Are You Normal? Ask Cosmo

Judy’s office was filled with noise. The presentation for corporate was closing in– four days, six hours– and no one could sit still. No one was promised anything, but one word kept passing between people like a secret. Promotion. It was a typical word to hear on the eve of a huge presentation, but it held so much promise. If one of them got it…new house. New car. Bigger boat. The possibilities were endless.
Judy, however, was restless for a different reason. The May issue of Cosmo had just come out. It did not bring good news. Sitting next to the open magazine was a legal pad filled with notes in black. Note taking committed the information to memory. Statistics, positions– Judy relied on that three dollar sex bible to keep her relationship happy. Spontaneity only ever left her digging into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s alone on a Saturday night. The spontaneity was in which flavor she chose.
She gingerly put down her can of diet Coke (good luck getting her to eat anything else for lunch. She would have a snack of precisely eight carrots and one tablespoon of hummus later. See page 81 of May’s issue.) to take up reading again. “Are you Normal?” the quiz asked. She picked up her pen in quiet response.

1. Be Honest. How many new positions do you try every month?
a) I have a copy of Cosmo’s 365 sex positions on my nightstand. It’s great for giving me ideasūüėČ
b) 2 or 3? We’re ripping each other’s clothes off so quickly that we’re not paying attention to which position we’re in.
c) I know what I like and I like what I know. We might introduce some new moves soon.

Judy went through each answer slowly. Her and James had been together a year now. They had never sat down and talked about trying different positions. They normally rolled around in bed and, well, kept at it. Would that make her answer B or C? They weren’t sex maniacs or anything. She nodded once and circled C. The answer key, saturated in hot pink, delivered the bad news. “Forty three percent of readers answered A. Way to go ladies! As for the rest of you, add some spice to your sex life!”

Oh no.
Oh no no.

This was the beginning of the end. James would realize that they were relying on a handful of basic positions. He would see the possibilities with his new secretary. Add in a few late nights, two or three glasses of wine…
She would get dumped. Her mother would be right. She wasn’t interesting enough to hold on to a boyfriend. She would die alone.

Unless…

It wasn’t too late. Waterstone’s was only a block from the office. She could surreptitiously pop in, get the addendum to the bible, pick up a new legal pad, and start scrawling. Work, promotion, money, paled in significance to making sure that she was like everyone else in her relationship.

She inhaled so her stomach puffed out, then exhaled through her nostrils. Just one question. It was pure chance she was an outlier. The next question would show she was normal, just like every other woman.

2. Your boyfriend wants to watch you get yourself hot and bothered. What do you say?
a) I’d rather him do it, actually.
b) I love that my boyfriend is into that. Goes both ways, if you know what I mean.
c) That’s a private thing, thank you very much.

There was no such thing as TMI with Cosmo. Judy let the pen rest between her teeth. James wasn’t selfish by any means. He would start, but after a few minutes, they moved on, you know, together. It was just… she shook the sentiment out of her head. A. It was way hotter when he did it. Back to the answer key: “Thrity nine percent of you said A. You got that right!”

She was normal! Glory hallejuah! It was worth it. Clearly Cosmo didn’t see the point in saying anything if things didn’t go just as Judy would plan. And if Cosmo didn’t see the problem…then there must not be one.

She crossed her legs and loosened her hair. She flipped to a new page in her legal pad. She ran her fingers through the glossy pages until she reached the center of the magazine. New sex tips. She spent the rest of her lunch break copying.

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An Agreement of Brick and Mortar

Will and Lila told each other everything. Whether not they always listened was another issue.

They lay in bed, a few sheets separating them. “Tell me about your day,” Will said.

“Nothing too exciting. Work, returning some things to Selfridge’s. How was yours?”

Will rustled the covers so he could lay on his side and face her. Her short response wouldn’t normally bother him, but this was the first time he had seen her since that morning. “Anything interesting happen at work?”

“Another big presentation coming up at the end of the month. I’ll need to stay late.”

He just nodded and returned to laying on his back.

“How were meetings today?” She asked.

“Good. The editor has stopped demanding a new ending to the novel. Dan isn’t so sure. He wants to keep talking to different houses.”

“Oh. Do you like them?”

“I’m kinda biased. They’re willing to pay me for my writing.” He chuckled self-deprecatingly. “Maybe I should have had you represent me.”

She shook her head and stayed straight-faced. “Conflict of interest. Work and play. No way was that gonna fly.”

“Ly, I was joking.” He didn’t used to have to explain when he was being sarcastic. She used to just know.

“Oh, right.” She returned to reading, flipping a page every minute or so. Shush. Shush. He kept thinking. Did they have anything to say to each other? Shush. It wasn’t anger simmering underneath everything. It was boredom. Listlessness. Shush. How long had this been happening? A year? No. Months? He had been revising his novel. Shush. She had been working. They had sex often enough. They were amiable. When had it not become enough?

Thump.

She leaned over and kissed him on his cheek. “Good night.”

They both turned off their lights. Will lay back trying to solve this until he couldn’t keep his eyes open anymore.

******
Will was staring at the notes in front of him without actually reading them. That didn’t stop him for flipping the pages back and forth.

“…And then the camel ran into prostitute…”

He picked up his head, “What?”

Dan, his agent, smiled. “Good, you are paying attention. I was worried all my wisdom was going over your head.”

The quiet had continued into the next morning. She made coffee, he ironed his shirt. “I’ll be home late tonight,” she had said over as she leaned on the counter sipping her coffee.

“Just tired.” He told Dan.

He dropped his pen up and down on his legal pad as he watched his client. “You said that before your second cup of coffee. What’s up?”

Will went back to scanning his notes. Shook his head. “Just thinking.”

“Don’t live out of the vending machine,” he had said, smiling. But he couldn’t make eye contact with her. They didn’t kiss each other goodbye.

Dan squinted to bring Will more into focus. Writers were also so damn quiet. Will hadn’t caught a word he had said. He had only met Will’s wife a few times, but he had a feeling she had finally brought it up. “Everything okay at home?”

“Fine. Quiet.”

“Quiet?” He watched Will smile mirthlessly. Finally. But he needed to be sure. Will needed to say it first.

Lila had come in as a formality. Dan had agreed to represent Will’s premier novel. She had walked into the lobby, scrolling through her Blackberry, manuevering away from chairs and tables as they appeared in her peripheral vision. After clicking away for a minute, she slipped the phone into her purse. This was all business, another appointment in her day. He straightened his tie before walking out.

“Mrs. Scott?”

“Mr. Wilson, pleasure to meet you. I hear congratulations are in order.”

“Your husband’s novel shows a lot of promise.” She was hiding behind her professionalism. Say nothing provocative, stay cool. “I’m glad you agreed to meet me.”

“I was wondering about that…” She arched her eyebrow. And he saw a glimmer of life.

“Why don’t we talk about this in my office. Can I get you coffee?”

“I can’t stay long. I’m needed back at my office.”

She said it with such nonchalance. She wasn’t awed by him. “Oh. Then I’ll be quick. Why didn’t you represent your husband? Your agency would’ve have been perfect.”

“He won’t be my husband for much longer.” She said this three months ago. “You can understand how that would become a conflict of interest.”

“Oh. I’m so sorry.”

“You don’t need to be. People change. Is that all?” She was flat. Didn’t admit to anything.

He didn’t believe it. He didn’t want to believe it. “What happened?”

Arched eyebrow again. “Do you always ask people about their private lives in your waiting room?” She was smiling a little bit as she said it.

He had to smile along with her. “It’s typically bad etiquette.”

“I hope this won’t cause any hiccups in your working relationship with Will.”

Keep quiet, she meant. Don’t bring it up.

“No. Of course not.”

She gave a small smile and a nod as a thank you. She walked out, back on her Blackberry.

“Yeah. Quiet. You know how it goes.” Will gave a smile, coughing on a laugh.

Dan didn’t want to let it go that easily. “Trouble at work?” He suggested.

Will shook his head. “I’m sure it’ll work itself out.”

No papers then. How strange.

When Will left, Dan stared at his phone. It would require him to disrupt her working day again. But, it had been three months. He wanted to know why. What right had he to call? He had kept her secret safe and being updated was his price.

Creative Arts Agency. If you know your party’s extension, call it now.

“Lila Scott?”

“So, you’re still going by your married name.”

A pause. “Mr. Wilson, I’m assuming.”

Something in her tone made him smile. “What gave me away?”

“Your number on my caller ID.”

“I met with your husband today.”

“Mr. Wilson–”

“Dan.”

She sighed, “Dan, I’m aware.”

“He didn’t mention you were getting divorced.”

“Maybe because that’s personal information.”

“You told me.”

“Freudian slip.”

He couldn’t come up with a good reason why she told him either. “He doesn’t know, does he?”

Silence. “This really is none of your business.”

“He’s my client. If he can’t deliver a second novel, it’s my ass on the line.”

She sighed again. He didn’t say anything. Silence. She must have been considering saying something. “No. I haven’t.”

“Are you going to?”

“Eventually.”

“When?”

“Are you threatening me?” Her voice stayed flat. She wasn’t weakening against him. She was his equal.

“Protecting my assets, Mrs. Scott.”

“I’ll let you know as soon as I do.” She hung up. He let the phone sit against his ear for a moment. They had just locked horns without a definite winner. They’d have to lock horns again. Soon.

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Taylor Swift Might Have a Point. Then Again, Maybe Not.

I see David through the cafe window. When I walk in, we don’t touch.

“You found it,” he starts. There are circles under his eyes. I wonder why he hasn’t been sleeping. I’m not sure it’s my right to know anymore.

“Took me a minute, but I eventually remembered how to get here.” I say.

“They have the best chai lattes here. I can get one for you. Skim milk, right?”

I nod. I’m grimacing as I pull out my wallet, but I need to do this. “Please, I’d like to pay for my own drink.”

He ruffles up his hair at the back. “Right, of course.”

The couches are open, but it would be too weird. Why did I come today? To see if he’s okay? Maybe I don’t need a dark, ulterior motive. But, I’m squeezing myself into a corner booth,¬†knowing I wore this shirt because he always liked it. “Tell me how work is going.” I start. Good, safe topic.

“Good. Evaluation’s next week, and then, hopefully….” Promotion. Job relocation. A fresh start. “I don’t want to jinx it,” he finishes. “How is Scribe?”

I’m not sure I want to be in publishing any more. I’m not sure…about much right now. “Things are going. We’re about to go into acquisitions for a few new series.”

“General premise?”

“YA, strong heroine, light romance element, possible supernatural qualities.”

“I thought you told me that part of the genre was dead,” he said, rearranging the Splenda in the sugar container.

“No vampires. Something else. Waay cooler.” I smile. This part is easy. Having David around as a sounding board; I don’t need to explain my job to him. I already did that– three years ago.

And then, we kinda run out of things to talk about. He continued reordering Splenda with Domino sugar, then Sweet ‘n’ Low. Yellow, white, pink. White, pink, yellow.

“Anna, what happened?”

I keep my eyes on my latte. It’s lukewarm; I want to use it as an excuse to leave this cramped little table and breathe.¬†I don’t move. Guilt has me ducktaped to my chair.¬†“I don’t know, David. We’ve tried this before and always reach the same conclusion. It just…happened, okay?”

“We say that.¬†People¬†say that all the time. What does it actually mean? We didn’t notice? I did. You were different–”

“That sounds an awful lot like you blaming me. Again.” I say.

He shakes his head, “No.¬†No.” He stays silent for a few moments. He bounces his hand on the side of his cup. The small rhythm fends off the awkward silence. “Do you miss me?” He doesn’t look at me.

I shake my head for a minute. I can’t speak. The edges of the room have gone watery. “David,” Don’t. Please don’t. “We were dating for nearly three years. That’s a really dumb question.” I miss him the way I miss a favorite book; how I could open to any page and be right back in the story. I knew exactly what would happen. But now, I’ve misplaced the book, lost it somewhere. But I remember the story without having it in front of me.

I don’t want to start a new book just yet.

For some reason, he smiles at that. “It feels longer than two months.”

“I…actually try not to think about it.”

“Why don’t we try again?” He asks.

Shit.¬†Shit. I have been thinking about this question too and I still haven’t come up with a good answer as to why not.”It never works.”

“It could. Clearly, we still care about each other.”

“David!” I whisper. He doesn’t understand. It would be good for a while, then…right back to where we were. “What annoyed you most about me?”

He brings his eyebrows down. He thinks it’s a trick question.

I prod him. “Well, come on. What most?”

“You never cleaned your dishes when you were finished using them.” He looks away from me when he says it, as if he’s the guilty party.

“I still do that David. And it still doesn’t bother me. And your insistent sniffling during allergy season was enough to make me consider soundproofing the living room. We haven’t changed as people, David.¬†Nothing¬†has changed.”

“Nothing? Does that mean….?”

I sigh, “Ugh, I– I don’t know, alright. But it’s only been a few months. We’re going to end up right back where we started–”

“Screaming and fighting and breaking goodwill plates?” he interjects.

“if we start again right now. We need to give it time.”

He taps on the edge of his coffee cup. “How long?”

As if there’s a perfect calculation. “More months? A year? Whenever we can approach things differently.”

He looks at me, keeps looking at me, as if I’m hiding an answer behind my eyelashes. There’s no menu to keep me busy while he ponders.

“Would you wait?”

Would I? Not intentionally. I wouldn’t keep a countdown on my calendar, letting me know how long I had until I could walk up those familiar fifteen steps, knock three times, and fall into the rest of my life.

But, goddamit, it’s tempting.

“Maybe.”

“Let’s try. Please.”

The bell above the door jingles as he and I continue to look at each other and wonder what the hell to do next.

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Happy (Belated) Valentine’s Day!

Author’s Note: In honor of Valentine’s Day (and the glorious blog hop hosted by Heather Webb), here’s a retelling of one of my scenes from London Streets– A Love Story. Comment and enjoy!

***

He walks over, ‚ÄúWhat’ll you have?”

“The strongest shit you’ve got,” I say. My hands are still shaking.

He moves behind the bar– no more questions, no raised eyebrows. I look up for the first time since walking in: tall. dark hair, crew cut. He looks at me and– blue eyes. Wow. I hear the glass thunk on the counter; neither one of us watch to see if it’s landed on the coaster.

‚ÄúWhat is it that you‚Äôre running away from?‚ÄĚ He asks.

‚ÄúI thought Brits had better grammar than Americans. Don‚Äôt you know you‚Äôre not supposed to end your sentences with a preposition?‚ÄĚ

He just smiles quietly without showing any teeth. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs an incredibly nice defense mechanism you got there. You alright?”

I shake my head. It’s too soon. Not now. I have suddenly taken great interest in my drink. Not bad– strong.

“You’ve got a nice battle scar there,” he says, pointing to the hand that’s holding the glass. The skin on my knuckle is cracked and chapped. A ring of dried blood sticks in the cracks. “Give me a sec.”

He comes back with a towel full of loose ice. “Hand down,” he directs, and places the makeshift pack on my hand. I’ve inadvertently made him curious.¬†I really look at his face: his eyes stand out against dark hair, a symmetrical face, and straight teeth.

The dark shadows in the London streets seem a little farther away. For now, anyways.

***

Here’s the full story: https://meganhennessey.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/london-streets-a-love-story/¬†Be sure to let me know what you think!

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Dickens has Nothing on These Expectations

Date: March 14, 2012
Skype Call to Daniel Weaver
Duration: 1 hr, 05 min
Duration of relationship: 9 months

“Holy Jesus, Dan, there’s almost twenty things on this.”

Marley watched her boyfriend’s pixellated image shake back and forth.

“I bolded the ones we should do this weekend,” he said. “When you come visit me, we can do other stuff. Like a long-distance relationship bucket list.”

“We’ll be dead if we try and do everything. Rock climbing and dance lessons on Friday, wine tasting and clubbing Saturday…” What about homework? Or just relaxing in bed like they used to on weekends?

“I’ve already got that figured out. We can rest and grab dinner between the two. I can’t have you drop on me halfway through the lesson.”

Marley pushed all the breath out of her chest.¬†“So, we’ll be dead, but in a good way.”

“Exactly! This weekend is going to be ah-maaaazing!”

Marley smiled without showing any teeth. This weekend would be…long. Did she look bored when she glanced at her desktop clock? Her empty word doc timidly sat in the corner, waiting for her to give her full attention to it.

“What are you thinking about?” He asked her.

“Nothing.” Silence.¬†“I’ve got to get back to my homework,” she added.

“Oh, alright. I love you and can’t wait to see you!”

“I’ll see you soon.” She said and signed off.

This was the type of weekend that transformed into an awesome story. I know, she would say, I didn’t think I had it in me to salsa and rock climb in one day. It was incredible! New experiences for her and Dan would have to bring them closer. Endorphins and all that.

Date: March 20, 2013
Skype Call to Daniel Weaver
Duration: 45 min

“What was your favorite part of this weekend?” Dan asked her.

“Dan, you’ve asked me this already. I look like an imbecile if I just keep repeating myself.”

“Humor me.”

She replayed the weekend. She felt the slap of the rock climbing mats underneath her butt, the smell of champagne and sweat during dance lessons, the plushness of the couch as she sat outside her circle of friends as they crowded around her boyfriend.

“Why do you want to know?” She asked. “Didn’t it look like I was having fun?”

“Well…” Dan started. “You seemed, I don’t know, distant.” Marley must’ve given some kind of facial reaction, because he continued. “There were times you looked like you were having a good time, but, like– okay, remember when we were wine tasting? You spoke in one word sentences for the entirety of the day.”

“It’s rude to talk during a tour.”

He sighed. “You know what I mean.”

She shrugged, “I must not have been in the mood for talking.”

“Marley, that mood lasted the entire time I was there.”

“No it didn’t. I was plenty talkative when we were going to dinner.”

She watched him deflate as the Skype timer hit fifty minutes. “We were talking about the merits of escargot. Not exactly life changing stuff there.”

“So?”

“So…we used to talk about bigger stuff. Our futures, politics, movies…”

“Dan, I’m really tired. Can we talk about this tomorrow?”

“I don’t think so.”

“I was just tired and stressed this weekend.”

“Then you should’ve told me not to come up.”

She scrunched her eyebrows, squinted her eyes and pursued her lips. “What good would that have done? You would’ve been pissed.”

“If you didn’t want to see me, you should’ve just said so.”

Marley internally groaned, “I didn’t say that. I–” She saw Dan watching, waiting for her to say something to make it all better. “I’m used to having this part of my life all to myself.”

“Do you want to keep it that way?”

“What?”

“Do. you. want. to keep it that way?”

This was an out; one or two words and everything would be over. “I don’t know. Dan, I– I’m really tired. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Without waiting for him to respond, she ended the call.

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This TV Could Save Your Life

That was the most productive fight about nothing we’ve ever had.

That’s all that keeps running through my mind as I stare at the TV and watch the flames burn amidst pieces of debris.

Two Hours Until Departure

“Why do you always want to sleep at my place? Your bed is way comfier,” I tell her as I lay back on her doubled-up pillows.

She throws another lace bra on her duffel. “It’s too soft. Tossing and turning all night never made me look more rested,” She says while checking her watch. “I’ve got some time before I need to be at the airport. Want some food?”

“Yes. And all of your leftovers. I already miss your cooking.”

That makes her laugh. “Andrew,” she kisses me quickly, “I’ll be back before you know it.”

As I follow her into the kitchen, I click on the TV.

“No way,” she starts. “No TV. C’mon.”

“I like it. Multi-task: eat, learn…”

“And spend time with your girlfriend before she leaves?” She just raises her eyebrow at me.

“I’ll turn it off when you put the plates down,” I concede.

The skillet is sizzling behind me as I follow a reporter into an abandoned building. “How’s work going?” She asks.

“Oh, good, y’know.” They’re looking for the slumlord that’s been running this place for years. Ask some tough questions. Hit him with a camera.

“Written anything interesting recently?”

“Some…stuff about law.” The slumlord isn’t in the basement; obviously. They go to check the upstairs bedrooms. At first, all seems lost, but then— aha! A cracked door gives the game away and the camera woman starts bombarding the surly -looking gentleman with questions. At first, he’s wonderfully in denial– what on earth could she be talking about? But, as the woman continues and mentions the threat of prosecution, he loses it. “How dare you! Get out. GET OUT. I could call the cops on your [bleep].”

“Here,” Naomi says, letting the plate drop in front of me. Her voice tugs me away from the television to the plate of bacon and eggs in front of me. The eggs jiggle in silent protest. “Can you shut that fucking thing off now?”

Jeez, what did I do?

I gingerly click the TV off and watch her poke her eggs with toast. “What’s with you suddenly?”

“Need to finish packing.”

She kept her eyes on her plate. She wasn’t taking much time to swallow, or chew, for that matter. “I thought you had everything.”

“Nope.”

A small silence builds. “Are you alright? Did I do something?”

She kept her eyes on her eggs,¬†“Ah, yes, everything is about you, how could I forget?”

I pointed at the TV. “It’s off, isn’t it?”

“Whatever.” Her eyebrows drew together a moment after. She sighed, “Andrew, you don’t listen.”

My turn to look confused. “What? I listen.”

“What did I say about the TV?”

“Seriously, we’re still talking about this?”

She raises her eyebrows.

Deep breath, “No TV at the table. Alright, duly noted. It’ll never happen again.” God.

Her eyebrows return to their normal position, but her lips tighten until they are thin as paper bills. She snags the last bite of egg on her plate only to rush away from the table. She nearly stomps back into the bedroom. I hear the ‘whoosh’ of clothing on the bed. She’s still mad. Unbelievable. I take a piece of bacon before I place my plate in the sink. For good measure, I wash it and sit it on the drying rack.

I creep my way into the bedroom. Maybe the few minutes alone helped her cool off. She crumples up a black jacket¬†and presses it down. A pair of jeans follows. “I thought you were only going away for a few days. There’s enough in there for two weeks,” I say.

She just glares. “Keep going, put your foot farther in your mouth.” Still mad.

“Look, I’m gonna go. Walk me out?”

 She just walks out towards the door.

Just before I leave, I turn back, “Call me when you land, alright?”

That makes her slow down– as if she’s just realizing this will be the first separation we’ll be going through. I just keep standing there, letting her process. She kisses me quickly without saying anything and shuts the door behind me.

One Hour Past Departure Time

I leave the news on in the background while I work. It makes all the smaller sounds disappear. The cursor of my blank word document stares back at me. Before I get a clear thought, I keep hearing the snippets of news.

But it’s not distracting me. I can multitask.¬†The cursor blinks¬†defiantly in response.

I flip my cellphone around in my hands. She’s probably up in the air. I’ll just leave her a quick voicemail– a “I know I screwed up” message.

Three rings and she answers. “Naomi?”

“Hi.”

“Why did you pick up?”

“Because you called…”

“No, uhm– aren’t you in the air?”

I hear her sigh. “I missed my flight…”

“What?!”

“I couldn’t find my key.”

I wait for more. Just silence. “Yo…your key?” I repeat.

“I had to tear the kitchen apart, living room too. No dice.”

“You never made your flight?”

“I threw them in my with my jeans. I was too¬†mad at¬†a certain someone to notice they were there.”

The apology voicemail is now starting to feel incredibly insufficient.¬†“Can you get a refund?”

“Corporate gets billed no matter what. I’ll come up with something. I’ve already booked my flight for a later time. Next one they had was for six tomorrow. So, I figure–”

“Naomi.”

“I…what?”

“What airline was it?” Silence. She was taking too long to process, “What airline were you supposed to be flying with?”

“Delta. To Sacramento.”

I can’t move. The news has made a smash cut– as they tend to do when breaking news hit. Flames lick at the edges of the screen.

“Are you watching the news right now?”

“Bed seems more alluring.”

“Turn it on. Now.”

“You know how I feel about TVs right now.”

“Like I care.”

“Jeez, alright. Have you considered going to bed early?” She’s quiet as she slaps her feet against the linoleum to the living room.

“Channel 8.”

I hear her take a breath and the slight echo of the same terrifying news playing on her end of the phone.

Technical Malfunction causes Delta 624 to crash. Many injured, several dead.

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All Major Calamities Take Place in the Kitchen

The turkey was squatting in the roasting pan while Maria hid in the closet with a bottle of vodka. The phone had skittered across the floor after she had dropped it. James was due in two hours.

She hadn’t invited him. His name was loudly absent when she rattled off the guest list to her friends. This would be the first dinner in nearly two years¬†that she would be attending– let alone hosting–¬†alone. The table would be full of friends she graduated high school with, all except one. No one mentioned it at first. Finally, Nell, the valedictorian, asked, “James isn’t coming?”

“I don’t think I could put him through it.”

“Oh, right, because you guys…y’know.”

“Exactly.”

The morning of the dinner, a Saturday, Maria went to the butcher. He had already put a turkey aside for her. 

“Is the whole crew coming to your place tonight?”

“Yup, just about,” she responded while ticking off items on her shopping list.¬†

The butcher told his wife, who was friends with Mrs. Warren, the secretary in the principal’s office, who always saw James in the coffee room before classes¬†started. Imagine her surprise when he said, “What dinner?”¬†

She had just taken the turkey out of the oven when he called.

“Maria? It’s James.”

“James?” This was the first word she had said to him in fifteen months and two weeks.

“James Westerfeld.”

“Hi– how’re things?” He knew. He must’ve known. Now he was going to come in, with his typical smoothness, and destroy her.

“Teaching is good. The kids are way more excited to learn about Washington this year. Maybe¬†I’m seeing a trickle down from the inaugeration. Other than that, things have been pretty quiet. How about you?”

“About the same… work, sleep, cook. It’s like I’m stuck on repeat.”

“Speaking of cooking,” he barrelled on, “I’ve been meaning to see if anyone from high school– y’know, Nell, Liz, Bobby, all them– would be interested in grabbing dinner one night.”

And there it was. The oh-so-blatant “are you going to tell me?” moment. He knew. And he knew she didn’t tell him.

“That’s a great idea. You’ve got to love everyone staying relatively close to home after college. Why don’t you set up a date and let me know.” she said.

“Hold on a sec! I’m thinking sooner¬† rather than later. It doesn’t take much for people to stop talking to each other,” he responded.

She nearly threw the phone. Doesn’t take much… “Yeah, well, that’s a relative term. Anyways…”

“Actually, if you aren’t doing anything special, we could always¬†have the dinner tonight.” he continued.

He was going to make her spell it out.¬†“James…”

“Aw, c’mon, it’ll be fun.”

It would be torture. “We’d make everyone miserable.” You would make me miserable, she thought. He would stand there and remind her of all the things she almost did– almost went to a different college, almost chose a different career. But no, she had gone with him. And now she had nothing.

“I wouldn’t be miserable. It’d be nice to see you.”

It was a ploy and she knew it. It still stung. She shook her head, feeling emptied. “It would be too last minute.”

“Nah, everyone could bring a quick dish. I’ll give Nell a call– she’s always on the ball. How’s seven?”

She stared at the turkey, wide-eyed and ready to cry. It was too soon. “Fine. Whatever you want.” She hung up.

Then she headed for the closet.

She cradled the bottle in the space that her bent legs had created. After one mouthful, which she almost spat out, she couldn’t take any more. The cool glass kept her hands busy and the weight helped even her breathing.

She had to say something. He would walk in (first, knowing him. Tardiness was a crime second only to murder.). She began practicing to the vodka bottle. “James, hi. Yeah, things have been really good, I’m–” What was she doing? She was working from home at the moment, letting her business degree gather dust.

She wouldn’t be able to look him in the eye. She would push her hair behind her ear and find different objects around the room that felt safer to look at than his bright blue eyes. She didn’t know what he would see if she looked at him too long.

She leaned her head on the wall. It was so warm in there, if she could just shut her eyes for a minute…¬†

 

A loud knock echoed from the front door. In her cozy closet, Maria barely heard it. In her drowsy state, she remembered why she had been preparing a turkey; she gasped and sat up straight. She fumbled for the handle and tumbled into the kitchen. 6:59. The knock came again.

The bastard was early.

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