There aren’t too many things I seriously regret. This is really only because once I start, how do I stop? But right now, half-in and half-out of bed, only a large t-shirt on, my hair sliding out of my bun, I feel something worse than regret. Shame.
It’s like snakes on my skin, my hand beginning to shake as I clutch my phone and reread the email. And reread it again. And again.
We regret to inform you. We will not be moving forward with the screen adaptation of The Lakeside Haunt. Luck on future endeavors. Thank you.
What a load of bullshit.
I cannot believe this. Darian and I got on so well! Too well? Is that possible? Is the book not good enough? Was it that damn Tessa lady? Were they ever even considering me in the first place? Was I doomed to fail?
It’s barely nine a.m. and my life is crashing down around me, and I haven’t even put on clothes yet.
“You’re the one who told me we have this in the bag,” I bark into my phone, which is propped up against my face with one shoulder. Both my hands are occupied holding up expensive ballgowns to my body that I would never have an occasion to wear. Other than a movie premiere, perhaps. Oh wait.
Bram’s voice is aggressively calm. “I told you, Masie, that you had a good shot. It was never a guarantee. And listen, there will be more people and better deals down the road, we both know that.”
“Oh, we both know?” I snap, setting down a silver-sequin number that has a price tag almost as long as my credit card number. I wave over the saleswoman and ask her to grab me a medium. I’m pissed that the small is visibly too small. “Bram, I believe it’s your job to set this shit up, and now I don’t even know what I did wrong? They barely even gave me a chance.”
I can hear him exhaling through his nose, and picture for a brief moment his lovely nose, and punching it squarely. Not that I’m very handy with my fists, but a girl can daydream. “I set it up, yes. But you’re not free of responsibility. Maybe a more businesslike attitude will–”
“Will what?” I cut him off. The saleswoman is back, and I grab the dress and shuffle into a changing room with it and three others, putting Bram on speaker phone. “Are you saying if I knew everyone’s name and regurgitated business jargon it would be a done deal?”
I strip and put the sequin dress over my head, struggling with the scratchy and unforgiving fabric. “No, Masie. I think we both know that I’m saying maybe you shouldn’t have slept with the representative we were talking to.”
I yank the dress down and squint into the mirror: sparkly, but god is the bust loose. It looks like a paper bag. Good lord, it’s terrible. I let out a pained wail, and Bram has raised his voice but I can’t hear him, and the saleswoman knocks and knocks on the door. She finds me in a ball on the floor, one hand still punching at the hang up button on my phone screen even though the call is long since over, and my other hand wrapped around my skull to keep it in place.
There’s a horrible high-pitched whining noise, and it’s me, so I stop. My back is cold and bare, and I move my shoulder and hear another seam rip. The entire back of the dress is torn.
The saleswoman looks down at me, not a hair out of place, and informs me that she’ll be charging it to my card. She turns on her heel and leaves, shutting the changing room door behind me.
I don’t normally do this, but I cry. Because if ever you’re going to cry, you should do it alone, while sitting on the floor, wearing a medium-sized disco ball.
Bram has invited me to a local coffee shop, which is always a bad sign. It's the equivalent of meeting on neutral ground; we both know it's wrong to have a screaming match in the middle of someone enjoying their latte macchiato. I'm usually willing to forgo manners, when it suits me, but I need respect in this particular coffee shop or this one hot barista named Enrique might stop giving me the extra scones. And Bram wouldn't willingly come here because he is, like a freak of nature, not a fan of coffee.
I'm here early, which means I'm here half an hour early. Bram arrives everywhere fifteen minutes before the scheduled time, and today I was determined to beat him. I think I know what this is about. I haven't turned in any progress on Great Perfect Tides. I'm supposed to be writing it, I know, but I can't find the energy. Every time I have something else to do it's an excuse not to write, and every time I don't have anything to do I stare at a blank page until my eyes blur.
If Bram is surprised to see me here before he was, his face doesn't show it. His mouth is in a neutral line, and his sea-blue eyes briefly take me in before he sits down across from me. I push a blood-orange tea towards him, one hand still curled around my coffee.
"Thanks," he says, accepting the drink. I wait for him to continue, but he clams up and stares at his fingers, splayed out on the tabletop. He looks braced for something, which either means there's bad news for both of us, or the news for me is so bad that he's steeling himself for my reaction. Unfortunately, I expect the latter.
I cross one leg over the other, wondering if I should've worn something more loud. The plaid palazzo pants haven't gotten any attention yet. "Well?" I prompt.
"Maisie," Bram starts, like this is a business letter. He's staring me right in the eye, but he's got that blank gaze on his face. The one that makes me think maybe he's a robot. My mouth twitches into a frown.
“Bram,” I say back in a fake-serious voice.
Suddenly, his face softens, and I get the feeling he’s saying something other than what he’d meant to. “Are you ok?”
I laugh and raise my coffee to my lips, briefly thinking about the dream I had last night. I don’t remember much, but there had been this monstrous dog with no eyes that kept biting my arm and my sister was there but wouldn’t help me and she just kept grinning. “Is it the outfit? Too boring? I don’t usually try to impress you, but I’ll try harder next time,” I say from behind my coffee.
Bram looks away from me and his shoulders drop a little. I’m mad at myself that he’s so clearly disappointed in me, but what the hell kind of a question is that?
“You’re going on a trip,” he tells me evenly. He hasn’t looked back at me, and instead is pulling out a slip of paper from his messenger bag. I realize as he puts it on the table between us that it’s a plane ticket.
I put my coffee down, intrigued. Good lord, he’s such a downer. He makes vacation sound like a prison sentence. “Excellent! When are we going? What are we doing?” I do usually hate business but if it’s New York or somewhere equally as glamorous I’m down. And I love to do vacation shopping.
“It’s just you.”
I pick up the ticket slowly. “Ok? Who am I meeting?” This is both unusual and mysterious. I kinda like it. Then I squint at the ticket. “Illinois? Windthrow Point, Illinois? That’s not even a real place.” I glance at Bram, who’s fixing the button on his shirt sleeve. “This is a joke, right?”
“It’s not a joke.” His grim face, also, makes it clear that this is not a joke.
I give an incredulous laugh. “Ok, well I’m not going to the middle of nowhere.” I push the ticket back across the table.
Bram sets a hand over the slip of paper. “You need to take a break, Masie. It’s already set up. You’re going.”
I lean back in my chair, crossing one leg over the other. “Yeah, ok. Whatever you say. Oh wait, you’re not in charge of my personal life.” I let out a soft chuckle. “No thank you.”
“You’re leaving in two days.” He’s so fucking monotone.
I stand, and I'll have to apologize to Enrique, because I actually laugh and take the lid off my coffee, ever so careful so as not to drip any from the lid. Then. Then I chuck the cup upside-down onto the ticket, and Bram doesn’t have enough time to move his hand, and he yells “shit!” and everyone’s looking at my plaid palazzo pants now as I strut out of the shop.
I’m shouldering my way down the sidewalk, breathing heavily. Probably from the exercise, god, I should exercise more.
“Masie! Damn it, slow down!” There’s footsteps and I bump into an old man who has big glasses and glares at me, and then Bram’s got a hand on my forearm. When I stop, he lets go of me like I’m poisonous.
I want to apologize about burning his hand, but then he says, “I just want you to get out of California for a while. I don’t need to know everything that’s going on in your life, but you can’t go on like this.” His eyes are searching mine. He–he pities me.
I recoil from him and keep walking. I’m not going anywhere in particular. He keeps up. “Like this? Like what, Bram? I have money, and a house, and a career. I’m hot and single and desirable. I don’t really see what the problem is.” I make sure to sound just a twinge irritated, but not too bothered. That’s right, I’m Masie Clements and nothing bothers me. I’m un-botherable.
“Masie. Masie, you used to drunk call me once a month–which, let’s be honest, is already too often–and you’ve drunk called me twelve times in the last week.” I’m not looking at him, but he sounds earnest. He’s so snivelly and annoying.
“I’m not an alcoholic, if that's what you're implying. I just go to a lot of fun parties,” I tell him coolly. “If you need me to define fun party for you, since you’ve probably never–” I realize he’s no longer beside me, and I look behind me. Bram’s got his arms folded, which is irritating because he’s got nice arms that look extra nice like this: shirt fabric stretched over the muscle. His mouth’s in a tight line. I backtrack and stare at him like he’s the dramatic one.
“I won’t force you. But you should think about it.” His voice is rough, and I realize he’s angry. Well and truly. He pulls a coffee-stained plane ticket out of his pocket and hands it to me. “Don’t call me,” is all he says when he leaves.
I clutch the ticket and look up at the sun, resisting the urge to curse out loud and desperately fighting the tears trying to well in my eyes.