His face had gone as bright as the beret, and though I didn’t think Swapna had meant it to be anything but funny, he’d never quite recovered his confidence since then.
Having Amsterdam declared “trendy” has his cheeks flushing past beret red straight to beet purple.
Someone else throws out Cozumel. And then there’s a vote for Las Vegas, which Swapna briefly considers. “Vegas could be fun.” She looks right to me. “Poppy, don’t you think Vegas could be fun?”
“It could definitely be fun,” I agree.
“Santorini,” Garrett says in the voice of a cartoon mouse.
“Santorini is lovely, of course,” Swapna says, and Garrett heaves an audible sigh of relief. “But we want something inspired.”
She looks at me again. Pointedly. I know why. She wants me to write the big feature. Because that’s what I came here to do.
My stomach twists. “I’ll keep brainstorming and work something up to pitch you on Monday,” I suggest.
She nods acceptance. Garrett sags in the chair beside me. I know he and his boyfriend are desperate for a free trip to Santorini. As any travel writer would be. As any human person probably would be.
As I definitely should be.
Don’t give up, I want to tell him. If Swapna wants inspiration, she’s not getting it from me.
I haven’t had any of that in a long time.
* * *
• • •
“I THINK YOU should push for Santorini,” Rachel says, swirling her glass of rosé on the mosaic top of the café table. It’s a perfectly summery wine, and because of her platform, we got it for free.
Rachel Krohn: style blogger, French bulldog enthusiast, born-and-bred Upper West Sider (but mercifully not the kind who acts like it’s so adorable that you’re from Ohio, or even that Ohio exists—has anyone even heard of it?), and professional-grade best friend.
Despite having top-of-the-line appliances, Rachel hand-washes all her dishes, because she finds it soothing, and she does so wearing four-inch heels, because she thinks flat shoes are for horseback riding and gardening, and only if you haven’t found any suitable heeled boots.
Rachel was the first friend I made when I moved to New York. She’s a social media “influencer” (read: gets paid to wear specific brands of makeup in pictures at her beautiful marbled vanity), and while I’d never had a friendship with a Fellow Internet Person, it turned out to have its perks (read: neither of us has to feel embarrassed when we ask the other to wait while we stage photos of our sandwiches). And while I might’ve expected not to have much in common with Rachel, it was during our third hangout (at the same wine bar in Dumbo where we’re currently sitting) that she admitted she takes all of her photos for the week on Tuesdays, changing outfits and hair in between stops at different parks and restaurants, then spends the rest of the week writing essays and running social media for a few dog rescues.
She fell into this job by way of being photogenic and having a photogenic life and two very photogenic (if constantly in need of medical attention) dogs.
Whereas I set out to build a social media following as a long game to turn travel into a full-time job. Different paths to the same place. I mean, she’s still on the Upper West Side and I’m on the Lower East Side, but we’re both living advertisements.
I take a mouthful of the sparkling wine and swish it around as I turn over her words. I haven’t been to Santorini, and somewhere in my parents’ overcrowded house, in a Tupperware box full of things that have absolutely nothing in common, there’s a list of dream destinations I made in college, with Santorini near the top. Those clean white lines and great swaths of glittering blue sea were about as far from my cluttered bi-level in Ohio as I could imagine.
“I can’t,” I finally tell her. “Garrett would spontaneously combust if he pitched Santorini and, once I got on board, Swapna approved it for me.”
“I don’t get it,” Rachel says. “How hard can it be to pick a vacation, Pop? It’s not like you’ve been saving your pennies. Pick a place. Go. Then pick another one. That’s what you do.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Rachel waves a hand. “I know, your boss wants an ‘inspired’ vacation. But when you show up somewhere beautiful, with the R+R credit card, inspiration will appear. There is literally no one on earth better equipped to have a magical vacation than a travel journalist with a big-ass media conglomerate’s checkbook. If you can’t have an inspired trip, then how the hell do you expect the rest of the world to?”
I shrug, breaking a piece of cheese off of the charcuterie board. “Maybe that’s the point.”
She arches one dark eyebrow. “What’s the point?”
“Exactly!” I say, and she gives me a look of dry disgust.
“Don’t be cute and whimsical,” she says flatly. To Rachel Krohn, cute and whimsical is nearly as bad as trendy is for Swapna Bakshi-Highsmith. Despite the softly hazy aesthetic of Rachel’s hair, makeup, clothes, apartment, and social media, she’s a deeply pragmatic person. For her, life in the public eye is a job like any other, one she’s kept because it pays the bills (at least when it comes to cheese, wine, makeup, clothes, and anything else businesses choose to ship her), not because she relishes the kind of manufactured semifame that comes with the territory. At the end of every month, she does a post with the worst, unedited outtakes from her photo shoots, the caption reading: THIS IS A FEED OF CURATED IMAGERY MEANT TO MAKE YOU PINE FOR A LIFE THAT DOES NOT EXIST. I GET PAID FOR THIS.
Yes, she went to art school.
And somehow, this kind of pseudo performance art has done nothing to curb her popularity. Whenever I’m in town for the last day of the month, I try to schedule a wine date so I can watch her check her notifications and roll her eyes as the new likes and follows pour in. Every once in a while she’ll stifle a shriek and say, “Listen to this! ‘Rachel Krohn is so brave and real. I want her to be my mom.’ I’m telling them they don’t know me, and they still don’t get it!”