Follow-up on Tessa

I’d like to thank everyone who read my Tessa story, or any part of it. To all who liked, commented, or read it, even in secret, I’m grateful for every read. Special thanks to Carrie, Michelle, Jim, and Ralph who read every entry. You guys deserve a prize. I wish I had t-shirts or coffee mugs, or something! When I write my book (notice I said when, not if!), you will receive a free copy with my autograph. That’s if you want it!

I also want to extend thanks to my frequent readers: Sandee, J.D., Marina, Antonio, Dianne, Dawn, La La, Roy, Tom, Melanie, Frank, Virginia, Jackie, Trent, JWo, Guapo, Nan, Mark, David Dixon, David Stewert, Stephen, Chris, Russell, Ileana, Jen, JE Lattimer, and Mihran. I want to especially thank Mihran for the reblogs! I’m sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone. My eyes went a little buggy looking at the buttons, trying to figure this out. Just know that if you read it, I’m truly grateful. It was a long story, written over a great length of time, and I understand how difficult it is to read a continuing story on the blogs. So, yes, yes, I appreciate it, from the bottom of my heart.

Thanks for your comments, too. If I’ve thought about something over and over in my head, it’s difficult to know how it will read. What seems obvious to me may not make any sense to you. And anytime you are pulled out of story, even due to some small detail, well, that needs to get fixed. So, I appreciate all your thoughts.

Now for a bit of background on my story. Initially, my inspiration was a Fedora Man moment in true life, although he didn’t wear a fedora. It so happened I was at Ulta one day, when a man, who said he worked for Channel, whisked me back to a counter with moisturizers and proceeded to rub by fingers with lotions and serums. Yes! It happened. It was surreal.

A couple of entries into my story, I came across this article on Mashable, where it talks about this new field called Beauty Technology. The idea is that basic accessories, like fingernails, eyelashes and makeup are built in with electronic components, called wearable tech. And, it’s disguised. It goes on to describe it, as such:

 

While wearing the accessories, people can accomplish everyday actions like opening doors or flipping through TV channels by blinking their eyes or snapping their fingers.

 

Here’s a video demonstration. This is worth watching if only for the headpiece alone! Understand, the woman here is controlling her headpiece by blinking her eyes.

Here, another video from NewScientist, shows a few more tricks:

 

Wild, huh? Fascinating stuff. So, of course, I stretched it a bit to suggest this wearable tech could be weaponized. Remi/Ronald makes a failed attempt. I don’t want to see this ever happen, although I could definitely see it in a James Bond film, couldn’t you?

My next plan for Tessa is to give my story a name. I think I’m going to go with “Lash.” I hope that doesn’t give the story away. I have yet to read my story from beginning to end. I’m a little afraid, but when I do, and I’m sure it will get a round of edits.

After that, I plan to put it on WattPad. Plus, I get to put a cool cover on it! That’s all the reason to do it right there. So, a cleaner version will be out there, probably in chapter form. I’ll let you know when it is out there. Has anyone else used WattPad? Any thoughts or tips?

Lastly, I may serialize the characters of Tessa, Joelle, and James. I think of it as Chick Lit meets Sci-Fi, or should I say, actual technology that is really here but we don’t know it. I think it’s an untapped market, a new genre, perhaps. I think a lot of technology will be like this. It will be under our noses, and then it will be everywhere. Take camera drones, for example. Did you know that you could have a camera drone, too, and it doesn’t cost that much. Imagine a bunch of camera drones flying around in the sky.

Mostly, I wanted to explore the friendship between Tessa and Joelle, and life of a twenty-something woman in the twenty-first century. I think it’s a lot of different from what I experienced in my young adult life. It’s also meant to be humorous and light, and above all, I hope entertaining.

Thanks again for all your support.

Photo credit: Dicky Ma

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With Two Blinks of an Eye

And now, the grand conclusion of Tessa’s story. It will all come together here. For those who like to read previous sections, click HERE.

Remember we last left Tessa and Remi in his warehouse. They had sex, wine, and Chinese food, although not in that order. Remi is over the top about his science experiments and can’t stop rubbing Tessa with serums.

The story continues:

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Remi disappeared behind the divider and returned with vials of liquid. “Oh, I’m not done with you yet.” He continued to rub an orange serum into her skin, vigorously, as if on a timed task.

“Ooh, it’s tingling a little. Stinging, really,” Tessa said.

“Really?” With a look of disappointment on his face, he lowered his voice to a whisper. “Relax. It should wear off,” he said, making mental notes.”Here, take a whiff,” he held it up to her nose. “It smells like citrus.”

“This kind of reminds of that guy in Sultrix, rubbing my hands.”

“You have an admirer I don’t know about?”

“I’d never seen him before. It was kind of strange. He was just trying to help me I guess, and he started to rub my hands with moisturizers and serums and…”

“Did he wear a hat?”

“Yeah..?”

“A fedora, by chance?” he asked, his voice slightly higher.

“Right,” Tessa whispered. She heard Remi, but he seemed distant as if he had walked to the other side of the room.

“He’s my partner,” Remi said, seemingly ready to engage and tell her the whole story.

But Tessa had already drifted off to sleep.

**************************

Tessa woke the next morning fully clothed with make-up still applied in generous amounts to her face. Her eyelashes stuck together like haystacks. She blinked repeatedly, only worsening the dryness.

“What is this? On my eyes?” There was no mirror in sight, only shiny machines, all turned off now. “What about some coffee?”

“Don’t you have to go to work?”

“Uh, I guess I do. Do I? I don’t even know. Let me call…oh, I don’t have my phone,” Tessa said, as Remi scooted her out the door, into his car. “Can I borrow your phone,” she asked, with Remi already driving.

“Sorry, we need to get going. Look, I’d like you to give Yossi something for me. Just a favor, okay?”

“Who is Yossi?”

“My partner. You know, the one with the fedora.” He clutched his steering wheel tighter.

“He’s your partner now?” Sitting in her seat, Tessa felt her face tingling. She felt like she might glow.  “Why don’t you just do it yourself? Since he’s your partner and everything.” Tessa wondered if Yossi knew about her, and for a second, felt like her body was covered in hands touching her all over. That, they had that in common; had they shared more? Was she their dirty little test subject?

“Oh, it will be a surprise. He’ll love it. Would you do that for me, please? Just this one thing? Besides, I want everyone to see how beautiful you are.”

Tessa dropped the visor to investigate her gunky eyes in the mirror. “Well, they’re long. I never wear lashes. Really, this looks ridiculous.”

“Radiant,” he kissed her hand at a red light. Where had she heard that before?

He parked in front of the store, and sighed. “I need you to find Yossi and give him this,” he said, holding a piece of metal between his fingers in black-gloved hands.

“What’s with the gloves?” Tessa said.

“Are you listening? This is really important, Tessa,” he said, shifting uncomfortably in his seat, his black gloves throwing her off.

“Just walk right in there, and hand this to Yossi,” he held the piece of metal between his fingers rotating it back and forth. “You need to hand it to him, and then blink your eyes twice. Got that? Only when he’s holding it. Blink your eyes twice. Count to five between each blink.”

“How do you even know he’s there?”

“This is important. Give him the coin and then blink twice.” He held on to her arm. “Repeat it for me please.”

“Give him the coin. Blink twice.”

“Slowly.”

“Slowly. Okay, whatever.” All Tessa could see were the black gloves.

**************************

Until just moments ago, Tessa knew the man with the fedora as that. Fedora Man. Having a name made him seem less theatrical and took away any urgency of delivering a senseless piece of metal. If she saw him, fine. She wasn’t going out of her way looking for him. Besides her skin felt like mud and she wanted a shower. Her repeated arrival at work feeling less than stellar was wearing on her.

Joelle’s singing voice could be heard long before Tessa located her across the store, in true form, dousing a guest with a product. She practically dropped the foundation in the guest’s lap, and ran to meet Tessa, an unsightly sore in the store, like something that should be covered up immediately. Now that she spotted Joelle, Tessa quickly surveyed the store for Fedora Man, not in the foreground or the sides; her eyes darted back and forth. She spotted him.There he was, in the back in his favorite spot, next to the moisturizers, rubbing lotion delicately onto a woman’s wrist. Tessa guessed correctly; she wasn’t on the schedule today, a promising reason why Joelle’s expression bordered on anger and shock. Or was it fear? Joelle looked at her as though she saw a lion ready to maul her.

“Hi,” Tessa waved at her.

“Oh, Tessa,” Joelle embraced her like seasons had passed since she saw her last. “You know I was worried sick. And look at you? What on earth?” She held her close so as not to lose her again.

Pressing her hands on her shoulders, she escorted Tessa to the nearest chair, positioned in front of a mirror.

“What have you got here, Tessa?” She tried to pry the eyelashes off, saturated with a hard lining, resembling a tiny wire.

“Don’t! Don’t touch it.” Squirming in her seat, Tessa pushed Joelle’s hands from her eyes.

Joelle, nonplussed, pursued her game of questions and guesses, but not before sniffing her first. “And what is that smell?” Joelle faked a cough. “Ghastly. Good God, girl, where have you been? The jungle again? I thought it was the massive perfume display wafting over here, but no, hon, it’s you.” All dramatics, she fanned her hand at the air around them. “You know I have perfume at home you can borrow. If you ever want to use it…”

Tears erupted from Tessa in full scale, her body crumbling beneath her and shrinking into the chair. Gasping between each word, she revealed, “I slept with him.”

“Are you sure?” Tessa sobbed harder. “No, of course you are. “It’s okay, sweetie. Jo is here.” She stroked her hair and Tessa leaned into her, hiding in the folds of her skirt. Joelle could only assume it was the same guy from the Crush, although treading lightly.

“What did I do?” She sobbed, and then collected herself. “He’s not even a good kisser. He’s strange, and can’t stop rubbing all this goop all over me. He wears gloves, Joelle. Why is he wearing gloves? Am I toxic?” She wailed, collecting her tears in her hands.

“Look at me.” Joelle held her face in her hands. “You’re not toxic. He’s just a freak.”

“And you know, Remi has this strange scheme…,” Tessa scoped out the store. She scanned the store for Fedora Man.

“Remi? Who’s Remi?”

“The guy from the Crush. Who else?” Tessa seemed irritated that she had to take the time for any explanations, as if she could lean on Joelle at any time of any given day.

“The guy from the other night, from the Crush? No, no, Tessa. His name is Ronald. Ronald Lewis. James got the scoop on him. He’s a strange bird.” Joelle wiped Tessa’s face with a damp cloth.

“He told me his name was Remington Livingston.”

“And you believe that one? Remington Livingston. That one is straight from a Harlequin novel. Did you not read that one, Tessa?” Joelle was nose-to-nose with Tessa, either on the verge of laughter or tears, although Tessa would prefer tears. “Remington Livingston. That’s the worst made-up name ever.” That broke the tension, and they erupted in laughter.

“He doesn’t look like a Ronald.” Tessa wanted to contest it.

“Thanks to James, we just know your buddy Remi is a certified nut job.”

“He’s a scientist, that’s all. With a vision.”

“Yeah, sure,” Joelle said, staring hard at her thick eyelashes. “Are those things tinted blue? Apparently, he’s into explosives.”

“Really?” Tessa pondered it for a half a second. “He doesn’t seem like the type.”

“Hmm, they never do, Tessa,” Joelle scowled at her thick lashes.

It wouldn’t be the first time Tessa had fallen for the wrong guy, but explosives have never entered the picture. What was transparent to Joelle, was unknown territory for Tessa, the seeds of good decisions locked in a vault under layers of rock and blinding trust, or stupidity.

“It would make sense, all the popping and frying of equipment. I think Fedora Man is in trouble.”

“Let me take a look at these,” Joelle dropped the sad act. “What is Ronald up to?” She tugged at them ever so delicately without stabbing Tessa’s eyes. “Let’s get these ugly suckers off.”

“Don’t touch them,” a voice said. A man appeared before them in what looked to be a rubber wetsuit with an aluminum canister attached to his back and lab goggles covering most of his face. Had he wandered on a beach, he would be right at home; in Sultrix, amid the delicate perfume bottles, he appeared a clumsy giant costumed for a nonexistent party.

“Remi?” Tessa froze.

“Ronald,” Joelle nudged Tessa with her hip.

He wobbled over to them, clumsy with his unexpected girth of heavy equipment. A quick burst from his canister, and he sprayed a gaseous substance in their general direction, enabling them to slide to the floor. The few Sultrix guests in the store met the same demise as he pumped the canister as he turned in circles as if he was at discotech, the air thick with dry ice fog, sans the flashy ball. People dropped like dead bugs. Bystanders who got in his way got a puff in their face, all in line with his grand scheme.

It would be a command performance with enlisted players and props. Heading to the back of the store, he picked up two chairs and walked them to an open space in the center of the room. Next he dragged his star performers Tessa and Fedora Man to their places, sitting them in the two chairs, across from each other, with a couple of feet between them, tying their hands behind their backs with rope he brought along with him. He carried with him a medallion chip, the last important detail. He bubbled over with excitement. The show was about to begin; Tessa and Fedora Man sat motionless like marionettes waiting for their orchestrated instructions. The noticeable background music, poppy with feel-good pulse, made him feel anxious and annoyed.

“C’mon, dear Tessa,” he stood behind her chair, touching her hair in an effort to sooth and revive here. She stirred and moaned, and opened her eyes, her lashes thick as bat wings.

“What? What are you doing?” Her speech, breathy and slurred.

“That’s it,” he massaged her shoulders with his thick gloves. “It’s almost time for our performance, dear Tessa.” He kicked Fedora Man’s shoe. We just need one more willing participant. He kicked his shoe again, this time rousing him to lift his head. He walked over and tapped him on the shoulder, anxious to get the show on the road. “There, there.” Propping his head in hands, he forced Fedora Man to stare at Tessa. As soon as he let go of his stance, Fedora Man’s head collapsed. He did the same thing with Tessa with the same outcome. A few more failed attempts and furious clapping ensued.

Tessa gained consciousness swimming in a fog and thought she might be underwater with a deep-sea diver at her feet. She realized then her feet and hands were tied to her chair. She rocked to and fro, trying to bust out, gasping between each push. Looking around, it appeared that Sultrix had been flipped, besieged by the voodoo mist, its normal, eager guests lined the aisles like doughy lumps.

Through the fog, she heard, “Tessa, I need you. Don’t let me down, Tessa.” When she moved suddenly, she felt a pinch at her wrists and couldn’t rise from her chair. “Listen carefully, Tessa. Remember what we talked about this earlier in the car.” He slowed his speech, whispering in her ear.

Across from her was Fedora Man, also strapped to a chair, with his head lilting to the side. He was waking as she was, blinking his eyes to help define his newly found dimensions. Watching him blink his eyes made Tessa’s eyes water and sting.

“All you need to do, dear Tessa, is look at him,” he said, pointing to Fedora Man, “and blink your eyes twice, real slow. Remember?”

“Huh? My eyes hurt. I’m not blinking them at anyone. You do it, if you want to blink at your friend so bad.” The run of words exhausted Tessa, and she slumped over in her chair, staring at the grey carpet. Her eyes watered more as she tried to keep her eyes open.

He held her face in a lockjaw position and forced her to stare at Fedora Man. “Do it now. Do it.”

“This doesn’t seem very scientific of you, Remi, Ronald,” her head dropped on the last syllable. “They sting, my eyes. I can’t even hold them open.”

“Tessa, sit up straight,” he said, holding smelling salts under her nose. Whipping her head like a tail, she coughed, and spat out a stream of saliva. “Oh, Tessa. That shouldn’t be so bad. I mixed a little eucalyptus oil in it. Just for you, my Tessa.”

“I’m not your Tessa,” she said, trying to stand, the rope tied to the legs of the chair pressing her down, and the synthetic serum, infused with the noxious gas, burning a line of fire around her ankles. It must have been the gunk that coated her body.

While Ronald rotated the coin through his fingers, he skirted around Tessa’s chair, blowing into her ear, which Tessa found revolting. He stood behind her, holding her head up to look at Fedora Man. “All you have to do is blink. Two times will do it, and we can be done with this whole thing.”

She turned her head to stare down at the floor to see Joelle sliding toward them in the aisle behind them. A customer banged on the door at the head of the store, and then walked away.

“Why would I do that? What’s going to happen?” Tessa only feared the worst.

“Blink, Tessa, blink, and you’ll find out.” He pressed his forehead to hers and locked into her eyes. Who knew that his greatest experiment would come down to a staring contest? Tessa’s eyes watered with each passing second, clouding her vision and forcing her to concentrate on Ronald’s stale breath. She dropped her stare to the carpet so as not to gag, and saw Joelle inching closer in their direction, slithering like a snake. “We’re running out of time. Stare at him and blink. Do it.” His voice had a hard edge she hadn’t heard before, his patience had run out.

A few more potential customers came by the store; pounded and pressed their faces into the glass. Meanwhile Fedora Man rustled in his seat, his hat no longer on his head. “What are you doing? You psycho.” Unknowingly, Ronald knocked the coin to the floor.

“Aren’t you his partner?” Tessa addressed Fedora Man.

“Ha, he’s an intern, who begged me to take him on.” He rocked harder in his chair. “Is that what he told you?”

Falling to his knees, Ronald searched for the coin, his all important mission on stand-by. His focus now elsewhere, Joelle got up off the floor, grabbed the nearest perfume bottle and sprayed it in all over his face, his goggles blocking most of the mist.

“Do you like that, Ronald? Isn’t that your name?” With Ronald writhing on the floor, Tessa grabbed another bottle of the fragrant liquid, unscrewed the top, and doused his whole body with it.

Tessa, so desperate to finally relax her eyes, closed her eyelids, once to relax her nerves, and a second time to ease the sting. The final blink set in motion the series of events that Ronald counted on, with the coin in his hand and his perfumed body, substituting as an active ingredient. His rubber suit popped and burst, erupting like a blown tire, his hair in flames.

The fire alarm pounded in their ears, and a surge of water poured from the ceiling. Within minutes, an army of cops and a swat team ran from all directions to the center of the action.

Joelle freed Tessa from the chair, and they held each other in an embrace, ignoring the bustle around them.

“You saved the day, Tessa.”

“No, you did it. You did it all, Joelle. The perfume was genius.”

Among them, Layne, jumped to the front of the uniformed officers, and in a last ditch heroic gesture, flung a jacket on top of Ronald, who still smoked and sizzled. Calling to mind their first encounter, Layne interrupted them. “These jackets come in handy, yes?”

“Of course,” Joelle said, “That’s a good trick.”

“I’ll need a statement from both of you,” Layne seemed unperturbed by the smoke and the perfumed gas mix.

“Wait, you’re a cop?” Tessa said. Joelle nodded at her in agreement.

“Homeland security. It appears your makeup has the potential to be weaponized,” And he was moot after that, as if any further explanation would jeopardize his whole existence.

“Wow,” Tessa smiled at him. “We’re in the big leagues now.” She eyed Joelle, nudging her to join the conversation with her dream man. Joelle looked away, the mystery of him long gone.

Ronald was escorted off in cuffs, his rubbery suit hanging off his body, and his hair singed to a crusted mat on his head. His status of prominent scientist blemished and shrinking with each slouched step, he focused on the floor, looking up to nod at Tessa as he passed her and bumped into her shoulder, or perhaps intentionally clumsy. They locked eyes, but no words left their lips.

It was his awkward mannerisms that lingered with Tessa long after he disappeared from her life. Had she known this would be the last time they would be in such close proximity, she doubted she would have had anything to say to him to change anything. The sex was forgettable, and his quest for scientific glory, nothing but a sham. But for a spell she relished in his playful, childlike quest to create something bigger than himself, something fresh and novel. It’s what scientists do, Tessa thought to herself; discover the unknown, dare to cross the boundaries. Or, was it simply how she could let herself off the hook for playing with the wrong side.

Her head fell on Joelle’s shoulder. “Remi, you asshole,” Tessa said.

“Remi? You mean Ronald.” Joelle shook her head at her. “I hate to tell you this, but either way, he is an asshole. He may be your Romeo, but he’s still an asshole.”

They laughed, and from that point forward referred to him as “Romeo Asshole.” He still had the best credentials for that spot.

“What about Sir Layne?” Tessa asked, thinking someone deserved happiness.

“James thinks he’s too old,” she seemed to be sulking.

“Oh, and since when did we care what James thought?”

“Since James will now be vetting all our romantic interests,” Joelle was serious. “Admit it. It’s not a bad idea.”

How could Tessa argue at a time like this, besides she was sure James could be easily distracted from this assigned task he gave to himself.

Joelle continued, “Layne would fall in love with me and want to get married.”

“We wouldn’t want that,” Tessa said. Arm in arm, they sauntered out of the store laughing.

THE END

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It’s a wrap, as they say. Thanks to all who have stopped by, liked, and/or commented. It means a lot to me to know someone will read this. I’m forever grateful! I will have some additional notes about this story in a follow up post.

photo credit: ashley rose, via photopin cc

 

A Walk Down Memory Layne

 

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“Go to the Crush much?” “Much” came out “mush,” because her mouth felt like cotton. Tessa’s attempt to bolster her impression rapidly declined. She had already fallen flat, literally, and flatter still.

“Uh, no,” Layne said. He didn’t seem deterred; a smile still lingered on his face. He looked more puzzled than anything. His manicured fingers cupped his chin, displaying smoothness and good hygiene. Even his eyebrows were expertly shaped. On closer inspection, he appeared to have shaved and applied a generous splash of aftershave. Was it for her, she wondered. Tessa hoped it would at least mask her organic scent of mud and sweat.

“So, what, uh…In a hurry this morning, I guess.” Tessa sighed, audibly. Her head spun as she rose from the floor, and focused on a black dot that said “Sexy Hair.” Was any of this really happening to her? She walked unevenly, attempting to regain composure. The harder she concentrated, the more she wobbled with each step.

“Yeah, I usually am,” Layne followed close alongside her.

“Coffee would have been nice,” Tessa said. “I see you had some.”

“I can’t live without my coffee,” he said, looking a bit puzzled. He took a few steps in front of her to face her, and held her at her waist, stopping her. “Look, we can do coffee some other time. But right now–”

“That was pretty rude, you know. And then I had no way to get back. How could you just leave me out there in the middle of nowhere?” Tessa rattled off everything except the one thing that gnawed at her. She was hard-pressed to say it aloud even though the words drummed inside her head all morning. Did we have sex? Did we do it? She only whispered, “Did we, you know, did we–”

A lady in a cotton-candy pink sweater with graying hair walked by, her shade of lipstick a perfect match to her ensemble. The elder woman limped along, hanging on to their every word.

“I almost don’t recognize you,” he stared at her lips, seeming genuinely concerned. “What is it? It’s something with the–” and he gestured with his long fingers in a circular motion across his face. “I, I don’t…you look…your face. I don’t know if you realize this. It’s a bit smeared–”

“It’s a before and after. One side has makeup and the other, without. Which do you like better?” Tessa’s pre-work makeup preparation blurred into a hodgepodge of creamy reds and runny blacks. “No, on second thought, don’t answer that.” She looked at him head on now, even though she felt like a freak show no one wanted to see. “Oh, my God. You don’t know, do you?” she whispered.

“Uh…it’s hard to say,” he squinted his eyes at her, his smile slowly fading.

“What do you mean? Don’t guys know these things?” Tessa tidied up shelves by pushing all products to the front and then to the back again.

“Look you have something of mine…from last night.” He got quiet and a look of determination settled on his face. He crossed his arms, and took a stance as if he’d wait until the sun went down.

Tessa’s mind was too muddled to focus, wanting only an answer to her question. He took the trouble to find her, certainly he could manage a “yes” or “no.”

“It’s pink, but darker than hers.” Layne gestured toward the gray-haired lady walking towards him, making no effort to hide her eavesdropping. The old woman stopped flat and stared until Tessa frowned at her. Layne scanned the store, with a concentration on the exits.

“What? I need an answer.” Tessa said, raising her voice. Bianca and Joelle held a steady gaze from the front of the store, their heads still.

“Keep your voice down please,” Layne said.

“Are you embarrassed?” Tessa dragged him into an aisle.  “Why don’t you just tell me what happened already?” She waved her finger in front of his face and he grabbed her hand, pulling her to his chest and dropping below eye level like a sunken ship onto the floor.

“Shhh. Calm down,” he whispered.

“What are you doing? It’s not like no one sees us. Huh?” Mostly no one was there. He held her hand to the floor, pressing it. “I just wanted to know if we…Did we have sex or not?”

A laugh escaped his lips. “Oh,” and he shook his head. “You’re a little confused.”

“Oh, you don’t know, do you? You have no idea.” Tessa scowled.

“I’m not your boyfriend. Look, I don’t have time for this,” although sitting on the floor, he appeared to have all the time in the world. “I need it back.” He rose and straightened his pant legs.

“Need what?” Tessa asked. “It might help if you told me, don’t you think?”

“Shh.” He turned on his heel. “I’ll be in touch.”

He made his way to the front of the store, returning his shades to his face, and walked out the door before Tessa resurfaced from hiding.

Joelle ran to her side, “Girl, what is it with you on the floor this morning?” She dusted Tessa off and embraced her. “Well? What did he say?”

“He said he’ll be in touch,” Tessa said, putting her head on Joelle’s shoulder.

“Oh good. We get to see him again.”

“I don’t care if I ever see him ever again,” Tessa said. “He says I have something of his.”

“And?” Joelle pursed her lips. She just loved juicy gossip.

“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” Tessa held back tears.

“Could it be this?” Joelle revealed a smart phone. “I was gonna give it to you, and then I forgot. Mr. Hotshot was kind of a…a distraction. Well here. Maybe it’s his.”

The android phone was black with not a hint of pink in sight. “Well, it’s the wrong color. But let’s have a look.” She clicked on the button to find it was password protected. “Damn. No dice.”

“Found it at the Crush,” Joelle said, rubbing shoulder to shoulder with Tessa. “I saw it on the bar and put it in my purse. I wasn’t really thinking. I guess I just thought it was yours.” Joelle raised her eyebrows. “We could return it.”

“Or,” Tessa gave Joelle a few slow nobs. “Or–”

“Awww. Or…we could ask James to look at it.” Their neighbor and resident hacker enjoyed pitching in when he could, although it might cost them a pizza and his favorite beer.

“Just a little peek,” she said. “Maybe there’s a pink picture in here.” Whatever it was, she really hadn’t the foggiest idea as she stared at the walls of Sultrix and all its glimmering products.

Pink was everywhere.

photo credit: Plonq via photopin cc

Tessa is a Messa

A light tap on her shoulder and a blowing in her ear brought Tessa back to reality. It was Joelle Robbins, her smooth customer of a roommate.

Tessa liked to think of her as her sidekick in times of desperation. Really, she was her savior, and today was no exception.

“What’s this?” Joelle grabbed the eye cream kit out of her hands. “Are you getting this? Because it’s kind of expensive.”

Tessa put it back on the shelf without a second look. “Not today.”

Without realizing it, she followed Joelle around the store like an honest page girl. Sultrix was Joelle’s castle, at least when Bianca, their boss, wasn’t around, which happened to be often. Bianca spent countless hours in the back poised over her computer. There was talk that she had reviewed sex toys and had an accompanying blog established for this purpose, but gossip was par at Sultrix, expected even.

Joelle had a habit of looking over her shoulder even when it was a known fact that Bianca was not on the premises and gave the impression that she might break a rule at any given moment although she never did. What came out of her mouth could be unpredictable, but her actions, Tessa could count on.

“Where have you been?” Joelle’s eyes blinked and she shook her head. Ever so gently, Joelle pushed Tessa toward the corner of the store to a chair surrounded by shades of hot pink and silver.

Joelle had ten minutes to whip Tessa into shape, patting the chair for her to sit. She sighed.

“Tessa is a messa.” Tessa usually laughed with her. Today, her head pounded in agreement. “I was worried sick all night. One minute you were there and then poof. Tessa. Gone.”

This was Tessa’s cue for a lengthy explanation to satisfy Joelle’s undying curiosity. Joelle turned away for supplies, hemming and hawing, followed by grunting as she pulled the snarls out of her hair. Tessa would have preferred Joelle to ramble about her relationship with her body, Joelle’s usual discourse when Tessa’s silence claimed too much presence. “My body is so mad at me today,” she’d say. Or, “These aches are relentless. My neck. My body must despise my posture. My body hates me.”

This morning, it was Joelle who was speechless. Taking the spiky, round brush, Joelle tugged at the hair at the base of her neck, which provided nothing but pauses to accentuate disgust and even stronger pulling, her hair stuck in the brush like clods of dirt.

“Did you even shower this morning?” Usually, they were all too aware of each other’s comings and goings.

“Splashed water on my face.” Tessa knew that was better than nothing.

“Where did you sleep? Hmm? The jungle?” Joelle asked.

“Not exactly,” Tessa replied. “It was dark.”

“Jungles are dark,” Joelle said.

“There were windows.” Dirty windows, but art on the walls. Canvases splashed with blues and reds.

“Where? Where did you go? You left me there all alone. Why did you leave me?” Joelle gathered foundation, brushes, and sponges, as all her questions went unanswered.

Tessa recalled the light that filtered through a broken blind, and the space around her felt enormous, as if she laid in the body of a whale, only there was the smell of coffee. Dark roast. Oh, how she had wanted a cup of coffee, and none was offered. When Tessa woke she had guessed she was adrift in a warehouse. She was correct. But the “guy” was nowhere. Tessa’s question wasn’t “Where?” It was “Who?”

Joelle scowled and busied herself, looking for a spray bottle. She found it and set it down, fumbling. She eyed the clock. Only seven minutes remained to whip Tessa into a presentable Sultrix employee.

“Tessa, such a messa.”

She swung around to face Tessa and the folds of her black skirt swayed with her soft, maternal hips. Joelle exuded heat, her tresses of red hair, her voice, full and soothing, and her body temperature set to warm. She paused long enough for Tessa to absorb the cushion of her breasts in her face, if only for an instant. A spicy scent lingered. They were close like that. Tessa clung to her, wanting more than anything to reach out, hold her. I fucked up, she wanted to admit. As Joelle held Tessa’s chin in her hand, Tessa thought she saw torches in her roomie’s eyes, or perhaps it was her shade of eye shadow. She was such an expert.

Joelle dabbed foundation on the left side of her face only. It was a little game she enjoyed to showcase the “before” and “after” effects of her work. On one side, she used all of the beauty aids, the makeup, the blusher, the lip pencil, all on just on one side of her face. The other side of her face would be bare and naked to demonstrate the “before” face. Her little game created a kind of macabre mask, with neither side netting the result that Tessa wanted. With one side untouched, she felt half-dressed. Tessa wanted to argue they had no time for this but lacked the energy to argue with Joelle’s methods.

“Did you or didn’t you?” Joelle asked.

“I woke up naked.” Tessa closed her eyes as Joelle dusted powder on her face. “Are you happy with that answer? Is that what you wanted to hear?” Tessa kept her eyes closed, fearing an onslaught of judgments.

Instead, she got silence, and then more sighing, and then more prepping and dusting of her face.

“I don’t know, okay,” Tessa said.

“What do you mean you don’t know? Oh, Tessa.” And there it was, her disapproval showing through. All traces of tenderness left the building. Joelle would be a strict mother someday, Tessa thought.

“Oh hurry, Joelle,” Tessa said. “Bianca just looked at me.” One mention of their boss could propel Joelle into hysterics. Not this time.

“At least I know who I’ve slept with,” Joelle said, slapping generous amounts of foundation on her chin, time no longer relevant. Joelle seemed lost in some memory. “You could have got yourself killed.”

Tessa stared at herself in the mirror, wide-eyed; her face appeared lopsided. The made-up side was heavily polished in a gaudy presentation of product; the other, worn and gray. Neither side won. No amount of product could save her and she felt defeated.

“Look at me, Joelle. Do I really look ready?” Tessa shook her head at her.

Scanning the room for Bianca, Tessa was stunned to see a customer of the male persuasion, wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap. A man in Sultrix appeared like a lost lamb or a dragged corpse in this estrogen-heavy playground, and a rare event. Two more steps in her direction, and he became familiar.

“Oh my God, it’s him,” she tugged at Joelle’s sleeve. “Oh, God. Finish me. Quick.” Tessa fanned her face frantically.

“What?” Joelle’s method of applying makeup was shattered. In her opinion, makeup was not something you rushed. Rushing the makeup was time wasted and only welcomed a looming disaster, but she could have never anticipated Tessa dropping to the ground in a crouched position.

“What is wrong with you?” Joelle said.

“That is him. Him. The guy,” she looked up at her, whispering.

“What guy?” She turned back around and eyed the guy in the cap like she’d never seen a man in her life. “Him?”

“Do you see another guy around?” Tessa asked.

“From last night?” She looked down at Tessa curled in the fetal position.

“Yes. That’s the guy…from last night,” Tessa latched on to her ankles.

“C’mon, Tess. Get up. Get up.” Joelle tried to kick her off her ankles, but Tessa’s grip proved fierce. “Well, that solves that problem. Of course you didn’t sleep with him. He wouldn’t be here if you did. Right?”

Joelle took off her black jacket and threw it on top of Tessa.

photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc