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chrissy

Picturing Perfect

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“Okay, so we were able to meet or exceed our target and raise 436 accounts to the business tier this past month...” Zoey started. We were in our quarterly update meeting and Zoey was presenting to the board. As her manager, I couldn’t be more proud. We were really doing it: In the wake of the pandemic, we seized the opportunity to take market share from the big dogs—Azure, Dropbox, S3—and instil confidence in our own solution. 

She was a firebrand, at least as far as cloud storage solutions sales could be called as such. Coming from photography school before pivoting into communications, at 32 years old she was primed to enter the next phase of her life and I had really enjoyed working with her at Vantage when we were in the building in our San Francisco office. But then, of course, March happened. It all happened. We’re lucky to be alive, really, much less having our business thrive. Like many tech companies, we’re almost embarrassed by the success. Almost. 

Zoey, a lady of principle, never stopped dressing up for work once we were all at home. She still wore the same blouses, pencil skirts (having been able to tell on our one on one meetings as she got up for a coffee refill), and somehow even cut her own hair to maintain the bangs and an up-do. Or maybe she kept to pyjamas on the says we weren’t scheduled for a Zoom, but let’s pretend I don’t think about it too much. 

Miraculously, she was able to mostly keep down what folks around work were calling the “covid 19” — myself, even, admittedly somewhat included, as I felt the jeans a little tighter, but nothing overly concerning yet. I guess I just needed to be doing more of Zoey’s photowalks — taking pics around San Fran with her Nikon, in her own Levis, living a life for a moment outside the corporate world — I almost envied it; my thing — if you could call it that, bar nights out — was very much off limits (at least for me, as a law-abider with a job on the line).

Prior to lockdown, Zoey was always up and down the same five pounds, cresting the wave when her shirt might ride up just half an inch — enough for plausible deniability that none of it was intentional. Her chest, similarly, went from a respectable B to a sizeable one. Entering her early thirties, accepting a doughnut on Friday was a dicey proposition, and she indulged maybe half the time.

But post-lockdown, natural accountability was off the rails. There was no one to dress up for necessarily, to be inspected from all sides by coworkers. No observations of eating habits. And after almost a full year, it was finally starting to show—as she ran down the report, it was almost to easy to pretend to be looking at nothing in particular, when I couldn’t help but notice the way that Zoey’s blouse tugged and pulled at her sides and chest in a way I’d never seen before. It still fit, sure—but it was a real change. Being untethered from the rules of accountability myself, in a decisive moment, I took a screenshot.

”Well done, Zoey!” I offered. She smiled. “Doing well, hanging in there?”

”Yeah! Considering a... camera upgrade with the bonus money, actually, keep me out there.”

”Pretty cold now though, no?”

”Yeah, well that never stopped me before, haha.”

”Fair enough, fair enough. Well don’t be a stranger eh?”

”Hahaha... I keep forgetting you’re from Canada.”

”You really don’t do the eh, eh?”

”Oh my god, stopppp.”

”Fine, fine. See you tomorrow?”

”See you.”

 

As usual, I put my less honourable thoughts about Zoey away with the work day. But then I opened the screenshot, five minutes later. And it got me imagining.

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Wow, lovely start. Nice imagery and character.

 

And I know I've gotten old when my taste fully changes from cheerleaders getting to big for their skirts to early thirties professionals getting too big for their skirts.

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1 hour ago, Batman76 said:

Wow, lovely start. Nice imagery and character.

 

And I know I've gotten old when my taste fully changes from cheerleaders getting to big for their skirts to early thirties professionals getting too big for their skirts.

That aint it 🤨 professional suits are tighter and have moar seams and buttons. Each pop and tear is it’s own adventure 😍

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It had been almost a month since I had taken that screenshot and, to my credit, I had done next to nothing about it. I mean, I know so much better: Company pen in the company ink, and all. But, truth be told, I had also had an eye on Zoey for a long, long time. Since she had joined the company five years ago in fact. And so we had a bit of a camaraderie, but I never pressed it further. Not because I didn’t want to, but because it just inevitably wouldn’t end well. But the distance of the pandemic and my incorrigible curiosity was shifting that equation.

I left my thumb hovering over the send button for a solid minute. The text: “Hey, do you happen to post your photos anywhere? Wondering how that upgrade is going.” The only thing preventing me is that it was an off-topic message on work communications. You know, the Slack that the boss can see. I needed a way to shift it off channel. That was step one, I thought.

Finally, I just did it. And waited. About a minute later, I decided to think nothing of it and get back to work. A response came about half an hour later—it was a base 64 hash. I descrambled it, grinning. “@photozoeysf.”

She had some wonderful work up there. Potrero Hill and the Central Waterfront were favorite destinations. from what I could gather. For a moment I even forgot that I had an ulterior motive. 

What to say? I imagined how she might be looking now, with an additional month of covid-induced habits. A layer of softness causing the need to be aware of camera angles. Those heavy Bs giving way to Cs. The way last year’s leggings must be… ahem.  One step at a time.

Once again I was faced with the daunting task of an at once perfect and innocuous opening. I paused, grimaced. Typed and deleted. Again.

“Incredible pictures. Wish I had asked about it sooner!”

She didn’t take nearly as long to type back.

“Thanks so much! Yeah, I waffled on making a portfolio site, just didn’t feel the urge as my job’s more than fine and I don’t want to make it work… but yeah.”

“No no, I encourage you to go for it—I mean, if you want you. Well, sometimes in my experience I find you have to dive in first to really understand if you want it.”

“That’s very decent advice.”

“Any ideas for the next photo walk?”

“I’m a habitual person. An east side person.  Now that you mention it, maybe I should venture out one weekend to Sunset. Plus, I’ve never tried Andytown Coffee or really ventured beyond Philz.”

I imagined Zoey tucking into an almond croissant. That was her absolute sin back in the building at Venture. I only saw it with her about once every couple of months. 

“That sounds wonderful. Well I won’t bother you too much. Thanks so much for sharing. Yeah, can’t believe I didn’t ask before.”

“Besides the work boundaries thing, but I think this is cool :)”

“Of course. Take care”

I left it at that for now. I had her Instagram, and who knows what would show up there. And I was a bit closer, which I genuinely, simply appreciated. 

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It’s nice that they’re together, for sure, but what will she do if she spots that screenshot? It raises questions 

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Nearly a solid three months had passed between then and the next quarterly update meeting, which is exactly how time works measuring quarters of a year, of course, but it was also the amount of time I had to suffer with not so much as even a hint as to how Zoey was doing outside her regular Instagrams. I pushed it to the back of my mind most of the time, when I could, but it was turning into a bit of an obsession. Fine. A real obsession. A problem. 

The nice part, though, is through regular Instagram chats I was getting to know her better than I ever had at work. Loves instrumental jazz. Can be a martini person on certain evenings. Donuts, but not bagels. Lots of dumping on Adobe software (ha)—and of course tons of photog talk. Heck, I think I was being persuaded into getting a camera myself. 

I saw waiting for the meeting, nursing a coffee in hand. It was one of those mornings where I felt a little tired, yet in a comfortable way—maybe satisfied with the indicator of having worked more than enough lately. 

The Zoom screens populated. Mark, in operations. Emily, in advertising. She was looking noticeably bigger these days too... Samantha, customer relations... more, in that flurry around 9:01am when most people apparently decide it's the right time to join... and Zoey.

Oh wow, Zoey.

There's only so far you can go in three months, but it was pretty clear to me that her pattern fo succumbing had taken a firmer grip on her. Whatever habits she had taken up had earned her some clearly-tighter sleeves and a chest that, were you looking for it like me, has clearly been bumped up a notch—hence the modest black attire, most likely. With her face held up like that you honestly couldn't tell from a headshot, but it was always that way with Zoey. You had to look under the neck to see any effects of indulgence on her figure. It was a blessing, maybe—it also probably made it harder for her to justify a diet, in addition to the myriad other reasons going on right now. I ached to see her stand up, but knew that wasn't happening.

I didn't hesitate to take a quick screenshot, though.

"Our acquisition rate is accelerating; 759 accounts raised to business tier in the past month alone; global diversification strategy and referral program is working wonders..." Zoey delivered enthusiastically. It was true. We were doing astoundingly well.

Not the only thing accelerating and working wonders, I thought to myself.

I didn't dare check the share price for fear I'd be tempted to sell. That was my rule. I had a lot of shares of Vantage having been hired on the ground floor, and I feared—as my shares would undoubtedly be valued in the millions by now, at least—that had I given it any serious consideration I would be tempted to sell and go. The fact was I liked my job, overall. It gave me regularity. 

 

A few hours later, in the afternoon, a surprising text. It was always a bit dull in the afternoon after a quarterly report—like a corporate hangover. 

"Couldn't help but feel your eyes on me this morning. I'm probably wrong..." Zoe DM'd me on Instagram. Oh boy.

"Well I wanted to pay attention—it's exciting earnings, what can I say?" Leaving room to interpretation. Was she testing me? This kind of stuff gets you reprimanded at best. Careful.

"Haha, true true. I think I'm gonna order in tonight. UberEats discount. Wouldn't want a good discount to go to waste."

"Nice plan," I stated.  "If you wanted to take a photo walk and the rest of this afternoon off I think that's reasonable. I can cover you if any questions in the next hour."

"You're too sweet. You know, one of these days you should come with. If I succeed in getting you to give in and get a camera, that is. Get tested."

I paused again. "That does sound nice."

"Just sell one of your bazillion shares. Did you see the ticker price today? Don't... I know that's your rule. But yeah. Think about it. ;)"

"You were always good at tempting people with offers, huh? Almost like it's your job." I teased.

"You mean like this?"

Zoe sent a selfie on DM. She had changed out of her black shirt into an old graphic tee. A bit of cleavage—where there was none— betrayed her, showing off her new C-cup assets. She smiled sweetly; her arms showed a bit of new softness, filling out her sleeves and beginning to tighten them. God she was starting to get big. I couldn't help it; I took a screenshot, knowing she would be notified.

"Can't help it, can you?"

She was on to me, no doubt.

 

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I pause, unsure where to take it next, even though it was fairly clearly an opening and exactly what I had been hoping for. I just, reasonably, never thought it would actually get there.

“A rare treat to see you outside a meeting,” I finally mustered. It was true, and danced on that thin edge between appropriate and inappropriate. Well, it probably wouldn’t stand scrutiny. But it could probably stand a lawyer. Despite my mind telling me to get the hell out of there, I felt a rising excitement. She had me. 

I paused. Breathed.

“You know this is dangerous…”

The typing indicator on her end went on for a solid minute. Oh boy.

“Ya that is more than fair. I’ll be honest… This quarantine stuff is driving me nuts. It’s ruined everything. My outings with girlfriends, my ability to get out…. my diet… I just need something more.”

“Well first of all, you look just fine. Way more than fine. Second of all, something more doesn’t necessarily mean… whatever this is… with your colleague and yeah, supervisor…”

“Ha, and that’s why you asked to comment on my Insta?”

“It was just an interest in your photos.” I lied.

“… and that’s why you took a screenshot of my selfie? Dig your hole deeper why don’t you, haha.” 

Guilty as charged. I paused again. This already looked terrible if anyone saw it. Damn. 

“What’s your address?”

“Woah there, first you pump the brakes and now you’re asking me where I live?”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. Zoe, we’ve known each other for five years. Trust me.”

“…. 757 Polk.”

I sent Zoe a screenshot of the delivery order. Mochill doughnuts, just like we had in the office on Fridays.

“I thought you might have missed these and I wanted to apologize a little for being difficult.”

“Damn! Thank you… but you realize this is six doughnuts for one person right? Haha… usually I’d have like, half of one.”

“Whoops… Give to those who need it on a photo walk?”

“That’s a fabulous idea. You know, you’re pretty decent for a corporate shill ;).”

“Ha. I’m nothing without my team.”

With that innocuous ending, I was left with little doubt that Zoe was about to slip even further into her darker habits.

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