Katie left the stale pile of her pajamas behind her like a cow pie on the bathroom floor and put herself into the shower. Morning routines would continue, she thought as she washed her hair for the first time in days. Oral hygiene would carry on. Brush, rinse, spit. Once in a while floss. A whitening strip if you’re really feeling dazzling. These were the days of our lives, for as long as we lived, until we died. Alone.
Wrapped in a towel, she fished through the maze of cardboard boxes littering the floor of her one-bedroom West Village apartment until she found the one containing her work clothes. She pulled out the black Dior skirt suit that she always wore to closings, which would require a great deal of effort to de-wrinkle.
Now, where was her steamer? With each box she searched through, Katie felt herself becoming more hysterical, until the truth was undeniable: Paul Michael had forgotten to pack it. Or, correction, he had forgotten to direct whomever he’d hired to box up her things to pack it.
Unless he left it out on purpose? He was always borrowing her steamer even though it was carnation pink and only cost twenty dollars and he could have easily bought himself one in black or gray.
“I’m going to buy you your own steamer,” she’d once said to him while standing in the doorway to the bathroom with her blouse at her side, waiting for him to finish smoothing out the final creases in his chinos.
“Nah,” he said. “No sense in having more than one.”
Wearing a suit with shar-pei–sized wrinkles to her meeting was unacceptable, but what was Katie supposed to do? There was a little bit of steam still in the bathroom, so she shuttled everything in there. She hung her jacket, blouse, and skirt from the shower curtain rod and then sat on the edge of the tub with all of it swinging over her like a hanged woman.
Today’s closing was with a group of lawyers representing Falcon Capital. Falcon fucking Capital. Hedge funds loved to give themselves names that implemented intimidating -animals, names like Lion Management or Tiger Fund. Katie swore if she ever started a fund, she’d go against type with something like Lemur Partners or Sleeping Sloth LLC. Or, in homage to her home state’s favorite backyard game, Cornhole Capital. You’d think someone might appreciate the humor in naming a fund as such, but Katie’s experience so far was that finance guys—and most of them were guys—lacked a sense of humor. They were too busy counting their money. And their lawyers were even worse because the lawyers were the ones who had to do all the arguing on their -clients’ behalf.
In other words, it was safe to assume no one in the boardroom today would even crack a smile if Katie explained that she was sorry but her suit was rumpled because her life had imploded over the weekend and her ex-fiancé refused to give up custody of the one item she’d ever bought on HSN that meant shit to her.
When Katie finally arrived at Falcon Capital’s office building, she checked her watch to see exactly how late she was, but she’d forgotten her watch, so she only checked her bare wrist. Inside she was met with a vast reception area jam-packed with the most massive crowd of suits and ties anyone had ever seen outside of Grand Central Terminal or the Republican National Convention—all of them waiting for the next elevator.
Katie heard one of the suits say “mechanical malfunction,” and she understood this to mean that her day was not about to get any easier. She trudged directly to the receptionist desk, where a preppy young man had a phone in the crook of his shoulder against one ear and a Bluetooth earpiece in the other. He held his pointer finger up to her to say, One moment.
Katie mouthed the words, I’m looking for the stairs, but he paid her no attention. She went so far as to mime walking up steps, but he still ignored her.
Just then a slickly dressed man in a trim suit bulldozed up to the desk, knocked on it with his knuckles, and demanded, “The stairs. Where are they?”
The receptionist looked right up and pointed to an unassuming door on the opposite side of the room.
The guy was off without so much as a thank-you. Katie jogged after him, benefiting from his complete lack of politeness when it came to forging a path through the crowd and praying her three-inch Dior heels would not let her wipe out. She lost sight of him on the stairwell, but when he threw open the door to Falcon Capital’s floor she realized they were going to the same place.
Katie entered the boardroom just a few steps behind him to find everyone else already seated—a line of old white men and young white men, various bald and balding heads of innumerable ages. There were handshakes all around.
“Cassidy Price,” he of the trim suit and shiny dark hair said. His handshake was firm, but his skin was soft. Katie looked straight into his deep-set brown eyes, as one should do when giving a professional handshake, and only then did it hit her. Cassidy Price was a she.
Katie was thrown and embarrassed, and thankful, too, that she hadn’t put her foot in her mouth. It would have been just like her to crack some joke about being the only female in the room and have everyone avert their eyes and pretend they hadn’t heard her.
Ms. Price and Katie sat directly across from each other near the center of the conference table, and everyone got down to business.
“What’s your first comment to Section 1?” the baldy at the head of the table who was also Katie’s boss said, and the meeting proceeded from there like all these meetings did.
“Okay, let’s discuss . . .”
“What’s next? Section 2(a). Okay, what’s your issue there?”
. . . And so on.
Katie was struck by Ms. Price’s arrogance, her brashness, the way she reveled in uttering the phrase “Falcon cannot agree to that,” as if it were a command.
While she argued the preposterousness of their every position, Katie tried to imagine her life. She looked to be about Katie’s age. Was she wearing any makeup? Katie couldn’t tell for sure. If not, she had enviable skin. And what sort of product did she use in her hair? Clay? Putty? Pomade? It had such texture and volume—and an expensive cut, no doubt.
She had to be a lesbian. Which, after the weekend Katie had had, seemed so much easier than being straight. For the more comfortable clothes alone. Her black suit fit her perfectly, but it was clearly not a woman’s suit. Ditto on the blue button-down dress shirt she wore with it.
“Falcon can absolutely not agree to that,” Counselor Price said.
It was no wonder Katie had mistaken her for a man -earlier. Mannish was clearly the look she was going for, and her voice was deep and brusque enough that it could go -either way.
“Walk us through the issue you have here,” Katie’s boss said.
The Falcon businessmen and even the other older, more experienced Falcon lawyers let Ms. Price do the walking through for them, because who could stop her?
As she went on, Katie wondered how someone like her had gotten this far looking the way she did—in a field where the dress code was so strict and deeply entrenched that if you wore the wrong shade of stockings you might as well have stayed home. Katie remembered her law school adviser explaining this to her before she went on her first job interview. “You absolutely must wear a skirt suit,” her adviser had said. “No pants. It may be the twenty-first century, but Big Law is stuck somewhere around 1955.” So how had Cassidy Price managed to jump the divide into the far more simplified dress code for men? She was polished, Katie would give her that, and her suits must have been bespoke—but still. If it were 1955, Ms. Price would have been thrown into the back of a paddy wagon and carted off to jail for this outfit.
“Do you agree with me on this?” Katie’s boss asked. He was asking her specifically.
“Yes,” Katie said, “I do, absolutely.”
Ms. Price echoed her previous sentiments by stating, “Falcon cannot agree to that.”
This time, with no idea from where, Katie came back at her with the perfect legalese as to why they would stand firm on this point.
Ms. Price would not stagger. She remained entirely unfazed but said for the first time all morning, “I think Falcon might be able to agree to that.”
Then she deferred to her boss, and he said, “Great. Moving on then.”
Ha, Katie thought. Yes. And was that a slight grin she caught flashing across Counselor Price’s face? She had a decent smile. Good clean teeth. A model’s bone structure. She would make an attractive woman if she’d grow her hair out and change into a more feminine suit like Katie’s. A suit designed for a woman, with breast darts and no pockets and an absurdly low-cut neckline, like God intended it.
The meeting with Falcon Capital broke for the night an hour or two past what a civilian would call dinnertime. They’d have to reconvene the next day, but for now Katie was free. Except that freedom was just another word for walking around in circles when you’d just been dumped by your fiancé.
Katie stared at her phone, alone among the frenetic tide of businessmen rushing every which way from the Falcon building, off to their nighttime nonwork lives. Her first instinct had been to text Paul Michael, but then she remembered there was no more Paul Michael, not in her life anyway. So what now? Should she just go home? Cook something? It had been a long, difficult day—the kind she’d normally have used as an excuse to meet Paul Michael at Le Coucou or Shuko and reward herself with her favorite bottle of French wine or masterfully prepared omakase. Or she would call Amy and invite her for a girls’ night out at Otto, where they’d share pizza and pasta, followed by the banana coppetta. It shouldn’t have felt sad to go to any of those places alone, but it did. Maybe because it was the first night. Or maybe because Paul Michael and Amy were likely at one of those places right now, together, toasting to their new love with Katie’s favorite wine or nibbling romantically on each other’s omakase.
Katie considered her takeout options.
Within the hour she was in her pajamas on her sofa, licking barbecue sauce from her fingers, sipping a pint of cheap bourbon, and flipping the channels looking for some bad TV to watch.
If someone had told her a week ago that she would be sitting here now in this dusty, stale apartment that she hadn’t lived in for two years, eating and drinking her pain, surrounded by unpacked cardboard boxes, she wouldn’t have believed it. She wouldn’t have believed that the man she planned to marry could betray her the way he had, either, or that he could spring it on her the way he did, just before they were supposed to head out to the Hamptons to celebrate Labor Day weekend with Lincoln and Lillian. So maybe she wasn’t such a great judge of what was or wasn’t believable, possible, or waiting just around the corner to clobber her into oblivion.
Three straight days of binge drinking later, not leaving the apartment until work this morning, and here she was—a living, breathing Before photo for an antidepressant ad.
When would it stop?
Katie put down her chicken wing. This comfort food wasn’t bringing her much comfort at all. What would Sheryl Sandberg say if she saw Katie now, or that woman who did the TED Talk about power posing? Surely they’d tell her to get the heck up. They’d say, Wipe your damn face. Put on the sexiest dress in your closet and the hottest fuck-me pumps you own, and go make some new friends. Katie hadn’t come this far in life to give up now, to sink down beneath a blanket of soiled paper napkins, clutching a remote control that was sticky with barbecue sauce. She was strong! She was a modern woman who knew the power of posing like Wonder Woman before leaving the house each day. She needed to act like it—and for tonight, acting like it meant Katie would have to go out alone.
There was that new wine bar she’d been meaning to check out. It had probably been open for more than a year now, but she still hadn’t been there because Paul Michael always said it looked too hip. Or not hip enough. One of those. She couldn’t remember which.
Katie scrubbed the barbecue sauce from her face, shook out her hair, slipped on her best low-cut black dress and her highest, sluttiest heels, and out the door she went.
Even though Cassidy didn’t get in till two a.m., she set her alarm for six so she could put in an hour at the gym -before making it to the Falcon Capital offices by nine. The late nights and early mornings were becoming more difficult since she’d turned thirty, but she refused to slow down. Instead she worked and played and hit the gym harder than ever, heedful of each—her job, her sex life, and her bodily fitness—with equal energy and attention.
She stepped out of her taxi at West Fifty-Seventh Street on Tuesday morning as pleased by her rowdy Labor Day weekend as she was by her morning’s fitness achievements. Now she was ready to work.
Work today would entail the first round of deal making on behalf of her firm’s hedge fund client Falcon Capital, a bunch of swinging dicks with shit for brains as far as Cassidy was concerned, but she’d still give them her all. She arrived at the negotiating table uncharacteristically tardy thanks to a broken shuttle elevator, but she was relieved to hear someone -arriving just behind her, a woman, no doubt, on account of the accompanying click-clack of high heels, and Cassidy thought, Yes, because women were so much easier to intimidate than men—but then she turned to look at her.
The girl was blond-haired-blue-eyed beautiful in a way that made Cassidy feel exposed, like a spotlight had appeared overhead. They shook hands, and for a split second, Cassidy thought she noticed something in the girl’s expression change, an element of surprise. Had Cassidy’s own expression given her away?
The male lawyers in the room—among them Cassidy’s senior partner, a balding, middle-aged man who clearly had not seen the inside of a gym in a while, and her office nemesis, Hamlin Ludsthorp—appeared to suffer no such self-consciousness on account of this Katie Daniels. Because brightening at the sight of a beautiful woman was their birthright. It was what they were supposed to do. Just as it was natural for Ms. Daniels to acknowledge and deflect them without a second thought. Only Cassidy was stuck somewhere in between, somewhere undefined and embarrassing.