"Are you going to go to yoga class with me after work?"
It was an early autumn Thursday afternoon, and the writers' office was quieter than usual, proving that everyone was either highly engrossed in their work or utterly exhausted from working and/or pretending to work all week. Typically, there was a high level of energy in the writers' room at Riot, one of the leading magazines for women that would be sure to educate them on the latest fashions for Wine Night and how to overcome social anxiety brought on by getting caught stalking an ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend on Facebook. Today, however, that energy had been replaced by what appeared to be half of the writers deciding to 'be sick' or 'be out' for the afternoon, as a good portion on the desks were abandoned.
The exception to this was the back corner, which tended to have a high level of energy at all times, mainly because of its three inhabitants. Many writers avoided the area like the plague, preferring to scamper away from the corner clique that had earned a collective reputation for being too blunt for water-cooler conversations.
Brow furrowed, Madison Scott looked up from the article on dealing with an awkward run-in with the ex's best friend that she had been working on for most of the day. "Yoga class, Kim?" The thought of having to be silent and hold painful poses seemed torturous. "When did you decide you're going to do yoga?"
"Approximately around the time that Africa phoned in their interest in the size of her ass in her new skinnies," Elliott Crawford smirked from the adjoining desk. "They thought they found a solution to world-hunger."
"You're just pissed that your most recent twink defriended you on D-List before you could defriend him," Kimberly Keegan retorted, rolling her eyes at Elliott. She then proceeded to ignore him by leaving her desk across the aisle to sit on top of Madison's. "I'm trying to improve my balance so I won't fall in the new Louboutin's I'm going to buy when I write a best-selling novel and become devastatingly rich and famous."
"And you think yoga will do that for you?" Elliott asked, his brown eyes squinting dubiously. "You don't think it might be easier to just practice walking in your heels for some real-world experience?"
Kimberly looked down her nose at him and blew her long strawberry blonde bangs out of her hazel eyes. "Yoga has excellent health benefits as well."
Madison, who currently preferred ignoring the snarky comments between Elliott and Kimberly, rolled her blue eyes and closed her laptop, eager for a break from her work. "I would love to go with you," she fibbed obviously, "but you know my philosophy on sweat."
"As in, she doesn't do it." Elliott stood from his desk and gestured to the gray burn-out, v-neck t-shirt he was wearing. "Does this accent my six-pack?"
"You don't have a six-pack," Kimberly snorted.
"And you don't have a dick to ride," Elliott replied sassily, flipping her off. "Go to yoga now. Get in an extra session. Your ass will thank you."
"Okay, okay," Madison intervened, holding her hands up between her two best friends. She was struggling to hide her amusement at Kimberly's appalled expression. "Enough comments on Kim's ass for one day."
Elliott made a face. "Not if we're allowing one comment per square inch of her ass-mass."
Kimberly crossed her arms over her chest. "I think you're just jealous that the gay realm has yet to provide you with a partner with a backside like mine." She crossed her legs and swung the upper one back and forth. "It's like those girls who whine about all gay boys being better looking than straight ones. You're just whining because there's no comparison."
"I beg to differ." Elliott made a grand display of removing his gaze away from Kimberly and settling it on Madison's face. "So, if not yoga, what are you doing tonight, my dear? Want to get wasted with me and pick up attractive men that won't be good enough for us?"
Grinning, Madison shrugged one shoulder. "Or we could pick up some Chinese and watch old Julia Roberts films with a carton of ice cream while we whine about our wardrobes."
Elliott nodded curtly. "Make it a gallon of frozen yogurt, and, honey, you just got yourself a date."
"I'm going to grab a Diet Coke," Elliott announced. "Do you girls want anything?"
"Caffeine?" Madison's face lit up. "Make that two Diet Cokes please."
Kimberly looked on thoughtfully as Elliott left the corner, still shaking her leg to and fro from her position atop Madison's desk. "Is my ass too big?"
Groaning, Madison reopened her laptop. "Kim. Guys love your ass. Don't let Elliott get to you."
With a stubborn jut of her chin, Kimberly hopped off of Madison's desktop and sauntered across the aisle, back to her desk. "You're right. Max makes that very clear." She paused and glanced at the clock hanging on the wall. 4:16. "It's still early. Maybe I can talk him into taking me out to dinner tonight."
Which assures that you will have thirty-four complaints about him tomorrow morning, Madison thought to herself with some internal laughter. Kimberly was forever having pointless drama with her fiance. It reminded her of high school, but it kept things at work entertaining.
Typing adamantly on her advice article, Madison let her mind wander away from her friends. Sometimes it still seemed like a fantasy that she was living her dream of living in New York City, working for such a reputable company as a writer. It was a far-cry from where she began in Savannah, Georgia, where her family still lived in their old plantation house.
Madison had grown up in the South, been educated at the University of Georgia, and had promptly been offered a job with Riot for her obvious writing talent. Even she knew that it was a true miracle to get such a prestigious job just months after her graduation; now, just over two years later, Madison was still ecstatic to be living in such a big city with a career that she could be passionate about.
No. That was a lie. And Madison knew it, though she didn't allow herself to know that she knew it. Call it a first world problem, but Madison still found herself wanting more from life. She longed to live in a villa by the Mediterranean, where she would write novels from the balcony of her house on the coast, without any boundaries or restrictions on what she could write. But here she was, in fabulous Manhattan, hiding her heart's secrets from everyone, including herself.
A bottle of Diet Coke appeared on her desk. "Thanks, friend,." Madison smiled at Elliott, unscrewing the bottle cap. "What would we do without Diet Coke?"
"Die." Also sipping his soft drink, Elliott sat back down at his desk, which was pressed up against Madison's so that they faced each other. "Remember that time that we got wasted, and I peed through your legs while you huddled over that filthy toilet seat in that bar in Chelsea?"
"Oh my God," Madison pulled an expression of disgust. Her hands went to cover her face, even as she began to laugh. "I was so fucking drunk that night."
Elliott grinned. "Let's do it again. Your birthday's coming up."
"Only if we can deny my real age." Madison screwed the lid back onto her Diet Coke and set the bottle aside. "If people knew I was going to be twenty-five, and I was still letting my gay best friend let me drink myself into oblivion, my reputation would be at real risk."
"Reputations are overrated."
"True story." Madison looked up from her laptop when she realized that Elliott was shutting down his computer and putting on his jacket. "What are you doing?" she asked. "It's only four-thirty."
"And we still have time to make it to happy hour." He clapped his hands twice and motioned for Madison to stand. "Come on, baby girl, let's go."
Temptation swelled in Madison's chest. For most of her life, she lived only by her rebellious spirit of anarchy and procrastination, but she had been working very hard to be more responsible in the past two years. Deliberating hastily, Madison pondered that her last assignment for the week was the project she was currently working on, and she would have plenty of time to complete it tomorrow. So why not. Why not leave early and have a good time with her friend? Mind made up, she reached for her cardigan; it was late September, and there was already a chill to the air. Madison swung her purse onto her shoulder and took Elliott's proffered arm. "Ready."
Kimberly looked sour. "Goodbye. Farewell. Enjoy."
"You could join us," Elliott offered diplomatically.
She shook her head. "I can't leave until my meeting with Madame."
Madison wrinkled her nose at the mention of Kimberly's supervisor. "My condolences. Text us later?"
Kimberly nodded. "Have fun, guys."
Smiling, Madison nodded gently. "Make Max spoil you tonight." She flipped her shoulder-length brown hair over her shoulder and waved at Kimberly as she and Elliott walked away.
"Are you going to ride the elevator down with me?" Elliott asked with a malicious twinkle in his eyes.
Madison glared at him. Superstitious was an understatement when it came to describing her, and one of her greatest fears was walking into an elevator shaft; she would take the stairwell even in the case of wearing four-inch heels. "Hell no."
Grinning, Elliott shook his head sadly. "Fine. How about I pick up the food and meet you at your place? Project Runway comes on tonight, and your apartment is bound to be cleaner than mine."
"By leaps and bounds," Madison readily agreed.
They parted when Elliott stopped to wait for the elevator and Madison continued on to the stairs. Thursdays always made her smile. Without fail, she and Elliott would always debate about what they were going to do on Thursday nights, be it attend a party, go to dinner, get laid, or quit their jobs to embark on European backpacking, but, without fail, they always ended up at her apartment, eating cheap takeout and watching reality television.
Left to her own devises, Madison truly would have experienced an array of adventures on any given Thursday night. It had been in her character since her emergence from the womb to jump with both feet into something new and exciting routinely. Now, however, her responsible side pushed strict routines of success rather than routine chaos.
Not that her responsible side brought about only gloom and doom. Quite the contrary, Madison had taken to really enjoying her Thursday nights with Elliott. His similar livelihood allowed her to engage in fun without her own livelihood threatening recklessness on every aspect of her being.
With her office being located on the fourth floor of the building, it took a bit for Madison to make her way back to the relished ground. Despite her fear of elevators, she sometimes thought she may use it to avoid the eerie sounds of the stairwell, which were made up only of the clacking of her shoes against the floor. But, regardless, the eerie noises always beat the elevator shaft.
Once outside, the thrilling sound of city traffic and civilization mixed with the coolness of the air calmed Madison's nerves. Manhattan was, as usual, bustling, particularly in the Upper West Side, where her office was located. Fifty-Sixth Street was full of the usual sites, including people fighting over taxis, professionals engaged in phone conversations, and the occasional pigeon landing on the street corner. The pigeons were Madison's favorite view.
The walk to her apartment, at Sixty-Fourth Street, was relatively quick, especially since the cool air made Madison put a briskness to her pace. She typed in her access code to her apartment building and welcomed the relief of central heating. She made her way up the stairs to the second floor, where her apartment was located.
"Hi, baby," she cooed to her Yorkshire terrier when she unlocked the door and tossed her purse toward the couch. She bent down and picked up Russell, whose black and brown fur was still soft from the previous night's bath, and cuddled him lovingly. "What are you doing, lovey?"
The dog looked back at Madison with big brown eyes that made her heart melt. Smiling, Madison placed her dog back down. The living room of her apartment was quite spacious, and her plush furniture gave the atmosphere a homey vibe. With Russell at her heels, Madison walked into her adjacent kitchen and filled the dog's bowl with food. Humming softly, she placed a few ice cubes into her dog's water bowl.
"Did you have a good day?" she murmured lightly to her dog, who was busy lapping up water with his pink tongue.
While walking to the hallway that connected to her bedroom, Madison removed her cardigan. She entered her bedroom, which was decorated in deep hues of purple and blue. Madison stripped off her clothing, throwing her clothes into her hamper. She redressed in simple black University of Georgia sweatpants and a plain white t-shirt. Comfortable, she waltzed back into her living room, only to be greeted by the chirping of her cell phone. It was probably Elliott, calling to whine about the wait for their takeout or to complain about something or another. But when Madison fished her phone out of her purse, she was taken aback to see an unknown number was calling her.
But the number could hardly be considered unknown. She would recognize those digits anywhere, regardless of how much time had passed. So the question wasn't about who was calling; the question was about whether or not she should answer after all this time. What in the world could have provoked this phone call? The curiosity would kill her.
Cautiously, Madison accepted the phone call. "Hello?"
"Maddy." The familiar masculine voice sent a shiver up her spine and heat to her cheeks. "Hey, how are you?"
Madison swallowed thickly and sat down hard on her couch. "Ryan."
"I hope it's okay that I called." Now he sounded somewhat sheepish, which would typically cause a smile to form on Madison's face. This time, however, she merely sat numb. "I'm in New York."
"You are?" Madison blinked slowly. "Ry…"
Ryan Beckham had been her very best friend in college. There hadn't been a single party that she'd attended without being accompanied by him. Every study night, every football game, every lazy weekend, every Saturday matinee… Ryan Beckham had been there. But she hadn't heard his voice since shortly after graduation, when they'd parted ways so tragically.
"Yeah." Ryan's voice relaxed drastically. "I'm up here for a while for work. I just...I was wondering about you. God, Maddy, it's been so fucking long."
"Too long," she agreed softly.
"Let's get together. I mean, I don't know if that's weird." His easy laugh filled Madison's ears. "But I miss you, and this would be a great time to get back together for awhile and catch up. You think?"
Madison closed her eyes and listened to the pounding beats of her heart. Before, she would have accepted his offer with no thought, and surprisingly, the temptation still lingered. Somehow there was something about Ryan that always caused her more logical side to be forgotten. Forcing herself to focus and not freak out, Madison reopened her eyes. "Yeah. Where are you staying?"
"I've got a hotel room midtown," Ryan answered. "I guess I'm staying up here for a few weeks, maybe a month, for some training."
"Oh, wow." Madison knew that he had been a business major, but she couldn't find the words to ask for concrete details as to why he was in New York for such a lengthy visit. Instead, she pressed her feet roughly into the plush carpet beneath her. "I...I can't believe you're here."
There was a pause on the other line, and Madison could feel the hesitation from her long-lost best friend. "I know." Silence took over for a never-ending moment, before Ryan broke it. "When would you be available to get together? I bet you're crazy busy."
He sounded like home; that was Madison's dominant thought at that point. He sounded like the deep South, like a Saturday during football season, like a tailgate party under changing-leaves. It was so overwhelmingly comforting that she could think of only one answer. "Tonight. Are you free tonight?"
Madison relaxed back into the couch, a smile playing on her lips as her mind retreated to a more familiar time, a memory of herself that she had forgotten. "Okay." She searched her mind for a plan. Should she invite him over to her place? Should they meet for dinner? For drinks? Should she wait and let him suggest something first? What was she going to tell Elliott? He would understand, wouldn't he? She'd never blown him off before. Why was she able to this time? Because Ryan was there.
"Do you want to get a late dinner?" he asked. "I need to finish up some paperwork real fast, but we could meet around eight?"
The thought made Madison's blood pulse even faster. "Yeah," she agreed, feeling faint. Of course Ryan would know exactly how to handle their reunion and how to get a strong reaction out of her. "Let's meet then."