Apart at the Seams

Apart at the Seams

Melissa Ford

June 2014 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-503-4

Book 3 in The Life From Scratch series

Our PriceUS$14.95
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She had Mr. Right all sewn up . . . until Mr. Wonderful came along.

Ethan is smart, funny, kind, gentle, great with Beckett, Arianna Quinn’s toddler son, a fantastic lover, and finally ready to settle down to a teaching job in Manhattan after years of nomadic work as a freelance photographer. Plus he’s the brother of Arianna’s matchmaking best friend, Rachel.

He’s a truly special man, and the time seems right for him to move in to Arianna’s apartment. But then he utters the "m” word . . . marriage. Even knowing that Arianna never wants to walk down the aisle.

Arianna is on the verge of a promotion at her fashion industry job. Suddenly her career is the central focus of her life—and into that focus walks Noah, a worldly, funny, sophisticated, and very successful writer for an award-winning television show. Their instant rapport leads to a design opportunity for Arianna and a friendship that slowly threatens the bonds she and Ethan hold dear.

Melissa Ford is the author of the award-winning website, Stirrup Queens. She is also a section editor at BlogHer. Ford lives outside of Washington, DC with her writer husband, Joshua, and their twins. Visit her at melissafordauthor.com.



Coming soon!


Chapter One

MY BEST FRIEND, Rachel, makes blogging look so easy. From what I can tell, she just vomits out the contents of her brain onto the screen, hits publish, and waits for the accolades and advice to come pouring into her comment section like the tide racing up the sand. So why have I been sitting here, staring at the blinking cursor for over an hour, trying to write my very first blog post? All I can think to write down is I can’t believe I’m asking my boyfriend to move in I can’t believe I’m asking my boyfriend to move in I can’t believe I’m asking my boyfriend to move in, and that doesn’t even amount to a paragraph.

But I can’t believe I’m asking Ethan to move in tonight despite the fact that I can’t really wrap my mind around whether this is a good idea or not.

I want it to be a good idea. But that isn’t really the same thing as it being a good idea.

Normally I’m not one to mess with the status quo. Our relationship works. Ethan has his place in Brooklyn, and I have my place with my son, Beckett, in Manhattan, and there is a short subway ride between us that goes over the Hudson River. Beckett loves that—when the train breaks out of the darkness and the light sparkles off the water. He bangs his toddler hands against the window of the train car and shrieks, much to the chagrin of the commuters. That subway ride between our apartments feels like a nice buffer, a cotton batting that I can wrap myself in, knowing that all is safe and neat in my world.

Which makes sense because Ethan isn’t exactly the poster child for responsibility. When he stays over, I have to hang back for ten minutes after he leaves, straightening up the apartment. Living with him could end up feeling as if I’m parenting two toddlers, only one leaves an adult-sized mess in his wake. But I can tell that Ethan is trying to turn his life around with his new job, and that has to count for something.

The cursor pulses like a heartbeat, reminding me of the reason I ultimately relented to Rachel’s nagging that I should move the relationship forward even though she knows I never want to get married. I am growing older. My colorist found two silvery hairs the last time I went to get my highlights done. Silver hairs, like snakes waiting in long grass.

What do I have to show for the last five years of taking the safe route? Despite my design training, I’m still just a finisher at Davis & Howe. I still have the same friendships, eat at the same restaurants, attach the same sequins and seed beads to pattern after pattern after someone else’s pattern. My life is familiar, comfortable, like a well-worn pair of pajamas that feels good to slip into at the end of the day.

But don’t I owe myself something more than comfortable? Something more than house clothes? Why did I put in all those hours drawing out my own designs if they’re never going to end up on someone’s body? Why start a relationship if we’re not going to at some point end up living together in sin until death do we part? Isn’t now good enough even if it isn’t quite perfect?

I type and backspace as if my fingers are performing the lindy hop before I decide that maybe blogging just isn’t my thing. I’ve never been an analyzer like Rachel. I catch my reflection like a ghost in the screen. Arianna Quinn is a doer, not a navel-gazer. And this week, she’s going to march her designs over to the atelier designer and ask her what she thinks.

But first, she’s going to invite her boyfriend to share her apartment.


I WAIT UNTIL I’m positive that Ethan is completely distracted by the baseball game—two outs, the bases loaded, one of those guys who always gets a home run because he’s most likely hopped up on steroids stepping up to bat—before I mumble out the question, my face buried in a Crate & Barrel catalog. As if I’m asking the glossy pages if they kind of sort of want to move into my apartment.

I’m hoping that he’s so wrapped up in the game that the question passes unnoticed but I can know that I made an offer. Of course, that isn’t the way it goes. If I were asking him his opinion on my outfit, what he wants to eat for dinner, or if he could grab me a new diaper for Beckett, I know his hearing would be impaired by the tension of the game. But cohabitation offers seem to be spoken at a pitch heard only by boyfriends and dogs.

His eyes peel off the screen with the same alacrity I saw the day I flashed him in a crowded restaurant as part of a dare. You’ll never do it, Ethan had insisted. Not rational, Midwestern Arianna Quinn. So I had carefully unbuttoned my shirt while keeping my coat loosely closed as a screen, a grin spreading across his face, until his eyes had flicked away from the customers around us to take in the two-second flash of my violet, satin bra. He is once again staring at me in amazement, as if I’ve just completed the ski jump or something equally as unfathomable.

"Move in with you?” he repeats.

"I figured that’s where this relationship was headed,” I comment. "Living together forever. Domestic bliss.”

Ethan tackles me like a puppy, knocking the Crate & Barrel catalog from my outstretched hand. It lands picture-side-up, displaying a very homey-looking apron with an apple-pattern trim. Xs and Os. Beckett sighs through the baby monitor while Ethan kisses my neck hungrily, not even pausing when we both hear the baseball connect with the bat on the television screen and the announcer scream out the names of the men rounding the bases.

"I thought you’d never ask,” he mumbles into the cloud of my hair.

His mouth finds mine, and I kiss him back eagerly. Mostly because it’s much easier than talking. It’s easier than thinking. Because when it’s like this—just the two of us on the sofa in our own little world—I can believe that everything will work out.

I CLEAR OUT the top dresser drawers while Ethan is traveling from Brooklyn to Manhattan with a carful of possessions. The majority of the clothes that once occupied those drawers—random t-shirts I would never be caught dead in and gym shorts that haven’t seen a gym in several years—have ended up in a box under the bed to be dealt with at a later time. My seldom-used vibrator has migrated to the back of the side table. I leave the drawers slightly open, like a greeting.

Beckett toddles into the room, followed by his babysitter, the Rocky Horror-obsessed teenager from the building who promises in her monotone to keep him occupied in his bedroom so he isn’t underfoot once Ethan makes it upstairs. Case (never Casey, as she was called years ago back when she wore pigtails instead of black lipstick) scoops him up, carrying him out of the room by tucking him under her arm as if he’s a human baguette handbag.

There’s a soft ding, letting me know I have a text message, and I dive for my phone.

Your DVD collection is about to double, Arianna.

Are you texting and driving?

I’m at a red light. And I love you. And I’m excited that our DVD collection is doubling when I walk through the door.

I love you, too. And I’m excited about our burgeoning DVD collection even though it will include a lot of movies with superheroes in the title. But please don’t text and drive.

Green light!

I slip my phone into my pocket and move to the bathroom to push all my toiletries to one side of the medicine cabinet. His toothbrush leans toward mine in the toothbrush holder, as if it’s inquiring whether it wants to dance. It’s not as if this is the first time his things will be in my apartment. He has a toothbrush in the toothbrush holder. Some spare clothes tucked into my closet. He’s left a CD or two in the stereo. Still, nervous energy scurries around in my stomach like a mouse exploring the inside of a wall as I realize that in a few more minutes, we’ll also have his-and-her deodorants and 50 percent less tampon-hoarding space.

I throw out a mostly empty bottle of hairspray and a bunch of hotel samples that I’m never going to use and shift my stuff around to leave him the entire bottom shelf of the medicine cabinet. I run into the kitchen and grab an empty plastic cup and a Sharpie, scrawling "Ethan’s Cup” with a smiley face, and place it next to my own beside our toothbrushes.

Red light! No commute back to Brooklyn anymore. What will we do with all this newly found free time?

I type back quickly, I’m sure we’ll find a way to fill it.

Afternoon sex. 100 percent more afternoon sex. Green light!

I didn’t think he’d actually take me up on my offer then and there. I thought there would be discussion. And negotiations. A few weeks—or maybe even a few months—to get accustomed to the idea. But he agreed instantly, and we told Rachel the very next day, which pretty much was the no-going-back point. She was smugly happy, as if our relationship had been her idea instead of conducted behind her back for several months.

This is it, Arianna, she told me.You’re getting all the big changes over with in one fell swoop. You’ll move ahead in work, move ahead in this relationship, and five years from now, you’ll look back and wonder why you were so nervous to take the first step.

The reality is that all of Rachel’s gentle nudges to get Ethan through my front door were made without knowing that everything isn’t quiteas fairy-tale wonderful as she thinks. Ethan and I are both squeamish about sharing the details of our relationship with her, but I suspect that even if we were to tell her everything, she wouldn’t really hear it. Rachel is intent on seeing our relationship as perfect, and I get it: Ethan is her brother. I’m her best friend. She wants us to be happy.

Her myopic view of our relationship comes from a good place.

I sigh, opening the cabinet under the sink to look for anything remotely embarrassing. Things are really really good. We aredeeply in love, enough to merge our lives into one borough. I keep reminding myself of that thought like a mantra; as if I can meditate on it and it will quell all of my doubts. Love conquers all, or something like that.

I start counting the things that are going well beyond the sex. There’s his job, for one thing. That was a huge step that he undertook for me. For us: me and Beckett. He became self-conscious about his odd-job existence a few months ago and started applying left and right to every job related to photography until he settled on a part-time job teaching photography at a private school in addition to an adult-education class over the summer. But what no one else knows is this little thing that still bothers me, and I hate myself for the fact that it keeps popping up in my mind, practically tugging on my leg as I try to take this leap of faith.

There was a much better job that Ethan turned down.

It was a full-time position creating stock images. The pay was a lot more than the private school, and his work would have been used in advertisements. Billboard ads and magazines. We could have been driving out to his parents in New Jersey and seen his work splashed down the Turnpike. But he balked at the idea of working eight hours or more per day, and he told me that it would kill his soul to have to photograph artfully arranged watermelon slices on white backgrounds.

So he didn’t take it. He opted for a lot less money with many fewer hours. I tell myself that it’s not a big deal as I peer under the sink for leftover tubes of Monistat or that self-waxing kit I bought one time on a whim, making my bathroom Ethan-ready. I remind myself for the three thousandth time that the point is that he does have a job now. And a job is definitely a step up from no job. Plus there are silver linings to the school position that shouldn’t be undervalued. Fewer hours means that he can help out more with picking up Beckett. It really does have its advantages if I look at it from that angle.

I shove that final thought figuratively under the sink and snap the cabinet closed so it’s trapped next to the extra bottles of shampoo and conditioner. I don’t want to let anything spoil this day.

THE NERVOUS energy in my stomach transfers to my legs, and I begin to pace the apartment. I can hear Case and Beckett playing with his Pop-Up Turtle, whose head jerks out of his plastic body when you fit the correct block through the differently shaped holes in his shell. Rachel’s blog is up on my computer screen, gleefully telling her readers that we’re about to move in together as if we’re characters in her epic life story.

I’m just happy because my two favorite people are happy. It’s like holding a big bouquet of... happiness. There’s that word again. But sometimes the simplest term fits. You know how sometimes you’re around people and there is a giddiness that travels through you, as if there are carbonation bubbles in the air? That is what it feels like being with them.

I shudder, thinking about her saccharine description of our relationship, and cross the room to close it, my cursor hovering for a moment over the tiny x in the corner of the screen as if I’m afraid that Rachel herself will disappear into the ether of the Internet if I surf off her blog.

I miss Rachel. Sometimes I feel as if the blog is the only door I have to her brain lately. When I first told Rachel that I was dating her brother, I felt such relief at the releasing of that secret, akin to that moment when you realize that your headache is finally abating as the medication kicks in. I not only didn’t have to hide the relationship anymore, but I assumed that once it was out in the open, we’d go back to hanging out as a threesome.

Except that isn’t how it’s gone at all. When I’m with Ethan, I feel as if Rachel doesn’t fit into our couplehood, a pretty but ultimately out-of-place growth off our figurative branch. She’s a twig sticking out at an odd angle. And when I’m with Rachel, I feel the history of our friendship carrying us away from everyone else, Ethan included. One of these things is not like the other. We haven’t been able to figure out how to hang out and not have the magnitude of how different everything is now that I’m dating Ethan weigh down on us in a way that it crushes the flow of the conversation.

Maybe moving in together will shake things up again so when they settle, my friendship with Rachel will look closer to how it was before. Only better.

My phone dings one more time with a new message. In the alley. About to bring up the first box.

I survey the bedroom while I wait for him to come up, smoothing down the comforter over my matching sheets, pausing to snap off the end of a loose thread. I make sure the lamp is centered on the table and open the other side table’s drawer so he can see its emptiness, just waiting to be filled with ticket stubs and half-used ChapSticks, the sorts of things Ethan usually leaves lying around the apartment that can now be neatly tucked away in one of my drawers. Our drawers.

"Arianna,” Ethan calls out, and the door to the apartment hits the wall, thumping the doorstop like a single drumbeat. I spring forward, singing, "I’m in our bedroom.”

His head pops into the room along with an overfilled box that he hasn’t bothered to tape shut. He sets it on the floor. "Where should I put my photography equipment in the apartment formerly known as your apartment?”

"Oh,” I say, turning around as if new storage space has magically popped up with this move. By the time I finish rotating, he has pointed one of his cameras at me and snapped a picture. "Whoa, cowboy, let’s not get carried away with documenting this historic moment.”

He bounces over the bed to kiss me, rumpling my neatly arranged comforter and sheets, and once he has pinned me to my pillow, snaps a picture of my messy hair. "I know,” he murmurs into my ear, "we’re not supposed to be on the bed once you’ve made it. We’re not supposed to have afternoon sex because it could upset the throw pillows.”

"They’re very sensitive,” I whisper, looking to the door to make sure that Beckett isn’t about to crawl in.

He pops off the bed and makes a big show of straightening out the linens and smoothing them down with exaggerated sweeps. "Seriously, where should I put my photography stuff?”

"Why don’t you just leave that box on the floor for now, and we’ll figure out what to do with it once everything is upstairs.”

Ethan follows me out of my room... I mean, ourroom... intersecting in the hallway with Beckett, who has popped out of his room with Case in tow. "Mrs. Quinn,” she drones. "Do you want me to take Beckett to the park? He doesn’t really want to stay in his room.”

I swallow down the desire to remind her that I am a Ms., not aMrs., while passing her the diaper bag, stuffing a sippy cup of water in the side pouch. Ethan takes Beckett for a moment while the four of us travel downstairs, swinging him upside down before we get in the elevator. Beckett squeals, letting his arms dangle over his head like a forkful of spaghetti. I bend over and blow raspberries on his exposed belly. Case leans against the wall, staring at a spot by the ceiling.

When the elevator doors open, Case takes back Beckett as if she’s accepting a UPS package, and Ethan and I walk out the back of the building to the Zipcar. There are suitcases in the backseat and boxes in the hatchback. He pushes the boxes around, trying to find a light one for me to take, and I lean my head into the car so I can see him in the trunk.

"I love you,” I call out to him, involuntarily, like an eye blink. I wish we were lying on the sofa together, Ethan splayed out across the cushions, one arm crooked behind his head, his other curled around me like our beanbag draft stopper, weighted and warming.

He looks up at me and smiles as if he’s surprised to find me there. "I packed all of these too heavy. Why don’t you stay down here with the car, and I’ll bring the stuff up? It’s not going to take that many trips.”

I sit down on the front passenger seat, leaving the door open so I can dangle my legs outside. Maybe tonight we’ll bring in dinner to celebrate. I can light candles after Beckett goes to bed, open a bottle of wine so we can make a toast. Or champagne... he could pick up champagne while I’m putting Beckett to sleep. These are the sorts of things that can happen when there are two adults in the apartment; divide and conquer.

I get up and walk to the end of the alleyway so I can peek at the babysitter pushing Beckett in a swing. Case looks considerably livelier when she doesn’t know that anyone sees her. She is practically effervescent, bubbling over as she tickles Beckett’s stomach each time he swings close.

Ethan comes back downstairs. He’s wearing a blue t-shirt that shows two birds and comes with the caption: pigeons do it in the park. The front advertises some street festival from his old neighborhood in Brooklyn.

"Are you going to miss your old place?” I ask, leaning on the car. "Being close to your sister Sarah, in Park Slope?”

"Not a chance. Sarah makes me eat whole-wheat pancakes. Rachel buys me Cap’n Crunch. Which sister would you want to live closer to? Anyway, I want to be here with you and Beckett. Plus, I’ll be closer to work when that starts. Less time commuting means more time together.”

"Hey, grown-up,” I say lightly. "Listen to you, talking about commuting.”

"Be careful what you say,” Ethan admonishes with a grin. "Grown-up? I will never be that boring.”

He slams the trunk closed, almost finished bringing a lifetime’s worth of things into a new apartment in just four trips. It seems like such a tiny mark to leave on the world; a man with so few things could disappear inside a city like New York. The thought makes me want to start a collection for him; line up vintage shot glasses on the windowsills or start a library that stretches around all the walls of the apartment.

He comes over to my side of the car, grinning wildly, his hands behind his back.

"So, Arianna, there’s just one last box.”

He drops down on one knee, whipping his arms out to reveal a tiny, velvet-covered ring box as if we’re acting out a romantic comedy. I put one hand on the car to steady myself, somehow sensing that it will be the end of everything if I obey my instinct to jump out of the way.

"Arianna Quinn, will you marry me?”

And like a straight pin held against the side of a balloon, the cringe before the pop, I watch his face carefully as I shake my head, telling him no.

What have I gotten myself into?



Chapter Two

"BUT I DON’T get it,” Ethan says to me after we’ve put Beckett to bed and we’ve settled down on the sofa. He’s left the velvet-covered box on the kitchen counter, and it stares at me primly, full of silent accusations. "You showed me those plates. You wanted to buy new plates.”

"To celebrate moving in together,” I tell him.

"But I told you that I didn’t want to buy new plates,” he insists.

"So we didn’t.”

"No, but I said that I didn’t want to buy new plates because I thought we’d register for them when we got married.”

"Ethan,” I tell him, rubbing the top of his hand as if that will make these words more palatable. He’s known me for almost eighteen years, when I first became friends with his sister in college. We’ve only been dating for around six months, but surely he’s heard me say before that I never plan on getting married.

"I love you. It isn’t you. I just never want to get married.” I mentally scramble for a recent example and come up empty-handed. "Don’t you remember that time when I was staying at your parent’s house during college, and Rachel and I came home from the movies. And you were teasing us about how we wanted to marry Brad Pitt, and I told you that I may want to live with Brad Pitt forever, but I never want to marry him.”

"Yes, but,” Ethan says, leaving the thought dangling open like an empty envelope. The expression on his face says well, no despite his nodding.

"Then you know that it’s not you. It’s everyone,” I tell him, my eyes involuntarily flicking toward the ring box on the counter. Part of me thinks that if I say it enough times, he’ll shake his head as if dislodging whatever bit of mental debris is keeping him from remembering that Arianna Quinn never everwants to be a bride. But he doesn’t. He looks at me inquisitively, as if he is suddenly unsure of why I have lapsed into some unknown language.

Or as if he’s expecting me to punch his shoulder and crow that this was just a long-running joke. Or as if he knows me better than I know myself. We inadvertently enter into a silent staring contest until my eyes break away, returning to that little velvet-covered box.

Maybe he’s picked up on the emptiness behind my words, as if they’re a façade on a Hollywood set that could be pushed over by an overexcited stagehand. I have been repeating that thought for decades to prepare myself and my parents and all my friends for the fact that I may never walk down the aisle. Over the years, that statement—I don’t want to get married—started to feel more and more true than the original lie that I made up because I didn’t think anyone would ever ask for my hand in marriage—until I wasn’t sure what I really wanted. All I know is that not getting married is easier than figuring out whether I want to be joined to someone for life. I agreed to move in with Ethan. I didn’t agree to catapult over this stage and stick the landing in married-ever-after.

"But, I mean, never? What do you have against marriage? Your parents are married.”

"Have you taken a look at the divorce rate lately? I don’t want to go through that. I don’t want to go through what Rachel went through when she left Adam.”

"But it’s like you’re seeing failure as an inevitable part of marriage. What if we got married and it was just... happily ever after?”

"And what if we never got married and just lived happily ever after?”

Ethan studies me, and I hope that my expression isn’t saying something I don’t mean. I think of good things, hoping it will make my face look pleasant, like a Victorian woman sniffing a sachet in order to get through the garbage-strewn streets of London. I think about the way Ethan plays with Beckett and how he wraps his arms around me from behind, spooning our bodies together. I think about the times he has surprised me with a meal already made or the laundry folded or sleepy sex in the middle of the night. But my eye keeps catching on the ring box. Why did he leave it out on the counter?

"Ethan, I can’t do this right now. It’s too much.”

"Okay,” Ethan answers simply. He leans back on the sofa and smiles at me as if he knows something that I don’t know.

"Do you regret moving in?” I ask him, scared of the answer.

"No,” Ethan tells me, shaking his head. "Absolutely not. We’ll figure this out.”

We’ll figure this out? What is there to figure out? Instead of filling me with peace that he’s heard what I’m saying, his words give me a sense of foreboding.

But Ethan has apparently decided something internally because a few minutes later, he’s busy uncorking the champagne and filling a glass so we can toast ourselves. The unaccepted proposal is tucked into the back of our minds like restaurant leftovers. I know we’ll have to crack open the conversation again at some point. Or maybe not. Maybe just living together will convince Ethan that what we have is perfect as is.

But I can’t worry about this tonight. Tomorrow morning, I plan to give my drawings to the atelier designer and kick off phase two of the Re-creation of Arianna Quinn.

I CAN BARELY breathe, my eyes trained on the door to the little closet-turned-side-office that Francesca, our atelier designer at Davis & Howe, uses from time to time when she wants privacy. We’re supposed to get lunch in a few minutes to talk through some of the ideas that are shaping up for the next collection, but she’s also promised that we’ll talk about my design notebook that I handed off to her with a well- practiced-in-front-of-the-mirror and hopefully breezy, "would you take a look at these and tell me what you think?”

In my wildest dreams, Francesca informs me that they have completely overhauled the spring collection to center on my designs. In my more rational dreams, Francesca politely tells me that my drawings are fine and life continues on as usual.

But I really hope that it’s the former.

I wind and unwind the end of a spool of thread, my work discarded on the table in front of me. When I woke up this morning, I internally debated whether to bring Francesca my sketchpad. Yesterday was so stressful, and maybe it would be better to wait until we’re past Fashion Week. But then Rachel called to wish us congratulations on the move, and she asked me how long it would take to hear back from Francesca. The waiting can’t be over with until I let this moment begin, so I slipped my drawings into my satchel and stood in front of the mirror, figuring out how best to convey to Francesca just how much I want to be part of the design team.

It’s not that I mind my work as a finisher for Davis & Howe; a lot of people would kill to be on staff at a mid-tier fashion house, willing to do any job to be in that space. But back when I first came to New York, taking evening classes at FIT while interning at any fashion house that would teach me, I thought that by this point in my life, I’d have my own, eponymous design house. I’d go from being someone else’s head patternmaker to designing my own line. I didn’t think I’d still be in someone else’s sample room, and I certainly didn’t think I’d be a finisher.

But somewhere along the way, I took the easier route, the less rejection-filled route, the less banging-my-head-against-the-wall and begging route. It’s what I needed when I was putting all of my emotional energy into other pursuits, such as having my son on my own. Something safe, a position that people didn’t covet, and therefore came with little competition.

But I need to play in the sample room. I’ve been working to support myself but not really working to fulfill myself. Following our design team’s ideas has given me the structure to remember just how much I need to tap into my creativity and see my drawings come to life on someone’s body. Now that I have a nanny share and I’m back in the loft, I have more time to think and pursue breaking into the design space.

And the first step toward design work is convincing Francesca, our very stylish Milanese gatekeeper, that my drawings should hop off the page.

Tabitha, our head samplehand, sits next to me baste stitching a pattern, her sheet of long, stick-straight black hair creating a temporary curtain between us. I can tell that my jiggling legs are driving her crazy—my legs have already started walking toward lunch while they’re still under the table—but she doesn’t ask why I haven’t been able to sit still all morning. While Rachel rewrites my love life to see what she wants to see, Tabitha is my friend who can’t even pick up on my nervousness when I’m vibrating beside her.

But that’s Tabitha. She’s used to being the center of attention and doesn’t always notice those of us on her periphery. After her family moved here from Vietnam, her father became a hotshot fashion photographer whose pictures pop up everywhere from Vogue to Bazaar. Anna Wintour came to her Brearley graduation dinner. Match all of that with an education in France and the ability to speak flawless French, complete with a Parisian accent, as well as internships with some of the hottest designers in New York, and Tabitha really has no clue what it’s like to break into this business as a nameless, faceless Minnesotan. If Tabitha wanted, she could leave tomorrow, and with her father’s connections, have her own line debut in a few months at Fashion Week. Her one saving grace is that she is one of the most generous people I know, always happy to pass along anything—from her connections to her time and money.

"Do you want to grab lunch today?” she asks me, snapping off the end of her thread after she knots it. "Walk down to the ’wich? I’ll buy.”

"I’m actually waiting for Francesca. We’re doing a walking-to-pick- up-lunch meeting so we can nail down some of the trim for Arthur’s pieces in the spring collection and talk about some other stuff...”

I let the rest of the sentence hang in the air while Tabitha threads a new needle, but she doesn’t snatch it up and ask what other stuff is, as Rachel would do. "Oh,” she says, "then will you pick me up the goat cheese sandwich?”

I nod, feeling deflated from the lack of release. I look at the door, willing the knob to turn.

I didn’t plan to tell Tabitha that Francesca was looking over my drawings until after lunch, when I knew her thoughts on my designs. If Francesca hated them, I hadn’t planned to tell Tabitha at all, and if she loved them, I figured I could tell her during a coffee run in the late afternoon. But now that I’m stuck waiting, the door to the office still ominously closed as the second hand slowly drags itself well beyond the minute I thought I would know Francesca’s verdict, the words feel as if they’re beading out of my skin like sweat. I need to talk about it with someone, and who better than Tabitha, who not only works in fashion but also shares my love of vintage, old-Hollywood style?

Tabitha is my closest friend at work, but we also hang out outside the loft. She’s the only person who will accompany me to see old movies. Rachel is fine with anything from the Brat Pack era, but ask her to go gawk at the Givenchy dresses in Audrey Hepburn’s How to Steal a Million and she’ll ask if that’s one of the movies that contains Andrew McCarthy. Tabitha, on the other hand, will not only go with me but will dress up in a Hepburn-like little black dress for the occasion.

Tabitha may not be my go-to person for when I’m PMS-ing or need to whine about Beckett’s teething marathon, but she’s fantastic when you need to be around someone who can turn the mundane into a fantastic story. Which is why, I remind myself, I decided not to tell Tabitha until I knew Francesca’s answer. It would be hard enough to hear anything negative from Francesca, but to have to rehash it with Tabitha would make being in the sample room downright impossible. Especially if my news ended up being whispered around the loft, entertainment to break up the monotony of creating hemlines.

Tabitha doesn’t ask about my cryptic statement, and I don’t volunteer any other loose threads of information, but still my leg jiggles under the table as if it’s begging to be noticed. "Sure, I’ll pick up the goat cheese.”

At that moment, the door opens, and out clicks Francesca, traveling over the wooden sample room floor as if she’s a windup toy, released from someone’s hand. She moves with purpose, not even bothering to slow down when she passes my table, and I get up knowing the drill and fall into step beside her. Francesca never stops moving. I don’t say that hyperbolically. I’ve never seen her in a chair. I don’t attend the design team meetings, but I imagine even in there that she bolts around the room like a restless pigeon while they’re talking, landing on the various samples and fabric swatches. Our meetings with Francesca are usually held on the way to or from somewhere, which gives them a somewhat frantic vibe. Today the destination is Bryant Park, a few blocks away from the loft, and its small sandwich kiosk.

Francesca applies a new layer of lipstick without a mirror as she walks down the stairs, talking at the same time. (Of course getting it perfectly within her lip line. She must practice this move daily.) "Arthur and Nigel are inspired by that trip they took to Northern Africa recently; Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia. They want to capture the Mediterranean and have the clothing reflect the people they met: open, warm, flowing conversations. A lot of knotted fringe. Very subtle frieze borders; nothing jarring.”

When we first started working together, I followed behind her with a notebook, scribbling down everything she said, but over the years, I’ve come to realize that these talks are for her to hash out possibilities aloud that she’ll mull over for another day or so before changing her mind a dozen times and finally committing to the fine details on the sample room clipboard. She might tell me she wants zippers during this walk, but those closures may change to buttons by the time we head back.

"We’re doing a layer of blue hues; the models should look like the ocean as they come down the walkway, all those blues and greens of the Mediterranean. Maybe we’ll sprinkle sand on the catwalk. Except, no, that would be a hazard,” Francesca muses aloud.

We pause at the corner, and I keep my eyes on the walk sign on the opposite corner. I don’t want to look too eager. "Did you see my third drawing? That coat was inspired by Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. It would look amazing in a dark blue.”

Francesca starts walking again before the sign flashes that it’s safe to cross. She gracefully leaps catlike in her stiletto heels onto the opposite curb. "What isn’t blue is going to be red. Red, red, deep red, red so it pops. All the suits are going to be in red. Red is our work color, our serious color. Blue is for relaxation, fun. Red is when you’re on the clock. They’re bringing back their take on the three-piece suit, playing with the cut as well as the trim.”

"Francesca,” I start tentatively, as we get in line at the ’wichcraft kiosk. I give her a moment to examine the menu even though I know she is going to order the pole-caught tuna she always orders. "What did you think of my drawings? How do you think they fit into Davis & Howe’s vision of the spring collection?”

I feel like a puppy, panting alongside her, waiting to get my head pat. I hate the feeling of begging for accolades.

"I’ll have the pole-caught tuna,” Francesca purrs to the woman taking sandwich orders. Francesca’s lilting Milanese accent makes her sound as if she’s asking everyone on a date even when she’s doing something as innocent as asking for extra lemon in her sandwich. "Arianna, why don’t you add whatever you want to my order. It’s on me.”

My heart sinks as I ask for a roasted turkey salad and Tabitha’s sandwich, and then move over so the next person can start their order. Paying for my lunch feels like a pity move, and sure enough, Francesca makes herself very busy fussing with her telephone while we wait for our order to be made. Finally, when she can’t stall any longer, she gives me a tense smile and shrugs her shoulders. "It’s all a little too Givenchy-esque for Davis & Howe. Gorgeous lines and the beaded piece would look amazing off the page. But your designs aren’t really classic Davis & Howe, Arianna.”

"I just thought that maybe...” my voice trails off because I don’t really know what I thought. That Davis & Howe would bend their brand to fit my designs? That I was ready to move into design work in one afternoon?

"Arianna, you are clearly very, very talented. Please, keep drawing. Show me your ideas again in the future. Think Northern Africa. Morocco.”

Casablanca is Morocco, I think bitterly, taking our food bags with a curt thank you.

I can barely hear Francesca as we head back to the office, and it’s not due to the New York traffic honking alongside us. She verbally races away from my drawings as if they were a fashion faux pas she’d rather forget and returns to Arthur Davis and Nigel Howe’s grand adventures in Algiers. I really needed her to like my drawings; not for the work itself, but to prove to myself that there is some talent there buried underneath all the self-doubt. I crumple the top of the food bag into the folds of my fingers, absolutely positive that I won’t need a coffee run with Tabitha this afternoon.

I TAKE A FEW hours to lick my wounds silently, and then text Ethan about Francesca’s thoughts while standing in line at the dry cleaners after work. I have big plans to treat myself to an enormous mocha for the walk home, but I multitask and assuage my hurt feelings while the woman two places in front of me argues about her missing dress, gesticulating wildly to the employee behind the counter, who is pecking at a keyboard like a starving pigeon ferreting out crumbs of bread.

Why are you saying she hated your designs? She didn’t write you off. She said you had talent, and you should show her future drawings.

I bite the inside of my cheek while I watch the employee aimlessly spin the dry-cleaning wheel, plastic-wrapped dresses and pants whipping past her outstretched hand in continuous, desperate movement. I want to believe that he’s right so his words can shake off that knee-jerk disappointment at having my ideas rejected.

I’m going to need to grow a thicker skin if I’m going to pursue design work.

Fine, then Northern Africa it is. I text back.

That’s the Arianna Quinn I know and love. My very talented, very pretty, live-in girlfriend.

Does this mean you’re springing for a trip to Morocco for inspiration? I ask.

No, but I will spring for tagine from Marrakesh for dinner, he writes back.

My hero.

I close my phone and give a loud sigh in hope that it will give the woman a hint. She turns around and gives me a nasty look before hurling a new series of threats at the dry-cleaning employee. I just want to get home to Ethan. As a single mother by choice, I am accustomed to always taking care of someone else, so it is a nice change to have someone offering to take care of me, or, at the very least, my dinner.

I want to eat and then climb into bed, watch bad television until we’re sure that Beckett is asleep, and have sex. Sex with my boyfriend in ourbed. I’ve dated a lot of men since I left college, but this is the first time anyone has lived with me, where we’ve entwined our lives like legs under the blanket. I love not having to make plans. He’s just there, like a magic trick. I wonder how long it will take until I’m used to it.

The angry woman rifles through her purse while the rest of us shuffle restlessly. This is the side of New York that makes me want to catch the first plane back to Minnesota. The pushiness, the wasted arguments, the lines and the impatience and the people who stand too close behind you, their inch of personal space leaning against your inch of personal space like an unwelcomed guest.

I want to be back in a town that is so small that dresses never get lost. But my career and boyfriend are here. I may be able to set up a design house somewhere else, but I could never drag Ethan out of the city.

As I’m contemplating ducking out of line even though I hate having one lone unfulfilled errand on my to-do list, my eyes catch on the binder being held by the man behind me. It’s pressing against his thin chest, with the familiar logo of the Nightly emblazoned across the plastic. Ethan and I watch the Nightly most evenings, a fake news show on a comedy channel that dissects current events and mocks politicians. The binder is gripped by long, elegant, tapered fingers that would look more at home on a piano keyboard than behind a video camera. I look up the man’s arm into his face and discover he’s already looking at me, a half smile skirting the edges of his lips.

I turn back around, pretending that I was just looking around the room like all the other people looking around the room. Didn’t notice the Nightlybinder at all. What? You work for the Nightly? I didn’t know! I wonder what he does for the show.

I’m funny. At least, people have always told me that I’m funny. Maybe not stand-up comedian material or writing for the Nightly funny, but I write funny letters and emails. I try out variations of an opening line in my head, tweaking it while I smile to myself.

The angry woman yells at the dry cleaner, leaning over the counter to make her point while she jabs at the computer screen. "Oh my God, this woman,” the man breathes, somewhat to himself though I imagine it’s for my benefit. I glance behind again, and he’s still looking at me, or, more accurately, he’s looking at my blond highlights. A mock grimace twists his features.

"Where’s a narcoleptic attack when you need one?” I deliver my punch line proudly, like a ten-year-old who just learned a new joke on the playground. It isn’t until after it leaves my brain and travels out of my mouth, that I realize it isn’t funny at all.

The man’s face changes imperceptibly. "Do you know the word iktsuarpok? I’m probably pronouncing that wrong since I’ve only seen it written. It’s an Inuit word that means the anticipation of someone coming or something about to happen, and the incessant checking that accompanies it. Doesn’t that perfectly describe all of us? We’re just leaning forward, trying to see if she’s done yet.”

"Do you speak Inuit?” I ask because I’m not really sure why this white man in a Manhattan dry cleaners is speaking to me in such a random language.

"No. It’s just one of those words that’s missing from English. Like nedotipva, which is a Czech word to describe people who can’t take a hint. Oh! I’m talking about that woman at the cash register... not you. I mean, you look like you’re the opposite of a nedotipva. You look like you can definitely take a hint. Very hint conscious.”

Now that I can politely examine his features while I talk with him, I decide that while he’s attractive, he’s not my type. He’s too neat, with a thinness bordering on what my friends in the loft call "Model Illness”—that slimness that comes from denying yourself carbohydrates day after day. His hair is cut close to his skull, a nondescript brown, and he’s wearing jeans and a long-sleeve t-shirt even though it’s July and so humid that it’s hard to breathe. But his eyes look kind, and the skin around them crinkles whenever he smiles. He has a deep smile, a smile that tugs on me, begging me to fall into it.

"I’m considering ditching my shirts.”

"Me, too,” I say.

"How late do you think LS is open?” He saying this to himself, but I hear myself answer automatically, a rolodex of fashion staple hours imprinted in my mind.

"Six thirty during the week. Except Friday.”

"You don’t look like the type to wear men’s bespoke suits,” he comments. "Fetish?”

"Fashion,” I answer. "I’m a finisher for Davis & Howe.”

He looks impressed and tucks his binder under his arm, offering out his hand. "I’m Noah.”

"Arianna,” I counter.

"I was actually guessing fashion,” Noah admits.

"How did you know?”

"Your clothes are too stylish.”

"I don’t know how a person can be too stylish.”

"You’re taking it as an insult,” Noah says, putting his hands up as if staving off an attack. "I meant it as a compliment. Your clothes are eye-catching.”

I realize I’m blushing, and I inadvertently start fiddling with my aforementioned stylish clothing, plucking and adjusting. The truth is that the pants I’m wearing actually have dozens of tiny errors. They were a rejected toile that our atelier designer passed along to me when she made the new one, and I finished them in my spare time, adding on a thin outline of velvet ribbon trim to the pockets—my own idea. They’re not even the good quality linen we used in the finished product, which is currently in the closet of a well-known actress who hired Davis & Howe to design the perfect divorce-court outfit, knowing that the paparazzi would be documenting every step in and out of the courthouse.

"I don’t know what a finisher does, but it sounds impressive.”

"I do all the small detail work. Beading, lace, feathers. Anything ornamental. Adornments. What Davis likes to call petit ornée.”

"It sounds very sophisticated when you say it in French,” Noah admits.

"Well, you seem like you like foreign words,” I say.

"Untranslatable words,” Noah corrects.

"Anyway, what I really want to do is design work. Our atelier designer was looking at my drawings today...”

The woman slams both of her hands down on the counter, causing me to jump slightly into Noah as if I’m ducking a bullet. I laugh and try to right myself without bumping into the person in front of me.

"Get the hell out of here!” a fed-up man calls out from the back of the line before slamming out of the store.

"So what do you do?” I ask, trying to keep my eyes from traveling to the binder tucked under his arm.

"I am a writer,” he says in a voice that makes it appear as if he’s uncomfortable with his choice of profession.

"Have I read anything you’ve written?”

"Do you watch the Nightly? It’s a show on...”

"Yeah,” I interrupt. "I watch the Nightly.”

"That’s where I write,” he finishes. The woman at the counter gives one last slam of her hands and then storms out of the store empty-handed, shouting back curse words at the employee as if trailing perfume. The person in front of me steps up to the counter in true New Yorker fashion as if nothing has just happened and rattles off his phone number to the employee while his eyes are glued to his phone.

When it’s my turn, I shyly ask for my skirt and receive it without incident, trying to give the employee my best, supportive smile, but she’s not interested in being comforted. In fact, it appears as if she has no need for niceties, as if the prior incident has rolled off her skin like a glob of oil in vinegar. I wouldn’t have been able to continue to stand at the counter if it had been me. I hate being yelled at.

I reluctantly turn to go since there’s no need to be in the store anymore and I’m itching to be at home with Ethan, but my stomach tugs on my insides, like Beckett yanking at my pants to get my attention. How many times in life do you end up talking to a writer for the Nightly? Part of me doesn’t want to walk away, especially not empty-handed, but it seems way too pushy to ask if he would get us tickets to the show. I mean, all we did was stand in a line together. It’s not as if we actually know one another.

I push my way out to the sidewalk, lingering under the pretense that I am absorbed in something on my phone. I try to keep my eyes from flicking toward the door when it opens again. I just need to put on my big girl panties and ask for two tickets. I’ve worked long enough with celebrities to know that it never hurts to ask.

"Hey,” a voice says right above my head. "Now that we survived Dresspocalypse, I’m going to go grab a cup of coffee. Do you want one?”

"I was going to get a mocha for the walk home,” I admit. "I can’t really sit down though. My boyfriend is picking up tagine for dinner. Don’t want it to get cold.”

"Oh, my girlfriend is eating without me, which means that I can be a seigneur-terrace tonight.”

"What is that?” I question, falling into step beside him.

"It’s French, another great word that we don’t have in English. It’s those people who sit in a coffeehouse for hours with their laptop or a book, nursing one little cup of coffee.”

"I definitely can’t be a seigneur-terrace,but I guess I can have a quick cup of coffee. It’s still sort of early.”

Noah bypasses the Starbucks, clearly heading toward the Volt a few doors down, a local coffeehouse that has the reputation for being a bit of a meat market. I get coffee to go from there all the time, but I rarely sit down because it’s mostly filled with single seigneur-terracessipping lattes and trying to score a date. There’s even some contest going on between the two Volt locations in the city to see which one marries off more couples that meet in the store. It is not the sort of place you go for a platonic cup of coffee with a stranger, even one who has connections to your favorite television show.

"Are you cool with Volt?” Noah asks, as we reach the door. "I like their coffee better than Starbucks.”

"Absolutely. Me, too,” I add, even though I’ve never really given it any thought.

He holds open the door from the wrong side, and I slip into the store under his arm, breathing in soap and a musky deodorant.

"So whose side were you on during the fight? Team Dry Cleaner or Team Angry Lady?”

"Team Dry Cleaner,” I respond without thinking. "I hate getting yelled at.”

"Are you yelled at often?” Noah inquires.

"No,” I admit. "I was just embarrassed for her. And she didn’t even seem to care afterward. I still feel sick, and it barely fazed her.”

"The Germans have a word for that: Fremdschämen. Oh—grab that table,” Noah interrupts himself, pointing at the only empty table in the coffeehouse. Someone has wedged a folded-up, dirty napkin under one of the table legs to keep it from wobbling off hot cups of coffee into unsuspecting patrons’ laps. I obediently slide my body into one of the chairs, throwing my newly dry-cleaned skirt on the table to claim it. "I’ll get us drinks,” he calls across the span between us. "What do you want?”

"I’m fine,” I say automatically, planning to change my mind when he can save our seats at the table and order something for myself. Having him buy me a drink feels too date-like. Actually, it doesn’t just feel date-like; it isdate-like.

"I’ll get you a mocha?” he says. "You said before that you were getting mocha, right?”

"Really, I’m...” but my voice trails off as he turns his back to me to order from the barista. There is a board behind the counter where the two Volts in the city are keeping track of how many couples that met in their stores are now married. The West Side location has 423. This Garment District coffeehouse has 425.

With the tip of my finger, I nervously dust the tabletop for invisible muffin crumbs. Ten minutes, I promise myself. That’s it. I watch Noah wend his way through the crowded coffee shop, holding a cup in either hand. I take out my wallet, but Noah shakes his head. "It’s on me. You were my human shield during Dresspocalypse. I totally planned to hide behind you if that woman attacked the line. It’s the least I can do.”

"Really, I want to pay for myself,” I insist, holding out a five-dollar bill, but Noah shakes his head again, suddenly looking very embarrassed.

"I may have asked you in here with an ulterior motive. Consider this payment for picking your brain. My girlfriend is a textile artist. She designs shower curtains right now. Which... I know... sounds weird. But what she really wants to be doing is designing fabric. Does Davis & Howe have a textile artist on staff?”

The rush of relief I feel is akin to that moment when the water in the shower changes from tepid to warm, signaling that it’s okay to step into the tub. See, we’re just two taken people, both networking. "We don’t have anyone in-house. There’s a fabric buyer on the design team, and Davis has a few fabric designers that he likes working with specifically.”

"It was a long shot, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of asking since I don’t normally find myself standing next to someone who works for Davis & Howe.”

"I’d be happy to talk to her. You can give her my email address or phone number,” I tell him, scrawling both, along with my full name, across my napkin and pushing it across the table.

"Thank you so much. Her name is Ellie.” He folds the napkin and tucks it into his pocket.

"So I can probably admit that I also have an ulterior motive. Nightlytickets?”

Noah laughs and takes a sip of his coffee. "That is always the first question people ask when they meet me.”

"Okay, so I’ll ask a different question. What is it like to write for the Nightly? I mean, do you get to hang out with David Lear?”

"Hang out? Like kick back in my living room at a monthly poker game? No. But yeah, I have to work with him every day.”

"What is he like? Is he funny? I mean, when he’s off-camera, is he always cracking jokes?”

"What you see on-air is nothing close to what he’s like off-air. He pretends to be this know-it-all, over-confident, opinionated policy wonk. But in reality, he’s totally self-effacing. Really smart. Really, really smart. Like scary brilliant, able to remember word-for-word quotes from a clip we saw in passing three months ago or notice tiny details that everyone else missed. When the cameras stop rolling, he wants to go home to his family in Westchester, but when he’s at the office, there’s literally no airs or barriers. He’s totally accessible. Collaborative. It’s the best place I’ve ever worked.”

"Where else have you worked?”

He looks vaguely uncomfortable, as if I’ve just measured his inseam. "Just other places. I was a joke writer for a few comedians. I’ve written for late-night talk shows for the last few years.”

I imagine him in the back of a comedy club, writing feverishly while Jerry Seinfeld and Conan O’Brien kick back with beers. I arrange my face to pretend that most of my friends hang out with celebrities; hell, to pretend most of my friends are celebrities, but the truth is that I’m insanely jealous. Nothing exciting ever happens to me. I’ve had the same friends since college, the same job at one fashion house or another for years, even the same apartment for almost a decade. The only interesting thing that has happened to me in the last five years is Beckett, and children don’t count because they’re as common as colds. No one swoons when you tell them you have a toddler as they do when you tell them that you just finished having dinner with Louis C.K.

At that moment, my phone dings, and I discreetly glance at it, reading a check-in from Ethan: where are you? Where I am feels too complicated to be contained in a text message, which perhaps is an answer in and of itself; if you can’t explain yourself in a text message, maybe you’re doing something wrong. Except this isn’t wrong; Noah has a girlfriend, and he only asked me to coffee in order to help her get ahead. And I only accepted coffee because I thought maybe we could get Nightly tickets out of it. There is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying a conversation with a stranger.

Noah finishes his drink and looks at his watch, abruptly pushing back his chair and reaching for his dry cleaning at the same time. "I hate to do this, but I have to get going. Are you going to the subway?”

I thought he was going to take a page from the French and sit in the coffeehouse all night. "That direction, but I live close by. I’ll walk.” I collect my things and follow after him. Volt’s hyper-air-conditioning makes the stale New York heat actually feel good for a few seconds as we fall in step the half block to the subway. "I’m going to give your email and phone number to Ellie.”

"No problem,” I say lightly. "Thanks for the coffee.”

"We survived twenty minutes amongst dry-cleaning fumes. We deserved a mocha.”

"Absolutely,” I agree. "And I’d love to see the Nightly at some point. You have my number if any tickets somehow become available or if we could go backstage and meet David Lear or something like that...”

I realize that I’m talking to the air as he gives a small wave and bounds down the steps into the subway, and I start walking before he disappears just so I won’t know whether or not he turned around to glance back before he turned the corner on the stairs. A strange sensation is nagging at my stomach as if I’ve forgotten to eat, or I’m nervous about something about to happen. And then I realize what it is. It’s just disappointment.

IT’S WELL AFTER eight by the time I walk through the overly perfumed lobby of my apartment building and take the elevator up to our floor. I’ve always loved the lobby of my building. It feels like it’s out of an Ingrid Bergman movie. It’s the sort of room the heroine runs through before she leaps into the arms of her soldier boyfriend, taffeta gown and long gloves still on from the Manhattan party that she left early due to her broken heart.

I slip my key into the lock, my news bouncing inside my body like popcorn trying to escape from hot oil. Ethan looks up from the television as I enter, Beckett beside him gumming a plastic Sesame Street figure while ESPN holds a discussion on Yankee relief pitchers on the screen. "Hey gorgeous,” he calls out. "Where were you?”

I set down my skirt and purse and scoop up Beckett to cover his face in kisses. He squirms away, squeezing his eyes shut when my lips touch the soft skin over the bridge of his nose. I release him back to his space on the carpet, and he returns to chewing on Elmo as if nothing has happened.

"You are never going to guess what just happened to me,” I tell Ethan.

"Is it about the drawings? Your sketches?”

It takes my brain a second to catch up, and I’m instantly embarrassed that meeting a semi-celebrity (a writer for the Nightly is a type of celebrity) could put something that important out of my mind. "No, I wish. It’s just that I met this writer for the Nightly while I was in line getting the dry cleaning.”

It doesn’t sound nearly as exciting coming out of my mouth as it did in my brain, and I don’t blame Ethan for taking a second to glance at the television screen before he turns back to me and grins. "That’s cool. Any chance he could score us tickets?”

"That’s exactly what I was thinking,” I say. "I was late because I grabbed coffee with him after the dry cleaners because he wanted to pick my brain. His girlfriend, Ellie, wants to be a textile artist, and he was asking me questions about how to break into being a fabric designer for a place like Davis & Howe. I gave him my number to pass along to her, and I thought that when we connected again, I’d ask him for two tickets. Or four tickets and we can take Rachel and Adam now that they’re dating again.”

"Ask him if we can get a backstage tour,” Ethan adds, placing a hand on Beckett’s back. Beckett wiggles, as if he’s being tickled, and offers Ethan his saliva-covered toy.

I start tidying the kitchen, placing dirty dishes into the sink and scooping up some spilled Cheerios into the palm of my hand. Last night’s velvet-covered box is gone. "Do you think it’s weird? That I went out to coffee with a stranger?”

"Are you upset?”

"I asked you first,” I say stubbornly, turning on the water to soak the empty coffee mug that Ethan left out since this morning.

"No, I’m not upset. I trust you. Sometimes coffee is just coffee. So now are you weirded out about having coffee with a stranger?”

"Maybe,” I admit. "I just didn’t want you to think something was wrong.”

"But I wasn’t thinking that something was wrong. There’s that guilty mind again. Would you be upset if I had coffee with a random woman?”

I know the correct response in this situation is "of course not.” For the sake of fairness, I should tell Ethan that I trust him implicitly. But something about visualizing him sitting at a table across from a leggy blond, her breasts spilling out of the top of a sexy baseball jersey (because of course she would combine his two greatest loves: boobs and sports) makes my insides slither like an advancing snake. I push the mental image of the stranger out of my head. "Not at all.”

"Okay,” Ethan says to end the conversation. Part of me wants to ask if the okay means that he’s planning to carry through with that question and take someone out for coffee. The rest of me would rather not know. I look around the kitchen, my stomach grumbling.

"Did you already eat?” I question. I open the refrigerator door and stare at a carton of milk and a covered bowl of the leftover steamed sweet potato chunks the nanny gave Beckett for dinner.

"I’ve been waiting for you,” Ethan comments, eyes back on the television.

"Where’s the tagine?”

"The tagine?” Ethan repeats; he cocks his head to the side, and I visualize all the thoughts in his head tipping toward his right ear.

"You said you were going to pick up dinner. From Marrakesh.”

"Crap. I did. I’m sorry; I started watching ESPN and forgot.”

I close the refrigerator door lightly, trying to keep any edge out of my voice. After all, he didn’t give me a hard time about the coffee, and I could have just as easily picked up dinner.

Ethan jumps up from the floor and comes into the kitchen to wrap his arms around me. I tuck my face into his shoulder and breathe in the clean scent of soap and detergent. "I missed you,” I mumble into the fabric because it’s true.

"I missed you, too. And I’m sorry about dinner. Why don’t you do tuck-in, and I’ll reheat the leftover pizza in the freezer. And then I’ll show you how much I missed you.”

I prepare Beckett’s final bottle of the night, mixing together formula and warm water from the microwave and shaking it together over the sink while Ethan digs through the freezer to find the aluminum-foil triangles. Tagine at home never tastes as good as it does in the restaurant, hot inside the clay pot. I can talk myself into anything.



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