Holly, Present day
The absolute worst thing you can do before having to wake up at 6 AM on a Friday is to spend the night out doing shots and sleep on what had to be the most uncomfortable couch in the world. I wanted to die as I was getting ready to trek across the city to the NEXT office, a tabloid that covered everything from breaking news to fashion to fad diets. It wasn’t glamorous by any stretch of the imagination, but they offered a paid internship bridging into an assistant role after graduation. I enjoyed media enough, hell my undergrad was in media studies and journalism, but I wanted something beyond shock factor “news” and unflattering photos of celebrities. That morning I sat at the kitchen table with my head in my hands, Mya had painted the room in psychedelic oranges, yellows, and greens - and it felt like I was sitting in a torture chamber. I stared down at the glass tabletop, my reflection begging me to just feign illness and go back to bed.
“This is your punishment for calling it an early night and leaving me alone with Damian.”
Mya stood at the counter running her blender, how she was never hungover I didn’t know, but I suspected witchcraft. She had a point, we had made a pact that I wouldn’t let her leave with him, but I could hardly be blamed for calling it a night when I had to work.
“If this is my only punishment then I think I’m doing pretty well,” I said bitterly.
She finally shut the blender off, and I breathed a sigh of relief. She called my name and I glanced up from my hands. Mya slid a foul looking green drink across the table to me, I sipped it tentatively and trying not to gag. It was a proven hangover cure of her own concoction, but that didn’t mean it tasted very good.
“I wanted to make sure you had a good first day.”
Only she would be all sentimental at this ungodly hour. I smiled at her and took another, longer, swig. I was hours away from my parents, but my family was right here in front of me.
“You really thought of everything didn’t you?” I asked as I tried to hide my full-body shudder.
“Well everything but a real graduation present, but I figure the party could double as both. I had wanted Peter to take you home, but apparently, someone wanted to come home to their hand.” She paused and cocked an eyebrow at me. “Try and close your door next time, your bed is in front of the door so it’s impossible to not see the vibrator lying out in the open.”
I blushed and looked away as my appetite vanished with the thoughts of him clouding my mind. “I’m going to get ready and head out early, thank you, Mya, really.” I tried to smile and walk away but her icy glare pinned me to my spot.
“Holly, you can’t keep dwelling on Adrien. It’s been seven years, if you’re still carrying a torch for him that hard - well, then I suggest finding a better hobby than banging your way through the Upper East Side until you find a guy that turns your crank.”
Harsh, but not wrong. I bit my tongue on a snide remark and went back to my room. Forgetting a torrid love affair with your hot, older, French, Teaching Assistant during a year abroad wasn’t something you could just do. But said love affair usually resulted in unexpected pregnancies, run away marriages, and way less sexual humiliation. Mine just ended with me coming back here, alone, and desperate to recreate those feelings. Okay, that was not the way to be starting my morning at all. I focused my attention on my closet instead, pouring through it until I could find an outfit that didn’t look like I was trying too hard, but also was nice enough for the fashion editorial department. I settled on dark, high rise skinny jeans with my low cut, purple satin tank and a stark white blazer. I sat down on the powder blue rococo chair outside the closet to zip up my boots. I glanced at my phone, I needed to leave now if I had a chance to be there on time. I twisted my hair up into a high pony and grabbed my purse. Mya was sitting on the couch when I came out, Bowie perched in her lap while she flipped through a pile of documents. I tried not to be jealous that she was still in her pajamas.
“I don’t know when I’m going to be back, so don’t go walking around naked.” I gave her a stern look.
She chuckled and looked up from her phone as she spoke, “Got it if you’ll be home for dinner text me and I’ll pick up Chinese.”
I flashed her the peace sign as I left.
NEXT fashion was a hell of a lot different than the news department I did my internship in, but I found myself more intimidated by the many images of extremely beautiful women, and the speed of everyone rushing around than anything else. I had been immediately ushered into a large open conference room, with exposed brick and massive floor to ceiling windows and refurbished driftwood tables. Several people I hadn’t met were crowding around a table, and deep in conversation. A man and woman stood together on the opposite side of the room, they were tapping away at a tablet and whispering. The woman looked up and smiled widely at me.
“Holly Mitchell? My name is Camille Rothstein, it’s great to meet you” She said, stepping towards me.
I shook her hand. “Thank you, it’s good to be here.”
She was a fair bit shorter than me, but she radiated confidence. Her red hair was as bright as her lipstick and was tied up, with thin tendrils falling down around her face, her hazel eyes were large and unnerving - I felt like she was staring into my soul with the strong eye contact. I took note of her wide-leg trousers and exposed midriff with mild confusion. I feel both overdressed and not nearly fashionable enough for this.
“This is Ian Johnston; you’ll be his assistant while we’re preparing for Fashion Week.” Camille gestured to the dark-haired man behind her. She continued on as I shook his hand as well, “When everything is settled we’ll move you into something more stable, but right now everyone is running around like a chicken with their head cut off, and we need someone to do the grunt work.”
Well, that’s honest. Ian was reserved but friendly enough, showing me around the main production floor and his office. He was incredibly tall, with curly dark brown hair and soft brown eyes that appeared to always be downcast. I watched as he pushed up the sleeves on his fitted green sweater, the muscles in his forearms flexed and I unintentionally ran my tongue along my bottom lip. He glanced over at me, holding out a large envelope and smiled warmly. He had a nice smile; it was wide and felt genuine. I took the envelope and glanced at the contents. A new contract, a silver card, a lanyard and tag with the NEXT logo, and a plane ticket. Wait, what?
“Uh, Ian, what is this for?” I asked tentatively.
“Fashion Week, Camille meant what she said about grunt work - you’ll be running errands for me while I interview several designers.” At my shocked look, he continued, “HR did check that you had a passport, right? The last assistant they sent didn’t--”
“Fashion Week, as in Paris?” I interrupted, “Like, I’m going to Paris with you and it’s paid for?” Was my voice getting higher pitched, because it felt like it was getting higher pitched?
“Yeah, of course, you won’t really have much time to sightsee but I promise not to treat you like a slave.” He laughed awkwardly, leaning against the metal desk.
Holy shit. I couldn’t say anything, just stared blankly at my plane ticket. HR had me produce a copy of my passport before they sent me here, but they hadn’t told me specifically why - I just assumed it was for my personnel file. If they told anyone then it would have spread like wildfire, and there would be too many people looking for a free trip. It hit me hard; I was going to Paris, I was leaving in three weeks, and I would be there for a week and a half. I wanted to throw my arms around Ian, but I figured that might be weird. I might see Adrien! The worn hardwood floor was the only thing keeping me grounded as the walls felt like they were melting, I could see Ian’s mouth moving but I didn’t hear anything. I jolted when he suddenly touched my arm.
“Mitchell, are you okay?” His voice was full of concern, “You’re alright with international travel, aren’t you?”
Oh, I am very alright with international travel... I swallowed hard, pushing away the thoughts that were going to wear out my vibrator later. “Yeah, I’m sorry I was just caught off guard.” I paused and glanced over at the sofa under the massive window. “We should start an itinerary then I’m assuming? And I’ll need a copy of your schedule...” I was jittery like I had just drunk several espressos and was more than ready to get to work.
We spent the majority of the day going over the details of his schedule and the things I would be doing to make sure we got to Paris without a hitch. We grabbed lunch at a tapas bar, and I discovered the joys of my new credit card; it was only for work expenses, but Ian assured me that if I kept the spending to a reasonable amount then they wouldn’t care. I asked him to hang on to my card for me until we left, I wouldn’t need it right now and quite frankly I didn’t trust myself with it. At the end of the day, we met back up with Camille to sign my temp contract. It passed by in a blur, and I felt like I was playing catch up to everyone else. As I prepared to leave, I saw rain starting to come down and groaned in annoyance. Ian came back into the office for his coat and noticed me glaring at the window.
“My cab is waiting out front, where are you headed?” He picked up his bag and stared at me expectantly.
I shook my head. “Upper East Side, 85th. A cab would cost a small fortune, but thanks anyway.”
His eyebrows shot up and he whistled. “Damn, I didn’t know they paid assistants that well. I don’t mind though; I’m headed that way for dinner with family - we can split the fare.”
He gestured to the door and I didn’t argue with him, it was pouring now, and I couldn’t complain about splitting the fare. Ian opened the cab door and ushered me in, his hand resting on the small of my back. I glanced back at him, but he was staring off down the street. I ignored it and slid across the cracked leather seat. He gave the driver our destinations and pulled his phone out to fire off several emails.
“You really walk this trip every day?” He asked incredulously.
I laughed. “Yeah, everyone thinks it’s weird but honestly it’s this or pay for the gym. Well, or pay out the ass for public transit.”
I sounded like a penny pincher, but it was true, I liked the exercise and really couldn’t afford to pay for anything else. I could always call my parents, or even use the emergency credit card in my drawer, but then they would grill me about my finances and lecture me about not accepting their money any other time.
“Yet you’ll pay a fortune for rent?” He blushed and rushed to apologize, “I’m sorry, it’s not my business and that was dickish of me.”
I smiled and touched his arm lightly, trying to ease his embarrassment. “It’s fine Ian, I know how it looks. Honestly, it’s not as expensive as you think; my roommate pays more than half the rent for my poor butt and my parents helped me out a lot during grad school.”
We sat in comfortable silence for the rest of the ride, when the cab pulled up outside my building, he waved off my money. “No, seriously take it, I’ll feel bad if you don’t,” I pleaded while holding out the twenty.
“Forty dollars isn’t breaking the bank, stop fretting and I’ll see you Monday, Mitchell.” He closed the door and the taxi took off.
I huffed and jogged up the steps. Mya was on the phone when I got in, yelling at some poor sap on the other end. I noticed the bags of Chinese on the table and moaned reaching out for them. “Come to mama,” I cooed, tearing into a box of chow mien.
Bowie wrapped himself around my ankles and kept meowing as I gently pushed him away. Snapping fingers caught my attention and I looked at Mya in confusion, she pointed to my feet accusingly. Oh shit. The floors were just done in new dark wood and she, or the landlord, would kill me if I scuffed it. I pulled off my boots and tossed them with my jacket on my bed. I came back to the living room, undid the buttons on my jeans and flopped onto the plush velvet sofa, just as she hung up the phone.
“Who fucked up today?” I asked cheerfully.
“More like who didn’t.” She stopped to grab the rest of the bags and set them between us on the couch. “I work my ass off to get these kids into auditions and the thanks I get is some guy going psycho on a casting director. It makes me look like shit!”
She stabbed her chopsticks into the fried rice while I nodded along. She had been managing talent for a few years now and I still had no idea how she got into it. Her family had tons of weird connections, so I had to wonder if it was a family thing, but she never went into detail. Honestly, I had no idea why she even stayed in the business since it drove her absolutely bonkers, but she never expressed interest in anything different.
“You’re under Rothstein now right, how is it?” she asked, having calmed down significantly.
I was taken aback by her comment but answered anyway, “Kinda yeah, I’m actually an assistant to her underling - Ian Johnston. He seems cool, but his schedule is absolute hell so I can kiss my social life goodbye--”
Mya stopped suddenly and stared at me in shock. “Wait you’re working for Ian Johnston?”
I nodded, unsure what she was so shocked about.
“Like the former investigative journalist, son of Enrico Johnston - the business mogul, and NY Times Bestseller?” She leaned forward, her eyes widening.
I cringed back into my seat. “Uh, sure, I’ll go with that.” I couldn’t tell her I hadn’t heard of him, or his father.
“You’ll introduce me, right? Holy shit Holly, he’s like a press wet dream - ousted from his father’s own company and aired all the dirty laundry about those publishers stealing, and harassing content creators. If I signed him, I wouldn’t have to keep these assholes on.” Her voice was frantic, her excitement obvious.
Huh, I really need to do my homework about this dude. “Yeah I guess I can introduce you, don’t make it weird and just hand him your card though, I don’t want him to think I’m just out for his name or whatever.”
“Of course not, I can be discreet,” she promised eagerly.
She really couldn’t but I would forgive her. “Oh!” I sat up and dropped the empty box on the coffee table. “I can’t believe I held it in this long; I’m doing Fashion Week.”
She snorted. “Yes, we talked about this when you were offered the position.”
I went on, ignoring her, “No, like I’m going to Paris for Fashion Week, with Ian. It’s so fucking cool; I got a company card and this all-access badge and everything.” Mya was giving me a sad look. “What, aren’t you happy for me?”
“Paris, Holly? Do you really want to go back...” She didn’t say it like a question and my heart started to sink.
I rushed on, trying to defend myself, “It’s fine, really, I’m super excited. Please stop looking at me like that.” She was silent for so long I thought she didn’t even hear me. She reached for her water and the air in the room felt like it was going to crush me. Please be happy for me, please Mya.
“I picked up the pieces when you came home,” she spoke slowly and without looking at me. “I sat with you when he didn’t call, I put up with that awful music and you moping around the apartment for months. I consoled you after every failed date that didn’t live up to the Adrien Bouchard, standard you suddenly had.”
Johnny Cash is not awful. “This isn’t about him; it’s a work thing. And anyway, I won’t have that much time to sightsee, so I probably won’t even run into him--”
She slammed the container down. “You can’t be serious! I know you, I mentioned him yesterday and you just shut down! Now you’re all giddy, and flushed, and making excuses as if you haven’t thought about ‘casually’ running into him somewhere.”
Tears burned and I tried to choke them back, but she felt like hitting below the belt.
“I told you in Paris - the first time, might I add - that your relationship with him wasn’t good for you. He fucked you up and here you are still chasing the past--”
“I’m not chasing the past, Mya! So, what if I thought about seeing him, or ‘running into’ him. It’s not your fucking problem.” I couldn’t stop the tears or help the way my voice shook. I stood up quickly. “Thanks for dinner.”
In my room, I wiped my tears, but they wouldn’t stop. I glanced at the easel by the window, normally I liked to paint when I was upset but right now, I was worried I would ruin my latest landscape. I went to my closet and reached for the small wooden box on the top shelf, pushed to the very back. I brought it to the bed, setting it carefully down on the fluffy duvet. The ornate rose carving stared back at me while I was frozen, not sure if I wanted to twist the knife she stabbed me with. I caved. The box had only some of the things Adrien had given me, the ones I was able to pack in my rush; a dried rose from our last date, a mostly used tube of some fancy lipstick, several pictures of us together, and my most treasured belonging - a heart-shaped, platinum pendant with diamonds and a single large sapphire on a long chain.
“I have something for you, ma chere,” he said, smiling.
I looked up and set my book down beside me as Adrien approached the bed with a small white box. My heart started beating faster and I blinked up at him in surprise. He looked gorgeous as always; red cotton pajama bottoms hanging low on his hips, damp hair swept back, and his chest muscles rippling with every step.
“Close your eyes.”
I did as he said and felt him sit down on the bed next to me. Suddenly he pulled me into his lap, I squealed grabbing for something to hold on to. He chuckled and shifted so I could wrap an arm around his waist. I felt him brush my hair to the side and after a moment a cool weight hung around my neck.
“Open.” He murmured, before kissing my hair.
I did and stared at us in the vanity mirror. My hand went to the necklace and I thought I was going to stop breathing entirely.
“Happy birthday, mon âme, my soul.”
I stroked the necklace lightly as if it would disintegrate under my touch. I set it aside and started flipping through the photographs until I found the special one. It was us, standing together on the Eiffel tower; my black glittery dress blowing in the breeze and my hair was a wild mess of dark curls, but even there my focus was clearly on him. He had his arm around my waist, dressed in a black leather jacket over a red dress shirt. His dark hair was mused, beard trimmed short and he was smiling at me. We had just come from a New Years’ party; he brought me there and told me he loved me for the first time. Nothing in the world could have ruined that moment. Months later we fought the entire last week before I left, he wanted me to stay, to leave school and we would figure it out from there. I asked him if he would come back to the States, and he acted like I asked him to eat garbage. I didn’t say an official goodbye, just ordered a last-minute ticket and left in the middle of the night. I had no idea how else to leave. I lost my phone during a layover and that was it, I didn’t know how to fix it. And Mya was right; I came back home broken; my emotional outlet was gone, and I found out the hard way that you can experience withdrawal from a person. I chased the feelings he gave me, I found the local S and M scene, and I made some rookie mistakes trying to find someone to make me feel the way he did. I fucked up.
I slipped the necklace over my head and packed the box back up to get ready for bed. It was starting to storm outside, I closed the blackout curtains and crawled under the covers as I stared blankly at the oil painting on my wall - an ocean scene I painted at home. Even if it doesn’t happen, I can still hope.