A chorus of honks arose from cars careening down 7th Avenue; Jimmy held up an apologetic hand, cursing under his breath as he hustled the crosswalk.
He didn’t have time for the inevitable obstacles New York City was throwing in his path. He was late, late for a very important date - Marie, the cute 25-year-old publicist whom Jimmy had been wining and dining the past several months, was waiting for him at Bistro Moncur.
He usually preferred more modern establishments, with mood lighting and industrial music and fusion cuisine, but he and Marie had gotten wires crossed a few days prior and he needed to show her he cared, or at least show he knew how to show he cared.
Bistro Moncur had a black-and-yellow checkerboard floor, white tablecloths, chandeliers and extensive wall mirrors; escargot and beef tartare were both on the menu.
If butter-roasted snails and raw chopped steak didn’t show his depth of feeling for her, he thought, the relationship might be a lost cause anyway.
He arrived at the door of Bistro Moncur slightly out of breath. Taking a moment to stretch and regain his center of self, he admired the massive black steel-lined windows, set into minimalist brick around the restaurant. Inside were densely-aligned tables, teeming with attractive couples and young urban professionals in Friday work-leisure wear.
He adjusted the collar on his black button-down Theory shirt, cricked out his neck a few times, and twisted his torso; as he twisted, his ever-wandering gaze landed in the window of the bar next door, The Lobo.
The bar, though mostly empty, had an enviable ambiance, with green-and-blue lighting and rows of plants lining the booths. A woman sat by a table facing the window, holding a book lightly in one hand and clutching a glass of wine in the other.
Jimmy didn’t have to squint to see she was attractive -- long blonde hair, a v-cut red dress, thick eyelashes beating monotonically.
A girl like that shouldn’t be drinking alone, said Jimmy, smiling to himself. He stared exactly two-thirds of a second longer; a pair of recognizable blue eyes flicked upward.
Oh God, it’s Rosie.
Rosie - the other woman he had been dating the past few months - put her book down and tossed her hand up in the air, laughing incredulously.
“How crazy?” he barely heard her say through the glass. Her voice sounded vibrato, like she was speaking through an aquarium.
Jimmy finally caught his bearings and forced his cheeks upward into a fake smile.
“Hey you!” He waved heartily, then dramatically held up his phone to face Rosie, shaking his head and making a cutting motion across his neck.
“I got to go,” he said, jutting a thumb down the street. He then mimed out texting, “Text you?”
Rosie, either not comprehending or not interested in Jimmy’s pantomiming, grinned and flapped her wrists to her chest, beckoning him to come inside.
Jimmy kept the rictus grin, shook his head and pointed to his non-existent wristwatch.
“I got to go, I’ll text you….”
She continued to frantically motion, patting the seat next to her and laughing coquettishly.
Jimmy bit his bottom lip and looked back at the door to Bistro Moncur; he imagined Marie seated alone in a table near the back, probably sipping a rose vodka tonic and growing increasingly anxious.
Marie was petite, pretty-faced and sweet-natured, and Jimmy had no doubt he was the only man she was currently seeing. On the one hand, he was naturally protective of her, and envisioned her as a fantastic girlfriend; on other occasions, he felt drained by Marie’s neediness, and wanted to hedge his bets.
Rosie - tall, vibrantly beautiful, aloof with men until impressed - had been a perfect hedge. And here she was, beguiling and bedecked in red, shifting her shoulders and making a curling motion with her forefinger.
He sighed expressively, bringing his whole torso up and down, then headed for the door of The Lobo.
As he walked towards Rosie inside, he got a better look at what she was wearing - a red cocktail dress he had never seen before, with black stilettos. A momentary fear passed through his head; what if she was meeting another man here?
Rose was twisting the stem of her glass of cabernet sauvignon, watching Jimmy approach like a bird of prey considering a pigeon.
“Having yourself a night on the town, buddy?” she said, smiling thinly.
“I’m meeting my old college roommate for dinner next door. Haha! I haven’t seen him in years.”
He had concocted the lie in the past several seconds.
“You look nice,” she said, still smiling.
“Got to show the roommate that I still got it,” he said, rolling his right sleeve up a bit and instinctively flexing his forearm. “Anyway, what’re you up to? Reading?”
“Hm, reading, drinking wine, just - enjoying the city -” she motioned out the window to the streets full of rich and poor humanity, anxiety begetting anxiety and hope turning to despair and some transforming to glory.
“That’s funny, you choose to read in a bar in Chelsea? I’d think your apartment would be peaceful enough…”
“I’ve always loved The Lobo,” chirped Rosie, glancing fondly around the bar. “It’s like a decompression chamber, you know? And work was such a dumpster fire, I can’t just go home to a quiet apartment.”
She shook her head, as if trying to purge herself of bad memories, and took a sip of wine. Jimmy got the sense she wanted him to ask more about her work week.
Usually he’d have gladly sat and listened to her kvetch about life in investor relations, but - seeing as he was at least twenty minutes late to dinner with the other woman - he decided he’d have to jet now and smooth over relations later.
“Well, thank God it’s Friday, right? Hey, I actually do need to go…”
“Wait, don’t go yet. I want to hear how your week went.”
She laid a fair hand on Jimmy’s bare forearm and gazed at him with beguiling blue eyes.
He swallowed and shrugged.
“My week was fine. Not much to speak of, really.”
“No, seriously. I remember on Tuesday you were saying your boss was talking about your promotion...Any update on that?”
Jimmy shifted his eyes, “Well, I mean we didn’t really talk about it again but, like, it’s going to happen. Pretty much guaranteed by, like, the end of summer.”
“What’s the new role going to be?”
Jimmy found it nearly impossible to cut the conversation with Rosie while she was grasping his arm with her oh-so-fair hands.
He began to explain that the new role would be a cross-functional business development position - focusing on selling and relationships, because that’s what he was really good at. He became more and more excited as he talked about the promotion, and fed off Rosie’s piqued interest. He turned the topic to his apartment, noting he was planning on moving to a much bigger downtown loft after the promotion went through.
FInances and rent prices came into the conversation, giving him the opportunity to expound on a novel investment strategy he was exploring, focusing on cryptocurrencies and artworks purchased via non-fungible tokens.
His phone buzzed peremptorily in his pocket; he raised his voice more.
“So I bought, like, 2000 FrogCoins when they were at 2 cents. You’ve got to buy low, right, it’s just like regular stocks..”
“All that stuff seems kind of creepy,” said Rosie. “What’s to stop some weirdo from hacking your digital wallet? Or the value of a FrogCoin just going to zero?”
“It’s all on the blockchain, it can’t be hacked! You can put anything on a blockchain, see, I could sell you this phone with a blockchain contract...” In his excitement, he held out his phone as a sample; the screen lit up, revealing a preview of an extensively long message.
Rosie, not looking at the phone, placed her hand on her slender cheek and pursed her lips slightly.
“Hah, no risk without reward! Or...no reward without risk...you know how it goes…” he shot her a cavalier smile and retracted his phone.
She sighed, “Well, you better get to your dinner. What time did you say you’d meet your friend?”
“The plan was to meet at 7,” said Jimmy, balancing the phone lightly in one hand and swiping into his messages.
Rosie looked at her slim, banded runway watch, and her mouth dropped.
“It’s 7:27!” she exclaimed. “You gotta go! Get, get!” She flipped her wrists outward in a shooing motion.
But Jimmy was absorbed in the message - a long diatribe from Marie - and barely registered that Rosie was dismissing him..
The message started out innocuously enough - Hey, I get you’re really busy but it’s getting late, let’s do another time -” and then moved to a more wounded tone - “Honestly I was really looking forward to tonight, you would’ve let me know you’d be running late, we could’ve rescheduled....” and descended, eventually, into the vitriol of a woman scorned - “At this point I’m not even sure if you care at all about me, I thought we had something serious but plz find someone else’s time to waste if you’re just going to play with my feelings…”
Rosie tilted her head, “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, totally. Hey, um, what’re you up to later tonight?”
“I’m meeting a friend for drinks,” said Rosie. Jimmy didn’t like the gender-ambiguity of the term ‘friend.’ He decided to dig deeper.
“You know, I was looking at tickets for the ballet for tomorrow night. Thought I might pick up two, one for me and one for, you know, a friend.” He leaned closer to Rosie and grinned. “Would you be interested?”
Rosie blinked, “Tomorrow? I’ll have to see, I may be going to an art show.”
Jimmy tried not to look angry, and said slyly, “Well, I hear ballet will get you more cultured than art. So, you know, something for you to consider...”
“I don’t know if it works like that,” she said. “Anyway - you’re going to dinner?”
“I’ve got a few more minutes, don’t worry about it,” said Jimmy waving his hand. He was planning on using the next few minutes to not only re-bolster his relationship with Rosie, but plan his strategy for Marie.
The text message was concerning, to be sure, but he had bounced back from worse.
He put up his leg on the chair next to Rosie, “So - did I show you these NFTs I picked up recently? Yeah, I’ll be able to flip them pretty quick, the artist is getting really well known….”
Jimmy proceeded to describe the intricacies of his NFT art-picking strategy.
“NFTs seem creepy. Why not just buy regular art?” asked Rosie.
“That’s old-fashioned!” said Jimmy, sounding almost offended. “It’s like any investment vehicle, you want the value to go up, don’t you?”
A girl came in through the bar door, her head bent slightly downward, hair hiding her face. She was short and had muscular arms, like she might’ve been a gymnast, and was wearing a frilly blue and white dress.
The girl strutted to the table directly next to Rosie’s and sat down, flipping her hair from her face. Jimmy caught a clear view of Marie in profile; slightly pixie nose, black bangs, porcelain skin.
He made a point to keep his eyes on Rosie, “And so, you know, with the art I bought, it’s really just an .mp4 file, like it’s not that complicated - just a rotating collection of 4 skulls, each one’s a different color. Super cool, right?”
“Art’s such a weird way to make money,” sighed Rosie. “Even, like, the most expensive art is actually worthless in any kind of non-luxury economy. Art’s only worth as much as someone else is willing to pay for it.”
“Right!” said Jimmy, even though he didn’t actually understand what Rosie meant. “So, I got this sweet digital piece for eight-fifty or something, here I have it on my phone, I can show you…”
He pulled out his phone and flipped through his media files until he landed on a video clip of rotating skulls.
While Rosie watched the looping video clip, Ricky looked up at Marie. As far as he could tell, she hadn’t noticed him.
In fact, considering the urgently emotional text message she had just sent, she seemed remarkably placid. A waiter came by her table, and he could hear her distinct, velvety voice say, “One dark and stormy, please.”
He turned his attention back to Rosie and continued espousing his digital currency strategy, keeping his voice lower so that Marie wouldn’t hear him; Rosie sipped her wine and listened passively.
“So you encrypt that thing on the blockchain, right? Then no one can get to it! Frogcoin’s up 4,000% this year, look, it’s going crazy…”
He flipped through his phone to the Gemini trading app and pulled up a chart of Frogcoin’s outstanding performance to date, sliding the phone towards Rosie and again giving her a distraction while he eyeballed Marie from the side.
She was sitting, sans drink, and gazing out the window. Jimmy could tell there was a touch of melancholia to her, now; she was rubbing her arm gently, looking at a random point on the sidewalk outside.
Something wet trickled down her cheek; she curled her hand into a fist, the hand closest to Jimmy, and wiped.
Good God, she’s crying.
Jimmy watched horrified as more tears fell, which Marie continued to wipe with curled fists, obstinately refusing to use the napkin in front of her.
“So is this backed by anything? Like, what’s the insurance for me if the price goes down?”
“Hm?” said Jimmy, looking back at Rosie. He realized she was talking about Frogcoin, and waved his hand distractedly. “No, no, you can’t think of it like that, insurance is a buzzword, nothing really has insurance. What’s the insurance on a dollar?”
“I donno. The government issues dollars...” began Rosie.
“And you trust the government? Hah!” Jimmy pulled his phone back from Rosie and pocketed it, shooting another nervous glance at Marie. Worried he was speaking too loud, he cut his voice to an even softer conspiratorial tone, which he thought could fit the tenor of the conversation anyway.
“And anyway, you don’t need insurance on this kind of thing - it’s up 4000% year to date. What’s to insure?”
“I just get nervous with technology I don’t understand,” said Rosie.
Jimmy shifted uncomfortably, and took his foot off the chair. He knew he needed to leave, before the subterfuge of Marie’s sorrow disappeared and she noticed he was at the bar with another woman.
“It can get confusing, I know, it’s a lot of deep tech stuff that not everyone understands,” said Jimmy. “Tell you what, I gotta get going, but let’s catch up later tonight - I’ll shoot you a text after dinner, maybe we can meet up…”
“Ugh, I’ll probably be tired. Just text me tomorrow,” said Rosie vaguely, fiddling with the stem of her wine glass.
Jimmy rapped the table with his knuckles, “Sure, deal. Well, nice seeing you…”
“Aww, no…” murmured Rosie, looking behind Jimmy’s shoulder; Jimmy clenched his jaw, scared to acknowledge what he knew she was observing.
He backed away from the table, “Hey, I’ll see you later then….”
Rosie stood up, brushed past Jimmy and strutted the few steps to Marie’s table, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t cry, sweetie, you’re gonna be okay. Whatever it is….”
Jimmy stood behind them both, watching Rosie rub the petite shoulder of Marie, who was heaving with sobs.
He knew intuitively that Marie was crying because of him, but still felt emotionally disconnected from the entire scene.
“I’ll text you…?” said Jimmy, again, hoping to get closing validation from Rosie.
He had spoken too loud; Marie turned around and glared with red-rimmed eyes, her mouth open slightly in shock, bottom lip quivering.
“What are you doing here?” she said finally, her voice weak. Rosie turned around, too, and stared at Jimmy curiously.
“You gonna go?”
Jimmy, pale-faced, forced a grin and held out both hands magnanimously.
“Yes! Wonderful! You two have a lovely night.”
He straightened out his belt buckle and walked out of the restaurant; he couldn’t tell if the tingling on the back of his neck was from adrenaline, or the dagger-stares of the women.
Jimmy was struck with all kinds of emotion as he wandered down 7th Avenue. Mostly regret, for having gotten too excited with Rosie and overstaying his welcome. A bit of remorse, perhaps, for forcing Marie to despair.
And a whole lot of frustration because he’d be sleeping alone tonight, which had certainly not been the plan
By the time he reached 23rd Street, however, he was beginning to feel more upbeat. He admired the gaggles of females, walking in groups of two or three, and felt himself being watched as well.
The city was full of options.
Back at the restaurant, Rosie was still rubbing Marie’s back gently, and had ordered a bottle of wine to split.
The city was full of options.