Home > The Lost Night(6)

The Lost Night(6)
Author: Andrea Bartz

I stretched my mouth into a smile and breathed hard until the tears cleared. Biological trickery; I’d researched it once—fooling the body into some semblance of ease. I cleared my throat and headed into the office, dropping into Will’s fancy desk chair. Before Tessa could begin typing, the doorbell chimed, sending Marlon into barking conniptions.

“Hello, darlings!” Damien called as soon as Tessa opened the door. He gave us both French-style cheek kisses.

“A huge thank-you for keeping your spinning shorts on,” I joked. He looked like a Greek god.

“I aim to please.”

“Do you need food?” Tessa broke in, already heading down the hall to make him a plate. Standing around her kitchen island, Tessa shared her big news again and Damien responded like the bro I sometimes forget he is: He smiled and said, “Hey, that’s fun!” and then, after a question or two, changed the subject. Once, at the office, I’d witnessed a copy editor proudly showing him her engagement ring, which he’d barely glanced at before chirping, “It’s cute!” Yet he’ll lose his mind over a puppy on the street.

When Damien had finished eating, Tessa herded us back into the office.

“So we’re playing detectives?” Damien asked as he dragged in an extra chair. “Because I’m a regular Sherlock Homo. Just call me Fancy Drew. I’m like a…Hardy Boy?”

“Too far,” I said, smiling.

“The real mystery is why Lindsay wants to look through her old inbox,” Tessa said.

I couldn’t quite articulate it myself. To figure out why Edie killed herself? To check how I’d overlooked Sarah’s hysterical breakdown afterward? To confirm, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I’d been up at that concert when the unthinkable happened?

“To remind myself how far I’ve come since I was twenty-three and a hot mess,” I said lightly.

Damien raised his beer. “Never change.”

Tessa began to type. “You’re sure you don’t remember your old password?”

“Absolutely not. I can barely remember my current one.” I pulled out my phone and sent my music to the speakers set high in the walls. Classical guitar filled the room—intricate flamenco music to score whatever calisthenics Tessa was doing online. I watched over her shoulder: codes being entered, archives unlocking.

Tessa and I had become friends six years ago when I approached her, tipsy on bad wine, at a bookstore following a reading that sounded interesting but wasn’t. Whoever was supposed to come with me hadn’t shown up, and I’d felt embarrassed about the seat I’d reserved with a scarf and then guarded jealously, turning people away until the event began and I became a rude person next to an empty chair. Afterward I’d swigged a big plastic cup of free wine and headed for the door, pausing just as the alcohol hit me to ask Tessa if I knew her from somewhere—her face, it was tickling my sense of déjà vu. She hadn’t seemed to remember me, but we played the maybe-from game for a while, spitting out our biographies in quick, successive questions, then gave up and started chatting and totally hit it off. Eventually I introduced her to Damien, and to my delight, they got along famously, too. I’d felt so pleased, the creator of a happy elective family after a long period of loneliness. Tessa’s a good yin to my yang. If only she’d been a man.

The front door slammed, and for a second time, Marlon yelped and sped off. Will drifted in, tall and waifish and drowning in a suit. He smiled and dropped his palms onto Tessa’s shoulders.

“Hey, hon,” she murmured without looking up.

“Hi, Will!” I called out, half standing to give him a hug. “Congratulations on fathering my new niece or nephew!”

“Mazel!” Damien added.

Will beamed. “Thanks, guys. We can hardly believe it.”

“How was your day?” Tessa asked, still typing.

“Not bad. They accepted the plea bargain on that case I was telling you about. What are you guys up to?”

“Tessa’s hacking me!” I announced.

“Is that so?” He grinned and leaned on the credenza. I like Will, who had been Tessa’s husband of only a few months when she and I became friends. The two of them had met on Match.com at a time when people still believed both that one could find a soul mate online and that that belief was worth paying for. (Tinder has since disabused me of both notions.) At first I wasn’t sure what to make of his soft-spoken manner, the way he’d just smile at Tessa’s jokes and grow calmer and muter the funnier she got, but now I know it’s their introvert-extrovert pas de deux. He’s a card-carrying good guy, the kind I myself haven’t encountered on dating apps in years.

“She’s helping me bust into my old email account. Because I’m an idiot and I can’t remember my old password.”

“You know, Tessa, the unauthorized access of an email account is a felony,” he said, nudging a wheel of her chair with his toe. “Additional civil liabilities, too.”

“I’m authorized!” she replied. “Besides, with the dirt I find in here, she’ll know better than to come after me.”

“To mutually assured destruction,” I laughed, and we clinked our water glasses.

Will wandered off to change out of his suit, and Marlon trotted after him, tail wagging. Just as the guitar music hit a dramatic crescendo, Tessa murmured, “There, that should…” and struck the space bar. Words swarmed the screen.

“It’s not pretty,” she warned, “but it’s all here, everything in your inbox and sent folder from 2009.”

“There’s no way they taught you that at library nerd school,” Damien said.

Tessa stretched, smiled. “I used to hack into corporate servers in high school. I had issues with authority.”

“Damn, girl,” Damien said. “Quit making me question my orientation.”

She turned back to the screen. “It’s not directly from the server, but the archive was backed up in the cloud, probably because at some point you pulled it into a program.”

I frowned and then said, “Outlook?”

“That must be it. It’s kinda unwieldy, but I can index it for you.” More typing, more clicking. “Want me to drop all the emails into our shared folder?”

Something fluttered, apprehension at the idea of Tessa and Damien having access to my potentially embarrassing emails—the dumb stuff I cared about at twenty-three, the sexual quirks of whomever I was seeing, the cringe-y tales of how wasted we all had been. Really, it was a miracle that I’d made it through my twenties in one piece, protected only by the hubris of youth. I remembered making out with someone in the back of a camper as it barreled down the FDR Drive; his long-haired bandmate had volunteered to drive us back to Brooklyn, gesturing with his beer: “I shouldn’t be okay to drive, but I am.” How, how had we made it there safely?

Drunken disasters. There’d been the Warsaw Incident, but I hadn’t emailed about it, had I? Either way, I hadn’t met Tessa or Damien until years after that nonsense, so the names would be meaningless. But. Still.

I said sure. When she lifted her fingers from the keyboard and leaned back, I wanted to jump right in, push her out of the way, and start reading, but instead she crossed her legs and smiled.

“I used to write long emails back then, too,” she announced. “We spent so much time composing these novel-length messages, you know?”

“I know. Texting really killed the long-form personal confession.” I shrugged.

Damien finished his beer with a little ahh. “Didn’t you used to write essays? Like Modern Love–type stuff?” he asked.

“Oh, god.” I let out a laugh. “Yeah, that’s the exact kind of thing I was writing when I wasn’t treating emails to my friends like diary entries. I was always frustrated because I never had any good material. I didn’t really like that many guys and the ones I did like didn’t seem to like me, so I never had much to write about.”

The real answer was a longer one: I’d wanted to be a writer since I was little and had stumbled only by accident into the realm of fact-checking—a decent specialty in a shaky field, but just literal steps from the job I’d actually wanted. I’d had a few minor successes in my early twenties—a feature in the pretentious literary magazine n+1, a few clips in the fitness magazine that employed me—but I’d stopped pitching in my midtwenties, when all the staff writer jobs disappeared and journalists with résumés as long as the Iliad competed for the same editors’ attention. And I’d made peace with it long ago. I was a damn good research chief, and Sir was one of the nation’s oldest and most solid men’s magazines in the industry.

“You should think about submitting again,” Tessa nudged. She scratched at her button nose.

“Oh, maybe someday.” I cleared my throat and added, “Anyway.”

* * *

At home I dashed into the bathroom as soon as I got inside, and I stared at the inside of the door as I peed: a cheap door painted white, snowy when I moved in but now covered in black scuff marks. The area around the doorknob was a dirty beige; a crack bisected the door partway up. The kind of things a landlord deals with between tenants, a quick slap of paint to blot out the last renter’s marks. Five years on, the mess was all mine. Five years. It had seemed like such a nice, adult apartment when I’d first moved in.

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