Despite her mother’s impassioned insistence to the contrary, Evie Selby had never thought of herself as beautiful. There were moments when she felt cute: some high-angle, low-light selfies that made her dyed black hair and small, intent face look pixieish, even sweet. There were moments when she felt cool: the day she started wearing the thickest black-rimmed glasses she could find, the night a line of poetry was inked into her pale forearm. But beautiful? No. That was the domain of women with evenly placed, oversized features, with hair like horses’ manes and bodies like foreign sports cars: angular, flashy, quietly powerful. Women like the smirking, self-satisfied model who was emblazoned on one of the glossy page proofs that were tucked under her arm. If only she had a quarter, a fifth, an eighth of that woman’s allure, Evie might feel more confident about tonight’s date.
Stop it, she instructed herself. She pushed her glasses up her nose and drew in a breath of summer-thick city air. You are a goddess. You are a catch. You are, like, the outcome of every self-help book ever written. And, she realized on checking the time, you are also late. She was supposed to be at the Wythe Gallery three and a half minutes ago.
Despite what those on the happily coupled sidelines might think, 99 percent of online dates weren’t exciting enough to be fun or nerve-racking enough to be adventurous. They were just . . . awkward. Boring. An hour of small talk with someone you’d think twice about saving from a burning building. Online dating was like Russian roulette. Mostly misses. But sometimes, people Evie knew had met that
all-too-rare bullet: a smart, aesthetically pleasing New Yorker who was still single. Maybe tonight, Evie thought, is the night I blow my brains out.
The gallery was only half full. Even though it was a Monday, she’d been expecting a bigger crowd, if only from the cachet of Willow’s last name. A mere smattering of Brooklynites clad in sheer skirts and vintage bow ties stood chatting in front of her friend’s pocket-sized experimental photographs. And they all seemed paired off. Everyone except one girl on the other side of the room. About Evie’s height, but thinner, smaller. Dark hair fell to her shoulders. She was dressed simply in a T-shirt and skinny jeans. When she turned to look at a photograph, Evie’s jaw loosened.
Totally Ellen Page–y.
Impossibly, Quinn was even more attractive in person.
Panic coursed through Evie’s veins. I should have worn an A-game dress.
She needed booze. A small bar offered wine and beer. Willow’s boyfriend, Mark, was playing barkeep.
“Hey.” She dumped the proofs onto the folding table. “Can I leave these here? Is my makeup okay? What white wine do you have?” She shot another look at Quinn, not yet ready for eye contact.
“Evie, hey.” The tall, bespectacled boy gathered his replies quickly. “Yes, yes, and sauvignon blanc. Rough day at the office?”
Evie shook her head. “Date.” She nodded at Quinn.
“Ah.” Mark handed her a cup. “Fun.”
Evie cracked a smile.
Mark grinned. “Go get ’em, tiger.”
Evie grabbed another cup for Quinn and began walking over, trying to quell the irritating kick of nerves. “Quinn?”
At the sound of her name, the girl turned, revealing a moon-shaped face, and eyes that seemed more round than oval. Clear skin. Sweet smile. “Evie?”
“In the flesh,” Evie said, trying not to think about her own less-than-clear skin, her own less-than-sweet smile. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Evie said again, inwardly kicking herself for sounding like a robot. She offered Quinn the cup. “Thirsty?”
“Actually, I don’t drink. I don’t need to drug myself to enjoy life.”
Evie blinked. Fucking online dating—
“I’m kidding.” Quinn grinned and plucked the wine from her hand. “Thanks.”
“Oh.” Evie breathed laughter. Online, Quinn was acerbic and difficult to pin down, qualities Evie found as attractive as the warmer, less artfully constructed person standing in front of her.
Quinn glanced around. “This is your friend’s opening?”
“Yeah. Willow Hendriksen.” Only now did she spot Willow pressed into one corner, walled in by some intense arty types. Her formless green silk shift and light ash-blond hair colored with a hint of pastel pink gave the twenty-two-year-old the look of being slightly untethered. There was something distinctly ethereal about Willow Hendriksen, like she might transform into a flock of birds if you snapped your fingers. “That’s her.”
Quinn looked at Willow as if she was nervous to get caught doing so. “That’s Matteo Hendriksen’s daughter, right? The filmmaker?”
Evie nodded. “Mm-hmm.”
“Wow. Cool. Have you met him?”
“Yeah.” Evie nodded again, warming to the fact Quinn seemed impressed by this. “Sure. He’s not in the States much these days. But Willow still lives at home, so when he’s around, we hang. We chill. We’re chill buddies.” Evie winced. Did I really just say chill buddies?
“God, I can’t imagine what that must be like,” Quinn said. “Having created so much great art that people like and respect.”
What Evie couldn’t imagine was how she was in Quinn’s league. “So, you’re a musician?”
Quinn shrugged. “Trying.”
“You sound like you’d have a great singing voice. And you have a great look.”
Quinn smiled in pleased surprise. “Thanks.” She moved to the next photo. Evie trailed her. “Someone just told me what you spend most of your time doing is actually what you do. Like, if you say you’re an actor, but you just go to one audition a week and spend most of your time working as a server, then you’re a server. I did the math, and hey, turns out I am a musician.” Quinn smiled up at Evie, almost shyly. “And your profile tells me you’re a writer. What do you write about?”
Evie didn’t think of herself as a writer in the way Quinn was a musician. She had a blog called Something Snarky, but it was anonymous, and it wasn’t what she spent most of her time doing. That was being a lowly copyeditor for a women’s magazine called Salty, fixing typos in stories called “How to Blow His Mind Using the Contents of Your Refrigerator.” That wouldn’t impress somebody like Quinn. “I write for the New York Times.” The words fell out of her mouth, as unplanned as a sneeze.
“Whoa!” Quinn laughed a little. “Wow. That’s amazing.”
“I think they’re trying to even out their gender ratio, you know?” Evie improvised, recalling the fact the Times had the biggest gender gap in the industry when it came to writers. “It has its ups and downs. Like everything.”
“You’re a staff writer?” Quinn’s eyes stayed wide.
“Yep,” Evie said. “I interned there during college, and just started a few months ago.”
“Wow. I know I said it before, but that is really impressive.” Quinn’s eyes stayed glued on Evie’s a beat longer than they should have before she slid them away. Warm, liquid desire unspooled slowly in Evie’s stomach, like a cat waking up from a long afternoon nap.
“Have you eaten?” Quinn asked.
Evie shook her head.
Oh good, I’m starving. There’s a Moroccan place around the corner. Any interest?”
“Sure.” Definitely. Three thousand percent.
“Great. I’ll just use the restroom.”
Evie slung her purse over her shoulder to go linger at the gallery’s entrance. She sipped her wine, actively containing the sheer exhilaration that Quinn’s suggestion—more specifically, Quinn’s acceptance—had inspired. It had been six months since she’d had sex. The most action she’d gotten all summer was a Pap smear. And while (when done properly) sex could be a whole lot of messy, sticky fun, what she really missed was being kissed. The nervous, enthusiastic, almost-always-botched first kiss, memorable in its imperfection, passionately inelegant. This narrative was leading to that kiss. The meal, the drink after the meal, the amble to someone’s subway, the kiss.
Of course, her lie was stupid. But she could always back out of it later. Or hell, maybe she could get something published in the Times. Sure, she was only twenty-three, but the way Quinn had been looking at her made her feel like she could climb Mount Kilimanjaro without breaking a sweat.
The low, almost musical murmur could only be the lady of the hour. “Willow, hey!” Evie gave her a one-armed hug, pressing her free hand into Willow’s sharp shoulder blade. “Congratulations.”
Willow smiled wistfully and let her gaze wander around the half-empty room. “I never wanted to be famous because of my name, but this is sort of depressing.”
“No, it’s not! This is amazing.”
“Which is why you’re leaving after . . . five minutes?”
“I’m not leaving! I’m just . . . going to a different place—”
Willow waved the excuse off and gave Evie a knowing smile. “Am I witnessing a rare Evie flirt?”
“Indeed you are.” Evie couldn’t help but grin. “We’re getting food.”
“That’s great. You look really pretty.”
Evie rubbed at the dark circles she was sure her glasses accentuated. “I look like someone just punched me in the face.”
“Stop it.” Willow tugged a lock of Evie’s dark hair affectionately.
Quinn’s voice sounded behind them. “Your friend behind the bar gave these to me. Wanted to make sure you didn’t forget them.”
Evie spun around.
Quinn was carrying the Salty proofs. The story on top was about vajazzling. “?‘Add some ooh-ah to your hoo-ha.’?” Quinn read Evie’s subhead aloud, before fixing her with an odd frown. “Wowsers.”
“God, are you still taking work home, Evie? I thought you said you weren’t doing that anymore.” Willow smiled at Quinn. “I’m Willow.”
“Quinn,” Quinn replied, but she was looking at Evie. “Work?”
“I’ve been trying to get her to quit all year,” Willow said. “Maybe you can help me stage an intervention.”
Evie darted her gaze from Willow, to Quinn, to the pages. Her throat had tightened. “They’re not actually for me.”
“But your name’s there.” Quinn pointed to the white ticket stapled to the top, reading, “?‘Copyeditor: Evie Selby.’?”
“Right.” Evie’s cheeks were warming. Her breathing had become shallow. “Right.”
“Call me later.” Willow melted away.
“So you’re a copyeditor as well as being a journalist,” Quinn said, sounding as if she didn’t believe herself.
Shit. Shit. “No.” Evie’s voice was pint-sized. “I mean, I’m just the first part.”
Quinn’s mouth was ajar, set into a look of bewildered confusion. “You straight-up lied about writing for the Times.”
“Actually, I was positively visualizing my perfect future.” Evie licked her lips. “It’s a very powerful technique.”
Quinn’s expression became incredulous. All warmth, all interest had been sucked away.
“Please don’t go,” Evie said. “You’re—fuck—you’re really cute, and nice, and I am too, nice, I mean. Jury’s still out on cute.” She was babbling. “I fucked up, I’m sorry.”
Quinn backed up a step, slowly, as if not wanting to alarm an angry dog. “Sorry, Evie. This just feels wrong.”
Her date exited the gallery, leaving Evie with a plastic cup of wine and a guide on how to accessorize a vagina.