and said, “I just hope you can find some way to be happy for me.”

I sighed. “Ash, I want to be happy for you. I do.”

“But?” Ashley asked.

“Why do you have to be engaged?” I asked. “Why can’t he see the therapist while you’re just dating?”

“Because he’s in his forties, Jos. He’s too old to be someone’s ‘boyfriend’.”

“So call him your partner or lover or something.”

That made Ashley giggle. “Listen, I know you’re all anti-marriage”—

“I’m not anti-marriage,” I said, defensively. “Why would you say that?”

“Well, you’re all on this kick about being on your own and you don’t like babies…” Ashley trailed off.

“That doesn’t make me anti-marriage.”

Ashley held up her hands. “Sorry. Forget I said it.” She stood and brushed off her jeans. “Listen, the reason I’m here is because I wanted to invite you to a small engagement party Tom and I are having next week. It will be a chance for you to get to know him better.”

It’s like Ashley somehow had it in her head that the problem would be solved if I could just ‘get to know Tom better’. She looked so hopeful that I didn’t want to crush her, but I also didn’t want to support this. It was one thing to be pleasant to Tom when they were just dating, but another thing entirely now that they were getting married. And while this was totally secondary to the issue of Tom being an awful guy who has clearly brainwashed my friend, there was an element of truth to what Ashley said about me being anti-marriage. It’s really more that I’m anti-marriage right now. I knew this day would come, when my Facebook newsfeed would be littered here and there with news of former classmates’ engagements, when my friends would start to drop off like flies. As much as I’m a relationship girl, I cannot picture myself getting married for many moons, and sometimes I feel like girls are just clamoring to get engaged just to be able to say they’re engaged. Plus, you start to have less and less in common with your friends once they get married and have kids, and that makes me sad. I always knew I’d be left out in the cold with all of this eventually, but I just wasn’t ready for it to start yet.

“Can I think about it?” I asked.

Ashley bit her lip. I thought she was going to cry, but she said, “Sure. But Josie, I’m not asking you to be my maid of honor and stand up at the altar and all of that. I’m just asking you to come to a small party, to get to know the Tom I know. That’s all.”

Oh God. I hadn’t even stopped to think that I would probably be asked to be the maid of honor if they move forward with this. Compared to that commitment, the engagement party didn’t seem so bad. “You know,” I said. “Yes. I’ll go.”

Ashley clapped her hands together. “Awesome. You’re going to love him. I promise.”

I doubted that, but I didn’t say so. “What about Nina?” I asked. “Does she even know?” I gestured to Ashley’s ring. I still couldn’t believe she was wearing one of those.

“I’m heading over to her apartment to tell her next,” Ashley said.

That ought to be a calm, level headed conversation! “Well, good luck.”

Ashley gathered her stuff and gave me a hug goodbye. I gave it one hour before Nina was on the horn with me, freaking out.

Right on schedule, about an hour later, my phone rang. “What the fucking fuck?” Nina said.

“I know.”

“I mean, seriously. Is this not the stupidest idea in the history of mankind?”

“I know,” I said again. “But she can’t see it. He’s manipulating her. It’s what guys like that do.”

“She’s going to be a stepmom,” Nina sighed. “A child bride stepmom.”

I hadn’t even thought about that part. That was weird. “What did you say to her?” I asked.

“Everything I just said to you!”

I clapped my hand over my forehead. “Nina!”

“I mean, I put it a little more nicely. But I basically said this was a huge mistake and I just had to bow out of anything related to this engagement or wedding, and Ashley was all, ‘I’m sorry I don’t live up to the impossible expectations you have for everyone.’ It was bad.” Nina paused. “Do I have impossible expectations for people?”

“You have high standards,” I said. “But it’s not necessarily a bad thing. And having the expectation that a friend’s fiance doesn’t beat her is setting the bar depressingly low.”

“Exactly!” Nina cried.

We chatted a little longer. I told her about Kate and Peter, she told me about the weekend she spent with Brad’s family. “They love me,” Nina said. “And you love Brad, so there’s one engagement you can be genuinely happy for.”

I felt sick. “If you guys get engaged.”

“Calm down, crazy,” Nina said. “Brad has crushing student loans that are going to take him forever to pay off.  I give it a presidency and a half before it happens.”

Good. Maybe Nina and I could be old cat ladies together.

After we hung up, I decided to do a little fashion show. I needed to figure out what to wear on my ‘date’ with Peter on Wednesday. I wanted to look hot, of course, but not like I was angling for any hanky-panky. It’s a fine balance, you see.

Wednesday came, and I decided on a pair of fake black leather pants and a silk button down with the ‘editor’s tuck’ that one of our fashion bloggers taught me to do (basically, you just tuck in the front of the shirt and leave the back out. Like a tuck mullet!). I didn’t shave my legs or my arm pits. This way, even if I was tempted to hook up with Peter, my hairy body parts would stop me. The date was at this restaurant downtown, right off the West Side Highway. Peter was at the bar, sipping a bourbon, when I walked in.

“Hi, friend,” I said.

Peter smiled and asked me what I wanted to drink. “Doesn’t this place have a gold martini or something?” I asked. Peter pointed it out to me on the menu, and my eyes bulged out of my head when I saw the price.

“It’s all included in the dinner anyway,” Peter said. “Might as well go for it.”

So I did. Just a typical Wednesday night, drinking a martini with gold shavings floating on top.

A few minutes later, the host came over and greeted us. “May I show you and your wife to your seats now?”

“That would be lovely,” I said and winked at Peter. I think of words like ‘lovely’ as things wives say.

We were escorted to a large, private room, with an artfully decorated table. “Do you have a music preference?” the host asked.

Peter gestured to me. “I’ll let my ‘wife’ choose.”

“Hmmm,” I said. “Do you have an 80s station or something? On Pandora?” Peter snickered.

I think the host was expecting me to say jazz or Beethoven or something, but he acquiesced graciously and soon the sound of Michael Jackson’s Thriller filled the room.

The host exited, saying our server would be with us shortly. As soon as we were alone, Peter laughed. “Maybe we should keep this up.”

“What? That we’re married?”

“More like, pretend we’re different people than who we are.”

“Oh!” I said. I could get into that. “Yes, yes. Who are you?”

Peter thought a second. “I’m Brian. I’m a congressman from Texas. Who are you?”

“I’m Vivienne and I’m a professional piano player.”

“Odd choice of music for a professional piano player,” Peter said.

“I like to take a break from the classical stuff during my downtime,” I said.

“Oh, I see.”

Our server appeared and greeted us so formally that for a moment, I imagined what it must be like to be Kimye. I did not hate it. He asked us if we wanted tap or still, and if we’d have a chance to look at the wine menu.

“Vivienne,” Peter said. “Would you like wine or are you going to stick with the gold martinis?”

“Wine,” I said. “Martinis cause my joints to swell and I won’t be able to play properly tomorrow if I have more than one.”

The server was looking at us like we were insane, but he politely recommended a few reds off the menu. Peter went with a Pinot Noir from California. “Amurica,” he said to me, and pumped his fist in the air.

“Right,” the server sighed. I’m sure he couldn’t wait to go home. “Well, I’ll be right back with that.”

“So, Brian,” I said, once we were alone again. “What brings you to New York?”

“I’m on extended vacation,” Peter said. “Government shutdown and all.”

“How fabulous for you,” I said. “I’ve never met a member of Congress before.”

“I hope I live up to your expectations,” Peter said.

“I have a feeling you will,” I said. Underneath the table, I felt Peter’s leg brush mine. I wasn’t sure if it was an accident or not.

Our server returned with the bottle of wine. He opened it and gave the cork to Peter to sniff before pouring him a taste. Peter nodded his approval. When we were alone again, Peter raised his glass. “Cheers,” he said.

“Cheers.” I touched my glass to his and took a sip.

The waiter returned with the first course. An amuse-bouche with Ahi tuna and watermelon. I could have eaten a thousand of them.

“So, Vivienne,” Peter said. “How long have you lived in New York?”

“Well, I was born here,” I said. “But I moved away for a few years, to try something new.”

“Why did you come back?”

“I always knew I would,” I said, suddenly realizing how weighted those words were in relation to my situation with Peter. Peter seemed to too, as he was looking at me intensely. “Nothing compares to New York.”

“Well,” he said. “Sometimes you have to let the things that you love go. That way, you can come back, and be sure it’s the right move for yourself.”

I took a sip of my wine. “It sounds like you’re speaking from experience.”

“I am,” Peter said. This time, when I felt Peter’s leg under the table, I knew for sure it wasn’t an accident.

The waiter returned with the second course. There were seven total, and by the end of the meal, the band of my fake leather pants had burrowed into my midsection. But oh baby, it was worth it.

“So where are you staying while you’re in New York?” I asked.

“The Ritz,” Peter said. “In Battery Park. It’s the only place I stay when I come here.”

“Very fancy.”

“It is,” Peter said. “This is my last night in town—you should come see for yourself.”

Were we still playing? I wasn’t sure. “I don’t just want to…go to your hotel room and never see you again,” I said.

“I think you’ll see me again,” Peter said. “Eventually.” I felt his leg, warm against mine, underneath the table again. My leg hairs stood up with goosebumps. Hot, Josie.

Peter held his hand out to me. “Come on.”

To my surprise, Peter told the cab driver to go all the way downtown, to The Ritz. “Wait,” I said, breaking character for the first time that evening. “We’re seriously going to The Ritz?”

Still in character, Peter said, “it’s where I’m staying, remember?”

When we arrived, Peter walked right up to the front desk and booked us a room for the night. I’m pretty sure everyone in the lobby thought I was a hooker (hopefully a high class one) as I stood off to the side, trying to look nonplussed as Peter passed his credit card to the concierge. Which, I realized, is probably exactly how hookers act when a client books a room. “Let me know how much I owe you for my half,” I said, loud enough for everyone to hear as we made our way to the elevator.

“You don’t owe me anything,” Peter said.

“Yes, I do.”

Peter pulled me close as the elevator doors shut. “It’s on the government.”

Our hotel room had a stunning, panoramic view of the Hudson. I dumped my bag on the bed and just stood there, taking it all in. Peter sat down on the bed in front of me. “So you’re a professional dancer, right?” he asked.

“Piano player,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“I think you should switch to dance.” Peter leaned back and laced his fingers behind his head.

“But I can’t dance,” I said. I knew exactly what he was getting at, but I’m the least graceful person I know and a ‘strip tease’ from me would be the biggest boner killer this side of the Hudson.

“I’ll help you.” Peter nodded at me. “Start with your shirt.”

Under normal circumstances, I would not have indulged this request. But I’d had a gold martini and a bottle of Pinot Noir, and someone once sent me a birthday card that said, ‘There is a certain amount of alcohol that makes you believe you’re a damn good dancer’ and I am positive I consumed it. So I untucked my editor’s tuck and started unbuttoning my shirt. I was careful to keep my arms close to my sides as I peeled it off. I mean, really, did I think a few days of stubble was going to keep me from hooking up with Peter? The lies we tell ourselves.

“Pants,” Peter said, and I unbuttoned my fake leather jeans. Getting out of those wasn’t nearly as seamless as taking off my shirt, but I tried my darndest to make it look sexy

“Bra,” Peter said.

I unhooked the back of my bra and let it fall to the ground. Then I just waited. It felt like every inch of my skin was on fire with Peter’s gaze.

Peter sat up and scooted forward on the bed, until he was sitting on the edge of it. He hooked his thumbs in the sides of my thong and pulled me towards him. He kissed my stomach. He went lower, kissed me over the fabric of my underwear. I had to put my hands on top of his shoulders to brace myself. Peter flipped me onto my back and knelt on the floor between my legs, dragging my thong down my legs as he did. I tilted my head back and sighed when I felt his tongue against my bare skin. He didn’t stop until I came.

Peter stood up, unbuttoning his shirt and kicking off his pants at the same time. Then he was on top of me, inside me, saying, “I’m going to miss this.”

“Me too,” I said, holding on to him tight, burying my face in his chest. I loathe sex-criers, but at that moment I was dangerously close to being one. It was goodbye sex, and we both knew it.

Afterwards, we rented a movie and broke into the minibar. Even though I was stuffed, I still managed to take down a king sized box of peanut butter M&Ms. I burned off at least half the meal with the sex, right?

I fell asleep at one point, and when I woke up in the morning to my alarm, Peter was already in the shower.

I dragged myself out of bed and started getting dressed. As I was putting on my shoes, Peter came out of the bathroom, a towel around his waist.

“Hey,” he said.


“You’re not getting ready here?”

“I have to get home first,” I said. “There’s a bunch of stuff at my apartment that I have to take into the office.”

“Got it,” Peter said.

I stood up and walked over to him. “Last night was really fun, but we failed miserably at the ‘friends’ thing.”

“I knew we would,” Peter said.

I gave him a big hug. His skin was still wet and he smelled impossibly clean.

“So, uh, good luck with the whole shutdown thing,” I said, when I pulled away.

Peter smiled a sad smile. “See you around, Vivienne.”

There was a mirror in the elevator, and I wiped away the smudged make up underneath my eyes. On the street, the bellhop hailed me a cab right away. On our way up the FDR, I Googled how much a hotel room at The Ritz cost, nearly had a heart attack, then logged into my bank account and sent Peter a check for my half. If we ever gave this a go again, I wanted us to be on equal footing.

Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs

I took a deep breath. “Okayyy. Care to elaborate?”

“Actually,” Kate said, “I wouldn’t care to elaborate. I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about.” With that, she turned around in her chair and went back to typing away.

“You don’t want to at least talk about this?” I asked. “Can I even tell my side of things?”

“Not here,” Kate said, over her shoulder.

“Lunch?” I asked.

Kate paused. “Fine.”

I was actually glad Kate didn’t want to talk about it until lunch, because at that moment I was so irritated with Richard I just wanted to call him up and give him a piece of my mind. That kid was on my shit list for taking it upon himself to tell Kate what happened. It took two to tango and it should have taken two to tell!

I would have called Richard, but Kate wasn’t that far from my desk and I didn’t want her to hear that conversation. Instead, I sent him a text, “Did you tell Kate about that night after the Social Media party?”

To my surprise, Richard called me back immediately. I picked up, my voice low. “Richard,” I whispered. “I can’t talk about this here.”

“I know,” he said. “So just listen.” Richard told me that he had been telling Kate about this job he was close to getting, and how he’d made an off hand comment about how the office was mostly guys, but maybe that was a good thing because hooking up with co-workers had always gotten him into trouble. Kate latched on to Richard’s plural use of ‘co-workers’ and demanded to know if something had happened between him and I, and at that point he felt he couldn’t lie to her, so he told her there had been a drunken kiss after the Social Media party but that was all.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “It was an innocent slip but once she asked me directly about it, I felt I couldn’t lie.”

“You could have at least given me a heads up about what I was walking into this morning,” I whispered.

“She seemed fine when we left!” he said. “I didn’t think she would say anything to you.”

“Well, she did, and she is pissed,” I said. “I have to go.”

“Wait,” Richard said. He groaned, but didn’t say anything else.

“What?” I pressed.

“I keep making a mess of things with you. I just feel like such a dick.”

“You are a dick, Richard!” I exhaled. “But whatever, maybe it’s for the best that she knows. I feel like Kate is mad but not so mad she’s never going to speak to me again. At least it’s out. It was kind of eating at me.”

Richard and I hung up and I made myself busy until lunchtime. Around 12:30, I knocked on the wall to Kate’s cubicle. “Want to go?” I asked.

Kate gathered her things and we rode the elevator down to the street in silence.

Once we were outside, Kate said, “I don’t even really care that you guys kissed. I care that you didn’t tell me and you guys kept this secret from me and I look like the idiot.”

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry. I guess I just didn’t want to upset you when it was a one time thing that would never happen again.”

“But how could you let me go home with him not even twenty-four hours after it happened?” Kate demanded. “Was he just trying to make you jealous? God, that’s so embarrassing.”

“I tried to talk you out of it!” I said.

Kate gave me the side eye. “Come on. If you had told me that you guys had kissed I would have never gone home with him. I really wish I’d known.”

I jammed my hands in the pockets of my trench coat. “I guess I just didn’t know how to tell you, but you’re right, I should have. I would have wanted to know too.”

We walked in silence for a few blocks. “I know I’m, like, inexperienced at all of this,” Kate said. “Dating. Guys. But I just hate feeling like you view me as this kid sister who you keep the truth from because she can’t handle it or something. It’s so fucking condescending.”

I don’t give Kate enough credit, because that was a pretty astute observation. I did kind of view Kate like that, and with my track record, it was hypocritical. “I get it,” I said. “I won’t do it again.”

“Good,” Kate said. We’d reached our favorite deli.

“So are we okay?” I asked.

“Not until you buy me a salad with all of the one dollar toppings,” she said, holding the door open for me.

Later that week, I was in William’s office, going over a few things, when he said to me, “You know, I don’t like getting into my personal life. But I just want to let you know that Elizabeth and I are no longer together and she is not welcome in this office.”

You don’t fucking say. But I was curious what made him bring that up—had he somehow gotten wind of the fact that Elizabeth had contacted me? “What made you say that?” I asked.

“Security mentioned to me that she was in the building the other week. Trying to get up to my office to give me a birthday present.” William snorted. “My birthday’s in July.”

I tried to keep my face neutral. “How odd,” I said.

William held his hands on either side of his head and moved his eyes back and forth. “Cuckoo for Cocoa puffs, that one,” he said.

When I got back to my desk, I was surprised to see that I had a text from Peter. “You left some work stuff at my apartment,” he said. “Manuscripts and stuff. I can mail them to you or you can come by and pick them up.”

“I don’t mind picking them up,” I said. I didn’t want to make Peter mail them out, and I also hated how we had left things that night in the lobby of my building. I had secretly hoped we could have another chance to talk because I didn’t want things to end on such bad terms. “When is good for you?”

Peter told me to come by on Saturday morning, and I agreed.

On Saturday morning, I did a run up the East River, stopped for a few minutes to creepily ogle the dogs in the dog park, before cutting west to Peter’s apartment. By the time I arrived I was sweaty and out of breath.

“You didn’t have to get all dressed up for me,” Peter said when he opened the door.

“Ha ha,” I said, stepping inside. I saw my things in a pile on the kitchen table. “Thanks for holding on to these for me,” I said.

Peter shrugged. “Thanks for coming to get them.”

We stood in silence, awkwardly. Finally, Peter asked me if I wanted water or something.

“Water would be great,” I said.

Peter disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a glass of water in his hand. He has one of those refrigerators with a water dispenser built into it, and it always seemed like the most luxurious thing in the world to me. “Thanks,” I said, taking a sip.

“So how’s work?” Peter asked.

“Bleeding money.” I grinned.

Peter rolled his eyes. “So that’s how it’s going to be?”

“Come on,” I said. “It was a joke.”

“Whatever happened with Elizabeth?” Peter asked.

I shrugged. “I told her not to come, and I didn’t think she did. But William told me she was at security, trying to get in. You know it wasn’t even his birthday?”

“Doesn’t surprise me,” Peter said.

“I should thank you though,” I said. “For pointing out that it was absolutely nuts for me to take her at her word. That would have been a disaster if she got into William’s office on my watch.”

“I have a few years of Elizabeth experience on you,” he said. He leaned up against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest. “So listen,” he said. “We still have that date…from the charity dinner? I got an email about it a few days ago….if you want to still go, as friends….” he trailed off.

“I didn’t think you’d want to go with me,” I said. I was honestly shocked he suggested it.

Peter looked down at his feet for a second. “I thought a lot about what you said. Then I thought about where I was when I was twenty-five.”

“And where were you when you were twenty-five?” I asked.

“Living in a shithole with three of my frat brothers, barely able to take care of myself let alone a girlfriend.”

“Why do I have a feeling Fedora Guy was one of your roommates?”

Peter laughed. “Of course he was.” Peter paused. “The point is, I shouldn’t have made fun of you for wanting to ‘find yourself.’ The people who don’t do that when they’re young are always the ones who end up divorced.”

“But,” I said. “Didn’t you end up divorced anyway?”

“I ended up divorced because I ignored some red flags about my relationship,” Peter said. “But I’m just thinking about a lot of my friends from college. The ones who didn’t play around in their twenties have either gotten divorced, or are really unhappy in their marriages.”

“That’s what my mom always tells me too,” I said. “I just have this feeling that I don’t want to be tied down right now, and I want to honor it.”

Peter nodded. “I can respect that.” He cleared his throat. “So this charity date thing. If you don’t want to go, I have other options.” He wiggled his eyebrows at me.

I laughed. “I’m sure you do.”  I thought about it a second. “I’d go,” I said. “But I mean, come on, are we really going to be able to go to this thing as friends?”

“I can if you can,” Peter said.

I thought about it some more. Maybe it could be just a friendly thing. Maybe Peter and I could be ‘just friends.’ Not friends the way Nina and I are friends. But every now and then, we call each other up, see how the other person is doing? Maybe grab a drink? Maybe, eventually, we’ll be in the same place at the same time and things will work out? It wasn’t unthinkable. “Sure,” I said. I smiled. “I’d really like that.”

Peter smiled back. “Me too.” He held the door open for me. “Now get out of here, you’re starting to stink up my apartment.” I gave him a little elbow nudge as I walked out the door.

I was in a good mood by the time I got back to my apartment. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and I’d already worked out and had the whole day in front of me to do with as I pleased. As I turned the corner, I saw that Ashley was standing outside my building.

“Ash?” I balanced the pile of manuscripts in one hand and shielded my eyes with my other.

“I’ve been calling you all morning,” she said.

“I went for a run,” I said. “Then I had to swing by Peter’s. I didn’t bring my phone with me.”

“You were at Peter’s?” Ashley asked, surprised.

“Just to pick up some stuff I left there,” I said. “Nothing happened.” I handed her the pile of manuscripts. “Hold these.” I dropped to one knee to take the key off my shoelace. I stood and unlocked the door. “Here,” I said to her, indicating that she could hand them back to me. “What are you doing here? Is everything okay?”

As Ashley passed the manuscripts back to me, something hard and sharp scratched the skin on my wrist. “Ow!” I yelped. But then I knew what had scratched me before I even saw it, before Ashley held up her hand and announced, excitedly, “We’re engaged!”


Before I went into work on Wednesday, I stopped by Dry Bar and got their ‘signature’ blowout. This client had given me a gift certificate a while back and I was meeting Ian later so it seemed like the time to use it. I figured showing up with locks more luscious than usual couldn’t hurt my chances of getting some.

I had the first appointment at 8AM when they opened, and I thought I would be the only person there, but the place was jam packed with cute girls getting their hair did for whatever hump day plans they had after work. I felt such camaraderie with my fellow hussies that I was tempted to rally everyone into doing the ‘bend and snap’ routine from Legally Blonde. But then I just returned to my copy of Lucky and continued lusting after Eva Chen’s editor’s letter outfit.
I was in a stellar mood by the time I arrived at work—nothing could get me down! Not even William giving me a weird look and asking if Farrah Fawcett hair had come back into style and he somehow missed it (I guess the Dry Bar signature blowout is a little Charlie’s Angels-ish). I could have the job and I could still have my womanly needs met. Gross! I said womanly needs. The key, I realized, was not getting attached, like Penny Lane and the Band-Aids. Ian, who lives almost 3,000 miles away, was the perfect person not to get attached to. Tangled up with for the night, yes, but not attached.
I set to work on the pile of manuscripts on my desk, returning emails, crafting emails, and rearranging William’s calendar—double, triple checking his appointments against his emails to me. Things were going so well here, and I couldn’t slip up on something as mundane as his calendar.
Around 1, Kate and I broke for lunch. I was trying to decide between a nice fat sandwich and a salad, the eternal girl lunch debate, when Kate mentioned she was grabbing a drink with Richard later.
“I thought he was taking a time out from drinking,” I said.
“He’s taking a time out from boozing,” Kate said. “Not drinking. There’s a difference.”
“So I take it things with you two are fine then?” I squinted at the calorie counts on the menu. How could the Spinach and Fig salad have more calories than the tomato and mozzarella panini? That’s it, I was getting the panini. I needed sustenance for later anyway, since Ian and I weren’t even going to dinner. We were actually going to a concert at Joe’s Pub. There was some ‘talent’ he wanted to check out.
“I mean, it’s still a little awkward,” Kate admitted. “I don’t want him to think I like him or anything. Because I don’t. I just wanted to hook up that night.” She made a psh-aw noise. “I would never date Richard.”
I wasn’t sure if this was just self-protective talk or not, but either way it was making me feel guilty. I hated keeping what had happened with Richard from Kate, but the moment to tell her what had happened was immediately after it happened, and that had passed. I didn’t even really get a chance to seize it because that was the day of the Literatti massacre, and then we were all at the bar, and Richard was already all over Kate, and I just didn’t know how to tell her then, without making it look like I just didn’t want her to hook up with him because I was jealous. Though, to be honest, I still don’t know if I would have told her, even if the perfect opportunity had presented itself. In my mind it was a one time slip and it’s not like Kate and Richard were ever together, together. I do think there are certain cases where ignorance is bliss, and where total honesty isn’t always necessary. The problem with that is that there is always that slight chance the person you are keeping something from will find out, and the fall out will always be ten times worse than if you’d just come clean from the get go.
The sandwich guy handed me my panini. It was the size of my face and there was no way it was less caloric than that measly little spinach salad. I’ll only eat half, I rationalized. Then later, as I chewed the last bite, Well, this is like lunch and dinner, so it’s okay.
I was just closing out all the windows on my computer screen when I heard William calling for me. He was actually yelling, “Farrah! Farrah!” But I knew he meant me. I sighed and made my way to his office. One day you will be the boss, one day you will be the boss, I repeated to myself.
“Farrah! There you are,” William said. He laughed at his own joke. “I thought you’d taken off on one of your secret missions for Charlie.”
I rolled my eyes. “No, I actually have a date so I’m getting ready to go.”
“A date!” William said. “Good for you. It’s good to let loose after work sometimes. Can’t work too hard.” William always tells me not to work too hard but if I didn’t work as hard as I did it would be my ass.
“What’s up?” I prodded. It was 8 and I was meeting Ian at 8:30.
“I was just hoping you could drop these writing samples off at The Carlyle before you go.” William pushed a binder across his desk. “Mary Ann doesn’t ‘do’ email attachments.”
I suppressed a weary sigh. Mary Ann is one of our clients who is freakishly suspicious of computers and big brother and is also looking for a ghost writer for her book. The Carlyle is all the way uptown, and Joe’s Pub is all the way downtown. I couldn’t say no, and now I was going to be very late.
“Sure.” I plastered a fake smile on my face. The boss is always right! “I’ll head over now.”
I texted Ian to let him know I would be running late. William said I could expense a cab, so at least I had that on my side. It was 8:24 by the time I got to The Carlyle, 8:31 by the time I located Mary Ann’s room and passed off the ghost writing samples to her. Then she engaged me in a long conversation about how cell phones give you brain cancer and I tried my best to sound like I didn’t think she was one crazy fucking bat as I provided her with various responses to placate her. “Really? A government conspiracy? Wow, I had no idea.”
It was 9:02 by the time I was in a cab, on my way to the East Village. It took another half an hour to get there and then they wouldn’t let me in the goddamn concert hall because I would ‘interrupt’ the performance and I had to wait for the intermission, which wasn’t for another forty minutes. By this time I was so harried and annoyed and sweaty that my Farrah Fawcett do was plastered to the side of my face and all the good will I felt about ‘having it all’ earlier that morning was gone. At least there was a bar in the lobby.
Two glasses of wine restored my mood, and by the time the concert broke for an intermission and Ian came through the doors, looking so dangerously lithe and feline in his rocker chic attire, I practically flung myself at him.
“Rough day, huh?” Ian said. He had his arms around my shoulders and he picked my Farrah hair up off my shoulders and flipped it onto my back, his fingertips grazing the sides of my neck as he did.
I smiled up at him at him. “It wasn’t that bad.”
Ian ordered a beer and then we found our way to our seats. We were tucked into a dark corner, sharing a table with a few strangers, forced to sit so close together our thighs touched.
“Dori is amazing,” Ian said, referring to the singer we’d come to see. “She’s on the brink of blowing up. She’s always had this huge cult following but she’s about to be bigger than Adele when her new album drops. You’ll always get to say you saw her here first.” Ian was right—the place was packed, and I’d read online that Dori’s concert had sold out in just a few hours.
The lights dimmed and the concert resumed. I don’t normally enjoy concerts unless I know the music I’m listening to (how else can I sing along, duh?), but Ian was right, this girl was amazing. Not only was she ridiculously talented, but she was beautiful—model tall and model thin. It was the type of music that warmed you from the inside out almost instantly, like you’d heard her songs before even though you couldn’t have because they were off her latest, not-yet-released album. Ian’s thigh was warm against mine and he had his arm resting on the booth, just above my head. Every now and then he would lean in and whisper something in my ear—some little factoid like, Dori’s grandmom is an old Hollywood actress. He would pause after he said it, his face still close to mine, watching my reaction.
Towards the end of the show, he leaned in again. “You know I used to date her.”
I turned my head. Our faces were inches from each other, our noses practically touching. “You did not,” I said.
Ian nodded. A slow smile spread across his face. “She’s cool. I’ll introduce you to her.” He tilted his head ever so slightly, and his eyes were on my lips. “She’ll like you.”
And then we were kissing. One of those really soft, slowwww kisses where you just hold on to the feeling of your lips against his lips, not really moving, just touching. I think I half melted into the back of the booth by the time Ian pulled away. I couldn’t even rectify this Ian in my mind with the Ian I knew in high school.

When the concert ended, Ian led me through the kitchen and backstage, where Dori was hanging out with her band.

“Knock, knock,” Ian rapped on the door frame.

“Holy shit,” Dori said. Her voice was husky and it matched her whole tough girl ensemble—jet black hair, baggy leather pants and a ripped tank. Her ‘look’ was in total contrast to her voice.

Dori uncrossed her long legs and peeled herself off her chair. She had the same slow, languid way about her that Ian did. She wrapped her arms around his neck and whispered something in his ear and he laughed. The way their bodies fit together—they had definitely been a couple once.

“This is Josie,” Ian said, bringing me into their fold.

“Josie,” Dori said. “Hi.”

“That was a great show,” I gushed.

Dori smiled and swept her eyes up and down over me, then smiled wider. “Thanks.” She hooked her arm around Ian’s shoulder—she was practically his height. “What are you guys doing now? Want to come back to our hotel with us?”

Ian looked at me. Go back to the hotel with the band? Ian may not have been in the cool crowd in high school, but he was certainly in the cool crowd in the real world. I nodded and tried to look nonchalant about it but inside I was geeking out.

Dori was staying at The Standard—naturally. Her suite was milling with various people when we arrived—publicists, family members, a few fans/groupies. It was actually a great place to network and I forced myself to introduce myself to Dori’s publicist. I told her what I did and how we’d love a chance to work with Dori if she was interested in books. We exchanged cards and I couldn’t wait to report on this new find to William in the morning, even though I was a little annoyed with him for making me sweaty and late for my date.

After an hour or so, the crowd started to peter out, and Ian grabbed my hand and pulled me into the bedroom, where a few people were lounging on the bed, including Dori. They were passing a joint and the room reeked of pot. Ian took a hit and handed it to me. I can handle one quickie drag and that’s about it, as evidenced by my tweak out that night I accidentally ate those magic brownies at Brad’s place. I took a baby pull and passed it on.

Ian folded his body into a big plush chair caddy corner to the bed, and pulled me into his lap. He looped his arms around my waist, his hands resting against the zipper of my jeans, or, as the romance books say, my pulsating sex. Pulsating sex! That made me giggle. Yup, one hit is about all I can handle.

The joint had made its way around the room and Dori got up off the bed and made her way over to us. She knelt at the foot of the chair. She was so tall that we were almost at eye level. I politely declined another drag—when the phrase ‘pulsating sex’ makes an appearance in your head it’s better to just cut your losses, wouldn’t you say?

“No?” Dori asked. She cocked her head at me, looking disappointed. But then she leaned forward to hand it off to Ian, and her hair brushed over my bare shoulder as she did, making me shiver. There was this weird moment where I thought she was going to kiss me or something, and I thought, huh, I could do that. And then we were kissing. It lasted no more than five seconds, and there was no tongue. When Dori pulled away her eyes were sleepy and she sighed, contentedly. Then she got up and returned to the bed with her friend.

“Let’s get out of here,” Ian whispered behind me.

It was such a weird but erotic moment that my legs were shaky beneath me when I stood. Dori waved goodbye to us and then Ian was pulling me out of the room.

“So that’s why Dori and I broke up,” Ian said, laughing, as we stepped onto the elevator. “I told you she would like you.”

“Of course she would like me,” I said. ‘I’m irresistible.” Wink. I do have this theory that all celebrity types are pan-sexuals—they’re not straight or gay, necessarily, just so attractive and with so many options that they’ll try it all.

I turned to Ian. “Did you set that up so you could witness a little girl on girl or something?”

Ian laughed. “No.” He pulled me close. “I don’t like to share.”

We grabbed a cab and headed to my apartment. I didn’t even bother to turn on the lights when we stepped inside. We found our way to my bedroom and Ian fell on top of me, pulling off my jacket and his shirt. My room never really gets dark because the light from the city is so bright, and I could see Ian had tattoos on his ribs, and a small symbol right above one of his pecs. “You’re so hot,” I said. “How did you get so hot?” It was one of those things I meant to say in my head, not out loud, but I was too buzzed to be embarrassed.

Ian laughed and covered me with his body. “I’ve thought about this a long time,” he said. When he was closer, he lowered his voice and said so softly I almost didn’t hear him, “I’ve wanted to make you feel like this for a long time.”

We only made out, but there was a point where he was so hard and I wanted him so badly, but I just knew it wasn’t a good idea. I started to explain myself, to apologize, but Ian put his hand over my mouth. “You don’t have to say anything.” He removed his hand. “It’s fine.”

It was almost 4 in the morning before we finally stopped kissing, and fell asleep. Even though I only clocked a few hours of sleep, I felt energized in the morning. Something about the night had recharged me more than a full night of sleep could have.

Ian pulled his clothes on and crawled across the bed to give me a kiss goodbye. “If you’re ever in LA,” he said. “I expect to hear from you.”

“Ditto for New York,” I said.

I waited until I heard the door close and Ian’s footsteps recede in the stairwell, and then I flung myself flat on my back in bed, giddy with the memories of the night.

That giddiness lasted until I got to work. I turned on my computer, replied to a few emails, and then went to find Kate to tell her all about my crazy night. She was at her desk, but she didn’t turn around when I came up behind her and said good morning.

“Helloooo?” I said.

Kate stopped typing. She seemed to gather herself before she spun around in her chair. “Hi,” she said coldly.

“Hi, yourself,” I said. I folded my arms across my chest and gave her a quizzical look. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh,” Kate said. “You know, only that I thought I had this really good friend but turns out she’s a lying bitch.” Whoa. I don’t think I’ve heard Kate curse…ever. The word bitch was like a physical assault coming from her, and I took a step back. And then I remembered. Kate had drinks with Richard last night. Apparently he’d decided this was one instance where ignorance wasn’t bliss.

Good Job Growing Up

It was homecoming weekend at my high school, and there were celebrations for alumni from Friday through Sunday. I hadn’t attended a homecoming event since I was in college, but some of my old HS friends had been on my case about going to the football game on Saturday, so I figured why not show up and brag about my cool job in the city. JK, most of my classmates have jobs way cooler than mine in New York.

I was in this tight knit clique in high school with four other girls, but by the end of senior year, we had come apart at the seams. Two of the girls, Alex and Casey, got themselves boyfriends and basically dropped off the face of the earth, which of course pissed the other three off (I remember some very dramatic, tearful “Hoes before bros!” fights over the phone. Oh, high school.). Then the third girl, Andrea, who always had issues with food (as in, never ate it and when she did locked herself in the bathroom and turned the water on for twenty minutes), was sent off to some kind of eating disorder clinic for the summer where she wasn’t allowed contact with friends from home. I was one of the remaining two, along with my friend, Nicole. My favorite summer was that summer before freshman year of college. We had comically bad fake IDs, but there was this one bar in the city that just didn’t care, so there we were almost every night, making out with cute college intern boys who at the time seemed so worldly and wise to me because they wore suits. In reality, they were just a bunch of fratastic boneheads who didn’t know what a clitoris was or where it was located, but when I was eighteen years old I didn’t have the gift of retrospect, okay?

At the end of the summer,  Nicole and I went our respective ways for college, and midway through freshman year her parents moved to Charlotte, NC. I never saw her when I came home for holidays and summers in NJ, and we lost touch. I still talk to Andrea, Casey and Alex occasionally, but we’ll never be as close as we once were, and that’s okay.

So that’s how the ole gang broke up! It was Andrea who had really been on my case about homecoming. So and so got a boob job and so and so created some app and owns an island now, and I wouldn’t regret making a trip out to Jerz to see her rack and his Maserati with my own two eyes.

“Is the app guy single?” I asked. “I have a friend for him.”

“He’s gay,” Andrea said. “Such a shame.”

I had invited Ashley, Nina, and Kate to go with me, but only Kate and Ashley took me up on the offer. Nina said she’d done a lot of thinking with this whole Ashley situation and she just didn’t feel comfortable pretending everything was okay when it wasn’t.

“I wrote her a letter,” Nina said.

“You wrote her a letter?” I repeated. “Is this The Notebook?”

“I told her I love her and I will always be there for her but I won’t pretend like everything is normal when it isn’t.”

I sighed. “Nina, it’s just going to push her away and that’s exactly what Tom wants. To isolate her.”

“I don’t give a fuck what Tom wants,” Nina seethed. Well, then.

I never thought I would have to play peacemaker between Ashley and Nina. I could see Nina’s point—I didn’t like pretending like everything was hunky-dory when it wasn’t, but I didn’t know what the alternative was other than shutting Ashley out, which I wouldn’t do.

But then it didn’t even matter because on Saturday morning, Ashley texted me that she wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be able to make it. That smelled fishy to me, and I’m a regular Nancy Drew, so I called her back instead of texting.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Nothing, my throat is just bothering me,” Ashley said. “I don’t want to get you sick.”

I paused. I wasn’t buying that. “Do you want me to just come over instead?”

“Josie,” Ashley laughed. “Stop.”

I heard a voice in the background—Tom’s voice.

“I’ll call you later,” Ashley said. “Have fun.” Then she hung up.

So in the end only Kate and I made the trek out to New Jersey. Kate had her sister’s car, and as we made our way through the Holland Tunnel, Kate asked me if I’d heard from Peter.

“Nope,” I said. “Not that I expected to.”

“Oh, I liked Peter,” Kate said.

“I like Peter too,” I said. “But our timing is never good. I’m just not in the right place to be in a serious relationship, and it would be serious with Peter. The thought of having to be a good girlfriend when work is as demanding as it is is just overwhelming to me.” Kate and I had both been in the office well past our bedtimes the last two nights. I felt guilty that I wasn’t in the office at the moment,  but I promised myself I would spend a few hours in my little cubicle on Sunday. Our bosses had promised us they were getting some interns to help out, but that promise had yet to be fulfilled.

“I would be willing to be overwhelmed for that,” Kate said, snapping her fingers like she was a sassy character in Bring It On.

“Ew,” I said.

“I know, sorry, that was gross,” Kate said.

Half an hour later we pulled into the parking lot of my school. It was packed, so I texted Andrea and asked where they were sitting.

‘Third row of bleachers,’ she wrote. ‘Prime view of McKaden’s tits.’

As Kate and I made our way through the crowd, I kept my eyes peeled for my ex boyfriend, Luke, who had also dated Ashley and had been a real asshole to her. But compared to Tom, Luke seemed like a dreamboat.

Kate and I found Andrea, Casey, and Alex, and I introduced Kate.

“Are we winning?” I asked.

Andrea snorted. “No. It’s already 23 to zero.”

“That’s embarrassing.”

Not like we were really paying attention to the game. Andrea was too busy pointing out all of our former classmates and listing their respective accomplishments, failures, new body parts, and drug problems. When it was finally half time, Andrea and Casey volunteered to save our seats so that Kate, Alex, and I could pillage the concession stand. I was waiting in line, trying to decide between Twizzlers and a soft baked pretzel, when someone said my name.

I turned around. Behind me was a tall guy—really tall, like 6’5—tan, tats on his forearms, and bright blue eyes. I shielded my eyes and gave him another look. I still had no idea who he was.

“Josie,” he said again.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t…do we know each other?”

He touched his chest. He was wearing a black t-shirt and black skinny jeans. He stuck out like a sore thumb from all the guys in their pastel button downs and sensible dark wash jeans. “It’s Ian,” he said. When he saw that still wasn’t ringing a bell, he said, “Ian Whitmore.”

That jogged the ole brain. “Ian?!” I said. “Oh my God, I didn’t even recognize you.” I didn’t know if we should hug or not, but Ian stepped forward and then we were going in for the real thing.

Ian Whitmore transferred to my high school school when he was a sophomore, and while he had always been a giant, he’d been more awkward and gangly beanpole than tall drink of water. He had acne, he wore glasses, and he was so soft spoken teachers always had to ask him to repeat himself in class, a request that made him turn the color of a beet without fail. Ian also happened to be a sick swimmer, and swimming was my ‘sport’ in high school. I say ‘sport’ lightly, because I was not a very good swimmer, and I only joined the team because they sucked and they would have me, and it got me out of P.E. Ian and I had struck up a friendship riding the bus to all of our away meets, and during the long waits in between our events (mine was 100 backstroke, his 100 butterfly). I’d always suspected that Ian had a little crush on me, but I had a boyfriend and Ian was the quintessential class nerd. A sweet guy, but it just wasn’t going to happen.

I could not even believe it was him standing before me now. He had filled out, and his skin had cleared up. He looked so different…so…hot. And when I hugged him, he smelled like a man—aftershave and a little sweaty from sitting underneath the hot sun because apparently the tri-state area has not gotten the memo that it is Fall.

“You look amazing,” I said.

Ian dropped his head and rubbed the back of his neck. He squinted and looked up at me and he could have been a poster that teenage girls hang in their bedrooms. “Thanks. So do you.”

“Jos, what do you want?” Kate asked. The mom working the concession stand was waiting on us, and I quickly placed my order and stepped aside.

“So, what are you doing now?” I asked Ian. “Where do you live?”

“LA,” Ian said. So that explains the tan. “I’m in the music industry.” And the tattoos and skinny jeans.

“That’s so great,” I said.

“What about you?” he asked.

“New York,” I said, which suddenly didn’t seem so impressive because everyone we went to high school with lived in New York. “I’m in book publishing.”

Kate and Alex were signaling at me, like we had to get back to our seats. “Are you going to the cocktail thing at Kelly’s after this?” I asked Ian. Our school always does a ‘cocktail hour’ at this local bar after homecoming for alumni. I’ve never once seen someone drink a cocktail at Kelly’s, only beer and shots. It inevitably turns into a total shitshow, and it’s always so much fun.

“I’ll see you there.” He smiled and I noticed that he had dimples. Had he always had those?

“Who was that?” Alex asked as we made our way back to the stands.

“Ian Whitmore,” I said.

“The swimmer?” Alex asked. I nodded and Alex whistled. “Good job growing up, Ian.”

We lost the game—by a lot. But it didn’t seem to dampen the celebratory mood of the crowd. When we arrived at Kelly’s, everyone was dancing, singing, and drinking. I spotted Ian at the bar, talking to Mr. Davis, who had been our biology teacher, and made my way over to him.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hey!” Ian put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. I didn’t even come up to his armpit.

I said hello to Mr. Davis. “I’ve got to go find my wife,” Mr. Davis said. “Good seeing you kids.”

“I don’t think he even remembered me,” I said.

“How could anyone not remember you?” Ian said. He winked at me and I almost fell off the bar stool.

“So did you come back for homecoming?” I asked, trying to steer us into neutral territory so I could reclaim my cool.

“Yes,” Ian said. “Because you know me, Mr. Prom King.”

I laughed.

“No, I’m in New York for the week for work. I thought, why not stop by?” He took a sip of his beer. “I was hoping I would see you here.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said. “You were the only person from high school who ever really gave me the time of day.”

“That’s not true,” I said. “What about Charlie? And Joe?” Ian, Charlie, and Joe had been inseparable in high school.

“I meant the only person from the cool crowd who ever gave me the time of day,” Ian said. “Guys like Charlie and Joe wouldn’t come back for homecoming. They hated high school.” It’s funny, the way your high school identity can vary from person to person, depending on where that person stood in the chain of popularity. I never saw myself as popular. In fact, there was a group of older girls who were really the epicenter of the popular crowd who took every opportunity they had to cut me down. I always felt like Gretchen Weiners or something.

“I didn’t love-love high school either,” I said. “But I like stuff like this because I like seeing where everyone ended up. Like you—I never would have guessed you would be in LA, in the music industry. What do you do exactly?”

“Producing,” he said.

“Any one I know?” I asked.

Ian leaned in closer to me and I smelled his delicious man smell again. “Everyone you know.”

“Wait, seriously…any one who has a story to tell and would want to write a book?”

Ian laughed. “So what are we, networking now?”

“Isn’t that what these things are for?”

“I thought these things were for finally making a move on the girl you always had a crush on, because you were too afraid to her ask out when you had the chance.”

Whoa. Ian had moves on top of the muscles and the baby blues.

“I’m only in New York for a week,” Ian continued. “So tell me you don’t have a boyfriend so I can take you on a date.”

“I don’t have a boyfriend,” I said, quietly.

“Good.” Ian smiled. It was a cocky smile, any trace of the shy, awkward kid he had been totally gone.

We made plans to meet up that week and exchanged numbers. I left pretty soon after—it was getting dark and Kate doesn’t like driving in the dark!

“Okay grandma,” I laughed. But I agreed because it couldn’t be much fun being at a bar with a bunch of drunk people when you couldn’t really drink. I said goodbye to Andrea, Alex, and Casey, and we piled into Kate’s sister’s car. Another thing I love about high school events—they are either a reminder of how much you love the life you’ve built for yourself since high school, or they’re a wake up call to make a change because you realize you’re not very happy with where you are in life. I was fortunate enough to identify with the former sentiment, and that was a good feeling.

Someone Call The Maury Show

“Why?” I asked, and clamped my hand over my mouth in horror. I’d meant to say ‘who.’ “S-sorry,” I stuttered, “I meant to say, ‘who?’ Freudian slip!” Oh my God, just stop talking, Josie.

“Freud, what?” Elizabeth replied, sounding confused, and I felt triumphant. You may weigh as much as my thigh when nine months pregnant, but my brain is better than yours!

“Nothing,” I said. “Nevermind. You caught me off guard and I’m not making sense. How did you get my number?”

“William,” Elizabeth said, lightly. Then there was silence…except, was that a baby I heard in the background?

“So…can I help you?” I prodded. But there was still silence. I realized Elizabeth wasn’t paying attention to me anymore. I could hear her shushing what definitely had to be a baby, and not soothingly.

Finally, Elizabeth came back on the line. “Jesus,” she huffed. “It’s like, I’ve fed it, the nanny changed it, what else does it want?”

I was stunned speechless. I am not a kid person, but I couldn’t imagine referring to my child as an ‘it’.

“Anyway,” Elizabeth sighed. “The reason I’m calling is because I need you to do me a favor, the way I did you a favor getting you a job.”

I bit my tongue to keep from pointing out that she may have gotten me the interview, but I was the one who got the job —and kept it after a massive layoff. “What is it?” I asked, tightly.

“It’s William’s birthday on Thursday—did you know that?”

“I didn’t,” I said.

“Well, I wanted to surprise him with a present. It’s this antique typewriter that apparently Hemingway used or something. It cost me a fortune and it isn’t even functional, but he went crazy for it when we saw it at this auction a few months ago. I wanted to get it in his office before he gets there in the morning, and I was hoping you could just leave my name with security so I can pop in there quickly and drop it off on Thursday morning.”

I was still trying to process everything Elizabeth had just said. From the sound of it, William and her were back together, and I’m assuming that meant he was the father? Was that the ‘good news’ William received over the weekend?

“Why don’t you just give it to him at home?” I asked. If they had a baby together, they had to be living together, right?

“Because he wants it for his office. And I want to surprise him. I have my trainer in the morning so he’ll think I’m on my way to that but really, I’ll set it up in his office so it’s there when he arrives.”

I couldn’t think of any good reason not to help her, so I said, “Um, sure. I guess can put your name in the security system as a guest.”

“Perfect,” Elizabeth said. Then she said goodbye without even thanking me. Harrumph.

I finished cleaning up, got ready for bed, and put the whole conversation out of my head until Wednesday night, when I had dinner with Peter.

After we’d settled into our seats and I had a big fat glass of wine in front of me, I said, “You’re never going to believe who called me on Monday.”

“Scorsese,” Peter said. “He saw you on TV and wants you in his next movie.”

“Weirder,” I said. “Elizabeth.”

Peter had been buttering a piece of bread but he froze, and a clump of butter slid off his knife and onto his plate. “What the hell did she want?”

I told him about our conversation, when I got to the part about putting her name in the security system, Peter said, “Tell me you didn’t do that.”

“Why?” I asked, a sick feeling forming in my stomach.

“Did you?”

“Before I left work tonight, yeah. I can take it out. It’s not permanent. Should I?”

“I would,” Peter said. “I don’t think William and Elizabeth are together. And I definitely don’t think that’s his baby. I don’t think he wants anything to do with her.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Because I saw her last weekend, with the baby, and he has a full head of red hair.”

I didn’t know what the red hair comment was supposed to mean, but I was too curious about the fact that Peter had seen Elizabeth to focus on that at the moment. “Wait, you saw her?” I asked.

“I ran into her,” Peter clarified. “That’s what I wanted to tell you about.”

“What happened?”

Peter said he’d gone for a run in the park on Saturday, after I’d left his apartment. After he was finished, he took a walk down to the reservoir to stretch. Sitting in a bench, with a stroller by her side, was Elizabeth.

“She was crying,” Peter said.

Even after all the shitty things Elizabeth has done to other people, the image of her crying on a park bench on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, with a newborn and no one to share that joy with, tugged at the strings on my heart. I am a human!

“Why was she crying?” I asked.

“She’s alone, Josie. She has no one. Her family is supporting her, financially, but they’re furious with her. William wants nothing to do with her—I imagine—and she has a newborn. I can’t speak from personal experience, but from what I can tell, having a newborn is hard as hell even when there are two parents. She’s doing it on her own.”

“She has a nanny and her parents pay for everything,” I pointed out.

“Right, but she doesn’t have any emotional support,” Peter said. “Which is her own doing, no doubt. Elizabeth is a very troubled person, and it actually concerns me that she’s alone with a baby for the better part of her day.”

“But why do you think William doesn’t want anything to do with her?”

“Because,” Peter reached into his pocket and dug out his phone. He punched something in, waited, and showed me the screen. I was looking at a Facebook picture of a red headed man with his arm around a pretty brunette. His name was Andy Goodman. “Everyone knows she slept with Andy, even though he’s married, and the baby has bright red hair. William isn’t very smart, but it doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together.”

“William told me he had gotten ‘good news’ over the weekend,” I said.

Peter snorted. “Probably that the kid is Andy’s, which means he doesn’t have to be tethered to my crazy ex-wife for the next eighteen years.”

“So basically, I need to get back to my office right now and remove Elizabeth’s name from the system.”

“Just do it tomorrow,” Peter said, waving his hand. “I’m starving.”

“I can’t relax right now,” I said. “What if she decides to drop it off tonight? William will kill me if he finds out about this.”

“Maybe that’s for the best,” Peter said.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Why do you even want to work at that place? It’s unstable, they’re bleeding money, and your boss is a dick.”

“I like working for William,” I said, defensively.

Peter laughed. “Since when?”

“I know he’s an acquired taste but I’ve acquired it,” I said. “He’s a shark. And he trusts me. I feel like I have a lot to learn from him. I don’t want to screw this up.”

Peter sighed, irritably. “You really want to go over there right now? We can’t even eat?”

“You don’t have to come,” I said. “But I just can’t relax until I take care of this.”

Peter didn’t say anything, but he signaled to the waiter and asked how much we owed for the wine. I slurped down as much as possible before we left.

My building always gives me the creeps after 8 PM, which is when the lights automatically shut off. If you’re there late, you have to manually turn them on. When I know I’m going to be working late, I frequently stake out by the lights around 7:57 so I can flick them on the moment they shut off. Otherwise I have to scramble through the dark to the far end of the office, and every time I encounter an object that is even remotely human shaped, like a coat rack, I give myself a heart attack thinking it’s a rapist.

I said hello to the nighttime security guard, Mel, and introduced Peter. “I just forgot something,” I said. “I’ll only be a few minutes.”

Peter said he would wait downstairs in the lobby, which was fine with me. He’d given me the silent treatment since we’d left the restaurant, only mumbling, “It’s fine,” when I told him again that he really didn’t have to come with me.

It was easy enough to remove Elizabeth’s name from the system. The hard part was going to be calling her and backing out on our deal.

It really freaked me out that I was so quick to believe her story and bend to her wishes. I don’t doubt that she spent an arm and a leg on an antique typewriter, or that it was something William went crazy for at an auction they attended a few months ago, back when they were dating. I also don’t doubt that it would have been a surprise for William, but it would have been a terrible one that could have gotten me into serious trouble. I suddenly felt vulnerable, the way I had when I first moved to New York. I’d moved for my ex-boyfriend Eric, and when I found out that he was cheating on me it was this terrible moment where I realized I had no idea how to protect myself, that my instincts were off and I couldn’t trust them the way I thought I could. I thought everything between us was fine. Better than fine—great. How could I have been so wrong, especially when it was so obvious to so many other people that Eric was a total douche canoe? The Eric thing and the Elizabeth thing are two different situations, but they both demonstrate poor judgment that in retrospect, make me question myself. How could I have possibly thought everything with Eric was fine when he disappeared for days on end, and how could I have possibly thought that letting Elizabeth into William’s office without his permission was a good idea? It was beyond idiotic. I was so mad at myself.

I decided to call Elizabeth from the privacy of my desk. She answered on the second ring, “Josie?”

“Hi,” I said. “I just wanted to tell you I can’t put your name in the security system anymore.”

“Why?” Elizabeth demanded.

“Because I don’t feel comfortable letting someone into William’s office without his permission.”

Elizabeth laughed, meanly. “I’m not someone, Josie, I’m the mother of his child. And when I’m not happy, William isn’t happy.”

Even though I knew she was bluffing, that statement still terrified me. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth. I wish you all the best.” I hung up as she started to say something back to me.

I took a deep, shaky breath. I didn’t know if I’d done the right thing. Maybe now I’d enraged Elizabeth so much she would show up tomorrow anyway and cause a scene.

Downstairs in the lobby, Peter was hunched over his phone, texting away. He looked up when he saw me. “Crisis averted?” he asked with a smile. The way he said it, it was condescending, like I’d made a big deal out of nothing. It was infuriating.

I stalked past him. “Yeah,” I said sarcastically. “Crisis averted.”

“Come on,” Peter said, following me out. “I was just kidding.”

We paused on the street corner. “Want to just order from the Thai place you like?” Peter suggested.

The Thai place I like is by Peter’s apartment, not mine. “Actually,” I said. “Do you mind if we just catch up later? I’m kind of in the mood to be alone.”

Peter studied my face. “Why?”

“I’m just freaked out by this whole thing,” I said. “I’m freaked out by myself, that I could be so stupid. I’m losing my focus. I can’t fuck this up, and I almost just did.”

“Josie, it’s fine,” Peter laughed. “You fixed it. William never has to know.”

Peter’s laughter worked me up even more. This wasn’t funny. “But I know,” I said. I realized I was near tears. “I know that I came this-close to a royal screw up two weeks after my company fired over half the staff. I can’t afford to be distracted right now.” As soon as I said those words, I realized what a game changer they were.

“And you think I’m distracting you?” Peter shot back.

I could have turned it around right there. I could have backed down and said, no, of course not, I was just making a mountain out of a mole hill. But I would be lying to myself and to Peter, and I couldn’t do that. If being with Peter was the right thing for me at the moment, I wouldn’t have so many second thoughts. I loved Peter, I really did, but the truth was I did not want to be in a relationship with him. I didn’t want to be in a relationship with anyone. I’d finally found my niche in New York, and I wanted to give that my all for a little bit. I didn’t want to have to share that with anyone else.

“I’m just not the type of person who can do two things, two important things, at once.”

Peter dug his hands in his pockets and nodded. “I’m not going to try and change your mind,” he said. “But I think you’re making a big mistake. You can have both, you know. It doesn’t have to be one or another.”

But I didn’t want both. And I didn’t want to be with someone who couldn’t fully support me right now, and Peter’s suggestion that I just find a new job demonstrated that he didn’t. “For me it does. I can’t reign in my feelings for you. I can’t take things slow with our history. And even if I could, you don’t want to take things slow.”

Peter sighed. “Fine, Josie. Go find yourself, soul search, whatever. I can tell you, speaking from experience, it’s not nearly as much fun as it sounds. There are a lot of douchebags out there.”

“Awesome,” I said. “Sweet pep talk.”

Peter stepped off the curb and held his hand up. “Here’s a cab for you,” he said. He opened the door for me, but wouldn’t look at me as I climbed inside.

I started to say something but he slammed the door in my face. Fine. If that’s how it’s going to be. I gave the driver my address and settled into the backseat, blinking back tears. I did care about Peter, and the thought of not having him in my life was heartbreaking. But I knew, without a doubt, that not having him in my life was the right decision.

Party Foul


Peter didn’t write back to my text for almost twenty-four hours. Just as I was starting to think I blew it, he sent me this, ‘Bet my crazy day tops your crazy day. What’s your week like?’
We made plans to grab dinner later in the week. I also texted Ashley to see how she was doing.
‘I tried the ole hickey trick and it worked. Thank you for that information, middle school sleepover parties,’ she wrote.
‘What’s the hickey trick?’ I wrote back.
‘Use a comb and work it over the hickey, gets the circulation moving or something,’ she responded.
I found it absolutely absurd that we were talking about a bruise on her neck, left by her monster of a boyfriend, like it was a hickey. But I’d spent the day on various domestic violence websites (which was surreal), and from what I’d been able to glean, putting the ‘victim’ (also surreal that Ashley is a victim) on the defense would only alienate her more. The best course of action was to withhold judgment on him, and on her decision to stay with him, and instead stress how wonderful/amazing/special a person Ashley is, and how I’m concerned she isn’t being appreciated as such. Passing judgment is a gene coded into my DNA, I’m sure of it, so this was going to be a challenge for me.
I woke up early on Monday, went to a spin class, and hit up the fancy market on my walk home, where I spent a small fortune on cheese (necessary). The first episode of Social Media featuring moi was airing that night, and a few friends were coming over to my apartment for a little viewing party. It took all of my willpower to keep from diving into the Gruyere when I got back to my apartment. It was only 8 AM. Inappropriate.
I’d invited Nina, Kate, Kevin, and Ashley, though I didn’t actually expect her to show. I hadn’t invited Richard because I’d invited Peter, but Peter couldn’t make it because he had a work event. Now, I was on the fence about inviting Richard, especially because the theme of that morning’s spin class had been about making peace—with ourselves, with the pigeons of discontent in our lives. Plus, I know Kate would wonder why Richard wasn’t there and I couldn’t lie and say I’d invited him but he couldn’t make it, because she was still in touch with him and there was a chance she would bring it up to him, like, “Missed you at Josie’s party!” And then he would be like, “Wait, Josie had a party and didn’t invite me?” And Kate would wonder why I lied and Richard would sink into an even deeper depression, having lost his job and his friends, and with little motivation to go on he’d be forced to abandon his dreams of being a writer, move home at twenty-eight years old, and mow his parents lawn to cover his share of the electricity bill. I couldn’t have that on my conscience!
So, with the intent of making peace and preventing a Richard meltdown, I texted him and invited him.
When I arrived at work, I got the shock of my life. William was in his office, already plugging away at his computer. It was 8:55 AM. The earliest I’d ever seen William in the office was 10, and even then it was only because he had a meeting with the CFO of the company and he’d bitched about it for days.
“Hi,” I knocked on his door. “How come you’re in so early?”
William spun around in his seat. He had a big grin on his face. “It’s Monday morning. Time to start our day. Time to start our lives, honey buns!” Gross.
William pointed his finger at me. “Don’t tell HR I said that.” He placed his meaty palms flat on his desk. “Just got some good news this weekend, and I was too excited to sleep.” He nodded to the piece of paper in my hand. “So what have you got for me?” I’d been on my way to leave the cover of the latest New York Mag issue on his desk. The infamous Grumpy Cat was on the cover, with the coverline, Boom Brands.
“Have you seen this?” I asked, walking over to him and handing him the cover.
William sighed. “Sometimes I loathe the world we live in.”
It was something Megan would have said. But the difference between William and Megan was that William listened when I told him I thought we needed to open our scope even more now. We’d started off with celebrity memoirs, now we were on to bloggers. These boom brands were the next big thing, and we had to be the ones to scoop up the Grumpy Cats of the world, whip together a cute little picture book that would make for the perfect coffee table book or stocking stuffer, and then rake it in.
“Great. Find me the next meanie cat,” William said when I was done.
“Um, Grumpy Cat,” I said.
William waved his hand irritably. “Whatever. Can you get me a latte?” He put both hands on his rotund middle. “Skim. I’m watching my figure.”
It’s like he was daring me to tweet about him, hashtag #Sh&tMyBossSays.
Social Media had secured a 9 PM time slot. The first two episodes had been a little ho-hum, in my opinion, and the Internet community seemed to agree—the show hadn’t garnered much press at all. I couldn’t decide if this was a good thing or a bad thing. The shows that seem to take off and net a ton of attention usually involve drunken cat fights, occasional violence, tan fake breasts, and gaudy displays of wealth that eventually came back to haunt the stars when they are forced to declare bankruptcy come season three. Of course I wanted our show to do well, but if it wasn’t doing well because we lacked all of the above, I was willing to concede defeat.
I’d told everyone to come by around 8. Richard had texted me back to say he’d love to come but he couldn’t stay long enough to watch the show. ‘Kind of awkward but I have a date,’ he wrote.
I started to write back, ‘That’s great!’ realized it sounded fake and insincere, and settled on, ‘No problem. It will be good to catch up.’ Nina said she thought he was still trying to make me jealous, but I actually thought exactly the opposite: That was Richard’s attempt to alleviate some of the tension that had crept into our friendship. His way of letting me know he understood nothing was going to happen between us—he was moving on, and there were no hard feelings.
Richard was the third to arrive, behind Kate, who had come over with me straight from work, and Nina, who’d arrived early because she heard there was cheese from the good cheese place.
Richard presented me with a bottle of wine and gave me a hug. Richard has always been trim, but he looked skinnier than when I’d seen him last, and it hadn’t even been that long. “Are you eating?” I asked like a concerned abuelita.
“I’m not drinking,” Richard said. “It’s amazing how quick the weight falls off when you lay off the sauce.”
“What do you mean you’re not drinking?” I asked.
“I just decided to take a break,” Richard said. “Clear my head, keep my focus sharp. At least until I find a new job.”
“How’s that going?” Kate asked.
“I have a few solid leads,” Richard said. “But I’m also kind of working on my own thing.”
“You’re writing?” I asked.
“Eh, not really,” he said. “I don’t really want to talk about it because if it doesn’t take off I don’t want to be that delusional guy who was standing in your kitchen, talking about how it would.”
I was intrigued, but I didn’t press. The idea of branching off on my own has always excited me, but I just don’t see a way to make it happen yet. The book I wrote for Big Apple Publishing barely paid me, and it didn’t even have my name on it. The publisher wanted to print it, especially after they found out that I was going to be talking about it on a TV show, but Bill—my old boss who I was in touch with here and there—recommended I stick to the pen name. ‘If you ever want to be a serious author,’ he’d written me, ‘I’d strongly recommend that you use a pen name with this.’
After that, the rest of my friends started rolling in—Kevin, and then, shockingly, Ashley. Oh, but that wasn’t the shocking part. Nope, the shocking part was that Ashley arrived with Tom.
I’ve only ever had the urge to be violent with someone once in my life, and that was with my ex-boyfriend, Eric, the night he told me he’d cheated on me. It literally took all of my willpower not to throw a chair at him, and I had to tell him to leave because I was so enraged I was afraid of what I might do. I felt that feeling again now, especially because Tom was gripping Ashley’s hand, a little bit too tightly, and he had a big, shit eating grin on his face and nary a mark on his body, which I could clearly see because unlike Ashley, he didn’t have to cover up his bruises with a bulky turtleneck. What a piece of shit, this guy.
I locked eyes with Nina. By the expression on her face, she was feeling the exact same way.
“There’s the big star,” Ashley said, enveloping me in a hug. She was overcompensating, trying to placate my rage by being extra sweet, her way of proving everything was peachy-keen. Ashley was never this gushy with me.
“Hey,” Tom said, thrusting a too-expensive bottle of champagne into my hands. Then he hugged me. And I hugged him back, because what else could I do?
“Hi,” I said coldly, tightly gripping the bottle in my hand, contemplating taking a swing at his balls with it. “I should put this on ice,” I said, and made a beeline for the kitchen.
Nina followed me. “What the fuck?” she hissed, when we were alone.
“I know,” I said.
“You hugged him!” Nina seethed.
I turned around. “What do you expect me to do, Nina? We talked about this. We push her away if we push him away.”
“I can’t do it,” Nina said. “I have to go. I can’t be in the same room as that asshole.”
“Nina!” I called after her. But she’d already unhooked her jacket from the back of a chair. She gave Tom the evil eye as she stormed past him. “You’re not fooling anyone,” is all she said to him, and Tom gave her a look, all innocent, like, ‘Whatever do you mean?’ Ashley looked at the ground, her cheeks burning red.
My apartment rattled as Nina slammed the door behind her. Everyone froze, wide eyed. “What was that about?” Kate whispered behind me.
“You don’t want to know,” I said.
Thankfully Tom and Ashley only stayed through the end of the show—in which I had about 90 seconds air time total. I needed more lipstick and a spray tan but other than that I looked pretty good. I’d had nightmares that I’d see myself in high def and realize I needed a face lift or something. Richard had to leave before it even began, but told me he had it DVRd back at his place. By 10, everyone had cleared out. I was cleaning up cheese rinds (Nina certainly didn’t leave hungry) and washing out wine glasses when I heard my phone vibrating. I dried my hands off, and rushed over to my bag, thinking it might be Peter. I thought it might be him asking how everything went. But when I retrieved my phone, I saw that it was from a number I didn’t recognize.
“Hello?” I said.
“Josie?” It was a woman’s voice.
“This is Josie,” I said. “Who is this?”
And because the universe decided that Tom wasn’t enough toxicity for the evening, the voice said, “It’s Elizabeth.”
NOTE: I dont own this story