Jemima was deliberately making new friends at work. The reason for this was two-fold; one, she did it in an effort to distance herself from Noel. It was hard to be only his friend when she’d wanted to be more than just his friend for so long. And two, she really only knew three people at work, Jacklyn, Noel, and her boss, Arnold. Arnold was scattered and sixty-five and he always looked a little bit like his head had been sucked into a wind turbine. His wiry, white hair was messy at the best of times, but as he grew increasingly stressed throughout the day, he would run his fingers through it or pull on it, like a cartoon, until it was twice the size it had been when he’d arrived at work in the morning and five times as wild.
Jemima had been given more responsibility at work. Arnold had assigned her to an online magazine instead of the children’s books she normally copyedited. She had been removed from fiction completely; Arnold was starting her with this magazine project to test the waters. And he was having her take on the role as editor for a monthly issue, which meant she was far more involved in the whole creative process than she normally would’ve been. It was incredibly stressful, but it meant that she got to branch out of her usual team and meet some of the other people who worked at the company. It was a small online magazine about knitwear, but there had still been both a photographer and a graphic designer assigned to it to help with design and layout. Jemima had decided that both of those women would be her new work BFFs.
The graphic designer was a woman named Roberta McIlroy. When Jemima had first read her name on the emailed list of contributors, Jemima had assumed she was a much older Irish woman. She was in fact a twenty-six year old, faintly Goth woman who preferred to be called Bobby. The very first day Jemima had met Bobby, she’d been wearing floral combat boots and a mid-length black velvet dress underneath a black tuxedo jacket. Her lipstick was always dark and impeccable, ranging in shades from a deep red wine, an even deeper plum, and black. She listened to Meg Myers, Bishop Briggs, and Manchester Orchestra at work. One time, Jemima came over to ask her something at her cubicle and Bobby was listening to My Chemical Romance. Her cubicle neighbour, a skittish man named Terry, who had high blood pressure and a fear of most social interaction, kept glancing over to her cubicle, completely strung out.
The photographer was a woman named Maureen Appleyard-Billingsly. Jemima met her second so she wasn’t expecting an elderly woman as she had been with Bobby, which was just as well because Maureen Appleyard-Billingsly turned out to be a twenty-three year old woman who preferred to be called Mo. She was pocket-sized. She had shoulder-length black hair that she kept in a messy bun on the top of her head a lot of the time and blunt, straight-across bangs. She wore brightly coloured things that Bobby said made her look like a toddler.
There was a fourth member of their creative team, a writer named Caleb, who was primarily working on writing the content for the online magazine. He felt it was an enormous job. He also felt that it was ridiculously important. And he made both of those feelings quite clear. Of course, in an online magazine about knitwear that only published new content once a month, there was very little writing to be done. Essentially, he wrote a maximum of two articles a month and the rest was filled with knitting patterns and photos of people wearing hand-knitted ponchos. Jemima found Caleb irritating. Bobby hated him with every fibre of her being.
“He thinks he’s so important,” she grumbled one Thursday afternoon after a particularly painful meeting, wherein Caleb had announced several times that his newest article was going to be the feature piece of the whole issue. “Like, you’re a content writer for an online magazine about knitting, not Mother Theresa.”
“At least he’s gone now,” Mo pointed out.
“Mone Thugs-n-Harmony, don’t try to buoy my spirits,” Bobby whined in response. “Only his death will bring me true joy.”
Bobby never called Mo by just her name. Instead, she found ways to turn her name into some reference or other. Some were more creative than others.
In her first attempt at making Bobby and Mo her real friends, even outside of work, she invited them for drinks with Steve. Technically, Steve hadn’t been invited, he had just come over to her apartment unannounced before she was set to leave to meet Bobby and Mo at the bar where they were getting drinks. He did that a lot, show up at unexpected, yet inconvenient times. And no matter what she said, he always agreed to come with her, even if she hadn’t invited him.
“I’m meeting some friends from work for drinks,” Jemima had explained tentatively.
“That’s alright, I don’t mind,” Steve had returned with a genial smile before tagging along. She hadn’t necessarily wanted him to come along. That was why she hadn’t invited him in the first place. She had been hoping to make friends with Bobby and Mo in her own right. Besides, Steve had a way of being unsettling and she was afraid that he would drive them away before she even had a chance to be their friend. She had once admitted her fears to Tallulah.
“I’m worried people sometimes find Steve a little off-putting,” she had said. Tallulah’s response had not been overly comforting.
“Yes,” was her entire reply.
Jemima had booked a reservation at Maggie’s, a pool hall that served primarily to lesbians. Jemima liked it there because the nachos were amazing, the servers were excellent, and the bathrooms were clean. Steve hated it because almost everyone was immune to his charm and his impressive biceps.
“I just had a twenty-minute conversation with the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen about my lipstick and then she very politely asked me for my number,” Mo announced when Jemima found her and Bobby at their reserved table. “One time at a bar on Oxford Street, some drunk guy with a soul patch called me ‘Black Skirt, Small Tits’ and tried to get me to have sex with him in the bathroom. This place is magical.”
“Not all men are like that,” Steve assured her as they sat down. Jemima could see Bobby physically cringe at the phrase “not all men”. She could sense that the evening was about to take a disastrous turn. They’d only been there for about two minutes in total. It did not bode well.
As it turned out, Jemima was right to be concerned. They had already gotten off to a rocky start, but it only worsened as Bobby began complaining about Caleb and all of his many irritating qualities. Earlier that day, Caleb had explained that his hot neighbour wasn’t into him because she was a lesbian.
“That’s not the reason,” Bobby told Mo, Jemima, and, by extension, Steve, though Jemima had noticed Bobby hadn’t made eye contact with him the entire night. “It might be one of the reasons, but I’m sure there are many, many more.”
“I can think of at least four right now,” Mo added.
“That’s right, Moses,” Bobby said, patting Mo on top of the head, squishing one of her pigtail buns. Mo scrunched up her face. Steve shifted in his seat. Jemima sensed something terrible was about to happen.
“Well, you know, it probably is because she’s a lesbian,” he said. He spoke like he was being casual, but Jemima could tell that he was genuinely bothered by Bobby and Mo’s harsh discussion of Caleb. Even if Steve worked in their office and was subjected to the sound of Caleb mansplaining for eight hours a day, five days a week, she knew he still would’ve defended him. Steve could think he was the most annoying human being on the face of the earth, but he always felt a need to defend his fellow man.
“Right,” Bobby said slowly. “I mean, probably, yeah, she wouldn’t want to date him because he’s a dude and she wouldn’t want to date any dude. But you’re a dude and you know there’s at least one dude you would date if you absolutely had to. Like, I’m not into ladies, but if I had to choose, I’d probably pick Viola Davis.”
“Because of the spectacular eye makeup?” Mo cut in.
“Yeah, and she’s a badass,” Bobby replied before continuing with her point. “What I’m saying is that there’s no way Caleb is his hot neighbour’s Viola Davis. He’s, like, her Charlie Sheen. Never in a million years because he’s horrible.”
“I get what you’re trying to say, but I think you’re wrong,” Steve replied loftily. Jemima wanted to slip underneath the table and never surface again. She could probably survive down there. The darkness would be very comforting and she could eat the crumbs of less mortified people. She could basically feel her tentative friendship with Mo and Bobby slip away and she was helpless to do anything about it. She should’ve just been happy to have Jacklyn and Noel be her work friends. Sure it kind of hurt her heart to be around Noel, but he wouldn’t be offended by Steve. And Jacklyn just wouldn’t stand for his shit. She didn’t stand for anybody’s shit. She barely stood for her own shit.
“But I guess I know why we’re at this bar in particular,” Steve continued, laughing like he had made a hilarious joke. Jemima hadn’t been expecting it. If she had been, she maybe would’ve considered running. She could’ve fled from the bar and gone on the lamb. She’d never return to work. She’d take up pottery and sell her wares in exchange for food in Meaford or some other retiree community.
“Let’s get nachos!” Jemima announced loudly and with far too much enthusiasm. Bobby had finally made eye contact with Steve and she was looking at him like she wanted him to be mauled by mountain lions and left for dead at the side of a highway. Mo, though she also looked greatly displeased, mercifully jumped on the nacho bandwagon and no more was said about Caleb, his hot neighbour, or any other lesbian, which was entirely for the best. Jemima felt she may have managed to escape the evening with her new friendships still intact, but she knew that she could never have Bobby and Mo spend time with Steve again. She wasn’t sure that was such a great sign for the future of hers and Steve’s relationship.