I needed the perfect revenge outfit to wear for an ex who never knew he’d been in a relationship with me. Something that would draw no attention to me in our upcoming meeting but would look amazing if he noticed me anyway.
That was what happened when the universe decided to make you the butt of a cosmic joke.
Which it had. In spades.
I settled on a black suit with a slim-cut blazer and a pencil skirt paired with black slingback heels instead of the flats I often wore. The tasteful pearl earrings and necklace my grandmother had given me when I graduated from LSU four years ago finished the look.
Chloe, my roommate, would tell me if I’d gotten my look right. I stepped into the hallway to find her door open to her empty bedroom, the rest of the apartment quiet. She was already at Miss Mary’s restaurant downstairs, then. Good. Two opinions were better than one.
I picked up my laptop bag—a light-blue leather satchel—and checked myself out in the mirror over the living room sofa.
Blown out hair, subtle lipstick, understated but elegant outfit and accessories.
“On point,” I told my reflection. I wished I felt as confident inside as she looked outside.
I took the stairs down to the ground floor then slipped through the back entrance of Mary’s Place, the breakfast café that had taken up residence on the bottom floor of our family’s building in the Bywater for my whole life and most of my dad’s. I nodded at Jerome in the kitchen, well into breakfast prep. Miss Mary’s grandson was a huge Black man, built like an oak and steady as one too. He shot me his usual shy smile and went back to whisking eggs.
In the dining room, the weekday regulars sat in their usual spots, about a third of the forty tables filled. Normal for a Tuesday. And just as normal was finding Chloe sitting with Miss Mary at the matriarch’s favorite table in the back of the restaurant, each with a mug of coffee in front of them, the half-full pot beside Miss Mary.
“Morning, Ellie,” she said as I stooped down to drop a kiss on her wrinkled brown cheek. “Am I pouring this to go, or will you be joining us like a civilized person?”
“To go, Miss Mary.” I was already slipping my traveler tumbler from my bag. “I’m so sorry, but I have a big meeting today, and I need to get in early to prep.” When she took the tumbler from me, I held out my arms and did a slow turn. “Can I get outfit approval?”
“You look sharp,” she said. “But a soft kind of sharp. Like you’re about to pick somebody’s pocket but make them feel glad you chose them. What look you going for?”
“A soft kind of sharp,” I answered.
“Nailed it.” Chloe ran a glance down me over the rim of her mug. She was dressed for work at the newspaper, but her blue eyes blinked slowly, the caffeine clearly not in her system yet. “Almost makes me think I should take up yoga if it’ll give me a butt like that.”
“I think that might have more to do with some really expensive tailoring.” I smoothed down the back of my skirt even though I knew it didn’t have a single wrinkle it. It was a fidget. I couldn’t fidget during the meeting today. “Do I look hot but also like I’m not trying to look hot? Like you would only know I was hot if you were paying attention? But also I might be easy to not pay attention to if you weren’t trying to pay attention?”
Miss Mary and Chloe exchanged a look. “Maybe she’s having a stroke,” Chloe said helpfully. Her eyes were brighter; the coffee was doing its work.
“I’m not having a stroke. Just trying to strike a certain...tone.”
“You look good,” Miss Mary said with the same finality she used for informing customers what they were getting for breakfast if they took too long to order.
It was reassuring, actually. If Miss Mary said it, it must be true.
“And not like a try-hard,” Chloe added, which clinched it for me. “What are you trying hard for but trying to look like you’re not trying hard for?”
“It’s nothing,” I said.
“‘Nothing’ doesn’t have you fussing over your clothes and going into work an hour early,” Miss Mary noted. “Try again.”
“It’s...we have a big client coming in today, and I want to make a good impression. That’s all.”