to be one of those good-things nights.
hem of my dress. I shouldn’t have let my roommate Rachel talk me into something
so short. I turned to look out the window of the taxi, my thighs suctioning to
the sticky vinyl of the bench seat.
insisted I take a taxi to meet my boyfriend for dinner. Eric had made
reservations in Georgetown to discuss something important. After dissecting his
message like sixteen year olds, Rachel and I reached the conclusion a proposal
was imminent and we surely wouldn’t be leaving the restaurant in separate cars.
A taxi made perfect sense. Then. Now,
with my thighs sweating and my feet pinching in the new shoes I’d caved to, I
said a little prayer that Rachel was right.
left around a black Tahoe trying to parallel-park in a spot barely fit for a
mid-size sedan. A stream of curse words in a variety of languages bounced off
the plastic divider between me and the driver.
I grabbed at the black leather clutch before it went airborne. My phone buzzed
inside, cranky at being ignored. Two missed calls. My mom and my mom.
traffic light, a momentary lull in the amusement park worthy ride. A woman
laughed on the sidewalk outside the taxi window and I looked over. She laughed
again and tipped up on her toes to kiss the man at her side. He lifted her hand
to his lips. The setting sun threw a ray their direction, making the engagement
ring on her finger sparkle blue crystals.
into my stomach, trying to keep the butterflies from getting overly rowdy. What
if we’d gotten it wrong?
Rachel’s photo on my phone. It was the before picture I’d snapped on the way to
the salon when she’d decided to chop the bulk of her brunette mane. Her hazel
eyes hid behind a pair of green rims with blue polka dots. One ring. Two rings.
“Oh god, answer already,” I said, blowing out a breath.
calling me?” Rachel answered just in time to prevent full-out hyperventilating.
this all wrong, Rach?” My stomach dropped again as the taxi rocketed forward.
At this rate I’ll be too sick to eat anything.
Eric is taking you to Utopia. It’s one of the hottest new restaurants in DC.
And on a Saturday night. Can you imagine what strings he had to pull to get a
reservation on such short notice? And what about last week? Seriously, Nic, it
was his idea to go shopping, right? And he just happened to stop by a jewelry
store window to check his messages? Come on.” I heard the woosh of air pass
over the phone and could picture the be-sensible tilt of the head she used with
nervous.” I slid my hand under my thigh to break the seal with the vinyl.
Nauseous and missing chunks of skin. Lovely way to start a romantic evening.
here,” the taxi driver said in perfect English. I couldn’t help wonder if he
spoke any of the languages he’d cursed in.
go. Wish me luck.”
luck. Relax and enjoy. Call me later with the good news.”
Rach wasn’t there anymore.
glared at me via the rear-view mirror.
dollar bill through the opening in the plastic partition, yanked my thighs
loose and teetered out of the taxi.
the change at me. “Keep it.” I waved back.
a “Hey, watch it, Jerkoff,” from a pedestrian, my chariot was off, the driver
clearly amused by the crazy tip lady.
sign above the door. Utopia beckoned. Reviewers had called it “the hottest new
date night restaurant in DC.”
hem of my dress, pulled up to cover some cleavage, pulled back down to cover
thigh, then swore never to go shopping with Rachel again.
d’ announced that my “companion” had arrived and he’d show me immediately to
the table. In the ten months we’d been seeing each other, Eric had gone from
friend to boyfriend. My lips twitched over the word companion. Hopefully after
tonight we’d move on to a more romantic label. Fiancé had a nice ring to it.
a side door onto a patio with a breathtaking view of the Potomac River
reflecting the jubilant lights of Georgetown on a Saturday night.
at a table along the edge of the patio. He was staring into his Tanqueray and
Tonic, eyebrows kitting together in thought. His blonde hair was newly trimmed
and he still wore the white button-down shirt and navy slacks that he’d no
doubt gone to the office in that morning. He was preparing for a big case and
putting in lots of long hours.
over to give him a kiss on the cheek.
sorry, I didn’t see you come in.” Eric stood, greeting me with a quick, gentle
kiss on the lips.
chair the maître d’ held out and silently analyzed the kiss. It was familiar,
like you’d greet your girlfriend if you were meeting for lunch. The passion of
the about-to-propose scenario I’d fantasized about in the taxi was
disappointingly absent. Maybe he was going to suggest a vacation.
incredibly self-conscious in my oh-so-revealing teal sheath dress and black
peak-a-boo heels. Even my professionally applied make-up from the Bobbi Brown
counter at Neiman Marcus felt heavy on my face, making my cheeks feel like they
were drooping instead of glowing.
swishing his drink left then right. Apparently satisfied with the waves he’d
generated, he looked up and appraised me. “Wow, Nic, you look amazing.” The
smile was genuine and I relaxed. “That dress is perfect on you. You’re
perfect.” He reached across the table and squeezed my hand.
more and gave him the most seductive smile I could muster. And just like that droopy clown make-up
transformed into glamorous bride-to-be.
menu choices and ordered wine. Business out of the way,
I turned my anticipation back to what Eric had in store for me.
I bring it up? Should I wait? Maybe he’s waiting for the perfect moment. Maybe
he’d orchestrated the whole thing with the discrete waiter who would bring out
a surprise dessert with a ring expertly displayed on top. I’ll wait.
client working out?” Eric broke into my fantasy of the chocolate fondant with
white chocolate shavings surrounding the 2-carat Princess-cut diamond engagement
ring that we’d seen in the shop window last week.
took three quick blinks to ground me in my chair and the discussion. As a
meetings facilitator and corporate trainer I got to work with a number of
interesting clients and usually had a funny story or two to share. “So far, so
okay. Our first meeting is Tuesday though. It’s been a bit hard getting details
from them. The main partner has been distracted with his daughter’s Bat
Mitzvah. From what I hear, it’s probably one of the biggest and most expensive
parties he’ll throw. Well, next to her wedding I suppose.” Subtle Nicole, very
looked up from his salad and studied me for a minute. I blushed,
thankful for the hazy lighting of dusk.
wanted to talk to you about something.” He pushed the remainder of his salad
around then meticulously lined up the goat cheese crumbles like tiny snowballs
waiting for a snowball fight. My stomach flopped. I took a long drink from my
sparkling water, hoping to buy some time. He wasn’t waiting for dessert.
over the rim of the water glass. Bubbles jumped and tickled my nose. “Okay.” I
croaked. The lemon dislodged itself from the bottom of glass, sending a drop of
water splashing onto my chin. I dabbed at it self-consciously.
mouth, his jaw popped to the right. He did that when he was trying to decide on
how to say something. I’d watched him do that many times when he was rehearsing
his opening or closing statements.
hesitantly. “You know I adore you. You are the most perfect woman I’ve ever
embarrassed half-laugh. “Far from perfect.”
twitched in an almost imperceptible shrug but he didn’t make eye contact and
didn’t refute my self-directed slight.
think we should slow things down a bit. You’re wonderful and I really enjoy
being with you, but I’m just not ready to settle down. I don’t want to string
you along.” He stopped to take a drink of water, his eyes darted across my
bride-to-be smile froze into a bride-of-Frankenstein grimace. “What are you
saying?” The question was barely a whisper but Eric looked around nervously at
the surrounding tables.
the kind of woman I would marry if I was looking to get married. But I’m not
the sound deafening. I couldn’t have heard him right. This time my voice did
skip up the volume button. “What?”
surrounding tables again. A few sets of eyes quickly snapped away.
break up. For a bit at least. Until I can get my head cleared out.” Finally he
made eye contact and put his hand over mine. “Nic, it’s not you. It’s me.”
could come up with. Magna Cum Laude, straight A student and all I had was a
pathetic, wimpy “oh” that did nothing to boost my self-respect.
away from the table and up onto wobbly legs, narrowly missing the waiter
balancing our dinner on a tray above his head. For one split second I had the
urge to push the tray out of his hand and into Eric’s lap. But that would cause
a scene and I wasn’t programmed to make scenes. I was programmed to make things
pleasant for others, to make sure I never made anyone else feel uncomfortable.
not feeling very well all of a sudden. I’ll get myself home.” And before the
water works could open in public, I rushed out of the restaurant.
can’t break down. Won’t break down. But in the safe anonymity of a Georgetown
sidewalk on a Saturday night, the sobs bubbled to the surface and left me
were all the taxis when you needed one?
Eric was a few steps behind me. I turned. Pathetic hope catching in my throat.
He was going to say he’d made a mistake. He was gong to ask me to forgive him.
“Here.” He held out a large shopping bag from Cole Haan, his favorite place for
shoes. A store we’d visited last week on the same shopping expedition as my
window glance at the engagement ring. “I packed the things you had at my place
so you wouldn’t feel uncomfortable coming to get them. I’m sorry, Nic. I really
from him, turned and marched blindly away. Three blocks later I’d yet to come
across a taxi. Defeated, numb and in searing pain from those damn high-heeled
peak-a-boos I leaned against the windowsill of a store. The Cole Haan bag with
my underwear, Georgetown U sweatshirt, and toothbrush dropped to the ground.
few people walking by took a wide berth around me.
believed good things could happen to good people. I was good people. Dammit
mom, you were wrong.
black clutch, the clutch that matched the shoes Rachel insisted I needed. The
ones I would wear to the engagement party and the rehearsal dinner. The ones
that were about to find their way into a trash bin.
into the phone. “He broke up with me.” I was making a spectacle of myself in
public and for once I didn’t care.
Rachel asked. “Nic where are you? What’s the noise?” The noise hadn’t
penetrated my numb march up Wisconsin Avenue. But suddenly aware, I heard the
honking and yelling as three cars battled for the last remaining metered
parking spot in Georgetown on a Saturday night.
somewhere. I just walked away from the restaurant. And him. Rach, he brought my
underwear and toothbrush to the restaurant in a shopping bag.”
“I’m going to kill that sonofabitch.”
mouth twitched. Rachel, my mild-mannered friend, the one whose swear vocabulary
consisted of “oh sugar” or “pickles,” was mad.
you? I’m coming to pick you up.”
bewildered at finding myself in Georgetown, alone, wearing a fancy dress and
expensive shoes, the professional make-up job now streaking down my face. And,
of course, carrying a Cole Haan bag with my underwear and toothbrush.
throat convulsed around a sob. “Oh my god,” I gasped, my forehead thudding
against glass. The words Wedding Elegance,
in expensively ornate calligraphy, entwined a flourish the width of the large
picture window. And punctuating the words like a slap-in-the-face exclamation
mark, was an exquisite Vera Wang wedding dress.
would have swooned over just hours ago. Now I wanted to rip it off the headless
mannequin and use it to wipe the streaking makeup off my face.
pushed forward, feet screaming for mercy. “I’ll meet you at Dean & Deluca.
I need marshmallows.”
later I crumpled into the front seat of Rachel’s car stuffing giant
marshmallows into my mouth. Except for a pat on my knee, Rachel hadn’t
acknowledged the pathetic state she’d found me in. For that I was grateful.
walked through the door of our apartment, I was ripping into the second bag of
marshmallows. Rachel grabbed the open bag and pointed at the couch. “Sit. I’m
getting us something more potent.”
obeyed Rachel. Since that first day of grad school when she plunked down next
to me in a seminar on skills and ethics
to survive and thrive in science. Within the first half hour I was ready to
wave the flag of defeat. My art history background hadn’t prepared me well for
this course. Rachel adopted me as her pet project and together we eeked out a
shaky A minus in the class and a solid A friendship.
later she was back with a pitcher of martinis and four glasses.
kidding when you said something more potent. But four glasses?” I raised an
eyebrow and was answered by the sound of the doorbell.
“I called in reinforcements.”
Stephie burst in the moment Rachel opened the door.
up my martini glass.
guys started the party without me.” Kali’s voice trilled from behind Stephie.
aquamarine eyes on me and unleashed her most powerful who-me weapon.
again and raised it. I couldn’t be all
bad if I had three good friends who rallied around me on such short notice. And
on a Saturday night.
the floor next to me, leaning in so our shoulders touched. “Cheers, Love. He’s
an idiot. You deserve better.”
the armchair facing us and filled her martini glass. “Tell us what happened.
And don’t leave anything out. There might be a clue in there to help us make
sense of this.”
“We’re not the Ladies Detective Agency,
Steph. She got dumped.”
her. “Are you here to help or not?” We’d become instant friends on her first
day at McMillian and Associates four years ago. Her office was next to mine and
she’d gotten my attention by bouncing a ball off the wall. When I’d poked my
head around the door, she’d grinned and said, “I’m bored already. Let’s go get
them bickered, I stared into my drink. I wasn’t in the mood to mediate. They
always disagreed about something. Mostly they agreed to disagree.
knee gently with hers. “Where did you just go? You have to know it’s not you.
Maybe the stress of making partner got to him.”
him, Rach.” My hands trembled around the glass, making the lemon curl shimmy and
dive. It fogged into the liquid as tears blurred my perspective. “It just seems
like it’s always me. Or never me.” I wiped roughly at a rogue tear winding down
sideways to look at me. “Why would you even say that?”
‘It’s not you, it’s me’,” I mimicked, sounding more like Goofy than any
boyfriend I’d ever had. I reached for the marshmallow bag.
“Maybe we need to ease up on those?”
mourn the breakup in her own way,” Stephie shot back.
end up looking like a marshmallow if she keeps this up.” Kali gestured at the
two empty bags. “The guy obviously wasn’t ready for anything serious. Aren’t
you better off finding out now than after investing more time in the relationship?”
She threw her hands up as if the answer was obvious. As if it was just another
pair of pants that didn’t quite fit but hey, there are six more on the rack
waiting to be tried on. As if it was that simple to write off heartache and
course, could brush off heartache like an annoying crumb. When Josh Gray,
captain of the high school football team, announced he would be taking newly
crowned prom queen Heather Kelly to the dance instead of Kali, his girlfriend
of the last five months. Kali hadn’t wasted any time pouting over a lost love.
She arrived with the captain of the rival school’s football team. A double win
for them that weekend.
puffed, her eyebrows disappearing under her perfectly jagged bangs. “Not
everyone is as heartless as you.”
turning on me? I’m not the one who dumped her. I’m just saying it’s better to
find out before she’s married to the guy.” Kali remained unfazed by the daggers
Rachel and Stephie mentally sent her way. “I’m sorry Nic’s hurting. I’m not
heartless.” She directed a fierce look at Rachel. “But I also don’t think it’s
the end of the world. We’ve all been dumped before. And we’ve all gotten over
mouth into a tight line, biting at one corner as she contemplated her next
strike. “Amazing,” she said instead.
ready to propose. It’s not like he led you on. You’re making too much of this.
I’m tired. I’m going home. Night.” Kali waved in a broad arc before slipping through
the door and away from a topic she had no intention in pursuing.
her?” Rachel tipped her head like an inquisitive cat. “She’s acting even
snootier than usual.”
big meeting next week,” I said. “She’s probably a little stressed.”
do that?” Stephie asked, her right hand flipping palm up in a seriously gesture.
was my best friend. We’ve always been there for each other. Since her tenth
birthday, actually, when I’d sat up with her all night telling her I would
never leave her. That was the day her mom had left. While we tossed water
balloons in the backyard, Kali’s mom had put the finishing touches on the
birthday cake, propped up a card next to it and left in a waiting town car
bound for her old life in Hollywood. Kali had all but moved in with us after
that. We were the perfect family in her eyes and she wanted to belong to a
excuses for her.” I heard the defensive edge creep into my voice. “I just know
her better than you guys do. She doesn’t want to see me get hurt. That’s all.”
I finished my drink with a last gulp.
to see you happy,” Stephie countered.
that was a weird mood shift,” Rachel agreed. She turned back to me, “Ready to
tell us what happened?”
dinner, from the romantic setting, Eric’s appraisal of my new outfit to the
abrupt shift in discussion over salad, and the humiliation of standing on the
street being handed my underwear in a Cole Haan bag. By four am, we’d dissected
every scenario and I was no closer to understanding what had happened.
sharp light streaming in through the blinds. The smell of coffee filtered
through the haze of the previous night.
headache. I need coffee.” I stumbled out of my room to find Rachel standing in
the small galley kitchen hypnotizing the espresso machine.
word Rachel fixed two lattes. I wrapped my hands around the mug, inhaling the
warmth, absorbing its comfort. I slumped into the couch and pulled my knees up.
campus today. Will you be okay?” Rachel asked, perching next to me.
look that said I wasn’t fooling anyone. “What are you going to do?”
into the cushions. “Watch a movie. Sleep. Read. I don’t know. I’ll be fine.”
not.” Rachel pushed herself off the couch so fast I pitched sideways, coming
dangerously close to spilling coffee. “No Sleepless
in Seattle. Absolutely not. You need to get out.”
coffee from my hand. Well fine. If I couldn’t have marshmallows and Sleepless in Seattle, that left one
There was only one place I really felt tranquil
and in control. Museums had always been
my escape. I loved being part of the
history they held, loved losing myself in worlds I could only
right now, an imaginary world was what I needed. Mine obviously wasn’t working
for me. Maybe if I was lucky, I would fall through a time warp.