A Magnificent Bastard Pt. 02

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It was a wintry Wednesday evening in New York, and I was in a hotel room winding down from another day of work. Jeremy, one of the other product managers, had summoned us here to do an impromptu sketch of next year’s feature roadmap. Normally we all work from wherever. We were one of those companies where everybody was remote, and our headquarters was not in one physical office, but in this ineffable matrix of video chats, cloud storage files, and collabjects. And for all of the virtues of that line of work, of not having a commute and of working with sharp minds from all over the world, there was still something to be said for just getting together in person and hashing things out face to face.

Gabe came up from Austin, Magnus and Anira took the train down from Cambridge, and it was, of course, convenient that two of our lead devs, Mindy and Ivan just lived over in Queens. So we’d all get together in Jeremy’s Brooklyn loft to sketch out plans for the next year, then keep it going in bars afterwards, until eventually I’d go back to my Manhattan hotel room, fall asleep and start it over again. Yet, this evening I was feeling a little too keyed up from the conversation and not quite ready to call it a night.

My tablet was in my lap, and I was passing some boredom by surfing through my various social feeds, though it was the usual assortment of predictable mediocrity. Outrage piece. Cat video. Someone’s baby photos. Someone’s photogenic plate of food. Oh, but wait, who posted that plate of food? Ah, yes, Rachel.

I haven’t seen Rachel in person for about four years. We used to work together, in a past life at a past company, and she was one of those bright young things that had the mixed fortune of being a pretty face in a really male environment. She was a smart one, but her looks combined with her youth made it hard for her to be taken seriously. We got along mostly because I didn’t hit on her and I treated her professionally. It was my policy back then never to hook up with coworkers, and she appreciated that.

Of course, one is always tempted to make exceptions.

Eventually Rachel left, backed the wrong side of a political shuffle and sent on her way. She left town, moved across the country to the East Coast. I thought that was it for us, another pair of colleagues gone on their way, but then she reappeared in town to visit her parents for the holidays. We met at a bar, talked as friends, and, well, realized that we were no longer coworkers so we didn’t need to hold back on certain rules.

That was five years ago, and then a year later, she came back to introduce me to her new beau, a big, athletic lunk of a guy named Josh. We only met once but I don’t think Josh and I got along all that well. I don’t think Rachel told him about our little fling, but of course there’s certain things that will set off another guy. Little bits of chemistry between us that would hint at something more. Ways that we’d hold a hug a little longer than was casual. Josh may not have been the most sophisticated fellow, but he was savvy enough to pick up on some hint of history, and, well, he could’ve gone a couple of ways with that. One way was to talk about it, agree that the past was the past, and that he’d trust his girlfriend to be honest with him with her expressions of love and devotion. Another way was to be possessive, and always suspect or dislike someone who slept with his girl before he did. I guess Josh was more of the latter.

That may have been one reason why Rachel and I didn’t see each other much since then, and that was a bit sad, but life was life and I got on with mine. Still, we kept each other linked on various online social networks, and our friendship was like this:

Rachel posted a photo, caption: “woo-hoo! finally taking the plunge and moving to New York with the boyfriend! Go big or go home, bitches!”

Jake liked this

Jake posted a photo, caption: “sunrise, Day 2 camp overlooking the Milford Track in New Zealand.”

Rachel commented: “*dreamy sigh*”

Rachel posted a photo with Josh, caption: “one thing about living in NY is that it’s always drunk o’clock somewhere.”

Jake liked this.

Jake posted a photo with Elise Douvre at Sam and Amanda’s Wedding.

Rachel liked this.

Josh posted a photo of Rachel, caption: “Moon over the beaches of Mallorca and I am the luckiest man in the world”

You know, friendship in the 21st century. I guess she must be 29 now.

It was not a surprise to see her getting engaged. It was a year ago, and they seemed pretty happy. But then, she had gone silent online recently. I hadn’t really noticed until now. There was a pretty steady series of updates about getting ready for the wedding, but that gradually faded until she dropped out entirely. Now there was this photo, a plate of chocolate cookies surrounding a square of cake with chocolate sauce artfully drizzled over it.

Caption: “sometimes the prescription is chocolate.”

I pulled up the commenting illegal bahis interface and was about to type something, but then thought of it and closed the commenter. I should leave her alone. Let the past be the past. She may not even be interested in seeing me again. Or maybe she is. Maybe I should just see if she’ll respond. I opened up a universal messenger, and just sent her something private asynchronous. Just between you and me. Not urgent. Reply when you’re ready.

“A second medical opinion would say that the prescription is whisky. Hey, Rachel. I’m in town for a bit and was wondering about catching up. Are you around?”

Her reply came back in ten minutes.

“Jake! How are you? Of course, we can totally catchup. Can you switch to chat?”

I toggled my messenger into chat mode, and watched as the usual word balloons materialized and a little status window showed that Rachel was online and typing.

“Hey, Jake, so I’m just finishing up at this restaurant, but I can probably meet for a drink somewhere. Where are you staying?”

“I’ve got a hotel room in the Lockwood, over in the Upper West. But I could meet you anywhere, though.”

“Oh! Actually I really like the bar in the Lockwood. The agency’s done events there in the past. Their Old Fashioned is pretty great. Meet you there in 30?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

The Lockwood’s bar, Mavis & Dean, was by all accounts, not as painfully hip as one may fear from a New York cocktail bar. The look was still pretty distinctly early 2010’s aesthetic. Plaid-shirted bartenders, lots of beards and spectacles, artisanal everything. Not quite as minimalist and engineered as the current zeitgeist was. At least they weren’t trying to pass themselves off as a speakeasy. I had just pulled up a stool when Rachel walked in.

It had been five years and her hair was different – shorter, more asymmetrical, but she was still Rachel. Slender, graceful, with a subtle set of womanly curves hidden beneath a veneer of professional attire. Those sapphire eyes still glittered against her pale skin, though they did look a little heavier, sadder. I pulled her into a hug, and felt her cheek press against mine.

“Hey stranger,” she whispered.

“Hey yourself. It’s been a while.”

“Oh yes, it has. Last I saw you, you still looked more like my best friend’s hot older brother. Now you look like my dad.”

“All the grey came in last year.”

“Don’t get me wrong. The silver streaks look good on you. It gives you some much undeserved dignity, even if it’s probably a sign that life’s burdens are taking their toll. Girl, work, or family?”

“A little of each, I guess? Maybe not so much with the work, but the other stuff has been crazy.”

“Tell me about it. Are you still seeing Elise?”

“Mmm, no. We split a while ago. She had to move back to France and we were kind of done, anyway.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. She was super pretty. What are you having?”

“I think I’ll do this Louisiane, the absinthe and the whiskey have me intrigued. You?”

“I’ve been thinking about their Old Fashioned ever since you suggested the place, but actually, you know, what? There’s a Talisker that caught my eye.”

“So you’re still doing single malts?”

And she smiled and looked away for a second, “for special occasions.”

“How are you doing? How’s Josh?”

“Oh,” she said, casting her eyes down. “Umm, can’t say that I know how Josh is doing. We called off the engagement about four months ago.”

“Oh, jeez, Rachel, I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize. We’ve been kind of keeping quiet about it. tl;dr is that he’s an asshole. Thankfully, I only joined this ad agency right before everything hit the skids, so it’s not like they got a chance to know him or ask any prying questions. Still processing, and it’s complicated. What brings you to town?”

“Work.” I said, cooly taking the hint to let the topic go somewhere else “I’ve got a few colleagues out here, and just got together to do a big in-person planning meeting.”

“Oh yeah, I think I read about you guys in Fast Company. One of those hot new breeds of virtual companies where everybody’s working from home, and it’s all just video and text chatting and nobody wears pants.”

“It is awfully tempting to just show up at work in my pajamas; but that gets old after the first month. It doesn’t matter if nobody’s around to see it. If you dress like a bum, you work like a bum.”

“I never figured the mighty Jake Traeger to dress like a slob. Glad to hear you’re still keeping standards. How long are you in town for?”

“I fly out on Friday.”

“Really? Not even sticking around to for a holiday winter weekend in New York? You’ve already gotten work to fly you out here, might as well stay a while, but I bet you’ve got plans back home.”

“Nothing special. I’m heading off to see my parents in a couple of weeks, but I kind of don’t know anyone else in this city, and I’ve done the tourist thing a bunch of illegal bahis siteleri times. I like my coworkers, but -“

“- but you’re still the same Jake who doesn’t mix business and pleasure. I get that. How about this? I have a company holiday party to attend on Friday. It should be fun! Creatives and ad people know how to party, right? We’re renting this nightclub a few blocks from the office. There’s going to be an open bar with a couple of local bands playing, and you’ll meet all kinds of New York scenesters. Come on, don’t let me go alone.”

“I thought you said that I looked like your dad.”

Rachel’s beautiful eyes fixed on mine. “Even after all of this time, do you honestly think that still matters to me?”

I just smiled and looked down from her gaze, “You know, I seem to remember another night at another bar where you were trying to sell me on a party.”

“Oh, that was a nice little night, wasn’t it? But, I promise, Jake. This time, we’re actually going to the party.”

“Oh good, for a second, I thought you were just propositioning me for sex.”

“Still a bastard, Jake.”

“Let me see about changing my flight.”

She smirked and arched an eyebrow at me, “Don’t give me that ‘let me see’ stuff, Jake. You’re changing your flight. Go home on Saturday if you want, but let’s just have some fun before hand.” She poked me playfully on the shoulder for emphasis.

We passed the rest of the evening catching up on the last five years, with me telling Rachel about life back in the old city and her relating various stories of New York adventure, but still studiously avoiding any talk of her blow up with Josh. She left a little after 11, flash hailing a car from her phone before pulling me into a hug. She smelled of ginger and vetiver.

“Hey,” I whispered, “I’m glad that I got to see you.”

“Yeah,” she said, pressing her cheek against mine. “I’m glad you came to town.”

I watched her get in a self-driver and stood on the sidewalk as the car pulled away and turned at the corner. Then I went in and approached the front desk.

“Hi” I said, “I’m checked into Room 1248, and I’m supposed to check out on Friday, but need to extend my stay to Saturday. Would that be possible?”

“Anything’s possible, sir. But please let me check.” The clerk looked at his computer and tapped a few keys before looking up and saying, “I can’t keep you in the same room, but fortunately we have a few last minute cancellations because of the impending snowstorm. So I can put you in another room if you don’t mind?”

“I think that should be fine, but what sort of storm are you talking about?”

“Oh, National Weather Service reported that we’ve got another Noreaster on the way. Supposed to be a doozy, but it doesn’t arrive until Sunday morning, so if you’re leaving on Saturday you should be fine. Some others decided to leave earlier, so I can put you in their rooms instead.”

“Ok, thank you. So I assume that I need to pack my bags out and then check in afterwards?”

“Quite right, sir. But you’re probably not going to be able to check in until the afternoon. We have to clean the rooms after all.”

“No worries. I can manage.”

Changing my flights was also easy, so on Thursday evening, as I was packing my things to go, I contacted Rachel again.

“Hey, so I got my reservations shifted and we’re on. What’s the plan for tomorrow? When and where should I meet you?”

“Ah, yes, let me send you the address in Midtown. The party starts at 6, and there’s a cocktail hour from then until 7, which is when dinner starts. It’s not far from the office, and I’ll just be hanging out at work until it starts, so let me know when you get out of the subway and I’ll meet you there?”

“Hmm, well, I was able to get my reservation extended but I need to pack out of my hotel room and then check back in. What about, rather than go all the way back up to UWS then back down to Midtown, I just bring my suit and luggage to your office and change there a little earlier?”

“That works too! In that case, you can come by at 5:30 and I can also give you a tour of the office after you’re all dappered up.”

The next couple of days flew by, and on the night itself, I found that Rachel wasn’t exaggerating that her workplace was multiple levels of swank. Everything was either so white that it almost glowed or so dark that it almost seemed to drink up sound and light. Black holes as decorative ergonomics. Walls of plants and hedges added some warmth to the place, but still gave everything this retro futurist space station vibe.

“The conference rooms are also pretty neat,” Rachel said as she led me past a small wall of impossible topiary and into narrow space with a table of dark glass. She pressed her hand against the table surface and a small keyboard appeared as the table greeted her. “Hello, Rachel.”

“oh, is this a Surface Table?”

“Yup. Just got them this summer. People were talking about them being the new canlı bahis siteleri wave of design collaboration, but mostly we use it for playing Scrabble.”

I placed my hand on the Surface and waited. The computer built into the table greeted me as “Guest” and then presented a keyboard for me.

“Hmm, I wonder …” I hit a couple of hotkeys. “A-ha, of course, it’s still Windows underneath. Let’s see if your guests can bring up Task Manager.”

“Hey, are you hacking into our conference tables?”

“I’m just curious.”

“Jake! You’re not getting me into trouble at a holiday party.”

Her hand had gripped my wrist, though her voice had a hint of a laugh on it. The skin was still soft but the grip was stronger than I remembered. I looked at her hand then at her. Those blue eyes.

“Don’t worry.” I said as I raised my hand from the Surface. “I’m not going to cause any trouble.”

She let go, but I placed my hand back on her arm, and I let my finger trace along a raised vein as I smirked, “Trouble, no. Mischief, maybe.”

I leaned in and kissed those red, luscious lips. Rachel sighed, and began to return the kiss, but then I felt her hands push back against me. “Hold off, tiger.”

“I’m sorry, was I presumptuous?”

“No, umm, I don’t know. It’s just, well, I haven’t seen anyone since Josh. It’s been a while and I’m a little out of practice.”

Oddly, I found that response to be a relief. I reached down and took her hand again and squeezed it. “No problem, darling. To be frank, I haven’t been with anyone since Elise, and I’m doing a bit of warming up myself. We can go slow, and we can stop at anytime. Ok?”

“Ok.”

“Party?”

“Yes. You still need to change into your suit, right?”

With completely platonic professionalism, Rachel guided me to the men’s room where I could change into my suit, and then we agreed to just leave my other gear at her desk rather than schlep it all the way to the club. As I changed though, I did take a moment to go through my toiletry kit and find one small case with a very important blue pill. I’d almost left off packing it on this trip. Bringing Viagra after a year long dry spell seemed like foolish optimism, but now here it was and here we were.

Still, I wasn’t sure. Maybe Rachel was giving me a signal to back off. Maybe she did want me to take this further. I didn’t want to lose her as a friend, but maybe she was also thinking the same thing and had the same fears.

Soon, Rachel had joined me in a devastatingly gorgeous cocktail dress. It was a shimmery silver that set off her blue eyes and dark hair. The dress hung effortlessly on her well-defined shoulders, with a near scandalous neckline that plunged past the cleavage of her chest, and flowed into a skirt with a snug fit around her fit and luscious hips.

“You like?”

She obviously wasn’t wearing a bra, and the twin curves of her breasts hinted delectably from the heart of her dress. As waif like and slender Rachel was in her earlier youth, I liked this curvier, sexier her.

“Quite yes.”

“I like you too.” She winked and we were off.

The club was loud, the people were beautiful, and the drinks were generous. Rachel’s colleagues were important ad people, so the party just wasn’t for them, but for all of their clients, a veritable who’s who of glitterati. There were no tables or assigned seating to get in the way of the hobnobbing and networking, just an array of food being passed around to be followed by what seemed like an endless stream of cocktails and champagne.

Rachel had introduced me to a couple of her coworkers, but it was hard to catch names over the din of music. Eventually an old, sensuous Florence + The Machine song came on, and I felt Rachel grab my hand and pull me into a crowded dancefloor. The remix was slow and silky, and I let my hands fall on Rachel’s slim waist as we swayed in time, hips pressed against each other, noses and cheeks inches away, her scent heavy on my nose.

We danced like that for a while, before the DJ decided to increase the tempo and get into dancier terrain. I took Rachel’s hand this time and led her up to a mezzanine, a quieter space further away from the speakers and with a good view of the club below.

“All those girls,” she said as she looked down on the dancefloor, “I remember being like them once, all pretty, happy and carefree. Delighting in the gaze of boys and drawing the eye of men. Feeling the power in being beautiful. God, I can’t believe I’m almost 30. 30! Would you believe it? I can see my marry-by date on my wall calendar.”

“Hey, Rach, do you hear that? Over the music? That violin that’s playing for you? No? Maybe it’s because that violin is really fucking tiny.”

“Thanks for the sympathy, Jake.”

“Seriously, girl, there’s no reason for that kind of over-the-hill talk. Looks change over time, yes, but so does taste, and you probably won’t want the guys who just go for the 20 year olds. Also, you’re smart as hell, and there’s no age limit on that. I know that it sucks to be single again, but you’ve still got it. And give yourself time. You’ll look back on your time with Josh and probably say, ‘Thank God, I didn’t waste any more years with that jackass.’ “

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