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Beauty in the Breakdown

By´╝ÜNatalie Baird

Chapter One

Beyond the rows of clear and amber liquor, I caught sight of my reflection in the bar's mirrored backsplash. It was clear from one cursory glance that I did not belong there. I leaned my elbows on the slick black bar and tore them away just as quickly—the surface was sticky and smelled sickly sweet. Some place for an interview, I thought, adjusting my headband in the mirror. My straight black hair fell down my back in a well-kept flow, but somehow I didn’t think that anyone in this joint would appreciate my grooming skills very much.

I glanced around the dive bar and tried like hell not to turn my nose up at it. Nestled into a hole in the wall in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the place was dimly lit, nearly empty, and as grimy as it gets. It certainly wasn’t the kind of establishment that I frequented when I had my druthers. I spun anxiously on my ripped bar stool, shooting the bartender a dirty look when I felt his eyes resting on my breasts, nestled though they were in a polo tee. I suddenly doubted the glass of red wine I’d ordered—I wouldn’t have put it past the bearded man behind the bar to slip something into it when I wasn’t looking.

As the dusty jukebox wheezed with the effort of changing tracks, I consulted my phone for the umpteenth time. He was half an hour late, the man who had requested my presence. And he had insisted that we meet in this place alone. I sighed heavily, knowing that to passersby, I must look like a preppy tight ass. My facial expressions and posture did nothing to hide my disapproval of this place.

My boss told me that this was supposed to be a business meeting, so I went ahead and dressed the part. But I was starting to get the feeling that this wasn’t going to be like any business meeting I’d ever had.

The door of the bar creaked open, and I looked up expectantly, hoping it would be the man I was there to see. My face fell as I spotted a tattooed couple sauntering across the threshold. Their eyes landed on me and rested there for a moment. I could feel them sizing me up. They probably thought I was crazy, or lost, or both. I drew myself up on my barstool, trying not to feel self conscious. I was just a typical yuppie young lady rocking a pencil skirt in a dive bar. No big deal, I reassured myself.

I took a slow sip of my wine, throwing caution to the wind. I was starting to get the terrible feeling that I had been stood up for this interview. This whole thing hadn’t made any sense to begin with, and at first I figured that my boss, Kellan, had been messing with me.

Earlier that day, he had hurried over to my desk at our small office in midtown Manhattan, with a satisfied grin plastered onto his face.

“Alexa,” he breathed excitedly, looking for the world like a little boy on Christmas morning.

“Yes?” I asked, eyeing him sceptically.

Kellan was not a man who ruffled easily. The last time I’d seen him anywhere near this level of excitement was when his first child had been born.

“I’m about to give you the scoop of a lifetime,” he said, leaning across my desk.

“OK, OK,” I’d drawled, going along with his act, “Do I get to take out the garbage again today? Or plan the company Christmas party?”

“I’m serious,” he said, and I could tell from the sudden glimmer in his eye that he was telling the truth.

“What is it?” I asked quietly.

“I have two words for you,” Kellan whispered, “Jackson. Brent.”

“The rock star Jackson Brent?” I asked, confused, “What about him?”

“He wants to meet you,” Kellan said, bouncing on the balls of his feet, “Isn’t that fantastic?”

I’d felt my head cock to the side as I looked up at my boss. Kellan had founded the magazine we both currently worked for, a pretty successful rag called The Beat. When I graduated a couple of years back, Kellan had just started to kick his operation into high gear, looking for new talent wherever he could find it. I was fresh out of undergrad and totally inexperienced in the real world of media journalism.

Journalism had been my major, and I’d had an internship with my hometown newspaper, but I had never actually written any legitimate articles. As a college student, I maintained a blog called “LexiCon”, which at the time seemed like a very clever play on my name and perpetually cynical outlook. I wrote culture reviews and had a good hundred followers, but it never really took off.

I found Kellan by chance. One afternoon I was scrolling through Craigslist, becoming depressed by the fact that the only job postings were for go-go dancers and x-rated models, when one ad in particular caught my eye. “Write for the best,” it had read, “Music and culture mag looking for fresh meat.” I immediately jumped on the listing and tracked down Kellan’s contact information. I had just graduated college at that point, and was about to be cut off by my parents. They’d always been super supportive, but they certainly didn’t have the money to pay for my NYC housing indefinitely.