Despite all of the weekend’s witch bullshit, Vic had pretty successfully carried on living her mostly amazing life. She finished the current season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta and even rewatched some classics—Flavor of Love, Charm School, and that one season of The Real World where Tammi Roman got her mouth wired shut. She even managed to set up a date with Frankie, who she hadn’t seen since before she bailed on their Red Rooster date. Essentially, she’d done all of the things she would’ve before she’d gotten entangled with these two weird girls and learned that she might have magical powers. She wouldn’t say she was in denial, exactly; she just wasn’t as willing as some people to start calling herself a fucking witch.
“Excuse me, can I have some water?”
Vic looked over to the model that had approached her—half-naked, overwhelmingly tall, ambiguously foreign—and pursed her lips. “Oh no, sweetie, that’s not my job.”
“Oh,” the model said in her thickly-accented English. Her cheeks went red, and Vic could see her wondering whether something had gotten lost in translation. The model pointed at Tatiana, who was sitting on the opposite end of the massive white backdrop that had been installed in the Clarke Stein offices for the day’s shoot. In her gingham DvF pedal-pushers and monogrammed Omondi crewneck she’d somehow snagged despite them being backordered for months, she looked annoyingly angelic, and nothing like the tryhard Miranda Priestley wannabe she really was. “She told me to ask you.”
Tatiana looked up from the concept board on her lap, wiggled her fingers in a wave, and smirked. Vic swallowed her pride and headed to the water cooler on the other side of the office, not wanting to give the model anything negative to report to the notoriously pissy photographer, Harry Nguyen. Had she been a cornier person, she might’ve given Tatiana the middle finger, but she was a KBA for God’s sake. When Vic returned, water in hand, Harry was in the middle of a full-on fashion industry meltdown. She gave the plastic cup to the model and hurried towards Tatiana and Harry, hoping Tatiana had fucked something up. They were staring at the images from the shoot on a small screen, Harry gradually turning the same color as the beetroot smoothie Vic had for breakfast.
“Am I crazy?” Harry asked, his voice climbing to an unstable timbre. “I mean am I fu-cking crazy? She looks ill. She looks crazed. She looks like she’s from Minnesota.”
Vic and Tatiana made brief, confused eye contact.
“We cannot print her in this color. It’s offensive. I don’t need a call from Millions of Moms—good or bad.”
“Wait,” Vic said. “You mean this green color? The Pantone 352 U you had us dig through the closet to find just this morning?” Vic softened her voice, as if talking to a child. “Not to be, um, disrespectful but I promise you thought that color was the future just ten minutes ago.”
Harry was too engrossed in his meltdown to care about Vic’s tone. He jerked back from the screen ecstatically, forcing Tatiana to duck away from his bald, oiled head. “I know what it is— it wasn’t green I saw in the future, it was pink. Piiiiink pink pink pink pink pink pink. Those two are so easy to mix up, don’t you find?”
“Mmmm,” Tatiana said. “I do find.” It took the effort of every pilates-toned muscle in Vic’s body not to gag.
“Now, ladies of CS, Tatiana, Vic, if you could, please bring a dress. Not pants, not a skirt, not a T-shirt, a dress of any sort, preferably something identical in shape and cut to this hideous green dress, but in a baby pink. You know, that nursery-room, baby-gender-announcement, not-quite-Pepto-Bismol, Rihanna pink?”
Vic sighed. Somehow, it was the clearest direction the man had given all day. She and Tatiana, in a silent agreement that they wouldn’t humiliate themselves by running, speed-walked to the storage closet. Tatiana stiff-armed Vic at the entrance, nearly knocking her over. She immediately started digging through every item of clothing the CS archives had to offer. Vic got to work on the opposite end of the closet, rummaging through dresses as quickly as she could without accidentally damaging anything. Finally, after several minutes of searching, the entire space silent except for her and Tatiana’s grunts and disappointed sighs, Vic realized there was definitely nothing Rihanna-pink on her side of the closet. And if there was anything pink, Tatiana was going to find it first, since she was already encroaching on the unclaimed middle area between them. She’d also been hogging the sliding ladder that reached the higher shelves, something that annoyed Vic until she realized she had something better.
She slipped out of the closet and back to the set. The model had already changed into a robe and was drinking more water (Vic wondered who had fetched it this time). The tiny green dress, made mostly of absurd, impractical cutouts, lay across her lap. Harry was off by the windows, chatting distractedly into his signature BlackBerry Bold. Vic grabbed the dress from the model’s lap and ran to the bathroom, scrunching the mass of fabric under her arm and shielding it with the vintage powder blue tuxedo blazer she’d layered over her off-white ASOS slip dress. In the stall, she balled the dress up in her hands and stared at it, noting how much she hated the color of her new almond-shaped acrylics and vowing to switch to a jewel tone next appointment. Her armpits began to tingle with sweat as she grappled with the unconfronted fear that her powers might not work when she needed them the most. The fear that this intrusion into her life would bring more bad than good. But before her eyes, just as she’d hoped, the dress morphed from mint green to pink, for a moment lingering on a sludgy grayish-brown that Harry Nguyen would definitely not think was the future.
Vic scurried out of the bathroom, glancing at the sinks to make sure that Tina, standing in front of the mirrors, didn’t suspect anything weird. Luckily, Tina didn’t even notice Vic smiling at her: she was too busy shaping her eyebrows with the 120 dollar floral-patterned tweezers she always kept conspicuously displayed on her desk. Outside, Tatiana was holding two clothing items: one a skirt in the perfect pink, the other a dress that was definitely the wrong color.
“I mean, dusty rose is definitely taking off right now, but if you don’t like it we could put Mathilde in a white top with the skirt.” Tatiana pulled a silky, off-white top from under her arm. Harry looked like he might cry. “I’m sorry; this is just literally all we have,” Tatiana said frantically.
“Hey!” Vic said, approaching the two. She tried to seem normal and not as though she’d just sweated out her roots doing magic in the bathroom. “Does this work?” She brandished the dress, which was miraculously wrinkle-free, and wondered if her powers had taken care of that as well.
“Ewwwwwww my god! It’s perfect! Ugh, thank you, sweetie,” Harry leaned in to air-kiss Vic. “Mwah! Mwah!” He turned to Tatiana, whose face had frozen in devastation and shock. “Could you get Mathilde dressed, hon?” He handed Tatiana the dress and walked off toward the set, fiddling with his camera.
Tatiana turned to Vic, about to say something Vic was sure would skew more sour than sweet, when Lacey approached.
“Incredible work, Victoria.” She placed her hand on Vic’s shoulder, gasped dramatically, and placed her hand to her mouth. “And oh my God what a gorgeous suit.”
Vic straightened up. “Thank you.”
“Of course.” Lacey looked over at Tatiana and scrunched her face. “Could you please go somewhere and improve yourself? Somewhere out of my line of sight? Thanks.”
Tatiana scoffed and walked away, leaving Vic to revel in the frightening warmth of Lacey’s newfound affection.
Hours after her victory over Tatiana, Vic was still riding high. She’d even stayed later than 5:59 to kill time before her date with Frankie, writing the two press releases she’d planned to put off until next week. Once Frankie texted her saying she’d left work, Vic packed up her things and headed out of the CS offices, ignoring Tatiana’s seething stare as she stayed late into the night yet again.
Vic hopped on the subway and got off at Columbus Circle, where she and Frankie were meeting at The Museum of Arts and Design. Whenever it was Frankie’s turn to plan the date she always chose a new museum—usually one Vic had never heard of before. Vic didn’t understand how Frankie didn’t get bored of museums, since her work as an assistant curator at the MoMA meant she spent all day in one, but she didn’t complain. It was a nice change from the constant stream of happy hour dates she’d gone on when she’d first moved to New York, and, without Frankie, Vic was sure she’d become one of those people who lived in New York for a million years but had never been to The Guggenheim.
She crossed the street to approach the museum, waving when she caught Frankie’s eye. Frankie was standing just outside the door, and she waved back, giving Vic a shy smile. “Hey,” she said when Vic was close enough.
“Hey,” Vic replied, pulling her into a hug. She kissed Frankie’s cheek, breathing in the warm vanilla scent of her perfume. “How are you?”
“A better question might be how have you been,” Frankie said lightly, adjusting her large, round glasses. Vic crinkled her brow as she followed Frankie into the museum and toward the ticket line, taken aback at the slightly shady remark. It had been over three weeks since they had last seen each other, entirely because Vic kept flaking on their dates last minute. Vic hadn’t meant to dodge Frankie on purpose, but it was a reflex of hers that kicked in whenever she started getting serious relationship vibes from someone. She’d have plans with a girl and suddenly, hours away from the date, Vic would be overcome with the need to clean out her closet, or maybe start studying for the GMAT like she’d told her parents she would over a year ago.
“Sorry,” Vic said. “It’s been a crazy month for me.” It wasn’t a complete lie. Things had ramped up dramatically after the incident with her phone at The Bar and the interaction with MJ at Tompkins.
Frankie smiled at her, no hint of blame or accusation on her face. “No worries,” she said. “I know how life can get in the way sometimes.” Vic smiled in return, reminded of why she’d been drawn to Frankie in the first place. She was so different from the girls Vic usually went for; she was soft-spoken, introverted, and an utterly utilitarian dresser, but somehow magnetic all the same. When she’d seen her at a random rooftop party in July, gently roasting some guy because of something he’d said about Vantablack and the “world’s pinkest pink,” Vic had circled the crowd a few times before making her way over to her, pressing a bottle of Wölffer Rosé Cider into Frankie’s palm and asking her to explain the conflict. (Vic still didn’t get it.)
When they finally got to the front of the line, Vic dropped two twenties on the counter before Frankie could even get out her wallet.
“It’s pay-whatever-you-want day,” Frankie said. She pointed to a sign on the counter. “Plus, I chose this date, so I pay.” Vic waved Frankie’s words away.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “I owe you for being so shitty recently anyway.” Frankie began to protest again before Vic cut her off. “Come on,” she said. “Show me that ceramics and rock art exhibition you were talking about before I make this one of my dates and drag you to a Cushnie sample sale.”
Frankie grinned at her. “Okay, fine,” she said, looping her arm through Vic’s. Over the next couple of hours, Vic let Frankie lead her around the museum, listening to her opinions about this artist or that, sharing background the museum labels had left out, or explaining how she’d have arranged the exhibition if she was in charge. Vic didn’t know shit about art, but she liked it when people talked about the things that excited them—she always thought it was kind of freaky when someone had no real passions. She and Frankie talked about the shows they were watching and the restaurants they’d been to recently; the conversation flowed easily, as though they’d known each other for years and no time had passed since their last date. Once they’d looked at the last exhibition Frankie had chosen for them, they walked out onto the sidewalk, arms still entwined.
“Drinks?” Vic asked. She had planned to get home early, catch up on The Bachelorette, and go to bed at a reasonable hour. But she found herself actually wanting to talk to Frankie longer, even if it was about paint pigments and some kind of glitter made of literal shards of glass.
Frankie blinked at her, surprised. “Yeah, totally,” she said. She gave Vic a beaming smile. “Actually, I was thinking—hoping—we could maybe go to this place my roommate recommended? It’s sort of near your apartment. But we don’t have to, obviously,” she added sheepishly.
“I’d be down for that,” Vic said. “What’s the bar?” After five months of living in New York and going out every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (with a couple of weekday happy hours sprinkled in), Vic considered herself something of an expert on Lower East Side bars.
“Um...it’s something like...just give me a second.” Frankie dug her phone out of the pocket of her gray jeans. “Lovers of Today?” she said, reading from its screen. “I’ve never been before. Have you?”
“...Um, yeah,” Vic said. “I have.” Lovers of Today was a tiny, low-lit bar that was always sort of hazy and smoky, even though smoking wasn’t allowed indoors. Candles illuminated the intimate, black leather booths in a soft glow, and the volume was always loud enough that you couldn’t be overheard, but quiet enough that you could actually hold a conversation. Lovers of Today was Vic’s go-to rec whenever someone asked her for a good date spot, though she’d never actually taken a girl there— it was way too romantic.
“Cool,” Frankie said. She met Vic’s eyes briefly before anxiously looking away, glancing back down at her phone. “I’ll call a Rydeäp.” She pulled up the app, and after a few seconds told Vic a car would be there in five minutes.
“Cool,” Vic said. Her palms began to sweat as she and Frankie waited for the car to arrive. She gave Frankie a sidelong glance, taking in her adorably nervous profile. On paper, Frankie was perfect: a beautiful girl with a degree in Art History and Italian from Yale, a People’s Education Initiative volunteer at Riker’s Island, someone as familiar with Reinecke as she was with Rae Sremmurd. She never complained when she went to pick Vic up for a date and had to wait twenty minutes while Vic tried on a couple more looks, and she was enduringly patient and kind—a truly nice girl, the kind Vic given up trying to be way back in middle school. Yet the idea of anyone—even someone as amazing as Frankie—asking her to be their girlfriend made Vic itchy.
The car arrived and Vic climbed into the backseat, placing her work tote on the middle seat beside her. On her way in, Frankie glanced at the bag but said nothing, folding and unfolding her hands on her lap.
“I just realized I never asked,” Frankie said as the car whipped down the FDR. “How was work today?”
“It was fine,” Vic said mildly. She was tempted to share about the dress and Lacey, but her stomach was knotting up so furiously it was all she could focus on. “You?”
“It was awesome,” Frankie gushed. “Have you heard of Mott Maverick?” Vic shook her head. “She’s this dope performance artist—that’s her real name, by the way—who’s been traveling around Europe with her new performance piece, Probiotic.” She then handed her phone to Vic, the screen showing a grainy video. “Sorry the quality’s so shitty,” Frankie said as though it was her fault. “She doesn’t let anyone film her shows so I’m pretty sure someone shot this like, between the buttons of their Vetements jacket.”
Vic squinted at the screen. The video showed a woman naked in a bathtub filled with what looked like yogurt. Her gray lace front was twined at the top of her head, and she slowly scooped handfuls of yogurt into her mouth while woodwinds and strings swelled behind her. A circle of people watched her in complete silence, wholly enthralled. “Wow,” Vic said.
“I know, right?” said Frankie. “Anyway, a friend of mine at the Victoria and Albert Museum just managed to book her, and she passed along her contact info. Now she’s coming to MoMa next July!”
“Wow, that’s amazing.” Vic wanted to sound more excited, to share what had happened with the dress so she and Frankie could celebrate their work triumphs together. But she was too freaked out by Frankie’s super-romantic bar choice to muster more than the tiniest bit of enthusiasm.
Frankie shrunk, floored by Vic’s tepid response. “Yeah, I thought it was cool,” she mumbled.
The driver pulled up to the bar and Frankie exited the car first, Vic following slowly. When Frankie opened the door of the bar Vic’s stomach dropped again. It was just as she remembered, dark and cozy, the booths filled with canoodling couples.
“You get a table and I’ll get the drinks?” Frankie asked. Vic nodded, snagging an empty booth in the corner. She looked around as her eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. A folksy, acoustic version of “Niggas in Paris” played, and even though that was something Vic generally hated, she had to admit it added to the vibe. After a few minutes, Frankie arrived, clutching two brightly colored champagne cocktails.
“Got you the Fan Mail,” Frankie said in greeting. “It has lavender honey, so I figured you’d be down.”
Vic managed a smile. “You know me well.”
Frankie sat a little way around the curve of the booth, so they were almost facing each other, but not quite. She folded her leg onto the seat and her knee grazed Vic’s thigh. They both took deep pulls from their drinks. “So, we’ve been seeing each other for kind of a while, right?” Frankie asked as Vic took another sip. The question, though she’d been anticipating some variation it, managed to catch her off guard, and a little bit of her drink went down her windpipe. Vic let out a series of hacking coughs.
“Oh my god, sorry!” Frankie said as Vic continued to cough. “Do you need water? Sorry! I should’ve waited until after you finished.”
“No, no, it’s fine,” Vic said hoarsely. She coughed again and wiped at the tears that had begun to pool in the corners of her eyes. “I’m just gonna go to the bathroom,” she said as she recovered. “Fix my mascara.”
“Yeah, yeah, of course, no problem,” said Frankie. “Sorry again,” she said, gracious as always, and Vic waved it away, shouldering her bag as she hurried toward the bathroom. She locked the door behind her and wiped her sweaty palms on her dress before wringing her hands together. She took out her Urban Decay Perversion mascara and began reapplying it with shaky hands. When she finished, she suddenly felt the need to reapply her foundation and lip tint too. Once Vic had basically finished a full face she stared at herself in the mirror, realizing what she was doing— stalling. Vic couldn’t just go back there, let Frankie finish her speech, and then reject her, could she? She thought of Frankie waiting for her alone at their booth, probably wondering if she’d blown her chance. Vic’s scalp began to tingle with sweat between her tracks. She’d never been good at this kind of thing. She’d only had one real girlfriend before, and things between them had kind of fallen together—they hadn’t even had a formal conversation, just realized one day that they’d both started referring to the other as “my girlfriend.” The idea of having to DTR with Frankie right now just felt way too capital-a Adult, something Vic didn’t think she could handle on top of the regular postgrad shit dominating her life, not to mention the witch stuff.
Vic stopped twisting her hands as she remembered her powers, staring at her palms as though she could see the magical ability coursing through her veins. Vic looked from her hands to her reflection in the mirror as a crazy—but effective—idea took hold of her. She only used her named power twice before. The first time where she’d turned into Diane accidentally, and another time when she’d transformed into Jane, one of the instructors at YogaWorks, on a whim. She’d spent months trying to see if Felicity, her Advanced Vinyasa Flow instructor, was actually checking her out or if she’d just imagined it, and when she overheard Jane saying she was going to skip an instructor happy hour for an acupuncture appointment, Vic used her powers to find out if Felicity was into her once and for all. She wasn’t—she just thought Vic’s wounded peacock form was hilarious. Vic turned to the side, examining her face in profile. She knew what she was considering was crazy, but was having trouble reasoning against it.
Before, she’d only transformed into people she knew, people she’d seen before, but that felt risky now. She was constantly running into people she knew around the city—what if that happened to her while she was wearing someone else’s face? Did it even matter? Vic looked at herself, imagining Tina from Clarke Stein’s round face. She’d seen her enough that she knew she could likely do it if she focused, and she was certain Frankie and Tina had never met, so she didn’t run the risk of being recognized.
Fueled by her paralyzing fear of commitment alone, Vic gazed into her own eyes until she felt a tightening all over her skin, a pressure that compelled her to close her eyes. Her body felt as if it were about to burst at the seams, the way it had the other two times she’d used her power. Then there was a release, the tension flooding away. When Vic opened her eyes Tina stood before her, and Vic jolted away from the mirror, scared, before calming down and leaning in again. She didn’t think she’d ever get over that part. Vic blinked, surprised to see Tina blink as well, even though she knew better. Vic was about to step out of the bathroom when she realized that she was still wearing her outfit—the slip dress and blazer Lacey had loved so much. She closed her eyes and concentrated again, reimagining herself in a slouchy white sweater she’d just bought from Nordstrom and a pair of velvet gaucho pants she’d laughed at while shopping the other day. There, she thought, looking at herself. Victoria West was nowhere to be found.
Taking a deep breath, Vic opened the door and stepped back out into the bar, a bundle of frayed nerves unfolding in her stomach. It didn’t feel normal yet for her to be in someone else’s body. She walked through the dark maze of tables, slowing her pace as she passed Frankie sitting in the booth she’d left. Her head was bent toward her phone as she scrolled through something on the screen. Suddenly, she looked up, making brief eye contact with Vic. A spike of fear shot into Vic’s belly. Frankie gave her a bland, uncertain half-smile, the kind you used on a stranger, and then looked away, drumming her fingers on the table. Vic exhaled, picking up her pace as she walked past the bar and then out into the night.
Abbie hadn’t even realized she’d lost her favorite shrug until looking for it almost made her late for school. She spent over an hour digging through her collection of patterned cardigans, trying to see if the crocheted fabric had accidentally gotten caught on a stray hook or something. It wasn’t until she was halfway through her Thursday afternoon art class that she remembered she’d left it slung on the back of her chair at The Bar the night of her birthday. She’d been too caught up in the commotion of creepy Tanner and meeting Vic and Delali in the bathroom to grab it before they headed to 2FERNS. The thought of the subway ride from her school in the Bronx to the Lower East Side almost made Abbie want to forfeit the shrug and sacrifice it to the Party Gods like the three black North Faces she’d lost in college. But the thought of the memories the sweater held—her college move-in day, graduation brunch with her family, first kiss with Dan—gave her the strength she needed to brave the horrible trip.
“Why couldn’t my power be teleportation?” Abbie grumbled under her breath as she opened the door to The Bar. It was still pretty low-key when she got there: they hadn’t yet shut off the wifi for the night so groups of students still held court at the tables, mostly nursing cups of coffee instead of beers. Abbie was grateful for this, because it meant she didn’t have to wade through a crowd of people to get to the bar. She said a little prayer as she approached, hoping to get in and out as quickly as possible.
“Hey,” she said to the bartender, trying to divert his attention from the girl he’d just served. Abbie glanced at the girl’s lace-up club dress and then back at him. “Hey,” Abbie said again, this time more forcefully. She waved her arm impatiently.
He didn’t hear her, but he did catch the movement, and turned to Abbie with a small, amused grin on his face. “Yeah?” he asked. Abbie took a slight step back, weirdly irritated by his attention. It was a response to both his lightly patronizing tone and the way Abbie immediately felt herself softening from his English accent, a bit rougher and broader than what she was used to hearing in television and movies, but distractingly hot all the same. Abbie’s stomach cramped—Where did that come from, she thought, pushing thoughts of Dan’s narrow Park Slope vowels out of her mind.
“You want something?” the bartender asked. “A second ago I thought you might die if I didn’t give you some attention.”
His smugness drew Abbie’s fading irritation right back to the surface. “My shrug,” she said. “I left it here a couple weeks ago.”
“Your what?” he asked with a laugh. The girl with the lace-up dress tucked a twenty-dollar tip beneath her empty tumbler, and the easy smile he flashed at her before pocketing the cash bothered Abbie in a way she couldn’t really articulate.
“My shrug,” Abbie repeated. “It’s a little black sweater with lots of little holes in it.”
His smile flattened. “I know the word ‘crochet,’” he said.
“Sorry,” Abbie said, but the bartender had already turned away from her and crouched out of view, rooting around in the shelves beneath the rows of bottles lining the wall behind the bar.
“This is the lost and found,” he said as he stood. All the kindness from his voice was gone, and Abbie felt the aching that came whenever she could tell someone didn’t like her, the desire to bend over backward to do something, anything, to get on their good side. He placed a cardboard box in front of her. FIND UR SHIT was scrawled on its side in white-out. “If someone found it, it’s in here.”
“Thanks,” Abbie said. He grunted in response, turning his attention to a couple wearing matching quarter-zip sweaters. Abbie poked around the box of random clothing, purses, and occasional bra that had all been left at The Bar at one point or another. She had just started to give up hope when she noticed a shiny white tag with AAB written on it in thick, blue letters. When her mother had told her to write her initials on the tags of all her clothing while packing for college, Abbie had laughed before staying up all night unpacking, labeling, and repacking. Now, she’d never been more grateful for taking her mom’s advice.
Abbie pulled the shrug from the tangle of fabric in the box and pressed the polyester-cotton blend to her cheek, nearly tearing up. She couldn’t believe she’d almost left the sweater to die here, mingled in between musty pairs of socks with marijuana leaves printed on them.
“Wow,” said the bartender. Abbie opened her eyes, remembering she was in public. He was staring her, that entertained half-smile back on his face. “Must be an important sweater with lots of little holes in it,” he said, clipping his voice to mimic Abbie’s accent.
Abbie winced as she heard her words repeated back to her. She’d sounded like such a bitch. “Sorry,” she said again. She let out a long exhale and closed her eyes, feeling the exhaustion of the day settle over her. “I just had a crazy day at work, I’m kinda starting a business and…” Abbie trailed off, trying to think of a way to say “I just found out I’m a witch” without saying I just found out I’m a witch. “I don’t know, things are kinda wild right now.”
The bartender examined her carefully, staring at her just past the point of comfort. “Faizan,” he said finally, extending his hand.
A knot of tension loosened between Abbie’s shoulders. “Abbie,” she said, taking it.
“Well, Abbie, you can buy me a drink to make up for your bad manners,” he said. “Maybe you can even tell me about this business you’re starting.” Faizan winked at her teasingly, and it would have made Abbie sick if he hadn’t been so effortless about it. Abbie tilted her head to the side and looked at him, taking in the clean lines of his beard, his Adidas joggers, and the way his red and white soccer jersey clung to the contours of his arms and shoulders. She stole a glance at the screen of her phone. She still had hours before her evening call with Dan, and she was dying to talk to someone about Crafting & Coconut Oil.
“I don’t know,” Abbie said. She slid onto a barstool and crossed her legs with a nonchalance that surprised even her. “Maybe you can buy me one first.”
“Waiiiitt,” Abbie said as she circled the base of her wine glass with her finger. “There’s a bar inside the barbershop?”
“No,” Faizan said. He snuck a sip from the vodka tonic he’d made for himself behind the bar. “There’s a bar beneath the barbershop. Kind of an underground speakeasy thing.”
“Ooooh.” Abbie nodded. “That’s so cool,” she gushed drunkenly.
“Well, yeah,” Faizan said with a cocky grin. “It is.”
“Ugh, you’re soooo full of yourself.” She gave him a slow, wine-drunk smile and took a greedy gulp from her glass. When she’d asked Faizan to tell her about himself to deflect from his “what’s making things so wild?” question, Abbie wasn’t entirely sure what she’d expected from him. She certainly hadn’t anticipated him telling her he’d dropped out of business school in May to start a hybrid barbershop and bar with a restauranteur friend he’d met during his brief period working as a promoter between semesters. He’d met Daniela, the owner of The Bar, during his days as a promoter as well, and he’d started working at The Bar because he wanted to understand all facets of his business once it finally opened.
“I mean, you said it, not me,” he replied with a laugh. He finished his drink. “So, what about this blog thing,” Faizan began, changing gears as he brandished a wine bottle. Abbie’s glass was only half-empty, but he filled it to the top. “You’re kind of lukewarm about it, yeah?”
Abbie slumped forward, letting out an exaggerated sigh. “I don’t even know, really,” she said, reaching up to smooth the front of her bun. “I only really started thinking about it as a legit option like, a couple weeks ago, and now that it seems like I can do it, I’m kind of like, why not, you know?” Abbie paused and took another sip of wine. “I don’t know. It feels like a big commitment.”
“I feel that, yeah,” Faizan said, turning to slide a bottle of Rekorderlig to a guy sitting a couple of seats away. “Maybe you just need to spend more time with the idea. You know, like really think about what your life looks like if you’re a full-time blogger. Maybe it could just be a jumping off point for other shit you want to do.”
Abbie considered this, sliding her fingers absently across the counter. “Yeah,” she said. “Maybe you’re righ—” she trailed off, her smile swallowing her words as she and Faizan made bleary eye contact over the top of her wine glass.
“What?” Faizan asked with a grin, swiping his thumb against his lower lip. Abbie shrugged: she didn’t know. Faizan held her gaze before Abbie jumped at the sudden furious vibrating at her hip. She didn’t have to check her phone to know it was an alert reminding her of call with Dan.
“I gotta go,” Abbie said, jumping to her feet.
“Oh,” Faizan said. He stood straight, and Abbie wondered if she imagined the flicker of disappointment that crossed his features.
“Sorry,” Abbie said, although she wasn’t quite sure what she was apologizing for. She reached into her tote bag to pull out her wallet, but Faizan waved her away.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said.
Abbie left her wallet half-pulled from her bag. “You sure?”
“Yeah,” he said, dumping the rest of her wine. “I got you.”
“Thanks,” Abbie said, and Faizan gave her another little grin before turning to serve a new customer.
Outside, Abbie shivered as the autumn air sliced through the thin denim of her jacket, declined Dan’s FaceTime call, and called him back on audio. “Hey babe,” she said. She paused at a crosswalk, looking both ways before jaywalking across the street.
“Hey, what’s up?” Dan said in a yawn. “I thought we were gonna video. I was looking forward to seeing your face.” Abbie could hear the grin in his voice, and she felt herself sobering up at the image.
“I know, same,” Abbie said before apologizing. “I’m just not at home right now.”
“Really?” Dan asked, surprised. “Isn’t it kinda late in New York?”
“Yeah, I just had to run a quick errand,” she said, sidestepping a group of high school kids on her way to the subway. Panicked, Abbie reached into her purse to make sure she actually had the shrug and hadn’t left it behind once again, instantly relaxing when she felt the wooly fabric.
“Oh yeah? You’re usually practically in bed by now.” Dan said, and Abbie felt a wave of exhaustion and exasperation hit her at once. She could hear the interest that Dan’s duty as a boyfriend compelled him to feign in his voice, and suddenly she felt that she no longer really wanted to talk—just sit quietly on the subway and jot down some new ideas for C&C.
“Babe, I’m about to hop on the train,” Abbie said, sounding dishonest even to her own ears. “Can I call you later?” Quiet filled the line, and Abbie paused at another crosswalk, missing the walk light as she waited for Dan to respond. “Dan?”
“Okay,” he said. “That’s fine, I guess. I better get going anyway.” Abbie could feel his displeasure seeping through the phone. She wondered if she could temper his anger using her powers—other than that random guy on the sidewalk, she’d only ever used them to calm misbehaving students in her classes—but then thought better of it, deciding not to waste the energy.