Note to Reader: This is part of a longer story. How much longer, I really can’t say. I hope you find it entertaining. As always, thanks for reading.
It was much too early for Tessa Tillsdale to summon the strength to provide compelling proof that she deserved access to the full functioning of her brain. Every time she composed a thought, her head pounded, blocking entrance. Not so fast. Give me proof of who you are. It teased her.
Her Doc Martens would have served her better than her stiletto party boots. Tessa sunk into watery patches of what she deemed solid through the marshy wetlands. She imagined the “No Trespassing” sign at the end of her journey, forbidding passage across what must be preserved open space. But certainly if there was a path, it was acceptable to walk on through. For the time being, it was the only place to be. She saw her town across the field, if only a mile away. Still the marshy field felt like endless, unchartered territory, the likes of which she had never seen before.
When Tessa felt she was in the wrong place, she shrugged it off. It was something she was accustomed to anyhow. Her hometown of Colinwood never felt like home. Its name suggested a town surrounded by an idyllic forest. Newcomers were often disappointed with its miles of strip malls and overpriced boutique shops. This wetlands preserve, if that’s what it was, could be added to the list of the town’s natural attractions, along with some parks and a polluted pond. The longer Tessa walked through it, the less she thought it could be preserving anything worth a sign.
Her heels choked up glop and slime, soaking her leather pants. She would skip work entirely, except her boss knew of last night’s plans. How could she not after Joelle announced it to the whole store, as if were some prize. Joelle, her roomie and co-worker, not to mention her best friend, bubbled with enthusiasm, “We’re going to The Crush.”
She could have just as easily called it The Velvet. But heavens, would never be caught calling it by its actual name, Velvet Crush. You didn’t belong then. Tessa swore the place off, but somehow returned again and again, usually at Joelle’s pleading.
Last night’s events at their beloved Velvet Crush floated through her mind like pieces of rusty junk metal with nothing willing or able to connect. Joelle was there and then she wasn’t. They had been together at the bar, drinking and dancing in a sea of sweaty bodies with their ears ringing. Tessa felt sucked in and swallowed, and then she found herself in a warehouse, empty, dark, snuggling in a blanket and then lights out. All of it. There had been a guy. Good-looking she remembered, but his features were fuzzy. Then she was alone. And now this walk.
It would have been impossible to make it back to her apartment to change and ready herself for work. This much she knew. She padding her jacket for her cell phone again. It was still missing, and she had no idea what time it was. The position of the sun in the sky indicated she might make in time for her 10:00 a.m. start time. She could hardly react. All that mattered was making it through the marshy field. For whatever reason, she convinced herself that her arrival at work would fix everything. It was within reach, the building glistening like a beacon in the sun.
When she opened the doors of Sultrix, the glare of the white walls blinded her in waves and she stumbled, grabbing onto a glass shelf to steady herself. She slipped through the back and hurried to her locker that she shared with Joelle. Sultrix, the only retail outlet that provided lockers to their workers. That really should have been the only red flag that Tessa needed. Still she needed this job, and she needed a change of clothes.
A quick turn of the combo lock and Tessa spied what she was after: a fresh, black shirt. Tessa held the fabric up to her nose and sighed relief. It was one of Joelle’s favorite. She climbed through the sleeves. It hung on her like she was playing dress up with her mom’s clothes. No matter. It was clean and possibly a better wardrobe selection than she had in her closet in their apartment. She splashed water on her face and made her way to floor. Her head of hair, a bird’s nest with at least a year’s worth of spray, would hold up for another eight hours. She would apply a few test samples of product to her face and be good to go.
The usual preparation for work would take considerable more time, and Tessa gave credit where credit was due. It was Joelle who kept Tessa in line, looking sleek enough, lathered and primped with the proper products. Tessa admitted “beauty” was never her strong suit. After applying all the products for her specific skin type and color, Tessa felt she paled in comparison to her co-workers, suited in their chic, black attire. Any combination of black was acceptable, so long as your makeup was the star; it must shine through and say to the customer, “You, too, can have eyes like me.” It meant a discount on all beauty supplies at Sultrix and a quest for eternal youth.
Sultrix had any beauty fix you needed; undo, redo, de-age, unblemish, brighten, tone, firm, prime, plump, volumunize. Poof, Sultrix had your number and she kept score. Points on all your products. She knew you better than you knew yourself. It’s not something Tessa knew before she worked there and now that she had settled in over the last five weeks here, it creeped her out.
Passing by the mirror, Tessa stopped and focused, as she usually did, on the circles around her eyes, appearing deeper and darker than they did yesterday. At 23 years old, her youthful glow diminished by the day, or so it seemed. She scanned the scores of eye creams on the shelves, all promising age defying odds of perfect skin, and packed with minerals from alien planets, stuff she had never heard of. Dead sea salt, that can’t be good. She knelt at the creams as if in prayer, whispering the ingredients, “Bionic serum, butylene glycol, plant stem cells, madonna lily, alpha-arbutin.”
This is how the handsome man in the fedora hat found her.