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Eating In: A Resolution Pact Short Story by Tessa Blake (1)

Claire

Remember, ladies. Do it. Whatever it is you want to do. Wherever you have wanted to go. Whatever you want to try, to taste, to feel, to live....do it. This is our year.

The rooftop party is hopping, with the sounds of clinking glasses and wild laughter ringing out high above the streets of SoHo. Outside the retractable roof, the faintest dusting of snow is falling, but in here the heaters are going full-blast and everyone’s in cocktail-party wear.

This is a business party—my boss, Rafe Garrett, owns the building. Four apartments in the building are on the market, so they’re all staged for open houses as well, and people keep drifting down to tour them. He’s already sold two.

I don’t know anyone terribly well. Rafe, of course, and his fiancée Ainsley. A couple of the agents, since they’ve come through my office a time or two, but that’s about it. The sort of people who live in this building are just a little out of my social strata.

Technically, I’m “working”—which in this case just means taking mental notes of who’s here, who they talk to, who seems interested in a place—but I’m distracted. I can’t stop looking at my phone. At the message from Stacey, the current president of my college sorority.

The heart of Stacey’s message is simple: Do it.

She’s talking about New Year’s resolutions. About becoming what we want to be. About less talking and more doing.

But doing what? That’s the problem, isn’t it?

There’s so much I want to do:

#1 lose weight

#2 learn to cook

#3 move to a nicer place

#4 try out a dating app

Okay, maybe not that last one.

But anyway: my New Year’s Resolution. I try to keep it to one a year. I mean, why set myself up for failure?

It’s already after eleven o’clock; I should decide soon. Sure, I could just decide tomorrow but I’m a big fan of tradition, and I’m a little superstitious. You’re supposed to go into the new year already knowing what your resolution will be.

So I look out over the rooftops, vaguely listening to the party behind me, and think, Take them in order.

Okay, then, let’s be honest; I’m not gonna lose weight, so screw Resolution #1. I’m carrying a stubborn extra ten pounds—thankfully at least it’s distributed all over my body, but I still hate it—and getting rid of it would probably mean less eating out, which I can’t do, because see Resolution #2.

I can’t cook for shit. I don’t know why. It’s not like people haven’t tried to teach me. But all that chopping and slicing and sprinkling and sautéing is just ... ugh. Totally beyond me. I can make things that come in boxes—I rock a mean Kraft Dinner—but, like, bringing home some raw chicken and veggies from the Greenmarket and turning that into a meal? Nope. I’m hopeless.

So that’s two down. As for Resolution #3 ... well. I’ve been thinking about buying a place. And by thinking, I mean saving like crazy. I make good money—I may be “only” a secretary, but Rafe is probably the richest guy in New York and I’m indispensable to him. So I’ve been saving, and I’ve been looking, but I haven’t yet taken the plunge. For now, I’m renting, but I’m not rent-controlled. I need to buy a place. It makes financial sense, and I’m not getting any younger.

I talked to a real estate agent, looked at a couple of places. I know I should do it. But nothing has been quite right, yet. I have some definite ideas about what I want in an apartment. Wood floors, for sure. Sunny. A cozy bedroom, but lots of space in the other living areas. Nothing fancy in the kitchen—obviously—but maybe a nice dining area in case I want to entertain. A big tub; long baths are my first choice for self-care.

And, if I’m totally honest, I haven’t been looking as hard as I could because—and I know this is ridiculous—what if I met someone and he had a better apartment? I’d have to move in with him, obviously, and I don’t want to buy a place just to have to sell it within a few years. I’d probably end up upside-down, financially speaking, on that. So I dragged my feet for a few years, even once I had enough money to take the plunge, just in case.

But I haven’t met anyone; see Resolution #4. And how foolish is it to wait because of some weird longing for Prince Charming—and a Prince Charming with a really nice place to live, at that? That’s crazy.

Okay, move Resolution #3 to the top of the list, I guess.

Someone clears his throat behind me and I turn to see Rafe. He smiles—it’s a smile that makes panties fall off at twenty paces, but he’s had eyes for no one but Ainsley for a couple of years now. I was there to witness (sometimes literally—long story) him going through some pretty gnarly relationships, so it’s actually really nice to see how completely gone he is over her.

I don’t want him—I never have, and I actually think that’s part of why I worked out so well in the job—but I want that. That thing that they have. I want that for myself.

“Hey,” I say. “You throw a nice party.”

“Yeah, my admin is almost brutally competent,” he says, “so I just leave the details to her and take all the credit.”

I hide my smile in my champagne glass and file the compliment away. Brutally competent sounds like I should ask for a raise at my next performance eval.

He opens his mouth to speak again but stops, looking over my shoulder. I smell jasmine as Ainsley steps around me and into the curve of the arm Rafe raises to pull her against his side. That’s them, in a nutshell: they just fit. Him tall and built, her willowy and ... well, also tall, though next to Rafe she looks normal. Next to me, she looks like an Amazon.

Ainsley tips her head back and Rafe kisses her lightly. “Did you talk to her?” she asks.

“I’m talking to her now, aren’t I?”

She fake-punches him in the jaw, just a brush of knuckles, really. He smirks at her. It’s a powerful smirk, also a panty-melter, but she must be immune to it by now because she just shakes her head and says, “Ask her!”

A waiter passes by and Rafe snags two champagne flutes, presenting one to Ainsley. Then he turns to me and says just about the last thing I expected: “Why didn’t you tell me you were looking for an apartment?”

I just stare at him for a moment. Is he a fucking mind reader? “I’m not?”

“But you were,” he says. “Oddly, I was just going through a list of prospective tenants with one of the realtors—Jeanne Welsh—and she had your name on her list.”

“She had my name on a list for this building?” I’m so confused right now. I looked at a couple of apartments with Jeanne, but that was literally a year ago.

“Well, no,” he says. “Actually, she said it was more than your budget. But she had your name on a list of clients, which I happened to see when she was flipping through her papers.”

Happened to see, my ass.

Ainsley must see it in my face, because she laughs. “That’s how I felt, too. I told him he was a nosy parker.”

“She looks like an angel and talks like someone’s great-grandmother,” Rafe says, his tone sarcastic even as he’s looking at her with something so soft in his eyes. “A potent combo.”

They’re cute—seriously cute—but I want to get back to the point.

“Well, I’m not looking anymore,” I say.

“Why not?” Ainsley asks.

I shrug. Like I’m going to tell this nymph-thin Amazon with the waist-length black hair and purple eyes that I’m hoping to meet a guy but I’m afraid my cellulite might be holding me back? Instead, I smooth my skirt a little and say, “Oh, I’m just not sure it’s what I want.”

Rafe looks pained. “It’s what everyone should want.”

“Imagine that,” I say. “The real estate mogul thinks everyone should buy a house.”

“You’re throwing your money away on that rental,” he says. “I’ve told you several times that I’d be delighted to get you into something suitable, and in your budget.”

“You don’t know my budget,” I say weakly. I hate when he gets going on this.

“I know how much money you make.” He drains his champagne glass; Ainsley takes it and hands it to another passing waiter.

“So anyway,” she says, turning back to face me, “Rafe mentioned to me that you were looking for a place, and we got to talking. And we were thinking that since you’d be here, you really should look at one of the units that’s open downstairs.”

I blink at her. “As Rafe pointed out, this building is a little out of my budget.”

“I wouldn’t offer if that were the case,” he says. “If you’ve got a reasonable down payment—and knowing you, I suspect you have—there’s one unit on the second floor that’s slightly below market value for the building.”

“Why?” I ask. I don’t want charity. I don’t want him selling it to me for cheap because he likes me—or, worse, because he feels bad for me.”

“It has ... quirks,” he says.

Ainsley laughs again. “Yes,” she says. “Let’s go with that. Quirks.”

“Like what kind of quirks?” I ask.

Rafe starts to answer, but Ainsley shushes him with a finger on his lips. “Why don’t we let her see it first? No sense bad-mouthing it sight unseen.”

“Oh, I really couldn’t right now—”

“Sure you can,” Rafe says. “It won’t take long.”

Ainsley smiles and grabs my wrist, turning and pulling me behind her as she heads for the rooftop elevator. Rafe follows and steps into the elevator with us, pressing the button for the 2nd floor. We descend swiftly.

“Quirky or not,” Ainsley says as the elevator doors open, “I think you’re really going to like it.”

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