The Man in the Fedora Hat

“Oh, what do you use? The alpha hydroxy acids? Good, that’s good,” he said, his eyes beamed. Tessa had never seen this man before, but he seemed familiar.

Tessa stood and shook his outstretched hand, his eyes the consistency of warm almond butter and never absent from her deadlocked gaze.

“I used to work for Chanel,” he said, with Tessa supplying the typical nod of admiration and awe. “Now my partner, you know he works for Disney. He has multiple patents supporting the poly. Two is better than one, yes? Remember science class? Let me show you something.”

He did say he worked for Chanel. Did he work here now, she wondered, studying his requisite all black attire, the fedora hat a stylish touch. If he did work here, there had been no announcement or recognition that Sultrix had an in-house expert. She teetered behind him as he led her by her wrist.

“Look now at this,” he said, pointing to an expensive line of skin care products called Radi-Essence, displayed in glowing, blue bottles.

The man in the fedora hat flashed a smile, radiating warmth and a set of pearly white teeth, set in a jawline quite possibly chiseled from Michelangelo himself. He could have been a poster boy for the blue bottled products or anything for that matter. His olive complexion and mysterious accent hinted at the exotic. He rubbed a cool white cream on Tessa’s hand, a seamless transition as she had never let go of his grasp.

“These products are made from all natural ingredients. Green tea, grape seed, aloe, cucumber, ginseng.” Each of her fingers received a generous massage with each reference to plant, food, or herb.

Tessa hoped she wasn’t drooling. A heavy tug-of-war played in her head, pounding back and forth between her temples. The price for last night’s drinking was rearing its ugly head. She tried to concentrate on the soothing scent and its known properties to erase and purify, two things Tessa wished for at that moment.

The man in the fedora couldn’t have noticed, as she closed her eyes and appeared tranquil, smiling, the massage working wonders, escorting Tessa to a sunny, white sandy beach.

“Now this,” he said. He picked up a smaller bottle filled with a clear liquid. Tessa fluttered her eyes open. “This is a bionic serum with a targeted pigment control system. It has a triple boost of collagen. It’s going to help you with any redness in your face. Here.” He rubbed the jellied serum on the top of her hand, one of the few remaining untreated spots. The redness left her hand, replaced by a yellow hue.

“Would you look at that?” he said. “Smell this. Mmm.”

“Wow,” Tessa said.

“It’s like nectar from the gods,” he put the container up to his nose. She smelled a tangy sweetness, followed by an urge to hurl.

“Wow,” Tessa said. His manicured hands, smooth like silk, touched hers. Tessa then realized it was the only word she had spoken to him for the entire hand-holding session. It seemed natural for him to touch her, and she didn’t want him to let go.

“You could start with this kit,” he told her. “You would have your daily moisturizer with sunscreen, and the restorative cream for night, and then there’s this.” He had one last trick to perform. Tessa held up her other hand. Instead, her dotted her cheek with a small amount of cool gel. “This is the bionic serum,” he lightly patted her cheek and now dabbed an infinitesimal amount on her nose and the other side of her face. “Antioxidants to repair any existing damage. You look radiant.” He put the kit in her hands with a smile.

She looked down to study its contents, and the man in the fedora vanished, almost as if had never been there at all. She closed her eyes in exhaustion, remembering she had yet to work. Maybe with enough points and her employee discount, she could afford the box of magic potions. She didn’t want to let down the man from Chanel. Radiant, she thought.

photo credit: harry harris via photopin cc

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Tessa Takes a Walk in Her Party Boots

It was much too early for Tessa Tillsdale to summon the strength. Every time she composed a thought, her head pounded, blocking entrance to the full functioning of her brain. Not so fast. Just who do you think 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. Her hometown of Collinwood 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 was worth a “No Trespassing” sign.

Her heels choked up glop and slime, soaking her leather pants. She would skip work entirely, except Bianca, her boss, knew of last night’s plans. How could she not after Joelle announced it to the whole store as if it were some prize, a bit of juicy never heard gossip: two attention-seeking ladies have a plan to paint the town. Joelle Robbins, her roomie and co-worker, not to mention her best friend, bubbled with enthusiasm, “We’re going to ‘The Crush.'” No one could be bothered to respond.

She could have just as easily called it “The Velvet.” But heavens, you would never be caught calling it by its actual name, “The 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 dead links. Joelle was there and then she wasn’t. They had been together at the bar, drinking and dancing in a sea of sweaty bodies, her ears ringing, making communication impossible. Tessa felt sucked in and swallowed, and spit out into an empty, dark warehouse; She woke up wrapped up tight in a blanket. Lights out. All of it was a dark empty space in her mind. There had been a guy. Good-looking, she remembered, but his features were fuzzy. This morning, all alone, she was surrounded by cardboard boxes and milk crates. Someone either was moving in or out. A wine glass stained the previous night’s beverage confirmed someone drank last night. She would bet it was her.

It would have been impossible to make it back to her apartment to change and ready herself for work. This much she knew. She padded 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 it 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 to 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, but she had needed this job more.

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 the floor. Her 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 considerably more time, and Tessa gave credit where credit was due. It was Joelle who kept Tessa looking sleek, 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.” Working at Sultrix meant a discount on all beauty supplies and an unending quest for eternal youth.

Sultrix had any beauty fix you needed; undo, redo, de-age, unblemish, brighten, tone, firm, prime, plump, volumize. Poof, Sultrix had your number and she kept score. Points for 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.

photo credit: …love Maegan via photopin cc