My story about Tessa is back! I apologize for the delay. Here are the previous installments if you are interested in reading the full story:
Or, here’s quick synopsis to bring you up to full speed or to jar your memory:
Tessa is a twenty-three-year-old college student who works at Sultrix, a beauty supply store. When we first meet Tessa, she walks through the marshy wetlands to get to her job after a night of partying at the Velvet Crush. She lost her roommate and her cell phone, and has only flashes of a mysterious guy she spent the night with.
Before her shift at Sultrix, Tessa meets the man with the fedora hat, who whisks Tessa away and treats her to a soothing hand massage. He tells her that he works for Chanel and that she looks radiant.
Joelle, Tessa’s co-worker and roommate, thinks Joelle spent the night in the jungle, and pulls her together for her job at Sultrix. In their conversation, Tessa admits that she is not clear about the previous evening’s events and not even sure if she had sex. In walks Layne, a handsome man who seems familiar, but who tells Tessa he’s not her boyfriend. His visit is prompted by the disappearance of an object that he desperately wants back, but is reticent to identify. All he can tell her is that is pink and that they will meet again.
The story continues:
Tessa and Joelle lived in a complex of six separate dwellings, housing a few starving college students, a working young couple, and single mom with two kids. A grassy patch in the middle of the complex initially drew her to the place, where she thought she would spend hours reading books, picnicking with sandwiches and fruit under a grand oak tree. That only happened once in the first week she lived there, spoiled by an endless stream of flies landing on her food and pointy rocks on the ground piercing her spine.
James, the resident hacker, lived two doors down from Tessa and Joelle, although they actually became acquainted at a bar a few blocks from their complex when they realized, over a game of darts, that they were neighbors. Truth be told, James knew a lot about Tessa and Joelle, and all of his neighbors, but mostly Joelle. Just last week, she ordered a red, hot silky number from Victoria’s Secret, a perfect pairing for her fiery red hair and ample bosom, size 36F. As a hacker, sometimes James wore a black hat, sometimes white. For Joelle, his was an incandescent halo, always wanting to do right by her. When her bank account appeared short on money, he dropped by with surprise Kung Pao chicken. Those small details gave James enough power so that he could form sentences around her.
Joelle didn’t seem to be hiding anything, and James, whose serious hobby, which sometimes resulted in paid gigs of acquiring information about people and places, could relax around Joelle, who seemed to tell him things voluntarily. Gave them up, he thought. In his limited social mixings, he had no way of knowing, that in fact, Joelle was this way with most people.
After work, Joelle stopped at Mario’s Pizza for James’s favorite coupling of pizza and beer. Sausage and mushroom pizza and a case of Heineken and he was that much closer to heaven. He’d drop anything for Heineken, and delivered by his crush, he opened his double-locked door in record time.
“Hungry, honey?” Joelle glided in over dirty piles of clothes with a hot pizza in her hand like it was a magic act. The cold pack of Heineken slid out of her grip on to the table piled high with papers, filled with numbers and code probably detailing indiscriminate amounts of the private lives of terrorists and criminals. This wasn’t laziness on James’s part. He simply didn’t expect visitors.
Quickly, James gathered papers and files up to his chin and dropped them in a big stack next to a wobbly table.
“What do I owe thee,” he kissed Joelle’s hand once she set down the pizza. “Your presence and these most generous gifts. Tessa,” and he kissed her hand as well. His paunch jiggled when he laughed, a mismatch to his multiple piercings and spiked black hair. Most people would never suspect his romantic side, his preference for jazz music, and that he secretly aspired to be a chef. He thought his piercings and spiky hair dyed to a charcoal black adequately met his brand of fringe cool, and frightened old ladies and middle-aged housewives, although in Colinwood, piercings had gone the way of tattoos. Everyone had them. It was still his secret that he liked swing dancing, and dreamed of twirling Joelle around on the dance floor.
James took the phone and pulled the device into a nearby port. “What’s the matter? Forget your password?” James never asked for specifics. It was an unspoken rule that he didn’t ask questions out of respect for privacy, even though typically it was privacy he violated.
Computers and gadgets ate up all the space in his already cramped quarters. The password was cracked before he’d even taken a second bite of his pizza. He threw the phone back to Joelle, who was unprepared, and it landed on top of her slice, greased with cheese.
“Ooh,” Joelle retrieved it, sliding her hot pink fingernails over the dirty screen. She didn’t hesitate to snoop, her fingers greedy for information. “Hmm. Who has only thirteen contacts? And no Facebook App? No Twitter? Who doesn’t have a Facebook page?”
James glared at her. “I don’t.”
“You wouldn’t,” Joelle said, her eyes fixated on the phone.
“You’d be surprised how many people don’t,” James said. “At least the people I go after,” he said more to himself now.
He thought of the scouts he saw positioned outside their apartment complex. A mere mention of clandestine activity usually got a rise out of Joelle, her overflowing bosom bereft of adventure, James hoped, only he could provide. These guys hadn’t moved all day, smoking their cigarettes in a black sedan, just like the movies. Only once did one of them ditch the car to take a leak in a rose bush, spraying his urine all over the siding of Miss Nancy’s house like a pissed off cat. She would not be amused. Amateurs,James wanted to holler to his wall tacked with printouts of numbers, and a small picture of Scarlett Johansson hid from view. Hacking was a lonely business. A dizzying abundance of information could be had at any time, anywhere. He got their license plate and snuck a peek at them every time he got up to drink, eat or take a piss of his own. Before he roamed into his kitchen, he saw they were still sitting as if frozen in time. His unrest turned anxious.
“We have his phone, he probably has your phone,” Joelle said, patting Tessa’s hand. ”Why don’t you call yourself.”
“Maybe he’ll want to talk to himself,” James hunted for napkins in his kitchen even though he knew he was out. He leaned on the counter over the sink and peered through the blind again. If they were good, they’d be gone by now. Amateurs, James decided. He watched the two dudes in the car for movement.
Tessa’s eyes were small slits following him as he circled the kitchen. “You want me to dial my number?” When she got to the appropriate screen, she paused.
“You do know your number, don’t you?”
Tessa dialed her number. “Ha ha. What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
“Well, it could be a set-up. They could track you,” James passed out ragged dish towels.
“James, my God.” Tessa held the phone, her hand shaking ever so slightly. No answer. “The mailbox is full.”
“Oh.” Joelle picked off her sausage gingerly. “That would be me leaving you messages.”
“So much for that idea.”
“Just worried, hon,” Joelle stared at the wall, chewing, then grabbed the phone like it was a new toy, flying through a couple of screens. “Here we go. Time for some photos.” She paused for effect. “Who are you?” Preparing for the big reveal, Joelle tossed her hair and swigged her beer, and Tessa cozied up beside her and looked over her shoulder.
“Thirty-seven pictures?” Joelle and Tessa said in unison, turning to each other. “Now we’re talking.” Joelle pounded her free hand on the table, while Tessa’s mouth dropped, followed by, “Oh, my God. It’s you.” Joelle expelled a deep throaty laugh. “And, you again. God, where am I? Anywhere? Tessa, Tessa, Tessa again…”
Tessa tore the phone away from Joelle’s steely grip. “Let me see it.” Indeed, it was her and, by the looks of things, was from the previous night at The Crush. Joelle insisted on heavy make-up, of course, but her eyes looked red and glazed, and didn’t hide the fact that she was obviously inebriated. Flipping through the string of pictures, she stared at herself with her pouty lips and tousled hair, her head tilted over the shoulder. She had posed for her photographer. “Oh, here you are. Look, a picture of us.”
Tessa passed the phone to Joelle. “Us, and you again,” Joelle didn’t try to hide her jealously. “Whoever took these pictures had a thing for you.” Joelle continued sliding through dozens of more photos as she walked around the room. “Oh wait, this guy. It’s him. My guy. There he is.”
“Baseball cap guy? Layne?”
“Yeah, with you. Where am I?” Joelle dropped the phone on the hardwood floor.
“Hey, don’t destroy the evidence,” Tessa picked it up gently as if it were a dying bird. “You realize I don’t remember any of this.”
“What do you mean?” James said as Tessa wandered to the corner of pillows.
Joelle mouthed the words, “Roofied.”
“Oh, Tessa.” James held her shoulders and shook his head, and went in for a full, gentle embrace, the one that meant to say he was there for her. “What is going on with you guys? You need to lay down, Tessa. And that’s an order. Let me see what I can dig up.”