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.

“Hi.”

“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!”

Band-Aids

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

Sweater Weather

Nina was already at the diner when I strode in, five minutes early.

“I have a massive hangover,” Nina said. “So this better be good.”

“I’ll tell you when Ashley gets here.” I opened my menu and zeroed in on the starchy section. “What did you do last night?”

“Nothing. Just went to dinner with Brad. We only split a bottle of wine.”

“Nina,” I said, reproachfully.

“I know!” she wailed. “It’s happening. I’m turning into my mother who gets a hangover from Penne a la Vodka.”

We ordered coffee while we waited for Ashley. After ten, fifteen minutes, she was still MIA.

“Her apartment is like three blocks from here,” Nina whined. “I’m starving!”

Finally, I saw Ashley stroll past the window. “There she is.” I nodded and Nina turned in her seat. “What is she wearing?”

It’s been cool-ish in New York these last few days, but most people are still walking around in t-shirts and sandals. Ashley was wearing a full blown chunky black turtleneck.

Someone’s a little excited for fall,” Nina said as Ashley sat down next to her.

“You know it’s my favorite season,” Ashley said, somewhat accusingly, as though Nina was a bad friend for not knowing that.

“Relax,” Nina said. “You look cute. I would be sweating my balls off if I were you, but you look cute.”

“Whatever, Nina,” Ashley grumbled. She opened her menu and stared it down, but I got the feeling she wasn’t really reading anything. Nina raised her eyebrows at me.

“Ash,” I said, “you okay?”

“I told you I wasn’t feeling well,” Ashley said, still not taking her eyes off the menu. “But I came anyway, like I always do. Can you just get to it so I can go home and get into bed? What’s the problem this time?”

Insert hissing cat noise here!

“I thought you just meant you were hungover like this one,” I said, pointing to Nina. “Go home if you don’t feel good. Seriously. It’s not that big of a deal.”

Ashley suddenly dropped the menu and covered her face with her hands. Her shoulders shook, and I could see tears slipping out from underneath her fingers.

“Ashley!” Nina said, shocked. She put her arm around her and held her close. “Oh my God, you are burning up. Take this thing off.”

“Stop,” Ashley said, shaking her off. “I don’t have anything on underneath it.”

“Do you want us to go back to your apartment with you so you can change?”

Without saying a word, Ashley nodded.

Nina and I left money on the table to cover our coffee, and ushered Ashley out of the diner.

Once we were inside Ashley’s apartment, Nina turned the AC on. “You need to change out of that blanket immediately.”

Ashley still didn’t say a word. She pulled the sweater off, revealing that she was wearing a white t-shirt underneath. “Why did you say you weren’t”—I stopped when I realized what was going on. When I saw the purple bruises on Ashley’s wrist, her upper arm, and most worriedly, an ugly one about the size of a thumb on her neck.

“Ashley,” Nina gasped. “What happened?”

Ashley bit her lip. “We had a fight last night.”

I seriously thought I would throw up right then and there. “Tom did this to you?” As soon as I said his name, a look of defiance passed over Ashley’s face.

“I know how it looks,” Ashley said. “But he didn’t hit me. Things just got heated.”

“What do you mean he didn’t hit you?” Nina snapped. I know she didn’t mean to come across as angry at Ashley, but I could tell that’s how Ashley took it. “How do you explain this?”

“We were like, grabbing at each other,” Ashley said. “I did it too! But it didn’t, like, hurt me. There weren’t even any marks until I woke up this morning.”

“This is insane, Ashley,” Nina said. “I can’t believe you’re making excuses for him.”

“I’m not making excuses, Nina. I’m telling you what really happened. If a guy hit me, I would break up with him in a heartbeat.”

“Wait,” I said. “You didn’t break up with him?”

“I just left,” Ashley said. “We didn’t break up. I just stormed out. I’m furious. He’s been calling me all morning.”

“What was the fight even about?”

“Thanksgiving,” Ashley said. “I want him to spend it with my family and he wants me to spend it with his.”

I was suddenly able to form the full picture of this Tom guy: Whisking Ashley away every weekend to the suburbs, alienating her from the people in her life, his non-existent interest in getting to know Ashley’s friends. He was one of those scary-possessive guys you read about in Cosmo and Self!  He wants to alienate you from your friends and control you. And Ashley was completely under his spell.

Both Nina and I spent the next few hours trying to talk some sense into Ashley. Well, first, we tried to convince her to go to the ER but she basically laughed at us. “I had more bruises from riding the bull at Johnny Utah’s last Halloween,” Ashley said. Which was technically true but it just made me nervous that someone had put that much pressure on her neck—enough to bruise it that severely. What if an important vein had been crushed?

We also tried to make Ashley see that she hadn’t done anything wrong, but that Tom absolutely, 100% had. “I pushed him first,” Ashley said. “You don’t understand. It wasn’t him abusing me, it was like a couple getting into a tussle.”

“Men do not get into ‘tussles’ with women!” Nina said, exasperated. “Don’t you get that this is not normal?”

When we’d run out of steam, Ashley thanked us for our concern in the most emotionless, clinical way possible. “I know you guys are just trying to look out for me,” she said. “But trust me. If it was what you think it was, I wouldn’t accept that.” She shrugged. She had hardened against us; I could see it in her face. We’d somehow managed to make it worse. Now we were the enemy, the ones who didn’t ‘get it.’ Not Tom. It was terrifying to realize just how brainwashed she was.

It was dark by the time Nina and I left Ashley’s apartment. We offered to stay, to just hang out and order dinner, but Ashley insisted she wanted some alone time.

“I can’t fucking believe this,” Nina said, once we were out on the street. It was chilly then, and I could have used Ashley’s oversized sweater.

“What do we do?” I asked, helplessly. “Do we call the cops?”

Nina shook her head. “She’ll just lie for him. And if he finds out…I’m scared what he’d do to her if he found out.”

We walked in silence for a few blocks. “Want to get a drink somewhere?” I asked.

“For the love of God, yes,” Nina said.

We ended up at a little wine bar not far from Ashley’s apartment. Once we had a carafe of cabernet in front of us, Nina said, “Oh my God! So you never even told me what happened that made you call that emergency brunch.”

I shook my head. “I’ll tell you, but it seems ridiculously trivial compared to what we just dealt with over the last few hours.”

“Give me the most trivial shit you’ve got,” Nina said. “Anything to take my mind off of that.”

I ran Nina through the last few days—from the Social Media party up until the text I’d sent Richard. At some point while I was in Ashley’s apartment, Richard had texted me back that our friendship was important to him and he didn’t want to lose it. ‘I’ve been soul searching,’ he wrote, ‘Which is lame but is what one does when one gets fired. And maybe you’re right? Maybe I just want what I can’t have. If I’m not sure, I can’t ask you to be sure either. There are a lot of things in my life I want to change right now.’

We agreed to grab lunch in a few weeks, once the dust had settled and it wouldn’t be awkward-city for us to be alone together.

“Um,” Nina said, when I finished. “You do realize who you’re acting like right now, don’t you?”

“Who?”

“Justin.”

Ugh,” I said. “I swear that name triggers PTSD for me.”

“How?” Nina asked.

“It just makes me feel pathetic,” I said. “I practically begged him to be my boyfriend and then it all blew up in my face. I honestly wake up in the middle of the night, cringing at how desperate I must have seemed to him.”

“Do you ever stop to think that that’s why you’re keeping Peter at arm’s length?”

I wrinkled my nose. “No. But please, give me your thoughts, Doctor Nina.”

Nina rolled her eyes at me and took a sip of her wine. “Keep being an asshole and I won’t give you my diagnosis.”

“I’ll pay for the wine,” I offered.

“That’s more like it.” Nina grinned. “What I was going to say before I was so rudely made fun of was this—have you ever stopped to think that you feel rejected by your first two real boyfriends? Your high school boyfriend who swiped your v-card and then broke up with you immediately, and Eric, who cheated on you. Then you have Peter and things get fuzzy, but in your head you may still feel like he chose Elizabeth over you, and then you have Justin, who you also feel rejected you. Aren’t you just afraid to go all in with Peter because you’re scared you’re just going to get your ass handed to you again? But you also don’t want him out of your life completely because deep down, so much of your self-worth is tied to having a boyfriend? You always have a boyfriend.”

“God,” I said. “Your version of events makes me sound like such a loser.”

“Oh, the smallest violin in the world is playing for you right now,” Nina said. “You’ve taken down some hot pieces of ass so I’m really not feeling all that bad for you.”

“Well, when you put it like that.” I grinned.

“I’m really serious though,” Nina said. “Do you see a pattern at all there?”

“Of course I do,” I said. “But what’s the answer? That’s part of why I’m hesitant to just lock this down with Peter. I feel like I’m taking the easy way out. Just relying on having a boyfriend to make me feel full and complete. I should be able to feel like that on my own.”

“I would tell you if you were doing this because you just wanted a boyfriend. But this thing with Peter, it’s special.” She finished her wine. “Shit or get off the pot.” She climbed off her bar stool. “Speaking of, I’m going to the bathroom.”

I signaled to the bartender and he brought me the check. I left a hearty tip—I felt like I needed all the good karma I could get. It was almost 9 PM by the time Nina and I stepped out onto the street, and both of us were exhausted. We agreed to do some investigative work over the next few days and find out how best to support/get through to a friend who is in a situation like Ashley is in. It still felt weird to call it abusive—how could someone as strong and stubborn as Ash find herself with a guy like this?

As Nina tried to hail a cab for herself, I sent Peter a text, ‘Hi. I miss you. Crazy day. Brunch tomorrow?’ It was true—after realizing what a bad egg Ashley had found, it made me appreciate a guy like Peter even more.

Nina climbed into a cab and waved goodbye at me. “Make good choices!” she called out the window as the car pulled away.

I’m trying to.

Decisions, Decisions

“Why are you looking at my phone?” I asked. It was all I could think to say.

“You left it on the table,” Peter said. “I thought it was mine.” He tossed the phone onto the bed.

Peter and I did have the same white iPhone 5. And I do tend to walk around with my phone in my hand, putting it down wherever I land. But had I left it on the table or had it been in my bag? I honestly couldn’t remember.

This was all secondary to whatever it was that Peter had read. I dug around in the sheets, found the phone, and turned it on.

‘I really have nothing to say for myself except to say I’m sorry. Not that it matters, but I didn’t sleep with her.’

THANKS FOR THAT, RICHARD. I looked up at Peter. The expression on his face was a mix of confusion and sadness, and it broke my heart.

“I don’t want to pry into your life, Josie,” Peter said. “You’re not my girlfriend, but I mean…if you saw that on my phone you’d want to know too.” He sighed. “What the hell is that about?”

I folded my legs underneath me and wondered where to begin. I didn’t feel like it was deceptive to keep this from Peter before, but it definitely would be deceptive to lie when asked point blank about it. So I told Peter everything, starting with the Social Media party. Well, I guess I didn’t tell him everything. I skipped the part about our conversation at work, the one where Richard asked me if I felt anything for him and I didn’t know how to answer because I did.

“I remember this guy,” Peter said, when I finished.

“You do?”

“Yeah, from your Hamptons house. I could tell he liked you.”

“I don’t think he likes me. I think he just wants to sleep with me and he isn’t used to girls who don’t want to sleep with him,” I said. Off Peter’s expression, I instantly regretted saying that. For some reason I remembered this one lesson from my Intro to Psych class in college. The professor was trying to demonstrate how different men and women are when it comes to love. She asked the room which scenario would be more hurtful—for your partner to fall in love with someone emotionally—no sex—or, for your partner to have meaningless sex with a random person and feel nothing. All the girls in the room raised their hands to show that they would prefer their boyfriend to have meaningless sex with someone, and all the guys raised their hands to show they’d rather their girlfriend fall in love with someone emotionally. The point is guys just really don’t like the idea of another P near their V.

“But I don’t want to sleep with him,” I added, quickly.

“You sure?” Peter asked, quietly.

I would have said anything to make this situation better. And even though it wasn’t entirely true that I didn’t want to sleep with Richard (a little part of me is curious, I can’t help it—the vagina wants what the vagina wants), it was true that I would never actually do it. So I didn’t feel like I was being dishonest by saying, “Yes, Peter. I’m sure.”

Peter sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “Here’s the thing, Josie. It’s not that I don’t believe you. It’s more…I feel like you just like to court this kind of drama.”

“Says the guy who gave it another go with the biggest drama queen I’ve ever met,” I shot back. “Did you ever stop to think that maybe you like the drama?”

“Yeah,” Peter said. “I have. And you’re right, I was like that once. Over the last year, I thought a lot about the choices I’ve made, and what I was doing wrong, because I wasn’t happy. I don’t want to play these little mind games any more. I’m too old for that shit.”

“I’m not playing mind games,” I said. “You popped up into my life out of nowhere. I had stuff going on, okay? This Richard thing, this had been brewing since summer.”

“I had stuff going on too!” Peter said. “I had a girlfriend.”

“That’s not fair,” I said. “You wanted to revisit things, and I told you to call me but only if you were single, which, I’m sorry, is a normal and decent thing to do. But at the same time, I’m not going to just drop everything in my life the second you show up. We agreed to take this slow.”

“I never asked you to drop everything for me.”

“Fine, then don’t be mad that I didn’t.”

We were both silent for a moment. “So what are we even fighting about right now?” I asked.

“I just don’t like it,” Peter said. “Would you?”

“No,” I said. “I’m sorry for that. But at the same time I don’t feel like I’ve necessarily done anything wrong. Are you seriously telling me that you’re not playing a little bit on your own too?”

Peter was silent for a moment, and it was like a punch to the gut. I suddenly understood what he was feeling. “It’s like friends trying to set me up,” he said. “But the whole time I’m with these women I just wish I was with you.”

That got the water works going. I felt like I was back at square one, wishing Peter and I had better timing, and that we both wanted the same things at the same time. “I just don’t know how to be casual with you,” I said, wiping a tear off my cheek. “I feel like we’re all or nothing, but I don’t know if I’m ready to be all right now.”

Peter bit his lower lip, but didn’t say anything.

“Are you ready to be all right now?” I asked.

“Sometimes, yes,” Peter said. “But sometimes, no.” It was exactly how I felt.

He came towards me then. He sat down on the bed and hugged me. I was so exhausted I could have fallen asleep right there on his shoulder. Eventually we crawled back under the covers, curled up, and went to bed.

When I woke up in the morning, Peter wasn’t beside me. I checked my phone—it was almost 11am. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d slept that late.  I rolled out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom. I brushed my teeth and splashed water on my face. My face looked like Mama Elsa’s from Real Housewives of Miami—swollen and puffy.

Peter was in the kitchen, making eggs, when I finally emerged from the bedroom. I pulled up a bar stool and took a seat. “Hi,” I said.

Peter turned around. “Hi.”

“Any epiphanies in the middle of the night?”

Peter smiled. “Not really. You?”

I shook my head. Peter pointed at the eggs in the pan. “You want any?”

“Sure.”

Peter divided the eggs between two plates and pulled up a seat next to me. We ate in silence. When we finished, I said, “So, are we going to talk about it?”

Peter shrugged. “Didn’t we?”

“I mean, where do we stand?” I asked.

“What do you want?” Peter asked.

“I want to keep seeing you,” I said. “But I meant it when I said I want to take things slowly. I don’t think we should just jump back into things. I hate the idea that you’re dating other women, the same way you hate knowing about this Richard thing. But it’s just the reality of the situation, I guess.”

Peter toyed with a lone piece of egg on his plate. “I don’t want to see other women. Do you want to see other guys?”

“Not necessarily,” I said. “But if we decide we’re going to be exclusive, then it’s not really taking it slow, is it?”

“So maybe we don’t take it slow.”

That gave me pause. I fiddled with my napkin. “I just feel like I made this promise to myself that I wasn’t just going to jump right back into a relationship. I need to be okay with being single sometimes. It’s something I’ve never really been able to do.”

Peter pushed himself off the bar stool. He took our plates and dumped them in the sink. “You need to do what you need to do.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that you need to make a decision. Just be decisive. What we are right now, it’s not really you being single, is it? So decide to be in, or not.”

Was he ultimatum-ing me? It sure sounded like it. “I don’t want to lose you,” I said, my voice cracking over the words like a prepubescent boy’s.

“So don’t,” Peter said. I wish Richard could have been a fly on the wall right then. Peter didn’t just want to sleep with me. He wanted more. A lot more, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to give it.

“I need time to think about this,” I said. “I don’t know if I’m ready to be in a relationship right now.”

Peter shook his head and smiled, but it wasn’t a nice smile. “Go for it,” he said. The words were dripping with sarcasm.

I helped Peter clean up, then changed back into my work clothes. It was awkward saying goodbye to him—I stepped in to give him a kiss and he basically negged me by turning his cheek. Hell hath no fury like a hot guy’s ego bruised.

I decided to walk back to my apartment to clear my head (Peter lives about twenty-five blocks from me). On my way, I texted Nina and Ashley, ‘Brunch emergency!!!’ I expected Ashley to be in Westchester with her man, but to my surprise, she wrote that she’d come back early that morning.

‘But I’m not really feeling up to brunch,” she wrote. “I think I’m coming down with something.’

‘Please?’ I begged her. ‘I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t an emergency. We can pick a place near you.’

After a few moments, she wrote, ‘You win,  you always do.’ A quote from one of our favorite SNL skits with Will Ferrell.

The next person I needed to text was Richard. I wanted Richard in my life, but I also needed to keep him at a safe distance. No good could come from us hooking up, and I couldn’t put myself in a position where that could happen again.

When I arrived at my apartment, I’d decided to text Richard, ‘Thank you for this. Want to just pretend like the last seventy-two hours never happened?’

Then I showered, changed, and hurried out the door to meet Ashley and Nina. Maybe they would help me find some clarity with the situation.

Every Day I’m Hussy-ing

Walking into the Literatti offices the day after the bloodbath was like walking into a ghost town. Desks and offices that just the morning before were filled with cute girls in Banana Republic pencil skirts and guys in skinny ties were now empty and silent.

“Creepy,” I muttered to myself. I made my way over to my desk and turned my computer on. It was 8:30 in the morning. I estimated I had forty-five minutes to myself before my co-workers—the few who were left—came rolling in. I felt out of control with FEELINGS like a real girl, and it’s why I was there even earlier than usual. I never thought I’d become one of those ‘career gals’ who prioritized work above all else. I like partying and going to the gym and eating pizza with my friends so much that I never thought I’d let a job truly interfere with my ‘real’ life. But the very first thought that popped into my head when I woke up that morning was, ‘I can’t wait to get to work.’ This was my ‘real’ life now. It was soothing to know that I had this, my job, and that I was good at it. William had told me I was indispensable to him, and I wanted to keep being indispensable. I could fuck up my love life beyond repair, but I as long as I was holding it together here, I had something solid in my life that I could be proud of. Tear, I’m growing up so fast!
I was surprised when I heard the elevator doors ding open. Even more surprised when I saw Kate step out of them—wearing her clothes from last night. Here we go.
“Josie!” she whisper-yelled as she scurried over to me. “I knew you’d be here.”
“What are you doing?” I asked, not even bothering to hide my annoyance. Who does the walk of shame into work the day after half the office gets the heave-ho? Have some common sense! Says the girl who defiled the DVF store with her asshat co-worker at four in the morning. Kettle, I’m pot, have we met?
As Kate got closer, I realized she was upset. I snapped into Mom mode. “What happened?”
“I’m such an idiot. I somehow lost my keys last night and I just spent the last half an hour pounding on our door, but my roommate must have gone to the gym before work or something because she isn’t there. I’m panicking—will you change clothes with me?”
First things first. “Did you sleep at Richard’s?”
Kate groaned. “That’s the other thing.” But she just stopped there. You’re killing me, Kate.
“Did you?” I prodded.
Kate nodded. Her cheeks flushed as she said, “But Josie, it was awful. We got there and he just suddenly changed his mind. He said he didn’t want to do this anymore.”
For some reason a line from the movie Empire Records (thanks!) popped into my head: ‘Shock me, shock me with that deviant behavior.’ In this case, it was the lack of deviant behavior that was so shocking. “So you guys didn’t have sex?”
Kate shook her head. “No! He said he cared about me and he was an asshole to me before and he didn’t want to do that to me again. That’s bullshit, right? He’s just not attracted to me.” She sighed. “God, I need to lose ten pounds.”
“Stop,” I said. “You are gorgeous. You know you are. And actually…I think that’s….kind of sweet.”
“Sweet?” Kate spat.
“Yeah,” I said. “He stopped it because he respects you. I don’t think that’s bullshit.” I heard the elevator doors ding again. The office was waking up. “Come on ya little huss, let’s go change before anyone sees us.”

“What’s a huss?” Kate asked as she followed me into the bathroom. “And do I want to be one?”

Nina, Ashley and I used to call each other ‘huss’ in college. Like, ‘You hussing tonight?’ It’s similar to being on the prowl, except it isn’t only applicable to hooking up. It’s just about bringing it no matter where you go and what you do. You can huss at the gym, you can huss in class, you can huss on the dancefloor. Why, you can huss anywhere! (That’s the sound of Dr. Seuss rolling over in his grave right now).

I don’t know why we stopped, but today I was bringing back the huss! My position at Literatti had been spared and I was going to huss like I’d never hussed before to keep it that way. I was also energized by this news that Richard and Kate hadn’t slept together—not because it meant there was still a chance for us, because that would be bigger disaster than Anthony Weiner’s mayoral run, but because it meant that he did have a decent bone in his body, and I didn’t have to stop being friends with him. Kate and Richard are the two real friends I’ve made since moving to the city, and they are incredibly important to me. Richard made questionable decisions when it came to his dating life, but I’d be prettyyyy hypocritical if that was the reason I decided to cut him out of my life.

I decided to just give the whole thing with Richard a few days, then text him to see how he was doing. That is, if I didn’t hear from him first. Since Richard had put the kibosh on hooking up with Kate, I honestly didn’t see a reason to tell her about what had happened. Maybe I really could sweep this little incident under the rug and move forward with no collateral damage? Famous last words if I ever heard them. Go easy on me, karma.

The rest of the day was spent reassigning proposals and deals. Sifting through Megan’s desk to find out where she stood on certain projects. Around 1 PM, William called a meeting of the remaining staff. We’d gone from thirty people to twelve, and William, who had unofficially been in charge of the imprint, was now the official editor-in-chief. Which made me the most important assistant in the room (probably not, but this is what I told myself using my huss logic). William made a big speech about how no more major changes were coming, and everyone standing here was an integral member of the team and we needed to be giving all of ourselves, every day, and treat matters with more urgency. “There’s a lack of urgency around here,” he said, really driving that point home.

Here’s the thing about Megan and William—Megan is hands down smarter than William. I think even he would admit that. But what William said about her is true: She’s not a company person. Megan is socially awkward, and she isn’t savvy like William. And charming clients and being able to read people is a huge part of our job. William also brings connections that Megan simply doesn’t have because she’d prefer to bury her head in a manuscript as opposed to go out and mine for talent. Megan didn’t want to play the game, and they needed someone who wanted to be out there on the field. I made a mental note of that—go to events! Talk to random strangers even though you’d rather get a Brazilian from that woman who almost maimed Nina’s vagina!

I stayed in the office late—and not just to prove a point. I had about thirty things on my to do list. It was 11PM by the time I left the building and headed to Peter’s. We’d texted earlier and were supposed to grab dinner, but I had to bail on that.

I almost burst into exhausted tears when I arrived at Peter’s and saw that he had ordered dinner for me, from my favorite Thai place that doesn’t deliver to my apartment even though I only miss the cut off by two blocks. Jerks.

“I figured you were hungry,” he said. And then I really did burst into tears. On top of being physically and emotionally spent from everything that had happened at work over the last forty-eight hours, I just generally felt like a shit for making out with Richard.

“I’m sorry!” I croaked. I suffer from ugly cry face, and shielded the evidence with my hands.

“What is it?” Peter asked, kind of laughing, but kind of perplexed too. He took hold of my wrists and pulled my hands away from my face.

“No!” I said, burying my face in his chest. “I don’t want you to see my face like this.”

“And I don’t want you to get snot on my shirt.” Now he was just laughing.

I removed my face from his shirt. “I don’t snot when I cry. I’m a lady.”

“Okay,” Peter laughed. “Josie, as much as William can be a sleazeball, he was right when he told you that you’re young and that you haven’t seen this kind of thing happen a million times before. You get a little jaded as you get older. It’s really not that big of a deal. All your friends will be okay.”

That wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg, but I couldn’t tell him that. Instead I just nodded. “I’m proud of you for hanging in there,” Peter said. “You should be proud of yourself too.”

“It isn’t a reflection of my job performance,” I said. “Some of the other assistants were good at their jobs too but they had to let them go because they basically eliminated their positions. I just got lucky.”

“Give yourself some credit,” Peter said. “They cut, what? Half the staff? They wouldn’t have kept you if they didn’t think you were valuable.”

It was such a nice thing to say. I stood up on my tippie toes and kissed him. And like that, the Thai food was forgotten.

We stumbled down Peter’s dark hallway, pulling our clothes off as we went. Peter had me on my back in bed, and his hand was on my neck. I thought he was going to squeeze, that we were going to get into some kinky stuff, but instead he just leaned over me and whispered in my ear, right as he thrust inside of me, “I thought about this all day.”

Usually everything with Peter is so charged, so hurried and urgent (See? I do approach some things with urgency, William), but in that moment it was like everything slowed down, the rest of the city fell away, and it was just us. It was intimate, too intimate for me, and I tried to roll on top of him, to get on top and raunch it up. But Peter pushed back, holding me down. “I just want you like this,” he said. He kissed me. “I love you like this.” He pressed himself close to me, moving in slow circles, grazing against me in a way that felt so good I felt like I was melting at the seams. Peter is the only guy who can make me come without his hands.

The L word was shocking to me, but it wasn’t like he said ILY for real. And I admit, the way he said it warmed me from the inside out. Everything that had happened in the last forty-eight hours—all the chaos, the anger, the name calling. It was like this was a safe place from all of that. Peter would never yell at me, or try and humiliate me the way Richard did. What the hell had I been thinking? This was what I needed. Peter was who I needed.

“Are you close?” Peter brushed his lips against mine, and I nodded. I arched my back, pressing closer into him, felt Peter’s eyes on me as I came. When he was sure I was done, he finally let himself give in.

Well, now I was starving. Peter heard my stomach rumble and offered to go get the food and bring it into bed. An offer I obviously accepted. I was pulling on one of Peter’s t-shirts (I do not eat in the nude. Nope. Gross.) when Peter appeared in the doorway. But he wasn’t holding the food. He was holding my phone.

“Who’s Richard?” he asked.

Oh, shit.

Hunger Games

When I woke up in the morning my mouth tasted like blue cheese and my brain felt too big for my head. Groaning, I found my phone and silenced the alarm. It was 9am—I’d deliberately set it later than usual, planning on going in late. It was close to 4:30 AM when I finally crawled into bed, whimpering like a big fat baby whose toy had been taken from her. I wasn’t taking the day off like William said I could, but I figured I could at least let myself sleep in a little. I sent Megan an email giving her the heads up I was running late that morning. I’m usually the first person in the office at 8:45 so hopefully she would cut me a break, especially since she knew I had a work related event the night before. Plus, what William had said about her—was she getting fired? Moving to a different department? I was dying to find out what the deal was.

I made coffee, chugged water, showered, chugged some more water, drank my coffee, got dressed and made my way to the subway with a pit in my stomach. I had no idea what to expect from Richard when I saw him, no idea how to handle the situation with Kate, and was angsting so hard I half-wished a cab would run over my foot so I would have a legitimate reason not to go to work. How sick is that?

Of course, who do I run into the second I step off the elevator? Richard, accompanied by his boss. We exchanged awkward hellos, Richard’s boss making some crack like, “Good morning, or should I say afternoon? Party was fun, I take it?” Richard looking like he was in just as much pain as I was. They stepped onto the elevator as I stepped off it, and I slunk to my desk. Sitting next to my keyboard was a large iced coffee and a sausage, egg, and cheese bagel from the good coffee place. I assumed it was a peace offering from Richard. It was sweet, but the more I thought about what he’d said to me the night before the angrier I got. Who calls a girl a cocktease in 2013 because she doesn’t want to go home with him? I don’t care that I kissed him back—I have every right to stop it when I want to and any guy who would give me shit for that is just gross and manipulative. That was just one of the bones I had to pick with him. The other had to do with what he said about Peter. This morning, with a clear(er) head, I no longer thought that there was even a shred of truth to what Richard had said about Peter using me. Richard’s only reasoning was that because he’s relationship-adverse, every other guy must be too. Which they aren’t or I wouldn’t have a dad. God.

Now I was all riled up again, and I seriously considered throwing that breakfast sammie in the trash just to make a point! But I was hungry. Also, I heard on The Today Show that this country wastes a third of all food produced, so I didn’t.

As I tore into my bagel, which I begrudgingly admit was delicious, I checked my email. I had an email from Peter, asking me how the party went. See? I imaginary-argued with Richard in my head, He doesn’t just want to screw me or he wouldn’t have asked. Then I instantly felt guilty because it was nice of Peter to ask and if he really knew what I did last night he would probably be sad. Or maybe not? Maybe he was off doing the same thing? He was single and had every right to, even though yeah, it would bum me out if I heard he was making out with another girl. I’m human. But I wouldn’t be mad at him because I have no right to be. I’d rather just not know, which is why I’m not telling him.

I wrote Peter back and asked him what he was doing later. Just as I clicked send, my phone rang. I recognized William’s cell on the caller ID.

“Hi, William,” I said.

“What the hell are you doing?” William rasped. He sounded like he had been up late, doing no good very bad things. “I told you to take the day off.”

“Then why are you calling me?”

“Because I knew you would come in any way,” he said. “You’re such a goody two shoes.” I wanted to tell William that if I was his version of a goody two shoes, I never wanted to meet his version of a bad girl. “What’s going on there today?” he asked.

“Nothing, it’s quiet.”

“Have you seen Megan yet?”

“We’ve just emailed,” I said. Megan had written me back just one line, “Okay.” I used to freak out when she’d send me terse replies like that, but then I realized it’s just her way.

“Hm,” William said. “Okay, well, I’ll call back later.”

“Wait!” I said. “What did you mean when you said that”—I lowered my voice—”she wasn’t long for this world?”

“Huh?” William said. “I can’t hear you.”

I repeated myself, slightly louder this time.

“I still can’t hear you!” William yelled. “Connection must be bad. I’ll call back later!” He hung up. My ass, bad connection. Something was going down today, and I was so not in a state to handle it. I was very weak and emotional. I eyed the other half of my sandwich in the trash. I’d only eaten half of it (portion control), but now I was thinking I might need more sustenance. I looked around to make sure no one was watching, then reached into the trash can and wolfed down the second half. Judge me all you want. I deserve it.

“Hi!” I nearly jumped out of my chair at the sound of Kate’s voice. She was standing behind me, looking well rested. I wish I’d just gone home when she had.

“You scared me,”I said, putting my hand over my chest.

“Sorry!” Kate stepped further into my area and leaned against the wall of my cube. “How late did you stay out last night?”

Ugh, too late,” I said. “I’m hurting.”

“Yeah, I think Richard is too,” Kate said. “Were you out with him?”

“Kevin was there too,” I added, quickly. Too quickly. Kate gave me a weird look. I tried to change the subject. “Want to have a carb fest for lunch?” I asked.

Kate wrinkled her nose. “I was thinking salad. But maybe.” She turned. “I have to get back to work.”

Ok. That hadn’t gone terribly. I didn’t know whether or not to tell Kate. I wouldn’t tell her without first telling Richard, because that would be unfair. And I knew a confrontation between us was inevitable. I was kind of looking forward to it, which is unusual for me, because I’m not a big fan of confrontation. I had things to say to that guy.

I decided to stop in Megan’s office to see if she needed me to do anything for her, but she wasn’t there. On my way back to my desk, I ran into Richard again. This time he was alone.

He put his hands up. “Don’t shoot.”

I didn’t smile. “This isn’t funny. Not to me.”

Richard sighed. “I was out of line for some of the things I said last night,” he said. “But I’m not going to apologize for kissing you.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I wasn’t looking for an apology for the kiss—we both did that. But you didn’t have to be such an asshole. I stopped it for all the reasons I already gave you and I wish you could just respect that instead of bringing Peter into it. They’re valid reasons on their own that have nothing to do with him. You point blank told me you lose interest in a girl the second you sleep with her and—”

“I wouldn’t,” Richard said, louder than he meant to. He looked around the hallway to make sure no one else was around. But we were alone. “I wouldn’t with you.”

“You would. I’m like a boyfriend pusher. I’d try and make you my boyfriend because I don’t know any other way and you’d hate me and then we wouldn’t be friends and that would kill me.”

Richard sighed and leaned against the wall. He tilted his head back. “You won’t even give me a chance and I haven’t even done anything to disappoint you yet. But you give him a second chance after he broke your heart.” He was talking about Peter.

“He didn’t break my heart. The timing was off. It just didn’t work and it wasn’t necessarily any one person’s fault.”

“I’m just asking for a chance,” Richard said. “Just give me a chance to prove to you that you’re wrong about me.” He took a step closer. “Tell me you didn’t feel anything for me last night. If you honestly didn’t, I’ll leave you alone.”

I couldn’t tell him that, because I did feel something when we kissed last night. Of course I did. Richard is hot, and even better than that, we get along like bandits. We have a similar sense of humor, and I like that he pushes my buttons, and that he calls me on my bullshit. But I didn’t want to be his little experiment, and I didn’t want him to make a fool out of me. I don’t know—maybe he wouldn’t? Every girl says this at one time or another—it will be different with me. And it never is. So why was I even entertaining this?

Richard opened his mouth to say something more but we heard footsteps behind us. As they grew closer I saw they belonged to Kate. She looked like she was about to cry, and I felt a flash of panic. She’d heard our whole conversation, hadn’t she? “You guys, something is happening,” she said.

“What?” I asked, my heart racing as my overactive imagination roared to life and landed on the only possible conclusion: Terrorist attack! Evacuate the city!

“I don’t know,” she said. “Kim from rights was just let go, and so was her assistant. And Richard, I think your boss is with HR now.”

“Oh my god,” I said. This had to be what William was talking about. This was why he didn’t come in today. We hurried back to our desks. On the way, I glanced into Megan’s office. It was still empty. She had to be with HR too.

It was like the goddamn Hunger Games. One by one, various editors and their assistants were called down to HR. When they returned to their desks, they were either crying and/or fuming, tossing their things into boxes that the mail guys had delivered to their desks while they were downstairs.

“Hey.” I turned. Richard was behind me. “I just got a call to head down to HR. It’s been nice knowing you.”

“What?” I gasped. I fumbled to say something to make him feel better. “Maybe they’re promoting you?”

Richard laughed. “You can be really sweet sometimes.” With that, he walked away. Kate and I locked eyes from across the office, and she shook her head sadly.

My phone rang. It was William again. “William,” I said when I picked up.

He sighed. “Okay, do you know now?”

“Yes. What is going on?”

“Downsizing,” he said. “Sales aren’t doing as well as they’d hoped. But you and I—we’re fine. They need me,” he laughed, cockily. “And I need you. Therefore you are safe.”

“Who’s getting fired?”

“They’re not being fired, Josie. They’re being laid off. This isn’t about performance. It’s about money. Money that the company doesn’t have.”

“Fine, fine. Who is it?”

William listed a bunch of names. Megan was one of them, but Kate wasn’t, and neither was Richard. I felt hopeful for a moment before he said, “Oh! And your friend. What’s his name? He was at the party last night?”

My heart sank. “Richard.”

“Yeah, Richard. Listen,” William said. “It’s nothing personal. It’s purely a business decision. They overshot their load when they built the team for this imprint. They just have to get rid of some of the fat. HR will help everyone land jobs elsewhere, and they’ll be fine. You’re young, so this is new and traumatic for you. But I’ve been through this a million times before. I’ve been your friend Richard, and look at me now. He’ll be fine.”

I closed my eyes and leaned my forehead up against my fist. Of all days to be so hungover I could barely function it had to be this day. “Okay,” I said, quietly.

“This is why I told you not to come in,” William said. “Just shut your computer down and go home and have a glass of wine and relax. When you wake up in the morning it will be like it never happened.” Have a glass of wine? It wasn’t even noon.

We said goodbye and I placed the phone in the receiver. I was near tears for Richard.

I refreshed my email. Peter had written me back that he didn’t have any plans, and did I want to do something? I was just about to respond when I spotted Richard, back from HR. Kate and I ambushed him at the same time.

“What happened?” Kate asked. She’d gotten to him first.

“Take a wild guess,” he said.

Kate covered her mouth and her eyes filled with tears. “Come on,” Richard said, pulling Kate in for a hug. “I’m fine. They give you a surprisingly good severance too.”

“I’m really sorry, Richard,” I said. He held my gaze over the top of Kate’s head, which was buried in his chest. He reached out and squeezed my hand. “Thanks,” he said.

Kate and I helped him pack up his desk. It was 4 in the afternoon by the time he was done, and Kate’s boss told her to take off as well. Everyone who had been let go had gathered at a bar around the corner, so we decided to go there.

I texted Peter to tell him about the bloodbath, and that I was lending my support by having a drink with  the victims.

“Want me to come meet you?” he wrote back. I wanted to see him, but that would be like rubbing salt into Richard’s wound, so I told him no.

Everyone but Megan was at the bar. I found out that she had just gotten up and walked out when the HR rep told her they were letting her go. She didn’t even pack up her office! Megan had been icy, but she’d been good at her job and I learned a lot from her. I was going to have to send her an email or something—surely we’d cross paths again.

The last thing I wanted to do was drink after the night I’d had, but when I tried to order a club soda, Richard got all pouty. “I just got fired, and you can’t have a drink with me?” I ordered a beer, and nursed it for an hour, gagging on every sip. Meanwhile, I think Richard had at least three Jack and Cokes, and one whiskey shot. I had to turn away when he slugged it, afraid I would vomit vicariously through him.

The drunker he got, the handsier he got. But not with me—with Kate. And she was eating it up. At one point they were in the corner, him with his hand looped around her waist, inches from her ass, whispering into her ear. I watched him kiss her neck—the same way he’d kissed my neck the night before. When Kate turned around to order another drink at the bar, Richard looked pointedly at me. He took a sip of his drink, raising his eyebrows, as if to say, What are you going to do about it?

Nothing. There was nothing I could do about it without coming off like a real asshole. It really was an evil genius move on Richard’s part—if I told Kate not to hook up with him tonight, and I told her I thought he was just trying to make me jealous, I would look like a raging egomaniac. Plus, I’d have to come clean about what had happened the night before, but it wouldn’t look like I was telling her for pure reasons. It would look like I was telling her so that she wouldn’t hook up with Richard, because I was jealous or something. And maybe I was a little. But I was also outraged—a few hours ago you were telling me things would be different with me, and now you’re nuzzling my friend’s neck right in front of me. People who have just been fired deserve a lot of slack, but the scene in front of me was literally reason numero uno why I shouldn’t listen to a single word that comes out of Richard’s mouth. He’s so full of bullshit. He will say anything to get in a girl’s pants. God knows how many others he’s used that line with—”Just give me a chance to prove to you that you’re wrong about me.” What a crock.

I waited for Richard to go to the bathroom and I approached Kate. “Hey,” I said.

“Hi!” she said. She was glowing.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked, gently. “Remember how he was the last time?”

Kate rolled her eyes. “He just got fired. The guy deserves to get laid.”

“I just,” I stopped. Richard was coming out of the bathroom, and making his way over to us. He saw me close talking Kate and picked up the pace. Quickly, I said, “I just don’t want to see you upset like that again.”

Kate laughed. “Don’t worry, mom.”

“What’s going on?” Richard asked. He was practically out of breath from having rushed over to us.

“I’m taking off,” I said, giving him a look. “I’ll see you guys.”

Richard hooked his arm around Kate’s waist and pulled her into him. “Cool,” he said, narrowing his eyes at me. “See you.”

I turned on my heel. You have no right to be annoyed, you have no right to be annoyed, I chanted to myself as I made my way out of the bar. But I was annoyed! Why is Richard messing with me like this? And why was it bothering me when it shouldn’t? I needed to re-focus on Peter. Peter, who has been straightforward with me and isn’t playing games like Richard is.

I decided to chalk the last twenty-four hours up to the fact that it was the eve of Friday the 13th, and everyone was acting like damn fools. Myself included. I was also exhausted and needed to go to bed and get a good night’s sleep. In the morning, with a head that wasn’t throbbing like a discotheque,  everything would be clear. I wouldn’t have these conflicting feelings for Richard. I was sure of it.