Chapter Ten: Khrystiana Gets Kidnapped

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Abbie and Faizan stood before a closed shop with a black brick front and a sheet of metal over its door. “Is this it?” Abbie asked. She stepped closer. “Maybe it’s one of those speakeasies with a special password or knock or something.”

“Maybe,” Faizan said doubtfully before groaning with realization. “Fuck, Apple Maps brought us to the wrong one.”

Abbie wanted to ask why he hadn’t immediately replaced the app with Google Maps when he got his phone like everyone else did, but figured that was rude. Instead she asked the second-best question that came to mind. “There are two slaughterhouses in Brooklyn?”

“Three,” Faizan replied, scrolling through his phone.

“Well,” Abbie said, looking around the empty street. “Where’s the one we’re looking for?”

“Apparently, an hour away,” Faizan said in frustration. He looked out at the water and then down at Abbie, and she shivered involuntarily in his gaze. “You know what? Fuck it. I can hang out with them whenever. You wanna get pizza?”

Abbie wavered. Going to a bar and meeting up with a group was one thing, but getting dinner (or, really, a midnight snack) with Faizan alone felt like crossing a line she’d never neared before. Still...she looked up at Faizan and the bridge they’d just crossed. They’d made it this far already. It would be a waste to just turn around and head back into Manhattan. “Yeah,” Abbie said. “Pizza sounds good.”

They walked through the streets of the city in search of a pizza place, their conversation starting up again.

“How’re things with your blog?” Faizan asked, recalling their previous conversation at The Bar.

Abbie masked her surprise. “They’re going pretty well.” After Faizan had called her “the girl with the sweater,” she doubted he remembered any of the other things they’d talked about, since he hadn’t even remembered her name. “I have some new ideas I’m planning to get up soon, but I’m still kinda waiting to see what it could turn into.”

“Cool, cool,” Faizan said. “Things like that take time. But I checked out your stuff the last time we talked. You’re really good.”
Seriously?” Abbie asked, embarrassed by the thought of Faizan reading her post about her favorite yogurt brands to put in her hair.

“I mean, yeah. I’m always looking for ideas for BARber. I’m definitely gonna steal your Fresh Fridays thing,” he said, grinning at her.

“Hey!” Abbie said jokingly. “Stealing is wrong.”

“Good entrepreneurs borrow, great ones steal,” Faizan replied, shrugging.

“Pretty sure that’s artists.”

“Whatever.”

They bypassed several pizza parlors for increasingly stupid reasons, using it as an excuse to talk more. It became a little game between them—Abbie vetoed one place because she didn’t like the red tiles lining the walls; Faizan rejected another on the grounds that the cashier had let the sides of his flat top grow out too long. Their conversation moved from their dream jobs to where they’d grown up, what had brought them both to New York, and their favorite things about their neighborhoods. Abbie answered all of Faizan’s questions thoroughly, surprised by the realization that she actually loved talking about herself. It was rare that someone asked her about herself; most people were content to let her listen as they carried on.

They finally chose a spot with tasteful blue tiles and cashiers with fresh cuts, Faizan making a big show of paying for Abbie’s dollar slice of plain cheese.

“My mum raised me right,” he said, giving her an exaggerated bow, and Abbie laughed in spite of herself. They left the shop with their greasy paper plates in hand, looking for a place to sit. They walked for a bit until Faizan stopped short, watching a woman dart into a residential building, the heavy door slowly swinging closed behind her before stopping slightly ajar. He turned to Abbie with a mischievous smile.

“What?” Abbie asked.

“I bet that building has an amazing rooftop,” he said.

“Are you kidding?” Abbie balked. She was not someone who trespassed.

Abbie gazed at the building. It was sleek and new, and they were close enough to the water that they could still hear it sloshing. Abbie wondered if the rooftop view could compare to the one from the bridge.

“Come on,” Faizan urged. He hustled across the street and Abbie stood still for a panicked second before her excitement won out and she followed him. She had never done anything like this before, and up until just now, wasn’t sure she was capable of it. But here she was, nimbly slipping through the door and then holding it open for Faizan. They looked around until Faizan found the stairwell, clutching his veggie supreme slice in one hand as he opened the door with the other. Abbie snuck in and began to climb, Faizan close behind her. They completed the first few flights easily, but at the fifth started to get tired.

Faizan huffed and puffed dramatically, mocking Abbie’s labored breathing.

“Shut up,” she called behind her, secretly vowing to finish another round of Couch to 5K.

Shhh,” Faizan said.

They rested at the ninth flight, each sitting on a stair and eating their pizza. Finally, with one flight left, they resumed the climb, bursting through the roof door dramatically. Abbie rested against the wall as Faizan came outside behind her.

“One small step for man, one giant step for mankind,” he said and Abbie laughed. She followed him as he strode across the terrace as though he owned it. An electric current of excitement ran through her, exhilarated by what she—they—had done. She looked around as the crisp air cooled the sweat on the back of her neck. There was no one else out there— only a well thought out arrangement of plants, wooden deck furniture, and a few elegant outdoor lamps.

Oh,” Abbie said, looking at the view below. The reflection of the city shimmered on the surface of the river, and people swirled on the street, climbing in and out of cars, entering buildings, standing in groups on the sidewalk. Faizan stood behind her, and she felt the heat of his body as he took in the same sight. After a moment, he sat on one of the wooden chairs and motioned for Abbie to join him, but she shook her head.

“I’m not tall enough,” she admitted reluctantly, knowing Faizan would tease her. “If I sit I won’t be able to see the view.”

To Abbie’s surprise, Faizan rose from where he’d been sitting and dragged over a table to where Abbie was.

“Does this work?”

Abbie smiled and accepted Faizan’s outstretched hand. He helped her onto the table and joined her, and they took in the view together. In the quiet of the moment, Abbie studied Faizan’s handsome profile against the night sky.

“What happened with Mimi?” she asked fake innocently, playing with a loose thread in her sweater. Part of her hoped his answer would help her understand him better, and the other half was just desperate to know more about the girl who had occupied his mind all night.

Faizan grimaced, then looked at her quizzically. “How do you know about Mimi?”

“Vic mentioned her once, I think,” Abbie lied easily. “But come on,” she pressed. “I know you’ve been thinking about her all night.”

“Fine,” Faizan said with a sigh. He scratched his beard as he thought of what to say. “Mimi was this girl I really liked— she was really beautiful and talented and stuff and basically all of my friends wished they could’ve been with her. We started dating a couple months back, and at first things were going really well, but…I don’t know, ” Faizan hesitated here. “Our lives just didn’t really match up, I guess. We couldn’t agree on some important stuff,” he said vaguely.

“Like what?” Abbie prodded.

“Like…” Faizan sighed again. “She has this standing Sunday morning gig at this cafe in our neighborhood, and I could never make it. We fought about it all the time and then she ended up dumping me. Basically, the next day she started hooking up with this like, accountant or something who wears sandals in the winter,” he muttered darkly.

“Well, duh,” Abbie said. “You should’ve supported her singing career. No wonder she broke up with you. You had eight whole weeks to go see her!”

“Rapping,” Faizan said.

“What?”

“You said singing career,” Faizan said, pulling out his phone. “Mimi’s a rapper.” He showed her the cover of Mimi’s mixtape. It’s All About Mimi stretched across the bottom in hot pink capital letters meant to look like lipstick. Above them, Mimi wore a Dalmatian-print bikini and an electric blue windbreaker, and her long blonde hair had a listless wave to it. Huge doorknocker earrings hung from her face, and she had been photoshopped to look as if she was riding a leopard.

“...Right,” said Abbie. “Well, still, you should’ve tried to go at least once. You’re supposed to support your girlfriend’s passions.” Abbie almost continued, but broke off, remembering Dan’s reaction when she told him about getting more serious about her blog.

“Well, the thing is that on Sundays I do this like, mentorship thing with kids in my neighborhood. Tutor them in maths, hang out with them, nothing that serious,” he said quietly, as if embarrassed.

Abbie raised her eyebrows.

“Mimi was always making fun of me because of it—she wasn’t about it at all. But I always shared her Soundcloud links on Twitter. Doesn’t that count for something?” Faizan demanded, turning toward Abbie. He looked away again, shaking his head. “Whatever. I just...I don’t know. Every time I almost chose the cafe gig over the tutoring, I ended up bailing. I just… couldn’t imagine those kids showing up and not seeing me you know? They practically worship me.”

Abbie was torn between wanting to roll her eyes and melting. “How long have you been working with them?”

“Just a couple months,” he replied. “After dropping out of b-school, I just wanted something to do with all my free time other than bartending and working on BARber.”

Abbie nodded vigorously.

“Plus, these kids are fucking hilarious,” Faizan said. He pulled up Instagram. “Look at this one, Mikey. He’s so shit in class but look at how many of his videos have gone viral.”

Abbie peered at the screen. All Mikey’s posts were videos of him dancing in front of open refrigerators in different kitchens, but he had 562 thousand followers. “Whoa,” she said.

Right?” Faizan said. “But whatever. I guess it is what it is.” He put his phone away.

“Yeah,” Abbie said, searching his face. Like that first night at The Bar, Abbie wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting when she’d asked about his relationship with Mimi, but it hadn’t been this. Faizan met her eyes, and quiet grew between them, the moment suddenly serious. Faizan leaned in until his lips were just a whisper away from hers. Abbie jerked back.

“Hey!” she said sharply. “Why the heck did you do that?” She stood and stepped away from table.

“Uh— sorry?” Faizan said, confused. “I just thought you’d be into it. It seemed—I don't know, I thought we were vibing.”

Abbie stared at him. They hadn’t been ‘vibing,’ just...getting to know each other. She took another step back, suddenly feeling stupid—and ashamed. “It’s really cold,” Abbie said. “And late. We should go.”

Faizan opened his mouth, a debate playing out on his face. Then he nodded. “Yeah,” he said, standing. “I have tutoring in the morning anyway.”

They headed toward the door, and as they went downstairs Abbie made sure to set an alarm for her morning call with Dan.




In college, Vic had been confounded by her older sisters when they visited campus from their postgrad jobs, gushing about how much they loved their coworkers and the work they did. What could be better than this? she’d wonder, looking around the KBA house, where she was surrounded by friends and a seemingly never-ending supply of rosé. What could be better than her life on the FAMU campus, where she and her sisters were, without question, the hottest and coolest girls for miles? She honestly didn’t know.

Their enthusiasm had baffled her even more when she’d graduated in the spring and moved to New York to start her job. She did like her coworkers (more or less) but the actual day-to-day of her job—copy-and-pasting to assemble press releases, drafting whatever mindless bit of copy Lacey threw her way, digging endlessly in the closet for items of clothing that may or may not exist—was not inspiring at all. It didn't actively depress her the way Diane’s job at Zable, Zable & Zable LLP did, but she mostly just tolerated it, thankful to have something that paid for her rent, weekend surge Süpers, and Gilt splurges.

But Lacey’s praise after she’d stopped Harry’s meltdown had given Vic a surprisingly simple insight into the world of workplace fulfilment: actually putting some effort into her job. Up until now, she’d been comfortable skating by and doing the bare minimum—sneaking in late after her 8 a.m. barre class, online shopping whenever she had a break, and zipping out of the office at six to hit a nearby happy hour—but realizing that she could actually be good at her job had spurred her. Not even Lacey’s outlandish appearance at her housewarming killed her mood, and on Monday, fresh from last week’s triumph, Vic woke up before her alarm for the first time since the sunrise pregame that KBA’s brother frat had held on the morning of commencement.

She didn’t even realize how early she’d woken up until she thrust her arm into the elevator to stop the doors from closing and found Tatiana standing inside, her delicate ringed fingers clutching two iced coffees. One was Tatiana’s, obviously, but Vic could tell by the telltale swirling colorblock of espresso and cream that Tatiana had also gotten a Venti iced flat white (with one pump of simple syrup and a packet of Monkfruit in the Raw) for Lacey, a transparent attempt to win back her title as the superstar PR assistant. Just a week ago, Vic would’ve rolled her eyes at Tatiana’s desperation, but this morning she was feeling particularly forgiving, bolstered by how flawless her silhouette would look once she changed out of her commuter shoes and into her new block heels.

“Good morning, Tatiana,” Vic said sunnily as she stepped into the elevator and turned to face forward. She took off her sunglasses and slid them into their soft fabric case.

“Hello,” Tatiana said coolly. It was like someone had wrenched the word out of her.

When the elevator doors opened, Vic graciously stood back to let Tatiana exit before walking to her desk. She noted that all of the others were empty, save for hers and Tatiana’s. Vic was buckling her second shoe when Lacey blew by, still in her subway slip-ons.

“Good morning ladies,” she called out. “Nice to see you bright and early, Victoria,” she said as she passed Vic’s desk. Out of the corner of her eye, Vic could see Tatiana getting ready to offer the flat-white, but Lacey passed with such narrow-minded focus that Tatiana shrank back and placed the full cup back on her desk. She paused before sitting down, defeated. Bizarrely, Vic felt a pull of sympathy toward Tatiana—it was so tragic how aimless she was just because Vic had bested her at work once. Tatiana turned around, feeling Vic’s eyes on her. Vic jumped, startled by Tatiana’s scowl, and heard herself begin to apologize. But she stopped before she had an identity crisis, and sat at her desk, shaking off the feeling. She did, after all, have work to do.

Vic worked all through the morning without checking her phone once (she did have Twitter open on her computer, but that was like reading the news), so for lunch she decided take a luxurious break from the office. She sat at one of the bar-height tables at Roast while she planned the rest of her A/W wardrobe, then stopped briefly at Topshop to scope out their new collection. By the time she returned to the office, sipping on her favorite pomegranate-mango smoothie from the way overpriced juice shop around the corner, it had been over an hour and a half, but Vic didn’t think she’d be in trouble. Lacey always said she didn’t care what the girls did as long as their work got done. But when Vic stepped out of the elevator, the room felt fifteen degrees colder.

As soon as the doors opened she wanted to turn around and head back outside to safety, but it was too late—Lacey had already trained her eyes on her. Fuck, Vic thought. She made a quick stop at her desk before taking her place in the line of PR assistants Lacey was berating. It was always safer to be out in the open than to try to hide in some corner. When Lacey got upset like this—which happened at least once a week—she slipped back into her old sorority girl hazing mode, making the girls line up execution-style and attacking them all in a way Vic was sure was real-world illegal, but fashion-world permissible.

“You’re not listening to me, Mara,” Lacey said in an eerily calm voice. “You were supposed to check the Khristyana back into the closet last. Night.”

Vic let out a quiet breath. The Khristyana was the centerpiece in the collection CS had shown at Fashion Week, a decadent black organza gown that had taken several months to be hand-sewn to Clarke’s exact specifications. But the version Lacey was referring to was the copy the seamstresses had just finished last week—only the second version of the dress in the whole world—for Celeste Porter. She planned to wear it at the New York premiere of Cha Cha Cha, the event where her transformation to serious actress, girl you’d take home to meet your mother, and “lol so relatable” pizza-eater would finally be complete. It was identical to the runway version of the dress save for the thousands of Swarovski crystals sewn into the silk to resemble the shimmering lights of the night sky.

A few weeks ago, Mara, the most senior assistant, had secured the job of writing the copy that would accompany the Us Weekly exclusive on the construction of the dress that would be hitting newsstands the day after the premiere. To help Mara be as detailed as possible, Lacey had had the dress and key details on how it was made delivered to the office last week. After saving the day with Harry, Vic had lined up with the other assistants to "ooh" and "ahh" over the dress, touching the hem as she imagined how much more extravagant the dress she wore to her first Met Gala (her eventual invite was inevitable) would be.

Vic tuned back in to Lacey when she let out a deep yoga breath, closing her eyes and smoothing her white-blond hair off her forehead. “And yet,” she continued, addressing Mara with her eyes closed. “It’s not there. Where is the gown?” She opened her eyes and glared at Mara so forcefully Vic almost yelped on her behalf.

“I-I don’t know,” Mara said in a shaking voice. “I swear I signed it back in. You can check the log.” Mara gestured frantically toward the iPad mounted on the wall beside the closet, which the PR assistants and managers used to make sure all the clothing, shoes, and accessories were accounted for at any given time. Lacey gave them access to it every morning and locked it again when she left the office every night.

“I already have,” Lacey stressed. “But the dress is still gone.” She whirled away from Mara and took a couple of steps back from the line of women before her. “Which means someone else here must have taken it. If you come forward now,” Lacey said, addressing the thief, “it’s possible you may be able to keep your job.” The incensed look in her eyes made it clear that was definitely not a possibility, but the girls all hoped someone would come forward anyway. Lacey made eye contact with each of the assistants and managers in turn, and Vic took a small step back when Lacey’s cold blue eyes met hers. Crossing her arms over her chest, Lacey gave them all another long, assessing look, waiting for someone to confess her sins.

“Okay,” she said finally. “Empty your bags.” A tense silence hung in the air as Lacey regarded the girls expectantly.

“What?” Jillian, one of the senior assistants, asked in her clipped Australian accent. Vic had stopped fucking with Jillian during her first month in the job, when she’d claimed Beyoncé was somehow setting back feminism, but right now Vic was glad she existed, if only so Lacey would redirect her rage at Jillian specifically, rather than letting it contaminate all the air in the room like some kind of noxious gas.

“Empty. Your. Bags,” she said again, this time slower. “Here,” she said, marching over to her desk. “I’ll start with mine.” Lacey grabbed her Madewell tote before turning it upside down, unceremoniously dumping its contents all over the floor. The girls jumped at the noise of Lacey’s makeup, keys, flask, and copy of The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo clattering to the ground. They shared a what the fuck? look as Lacey clapped her hands twice. Even Tatiana, who Vic assumed would be gleefully awaiting someone’s imminent firing, looked alarmed: a deep furrow had formed between her eyebrows, and she was anxiously scratching her nails into the palm of her hand.

“What are you waiting for, ladies?” Lacey demanded. She walked over to Jillian’s desk, grabbed her metallic backpack, and emptied it on the ground before Jillian could even register what was going on, finally letting out a pained squeak as the screen of her case-less iPad hit the ground. After that, the assistants peeled away from the line and scrambled back to their desks, grabbing their bags before they, too, were left with cracked Apple devices. Vic hid a disbelieving laugh as she passed Mara’s desk, watching Mara carefully examine each item she pulled out from her burgundy leather shopper, as if she’d been mistaken and really had stolen the Khristyana without knowing it. Lacey prowled the office, watching as all the girls emptied their bags, occasionally hovering over their shoulders to make her presence was really felt.

Vic stepped over to her desk and reached for her bag, but was stopped by Tatiana’s vise-like grip on her wrist. She stared at Tatiana’s hand before turning her attention to Tatiana’s face and lifting her lip in disgust. “What the fuck are you doing?” she hissed. She glanced around the office to see if anyone else was witnessing Tatiana’s psychotic break. Tatiana let go of Vic’s arm, and Vic rubbed at the space where her hand had been.

Don’t,” Tatiana whispered, looking meaningfully at Vic’s favorite work tote on the concrete floor between them.

Vic flipped the new sixteen-inch Remy she’d installed over the weekend behind her shoulder. “Don't what?” she asked, but before Tatiana could respond, Lacey swooped between them, picking up Vic’s bag.

Lacey dangled it from the crook of her finger. “Well, this is an awfully heavy bag,” she said in an eerie singsong. Vic tried to think of what could make her bag heavy enough that Lacey would comment on it. She had stolen her usual three mixed-berry LaCroix waters from the office fridge, but realistically, they couldn't be any heavier than the extra-protein salad bowl she got from Mean Greens every day.

Lacey gave both Vic and Tatiana skeptical looks before taking one of the bag’s handles in each hand and peering into it. She let out a soft surprised exhale. Wordlessly, she reached into Vic’s tote and pulled out a black garment bag that had been carefully folded over itself and placed on top of Vic’s belongings.

Vic’s mouth dropped open as a few of the other assistants gasped. Beside her, Tatiana shifted her weight from side to side, occasionally knocking into Vic as she swayed.

“Whose bag is this?” Lacey asked coolly. She folded the Khristyana over one of her arms before crossing them both, cradling the gown close to her chest.

Vic gaped, wondering how the dress could have gotten mixed in with her things.

“WHOSE BAG IS THIS?” Lacey yelled. Vic jumped.

“I—” she began, but Tatiana interrupted before she could continue.

“It’s mine,” Tatiana said quickly. “But I don’t know how the dress got there.”
“Huh,” Lacey said, looking Tatiana from head to toe. “How curious.” She gave Tatiana another long gaze before turning her attention to Vic. “Victoria,” she said, her voice full of accusation. “You were about to say something. Go ahead.”

“I—” Vic said again. She looked from Tatiana to Lacey and back again, trying to make sense of the situation. She caught sight of the nervous sweat marring Tatiana’s usually flawless foundation, and suddenly it all came together—Tatiana’s unease at Lacey’s rage, and the way she’d grabbed Vic when she reached for her tote.

“Actually,” Lacey said. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t know what’s going on here with the two of you, but frankly, I don’t care. I need you to pack your things and vacate the offices immediately.”
What?” Vic exclaimed, her voice cracking. “But I didn’t do anything.”

“So, the Khristyana just got up and walked into your—or, perhaps,” Lacey broke off, turning pointedly to Tatiana, “your bag? Pack your shit, ladies.” She turned her attention to the other assistants. “And the rest of you go back to work.”
“But Lacey,” Vic said, pleading. She hadn’t realized how much she counted on her job until it had been abruptly snatched away from her. “Remember how I fixed things with Harry last week?” It was a grasping, weak thing to say, and Vic was disgusted by the way she reminded herself of the desperate girls who actually came up to her and her sisters to ask why they hadn’t gotten a bid to join KBA after the recruitment process was over.

Lacey barked out a laugh. “Oh, honey,” she said sympathetically, stroking Vic’s cheek with her thumb. “All you did was find a dress.”

Tatiana had the good sense to take the stairs down to the lobby, leaving Vic to stew in the elevator alone. Still, when the doors finally opened, Vic had to hold herself back from grabbing a fistful of Tatiana’s opulent hair and finding out whether it was real or fake once and for all.
“Hey,” Vic said as she approached Tatiana from behind, stomping across the marble floors. Tatiana almost turned when she heard Vic’s voice, but instead sped up, hurrying out onto sidewalk. Vic, jogged to catch up. “HEY,” she called again once she got outside. Tatiana turned to face her slowly, holding the plastic bag full of her belongings close to her stomach as though protecting her vital organs, her face warped by a mixture of guilt and fear.

“What the fuck is your problem?” Vic screeched. She took a few more forceful steps toward Tatiana, then stopped, noticing that one of the building’s security guards had moved from his desk in the lobby and followed them outside. “I do one thing better than you at work and you decide that you’re going to get me fired? Maybe even fucking arrested? Are you insane?”

“I didn’t think she was going to fire you,” Tatiana said, her voice already pleading. “I just thought you’d get yelled at, maybe get stuck refilling the gift bags at one of those shitty fundraisers we sometimes do with the sad drunk housewives.”
“You didn’t think that framing me for stealing a copy of the highlight of our most recent collection, a piece we’re recreating for the star of a likely Best Picture winner, would get me fired? Again, are you fucking insane?”

At that, Tatiana was silent. “Well…you cheated! I don’t know what you did, but you cheated. The dress Mathilde was wearing completely disappeared! And then out of nowhere you have an identical dress in the exact shade that Harry wanted? Come on.”

Vic took a step back. She had been discreet while changing the color of the dress, even paying special attention to Tina for the rest of the day to make sure she hadn’t seen anything. But maybe she’d missed something; maybe someone else had noticed and told Tatiana. “Come on...what?” Vic asked.

“Don’t play dumb,” Tatiana said. “Obvs you went into the senior resources drawer while Faye was away from her desk. You know we’re not allowed to use that drawer for internal shoots.”

“Oh,” Vic said. “Yeah, well, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal if I saved the shoot. And I definitely don’t think that’s a good enough reason for you to frame me for theft.

Vic and Tatiana stared each other for a long moment before Tatiana had the decency to avert her eyes. “You’re right,” she said. “I’m sorry; I don’t know why I put the dress in your bag. Honestly, I didn’t think Lacey would go totally nuclear, which, in hindsight, I know makes zero sense.” Vic didn’t answer, instead watching Tatiana with unblinking disgust, letting her steep in the absurdity of her own actions. She couldn’t believe that she had let a near-naked Lacey roll around in her bed and wear her clothes, only for this to happen. Finally, Vic pulled out her phone and called a Süper to take her home. Thankfully, a car was only two minutes away.

“Well, congrats, Tatiana,” Vic said, shooting her a beaming, beauty queen smile. “Thanks to you, we’re now both unemployed.” Right on cue, a car zoomed up to the curb, and Vic made sure to shoot Tatiana one last withering look before getting into the car.

Abbie patted her last, straggling student, Luis, on the back of his tiny windbreaker, gently pushing him into the arms of his waiting mother.

“Say thank you, Ms. Balogun,” his mother said.

“Say thank you, Ms. Balogun,” Luis repeated, mocking both his mother and Abbie in one fell swoop.

“See you tomorrow, Lulu!” Abbie trilled. “Bye, Mrs. Johnson,” she said to Luis’s mother, giving the woman a wide smile. Abbie waved the pair off, filled with the familiar rush she still felt every day at the end of pickup.

She turned back toward the school and checked her watch before entering through one of the side doors. It was 3:15—a little later than usual after pick-up, but she’d still have time to hang up the new name tags she’d made over the weekend before she headed out. Outside her classroom door, which dramatically outshone the others thanks to the massive bedazzled pumpkin she’d pressed on using sticky tack, stood two of her fellow teachers, another TFA girl named Bri, and a nerdy teacher in his late twenties named Sebastian.

Finally,” Seb said, faking exasperation when he saw Abbie coming down the hall.

“Finally what?”

“Your phone is literally blowing up, Abbie,” Bri said.

“It’s been ringing non-stop for the past twenty minutes. Is that your burner for drug deals?”

“You’re sooo hilarious, Sebastian,” Bri said, her voice oozing with distaste. Abbie giggled to herself. Even though she’d never say it out loud, she secretly found Sebastian so annoying and thought he had one of the ugliest classrooms in the school. She loved it when Bri made fun of him.

Abbie breezed past them and into her classroom, half worried that something terrible had happened, but mostly hoping it was Faizan from The Bar calling. Ever since their walk across the Brooklyn Bridge they’d started texting, Faizan apologizing again for their almost-kiss before sharing a link to a Fortune article about growing your social media following. Abbie hadn’t expected him hit her up again after dodging him, but ever since he had, she couldn’t stop thinking about him. There was the draw of his looks, of course, but also his fascinating past, his interest in Abbie’s burgeoning career, and the way he just seemed to get it—teaching, Crafting & Coconut Oil, everything. Of course, she would never do anything about it because of Dan. But talking to Faizan was a nice distraction, and it couldn’t hurt to have another entrepreneur in her network.

Abbie picked up her phone and peered at the screen. Her heart dropped. The calls were from a number she’d never seen before, but she had four new voicemails. Abbie listened to one.

“Hi, I’m Margherita Santos with Chenillionaire Crafts, and I’m calling for Abbie Balogun.” Abbie sank into her leather desk chair, stunned. “We’re big fans of Crafting & Coconut Oil over here, and we’d love to speak to you concerning a potential partnership. Feel free to return my call at this number at any time—I’d love to fill you in on what Chenillionaire is all about, and tell you a little more about where we’re headed. Looking forward to chatting. Thanks.”

As if Abbie needed to be filled in on what Chenillionaire was all about. It was common knowledge that they made the absolute best pipe cleaners in the whole crafting universe. Abbie had been a fan of their artisanal, chemical-free, handmade pipe cleaners since she was in high school (though she hadn’t been able to afford them until she’d started working). Despite her best efforts, Abbie let out a high-pitched squeal. She couldn’t wait to tell Dan about this. She batted away another thought that sprang up in her mind: she couldn’t wait to tell Faizan, either.

“What are you screaming about?” Bri was standing in the doorway, Sebastian right behind her.

“Nothing,” Abbie said, standing. “I mean, not nothing. It’s something. Something amazing. I’ll tell you later, I just have to call—”

“Dan,” Bri and Sebastian finished in exasperated voices.

Abbie laughed and shooed them out, closing the door behind them. She couldn’t wait the thirty-seven minutes it would take to get home. She needed to talk to Dan immediately. Though he was probably asleep, Abbie knew if she called him now and it went to voicemail, he’d call back first thing in the morning. At her desk, she opened her laptop (she always brought her Mac to work with her, in case she needed to FaceTime Dan) and placed it on top of her clunky New York State-issued ThinkPad. Once Abbie made sure that Dan would wake up to three missed calls, their code for a soft emergency, she packed up her crimson Cambridge Satchel and prepared to leave. She stood in the doorway of her classroom, looking it over one last time before she left—she wanted to remember this perfectly. She took in the orange, purple, and black streamers on the ceiling, the paper plates her students had colored and taped all over the cinderblock walls, and the enormous pink and green pom-pom rug she’d DIY’d over the summer. Then she let out a long breath, grinning to herself as she flipped off the lights.

In the morning, Abbie was woken up by the sound of her phone buzzing against her nightstand. She reached for it immediately, knowing it was Dan. She accepted the call and sat up in bed, hoping her satin scarf hadn’t gotten too crooked overnight.

“Hi, sleepy,” Dan said, his voice soft and affectionate. It had been months since Abbie had heard him sound like that. “Sorry if I woke you. You had a soft emergency?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Abbie said, shaken awake by the memory of yesterday’s phone call. She looked at the monogrammed notepad on her bedside table, and there they were: the notes she’d taken while on the phone with Margherita the night before, proof that the call had really happened. “Dan, the most amazing thing in the world has happened to me.”

Dan looked immediately relieved. “Oh, good. I thought it might be something bad.” He tousled his hair and took a bite of his maandazi. “What’s up?”

“Okay, so you know how all through college I was always talking about that one brand of pipe cleaners? Chenillionaire? And how they were my gift to myself after I got my first real adult paycheck?”

“Mmhmm.”

“Okay, well, they called me yesterday—this woman named Margherita, who’s head of their marketing and PR—she called me and they want to do a partnership with me!”

“Whoa.” Dan snapped to attention. “Really? Are you sure it’s not some sort of scam?”

“Um, no, definitely not. I spoke to Margherita yesterday and she’s legit. She had so many incredible crafting ideas, and she messaged me from an official Chenillionaire email. They want me to post a tutorial on my blog and Instagram.”

“Wait, Abs, that’s huge. Are they paying you?”

“Of course they’re paying me. That’s the whole point of the partnership.”

“That’s amazing—I didn’t think your blog was the kind of thing that could make you money. Have you thought about contacting any brands besides Chenillionaire?”

“I didn’t contact Chenillionaire, they contacted me. And I can’t really think of a product I love right now as much as I love their pipe cleaners—”

“There’s that coconut oil you use.”

“Coconut oil isn’t a brand, Dan.”

“Well I’m sure there are other things you could do, other things you could pick up at Michaels to see if you like them, then you could reach out to their marketing departments and work from there. Blogs don’t really stay financially viable forever; you definitely have to strike the iron while it’s hot.”

Abbie was silent. “I just wanted to tell you about one cool thing that happened to me. This blog isn’t about money for me—this partnership with Chenillionaire isn’t even about money for me. It’s about crafting and sharing the things I love with a wider audience.”

Dan leaned back in his metal desk chair, his mouth curled into a skeptical sneer. “I was just trying to help. But you’re the blogger.” He adjusted his dashiki. “Listen, I gotta go—course planning is taking a little longer than usual tonight and I only stepped out because I thought you had an emergency.”

“Okay,” Abbie said, already feeling the dread that consumed her when she and Dan parted without resolving a conflict. “Talk to you again today?”

“Yeah. I’ll see if I can find some time.” With that, he hung up.