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Marie put on her earrings. She reviewed her reflection in the mirror. As she fixed her hair, she mentally ran through her pitch.

“Someone looks gorgeous today,” Phillip approached from behind and kissed her neck.

She wriggled out of his embrace, annoyed that he broke her flow.

“And she pulls away, again!” He joked and went over to the chest of drawers to retrieve his clothes.

“Sorry, but I am really nervous,” Marie turned to him. Every time when she concentrated on something, she rebuffed Phillip’s advances or any innocent attempt of closeness. He laughed that sometimes it’s like living with an ivy, always crawling away. She knew very well that a hug from him would calm her nerves, but she couldn’t help it. When she was focussed, her mind didn’t make a room for affection, or anything that seemed to interrupt her efforts to reach the destination, physical or mental.

“Why are you nervous? Don’t be silly,” Phillip put on his pants. “You’re fantastic at what you do, and even if this gig won’t work out, there will be so many others. Chill out, darling,” he planted a kiss on her cheek and left.

Men don’t waste time with self-doubt.

///

“Can I bring you anything else?” the waitress asked.

Pleasant lounge music suggested a relaxing atmosphere in a small French bistro, but there was nothing relaxing about the place itself, or Marie’s feelings. She watched the waitress cleaning up Marie’s empty coffee cup and willed her to stop. She didn’t want to sit here with nothing to occupy herself, but having another coffee would just increase the jitters.

“Maybe a tea, please,” Marie swallowed and looked towards the entrance.

She needed to pee desperately. The woman was already fifteen minutes late. Marie arrived ten minutes before the appointment. Almost half an hour sitting alone, waiting for potentially most important collaboration of her life. She squeezed her pelvic muscles. What if the woman shows up while she was at the toilet? No, she has to hold.

Marie tapped her fingers on the table as if playing a fast-paced concerto. She had never met the woman, but Marie admired everything about the tall, beautiful mother of two who run a successful consultancy for small businesses. She was smart, connected, always great looking. Oh, and she cooked like a goddess, or at least the photos could have won a gourmet magazine price. Her family was gorgeous. This woman had it all. Marie wanted not only to work with her, she wanted to be her.

Finally, the door opened and Marie’s business prospect waltzed in. Or at least someone who may have been the influencer Marie expected, just much shorter. Hm, apparently camera doesn’t only add pounds. The woman looked around and spotted Marie. Her smile an ad for a dental clinic, very white and very fake.

“Hi, I’m Isabella,” she nodded and sat down. “Sorry I’m late, but I forgot my mother had a doctor’s appointment, and I had to scramble to find a child care. You know, the sitters are so expensive!” she pulled out her cell phone. “Just one of those mornings,” she shook as a wet dog.

“Sorry to hear that. Would you mind if I just run to the toilet,” Marie almost curtsied as she stood up. Geez, what’s wrong with me. Strange that Isabella can’t afford a sitter. And clearly she was not so organized since she forgot to sort out the childcare. She was human, after all.

“Okay, I am all yours,” Marie smiled as she returned.

“Let’s just take a selfie together first,” Isabelle moved her chair closer to Marie, stroke a pose and took several pictures. Her chin positioned forward, her better side towards the camera, lips gently pursed. And I probably look like an idiot, Marie thought, annoyed.

“Would you like to include Feng Shui principles to your business or you home? Or your life in general?” Marie asked.

Isabelle looked up from her phone, busy adjusting the photo and applying filters, and searched Marie’s face, her expression blank. “What do you think?” she returned to her phone.

“Well, it really depends on your budget and your needs. Some of my clients start with business and after they realized the improved, nurturing quality of their environment, they moved on to apply the principles to their life. It’s my philosophy to rather teach my clients, so they can learn to sense what they need rather than design for them and make them completely dependent on me. Off course-,”

“Is it okay if I tag you?” Isabella interrupted.

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“I guess,” Marie stared at the woman in front of her, completely losing her train of thoughts. Isabella didn’t seem to notice that the conversation came to a halt.

Under a thick layer of Isabella’s makeup, there was a skin that was far from healthy. Filters do wonders.

“Sorry,” Isabella looked up from the screen. “It’s my sister. Geez, she is out,” Isabella pointed towards the bistro’s window, “with the girls and she can’t handle them for a minute. She is completely useless and always makes such a fuss about helping me out. Siblings,” Isabella rolled her eyes and started to type violently.

Is she talking about the sister she always hashtags as her #BFF and their banter in the comments is a hilarious stand-up? Nothing is what it seems.

“So, could you tell me what are you looking for?” Marie tried to help her companion to focus.

“Hm, I don’t know. Feng Shui,” Isabella pronounced the latter as ‘shoe,’ “is so cool, you know. It would give my brand a holistic quality and attract new followers. You know people who are into that kind of things,” she waved her fingers as if she talked about annoying insects.

“And what is your budget?” Marie asked. No point beating around the bushes. This client was not what she looked like… or carefully worked to look like.

“Well, I hoped we could start for free. I mean, my endorsement would for sure get you other clients. You know, my business hasn’t been going well since the girls were born. There is just no time. You understand, you are a mother too,” Isabelle awarded Marie with one of her fake smiles.

Marie inhaled. “I’ll think about what I can offer you as a barter. It’s important that it makes sense for both of us.”

///

“We live in a world of illusions. But they don’t evoke any magic or excitement. No, it’s a different type of illusions. They breed envy and hatred, I think. Geez, even I caught myself being seriously jealous of that woman. Before I met her,” Marie stood by the window surrounded by the heavy hospital atmosphere. Machines beeped and odor of disinfectant attacked her nostrils. “Social media are the single reason for wide spread of a contagious comparitis,” Marie snorted.

She looked at her friend Giselle, lying in a hospital bed. Marie longed to hear her voice. To ponder her usually sage advice.

“What does envy bring me?” Marie asked. “Why do I feel it?”

Giselle breathed calmy in her medically induced coma.

“I was jealous when I believed she had something I don’t. But why don’t I have it is the real question, isn’t it?” Marie sat on a chair by her friend’s bed. “Oh, Giselle, this conversation would be much easier if you spoke back!” Marie shrugged and smiled at her friend. She squeezed Giselle’s hand.

“Okay, I don’t have what she pretends to have. Why? If I’m to be honest, I’m scared. I’m scared that if I take steps towards bold business decisions, I might fail,” Marie paced now around the bedroom. “And comparing myself with others is just not giving me the confidence I need,” Marie sighed. “Good, my dear, this was a pleasant conversation, but I need to go now. Love you,” she kissed her friend. She watched her friend’s relaxed face, eyes flittering slowly under the closed lids. Tomorrow they plan to wake her.

///

Marie’s Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram account almost exploded overnight. The amount of her followers based on Isabella’s tagged photo doubled. She clicked on some of the profiles. After almost an hour of browsing and enjoying the virtual attention, she jumped up and realized she feels better about herself. Just for a second, because then she remembered all the work she could have done instead of browsing and all the social media love evaporated.

Her phone beeped. Giselle. She was up. The message was the best virtual interaction she had, and it only took a few seconds to read.

I’m sure you’re better than yesterday. The past you is the only benchmark for comparison. Love, G.

And here is another story from the Wine o’clock collection.

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