Home > Come As You Are(8)

Come As You Are(8)
Author: Lauren Blakely

Suffice it to say, none of those made me swoon.

I suppose the closest I came to a true masquerade party was in college when the drama boy I dated senior year invited me to one, and costumes and masks were plentiful and traded freely. So were kisses between the girls and boys, the girls and girls, and the boys and boys.

When I found him kissing one of the other drama boys, I ditched my Venetian mask and headed straight for the wine coolers.

I suppose I’ve never had great luck with men, or masquerade parties.

But perhaps that will change tonight.

I slide a third gold hoop into my right ear. Three tiny earrings on the right, one on the left. I weave a tight braid down my hair on the right side, since my mask rises high on the left.

Makeup comes next, and as I learned from those tales, one should never skimp on makeup. I slide a glittery gold shadow over my eyelids, then finish off the mascara.

When I’m done, I spread my arms wide, staring at my reflection in the full-length mirror on the back of my bathroom door. Yes, my wedding dress has given its life to the cause. Nothing is left of it but shreds.

Fitting.

I leave and head uptown on the subway.

On the train, barely anyone gives me a second look. God, I love this city. I could be dressed like this for work, for fun, or for giggles, and no one would question it or even bat an eye.

I exit and emerge above ground in one of the most picturesque parts of Manhattan: the Upper East Side, or, as I like to call it, What Movies Want Us to Believe. This is what the rest of the country must think Manhattan is like, based on the sheer number of rom-coms shot here—blocks lined with four-story brownstones and canopied with trees. Wealthy women walking small dogs and beautiful couples kissing on the glittering stoops of those homes, since movie kisses always take place by a lovely glittering stoop.

I don’t know any stoops that glitter. But in the movies, they do.

I turn the corner, looking for the boutique hotel, 10 East Club. It’s a landmarked building, with the feel of old New York, when the city toasted itself in the Gilded Age.

When I reach it I lift my gaze, drinking in the gorgeous red brick, the white window panes, and the window boxes, teeming with flowers. The doorman in his cranberry-red uniform holds open the brass door for me. This is New York at its finest. Rich, moneyed, old New York.

But inside, it’s going to be flooded with all the new money the internet has brought to the country’s financial capital.

Ready or not, here I come.

I drop the mask, gold and white, so it covers the top half of my face down to my nose.

Time to network.

* * *

Champagne flows freely. Silver and gold lights are draped along doorways and over crown moldings, twinkling like fireflies in the softly lit space. Chandeliers sparkle on the ceiling. Music thumps loudly, and waiters circulate, offering appetizers.

But that’s where the similarities to the tattered paperbacks I used to read end.

The costumes aren’t lavish ball gowns and coats and tails. Instead, I spot a young woman at the photo booth wearing an Instagram sign slung around her neck and a feathered mask awkwardly hugging the lenses of her eyeglasses. Next to her, a skinny guy has donned virtual reality goggles as his masquerade mask. I watch from the bar, peering at the scene with Courtney as we refill our champagne flutes.

“We’ve raised nearly twelve thousand dollars already,” she whispers to me from beneath the hat of a Pokémon Go Trainer. The cost of admission tonight goes to an organization that promotes math and science learning to children from lower-income homes.

“That’s amazing. I’m proud of you,” I say as she waves at a man with a white sheet over his head. He’s no ghost—his costume is marked with 404 error—webpage not found.

She turns back to me, eyeing me from head to toe. “And I’m proud of you. I knew you were crafty,” she says, gesturing to my ensemble, “but this is a whole new level.”

I curtsy, no small feat in my short white dress—it’s not the wedding dress though. It’s a new one I picked up on sale. The remains of my wedding dress adorn my arms. “Why, thank you. If I don’t nab a job at a publication, I’ll consider making costumes from discarded bridal wear.”

“You’ll get a reporting job like that,” she says with a snap of her fingers. “You talked to Henry, right?”

I nod since he’s one of the tech bloggers she wanted me to meet. “And Caroline as well,” I say, naming the woman who works as a producer at a cable business network. I chatted with her briefly about doing some on-camera reports. “She said I’d have to ditch the three earrings if they were to consider me.”

“You’d obviously ditch the earrings.”

“Obviously. And also, obviously,” I say, giving her my most deferential nod, “you were right that it made sense for me to attend.”

She smiles brightly. “Of course I’m right. Now, before you try to skip out of here early, you need to talk to Evil Kermit. He runs a podcast network that just started. His real name is also Kermit.”

I give her a look. “He’s named Kermit and he dressed as Evil Kermit?”

She crosses her heart. “Swear. We funded the tech his network runs on. He’s the front man for it. And he gets a kick out of his name.”

“Evidently,” I say, keeping my eyes peeled for a guy in green.

She scurries off, and I weave through the crowds, passing a woman dressed like Candy Crush, and a couple of guys wearing animal masks and ears, so they’re Snapchat filters. Like a surveyor, I scan the crowd as music plays, a mix of rap and hipster, and I’m pretty sure it would be some sort of sin to play Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift here. God forbid the taste be anything but ironic.

When I spot a man in green, he’s removed his Kermit face mask, and he looks exactly like Seth Rogen, a little round in the middle with a thick beard and glasses. I head over and introduce myself. “I hear you’re the man to meet,” I say, then tell him I spent six years at the paper, covering the internet business and writing industry features.

He scoffs. “I know your work. We don’t exactly do your type of journalism,” he says gruffly.

I straighten my spine. “What is my type of journalism?”

“Long, detailed, thoughtful, analytical . . .”

I don’t know if that was a compliment or a backhanded-AF compliment. I play it calm as I reply, “Long or short, the goal is always to be fair, to get it right, and to go the extra mile when asking questions.”

He rolls his eyes, and now I know he wasn’t complimenting me at all.

“Why would you think that’s not a good approach?” I ask.

He leans in close. “Because you’re sucking up to me at a party, that’s why.”

“I’m not sucking up to you at all,” I say defensively. I’d really like to give him a piece of my mind.

“Then why don’t you tell me what you could really bring to the table? Tell me why I’d want you on my network, and don’t give me a canned answer.”

I’ve faced off against CEOs, corporate executives, and douchebag billionaires who flaunt their McLarens like the car is a ticket for a woman to drop to her knees. This life-size puppet doesn’t scare me. “No, Kermit, I meant it. I wasn’t sucking up to you. I believe in being relentless and being fair. That’s why I do what I do. I’m not giving you a canned answer because I’m not sufficiently interested in sucking up to lie. Either you like my style, or you don’t.”

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