Home > The Seven Year Slip

The Seven Year Slip
Author: Ashley Poston


   Publishers Lunch

   My aunt used to say, if you don’t fit in, fool everyone until you do.

   She also said to keep your passport renewed, to pair red wines with meats and whites with everything else, to find work that is fulfilling to your heart as well as your head, to never forget to fall in love whenever you can find it because love is nothing if not a matter of timing, and to chase the moon.

   Always, always chase the moon.

   It must have worked for her, because it never mattered where she was in the world, she was home. She waltzed through life like she belonged at every party she was never invited to, fell in love with every lonely heart she found, and found luck in every adventure. She had that air about her—tourists asked her for directions when she went abroad, servers asked her opinion on wines and fine whiskeys, celebrities asked her about her life.

   Once, when we were at the Tower of London, my aunt and I accidentally found ourselves at an exclusive party at the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula and managed to stay with a well-placed compliment and a knockoff statement necklace. There, we met a prince of Wales, or Norway or somewhere, moonlighting as the DJ. I didn’t remember much of the rest of that night since I overestimated my tolerance for too-expensive scotch.

   But every adventure with my aunt was like that. She was the master of belonging.

   If you aren’t sure which fork to use at a fancy dinner? Go along with the person beside you. Lost in a city you’ve lived in for most of your life? Pretend you’re a tourist. Listening to an opera after never hearing one ever before? Nod and comment on the chilling vibrato. Sitting in a Michelin-starred restaurant drinking a bottle of red wine that costs more than your monthly apartment rent? Comment on the body and act like you’ve tasted better.

   Which, in this case, I had.

   The two-dollar bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s tasted better than this, but the delicious small plates made up for it. Bacon-wrapped dates and fried goat cheese drizzled in lavender honey and smoked trout fritters that melted in your mouth. All the while sitting in a charming little restaurant with soft yellow lightning, the front windows open to let in the sounds of the city, vines of pothos plants and evergreen ferns hanging from the sconces above us, as central air brushed across our shoulders. The walls were trimmed in mahogany, the booths a supple leather that, in this early June heat, would peel the skin off my thighs if I wasn’t careful. The place was intimate, the tables spaced just far enough apart that we couldn’t hear the hushed conversations of anyone else in the restaurant over the constant soft murmur from the kitchen.

   If a restaurant could romance, I was utterly enchanted.

   Fiona, Drew, and I sat at a small table in the Olive Branch, a Michelin-starred restaurant down in SoHo Drew had been begging to go to for the last week. I’m not usually one for long lunches, but it was a Friday in the summer, and to be fair, I owed Fiona, Drew’s wife, a favor, since I’d had to bail on a play last week that Drew wanted to see. Drew Torres was an editor and hungry to find unique and talented authors, so she’d dragged both me and Fiona along to the weirdest concerts, plays, and places I’d ever been to. And that was saying a lot, because I’d been to forty-three countries with my aunt and she excelled at finding weird places.

   This, however, was very—very—nice.

   “This is officially the fanciest lunch I’ve ever been to,” Fiona announced, popping another bacon-wrapped date into her mouth. It was the only thing we’d ordered so far that she could eat—the rare wagyu slices were out of the question for a person seven months pregnant. Fiona was tall and waifish, with dyed-periwinkle hair and pale white skin. She had dark freckles across her cheeks and always wore kitschy earrings she found at flea markets on the weekends. Today’s flavor was metal snakes with signs in their mouths that read Fuck Off. She was Strauss & Adder’s best in-house designer.

   Beside her sat Drew, spearing another wagyu slice. She was a newly minted senior editor at Strauss & Adder, with long curly black hair and warm brown skin. She always dressed like she was about to go on an excavation in Egypt in 1910—and today was no different: supple tan trousers and a pressed white button-down and suspenders.

   Sitting with them, I felt a little underdressed in my free Eggverything Café T-shirt from my parent’s favorite diner, light-wash jeans, and red flats I’d had since college, duct tape on the soles because I couldn’t bear to part with them. I was going on three days without washing my hair, and the dry shampoo only did so much, but I’d been late to work this morning, so I hadn’t thought a lot about it. I was a senior publicist at Strauss & Adder, a perpetual planner, and somehow I had not planned for this outing in the slightest. To be fair, it was a Summer Friday, and I hadn’t expected anyone to be in the office today.

   “It is really fancy in here,” I agreed. “It’s much better than that poetry reading in the Village.”

   Fiona nodded. “Though I did enjoy how all of their drinks were named after dead poets.”

   I made a face. “The Emily Dickinson gave me the worst hangover.”

   Drew looked incredibly proud of herself. “Isn’t this place just so nice? You know that article I sent you? The one in Eater? The author, James Ashton, is the head chef here. The article is a few years old, but it’s still a great read.”

   “And you want him to do a book with us?” Fiona asked. “For—what—a cookbook?”

   Drew seemed genuinely hurt. “What do you take me for, a plebeian? Absolutely not. A cookbook would be wasted on someone who is such a wizard with words.”

   Fiona and I gave each other a knowing look. Drew had said the same about the play I narrowly avoided last week as I moved into my late aunt’s apartment on the Upper East Side. Fiona told me on Saturday, while I heaved a record player into the elevator, that she would never go swimming in the ocean again.

   With that said, Drew did have a fantastic eye for what a person could write, not what they had already. She was brilliant at possibilities. She thrived on them.

   That was what made her a unique sort of powerhouse. She always took in the underdogs, and she always helped them bloom.

   “What’s that look for?” Drew asked, looking pointedly between the two of us. “My instincts were right about that musician we saw on Governors Island last month.”

   “Sweetheart,” Fiona replied patiently, “I’m still getting over the play I saw last week about a man who had an affair with a dolphin.”

   Drew winced. “That was . . . a mistake. But the musician wasn’t! And neither was that TikToker who wrote that amusement park thriller. It’s going to be phenomenal. And this chef . . . I know this chef is special. I want to hear more about that summer he turned twenty-six—he alluded to it in Eater, but not enough.”

   “You think there’s a story there?” Fiona asked.

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