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32. Those Who Make and Those Who Take

32. Those Who Make and Those Who Take

Brown rabbit in a red dress sitting at a carousel bar

This is the thirty-second chapter of “Scammer,” a serialized novel about ambition, fame, and influence in the age of the Internet.

Two million dollars.

That was how much And We Weren’t Like fetched overall from publishers in the United States, England, and France. When Wren called me in February to tell me the news, I slid down the wall of my pink office and silently wept. From sheer joy, yes — this was really happening — but also from a bittersweet feeling that had been slowly growing since I’d turned in the manuscript itself. The thing I’d been nurturing for ages was finally going out into the world. Everything would be different now.

“Normally, publishers would only give you five hundred thousand or so upfront, but since you have the entire manuscript already, they were willing to make an exception.” Wren’s voice sounded a little too smooth, almost as if he couldn’t believe what he was saying. “Of course, a portion of that will be taken for taxes and my commission, but that still leaves you a sizable amount — we’re talking at least one point five mil.”

Oh, shit. Instantly my breath quickened, the room growing brighter as my hand tightened around the phone. I quickly wiped the remaining tears off my face. Sadness, whomst?

One and a half million dollars. I couldn’t wrap my head around such an amount. While I technically owned ten percent of NipNop, my equity didn’t mean shit until the company went public. This book money was mine, in cash, right now. I could buy all the vintage dresses on Etsy that I wanted. I could spend a year on Nantucket! I could even potentially get my own one-bedroom house in San Francisco. 

Such power, all in my hands. A stream of Instagram-worthy scenarios slipped through my mind’s eye. Sipping martinis on a shining white yacht on the Sarasota coast, surrounded by beautiful people in tiny bathing suits. Closing deals with fellow businesswomen on first-class flights. Making a nationally-televised speech with Elio announcing a fund for artists, my long sequined dress twinkling in the camera lights. My face gracing the cover of the Forbes 30 Under 30. Nevaeh and me, back in Carmel for the weekend in our own storybook cottage, doing a self-timed photoshoot as we hung our long floral dresses out to dry …

Damn. Speaking of Nevaeh, I owed her half of everything I made from the book. Which was fine, but it did mean that I probably wouldn’t be a millionaire. Not at first, at least. The visions morphed, became less extravagant. Weekly dinners at the Waverly Inn in New York City, surrounded by the literary elite. Parties in rented mansions in West Palm Beach, turquoise water sparkling in the distance. Doing line after line of coke with Marnie off a stripper’s smooth, toned back.

$750,000 was still all right. Nevaeh was probably going to use her half to help her mom out, anyway. Who was I to stop a good deed from happening?

Wren was now droning on about proofreading and fact-checking, but I let my imagination continue to run, fingers twitching as though I’d taken twenty extra milligrams of Adderall. Suddenly, I didn’t want to talk to him any longer. We’d sync on the next steps later.

“Actually, do you mind if I call you back? I’m, like, really overwhelmed right now. In a good way,” I told him. “Talk tomorrow? 3 PM your time?”

“Well, ah, I suppose so —”

“Thanks, Wren! You’re the best.” After hanging up, I allowed myself thirty seconds to let the news sink in before dialing Nevaeh. We hadn’t spoken since she’d left my party a few weeks ago. She was probably still pissed at me — in retrospect, I had been kind of a dick — but there was no way she’d stay mad after getting this news. I could barely even fathom how much two million dollars was, and it wasn’t even like I’d grown up poor.

Her phone rang and rang. I tapped my feet impatiently on the sheepskin rug I’d impulsively purchased after I’d had too much Château Margaux last week. Being of legal drinking age was fantastic, not that anyone who knew who I was would card me or anything.

“Hey, you’ve reached Nevaeh Shore. I can’t come to the phone right now, so please leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”

I rolled my eyes at her generic voicemail message and the fake customer-service voice she’d recorded it with. Did Nevaeh even have a phone anymore? She was one of those people who set her device on grayscale mode and left it at home whenever she could.

Whatever. I sent off a series of texts:

Heyyyyyy pick up, I have some actually fantastic news

Concerning the book!!!!

Like, $$$$ 🤑🤑🤑

Eh, she’d get back to me eventually. I was no longer in the mood to wait around. The book I’d had in my head forever had just sold for an exorbitant amount of money, and as a newly minted rich girl, I was ready to celebrate.

The next message I sent was to Oliver:

GUESS WHO JUST GOT A $2M BOOK DEAL

THIS BITCH

His reply was instantaneous.

holy shit u fucking genius

we have to go celebrate. rn. non-negotiable.

 Yet it was still Nevaeh who I thought about some hours later, my mind hazy from my fourth Cosmopolitan. It was stupid, the way I kept checking my phone to see if she’d replied to my messages, the way that knot in my stomach grew larger each time I confirmed that she hadn’t. Did she not want this money? Was this not a life-changing thing for her, too? Did she even still care about this project?

Not that I was showing any of this, of course. “What do you think about getting one of these for NipNop HQ?” I asked Oliver, sweeping my arm around to gesture to the circular bar at which we sat. Carousel SF was the grown-up version of a merry-go-round. It had the same tent-like top festooned with mirrors and lights, but there were elaborately painted seats instead of horses that moved up and down, and row after row of liquors decorated the middle. Apparently it moved, too, making a full rotation every fifteen minutes. I hadn’t noticed this when I’d first sat down, but now I felt a bit as if I were perched on a slow-moving top, surroundings whirling by. Perhaps it was time to slow the drinks coming my way?

“The bar on the roof isn’t even finished yet, and you already want to build another? Wooooow.” Oliver swirled the ice around in his Old Fashioned. “You can never be satisfied, huh? Always wanting more, more, more.”

It had been my idea to build a cityscape lounge at the top of the office building: atmospheric lighting, velvet couches in jewel tones, complimentary coffee and bar service available twenty-four-seven to all full-time employees. “Well, you know,” I said. Sometimes you’re in the mood for views. Sometimes you just gotta take yourself to the circus.” I checked my lock screen again — still nothing from Nevaeh. Damn it. “You know you’d love to take meetings in a seat with an elephant painted on it, getting progressively more wasted as time goes on. It would really help your negotiation game.”

Oliver narrowed his eyes and pretended to think. “Maybe we can do a rush job on credit before the next round of funding, and pay the contractor back after the Series C?”

“Now you’re talking. We stan a poorly-thought-out pyramid scheme.” Oliver was getting ready to trot NipNop out in front of investors again for our last round of funding before taking the company public. If things went well, the company would become what techies called a unicorn — valued at over a billion dollars.

“I can see the appeal of a carousel bar,” he mused. “Apparently it took forever to get shit cleared with the city, though. All those permissions and such. They were supposed to be open by the fall, but …” He rolled his eyes. “The fucking government.”

“At least we get the place all to ourselves now.” Carousel’s official grand opening date was three weeks away, but the owner had been happy to lend the space to us for a quick drink. Once you were deep enough in the Funnel of Winners, normie rules no longer applied.

“So …” I smiled. “Carousel bar, third floor maybe? Painted pastel pink. Replace the coffee shop that no one really goes to. Or maybe we could just put it in the rooftop lounge before they put the counters in. Think about it —” I jerkily spun my seat to the right, extending both of my hands out in a ta-da sort of way — “all this, but with the entire city below you as you cycle around and around.”

I could tell that Oliver was considering it by the way his eyes narrowed, doing a cost-benefit analysis of my proposal on the spot. “It would be a nice spot for happy hours,” he said at last. “Let’s think about it.”

“Thank you, dear.” I slurped up the rest of my Cosmo and leaned forward so that my forehead was resting against the cool metal of the bar. It had now been nearly six hours since I’d texted Nevaeh, and I still hadn’t heard back from her. Why was I counting how much time had passed?

I signaled for the bartender. “One more, please. No, wait. Actually, keep them coming until I pass the fuck out.”

God, I wished that Nevaeh had NipNop so that I could send her a few shots proving what a good time I was having. Plus, I was pretty today and I knew it. My bright red dress matched my lipstick and I’d pinned half my hair up, allowing a few locks to frame my face. Sure, my eyes were a little glassy, but who didn’t love the messy bitch look? Guess I’d have to make do with Stories for the public.

> A selfie of me beaming into the camera — YOU GUYS I just got the BEST news

> Pouting into the camera — I can’t reallyyyyy tell you what it is …

> Oliver lovingly kissing me on the cheek — But it’s about the book

> Me with my finger on my lips — Let’s just say that it’ll be a Thing soon 😉

> Me, winking — Finally, you’ll be able to hold my words in your hands!

> An impeccable shot of my right hand on my half-empty martini glass — I’M SO EXCITED IF YOU CAN’T TELL SDKJIDLFLSDJFSDFKS

> A blurry selfie of me holding my Cosmo in front of my face — CHEERS BITCHES!! THROW ONE BACK FOR MEEEE

Oliver kicked the edge of my seat with a Lanvin-clad foot as I set my phone back down. “You good? You’ve been throwing those back like a housewife at a bachelorette party.”

 I studied my reflection in one of the overhead mirrors. Upon second look, I could see that my under-eye bags were shadowy but obvious in the dim light. “I’m just a little out of it. Haven’t been sleeping much recently.” One more quick check of the phone — nothing. “Just riding that manic adrenaline wave. You know how it goes.”

“Did you tell Nevaeh yet?”

The bartender poured cranberry juice into a cocktail mixer and slammed on the lid, shaking the thing as hard as they could. They had an elegant technique: violent but controlled. I’d have to come back once Carousel was open to the public, just to watch them work. “Tell Nevaeh yet about what?”

“The book deal. Didn’t you guys write it together?”

“Yeah, but she hasn’t replied. She’s really busy. I think.” I examined in slow motion the pink froth at the top of my new drink. “It’s also possible that she’s still mad at me.”

Oliver let out a loud, barking laugh. “Again? When is she not mad at you?”

“Hey.” I swiveled around to face him. “She and I have our moments, but I think we’re still pretty good overall. I mean, if I were her and I kept getting ditched by my best friend, I guess I’d be salty, too.” I stared at Oliver expectantly. “Right? I remember that it happened with us once.”

“If you say so.” He signaled to the bartender for another round. “At least we both know we’re fighting when we fight. With her, it seems like you never know if something’s even wrong.”

The bartender poured a stream of amber bourbon into a glass of ice cubes, stirring gently. No shaking required for Oliver’s drink, apparently. Disappointing.

“That would be a deal-breaker for me, honestly,” Oliver continued. “I think that straightforwardness is the best quality a person can have. None of that wishy-washy beat-around-the-bush shit.”

He had a point. Nevaeh was the least confrontational person I knew, always keeping me guessing about where I stood. “I kind of like that about her, though,” I admitted. “She makes me calm down and realize that things aren’t as serious as I make them out to be.”

“Pfft. I don’t think we need to calm down or be more sensitive or whatever. People just need to catch up to the way that we think.” Oliver tipped his glass back. “The world is made up of those who make and those who take. I have no sympathy for babies. It’s harsh out there! Deal with it.

“You don’t see rabbits and gazelles bitching about being hunted by lions and wolves, do you?” He slammed his glass down with such force that some of the liquid splashed out onto the bar. “Human advances in technology have allowed the weak to peacefully live without any threat of harm or being prey. So ex-squeeze-me if I have no time for victim mindsets.”

It was hard to tell who was spinning now: me or the inside of the bar or our surroundings? I threw my head back, enjoying the way the lights left trails in my vision.

“Is that toxic of me to say?” Oliver asked. “Or to think? I mean, not that I really care. It’s just that people like Nevaeh piss me the fuck off.”

“She is super passive-aggressive,” I agreed, digging my phone out of my pocket for the millionth time. Still nothing. What the fuck? “I just wish she’d fucking text me back, bro. Makes me —” I turned my phone over — “feel like a piece of shit.”

“Nevaeh definitely would die in a hunter-gatherer culture,” Oliver said. “I don’t think that she was that pissed at you at Ophelia, though. She seemed to be having a good time talking to Andre.”

“To Andre? At my party?” What was he talking about?

“Yeah, she was hanging out by the bar the entire night. Didn’t you see? They looked like they were having an intense conversation.” Oliver squinted upwards, checking himself out in the mirrors. “I didn’t even know that they were friends.”

“They aren’t.” The room spun faster. I bit the insides of my cheeks to keep the nauseous feeling from breaking through again. “She was talking to Andre? Nevaeh? Was talking to Andre? Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure. Honestly, I thought she was a bitch about the entire thing. You have no idea how hard it was to get her to keep the party a secret, she kept asking all these questions —”

I was sinking, sinking. Still nothing from her. God, I hated this. All these stupid games, never knowing where I stood. Oliver was right, it was totally toxic. How dare she keep me hanging like this. Especially when there were actual material consequences on the line!

“I would just call her if I were you.”

I snapped back into the present, heat rising in my cheeks as I realized I’d been talking, ranting aloud. The bartender quickly resumed washing glasses, eyes downcast.

“Don’t be a fucking baby like she is, Helena. I don’t get why you’re so whipped, but overthinking solves nothing. You gotta take fucking action.” Oliver picked up my phone and dropped it in my lap. “So be the bigger man. Call her.”

“Ughhhhhh.” Oliver, the bar, the lights, the room was a blur of red and navy and gold as I found Nevaeh’s name in my contacts and jabbed at the little phone-shaped button with my index finger.

“Hey, you’ve reached Nevaeh Shore. I can’t come to the phone right now, so please leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”

Oliver nudged me again. “Say something.”

“Fucking hell —”

My phone beeped, prompting me to leave a message.

Damn it. “Heyyyyyyyy, it’s me,” I drawled in a cheerful tone, trying to sound both excited and casual at once. “Okay, I’m just gonna tell you because I literally can’t wait any longer.” A little squeal, for effect. “Guess what. Wren called me earlier and said that And We Weren’t Like sold for. Wait for it.”

Pause. Excited breath. “TWO MILLION DOLLARS. Two million motherfucking dollars, Nevaeh! And you get fifty percent. We’re going to be rich bitches.”

Shorter pause. “I say we celebrate. Let’s go somewhere. Turks and Caicos? Europe megatrip? New Orleans, maybe? You did always want to go to New Orleans. We should definitely do a shopping spree, too. Okayyyyy, I should go because the bartender just finished making my drink. Love you!”

I looked back over at Oliver, who raised a middle finger. “By the way, Oliver says hi. And I say byyyyyyeeeee, bitch!” My hand shook as I ended the call, feeling like I’d just downed two shots of espresso.

“What was that?” he asked, voice dripping with disdain.

“What was what?”

He adopted a high-pitched voice. “Oh my godddddd, Nevaeh! I miss yoooooouuu soooooooooooo much. Call me back. Call me, bitch! Just calllllllll meeeeee.”

“Shut the fuck up.” I touched a hand to my burning cheek. I’d pretended to be drunker than I was, but had I really sounded like that? I hoped not. But the voicemail had been left, the damage already done.

“I think she should be honored, honestly. It’s not every day that you simp so openly.”

Movement on my lock screen. New notification. My heart jumped into my throat. Was that — 

Message: Nevaeh Shore.

Oh God. Oh God oh God oh God oh God.

I jumped onto my feet, tottering around precariously on my heels. “FUCK. She texted me back.”

“Aren’t you going to see what she said?”

I stared at the screen. Message: Nevaeh Shore. “I … kind of don’t want to right now.”

“No pussying out now,” singsonged Oliver.

“You’re right.” Deep breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth. “All right, here goes.”

I entered my password with sweaty fingers.

Congrats. Will email you my bank account info. Stay tuned.

Time stood still. Even the carousel bar seemed like it was no longer moving. I blinked, wondering if I’d somehow read the message wrong.

Nope. It was still there the second time I looked, just as cold and un-Nevaeh-like.

“What’d she say?” Oliver asked, noticing the expression on my face. He came over and rested his chin on my shoulder. “Wow.”

“Am I reading this right?” I asked.

“I guess?” He shrugged. “Damn. Cold, even for her.”

I thought about texting her back when I was sober, but my fingers were already two steps ahead of me. ??? I sent.

What’s wrong? Send.

Thought you would be happier about this tbh. Send.

My pulse sped up again as three oscillating dots appeared on the screen. 

One second passed.

Two.

Three.

Just when I thought I would collapse from the anticipation, the dots disappeared. I slumped back down in my seat and finished what was left of my drink in one long gulp.

Message: Nevaeh Shore.

Was she serious? This time, I just decided to look at it. Fuck Nevaeh and her constant games, honestly. Oliver was right. It was better to be a hundred percent straightforward a hundred percent of the time.

I’m excited and happy about this project, Nevaeh had written, but I think I’ll need to take a break from you personally.

Next chapter

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