Not Like Other Girls, Part 4

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Emily Berrigan is a 23 year old transwoman, who hasn't seen her twin Jordan in six years. Not since she told her parents the truth about herself and they threw her out. Her older sister is getting married and wants Emily there - as a bridesmaid. Will sparks fly?
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In this chapter, Emily and Duncan go on a real date, she gets an audition and sees her uncle again. Please let me know if there's interest in my continuing the story.
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“Hey, Em,” said one of the other assistants, as they stood in the bathroom after work. “We’re headed to the Dublin. Are you interested?”

Emily smiled. “I’ll take a rain check…” It never actually rained here. Maybe they should call it an earthquake check or a mudslide check.

The other woman looked at her. “Who is he?”

“Who is who?” She looked at her reflection in the mirror, checking her teeth. She hated the way fluorescent lights made her already pale complexion look sallow.

The other woman laughed. “Oh, stop. You know who.”

Emily laughed, still checking the mirror. “You can’t tell anyone.”

“I won’t.”

She would and Emily knew she would, but, “His name’s Duncan. He’s a chef. I met him the other night.” She had met him when, in an effort to avoid opening the letter her aunt had left for her the day before they met, she had gone with one of the other waitresses and her boyfriend to a restaurant at which Duncan was a chef. She had come 2,000 miles and met a guy from the Chicago suburbs.

The other woman, married with two kids, laughed, “A chef, huh? What are you and the chef,” said with a leer she didn’t think was possible, “doing?” Emmy saw herself turn pink. “Or what have you done already?”

“We haven’t done anything. I mean, we kissed. But that’s it. And we’re going to Santa Monica. OK?”

The other woman smiled. “OK!” Then, “Santa Monica, really?”

“It’s a first date. At least if the date sucks, we have the pier and the ocean and stuff,” and she began fixing her makeup. “Do I look OK?”

The other woman smiled, “You look cute.”

“Cute?” She looked at herself, her hair down around her shoulders. The white cotton sleeveless eyelet top. She had checked her ass before. She thought she looked good, maybe even hot. But cute?

The other woman smiled, “Cute. Cute is good. Not over the top like…” The name didn’t need to be said. The daughter of one of the firm’s biggest clients had worked as a paralegal for a year, until she got bored, and was utterly useless. In exchange, she was a bitch. “You look really good, Em. Besides, he has to impress you.”

Em smiled. “We’ll see. Anyway, have a good time tonight,” she said, as she put her bag over her shoulder.

It only took her forty minutes to make the seven mile drive from Century City to Santa Monica. She pulled her robin’s egg blue Nissan Fit into a spot on the street, grateful that it was too worthless for anyone to actually steal, then got out and began walking to the Pier to meet Duncan. The woman wasn’t wrong, it was hackneyed as hell but she liked it and it was easy to find besides.

She was ten minutes early, and figured she’d walk to the end of the pier and back, when she heard, “Hey, Emily.” She saw Duncan in front of a sandwich shop, smiling. He was wearing a button down shirt that was tight in the shoulders and jeans, and black lace up shoes. He was 6’3”, 230 pounds. He wasn't fat and he wasn't a muscle head; he was just big. When she met him, she pictured him in high school, an unwilling linebacker or tight end.

“Hey, Duncan,” she said, trying to smile and not grin. “You’re early.”

He had the same awkward smile, his brown eyes somehow shining. “Old habits die hard. I’m glad that we’re able to do this.”

“Me too,” she said, feeling strands of hair in her face, and moving them away. “They give you off Wednesdays?”

He smiled. “It’s not too busy. Plus, I traded. I’m working brunch Sunday.”

She felt her face twist. Everyone hated brunch. The wait staff, because the crowds were big and rude. The chefs, because no one wanted to cook French toast and omelettes. The bartenders, because no one was ordering real drinks - and real drinks meant real tips. “Ooh, sorry.”

He laughed. “It’s fine. It’s a good trade for me,” he said, looking down at her.

She brushed some more hair from her face. “Thanks. So, what are we going to do?”

“So,” he said, “I was thinking. We can either go to one of the places here, get a drink, all that. Or we can walk along and, if, when, we get hungry, one of my friends runs the best Korean BBQ truck you’ve ever had over there.”

And she heard Marissa’s voice - ‘food truck, yecch.’ And Shaye - ‘food truck? Um, see ya.’ And she looked at Duncan and remembered the other night. “Why don’t we walk along and play it by ear? If we want to sit down, we’ll sit down. If we want Korean, we can do that. OK?”

He smiled. Even sober, he had a great smile that made his eyes light up. “Sounds like a plan. So, how do you like working in a law firm?”

And so began the inevitable first date chatter, everyone trying to feel each other out. “It’s good. I mean, I like the people I work with and the work’s easier than waiting tables...how do you like being a chef?”

He laughed. “You know what it’s like. It’s hot and noisy and everyone’s crazy.”

“Do you ever miss finance?” Please say no, she thought. Stef could keep the finance bros.

He laughed. “Not at all. Buncha assholes, excuse me,” which she found endearing, “all trying to show how tough they are. None of them would last a night in a kitchen,” he said, as they began walking along. “So, CalArts, huh?”

“Uh huh,” she said, smiling and looking down. “What about it?”

“How was it? What was it like?”

She looked up at him, and tried to keep one eye where she was walking. “I dunno. It was,” the first place where I was accepted, where I felt comfortable in my own skin, “fun. Very creative.”

“I can imagine,” he said. “So, it’s just artists and actors and dancers?”

She smiled. “Yup. Pretty much.”

“Wow,” he said, “that has to be pretty cool. Like you’re there with the people who are going to make all the shows and stuff...ok, that sounded dorky.”

She smiled, “Not at all. I mean, you don’t really think about it like that, when you’re there. It’s just...school. Classes and stuff. What’s Notre Dame like?”

“Not that,” he laughed. “Definitely not that. Like if there are creative people there, I didn’t know them.”

“Don’t say that,” she said, still looking into his eyes, “you’re creative.”

“Nah. I’m not coming up with a whole series in my head. I’m making reductions and glazes. It’s not the same.” She felt his hand touch hers and she opened it, letting his fingers entwine with hers. There was something about chef's hands that she found alluring, the burns, cuts and scar tissue rough against the skin she spent too much on to keep it soft. “Is this OK?” She nodded. “Cool.”

They kept walking and talking, so much that she didn’t pay attention to the sun setting. “So, there’s three of you?”

“Yes,” she laughed. “Still three of us. Hasn’t changed.”

“And Stef’s a lawyer. And Jordan, she’s…”

“They,” Emily said. “Jordan’s non-binary.”

“Sorry,” he said, and she looked in his eyes to try and discern what he was thinking, “they. They’re in construction management. And you’re the actress.”

She smiled, “You passed the quiz. And there’s you and Niamh. And she’s a senior at Villanova, and wants to be a doctor.”

He grinned. “You passed too,” and he leaned down to kiss her. She opened her mouth and let his tongue in.

He finished. “I’m sorry. I should’ve asked.”

She looked at him. “I opened my mouth. If I didn’t want to, I wouldn’t have.”

“You’re sure?”

She smiled. “I think you need to kiss me again, just so I’m sure.” This time, she felt his hands around her waist and put her arms on his neck. They kissed and she made a face. “Yup, OK. It’s definitely OK.”

He smiled, “I’ll take OK.” They kept walking. “What about your parents?”

She took a breath. I hate them. They hate me. We haven’t seen each other in six years. “I have them,” she joked.

“What do they do?”

Hate me and wish I was never born. “My dad runs a construction company with his family and my mom works as a law firm administrator.”

“Is that why you became a legal assistant?” His face open and curious, so much so that she had to stop herself.

“Nah, that’s just a coincidence. I needed a job with insurance. Matt was hiring and he’s incredibly cool about auditions.”

“Do you like it?”

“It’s a paycheck. I mean, the people are perfectly nice. When, if my acting career ever hits, I won’t keep doing it.” The wind blew her hair in her face, but she wasn’t going to put it up, not on a first date.

“I get that.”

“And your parents?” She was trying to picture Duncan telling his parents that, after four years of tuition at ND, he wanted to be a chef.

“I have two also,” he grinned.

“Very funny…”

“My dad is a lawyer at Sidley and my mom works in development for Northwestern.”

She laughed, “And neither one of you went there? Like doesn’t she get free tuition or something?” If they could’ve gotten that, that’s where they would have had to go. As it was, they all got scholarships.

He looked at her. “Thanks, dad...yeah, but my dad was like ‘I get it. You want out.”

“I mean,” and she thought about them, how they fought over every dollar, “that’s great, but still…”

He laughed. “They can afford it. You wanna ask him about me becoming a chef, that’s a whole other story.”

“I think it’s cool.”

“Thank you,” he laughed, then he looked at his phone. “Wow, it’s been two hours.”

Shit. Fuck. He’s going to want to leave. “Do you have someplace to be?”

He looked shocked. “No. Not at all. I’ve been having a really good time.”

“Me too.”

“I was just surprised at how fast the time went. Have you ever been on one of those dates that just drags?”

She smiled, “And you’re like, ‘oh just shoot me already?’” And she mimed just that.

“Yeah. Well, this isn’t one of those. Is it?”

She felt the warmth of his hand on hers. “No.”

“So, are you hungry?”

She kept smiling. “I could eat something,” then, to the silent cries of her friends, “you wanna see if your friend’s here?”

They walked back and she saw the truck, ‘Seoul Brother No. 1,’ which was kinda cheesy and she began to regret her decision. The tiger on the side did nothing for her either. He walked up. “Hey!”

A large Asian man, in a bandana and stained chef’s whites came over and stuck out his hand. “Yo, Dunc!”

Grinning, he said, “Meet Emily Berrigan. And Emily, this reprobate is,” and he gave his friend’s name, “we met in culinary school.”

She stuck out her hand and felt the calluses on his. “Hi. Nice to meet you.”

He smiled as he checked her out, which still made her feel good, even as she knew it was wrong and crass. “Well, welcome to Seoul Brother No. 1, where we’re trying to do a Korean barbecue with a Southern twist. Allow me to draw your attention…”

“She is, or was, a waitress,” Duncan said flatly.

“I want to hear the pitch. We’re paying customers,” and she tapped her foot.

They both laughed. “Fine,” Duncan’s friend said, “I’ll do mine if you do yours.”

She put on her best fake smile. “Welcome to Mariposa, is this your first time with us? Well then…,” and she did the pitch, complete with hand gestures. “So?”

“I’m convinced. You, Dunc?”

He took her hand and smiled. “I’m sold.”

Duncan’s friend did his pitch, to the hoots of Duncan and everyone in the truck, one of whom kept calling him ‘maricon,’ (then, looking at Emily, ‘I’m gay, but there’s gay and there’s this’). “How was that?”

She waved her hand side to side. “I didn’t feel it completely.”

His friend laughed, “Fucking actresses. Anyway, let me give you the marinated short rib over the collards, side of mac?”

“Sounds delicious,” she said.

“What do I get, dick?”

He looked at the guy next to him. “What’s about to spoil?”

“Your mom,” the guy said. She was amazed at the way the kitchen repeated itself in the cramped space of the truck. “Give her the bulgogi spiced catfish over the greens. Give him the short rib. They’ll split it and fatboy,” pointing at Duncan, who smirked, “will eat most of it.”

They got their food and left the truck. “Sorry about that,” he laughed.

“About what?” She balanced the drinks in her hands, while he carried the food.

“That’s just them.”

“Are you serious? Do you know how many kitchens I’ve been in? I saw a dishwasher stab a line cook once.”

His eyes widened. “Serious?”

“Oh yeah, I came in to get an order and they were yelling at each other and he stabbed, well grazed, him.”

“So what happened?”

She shrugged. “The chef told the dishwasher to keep washing dishes, made the line cook put on a finger cot and everyone went back to work.”

“What did you do?”

She laughed. “Picked up my order and went back out. No one likes cold food.”

He laughed. “You are something else, Emily,” and they sat down. She took a bite of the catfish, “Oh, wow, this is really good….try it,” and she almost picked up her fork, then stopped herself.

He took a bite, and smiled. “Not terrible.”

“Not terrible? It’s really good.”

He grinned. “I could do it better.”

She raised an eyebrow, “you could do Korean better than him?”

He looked at her, as she took a bite of the ribs. “What are you trying to say?”

Staring back, and grinning, “You know what I’m trying to say.”

She felt his foot brush hers under the table, not sure if it was inadvertent - and not caring. “Are you trying to say that just because I’m a big white kid from Chicago,” the nasal ‘a’ coming out, making her smile in spite of it, “I can’t make this better…”

“Than a Korean kid,” and she tried the mac and cheese, and purposely closed her eyes and smiled, “yep, that’s what I’m saying. I mean,” and she looked down then up, “I’m sure you could do some things better.”

He looked at her, his brown eyes shining. “I can do a lot of things better than he can.”

She felt her throat tighten and her pulse race, and then she remembered. “I’m sure,” she smiled. “I meant in the kitchen.” Very smooth, Emily, she thought.

He kept smiling. “I knew what you meant,” then he took a bite of the short rib, “fuck, this is actually pretty good,” and he reached over for the catfish. “Excuse me.”

She teased, “you take it and then you say excuse me? Wow…”

He turned a little red, which was cute. “Yeah, sorry.”

She reached over and took some greens. “Now, we’re even,” she smiled. Her hair kept blowing in her face, and now little bits of short rib were getting stuck.

He looked at her, fumbling with her hair. “Why don’t you put your hair back?”

“Huh?”

He took another bite, then a sip of his beer. “My sister always has something to tie her hair back in her bag. Don’t you?”

“I do. I just…” And he stared at her, in incomprehension. “OK,” and she put it back, thinking, ‘well, this is too soon.’

He smiled. “That’s better. I mean, unless you want sauce in your hair. Which, if you do, I make no judgments.”

She could hear her friends screaming not to do it, but still she moved over to his side of the table, smiling. “Less wind this way.”

He looked at her, then leaned in. She closed her eyes and could taste catfish and ribs and beer. She debated - hands on bench or hands on his waist? Bench is definitely first date, she thought. Not too forward, not too needy. And then she felt his hands on her waist. Waist it is, she smiled to herself.

They pulled away. “Just so you know,” she laughed. “That was definitely OK.”

“Good.” They finished eating and she began clearing up, sweeping crumbs off the table into her hands. “You know, the wind does a pretty good job of getting those.”

She smiled, as she picked up everything. “Old habits die hard.”

“Am I supposed to leave a tip then?” She liked the way his back muscles stretched across the shirt, the shirt she wanted off of him in the worst way. But, it was a first date and she needed to be honest. “Because I’m kinda short of cash.”

They walked back to the pier and walked along, looking at the tacky stores. She caught her reflection in the window of one. Aunt Jeannie was right, she did look cuter with her hair up. She wondered what everyone saw, what they were thinking.

After four hours, he walked her to her car. “You know,” she said, leaning against the door, “you didn’t have to do this.”

He smiled. “Yeah, I did. It’s too late for you to be walking around here by yourself.”

Looking up at him, “I can handle myself.” God knows, I’ve had to when no one else was willing to help.

Still smiling, “I’m sure you can. But I just wanted to be sure you were OK.”

Now, his hand was on the roof of her car. She liked the way he splayed his fingers out across the top. “Thank you,” then, “are you sure that you’ll be OK walking to yours? I can drive you…”

He smiled, leaning forward, “I think I can make it.”

Her pulse raced again, and she felt herself getting warm, wondering if she needed her levels checked again. “That’s good.”

“So I’m going to kiss you again, if that’s OK,” he laughed.

She pursed her lips to the side, and tapped her foot. “Mmm, OK,” she laughed, as she felt his hands around her waist, the calluses through her shirt.

They kissed and he pulled away. “I’d like to see you again.”

She smiled, still warm. Nope, definitely not my levels, she told herself. “I’d like that.”

“I’ll call,” he said, as he walked away. “Get home safely.”

“You too,” she said, as she got into the car, smiling to herself.
--
She walked in and Marissa looked at her. “I’m guessing it went well?”

Emmy smiled, putting her bag on the counter and taking off her shoes. “No, I spent four hours with him and it sucked.”

Marissa actually leaned forward. “And?”

“And nothing. We had a great time. I really like him,” she said, as she walked into her room to change.

Marissa followed her in. It had taken Emily a while to get used to changing in front of her, even though Marissa knew, had known since before they moved in together. Even now, Emmy would still turn around before taking off her panties. “Are you going to see him again?”

Emmy pulled up her shorts and put on her t-shirt, a faded Dodgers shirt from some long ago guy in college. She wanted to send a picture to Jordan, just to torture them. “He says he wants to. And I want to,” and she smiled.

Marissa sat on the edge of the bed. “That’s great, Em,” then looking at her, “what’s wrong?”

Emily looked at her, as she took a wipe and began removing her makeup. “You know.”

Marissa played with the stuffed bear Emily had won at that carnival in Santa Barbara, when the guy at the booth had said, ‘so easy even she can win it,’ and then winked at her. “You’re not there yet,” she said, matter of factly.

“Yeah, but before we get there, he has the right to know.” The truth of ‘why’ going unsaid.

“I guess. See how it goes next time and then you decide.” Emily thought back to his hand in hers, the way it felt so big, so right and she smiled. “You really like this guy?”

“Yeah, I think I could,” and then she described the date.

“You go there so easily,” Marissa laughed.

Emily, busted. “No I don’t.”

Marissa, “Oh please. I’ve known you how long?”

Emily, more busted. “Well, I like him regardless,” then, “how was work?” Marissa worked at an ad agency as an assistant copywriter.

“Fine,” she laughed, and then she talked about a client.

--
The next day, at 6:00 PM, her phone pinged. “Where’s my phone call? :-)” Aunt Jeannie.

“I just got off work”

“Wrong answer,” with another smiley.

“Ill call when Im in the” car emoji. “Commute is long”

“Grrr...fine.” Emily froze at the period. Was she pissed? She had no reason to be.

When she was in the car, she called her, “Hey,” then a pause, “Jeannie.”

Jeannie. “Hey, sweetie. How was it?”

“Are you upset with me?”

Jeannie, confused. “No. Why would I be?”

“You ended the text with a period.”

Jeannie, “How do you end a sentence?”

“I just thought..I don’t usually do it.”

Jeannie, silent for a second. “Neither does Liam apparently. It’s a failure of the Dekalb schools, I guess. Anyway, I didn’t call to discuss punctuation.”

“I think people don’t discuss it enough,” she said, as she pulled out of the lot, turning the wheel hand over hand to make the right turn out of the lot.

Jeannie made a buzzing noise. “Wrong answer. So how was it?”

“It was,” and she paused, wondering how much to say, what would get back, “good.”

“Good? Good isn’t good, unless that means something else.”

She paused again. Fuck it, she thought. I don’t care what they know. I don’t have to see any of them. “It was...very good.”

She could hear Jeannie leaning forward. “Very good is better.”

Emily. “It was better than very good then.” She knew that she would come to regret this conversation, that it would come back to bite her. Then, she felt the butterfly necklace Jeannie had surprised her with (‘I owe my niece a lifetime of birthday presents’) against her collarbone. “It was much better than very good.”

“That is wonderful, Emmy,” the diminutive still making her feel warm. “I’m so happy for you.”

“Really?”

A sigh. “Yes, really. I know you really don’t know me yet.” Yet? “But I only want you to be happy.”

“Thank you,” Emily said, silently cursing the stalled car in the left lane. She watched as cars slowed down to look at the stalled car. It’s a stalled car in L.A. Unless the engine block is poking out, move it along.

Jeannie laughed. “‘Thank you.’ Am I the cashier at Osco? Come again!”

“Shut up,” and she paused. Too informal? “I mean...thank you for wanting me to be happy.”

Another sigh. “This is the absolutely last time I’m saying this. You may not trust me yet, but I am not them.”

“I know,” Emily said, “you never were.” Remembering a day-after-Thanksgiving where Jeannie let her hide in the guest room to color.

“And I won’t be. Here we go - I am your aunt. You are my favorite niece. End of story.”

‘Favorite niece’ making her smile an inordinate amount. “You’re my favorite aunt.”

A laugh, “That’s not much of a title to be honest, given the competition.”

Emily, laughing. “Who am I competing against?”

“There’s more of you, but yeah, I guess it really isn’t a compliment, when you think about it.”

Emily, “Hey!”

“I’m kidding, Emmy. You always were my favorite, by a lot. Don’t tell Stephanie.”

Emily, now grinning from ear to ear despite the traffic, the homeless man weaving between the cars with his battered cardboard sign. “I won’t.” He came past her window and she shook her head, sorry she didn’t have change.

“Good. Now I told you last week. I need details. Please. Everything….well, as much of everything as you want to tell me.”

Emily, grasping at the conversation like a lifeline, “There’s not a lot of that everything...yet,” and then she described the date, happy to describe it and sad at the same time. Eventually, Uncle Rob got on to call Duncan a yo yo (‘Duncan is a company that made yo yos). Emily hung up, happy.
—-
Two days later, as she lay in bed, she got a text, “u up”

Duncan. “:-)”

“:-) r u busy”

“N”

The phone rang. “Hi,” she said, grinning from ear to ear, like a dork. She stared at a picture of her and her friends at graduation, gowns open, mortarboards at angles.

“Hi. Sorry I haven't called but I've been mad busy.”

“It's ok,” she said. “Work is crazy?”

“Yeah, one of the prep cooks quit, so I've been working crazy hours. I've wanted to call.”

She loved his openness. Six years of LA, and six years of industry wannabes, had conditioned her to expect irony and studied aloofness. “It's ok. You're calling now.” And she kicked herself some more.

“So, anyway, what are you doing Monday?”

“You don’t have to work?”

He laughed, “Nah, I have off. Slow day. They don’t need me.”

She stared at her feet. She needed a pedicure, badly. “I’m not busy. What were you thinking?”

“I dunno. A friend of mine was telling me about a cool exhibit at LACMA,” the modern art museum. In her mind, she heard Stef laughing, ‘trying to show he’s got culture.’

She rolled onto her stomach and looked at the wall, the picture of Joshua Tree she found at a crafts fair. “That sounds fun. I can meet you there. 7:00? I mean, subject to traffic on Pico,” she laughed.

“Sounds like a plan.”

“I can’t wait.” Stef, now screaming and shaking her head. Say goodnight, Stef, she thought.

--
Monday afternoon, she was sitting at work, waiting for the clock to strike 6:00, not that clocks struck anything anymore, when her phone rang.

“Emily Berrigan,” she said brightly.

“Hey Ems, it’s Shaye.” One of her two best friends from college.

“Hey, Shaye, what’s going on?” She played with her pen.

“I just heard about an open call audition for a commercial. For Axe body spray.”

Her face twisted. “Yuck.”

Shaye, laughing, “Not for you to wear, stupid. They need girls for the commercial and it says that they’re looking for girls who look high school/college.”

Emily, laughing. “We graduated, remember? I know you got pretty messed up that night but still…”

Shaye, “Ha ha, Ems. I mean, you could totally pull off college. I can’t, because I’m too,” and she laughed, “sophisticated.”

“Yeah, that’s it,” then, looking at her reflection in her screen, “you really think I could pull it off?”

“Oh, totally,” she said. “With your hair up and light makeup, you totally look 19.”

“I dunno,” she said. “Axe, though?”

“Ems, it’s your card,” her SAG-AFTRA card. “Get the job and you can work union.”

“You really think I could pull off college?” She started thinking about what she should wear to the audition. Her blue cotton dress? Maybe a t-shirt and shorts? Or was that trying too hard?

“Totally, sweetie. You could totally be the all-American college girl,” and then she laughed. “You have that Midwestern thing going.”

“I’m not sure how to take that.”

“Me either,” she laughed. “I’ll send you the call.”

“Thanks, honey. I really appreciate it. If I hear of anything requiring someone sultry and exotic, you know who I’ll call first.” Then, she hung up the phone and grinned.

“What’s up?” Matt, her boss, asked.

“My friend just called me and told me about an open call.”

He held out his hand for a high five. “That’s great! For what?”

“Oh, it’s a commercial for Axe. But, it’s union…”

He looked at her. “Em, that’s great. Who cares what it’s for? When you’re famous, they’ll show it as your first appearance on TV.”

She smiled. “Thanks, Matt.”

He smiled, looking like he wanted to touch her shoulder, but #metoo, not that it was that. “In six months, you better not be at that desk.”

Her stock response. “That’s the plan.”

“I wanna see you on Fallon talking about the great boss you had,” he laughed.

Her, “You know I can’t lie like that.”

Him, grinning. “You’re an actress who works at a law firm. You can lie. Seriously, though, that’s great. Michelle,” his wife, “will be so happy.”

“Let me get it first,” she said.

He looked around, then at her. “You will. I have a good feeling.”

“Thanks,” and she thought about how one day she'd miss his support and who could replace him and his wife.

A week later, she found herself in an office park, at some clearly abandoned telemarketing space. You could see the outlines of the removed cubicles on the floor and she could, ‘I'm sorry to bother you during dinner,’ being said ad infinitum. She had worked tele-marketing in college, fired when she wasn’t able to harass enough people into extending warranties on appliances.

She looked at the other girls. Even after six years, she still couldn't fathom the number of gorgeous blondes here. Back east, they would have men trailing them like dogs in heat, their choice of jobs. Here? They were interchangeable.

You can do this, Emily, she told herself. If all they wanted was some OnlyFans girl, they could do this without an open call. They don't want just that, they want something else. And she looked at them, in their short skirts. You don't look like college girls, she thought, you look like strippers. Emily looked down at her blue and white striped dress, the one with the short sleeves and that buttoned up the front. And her flats. After agonizing, she decided to wear her hair in a ponytail. And light makeup, a little lip gloss, some eyeliner, some blush. She had tested how young she looked by going into a liquor store and getting carded, the clerk continuously looking back and forth between her and her ID, and then handing it back with “I can't lose my license.” You can do this, she told herself. You can pull this off.

After four hours, she was called in to the casting room. Sitting there were three people in their thirties, looking somewhere between bored and suicidal. You are a college girl, she told herself. Not CalArts, but a regular school. She remembered Ann Arbor and that cute boho dress. That's you, she said to herself. She handed over her headshot, the one her Christmas bonus had paid for. One of the three looked at it and yawned. “Name?”

It's on there, she thought, then no. Affecting a slight Chicago accent, not so heavy as to grate. “Hi,” she said brightly, “I'm Emily Berrigan.”

Barely looking at her, “Where are you from?”

“Dekalb,”’she said, going wide-eyed, “Illinois. Thank you so much for seeing me,” and she shuffled ever so slightly.

“Mmm hmmm.” So much for that. “Can you read the side,” and she took it from him.

“Gosh, Johnny,” and she went wide-eyed, “you smell,” like ego mixed with misogyny, “great!”

The woman at the table wrote some stuff down, then, “we'll let you know.”

More aww-shucks, “Well, thank you…”

The woman, “we'll let you know.”

She left. We'll let you know? Why not just tell me ‘fuck off?’

She left, feeling dejected. It was a cattle call and the odds were hella against her, but they didn't even acknowledge her. She wasn't even a piece of meat. She was just a loose thread they found on their clothes. She got into the car, dreading the conversations with everyone, their hollow affirmations. She watched another girl, some pneumatic blonde, get out of her car. This Amazon bitch, in her blue minidress, walked across the parking lot like she owned it.

Ten minutes later, she was pulling onto the highway, chanting ‘you can do this’ to herself.

---
Three days later, she was at work when Ariana Grande’s ‘7 Rings’ started playing, and one of the senior attorneys walking passed glared at her. She quickly silenced her phone and looked at the screen - ‘Anonymous.’ Great. Mortified by a spam call. She ignored the phone as it vibrated across her desk. A minute letter, ‘Missed call - voicemail’ appeared on her screen. Great, she thought, not only do they waste my time on calls about the warranty on my seven year old car, they clog up my voicemail.

An hour later, she got up to go to the bathroom, taking her phone with her. As she sat down in the stall, she saw the voicemail indicator. Why the fuck not, she thought, may as well as delete it before it gets full again.

She hit ‘play- “Hi Emily, this is Rachel, from Blah Blah Blah Productions,” the people that ran the stupid audition. “I wanted to let you know that the client decided to go another way…” Fuck you. “However…” However? However? Now she paid attention. “We have another campaign that I think might be better suited for you and,” then she left her number. Emily let out a scream. “Everything OK in there?” She heard a voice say nervously.

Emily bounced out of the stall, pushing down the handle with her foot, and coming face to face with one of the female attorneys in her 30s. “I didn’t get a callback on a commercial…”

The woman stared at her as if she were trying to figure out how to defuse a bomb. An auburn haired 5’6” bomb in a green dress. “Ummm, congratulations?”

Emily, grinning from ear to ear. “Sorry. That part sucked, but then they said that they might have something better suited to me.”

The woman relaxed slightly and smiled, “That’s good?”

“Yes, sorry. You must think I’m totally nuts but I have never, ever had this happen. This doesn’t happen. None of my friends have ever had it happen but it happened.”

The woman backed up slightly. “Cool,” as her eyes looked around then up, as if she was going to escape through the drop ceiling. “I mean, that sounds really positive. Let me know how it goes…”

Emily thanked her, dancing out of the bathroom, humming to herself.
---
“So,” she said, when she met Shaye and Marissa for drinks that night, “I called her and she said that the client wanted ‘Axe girls’....” Marissa held her hands out from her already not insubstantial chest. “Exactly,” Emily continued, “and she was like, ‘you are too sweet looking to be part of that,” which got an ‘awww,’ from her friends, “shut up, I’m talking here but then she was like, ‘you don’t want to be part of that anyway, have you ever seen an Axe girl anywhere but Playboy, no you haven’t, which is kind of fucked up because she works for them but whatever….”

Marissa, rolling her hand, “Em, while we’re young…”

“I’m getting there,” she exhaled, “and then she said, ‘but we have a campaign that I think you might work for. It’s for Best Foods mayonnaise…”

Shaye, grinning, “Mayonnaise is perfect for you.”

Emily, sticking her tongue out, “Actually, she said it was because I was sophisticated and exotic...anyway, so she told me that they were looking for someone with that all American look, and she scheduled an audition.”

“Yay, Ems” everyone said, and gave her kisses and hugs. “That’s so amazing.”

Em looked down at her chest. “I still think I should…”

Marissa looked at Shaye, and then Em. “We are so not having this conversation again…”

“You weren’t in the room with all those girls,” she said, looking around the room.

Shaye rolled her eyes. “I have been in plenty of those rooms. You would look ridiculous if you got them..”

Em looked down again, she was a full B cup. “You had to see them. I think it’s costing me parts.”

“No. We are not going there. You don’t need them,” then, raising her glass, “we are celebrating you actually getting called to audition. I am so happy for you.” While Shaye was hoping for her big break, she was fetching drinks as a PA on some shitty series (‘I don’t even know what platform it’s on, but whatever.’)

Em grinned. “That’s right. We are celebrating me,” and she thrust her chest out, to giggles and eyerolls. “So, celebrate. Come on,” and she spread her arms wide. Everyone raised their glasses and then purposely ignored her.
--
“Hey,” she said, as she stood on tiptoes to kiss Duncan. “I know you.” They had agreed to meet at the Getty Center, to walk around the gardens, since they were both going to be in Century City and it was close by. She had been to the Getty a bunch of times, but it still amazed her, the way that they had carved this beautiful garden out of two ridges, facing the ocean and the San Gabriels.

He put his hands around her waist. “Do I know you?”

She was wearing her blue dress with the spaghetti straps, with a cardigan over it, sandals and her round sunglasses. Third date, a dress was OK, she decided. “Nope,” she said, “I must have been mistaken.”

Duncan grinned, “Well, whoever he is, he’s not here. So whaddya say?”

She took him in, in his t-shirt and dark blue jeans. Who, she thought, decided that he can get away with that? Then, she checked out his pecs and crotch. “I have nothing better to do,” and she took his hand. “So, how was work today?”

He had covered a lunch shift at one of the owner’s places in Century City. “Why didn’t you stop by? I could’ve hooked you up…”

“I had a brief to type and Mark was being psycho AF, and besides can you imagine what they would have said had I come in?”

He smiled, “You still should have. I would’ve liked to have seen you.”

She grinned and kissed him again. “You’re seeing me now. Did you go home after lunch?”

“Nah,” he said, “I hung around. Went to the mall, walked around. That kind of thing.”

She was telling him today. She had resolved to do it last time, but she was doing it today. He deserved to know, she had reasoned to herself, Stef telling her ‘to be careful,’ Jordy wishing her luck. He took her hand and they started walking. She never got tired of the bougainvillea, its hot pink flowers and beautiful smell. She had tried it once as perfume, but it was overpowering at such close range.

A half an hour in, after they walked the hedges, she decided it was time. If it was going to go south, let it go south while the sun was out and people could see them, but far enough from anyone so that they couldn’t hear. She took a deep breath, “I have something I need to tell you.”

He looked at her, with puppy dog eyes. “What did I do?”

She pulled her sweater around her. “You didn’t do anything.”

“I really like you, Emily,” he said, his face so open, so genuine, so not L.A.

“I really like you too, Duncan, which is why I need to do this.” She felt tears and was willing them back, unsuccessfully.

“Do you not want to see me again?” Now, he took a step back and was looking her up and down. She cursed her outfit, wanting nothing more than to hide.

“I do,” she said. “But I need to tell you something and when I do, you may not feel that way.”

“You’re married?” He smiled.

“Please let me speak,” and she felt her throat tightening. “Please.”

He took her hand. “It can’t be that bad.”

Let’s see what you say next. “It isn’t. But it is. Or it may be,” she found herself stammering and she started to cry. He hugged her, enveloped her in his bulk, and it felt like a cocoon, one she never wanted to leave. But she knew she needed to, if this had any hope of surviving. She pulled back, fingering the butterfly necklace. She took another breath. “I’m trans,” she said, opting for that over ‘assigned male at birth.’ No matter what they said at group, that was bullshit, like she went to school for it or something.

She looked into his eyes and couldn’t read anything. Some actress you are, she thought. They stood there for an eternity and he said, “Wow.”

“Wow?” She suddenly felt exposed to the world, and watched his hands, which remained flat at his sides.

“Yeah, wow.” He didn’t move.

She looked down. “I totally get it. I understand. Well, thank you for not yelling or...anyway, yeah, I’m sorry. You’re a great guy and I hope you find the woman you deserve,” and she began walking away, trying not to cry until she got to her car.

“Stop,” he said. “Where are you going?”

She turned around, staying a couple of feet back. “You said ‘wow’ and I thought…”

He, standing in place, “I didn’t say leave.”

“But you said, ‘wow.’”

He gave a sickly smile. “It’s kinda wow worthy, y’know?”

Her cardigan slipped off her shoulder and she caught him looking. “I...I’m sorry.”

He looked at her, moving a step closer. “For what?”

“I didn’t tell you,” she said, looking down.

“It’s OK,” he mumbled, not looking at her. “I mean, I get it. It’s scary, I imagine, telling people.” People milled around them, not giving them a second glance.

“It is,” and she watched an ant walk along. “Thank you. I didn’t want to lie to you.”

He walked over, so that he was fully in her space and she felt his shadow over him. “You didn’t lie to me.”

“But, we kissed and stuff.”

He watched his shadow shrug. “Uh huh.”

“And you kissed me.”

He smiled. “I did.”

“But, you thought you were…”

“Kissing Emily Berrigan. You are Emily Berrigan, right?”

She sniffled. “Um, yeah…but…”

He looked at her. “I don’t care about the past.”

“You don’t?” She felt herself sweating.

“I don’t. I told you. I really, really like you.”

He was blurry through her tears. “I really, really like you,” she said.

“Then, that’s what matters.”

She looked at him, and his face was still a blank slate. “Really? But you thought…”

“Don’t tell me what I thought,” he sounded annoyed.

“But…”

“I don’t think anything. I mean, I wasn’t expecting this…”

She looked down. “Obviously.”

He put his hand under her chin and pushed up. “Look at me, please. I like you. You like me,” and she nodded. “This doesn’t matter to me.”

She didn’t believe him. She wanted to, but didn’t. “OK.”

He took her hand and they walked silently around the gardens. “So, your parents…”

She went to cut him off. “Are not OK with me.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said, tightening his grip on her hand.

She shrugged. “It is what it is. I have Stef and Jordy, that’s what counts.” He paused, mouth open, like he was about to say something, then stopped. Fuck, she thought. Softly, she said, “You can ask, say, whatever, you want,” and she braced herself.

“I just can’t imagine not wanting you in their life.” She wasn’t expecting that, and started to tear up. “Don’t do that,” he mock-yelled.

“That was really nice. Why did you stop yourself?”

He looked down. “Because it sounds dorky. Because it’s our third date and I was afraid that you’d think it was too soon, too push…”

And she stood on tiptoes and kissed him, grateful for his dorkiness. “It doesn’t. It isn’t.”

Then, he smiled and put his hands around her waist. “Cool.” She let her cardigan drop from her shoulders and he kissed her again.

---
The next morning, her phone rang as she was deciding what to wear. “You were supposed to text me.”

Stef. Shit. She flicked through her closet, trying to decide between the cute cinnamon-colored day dress or jeans. “I know. And I’m sorry. But it was late….”

Stef. “I was worried about you.” An undercurrent of worry masked her tone of anger.

Jeans. Definitely jeans today. White jeans. And a pale green camisole. “I know. I know. And I should have. But we were…”

Stef. “Well, the important thing is you’re OK. Did you tell him?”

She slid the jeans up her legs, checking out her ass and smiling. “Yes.”

“And?” Now exasperated.

“He was...really cool about it,” she said, putting the phone on her dresser while she put on her camisole. “Hang on, I’m putting you on speaker.”

“He was cool about it?” Her now tinny voice sounded surprised. Not that it was undeserved, all things considered, remembering Kevin from junior year.

She put on eyeliner. “I mean I think he was definitely shocked at first but, yeah, he was really good.”

She heard Stef take a breath. “Are you going to,” pause, “see him again?”

Em laughed. “Yes.” Probably. He said that he’d call, make plans for the weekend. Now, she put on foundation, blotting in on with the little pad.

“I am so happy for you.” Em looked over at the birthday card Stef had sent her for first birthday out here - one little girl pulling another little girl's pigtails and ‘to the best little sister in the world’ - tucked in her mirror and smiled. “You have no idea.”

Em smiled. “I do. Thank you. Do you know how much I love you?”

“Yes,” Stef laughed, “but you can tell me anyway.”

“You are the best big sister. You know that, right?” Now she put on blush, then brushed her hair, admiring her handiwork.

“I do. And I love you too. Anyway, back to the grind. I’ll call later.”

---
Emily stood in front of the audition panel, the woman who called her, one guy in his twenties leaning forward and a guy in his forties, who looked like a lifetime of bad choices had him here. They were in a bare rehearsal room, all whitish walls, floor lamps and a dance barre along the wall. She imagined a whole room full of lissome girls trying out to be dancers, each rejected for short legs or five pounds extra.

“OK,” the woman said brightly, “you’re a waitress in a busy diner, it’s lunch time, understand?”

Emily was wearing a white long-sleeved cotton shirt, black skirt a couple of inches above the knee and flats. Not exactly diner material, but she wasn’t going to rent a uniform. She smiled knowingly. “Um, yeah, I think so.” She studied her side and then put it down.

Standing at any imaginary table, holding an imaginary pad, “OK, that’s one cheeseburger and fries, one Cobb salad and one turkey on rye with Best Foods mayo.”

She then turned around and did a sort of pirouette around an imaginary waitress coming the other way. “Stop,” said the guy in his forties, “what are you doing?”

Emily smiled. “I was just picturing another waitress coming…”

He looked at her. “Does it say anywhere that there’s another waitress coming and you’re a ballerina…”

Guy in his twenties. “Interesting choice,” he said, not quite believably. “But, how about you just walk?”

I’ve been walking since I was one, she thought. “Got it.” She went back to the imaginary table, took the imaginary order and then, ringing an imaginary bell, said, “C.B. fries, turkey whiskey down with Best Foods mayo.” I don’t know where this diner is, she thought, but I’ve never heard anyone say any of this. All that was missing was gum to crack.

Then, she repeated this for three different orders - ‘turkey club with Best Foods mayo,’ ‘ham and cheese with Best Foods mayo,’ ‘coffee, black, with Best Foods mayo.’ She’d grown up in the Midwest and had never seen this much mayo.

She finished, “Best Foods brings out the best in everything,” and she smiled and winked.

The three at the table huddled together. The woman, impassively, “we’ll let you know.”

Fuck, you brought me in here, she thought. “Thank you,” and she walked out.

She called Duncan on her way to the car. “Hey Em.” They were at the shortened name, not the pet name, phase. “How did it go?

“Eh,” she said, her shoes crunching the gravel of the parking lot. “We’ll see.”

“Are you upset?” His voice was one of concern, uncertain of how much was acceptable.

“Nah,” she said, as she pressed the key fob, the ‘boop boop’ opening the door. She threw her bag on the passenger side and plugged in the phone. “It’s an audition, you can’t really get upset.”

“I hear you,” then he laughed, “Quite frankly, you don’t really want to work in a diner. The tips are awful.”

She laughed. “Thank you. Whatever will be, y’know? When do you get off later?”

“Usual. 11 or so,” he said. “Why?”

She looked in her rear view mirror and smiled. “If you wanted to come over…”

She could hear the wheels turn. “I mean, I may be really tired…”

She touched up her lip gloss. “Oh well, if you’re going to be tired…”

“I mean, I suppose I can see how I’m feeling…”

She felt herself getting warm. “If you don’t want to, you don’t have to,” she teased.

“This isn’t just a booty call, is it? Because I’m not just some piece of meat,” he huffed theatrically.

She smiled, thinking of the other night. “Yes you are.”

He paused. “Oh yeah, that’s right, I am. Never mind. Figure 11:30?”

She smiled and looked down at her legs. “I can’t wait.”

-
Fuck, she thought, as she stared at Matt’s notes for his brief. Could your handwriting suck worse? Not that she couldn’t read it but she was tired and hated bringing work home. At least he let her correct grammatical mistakes when she saw them, unlike some of the other partners. You wanna look like an idiot, she’d think, be my guest.

Not that she minded working at home. All those years in restaurants had made her a night owl, more alert at 9:00 at night than 9:00 in the morning. Plus, no one was standing over her, asking questions or talking about a date. Just her and the computer, her fingers flying across the keys, the words becoming just a collection of letters to be proofread after. She was so absorbed in her work that she didn’t hear the phone until the third ring.

“Hello,” she said, “I mean, Emily Berrigan.”

“Hi, Emily, it’s,” the woman, “from Blah Blah Blah Productions,” she said brightly.

“Um, hi. How are you?”

A laugh. “I’m fine but not as good as you.”

“Huh?”

Another laugh. “We’re calling to offer you the job…” Which made Emily let out a scream of joy. “So, I take it you’re happy…”

“Ohmigosh, ohmigosh, ohmigosh,” and she started hyperventilating. “Ohmigosh, ohmigosh, ohmigosh, that’s so amazing.”

The woman, now laughing, “OK, OK, calm down. It’s scale…”

“I don’t care, that’s so amazing. Thankyouthankyouthankyou. I thought you didn’t like me.”

“Why did you think that?”

“Well, I mean I did that move and then the other guy got annoyed and the other guy said just walk and then you just sat there…”

A laugh. “You did great, sweetie. I’ll send over contracts via email. You’ll Docusign…”

Of course, I will. “Uh huh.”

Another laugh. “Tell you what, go pour yourself a drink or pop an edible and celebrate. Everything will be in the email.”

“Thank you. Good night. Thank you,” she gushed, as she hung up. She started running in place, arms pumping, eyes closed, and turned to face Marissa.

“I heard the screaming….”

Before she could ask it was OK, “I GOT IT! I. Got. The. Commercial,” and she began jumping up and down, Marissa joining her.

“That is so amazing! I am so happy for you,” and Marissa hugged her. “This is so amazing!”

“I know! Ohmigod, a commercial. I mean, it’s regional. Because back home it’s called Hellman’s and not Best Food, but it’s a commercial….”

Marissa, grinning. “It is. And I am so proud of you.” She went to the refrigerator and took out a bottle of Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s. “It’s not champagne,” she laughed.

“I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care. I got a commercial. I got a commercial. Wanna see me do it?”

She had heard her practicing already. “Sure,” with an indulgent smile.

“OK, go sit over there.”

Marissa, eyes rolling, sat at the kitchen counter and let Emmy do her thing. She finished and Marissa looked at her. “Excuse me, but I didn’t order this. I can’t have mayo. I have a food allergy.”

“Too bad. You’ll eat your whiskey down or whatever with Best Foods mayo and like it,” she teased. “We have Epi-Pens in the back.” Then, dancing and singing, “I got a commercial. I got a commercial.”

She texted Jordy, it was too late for Stef, “guess who got a commercial”

“gordon ramsay” followed by three tongue out emojis.

“Idiot me”

Five smiley face emojis followed by, “wut for”

“Best Foods,” making sure to capitalize it, since they were paying, “mayo”

“never heard of it”

“Wut they call hellmans here”

“Kewl im so proud of u Emmy”

“Thx”

“U r welcome call tomorrow”

“Is kira there” followed by hearts, peaches and eggplants.

“bye Emmy” followed by three tongue outs. “Kira sez kewl too”

“Thx kira” followed by more hearts. She pictured Kira lying in bed next to them, her head on their chest, while Jordy talked about the commercial and wondered what she would think. She was an actress after all and looking for work like everyone else.

----
“Hi, Rob,” Emily said, picking up her phone. “What’s going on?”

“So, I’ve got to be out there next week on the project and wanted to know what you were doing Tuesday night.”

“Um,” she paused, “let me check my calendar,” she lied. She had no plans. Tuesday night, she never had plans, it was a work night. “I’m, uh, free.”

“Good,” he said happily. “Then, we’re going to dinner.”

“You and me,” she said nervously.

He laughed. “Yes, you and me. Just you and me. Is that OK with you?”

“Sure. I mean that would be great.” Or awful, either one. “Where do you want to go?”

“I hear Duncan’s place is pretty good…” She began breathing shallow breaths. “Oh god,” he laughed, “I’m teasing you, Emily. Relax. Where would you like to go?”

She stuck her tongue out. “Is there some type of food you want?”

He laughed. “You and Jeannie, Christ. I’ll name a food, then you’ll say no and then I’ll ask you, and you’ll say I’m easy. But fine, I’ll play your game. Mexican. You mentioned really good Mexican food someplace. So that’s what I want,” then a pause, “unless you want something else.”

“Mexican sounds good,” she smiled. “Where are you staying? There’s no reason for both of us to drive there.” He gave her the address and she wrote it down, saying, “let me know that day how your day is going and we’ll plan from there. Does that work?”

Tuesday afternoon, she was at work, when her phone rang. Rob. Maybe he was busy, she thought, and wanted to reschedule. “Emily Berrigan,” she said, not thinking.

A pause, “hey Emily Berrigan, it’s Rob Nehlen.”

“Ha ha...what’s up? How’s your day going?”

“I’m running a little long…”

Putting on her best sad voice, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Do you need….”

He stopped her. “You’re not that lucky. I was just going to ask if you could meet at the job site…”

At the words ‘job site,’ everything came flooding back, every snicker, every comment. Fuck, fuck, fuck. No, Emily, put on your big girl pants, she told herself. “Sure, no problem. What’s the address?”

You can do this, she told herself on the drive over. She put on her freshman year mix, all Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, singing along to “Shake it Off” and “Firework.” If Stef and Jordy were here, she wouldn’t hear it over the laughter, but they weren’t. By the time she got to the site, she was singing that stupid song, “Fight Song,” the one Hillary played at her rallies, knock off Taylor Swift but her favorite at 17.

And then she saw the trailer.

Fuck.

No. No fucks, Emily, she said, as she picked up her bag and swung her legs out, walking across the parking lot like she belonged, quickly enough to stop her knees from knocking. She tapped on the door. “Come in,” she heard a female voice say.

She walked in and saw a dark haired girl in her early 20s at the desk, wearing a blue sleeveless top and jeans. She remembered a long time ago and wondered if that outfit came with the trailer. The girl looked her up and down, taking in her short blue skirt and white short sleeve shirt, and she felt sweat form on her forehead. “Hi, I’m here to see Rob Nehlen.”

She looked her up and down again, clearly trying to decide, ‘side piece,’ ‘her replacement,’ ‘DOL investigator.’ “And you are?” Her apathy, palpable.

“I’m, um, Emily, Emily Berrigan, his,” pause, “niece.”

With that, the woman broke into a giant grin. “He has been waiting all day for you!” She stood up and put out her hand.

Emily shook it uncertainly, but smiled, “He’s been waiting all day for me?”

“Oh yeah,” the woman said, “he has told us all about you.”

Emily laughed nervously. “Um, do I want to know what?”

The woman laughed. “Oh all good. Just that you were his favorite niece, that you were an actress and that you just got a commercial.”

Emily was stunned, but kept her bearings. She laughed and raised an eyebrow, “Really? He said all that?” She pulled down on her skirt.

“Oh yeah,” The woman grinned. “He has been looking forward to this all day. Let me call him,” and she picked up a walkie talkie, which made Emily flinch. “Hey, Rob, she’s here,” she said, in a singsong. “You want a bottle of water?”

Emily smiled, “Nah, I’m good. So how’s the job?”

The woman raised an eyebrow. “You ever been to a construction site?”

Emily, keeping her bearings, “A couple,” she laughed. She looked around the trailer, at the dingy faux-wood walls, the mandatory workers’ comp and OSHA posters haphazardly taped up, the woman’s monitor with the invoices on the screen, the calculator with the tape next to her desk.

“Then, you know.” Stef never worked on one for a reason.

Emily sat down on the edge of the desk, the sagging black leather couch being not compatible, for myriad reasons, with her skirt. “So, he’s been all about getting Mexican. Know any place good?”

The woman laughed, “Yeah, in Boyle Heights,” which made Emily laugh. “Take him to La Cabanita on Verdugo and Ocean View. It’s pretty good and you can sit outside.”

“Thanks,” she said. “Nah, so how’s Rob as a boss?”

The woman smiled. “He’s good.”

“You’re not just saying that, are you?”

The woman moved some papers around. “I don’t get paid enough to lie,” she joked. “Very relaxed.”

Emily smiled, thinking of all of them and what they’d say. “Good. Aunt Jeannie asked for a report.”

Just then, Rob came in and gave her a hug and kiss. “Hey, Emily,” he said happily. “I’m so glad you came.”

She saw the woman hide her mouth behind her hand. “I said I would,” and she pulled on her skirt again, suddenly regretting the choice.

“Well, still. Did you offer her water?”

“Yes, Rob, I did.”

Emily, rolling her eyes at her. “She did, Uncle Rob,” the ‘uncle’ hopefully not too choked. “Thank you,” she said deliberately.

“You are very welcome, Emily,” The woman laughed.

Rob rolled his eyes. “She doesn’t work here, you do. Remember that.” Which got another eyeroll. “You wanna see the project,” he asked eagerly. Emily must have flinched because he whispered, “you don’t have to, if you don’t want.”

No, she told herself. It is a job site. Not their job site. A job site. And he wants you to. “No,” she said, smiling a little too widely, “it’s OK. I mean, I want to see what you’re doing out here.”

“You’re sure?” expectant.

“Of course,” she said. “Why else would I have driven out here?”

He grabbed her a hard hat and she remembered the first time at age 4, the picture Dad kept in his wallet of the helmet covering her eyes. She picked it up and adjusted it, trying not to mess up her hair. She grabbed her bag. “It was great meeting you,” she said, brightly.

“You too. I like your skirt and,” looking at Rob, “so will the crew,” which made him grimace and Emily smile.

They left the trailer and started walking. Rob looked at her. “Are you sure you’re OK with this? I mean…”

She looked at him. “It’s fine, Rob,” then, for levity, “I mean this is not exactly a site-friendly outfit,” and she felt the wind a little and held down her skirt, “but it’s really OK. I can walk around a job site…”

He looked at her. “You’ll let me know?”

She smiled at him. “I’ll be fine,” and he still looked concerned. “I’ll let you know.”

They started walking through and he pointed out where the offices would be, the amenities that would be installed (‘you really think the indoor rock waterfall is a thing? Really?’) and ‘how fast the guys work,’ her father’s daily complaints to the contrary making her smile. As they walked into one space, she saw one man, early 40s with a gut and two Mexican or Guatemalan laborers in their 20s, short, stocky but muscular, all covered in dust, cleaning up. “Hey guys, this is my niece Emily. Emily, this is John, my foreman,” obviously, “and Jaime and Hector, two of my best framers.”

She waved and smiled. “Hi guys, nice to meet you,” and she felt their eyes walk over her, making her feel naked.

Rob took her hand. “Mi sobrina,” he barked. “Ojos alli,” and he pointed at the wall, “no aqui. Comprende?”

The foreman rolled his eyes, “Si, entedemos, el jefe.”

Rob, laughing, “Chingate,” then, “and moving on.”

“Very nice meeting you, Emily,” the foreman said, “you certainly brightened up the day.”

Cheesy as all hell, but she smiled, “Thank you. It was very nice meeting you all. Adios,” which got smiles from everyone.

They finished walking the site and he said, “What do you think?”

She took off the hard hat and fluffed her hair. “I think,” and she paused, “it looks really, really great,” then, teasing, “if I needed office space out here, this would be the first place I would go.”

He smiled, “And you’re sure you’re OK? I know…”

“Rob, it’s totally fine…”

“Jeannie told me that I…” And he looked apologetic, embarrassed.

“I told you. It’s fine,” then, grinning, “hold on a sec,” and she put back on her hard hat.

He looked at her. “What are you doing?”

She grinned. “We should take a selfie and send it to her!”

He laughed. “Selfies. We used to take pictures of other people. Have we become more self-absorbed or do we just have better technology now?”

“Stop it. Put on your hard hat again,” which he did, semi-willingly, a bemused look on his face. She handed him her phone. “If you hold it up high, it makes you look better.”

He took the phone, laughing, “I can use all the help I can get.” He held it up high. “This good? OK, on the count of three,” and he took the picture, both of them grinning. “Not bad,” he said. “I look pretty good.”

She looked at the picture. “Me too. Good job,” and she held out her hand for a high five. “OK, gimme,” and she sent it to Jeannie.

Two seconds later, several smiley faces appeared, followed by ‘tell him to take one of you,’ then ‘see, no period’ She walked a few feet away and held her hands up in a game show hostess move, a big grin on her face, matched only by his.

They walked to the parking lot. “So I’ll drive, since I know where I am.”

They got to her car and he looked at the Fit. “Umm, no, Emmy.”

“What? What’s wrong with it?”

He laughed, “You know why it’s called a Fit? Because only a girl,” which made her smile, “can fit in it. We’re taking my SUV.”

“You don’t know how to get there,” she grinned.

He held up his phone. “This does. You do. Come on.”

They got in the truck, Emily stepping up on the doorstep, sliding in ass first and then swinging her legs in, all the while Rob staring ahead. She closed the door and put on her seat belt, then gave him directions.

They got to the restaurant, and Rob came around to the door, opening it and offering his hand. “Thanks,” she said.

He looked at her. “It’s a lot to get out of this, especially in a skirt.” She raised an eyebrow and he laughed, “you let Jeannie know I said that. She thinks I don’t pay attention.”

“Do you?” And she smoothed out her skirt.

“Not really,” he laughed, “but lie for me, OK?”

They walked into the restaurant, a standard issue California Mexican restaurant. Posters of the Pacific at Cabo, adobe walls, all beiges, browns and oranges. At least, there were no sombreros on the walls, no cheesy pictures of a zocalo, L.A. having moved beyond that long before she got here. The hostess led them to a table outside, Emmy reaching into her bag for a hair tie.

“I’ll have a Pacifico,” Rob said to the waitress.

“Horchata Tamarindo, por favor.”

Rob looked at her. “You don’t want anything stronger? You’re going to make me drink alone?”

The hormones combined with no lunch meant she’d get loopy. “I didn’t eat anything past breakfast today. If I drink now, you’ll be carrying me out.” Then, she winced. “Poor choice of words,” as the waitress tried to figure them out. “Mi tio,” she laughed.

“Por supuesto,” yawned the waitress. Emily knew that she was thinking, ‘humoring equals tips.’

“So,” Rob said, his hands on the table. She had never noticed how large and beaten up they were.

“So,” she said, taking a sip of water. “How are your projects going?” Tonight, she’d play a reporter interviewing someone for a feature story.

He smiled. “Everything is good. I’m putting a bid on something in Indianapolis.”

She smiled. “That’s where Jordy is.” So much for reporting.

“I know,” he laughed. “I saw them at a Cubs game...shit, I know you don’t want to talk about them.”

She felt bad. “We’re not. We’re talking about Jordy. And how they’re in Indianapolis.” He took a chip and pushed the basket towards her. She shook her head, the salt making her bloat, a sad fact of the cocktail, one about which one of her friends said, ‘welcome to my world,’ “I’m good.”

“Your loss,” he said, pulling the basket back. “Anyway, I know. It sounds like they’re doing great. Do they know you call them Jordy?”

“I can. Stef can. You can’t,” she laughed. “They would kill you, then me.”

He smiled. “I won’t. But, I’m putting in a bid,” and he described the project, the process and his eyes lit up.

She had never seen such excitement about it before, and it was contagious. After a few minutes, “You really enjoy what you do, don’t you?”

He smiled. “Yeah. You seem surprised.”

She looked around. “I mean…” He looked at her and she felt nervous. “What?”

“When you cut bullshit out of your life, it makes everything better. You know?”

“Um…” And she took a sip of her horchata, which was too sweet. She poured a little water in to cut the sweetness.

“Like I told you that first day, as far as I’m concerned, we got out. There’s no them. I mean, obviously there’s a them and they’re my problem, but there’s no them here and there won’t be a them here unless you want a them here, which you obviously don’t. Right?”

She laughed a little. “I don’t,” and she played with the butterfly around her neck. “But I don’t want you to feel like you have to stop yourself about anything.”

“Thanks, Emmy, but I have spent way too much time on them in my life but thank you.”

For lack of anything else, “You’re welcome,” which got a laugh.

“So, tell me about Duncan,” he grinned.

She felt herself flush. “Remember how I said you don’t have to stop yourself…”

He sipped his beer and grinned. “No take backs. So, you and this Duncan character,” the deliberately old-timey elocution making her laugh, “what’s the deal?”

She took a chip and dipped it in medium salsa. “The deal is I don’t know.”

“I may be dense. Hell, I am dense but that isn’t an ‘I don’t know face,’ Emmy.”

“OK, this is awkward,” she laughed.

He grinned. “If you think this is awkward, ask Liam what I did when he brought his girlfriend home…”

“You didn’t?” Feeling embarrassment for a cousin she hadn’t seen in six years, one who was basically a child, running around after the bigger kids, the last time that she saw him.

“I did. I did and I will.”

She sighed, playing along. “Fine. I like him. I like him a lot. But it’s early, y’know?”

“I hear you. Play it by ear, see how it goes. But, just make sure he treats you right.”

“He does,” she smiled, remembering the other night, when he gave her his sweatshirt on the beach; it swam on her, which had always been one of her dreams. “I promise you.”

“Good. You’re my favorite niece and I don’t want to hear that someone isn’t treating you right.” She looked at him, trying to read whether he was sincere. Years of acting had made her wonder about her ability to feel real emotion. “What?”

“Nothing.”

“That’s not a nothing face, Emily.”

“It’s nothing.”

He looked at her. “Just say it.”

“I just...and I’ve loved seeing you...and….”

He put his hand on hers, and she could feel the rough patches. “Jeannie told me this would happen.”

She felt mortified. “What would happen?”

“You’d feel weird,” he said. “Don’t.”

“This isn’t weird to you?” She was dubious.

“No. It isn’t. If it’s weird for you, tell me how to make it less weird.”

If I knew that, it would be. “I just don’t want you to feel weird.”

“Emmy,” he said, looking dead at her, his blue eyes swimming, “Jeannie told you, I’ll tell you. You are my niece. That’s it. My niece. And we are glad we saw you at the restaurant, and that you let us try and be part of your life. Jeannie would kill me for saying this but she is so happy that you talk to her and I am so happy that you came out today. That’s it.” Emily started tearing up and he, exasperated, “OK, stop that. You can’t do that every time.” Still, he got up and hugged her.

“It really isn’t weird for you? At all?”

“No,” he said, flatly. “Niece. Uncle,” and then his voice caught, “if you’ll let me.”

She felt herself tear up. “Not crying,” she grinned.

“Me either,” he said. “I think it’s dust.”

“Onions,” she said, pointing at her chicken mole. “It’s the onions.”

He smiled. “OK, you know what is weird?”

“What?” She braced herself.

“How much my wife is into your dating life.”

She felt herself turn red. “OK, that,” and she half-laughed, half-choked, “is way too much information.”

He laughed. “No, it’s not like she tells me sex talk.”

“OK,” and now she wanted to hide, “I am not going there. I am not going anywhere near there. In fact, if we’re going there, leave me here and I’ll get an Uber.”

He laughed. “Don’t worry. We are not. Even if you wanted to go there, we aren’t. I will drive as far in the opposite direction as I can. I just meant that she just seems way too invested in you and,” and he sneered theatrically, “Duncan. I mean, you’d think she wants to start dating again,” he laughed.

“That’s not it,” she laughed. “She seems resigned to you,” she teased.

“Resigned? Wiseass,” he laughed. “She could do a lot worse.”

Emmy, smiling, “She could.”

They were sitting around, picking at an order of sopapillas. “So, Stef is getting married…”

She broke off a piece and mushed it around the honey and cinnamon, mostly to keep her hands busy. “Yeah, she is.”

“Jared’s a great guy,” he said, taking a bite, a little sugar getting on his shirt. She gestured and he swept it off with a little smile. “Really loves her.”

“He really does. From what I’ve heard.” Suddenly feeling cold.

“You haven’t met him?”

“I mean, on FaceTime and stuff. The last time she was here, they weren’t a couple.” And she felt sad. “But, he’s always really nice to me.”

“There’s no reason he shouldn’t be,” then, “so Jeannie says you’re coming back for the wedding.”

“Do you think that’s a bad idea?” Now, her sopapilla was inedible, mashed into oblivion.

“No,” he said. “I think it’s a great idea.”

She looked at him. “Really?”

“You’re her sister, Emily. Of course, you should come for her wedding. If it’s a money thing, I’ll pay for your ticket.”

“That’s not what I meant and it’s not necessary but thank you.”

“She’s got one sister...and Jordan...I mean, and this may sound out of date, totally wrong, but what do you call them?”

She laughed. “My twin, I guess. Keeps most people happy.”

“Yeah, well, anyway, she’s got the two of you. And Jeannie said that she said that you’re going to be in the wedding?”

“You think THAT’S a bad idea, don’t you?”

He looked at her. “Fuck them. If that’s what you’re thinking, fuck them. We will be there for you and her. And Jordan. And your parents. But you get the idea, right?”

She smiled. “Thanks, Uncle Rob,” ‘uncle’ coming back to her.

They finished their meal. They went out to the SUV. He helped her into the truck and went around. “I’ve been meaning to ask. Berrigan?”

“Sorry,” she mumbled.

He looked at her, confused. “For what?”

“Berrigan. I mean…”

He laughed. “Do you know how many times I dreamed of that? I just wondered why Berrigan.”

There was a story she wasn’t ready to tell. “Long story. Some other time.”

Teasing, “What’s Duncan’s last name?”

“I’m ignoring you,” she said, checking her teeth in the visor mirror.

“Duncan I’m ignoring you? So, I guess you’ll keep your name…”

“Am I laughing,” she said, stifling a laugh. “No, I am not. But, I am ignoring you.”

“Fine. Be that way,” and he turned away from her. “You have a middle name?”

“Yes, Claire,” and he made a face. “What? What’s wrong with Claire?”

“I dated a girl named Claire in college. Too high maintenance.”

A sense of comfort washed over her, sitting here, joking with him. “Really? High maintenance?”

“Oh, yeah. She was one of those St. Mary’s girls, one of those girls who was expecting to be married and have kids and drain the life out of some guy…”

“Wow,” she said, shaking her head. “All that from Claire, huh?”

“Yup. Jeannie wanted to name a girl Claire if we had one and I said no way.” And he checked his mirrors and put the truck in reverse.

She laughed. “You would have lost, you know that, right?”

“Well, it’s good we had Liam then.” She went to ask about Robbie and stopped herself.

They drove back to the job site and he walked her to her car. “Thanks for dinner, Uncle Rob,” and she wondered whether to hug him, whether it was too much.

He leaned over and gave her a hug and kiss. “No, thank you, Emmy.” He waited until she was in her car and tapped on the window. “Drive safe.”

She smiled. “I will, Uncle Rob.”

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Comments

yes please, keep posting.

The storyline interesting, the characters and dialog great. You're an excellent writer.

Why Would You?

joannebarbarella's picture

Think of stopping? Good story, lovely characters, terrific dialogue, great writing. I will be very disappointed if you don't continue.

AND...

We really need to know what's going to happen at the wedding!

Happy

I was happy to see you post part 3 recently and even more so to see part 4 now! Please continue the story. The characters are easy to be invested into and I can't help but root for Em, Jordan, and Stef!

Please continue…

Robertlouis's picture

…with this absorbing tale. I’ve enjoyed all of your writing here and elsewhere, both solo and in collaboration with Lizzie Bennet, and consider Esme about as good a piece of fiction in any genre as I’ve read in many years.

What I love is the unhurried approach which in no way detracts from the unfolding drama and narrative, but enables the reader to become fully identified and embedded in the characters, who are so wonderfully delineated in every important detail. It’s masterful, and writing of the consistently highest quality. I admire your skill enormously.

☠️

please continue

Miyata's picture

I'm enjoying this story. I want to see how everything plays out for Emily.

Miyata312

'Do or Do Not, There is no Try' - Yoda

Thanks everyone

Miss Jessica's picture

Thanks to everyone who's read the story, and special thanks to those who've commented. I appreciate your thoughts and the fact that you took the time to write them.

Jessica

Please do continue

I am enjoying it immensely

The future is ours to write