Breathe In, Cash Out
The night before . . .
I am five coffees deep and drowsy. I rest in a split on my yoga mat as the women around me massage their own shoulders and luxuriate in slow head circles before the midnight class begins. Finally, a break.
One bare foot stamps my mat.
He strides past, leaving a temporary heel print on the vinyl. Apologies, muttered unintentionally and deadpan like a reflexive bless you to someone you don’t know on the subway. He unrolls his own yoga mat—one of the slippery two-dollar rentals—right beside me, leaving only inches between us. Great. In order to do a decent side crow or rock-star pose, I’m going to trespass on this asshole’s airspace. And he on mine.
He pretzels into a cross-legged seat, palms on his knees. His legs are thick and hairy beneath black spandex-and-mesh shorts. It’s not the typical yoga body. If his muscles were any bigger, they might be trashy. As they are now, his chest and arms fill his NANTUCKET TRIATHLON shirt perfectly. His face is sharp,
and he’s not wearing a wedding ring. For a second, I imagine climbing onto his lap.
I stand and align the long edges of my mat perpendicular to the front of the room. Better. Arranging shapes is a habit of mine. For the past two years, I’ve spent half of my time as an investment banking analyst aligning text boxes of bullshit in PowerPoint.
“Do you have the time?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say. I like being deliberately vague.
He smirks. He is probably twice my age, judging from the patches of gray hair. Yoga tries to balance opposites, especially the masculine with the feminine, and the people you usually see in studios are evidence: lean, muscled women and flexible, necklace-wearing men. This stranger does not fit the mold. From his wide jaw to his massive feet, he is all man. The only man here.
“I’m Mark.” He extends a wide-fingered hand. I like big.
“Allegra,” I say, taking his.
I smile invitingly at Mark.
“You’re not one of those crazy yogis, are you?” he asks.
I laugh a little from shock.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Young and beautiful?” he says. “Can’t be trusted.”
“Yeah, totally,” I say sarcastically. “Just one of those yogi assholes, I guess.”
“Just rotten,” he says.
We laugh, and he winks. That was forward. His eyes drift down my body and back up again. Now I’m sure he’s hitting on me. If he weren’t so handsome, the advance in a yoga studio would put me off, but good-looking men can get away with overconfidence.
“Come to sukhasana, or any comfortable seat,” the teacher coos, “and let us take a moment to set our intention for practice today.” She leads us in an omm as we set our intentions, but I already know mine. I am going to yoga-fuck this Mark from my mat for the next hour.
* * *
Savasana, or corpse pose, is always last. After stretching out muscles useless to office life—the pelvic psoas as I twist my torso into triangle pose, the glottis in my throat as I make my breath hotter and faster in “breath of fire”—we lie in complete relaxation. We’re invited to experience death in corpse pose. It lasts up to fifteen minutes, usually in complete darkness and silence. It’s considered poor etiquette to get up and leave in the middle of savasana, which would disturb the experience of death, obviously. Good yogis leave before or after.
I glance toward Mark for a cue. We lie next to each other, close enough, sweaty enough, and breathless enough that we could have just had sex. He is staring at me. His liquid-soft brown eyes are unblinking and hungry. My groin blushes hot, and I am instantly wet. I roll my hips slightly from side to side, and his gaze drifts down to the top of my yoga pants. I close my eyes, enjoying the deliciousness of being exactly what he wants. Yoga, when done correctly, quiets the mind. Whether it’s the yoga that did it or Mark, my inner monologue has stopped, and I feel only desire for him.
When class is finally over, we push our mats into jelly-roll coils. Other students shuffle, whisper thank-yous, and zip up their coats to head home. Thinking of the Ashtanga series makes me think of the series of poses that Mark and I will cycle through tonight.
* * *
I wake up in Mark’s Midtown studio the way one-night stands always end. We are back-to-back, with a wide strip of space between us as a reminder of what he owes me: absolutely nothing. The sex was good. It wasn’t like getting Groundhog Day–slammed by some twenty-something who thinks he’s the shit because at some point he rubs your clitoris. Mark kissed slowly. His oral was soft and specific. I actually came. He held my legs straight up, perpendicular to my waist, and just stared at my genitals while we fucked.
Genitals is exactly the right word to use here, because the sex wasn’t personal. Well, except for the one moment when he groaned that I was “fucking amazing at yoga.”
Alarm sounds jingle from Mark’s phone.
He lumbers out of bed toward the bathroom. Shower water hits marble. Sitting up, I see the place has a first-apartment feel: barely any furniture, and what’s there looks secondhand. It’s a little understated for someone paying forty dollars for an hour of yoga. I fish my phone out of my gym bag and scroll through the mailbox: fifty-two new work emails since I last checked six hours ago. It’s 8:12 a.m.
“Legz,” he says.
His playful tone suggests the z.
“Markz,” I parrot.
He emerges, lower body toweled and bare chest defined beneath a white tee.
“Coffee?” he asks.
“No, thanks,” I say. I do want coffee, but being given something so soon after sex makes it feel like a payment.
“I have Colombian beans,” he says. “I’ll grind them right now.”
“You’re right, dinner is much better than coffee,” he says. I can’t help but smile. “All right, all right. You win. You beat me down. Dinner it is.”
“Wow, you give up so easy.”
“I know, right? I’ll cook. Red or white?”
“Neither, I don’t really drink.”
“Well, that’s what you get for meeting a girl at a yoga class,” he says. “I had a feeling my next girlfriend would be a do-gooder.”
“Oh my God.”
“Too much charm?” he asks. “I know. I’m cursed.”
I head to the bathroom and change quickly, no time for a shower. I give myself a once-over, nervous enough that I might actually like this alpha asshole. My blond hair looks dry and stiff at the ends from too much flat-ironing. I finger-brush away a couple of clumps and rub the ends to grease them with the natural oils from my hands. My light eyebrows, almost as pale as my skin, disappear into my forehead. In my T.J. Maxx suit, I look like Taylor Swift would if she had a day job as a tax attorney.
Mark and I step over a paper copy of the Wall Street Journal outside his door and ride the elevator down. He is dressed sharply in a suit—so sharply that I do a double take. His gleaming loafers look like new Berlutis that could cost up to two thousand dollars. We pass a Pink store, where his crisp dress shirt matches the one in the window display. His blue jacket fits perfectly, as if he is a Patrick Bateman double. To top it all off, his skin is better than mine. His face is clear and moisturized to the point of actual dewiness.
“Are you an actor or something?” I ask.
“Your suit,” I say, gesturing.
Is nicer than your apartment.
“Just showing you my range,” he says.
He raises his hand to hail me a cab.
“Oh, no thanks,” I say. Anderson Shaw’s headquarters shines just a couple of blocks away. “I’ll walk.”
“I insist,” he says. “My treat.”
“No, really,” I say.
“All right,” he says. “See you tonight.”
He lowers his hand to grab my ass.
“Goodbye now,” he says.
We start to walk in the same direction and I pretend not to notice. Phone in hand, I sift through emails, back in my default state of skimming and replying “Will do.” I only look up at the final intersection, where I stand face-to-face with Anderson’s headquarters on the other side of the street. Mark is still beside me, zoned into his phone as well. Green light. We meet each other’s eyes as we cross the street. He looks puzzled until it dawns on him, and instantly, all of his ass-cupping warmth vanishes.
He picks up his pace. My mouth stays shock-locked in one surprise O. Mark who? Mark fucking who? I slow my walk until he is three or four paces ahead. My heart clogs my throat. Yellow cabs whiz past me to unload today’s batch of bankers, traders, and equity researchers. Mark’s coattails almost blend into the ID-swiping crowd of backs in the lobby, but I keep my eyes on him.
He passes the first bank of elevators. The second and final bank leads only to the fifteenth floor, a transportation hub known as the Sky Lobby. On either side of me, elevators are constantly
arriving or leaving. They obey Anderson’s unspoken rule where, once a car is half-full, someone will thumb-jab the door-close button two hard, fuck you times. The self-selected fuck you–er of Mark’s elevator acts fast. The shining silver doors close.
Hundreds of suits roll through the palatial Sky Lobby. The right side of the enormous atrium is a seamless floor-to-ceiling window overlooking Manhattan. The left side is lined with more elevator banks where, instead of hitting buttons inside the elevator, you enter your floor number into a calculator-type keypad stationed to one side of the bank and are assigned to an elevator—F6, or G8, as the case may be. Mark’s head bobs through the crowd to my bank. I am just seconds behind him. Limply, I press the same numbers he did, vaguely noting that the buttons are still warm from his fingertips. We are assigned to the same elevator headed to the same floor: thirty-five, dedicated to Healthcare banking.
* * *
There aren’t many devout yogis in my line of work—and I won’t be here for long. The plan is to complete a two-hundred-hour yoga-teacher training and then teach full-time after my two-year analyst contract expires (T-minus two months to go). I’ve been dedicated to a serious yoga practice since college, but I signed with Anderson before I decided to turn the hobby into a job. Hence my current situation. For now, I live as much as I can by credos like “All you need is less” while pulling all-nighters and nodding along in whose-dick-is-bigger conversations comparing deals and bonuses.
I am a second-year investment banking analyst at Anderson Shaw. On my résumé, that means I build financial models from scratch, strategize for powerhouse executives, and prepare
materials for the M&A deals headlining the Wall Street Journal. In reality, I spend up to twenty-four hours a day changing the colors on stacked bar charts, making my bosses feel better about themselves, and, as of last night, literally fucking a coworker.
Half of my job is making “pitch books.” Senior bankers carry these to sales meetings with clients in order to convince the CEO on the other side of the table to do some kind of deal. Bankers pitch all kinds of deals: buy a company in the same sector “for scale,” or buy a company in a different sector “to diversify,” and then use proceeds to fuel more deals in a never-ending flywheel of shit for me to do. To create the sales pitch, we make line graphs, schematics, and financial model outputs. Then we work on the deal itself, once the CEO agrees, Yes, we would be a better company if we had half as much cash on the balance sheet Who wants that much cash anyway? Not fucking us.
At the moment, I’m waiting with Mark and another analyst for F3. Those phonetics sum it up: F3. Eff me. The analyst between us is known for always looking like a complete mess. Her black eyeliner is constantly smudged as if she’s been wearing the same makeup for weeks or crying about some work-related catastrophe. Today, her skirt is beyond wrinkled, again.
“Rough night?” she asks me.
Mark’s eyes dart toward us.
“Sort of,” I say.
If she thinks I look bad, then I am so fucked. The three of us file into the elevator and blink up to the thirty-fifth floor. Everyone laser-eyes their phone.
The doors open, and Mark and I split in opposite directions. I head to the pantry for coffee. Every banking floor looks the same: shared desks down one side and window offices down the other.
It has the feel of a two-lane highway where one lane is made of dirt and the other is paved and tree-lined. Each of the shared desks seats four—two facing two, without any physical divider—and is known as a “pod,” meant for analysts, associates, and vice presidents. The all-glass offices are for senior vice presidents and managing directors.
I throw the coffee back like an eight-ounce shot and head to my desk. Turns out, Mark’s office is right before Real Estate, the only other group on thirty-five, and out of sight from my pod on the other side of the floor. His broad back faces me as he takes in the view from his power nest. He grabs his hips, elbows wide, and juts his pelvis forward. I scurry unnoticed to safety.
Fuck. It is 9 a.m. and I am living in a nightmare. I am never here this early, and no other desk-dweller is either. I wait for the three other bankers in my pod: there’s Chloe,
the emotionless fake blonde from Dartmouth who Instagrammed herself on a partner’s G5 with the hashtag #likeaG5; Puja,
the heiress whose father owns one of the biggest private banks in India, and who grew up using a credit card with her last name—the bank’s name—printed on the front; and Tripp,
the devil-may-care associate known for keeping an earbud in his right ear and watching Netflix on one of his two computer screens all day. This is a habit he began as an intern while sitting next to a vice president.
At the desk, I navigate to Anderson Shaw’s internal facebook. There is one Mark in Healthcare: Mark Thomas Swift, whose profile picture matches Markz’s exactly. He just transferred into HG from Equity Capital Markets, another Anderson Shaw banking group, as a managing director. Today is his first day.
I immediately start to internet-stalk Mark: Google, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, fucking everything. He has a couple
of photos on New York Social Diary, but those thumbnails are too small to reveal much. His Facebook is private. LinkedIn corroborates his AS employment, but otherwise his profile is empty, like that of anyone who’s not looking for another job. At least his Instagram is public. His posts are geotagged—the Loeb Boathouse, Lincoln Center, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, all for black-tie events. I hover over a picture of him standing alone and illuminated by floor lights at Avenue. The caption reads: “Charity—#Yellowstone #JayGatz.” Did he just compare himself to the Great Gatsby? I’m more concerned he felt the need to abbreviate “Gatsby” like a college bro. As I scroll deeper into summertime posts, the geotags become Jackson Hole, Aspen, and Montauk Point. It is a hyperbolically sceney Instagram. I don’t think he has been anywhere expensive without taking a picture of it.
You know what? This guy doesn’t give a shit about yoga.
Fingernails rap my desk, finding the only wooden oasis in the mess of papers.
“Hello,” Mark says.
He doesn’t look me in the eye. He seems to be checking if anyone else is around, and no one is. Junior people are commuting or sleeping, and senior people are tucked into their glass enclaves. Mark walks around to stand behind my monitors, which display in a horizontally tiled sequence: his Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google-searched name. Every analyst has two desktop monitors, and his internet identity is smeared across both of mine. I corner-X out of every window as fast as humanly possible.
“Allegra,” he says.
“Yes?” I squeak.
“Let’s be mature about this,” he says. He strides away.
What does that even mean? He turns the corner, leaving me alone with his ambiguous decree. Should that go on my to-do list for, like, my job? I open Microsoft Outlook to get on with the day. Now, on top of everything else, I feel an urge to reflect on my fucking life. Like, how did things get this out of control? Maybe Mark was right when he called me rotten. Maybe I’ll never be the yogi I want to be and, really, at my core, I’m just an Anderson piece of shit.