Turnabout Part 6

Thanks to Lizzy Bennet for her comments. They are much appreciated.

We were walking into the apartment after dinner with my parents.

“What’s wrong with this outfit?” I was wearing a blue women’s oxford shirt, black skinny jeans, boots and a black blazer.

“Nothing,” Jess said, with a smile. “You actually look really good. Clothes look good on you.”

“Why did she say something then?”

She laughed, "That is a separate question.”

“Why is she pushing my buttons?”

Jess grinned widely. “She installed them.”

“Why did she never bother me this much before?”

“Before you were Dan. She had Laura. Now she has you too. And she really hates that you’re daddy’s girl.”

“Stop.”

“No. It’s cute. You really are.”

“Stop. Anyway, now she has me freaked out about partnership.” At dinner, she had asked me how many women partners there were and how many had children. When she asked, I had to think for a second. There were nine women out of sixty-five. I had never thought about it before all of this. I always saw the partners as ‘partners.’ When everyone is like you, you don’t have to see anyone. “Like, if we …and I’m the one…am I jeopardizing my chances?”

She sighed. “Let’s look at this logically. You said there are 10 female partners, right?”

“Nine.” That one suddenly made a difference.

“OK, nine. How old are they?”

“Two are in their 60s. The rest are, I don’t know, between 40 and 55, I guess.”

“OK. You said five of them have kids, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Is that the older ones or the younger ones?”

“The younger ones.”

“OK, so, we’ve established that, as we approach you, a female partner, all things being equal, is more likely to have kids. What about the most recent partners?”

“They both have kids.”

“OK, so, now we’re increasing our odds even more. Now, how many people made partner last year?”

“Two.”

“Out of how big a group?”

“Fourteen.”

“So, your odds are not great but, if you do make it, and you will,” she said, kissing me on the cheek, “the data shows that, all things being equal, having a kid will not impact that.”

“Thanks, I always forget how analytical you can be.”

“That’s sexist. Or it used to be.”

I kissed her. “Yeah, well whatever. What do you mean clothes look good on me?”

“You are such a girl,” she said. “It means you pick the right clothes. And you look cute in them. And they hang well on you.”

“Really?”

“Don’t ‘really?’ me. I see you checking yourself out. I see the way that you fuss over your scarves. You do it and you like it.”

“No, I don’t.” I did.

“Yes, you do. And so do I. I like my stylish, sexy little wife.” It had been a while since she had said something like that. It surprised me and felt good. It felt like we were getting back to normal.

“It really doesn’t bother you? At all?”

“Nope. This is us. Whatever we were, we’re not now. Maybe we will be someday again. But for now, you’re a girl and I’m a guy. And this guy loves this girl just the way she is,” she said, giving me a kiss.

“I love you too.”

“So, have you bought a dress for the thing Friday yet?” We were going down to Jess’s parents the following week for Thanksgiving. They lived in a gated community in Key Biscayne. They had a party every Thanksgiving when families were down. It wasn’t black tie or semi-formal. Jackets for men. Cocktail dresses for women.

“Yeah. I went to Bloomingdale’s the other day.”

“Can I see?”

“Sure,” I said. I unzipped the garment bag. It was a black halter cocktail dress with a keyhole neckline. It was knee length. “What do you think?”

“Very pretty. Can I see it on?”

I took off my clothes and put it on. “What do you think?”

Her eyes bulged out. “You look gorgeous.”

“Really?”

“Really. Did you put on Spanx?”

“No, should I? Do I need them?” I felt self-conscious.

“No. I’m just amazed at how good you look without them. Your hard work is paying off. I am so proud of you. What shoes?”

I took out a pair of black Manolos with a 4” heel and put them on. “How do I look?”

“Walk for me.”

“Pervert,” I said with a smile.

“Yeah, but let me see.” I walked back and forth. “That looks perfect. What else are you bringing?” I took off the dress and was standing in a bra and panties.

“My white skirt. The one that goes with the blue top. Although, it could go with really anything…”

“Uh huh,” she said, with a smile.

I ignored her. “My blue floral swing dress. The one from Old Navy that you like so much?”

“OK.”

“Some jeans and some tops. And I went past Vineyard Vines the other day and I saw these three really cute dresses and I can’t decide which to keep. Do you want to see?”

“Vineyard Vines, huh? I could see that.” I ignored that. “Let’s see.”

I went to my closet, got the dresses and put them on the bed.

The first was a green, blue and yellow horizontal striped shift dress. Mostly green and blue. “Try it on.” I slipped it on. “OK, give me a turn. OK, definitely that one. You look beautiful,” she said, grabbing me.

“Hey come on. I want to show you the next one.”

“Fine,” she sighed, smiling.

It was a pink polo dress. “What do you think?”

“Meh. What else?”

The last one was a blue dress with a print of angelfish on it. It ended a couple of inches above the knee. I held it up to me and said, ““OK, what do you think of this? Is the print too cutesy?”

“Cutesy? No. I like it. Try it on.” I put it on. “Wow.”

“What?”

“I can’t explain but I find that incredibly sexy.”

“Sexy? This?”

“Yeah. I can’t explain it. I mean it’s not slutty sexy. But there’s something about it that I find really hot. Is that weird?”

I thought about it. “No. Women don’t get it. Sometimes a t shirt and yoga pants is hotter than a dress and heels. I can’t explain it. You feel what you feel. Lots of guys feel that way. You’re a guy. You have guy parts.” That felt weird.

“OK. You know what else?”

“What?”

“I think I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“Those dresses are you.”
“Thanks.”

She seemed surprised. “No, ‘what does that mean?’”

“I know what it means. I’m me. You’re you, or you were you. Just because I look like you used to look doesn’t mean we like the same stuff. Any more than me and Sammie or me and Michelle or me and Lori.” She looked shocked. “Sorry, I don’t mean anything bad by that.”

She smiled. “I didn’t think you did. I’m glad you get it. Speaking of Lori, have you heard from her?”

“Not since she canceled plans on me abruptly. She said ‘something came up.’ I said to call me. She hasn’t. And I’m not chasing after her.”

She sighed. “She does that. That’s her. If you called her, she’d make plans.”

“Then I guess we won’t make plans. Sorry, but she’s been nothing but negative to me since I lost all the weight. I don’t need that. And neither did you.”

“I know. Maybe this is one of the good side effects of this. Maybe I needed this.”

“I’m not telling you what to do. I just can’t deal with her.”

“I know. It’s just strange. 24 years. By the way, did you get bathing suits?”

“Yes and it sucked. Big time.”

She laughed, “Yup. Definitely don’t miss that.”

“Shut up. Seriously. What the hell? What is up with that?”

“Women. You all really dress for each other.”

“I don’t.” To be honest, I wouldn’t know how.

“You’re different. Anyway, can I see?” I showed her. “One pieces? Really?”

“What’s wrong with them?”

She looked surprised. And sad. “I figured that you would have gone for a bikini?”

“Seriously? No. No way. Nuh uh.”

She smiled devilishly. “After all that work, you don’t want to show it off. You’d be hot.”

“Yeah, well no. I am so not there. I am nowhere near there. And will never be.”

“Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”

“The lady wanteth you to be quiet.” Actually, the lady started to wonder. Could I pull it off? Was this the trip? Maybe in another five pounds. The lady got depressed thinking about how she was thinking about this like this. I thought about asking Jess whether she would have done it, then decided to not go there. Nothing good would come from that.

“Sorry,” she said, with a smile, grabbing me by the waist. “I think you’re hot. And I want everyone to be jealous.”

“Who everyone?”

“Other guys…”

“The old men at the pool? Nice try. I think you mean Jill.” Jill was Jess’ older sister. She was a PhD in economics, naturally thin and pretty in a mom sort of way. She took after their mom. Jess resented her. I always felt like it was a one-sided feud.

She smiled. “That’s not it at all…” It was.

“Yeah, sure. Whatever. I’m not wearing a bikini.”

A couple of days later, Jess’s mom called.

“Honey, it’s the judge,” I said, looking at her phone. Jess was in the bathroom. Her mother was a federal judge in Miami. We all called her mother, ‘the judge.’ Even her father.

“Can you get it?”

I picked up. “Oh, hi, Evelyn. How’s everything? Oh, that’s good. How’s Marty doing? Sorry to hear that. Yeah, I could see how that’s annoying. I don’t know why. Why do any of them do anything?” I laughed. This was maybe the longest non-work conversation she and I had ever had. “That’s really interesting. I can’t wait to see them either.” She and I were now talking about Jill and her family. “I know they live near here. Schedules have been crazy.” Oh yeah, and your son who used to be your daughter cheated on me and I haven’t really been interested in seeing any of you guys, nothing personal. “Well, we’ll have plenty of time together. A black halter dress with a keyhole neckline. Knee length. Oh, that sounds pretty. I can’t wait to see it. No, I’m sure it looks beautiful. Send me a picture.” My phone buzzed almost immediately. “I don’t know, silver shoes would definitely work, although blue could give a hint of color too. Royal. Not navy.” I was scaring myself. “Drop earrings definitely. I was thinking studs. I don’t know. I just think they work. (Sigh) I’ll bring both. We hadn’t planned anything unless Dan made plans with his high school friends or anything. Ha ha. You’re right. That is funny. No, none of them plan anything except maybe to watch a game.” I used to be them. Now I was us. And this conversation was interminable. “We are totally open. I think we’re renting a car. No, you don’t have to send Charles,” Marty’s driver “to get us. Well, won’t they need the SUV? Oh, they’re renting one. OK, fine, send Charles. We’re on, hang on let me check my phone. American flight 697. It lands at 2:30. Of course, I’ll text you once they tell us that we’re ready for takeoff. I’ll let Dan know that they’re golfing on Friday. Does Marty have a set of clubs he can borrow?” Jess couldn’t use mine since I was lefty. I lied, “His are in storage. OK, great. Work is fine. Busy. Hopefully, they’ll let me relax. How’s the bench? OK, we’ll talk about it when we’re there. Love you. Love to Marty too.”

I turned to see Jess with a huge smile. “Why did I miss that?”

I laughed. “We’ve now spoken more than we did in the past seven years collectively.”

“Get used to it. What would blue shoes work with?”

“Shut up.”

“Seriously.”

I showed him the phone. His mother was wearing a silver dress with short sleeves to the party. “This is what she’s wearing.”

She paused and said, “I wouldn’t have thought blue shoes, but that could really work. Wow. Good call. And the drop earrings?”

“I just thought with her hair and the dress that they’d look pretty…oh god.” I put my head in my hands. “I’m scaring myself.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m giving the judge fashion advice that works?”

“So?”

“So? So?”

“Yeah, so. You have great style. Better than me.”

“But, it’s one thing when it’s me and another when it’s her.”

She paused again, “OK, whatever,” she said, with a smile. “Why didn’t you send her a picture?”

“Because…”

“Because why? Because you want to surprise them. You want them to ooh and aah over you. I get it. You are such a girl.”

“Shut up,” I said. She was right.
“Let me guess. You’re already deciding between the new green and blue dress or that little white skirt for the flight, aren’t you?”

I blushed. “I said shut up.”

“Go with the skirt. Save the dress for when we’re not going to be sitting for several hours.”

“Oh, you’re golfing with your dad on Friday. Lucky you.” Marty was one of the more annoying people to golf with. He wasn’t a bad guy except that, on the course, he alternated between offering you “advice” on your game and gloating over his. “Do you want to go to Chelsea Piers tomorrow to practice your swing?”

“Do I need to?”

“You haven’t played since we went last summer. And you’re not you. You’re me. And your father is going to give you lots of advice and give you shit. So, yeah.”

“No he won’t.”

“He may not have given Jessica shit. But I guarantee you he’ll give it to you now.”

We went to the range the next day.

“You’re swinging like you have breasts.”

“What?”

“Your swing is messed up. There’s nothing blocking you. Just swing easily. Practice.” She started swinging the club.

“Now you’re getting the hang of it. Now hit the ball.” She drove it about 220 yards and straight.

“Wow!”

“You’ve got the perfect combination. My body and your mind.”

She lifted an eyebrow. “It’s about time you realized that.”

“Don’t get full of yourself. What I mean is that you’re not trying to crush the ball, just hit it straight. Keep doing that and you’ll do great. Everything else, and I mean everything, I’ve got the perfect combination. My brain and your body.”

She smiled. “You’re even better. You’ve got your brain and an even better body.” She kissed me.

“OK, you win.”

The following Wednesday we were on our way to the airport. I was wearing the white skirt, with a blue top and flats. “Do I look OK?”

“You look amazing.”

“Seriously? The judge and Jill can be brutal.”

“I don’t know that? You look fantastic. Girl.”

“Stop. I’m just nervous.”

“You’re Jessica. They’ve known you for seven years. As Jessica. You’re just a hotter you,” she said, giving me a kiss on the lips.

“Stop…”

The flight was uneventful. One of the pleasant side effects of all of this was that I had a lot more room to sit. Jess looked miserable, crammed into her coach seat.

We landed and Charles picked us up. It still felt weird to have a driver. We pulled up to the house. It was seven bedrooms with a pool and cabana and 100’ of frontage on Key Biscayne. Dan’s father was an ophthalmologist who, when Dan was in junior high school, opened a chain of laser eye surgery centers. They moved to the house when Dan was fifteen. It was beautiful but I always felt like I was in a museum rather than a house. My parents’ house was comparatively nothing, but at least I wasn’t afraid to touch anything.

Jess’ mom was at the door. Evelyn, the judge, was 68 years old. She was 5’5” tall and maybe 110 lbs. She wasn’t healthy, just thin. I was getting stuff out of the back, so Dan went up first.

“Dan,” she said, giving him a hug and kiss on the cheek. “You look like you’ve lost weight.” Every time she saw Jess the first thing she noted was weight. The second thing was clothes. Neither was ever good enough.

“Hi, mom. Yes, about 25 lbs. I’ve been working out and running.”

“Well, it looks good.” I walked up to the door.

“Hi, Evelyn,” I said, giving her a kiss on the cheek.

“My g-d Jessica, you look spectacular. Turn around.” I happily complied, turning left then right. Jess was right. This was what I wanted. I was such a girl. “What have you been doing?”

“Running. Spin. Pilates. Stopping eating.”

“Well, it is working. How much so far?”

“26 lbs. Plus, I’ve lost three sizes.” Dan stood behind her, mouthing “girl,” and smiling.

“You look absolutely gorgeous. And I love that outfit. And the bangs. Everything is perfect. Good job.”

I blushed. “Thank you. It’s always hard to see it on yourself,” I lied.

“Dan, you should be very proud of her. Beauty and brains.” OK, that was weird. She never said much to me when I was Dan, unless we were talking about caseloads.

Jess smiled, “I am.”

Just then, Dan’s sister Jill came out. “Hey stupid,” she said, grabbing him around the waist from behind. Jill was six years older. Like I said, she was a PhD in economics and worked as a consultant. She was 5’8”, probably 145-150 lbs with brown hair and green eyes. She was married to Yoram, an Israeli high-frequency trader. They lived in Chappaqua and had two kids, a twelve-year old named Sarah and a five-year old named Yonatan, Yoni for short.

“Shut up,” Jess said, playfully but with an edge that you’d hear if you knew to look for it. They kissed each other on the cheek.

Jill saw me and went, “Oh my g-d, Jess, is that you? You look phenomenal!” OK, that felt good. “Turn around.” I never realized how much women said that, but I liked doing it.

“Hey, Jill,” I said, giving her a hug and kiss. “Thanks. You look terrific.”

“Please. How much? How did you do it?”

“26 pounds. Three sizes. Like I told your mom, running, spin and Pilates. Dan totally motivated me.”

She looked at him and said, “That’s great, Dan,” then she turned back to me. “That is a really cute outfit. And I love your hair. What made you decide on bangs?”

“Thanks. I just decided one day to see how they looked.” Jess rolled her eyes. This was fun. “I love your sandals.” She was wearing cute sandals. What? They were cute.

Jess looked me up and down, shrugged and said, “I’m going to take our stuff to the room. No, it’s OK. You girls continue on without me.”

We talked for a couple of minutes and then I excused myself. I came into the bedroom to find Jess putting her stuff in the dresser. This was Jess’ old room but you’d never know. It looked like a guest room in an expensive hotel. Very nice but very austere.

“Hey, honey,” I said, giving her a kiss on the cheek.

“Hey. I’m unpacking.”

“I see that. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“That’s not nothing. What is it?”

“Nothing. Did you have fun?” She said, with a subtle edge.

“What did I do?”

“Nothing. You didn’t do anything. You just got more of a greeting than I did. Sorry.”

“That’s just because they haven’t seen me.”

“They haven’t seen me either.”

“Yeah, but you’re a guy. They totally treat guys differently. I guess I never noticed.” Or cared. “Maybe it’s because it’s so much easier for you to lose weight. You can lose three pounds by skipping a meal. You said it yourself.”

She smiled, “True enough. You were so cute the way that you were lapping it up.” She started twirling. “26 pounds. And three sizes!”

“Shut up…I’m proud of myself. Shoot me.”

“I’m proud of you too. Three sizes? Really?”

“Yup, the stuff from Vineyard Vines? Sixes.”

“A six? I don’t think I ever was a six. No wonder they were so impressed. They were never that impressed with me.”

“Yes, they were.”

“No, they weren’t. Sorry. Enjoy it. Don’t let my shit get in the way.”

“It’s not your shit. It’s your feelings.”

“Wow, we really have switched places.”

I laughed. “Jeez.”

“It’s fine. I’m teasing. And I am proud of you, for real.”

“Thanks.” I could tell that she was already getting upset about being here. “Let’s find some stuff to do while we’re here. Just us.”

“We’ve only got four days, but I appreciate the thought.”

“Do you want me to tell them you’re taking a nap?”

“Nah, I may as well go down. I’ll have to do it sooner or later.”

I walked out the door and Jess pinched me on the ass. “Excuse me?”

She grinned. “I couldn’t resist. First time I’ve pinched a size six ass.”

We went downstairs and Yoram came in from the pool with the kids. The kids went to their rooms to change.

I gave him a hug and kiss. “Ma nishma, Yoram?” ‘How are you’ in Hebrew.

“Kol b’seder. Ma shlomech?” ‘I’m fine. How are you?

“Kol b’seder.”

He grinned. “At hama.” Jill playfully slapped him. It means ‘you’re hot.’

“Funny, Yoram,” Jill said.

“Seriously, Dan, your wife looks amazing. You lose weight too?”

Jess batted her eyelashes, as she gave him a hug. “I didn’t think you’d notice.”

“You know I love you too. Just different.”

Jill laughed, “What he means is he never misses a pretty girl.”

“You want me to?” He played the stereotypical macho Israeli, but he was actually a brilliant computer scientist who spoke English, Hebrew and Russian. He and I always got along. We were the outsiders in the family.

Just then Sarah came in. She was 12 years old, 5’2”, 125 lbs. with brown hair and blue eyes. Basically, she looked like Jess at 12.

“Hey, Sarah,” I said, “How are you?”

She came over and gave me a hug. “Hey, Aunt Jessica,” she said, timidly. “You look great.” I knew she meant it but she said it in a sort of rueful tone.

“So do you. How’s school?”

She looked over at her parents. “It’s…fine.” I made a note to try and talk to her. To be honest, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t get 12-year old girls when I was 12 and I doubt time had made me any better at it, but she looked like she could use someone.

Jess smiled. “Nothing for me?”

I didn’t know why, but Sarah gave him a quick look of disgust. Not that anyone else would notice but I had been on the receiving end of it from Jess, when she was Jess, more than a few times. Then she gave him a hug. “Hey, Uncle Dan.”

“What are you up to these days?”

“Nothing. Stuff.” She turned to Jill, “Can I go take a cookie?”

“How many have you had today?” Evelyn said.

“I don’t know.”

“I do. Four. So no.” Sarah looked mortified. Jill just sat there. I was going to say something but stopped.

“I’m going to go text Emily.” She left the room. Poor kid.

Evelyn turned to me. “She’s getting a little chunky.”

“She looks OK to me.” I started to say, ‘maybe if you didn’t make her feel bad, she wouldn’t sneak down here later and gorge like your daughter used to,’ but figured I’d hold off. For now. Jess sat there mute, like she always did.

“Anyway…” Just then, we were saved when Yoni came in.

“Uncle Dan!”

“Yoni!” Jess said, as Yoni tackled her. “Ow, ow. Let me up.”

Jill smiled. “Yoni and Dan. Between them, they’re thirteen.”

“Hey,” Jess said. “I am at least…nine. Which makes us fourteen,” she said, wrestling with Yoni. She seemed happy.

“So, Jill, what’s new in the world of consulting?”

“Ah, the usual. Actually, I just got offered a position at Vassar. Adjunct.”

“That’s amazing. How did that come up?”

“One of my old mentors at UC heard about the position and called me. I’m trying to decide though.”

“Why? I’d love to teach.” I had thought about it but not seriously. But it would be nice to be asked.

“The kids. It’s an hour each way.”

Yoram piped in, “I keep telling her we’ll figure it out. It’s not night school. Yoni’s in kindergarten now. We’ll be fine. We’ll pay Cora some more.”

This both alarmed and comforted me. It made me think about partnership but it also made me realize that we could make it work. “You should totally do it. You’ve always talked about it.”

“Ah, we’ll see. How’s work going, Jess?”

“Good. Busy. We have this litigation involving fraud in this big condo being built in the Flatiron.”

“Federal or state?” Evelyn said, her eyes brightening.

“Right now, state. AG is looking over the books now.”

“I’d think you’d have a wire fraud action at least. RICO. Bring it to a real judge,” she said, with a grin.

“I’d say I disagree, but I don’t. Anyway, I’m on the civil side. That’s a state thing for now. Get some international buyers and we’ll try and remove it.”

“Keep me in the loop. It sounds fascinating.”

“Macro level, yes. Micro, it’s just motion practice for now.”

“Will they let you try it?”

“Second chair. Depositions. Probably some questioning, should it get there.”

“If you came down here, I could ensure that you’d be first chair.”

That came out of left field. We had never had this discussion before. “Um, what?”

“New York trained lawyers are valued down here. We have a work ethic.” Evelyn was born in the Bronx, went to Columbia Law School and only moved down here when Marty was offered a position at Mt. Sinai. “I could make sure that you were some place you wanted to be.”

Jess piped up, “And what would I do?”

“You could get your MBA.”

This was a sore spot among Jess and her parents. They were big on grad school. Jess was not. “Wow, mom, less than two hours. Won’t Dad be upset that you took first crack?”

“I just don’t understand what you have against it. We all have graduate degrees.”

“Yeah, OK. And I don’t.” I could see Jess getting upset.

“Dan is doing great at work. He’s taking the lead on a product launch,” I said.

Yoram looked at me, gave me a quick smile and said, “That’s great, Dan. Can you discuss it?”

“It’s a targeted cancer therapy. Goes after basal cell carcinomas.”

“That’s terrific, Dan,” said Jill. “So what do you do on that?”

“I’m in charge of coordinating marketing to physicians and working with the sales directors to detail it.”

“I’m really proud of him. This is a big deal,” I said.

Evelyn said, “I’m proud too. I’m just thinking of the future.”

“My future is fine. If I thought I needed it, I would get it. But I don’t. So leave me be, OK?”

“Fine…we’d pay, if that makes a difference.”

“It doesn’t. The company would too. I just don’t want to do it. When will you ever learn that?” Jess said, her voice rising.

“There’s no reason to get upset.”

Jess said, “Fine. Whatever.” This was going to be a fun trip. “You know what? I’m tired from the trip. Wake me up when Dad gets here.”

I followed her to our room. She laid face down on the bed. “Do we have to stay?” She said.

“I’ll look for rooms,” I said.

She rolled over. “That’s not an option,” she said. “I just can’t deal with it.”

“Do you want me to say something?”

“Absolutely not. That’ll make it worse.”

“How?”

“Stupid Dan can’t fight his own battles. He needs his wife.” It was interesting that she said Dan without pause. I still vacillated between thinking of myself as Dan and as Jessica.

“That’s not it. I was just trying to help.”

“I know.”

“Try and relax. We’ll have a good time,” I said, kissing her neck.

“Thanks, but not now.”

Ouch. I tried to joke. “Well, being back here brought back an oldie but a goodie.”

“Ha.”

“You want me to leave you alone.”

“Can you stay here and not talk?”

“Ouch.”

“Sorry. I just don’t feel like talking but I want you here. Is that OK?”

I got it. Sometimes you wanted someone there, even if they didn’t say anything. “Sure, I’ll read.” I read while Jess fell asleep. I looked over at her sleeping form and hoped that it would get better.

After about half an hour, I tiptoed out and walked past Sarah’s room. She was sitting on the bed playing with her phone.

“Knock knock,” I said, “Mind if I come in?”

“Hey, Aunt Jess.”

“Hey, so how’s everything going?”

“Good.”

“What are you doing?”

“Looking at Instagram.”

I leaned over and saw selfies of 12-year old girls. “Interesting. Wanna talk?”

She looked like she was going to say something then stopped. “Um, not really?”

“I won’t say anything to anyone.”

“OK?”

“Well, if you want. Don’t let Grandma bother you.”

“I don’t.” She did. I could tell.

“OK, well, if you want to talk, I’m down the hall.”

“Thanks,” she said, in that teenage way that said “No way.”

I went downstairs to find Yoram on the couch. “Where is everyone?”

“The judge is in her office doing whatever it is she does. Jill went to nap. Yoni is, I don’t know, playing with the iPad or setting a fire.”

“It’s a good skill to have. He could get lost in the woods. What do you think?”

“I think it never changes.”

“Nope.”

“I’m waiting for Marty. That’ll make it better,” he said, with a grin.

I was curious to see how he reacted to Dan. He always kind of ignored then condescended to Jess. “Oh yeah. What did she do to Jill?”

“She’s a bad mother. Sarah. Yoni. She needs to lose weight. He’s a wild animal. Blah blah blah.”

I started to say something about Sarah then stopped. I figured I’d see what happened over the next few days. “Because she was the perfect mother. Which is why her son and daughter are napping,” I said, making air quotes, “at 4:30 in the afternoon.”

“I know. I’m staying at a hotel next year.”

“Can I come?” He laughed. “How’s work?”

“Work is work. Mostly good. Sometimes bad. We’ll see with this lunatic. But, it’s always work.” That was a very Israeli answer.

“I hear you. Promise me you won’t gang up on Dan at golf.”

“Why would I? I want to get in the middle of them?”

“Thanks.”

“He’s good to you?” That was weird.

“Uh, yeah.”

He looked at me and said, “Then I’ll leave him alone.”

“Thanks.” We sat for a while. I read. He played with his phone. Neither one of us spoke. I think we worried about what was coming next.

At 6:30, Jess’ dad walked in. “Hey you two.”

Yoram got up and gave him a handshake.

I stood up and gave him a kiss, which felt weird. “Look at you,” he said, “You look terrific.” Evelyn walked back in. “Evelyn, did you see her?”

“No, Marty. Jess, when did you get here?” Did all couples do this kind of shtick? Would Jess and I? If so, who would I be? Marty or Evelyn?

“Well, anyway, you don’t even look like you. You look beautiful.”

“I’ll take that as the compliment I assume you intended and not the insult it came out as,” I laughed.

Yoram shouted, “Sarah. Yoni. Grandpa’s here.”

“Where are my children?”

I was about to say they were napping, when Jess came down. “Hey dad.” I was surprised she didn’t call him ‘daddy.’ She gave him a hug.

“Hey Dan. You look good. How’s work? Flight OK?”

“Thanks. Fine. Uneventful.” She moved into the grunts and abruptness that characterized my relationship with Marty with ease.

“We’re playing the Doral on Friday.”

She looked at me. “Great. Mom says you have clubs I can use.”

“Yes. By the way, my swing coach has been teaching me some techniques I can show you.” Yoram smirked. I knew why. By the end of a round, we were fighting over who’d get to beat him first. Yoram used to joke, “Can I offer a suggestion?” That was Marty’s favorite. “Use a 5 iron to beat him, more control.” I’d respond, “Open the club face. You’ll draw more blood.”

“Thanks for the heads up.”

“Work’s good?”

“Yeah. I was telling mom I’m taking the lead on a new product launch.”

Marty didn’t listen, he waited to talk. “Terrific. Work is great for me. We’re opening a new center in West Palm soon. You had your MBA, you could come work for me.” Yeah, that was a selling point.

“I like my job. I like New York. I don’t want an MBA.” I could see her withdrawing.

“I don’t understand. We’ll pay. My parents didn’t pay for med school. Most people would appreciate it.”

I tried to stop this. “It is appreciated, Marty…”

“See Dan? Your wife gets it.”

Jess looked at me. I said, “What I was saying was while it’s appreciated, he doesn’t want to get it. Anyway, tell me about the new center…” I knew that would distract him. And it did. He talked about it for fifteen minutes. Evelyn left the room.

Dinner was miserable.

Every time Sarah went to eat anything but a vegetable, Evelyn would say, “Sarah. You don’t need that. You have a pretty face, don’t waste it.” Then, when no one was looking, she’d take a piece of bread. She really was Jess.

Every time Yoni acted like, well, a five-year old, she would say something like, “You’re in my house. Stop behaving like an animal. You can do that in your own house, I suppose.”

Neither Jill nor Jess spoke. I knew that they were both trying to avoid a fight. I wanted to say something, but knew that would only make things worse. Not with Evelyn and Marty. I didn’t care about them. I was concerned about me and Jess, especially after everything.

After dessert, Sarah said, “Can I take Yoni for a walk?” What she meant was, “Can I please get out of here?”

Yoram said, “So long as you bring him back.”

Evelyn, Jill and I cleared the plates.

Evelyn turned to me and said, “What does he have against graduate school?”

I wanted to say that Jess had enough school and that should be enough but figured we had another three days together. “It’s not his thing.”

“Make it his thing.”

“Have you met your son?”

Jill laughed, “Seriously, mom?”

“I’m glad you think this is funny. I’m concerned for his, for your future.”

I thought, ‘our future is still not 100%.’ “If I thought it would make a difference, I would push him. But it doesn’t. Also, for what it’s worth, he doesn’t respond to being pushed.” No, she retreats and eats. Like Sarah is doing. So stop. Which came out as, “If it’s time to get it, it’ll be time.”

Jill looked like she avoided a bullet. She hadn’t. “Jill. You need to do something with your children.”

“I’ve offered them for sale, but there are no takers.”

“I’m serious. Sarah is going to balloon up if you don’t do something.” And she’s going to balloon up if you do, Evelyn. Not my fight though. Not yet, at least.

“Ma…”

“You need to explain that to her.”

“Ma, if I say I will, will you stop?” She wouldn’t.

Eventually, we went to bed.

“Your mother is driving me nuts,” I said.

“Wow, we really have switched. That’s usually my line,” she said. “Why? She’s been nothing but ‘Jess, tell me about work,’ ‘Jess, you look fabulous.’ ‘Jess, tell Dan he’s being stupid.’”

“She didn’t say that last thing…”

“Well, she didn’t spend twenty minutes talking about MY job.”

I tried to joke. “It’s a lawyer thing. We only get discrete jobs, like doctor, lawyer, fireman…”

“She talked to Jill about her job and no one gets that…”

This was going to get bad. “I tried…”

“I know. I’m just annoyed. What is she driving you nuts about?”

“Sarah. That poor kid.”

“What?”

“Giving her shit every time she puts food in her mouth.”

“I know, but that’s what she does.”

I started to say something but stopped. “That doesn’t make it right.”

“My sister doesn’t say anything. Why would you?” She said it in a way that left it that she didn’t want to talk.

“I guess I just feel bad for her.” And for Jess.

Her face softened. “I know. I do too. But there’s nothing you can do. One day down.”

I kissed her on the cheek, “It won’t be that bad. Tomorrow’s another day.”

It was another day and it was that bad.

I came into the kitchen in the morning before my run to see Sarah eating a cookie.

“Hey Sarah,” I said, taking a drink of water.

“Please don’t say anything,” she pleaded.

“Why would I?”

“Really?”

“I get it. If you want to talk…” I really wanted to talk to her, but wasn’t going to push.

“Thanks,” she said, “maybe later.” She said that in a way that would serve her well at college parties when she wanted to get away from a guy. I knew that ‘maybe later.’

That was the highlight of the day

Dinner was a mess. Marty started in on Yoram and Dan.

“So, Yoram, have you fixed that hitch in your swing?” Yoram had no hitch in his swing. It was the swing of someone who played golf when he had to, not because he wanted to.

Yoram was an old pro in dealing with Marty, so he smiled, “No. I’ve decided to keep it. It’s my gift to you. The gift of criticism.” Evelyn and Jill laughed.

“I’m trying to help you. It’s no fun beating you when there’s no challenge.” He turned to Jess. “So, Danny, what about you? Have you been working on your short game? I hate seeing you in the bunkers all the time. Once you get there, it doesn’t get out of your head. By the back nine, you’ll be crazy.”

I knew that this was just Marty being Marty. Don’t get me wrong – I hated it, but I could ignore it. Jess couldn’t. “What, dad?”

“Last year. You spent more time in the bunker than Hitler.” This was Marty’s favorite joke. I used to respond, “Moses spent forty years in the desert. One hole won’t kill me,” which drove him nuts.

“Whatever. I’ve been working on my swing.”

“You always do what you always did and you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

In the meantime, Sarah and Evelyn continued.

Evelyn brought out a chocolate cake and fruit for dessert. She gave Yoni cake and, when Sarah asked, told her, “Why don’t you have fruit?”

“Can I have a small piece?”

Evelyn said, “That’s your decision,” and gave her the thinnest slice of cake I had ever seen. Honestly, I don’t think Marty cut that thin during eye surgery.

Later on, Sarah volunteered to clear. I found her in the kitchen eating half-finished cake.

She looked at me in fear. “Please, Aunt Jess…” I mimed zipping my lip. “Thank you.”

We were in bed later. I had brought the teal nightie Jess liked. When I came to bed, she didn’t even respond.

“Wow, make a girl feel welcome.”

“Sorry,” she said, in a rote way.

“Do not let him get in your head. Just do what we did at Chelsea Piers. Play Jess’ game with that amazing body you have.” That got no response. “I’m serious. He’s trying to get in your head.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re his son. Remember what you said to me about my dad? How now we’re not competing? Well, now, you are. Well, he is.”

“I don’t want to.”

“You are though. But do it your way. Play your game. Don’t worry about distance. Worry about accuracy. Worry about getting it in the hole.”

She smiled. “Getting it in the hole?” She grabbed me by the waist and kissed me. “Can I get it in the hole?”

“Shhhh. Everyone will hear,” I said, pulling off her shirt.

“So?” She said, kissing my earlobes then my neck.

I was getting excited. “They’ll look at me…”

She started fingering me. “Come on.”

I rolled over, “Oh g-d…” I wanted her in the worst way.

We were so excited and stressed that she didn’t put on a condom. It felt good.

After we were done, she said, “Wow. That was amazing. Thank you. Oh shit….”

“What?”

“I didn’t use a condom.”

“Oh, g-d. Hold on, I had my period like two and half weeks ago. I don’t think I’m ovulating. Oh g-d, I hope not.”

“Why?”

“Because…because..because I wasn’t planning on getting pregnant.” That wasn’t entirely true.

“Really? You seem pretty into it with Sammie.”

“Yeah, well…I just thought…I thought…that it would be a little more planned than this.”

“I’m sure you’re not. Would it be so bad if you were?”

“What if this is what changes us back? Would you be OK?”

She looked briefly horrified. “I asked first.”

“I don’t know,” I said, with a smile. I knew. I wanted it more than anything.

“I do. You’d be amazing. You’d be an amazing mommy. Better than Jill. Better than mine.”

“Speaking of which, poor Sarah.”

“She has a mom.”

“I caught her sneaking cake off the plates in the kitchen.”

Jess sighed and just said, “Yup.”

“Yup?”

“Yup. Been there, done that.”

“And that’s OK?”

“No, but what can you do about it?”

“I just…”

She kissed me on the cheek, “I love you,” and then fell asleep. Men. All the same. Even those who weren’t born that way.

By the time we got up in the morning, I was gunning for Evelyn.

Jess, Yoram, Marty and Yoni went to the pool and then were going for golf. Marty had bought a set of kids’ clubs for Yoni and told him that, “Grandpa’s going to teach you golf.” Great – another generation tortured.

The women were going shopping. Evelyn wanted the Aventura mall, but Jill and I vetoed that, on the grounds that it was Black Friday and would be a mess. We settled on the Lincoln Road Mall. The Lincoln Road Mall isn’t a shopping mall per se. Rather, the city had closed off streets to all but pedestrian traffic so you could walk between the stores and restaurants.

We got there around 12:30. "Why don't we have lunch beforehand then walk around?" Jill said.

We had lunch at Spris, an Italian place. The food was good but it was one of the more uncomfortable meals I'd had in a long time. Every time Sarah looked at the bread basket, Evelyn gave her a look and a shake of the head.

"Can I have pizza?" she asked Jill. The pizzas were small and thin crust. As Dan, I would've eaten one myself.

"Do you really need that?" Evelyn said.

"How about if we split it," I said. "So long as you don't want anchovies or pineapple."

Sarah smiled, "Ewww, gross. Can we have sausage?"

"Sure." Evelyn glared at me. Jill intently studied the menu, mute.

The waitress came over. Evelyn pointedly ordered "the chicken and beet salad, dressing on the side," while looking at me. Honestly, that's what I would have ordered, had she not given Sarah flak.

"We're going to split the pizza with sausage," I said with a smile, looking right back at her. The waitress looked like she wanted to run. Jill, like she wanted to hide. Sarah, like she was watching a fight where she didn't know which side to take.

The meal was no better.

"So what are you doing in school again?" Evelyn asked.

"Um, like math and Social Studies and Chemistry? The usual stuff."

"Like chemistry? What's like chemistry?"

"Chemistry."

"Then say that. Like is for comparisons.". She wasn't wrong. I hated when people did that. But I wasn't going to say that. “Also, stop answering like you’re asking. Have confidence in what you’re saying.” OK, that was frightening.

I decided to try and change the topic. "What are you reading in English? That was my class."

"Lord of the Flies."

"I loved that book." I did. Every guy in my class did. It was still a go to reference in meetings. That and sports. Everyone wanted to think they were Ralph, maybe Simon. The reps were all Jack. I was more Piggy than I wanted to acknowledge.

"Yuck. It's a boy book."

It was. "What makes it a boy book?"

"I don't know. It's all boys and they beat each other up and stuff. It just is."

"That's a weak argument. Wait until you get to Hemingway and Kerouac. Those are boy books.". That got a laugh from Jill and Evelyn.

"Huh?"

"Never mind. What's a girl book then?"

"The Crucible". She was right. All it needed was a princess.

"Fine. Don't worry so much about girl books and boy books."

Lunch was uneventful. Evelyn kept grilling her.

At the end, there was one slice left. Sarah went to reach for it when Evelyn said, "you don't need that. Put it down."

Sarah dropped it and started to tear up. Then she got up and ran across the plaza.

I looked at Jill. "Mind if I talk to her?"

"Stay right here," Evelyn barked. People turned. "She's being ridiculous".

"JILL, do YOU mind?"

She looked at me, then her mother. "Good luck." I wasn’t sure for who – me or her.

I went over. Sarah was sobbing. "I'm not coming back."

"I wasn't here for that."

"Really?".

"Nope. In fact, why don't you and I walk around?"

"What about mom and grandma?"

"They'll do what they do. We don't get enough time together alone.". Counting this time, it would be...Once.

"Um, OK?"

"Don't make me feel so wanted."

She smiled. "I didn't mean that."

"I'm just teasing.". I looked over at Jill, pointed to Sarah then me and mimed walking with my fingers. Jill looked at me and mouthed, "go."

Sarah and I started walking around, looking in the windows. "I'm ready to talk when you are," I said. "No judgments. Thoughts if you want them. Just listen if you don't."

"I need to lose weight."

"Why?"

She looked shocked at the question. "Why what?"

"Why do you need to? Did the doctor say so?"

"No?"

"Are you having trouble doing things? Walking? Gym? "

"I suck at gym."

"I didn't ask if you sucked at gym. I asked if you had trouble running or something. I sucked at gym but I could run or do exercises. Can you do that?"

"Yes. Did you really suck at gym?".

"Yup. I was always picked last. Ask anyone." I wasn’t but Jess was, so it was true. Sort of. "So we've established that you're healthy and can do stuff. So, why do you think you need to lose weight?"

"Well, grandma says I do."

I thought for a minute. This was a fraught statement. I knew what I wanted to say which was the truth. But that would open a whole other can of worms. "Ok, look. I'm going to say something but it stays here..."

She smiled, "ooooh."

I smiled. "I'm serious. I'm talking to you like an adult. What we say here stays here. Deal?"

"Deal. What?". She was pulsating with excitement. It was cute.

I smiled, "your grandmother. Women of that age...um, have no idea what they're talking about, especially about weight. They think thin is healthy."

"Uh huh...".

"Yeah. I know you were expecting something worse. Sorry. But seriously, it's not just weight."

"But you lost weight. And everyone tells you how good you look."

I smiled. "I didn't start out losing weight.". No, I started out losing my penis. "I woke up one day and felt blah. So, I decided to start running again. And I felt better. The weight came off because I did stuff to be healthier. I could starve myself like your grandmother, but I wouldn't be healthy. Uncle Dan and I ran five miles yesterday. Do you think she could?"

She surprised me. "She can't drive five miles."

"You're funny." She smiled. "Sarah, I will never tell anyone to lose weight. I've fought it my whole life. I won't even tell anyone to exercise. I mean I feel better when I do it, and don't get me wrong, I like the way I look, and if you want to join me tomorrow, I would love it but I am not telling you to do lose weight."

She sighed. "Why does she do it?"

"Your grandmother?"

"Yeah. And my mom."

"Like I said, your grandma is 70. When she was your age, that's what people knew I guess. Thin equaled healthy. Exercise was weird. Watch a movie from even the 1970s. The women have no tone. They look gross. But that's what she knows.". She looked unhappy with that excuse. "But that's no excuse for saying what she said. Like I don't get what she thinks that is going to accomplish. "

"Did your mom do it?"

I tried to remember what she did to Laura. She gave her shit about outfits and makeup and how she spoke, but weight surprisingly was never there. "No. She was bigger on how you dressed and stuff, plus my mom has gone up and down - a lot."

"I still don't get it. Why does she do it?"

"Mothers and daughters? If I could figure that out, I'd be rich. Did you ever ask your mom?"

"No. My mom doesn't have a weight problem. Besides, she and grandma are fine."

"First, you're old enough to know this," I said with a smile. "Every woman has a weight problem. Second, watch them sometime. Grandma knows how to push her buttons just like my mom does and yours does. Know why?"

"Why?"

"They installed them. But, you can fight back. Next time, when your grandmother says something, look at her and say - politely - 'respectfully, I don't appreciate that and I wonder why you said it.'"

"I can't say THAT."

"Why?"

"Because... because..."

"See? If you want to l...be healthier, let's talk strategy. Do you want that?"

"Yes..."

"Ok.". We walked past a CVS. She looked at a Snickers bar. "Do you want that? You can have it. My treat."

"I can't have that. It's bad."

"First things, there are no bad foods.". I picked up the Snickers and a banana. I started wiggling the banana and saying in a stupid voice. "You're bad."

She looked mortified. "Stop," she hissed.

I smiled. "Nope." Now I made the Snickers say, "I'm not bad. Maybe it's my childhood.". An older woman watched us and smiled, trying to figure out our relationship.

"You are sooo weird. You are embarrassing me...". She was turning red.

"Your childhood? Mine was worse. My parents were BANANAS."

She pulled me out. "That was awful. That joke wasn't even dad bad. It was GRANDPA bad.". But she was laughing.

"My point was that there are no good foods or bad foods. Some are healthier than others. Some have more calories. But they're not bad. If y.." I started to say you, but figured she'd heard enough about her today. "If I want something, I have it. But I think, 'do I want this or am I upset or stressed or something?'. And if I still want it, I have it."

"Seriously?"

"Seriously. I mean I don't keep stuff around because I know me." I was a compulsive eater. Even as Dan, I had to stop buying pints of ice cream or big bags of chips. "But I have it when I want it."

"But people say stuff when I get stuff. Like my friends will be all like 'how can you eat that?''

"Are you eating gross stuff?"

"No, just like if I get ice cream instead of yogurt, they say something about how much fat it has."

"Look at them and say, 'then don't eat it.'. Say it enough and they'll stop. But you can fight it. Don't let other people tell you what you should do." I knew that that was nearly impossible for any 12-year old. We'd all like to think we had that kind of strength then. We didn't. Most of us still don't. But I figured it was worth a shot.

"Um, Ok."

"Seriously. How's school going?"

"I hate it. Boys stink."

"They do.” In retrospect, I did. “Any particular reason?"

"You won't tell?"

"I won't"

"You have to promise."

"I promise."

"Not mom. Not grandma. Not even Uncle Dan."

"This isn't anything where you could get hurt, right?""

"No."

"Then I promise."

"Berkowitz has saggy tits," she said, in a singsong voice. Yup, that was 12-year old boy behavior.

"Who says that to you?"

"Boys."

"All of them?"

"No, just these three stupid ones."

"What do you say to them?"

"Shut up?"

"Now, that doesn't work, does it?" I knew it wouldn't. I was a 12-year old boy. Once.

"No..."

"So, let's figure out how to stop them. Tell me about them. Who's the weakest of them?"

"Huh?"

"Who's the biggest follower? You start by picking off the weakest of the herd."

"I'm confused."

"He makes fun of you for how you look. Do the same."

"Mom says I should just ignore him."

"Do not repeat this. But she's wrong." I smiled. "Promise you won't repeat that."

"I promise."

"Good. So what does he look like?"

"He has a bunch of zits."

"Next time they start, smile and say, "hey look at that. I never noticed but if we connect all the dots on your face, it makes a cat!"

She started laughing. "That's mean!"

"And?"

"And uh... I don't know."

"Tell me about the next weakest."

"Justin Gordon. He's fat."

"Does he have moobs?"

She giggled. "Yes.". Boys. Girls. Moobs are always funny. The word still was to me.

"OK. When he does it, look at him and say, 'yours are so big. I'm so jealous. There’s a sale at Pink on bras. Wanna go next weekend?" You want to kill a 12-year old boy? Compare him to a girl.

"I can't say that!"

"Why?"

"Because I'll get in trouble!". She said stretching out the last word.

"Don't say it in class," I said, smiling. "We've gotten rid of the followers. Tell me about the ringleader."

"Jordan Glick.". Jordan Glick? This was going to be like shooting fish in a barrel. A proper use of simile.

"Jordan Glick...Jordan Glick...Lights a candle wick. No, that's stupid. Doesn't even really make sense. Jordan Glick knows a cool trick. No, that's not really an insult. Jordan Glick has a small..."

"I can't say THAT," she said, laughing. "I'd get suspended."

"He won't tell. Trust me. He's going to tell the principal that he made fun of your...chest and then you said he had a small penis?"

"What if I get caught?"

I put my arm around her. "Luckily you have access to a great lawyer."

"Even if you and Uncle Dan get divorced?"

That threw me for a loop. "Where did you get that from?"

She rolled her eyes. "I'm not an idiot. I'm twelve.". I couldn't speak. "And he slept at our house and mom was yelling at him and he was crying..."

"He was crying"? I tried to suppress a smile.

"Yeah. And you guys haven't touched each other."

"Huh?"

"You used to always touch each other on the arms and legs and kiss each other and now you don't. What happened?" I never knew she was so observant.

"It's complicated."

"You don't want to tell me. Adults always say that whenever they don't want you to know something."

I smiled. "You're right. I hated that. But it is complicated...And not for me to explain, y'know?"

"Fine. Did Dan do something?"

In response to my sigh, she said, "why are boys so stupid?" I didn’t know I was before this. Now I knew I was. I just didn’t know why.

We walked through the mall after that. We talked about life - well, as much life as a 12-year old has. She talked about how she hated the fact that her best friend Emily would drop her if a more popular girl wanted to hang out, and then they'd turn on her. It was like "Mean Girls" in real life. I thanked g-d that I got to be a 12-year old boy. We'd just hit each other.

We walked past "Forever 21".

"Can we go in"? She pleaded.

"Sure."

My phone buzzed. It was a text from Jill.

'How's it going?'

'Fine.'

'Anything I should know about?'

'No. 12 y/o drama. Totally normal.'

'Lmk'

'I will. In Forever 21 now. Loud. Very loud. And bright.'

'Good luck. :)'

'How's the judge?'

'Calm before the storm :("

"Who was that"?

"Your mom checking in. I didn't tell her anything."

She smiled. "I know. I trust you." I liked that.

We walked past a rack of skirts. She held up a short blue skirt with buttons up the front. "This is cute. I'm going to try it on, OK?" She ran off with a big smile.

She came out. It ended at the bottom of her thigh.

"That's cute."

"Y'think?"

"Totally. I saw a top that would totally go with that.". I was scaring myself. "Hang on.". I got it and she tried it on.

"Definitely. That definitely works. Take it off."

"Huh?"

"We need to pay for it."

"Seriously?"

"Yes."

"Can I pay you back from my birthday money?"

"What?"

"I don't have any money with me."

"And if you did, it wouldn’t matter, because you're not paying. I am."

"Really? I don't know if my parents will be OK with that". Her smile betrayed her feelings and made it worth it.

"Yes, really. And I will deal with them". I handed her two more tops. "Go try these on."

We left the store and walked past a store with pocketbooks. She saw a black leather Coach tote bag.

"This is pretty."

"It's an old lady bag. Try this," I said, handing her a small two tone blue leather Tory Burch cross body bag. "That is definitely better."

"Can I get it? It's so pretty."

I looked at the price. $325. "OK, this needs your mom's approval."

"For my bat mitzvah?"

"Sure. IF she says OK and your grades stay good, yes.". Her bat mitzvah was in March. If Dan and I stayed together, I was going to surprise her with it for Hanukkah. I hated that I still thought that way sometimes.

"Thank you!" She said, hugging me. "Thank you!"

Just then, Jill texted.

'Time to go. Please.'

'That bad?'

'Yesyesyes. :)'. Funny how a 38-year old PhD could be reduced to emojis by her mom.
'We'll meet you by H & M.'

"I think your mom has had enough grandma time," I laughed. "We're meeting by H & M"

"Can we do this again?"

"Any time, Sarah. You can come in to the city if you want."

"No matter what?"

I smiled. "Stop being a drama queen.". I thought about what she was saying and it saddened me. I'd miss Jess's family but knew a relationship wouldn't, couldn't and probably shouldn't happen.

We met up with Jill and Evelyn. Evelyn was quiet. Jill was right - calm before the storm.

"Wow, what did you buy?"

"Aunt Jess bought me a skirt and some tops. She is soooo cool," and she hugged me.

Jill laughed. "Aunt Jess is a sucker."

"You have no idea," I laughed. "Remind me to talk to you about what she wants for her bat mitzvah," I whispered in her ear.

"How much do I owe you?"

"Zero. My pleasure."

Evelyn said, "Can we go please?" Uh oh.

Jill and Sarah talked the whole trip about what we saw. Evelyn drove, with a death grip on the wheel. I was going to text Dan to see how golf was but didn't want to be that person who interrupts a round.

We got home. Sarah ran into the house to send selfies to her friends of her new outfits.

Evelyn curtly said, "I have sentencing memos to review."

Jill looked at me and said, "Oh boy...."

We walked out to the pool. "So what did Sarah have to say?"

"I told her I wouldn't say anything but don't worry. Like I said, twelve-year old drama. Nothing to be concerned about. If there was, I would tell you."

"I know. I'm glad she'll talk to you. She wouldn't talk to me."

"Would you have?"

She looked at the house and raised an eyebrow. "You?"

Well, I was never a 12-year old girl but went with, "Uh, no."

She laughed. "So what does she want for her bat mitzvah?"

"A Dooney and Bourke cross body bag."

"How much?"

"$325."

She laughed. "Seriously?"

"I told her you had to approve and she had to keep her grades up."

"Sure. Make me the bad guy," she smiled.

"Come on. I want to be the cool aunt."

"If you have to buy their friendship, then they're not really your friends, are they?"

"Ha ha. Come on. It's her bat mitzvah."

She rolled her eyes. "Fine. You are such an easy target. I can't wait until you have kids." I must've flinched because she said, "Sorry. That was stupid. Speaking of stupid things, how are things with my idiot brother?" Jill said. We were dangling our feet in the pool.

"Um, fine..."

"I mean since everything happened."

"Oh yeah. Sarah said he was at your house crying?" I involuntarily smiled. "Sorry."

She laughed. "Please. I'd be dancing. "

"I didn't know he came to you."

"You never wondered where he was? Really?"

"Nope. Would you have if Yoram did?"

She laughed. "I know where the hospital is. And the morgue. I just can't believe he did it."

I got annoyed. "I know he's your brother but he did."

"Oh, I know he DID it. He told me. In between crying fits. That's just not him. Did he give a reason?"

"Not really. There's not really a reason, is there?"

"I guess not."

"Does the judge know?"

"Not from me. No way."

"Really?"

"My PhD is in economics, not stupidity. I was not going there."

"Thanks."

"So what you do from here?"

"I don't know. Wait and see, I suppose." Wait and see if I was pregnant. Wait and see if she cheated again.

"I don't know that I could do that," she said, swirling her foot around.

"What other choice do I have? I can get divorced which I don't want to do at this point. And I can't just let it go. It hurt. A lot. Sorry."

"For what?"

"He's your brother?" I wasn't upspeaking. I just couldn't believe she didn't know why I was apologizing.

"So? He was wrong and I love you Jessica. If I could have a little sister, I'd want her to be like you. Not that you're not but you know what I mean."

"Thanks. I know what you mean. Me too. I mean I love you and I'd want a sister like you too."

"What about Laura?"

"Oh shit," and we both laughed. I thought about it. I couldn't picture having this conversation with Jill before. She and I never talked to each other before. I mean we talked about things. But not to each other. And I couldn't picture Jess and Laura doing it either. There was always an undercurrent of hostility there. It was no one's fault or both of their fault. But it was there.

I excused myself to get something to drink. I went to our room to get my Kindle and walked past Evelyn's study.

"Can I speak to you, Jessica?" Oh shit.

"Sure. What's up?"

"Close the door. Sit down."

"Is everything OK?"

"I don't appreciate being undercut in front of my granddaughter."

"What?"

"I don't appreciate being undercut in front of Sarah."

I started to apologize and stopped. I wasn't sorry and was going to defend myself. "How did I undercut you, Evelyn?"

"Excuse me?"

"How did I undercut you? You've made an accusation that I undercut you and I respectfully disagree. So, please explain."

She looked angry. "You went over after I said no to her. And then you went off with her."

"I will agree that I did that. However, I disagree that that constitutes undercutting." I took a Webster's off the shelf. I thought she was going to strangle me.

"Undercut," I said, thumbing the pages. "Did I offer goods and services at a lower price than you?". OK, that was obnoxious. "I didn't. Did I cut away or weaken the part below or under you? Also, denied. Did I weaken or undermine you?"

"Yes. Yes, you did."

"How? How did I do that? Did I tell her to eat the last slice? No. Did I tell her to ignore you? No I didn't."

"You went over to her after I said not to."

"I went over after I asked HER MOTHER if it was OK, and she said yes. I asked her parent and was given consent. Ergo, I didn't undermine you."

She got up and came around the desk. "You undermined me by asking," she said, looking me in the eye. "The act of asking is per se undermining."

"I will stipulate that you perceive it that way. But, I acted solely to comfort Sarah. A reasonable person, reviewing the evidence, would agree. As I lacked the requisite intent to knowingly undermine you, I object to your characterization."

"Overruled," she snarled. Then she started laughing.

"What?"

"I just overruled an argument,” she said, laughing so much that she was gasping.

I laughed. "Well, I objected..."

"Did you hear us? Per se undermining? Stipulate that I perceived it? Requisite intent? Normal people do not argue that way," she said, giving me a hug.

I exhaled then laughed. "You're wrong. Normal people don't TALK that way. Don't limit it to arguing. Please tell me I don't sound that way with regular people."

She laughed, "I can't. Know why? Because I can't tell anymore.". In a mock-AA voice, she said, "My name is Evelyn and I'm an attorney."

"The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem..."

We both sat down. "Seriously, Jess, what got into you today?"

"Honestly, Evelyn? I see a lot of," and I almost said Jessica, "me in her. This poor kid. She sees all this stuff in the media about what she should look like. And her friends tell her all the wrong things about what to eat. And she's getting her period. And boys stare at her chest. And the one person who's supposed to be in her corner makes her feel worse."

"I certainly didn't intend to."

"I know that. I don't think you said let me figure out how to make my 12-year old granddaughter feel terrible. But, I get it. People tell you that if you eat one candy bar and you'll be 300 pounds and you end up screwed up. You binge in secret and then you hate yourself and it's a vicious cycle. Trust me, I know."

"I understand that. But the world judges us on our appearance. When I started out, we were sure that we'd change everything and forty-something years later and we're still here. A 300 pound male lawyer and a 200 pound female lawyer are trying a case. Who does the jury believe? I see it all the time. I see it on their faces - men and women. Tell me I'm wrong."

I sighed, "You aren't. But..."

"And look at what they said about Hillary. Do you think a fat woman with a bad spray tan and hair like that would even be a candidate? Maybe it's easier now..."

"It isn't.". I realized that now. As I lost weight, people treated me better. It wasn't right but I took advantage of it.

"Again, I don't mean to be mean but I want Sarah to get everything. And women are worse than men."

"I hear you. You're right. I see it with the women in my office. One of the partners is one of those...uh...big women you were talking about and I've heard associates - female associates - call her Sasquatch. I get it. And I don't want Sarah to deal with that either. But you giving her..flak..."

"You can say shit," she said, with a smile.

I smiled. "You giving her shit doesn't help. She's twelve years old. Like I said, she's got her friends and the media and all this other crap to deal with. She's got the rest of her life to realize that the world sucks and men are sexist and women are catty and cruel." Wow, I don't know where that came from but I knew it was right. "Let her be a kid. Let her have hope. I was just trying to get her to think healthy."

"Is that how you got to this? Because you look great. Although I watched you and Jill do Pilates and, sorry, no thank you," she laughed.

Well, no, technically I got here by losing my penis. The first eight inches..OK, six...were the hardest. "It's a good pain," I said, laughing.

"Yeah, that's what they told me about sex."

I laughed. "OK, TMI, Evelyn. Anyway, it took me 20 years to get here. If I can help her a little, so that she can maybe have it easier than... I did, sorry, but I'll undermine you, Jill, everyone if that would do it. I know you don't get it but I know what it's like...". Obviously, I didn't know. I know what people said to Jess. But she didn't know that.

She smiled ruefully. "Don't assume facts not in evidence."

"Huh?"

"Look at me. Boys may have stared at your chest but I didn't have a B cup until after Danny. You don't think boys noted that? I would have killed to have your chest."

Huh. "Point taken."

"You couldn't pay me to be twelve again."

"Me either". I mean, technically, I never was. Not in the way she thought. I wanted to go back and apologize to every girl I knew.

"Jessica, Dan is lucky to have you."

"I'm not sure he feels that way always."

"I'm serious. I told him as much after he did what he did. I told him that he made the stupidest mistake of his life and that he better try and make it right or he'd be sorry forever."

I was, for the first time in a long time, without words, without thoughts. All I could say, "Wow. Thanks. He told you?"

She laughed, "You seem surprised."

"Kinda. I mean I can't imagine telling my mother that I... I mean... I... I don't know. Sorry."

"I know what you mean. I certainly wouldn't have told my mother. I was surprised that he did, to be honest. By the way, I saw the flowers. Nice touch on the TRO."

"Please tell me that you didn't tell him to do that."

"Now, THAT offends me," she said, laughing. "No, that brilliant move was all Marty."

"Sorry I cheated on you. Roses'll fix that! Sorry, Evelyn, I mean he's still your son...."

"Please. He did a stupid thing. No, he did the wrong thing. And you know that's not how we raised him."

"I know. I never blamed you or anyone other than him."

"Can I ask how things are going?"

The question felt weird. But it also felt like she sincerely wanted to know, with no malice behind it. "Better. I told my dad better getting to good."

She gave me a hug. "I hope it gets to good soon."

"Me too."

"Jessica, we're on the same team with Sarah. Let's try not to offer goods and services at a lower price than each other, OK?"

"Agreed. I love you, Evelyn." I don't think that I had ever said that before. And I meant it.

"I love you too, Jessica," she said, hugging me. "I'm glad you care so much."

I went back out to the pool.

"You were in there a while," Jill said. "Everything OK?"

"Yeah, I was talking to the judge."

She whistled. "Still in one piece...wow."

"Nah, we had a good conversation. Tense for a while."

"About?"

"Sarah."

"Um, I'm glad you two are deciding things for my daughter," she laughed. "You want her? She just started her period."

"Oh wow, um, that's so nice but....no, we were just talking about how she handles things with her. She means well."

"I know. And she's wrong. And I don't do anything. I don't know why I let her do what she does."

"For the same reason I let my mom get to me. She trained you. Anyway, I told her I see a lot of me in Sarah. She's trying to figure things out and she's got all this shit coming at her and she wants to have a cookie and your mom gets in her face..."

"I hear you. Thanks for sticking up for her."

"She's a good kid. I told her that she can come in any time she wants. You too if you want."

"Thanks."

"The judge asked me about Dan."

"What?"

"He told her."

"No!"

"Yup."

"Jesus. And?"

"And nothing really. Like I told you, there's nothing to say. It happened. Either we'll be good or we won't. I don't blame anyone but him. I told you that."

"I'm glad you and her honor resolved things. I was worried when we were walking around. She really likes you. I think that's why she got upset. That and you're like her."

"Hey!"

She laughed, "I mean the good stuff. The smart. The caring. The passionate. Not the controlling. Not the sarcastic. Not the eating disorders."

"Thanks, I guess."

We sat by the pool reading for a while, when I heard the car pull up.

"Leave me the fuck alone," I heard Jess yell. Then I heard the clatter of golf clubs.

"Oh shit," I said to Jill.

I walked out to the driveway to see Jess snapping a Callaway driver over her knee.

Marty angrily said, "That was a $300 driver."

I saw Jess take out her wallet. "Here's $200," she said, throwing it in Marty's face from about two inches. "I'll Easy Pay you the rest."

"I don't want your money, Dan. I need your $300?"

"That's what it's about with you. That's all it's ever about. Fuck you. Fuck. You. I don't want anything from you."

I turned to Yoram and, under my breath said, "so I'm guessing golf didn't go well."

Evelyn came outside. "Bring this inside. NOW."

I followed them in. Marty said, "What the hell is your problem, Dan?"

"My problem is you."

"That's enough," Evelyn said. "What happened?"

I went over and took Jess' hand. "What happened?" She pulled her hand away abruptly, which hurt.

“He’s overreacting,” Marty said.

What Jess did next surprised me. She got in his face and snarled, “I’m overreacting. You couldn’t take it that I was kicking your ass and you just had to fuck with me…”

“Dan, stop the cursing,” Evelyn said.

“Sorry, you just couldn’t take it so you had to mess with me. Pathetic old man.”

Marty looked right back at Jess. “Poor baby. Can’t handle when someone doesn’t pat him on the head and give him a cookie. How do you expect to succeed at work when you can’t handle golf?”

I walked over to Jess and put my hand on her back. She pulled away. “OK. I’m going in the other room.” I was hurt.

I heard Jess yell, “I can handle work – not that you give a shit about it. I can handle golf too. You pulled that shit at my company, you’d be out.”

“You and all the little snowflakes. My outings, people can handle it.”

“They don’t handle it. They TOLERATE it. Because you pay them. Well, you don’t pay me. I don’t need your money. We do fine without you.”
I came back out. “Dan, please, let’s go outside.”

Jess snarled, “Fine. I’m done. I hope you enjoyed the round, DAD. Because it’s the last round I’m playing with you.”

“Damn right it is,” Marty yelled. He walked into his office and slammed the door.

“Let’s all calm down,” Evelyn said.

“Yeah, mom, well, it’s the last time we’re staying in YOUR house. I’m done,” she said, as she walked out. I followed behind. Evelyn and I looked at each other.

We walked outside and Jess took a 3 wood and hurled it into the neighbor’s yard.

“Wow, someone’s getting a nice club,” I joked.

“I’m not in the mood.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not now.”

“What happened?”

“I said not now. That means not now.”

“OK,” I said meekly.

We walked around the community. After 45 minutes of silence, Jess said, “We should get back. We have the thing.”

“We don’t have to go. Let’s go to dinner. Just us.”

“No. We should go. My mom wants us too. You bought a dress.”

“I’ll return it. I kept the tags on.”

“Now you’re my grandmother?”

“Shut up. Seriously, let’s not go.”

“No. We don’t go and he wins. And that’s not going to happen.” Jeez, we really had switched places.

The party was at 8. At 6:30, I said, “I have to start getting ready.”

For the first time all day, Jess smiled. “I know. I don’t miss that part at all.”

“Shut up.”

I showered. I shaved my legs. I plucked out stray hairs, pumiced my feet, brushed my hair and put on make up. Then I got into the dress and put in my studs. Jess? 25 minutes before we had to go, she shaved and showered. I liked being pretty. I didn’t like this.

I came out into the living room. Everyone oohed and aahed.

Jill was wearing a black cocktail dress and heels. “I hate you,” she said, with a smile.

“Please, I hate you too.”

Jess came over and said, “Wow, you look fantastic.”

Evelyn laughed, “Daniel, tell her you’ll never complain about long it takes for her to get ready.”

I laughed, “He knows better.” And she did.

Evelyn was wearing the blue shoes and the drop earrings. She turned to Jill and said, “What do you think?”

“I like it.”

“Jessica suggested it. She has great taste.” I liked that too. Jess rolled her eyes.

I whispered in Jess’ ear. “Are you sure you want to go?”

“Yes. I’m fine. Besides, I have the hottest girl there.” I don’t remember ever saying things like that. Should I have? Is that why this happened?

We circulated around the party saying ‘hello’ to all the usual suspects. The women mostly complimented me. The others looked me up and down.

Dan and I were talking to the son and daughter-in-law of Marty’s business partner when Evelyn came over. “Excuse us. Jessica, I have some people I’d like you to meet.”

We walked over to a couple. “Larry Hernandez, Debbie Weissman, I’d like you to meet my daughter-in-law Jessica. Jessica is an attorney in New York. She and Dan are down for the holiday.”

Larry smiled, “Evelyn has been telling us a lot about you.”

“All good, I hope.” I was wondering what this was about.

Debbie laughed. “Mostly. Which for a mother-in-law is pretty good.”

Evelyn laughed. “Larry is the head of the Dade County Democratic Party and Debbie is a finance chair at the DNC. I, of course, am studiously non-partisan.”

“Wow. It’s been a tough few weeks, I’m sure.”

Debbie said, “You have no idea. I’ve got donors who can’t handle the fact that it was taken from under us like that.”

I took a deep breath, “Respectfully, I disagree. It wasn’t taken. It was lost.”

“What are you saying?” Larry said, with genuine interest.

“I mean, we can all sit there and talk about how she won the popular vote and how the electoral college is garbage but that’s the system. And we like it when it works for us. So, you have to deal when it doesn’t. And we can talk about what she did or didn’t do in the Upper Midwest, like not campaigning in Wisconsin since before the convention, and how she lost districts that Obama won there by double digits, but I don’t think that’s useful to be honest.”

“Why?”

“Well, because it’s over. Because Bill and Hillary are over. Which can be a good thing.”

Debbie smiled, “Meaning?”

“Meaning, we can focus on the future and what we need to do. And, with all due respect, there’s too much focus on the top of the ticket. Like, since I don’t know, JFK, the party has been focused on the top of the ticket. Like we’re looking for Jesus to save us, whether it was JFK or Clinton or Obama. That’s the wrong focus.” They were all looking at me. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” said Larry, “keep going. I’m interested.”

“I can stop. I’ve talked too much.”

Debbie said, “No, please keep going. What would you do if you were us?”

I took a deep breath. Evelyn seemed OK so I kept at it. “Down ballot races. Not just Congress but state and municipal races.”

Evelyn said, “Interesting.” They all nodded. “Explain.”

“First, in four years there’s a census. That’ll be used to draw district lines. You want to control district lines, you control a statehouse. And those are relatively cheap races to run. They’re not as interesting as getting a chance to ride on Air Force One, but they’re important. And people need to realize that. Plus, you develop a bench. I mean I like Bernie and Warren but they’re not exactly young.”

Evelyn smiled, “That hurts.”

I blushed. “I didn’t mean it that way. But they aren’t. And neither is Pelosi or Steny Hoyer. Meanwhile, Cruz is around 44, Rubio’s about the same and there’s a whole bunch more behind them. I hate them but they’re here for the long haul. We need our own and focusing on finding a savior doesn’t do that. I mean I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.”

“You are and you aren’t. So, what do you plan to do about it? And don’t tell me you liked a Facebook post or signed a moveon petition.” Larry said.

I smiled, “No. This,” I mimed tapping my finger on a phone, “is literally the least you can do. You need to be active.” I believed that. Too many of my friends thought that constituted activism.

“So what’s your plan?” Debbie asked.

“I’m here. Tell me how I can help.”

The three of them laughed. What Larry said next shocked me. “Run for office.”

“Um, excuse me?”

He turned to Evelyn, “You’re right.”

“About?” I said.

“Evelyn told us how smart you were. She didn’t tell us you were so passionate and knowledgeable. We need a bench? Be that bench.”

“Uh…” I was gobsmacked. I never used that expression before, but it fit. “I live in New York. It’s tough to break in up there.”

Debbie smiled. “Then move here.”

“I’ve never lived here. I’m not from here.”

She laughed. “This is South Florida. No one except Larry is from here. And even his parents moved here. You’re a young, smart, telegenic Jewish woman. I could do a lot with you. Do you speak any Spanish?” I was telegenic?

“I mean I couldn’t read Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the original, but I can get by…”

“I’m serious. You’re what we need. You can make a difference or do you just want to point fingers?”

I smiled. “Can I think about it? Also, I apologize but I haven’t seen Dan in a while. Let me go make sure someone hasn’t trapped him in a corner to complain about drug prices…”

My head was swimming. Someone thought I could be elected? I found Jess standing by herself, holding a glass of vodka.

“Hey, honey,” I said.

“Hey. You were gone a while.”

“Your mother wanted to introduce me to some people.”

“I gathered that. Who?”

“Larry Fernandez and Debbie Weissman.”

“The two Democratic people? Oh.” I should’ve let it go there but I was excited.

“Yeah. We were talking about the election and stuff.”

“Great.”

“What were you up to?”

“Not much. Talked to some people about golf. Drug prices. How great you look.”

“Well, that last one sounds promising.”

“Uh huh.”

“Where’s your father?”

“Over there.”

“Have you spoken to him?”

“No. And I’m not going to.” Boy, she really was me.

“Do you want me to stop?”

“Please. I’m just not in a good mood.”

Just then, Evelyn came over.

“You set me up,” I said, grinning.

“Guilty as charged. You did great. They loved you. Dan, did Jessica tell you what happened?”

Jess looked at her and flatly said, “No. What happened?”

“I brought her over to meet Larry and Debbie and they started talking and they’ve told Jessica she should run for office.”

“Wow, honey, that’s great,” Jess said, with minimal enthusiasm.

“It was just talk. I’m sure they say that to everyone.”

Evelyn said, “They don’t. If you moved here, you’d be in office in two years. They wanted to know your issue.”

“I don’t know. Infrastructure, I guess. Expand broadband to rural areas. But, I’m processing it.”

“Jessica, I’m telling you should come down here. Your talents are wasted up there. You have a New York brain. You would do very well down here. You too, Dan.”

“Thanks for including me,” Jess said. “Excuse me for a minute. I’m going to the bathroom.”

He left and Evelyn kept talking. “Jessica, this would be great for the two of you. We’ll pay for whatever you need. When you have kids…”

I smiled, “Um, hello? My body, my choice.” Evelyn had been big in the pro-choice movement.

She smiled. “That doesn’t apply to you. Your mother and I talked about it. Anyway, what I was saying, when you have kids, we’ll pay for them to go to whatever school you want.”

“Evelyn, thank you. This is a lot to process. Just let me think about it, OK?”

“I’m very proud of you, Jessica.” I wonder if she ever told Jess that.

“Thanks. Dan seems out of it. Mind if I go find him?”

I looked around and found Jess outside, staring into space.

“Hey,” I said, touching her on the arm. “Is everything OK?”

“It’s fine. That’s great about Larry and Debbie.”

“That sounded sincere.”

“It is. I’m sorry. I’m just thinking about golf.”

She was lying and I knew she was, but I wasn’t going to push. “Next time, you’ll know better.”

“There is no next time. I said it and I meant it. I can’t deal with him.”

“You’re just not used to it. It’s part of the learning curve we’ve both had. I had my whole life to learn.”

“Well, you’ve learned your side of things,” she said, waving her hand up and down. “Sorry. I mean that in a positive way. I mean you’re doing great.”

“So are you.”

“Clearly, I’m not. My father thinks I’m a loser.”

“He doesn’t. He’s just binary. You need to lose for him to win. It’s fucked up. Ask Yoram how bad he is. We used to plot killing him.”

She smiled. “That’s my father you’re killing….”

“My point was that that is just who he is. You’re doing great at work. You were doing great at golf. You just let him feed you macho bullshit. Let me guess. He gave you shit about not using your driver.”

She nodded, “I really don’t want to talk. Sorry.”

“Do you want another drink?”

“No. I just want to be left alone. OK?” The ‘OK’ was said in a way that left no room for opposition.

Evelyn and Marty introduced to me to several more people. I wanted them to meet Jess too, but she was nowhere to be found. And Marty and Evelyn seemed in no rush to find her.

-----

I woke up at 6:30 Saturday morning to go the bathroom. I looked over and Jess wasn't there. I went to the bathroom, then went downstairs. I walked into the living room and found Jess sitting on the couch in the dark, absent-mindedly flicking her phone.

"Hey," I said. "I looked over and you weren't there."

She stared at the phone. "I didn't want to wake you."

"How long have you been up?"

"Since 3:30.". She looked depressed. Not tired. Depressed.

"What's wrong?"

"Everything."

"Talk to me."

"No. Yeah. I've been alone with my thoughts long enough. Can we take a walk?"

"Sure. Of course. Let me just put on a bra.". That got a small smile.

We left the house quietly and started walking around the neighborhood.

"What's up, honey? Why can't you sleep?"

"I thought it would be different this time."

"What?"

"Being here. I thought being you would be different, but it isn't. Or it is. It's worse," she looked like she wanted to cry.

"What's wrong?"

"I can't do anything right."

"What?"

“All the shit with golf. All the shit about my MBA. That’s all he talked about during golf. ‘Dan, when are you going to grow up? Your wife has an advanced degree. That the kind of father you want to be? Are you going to be that guy?’”

"Jesus. That is horrible. How dare he? I'm going to say something."

"No, you aren't. That would be worse. Like my wife, my lawyer wife, needs to defend me."

"Ouch."

"I'm sorry. It's not you. It's them. And it's last night."

"What? You mean what Larry and Debbie said to me? That's just bullshit. I mean I didn't think anything of it.". That was a lie. I thought about it a lot and it made me feel good. "I didn't know it bothered you. I would have walked away."

"THAT didn't bother me."

"I'm confused."

“You know, I've known Larry for years. He never said more than, 'how's school' or 'how's work ' to me. And he didn't listen to my answer. You know why?"

I was scared to ask. "No, why?"

"Because my MOTHER never thought to involve me. Last night, she was so proud to include you. She couldn’t wait to introduce you to people. The smile on her face when she told me about how they wanted you, YOU, to run for office. I never got that smile. She has the daughter she wants, that she always wanted. The one who can talk about what's important. Smart, gorgeous Jessica. Not fat, stupid Jess.". She looked broken.

I hugged her. "I'm sorry. I didn't know. I didn't mean to hurt you."

She took a deep breath. "No, I'm sorry. You didn’t hurt me. You were smart. You were funny. You were passionate. You were you and you were great and I'm not taking that away from you. My problems are my problems."

“No, OUR problems are OUR problems. We’re a team. And if I make you feel bad, even inadvertently, I'll stop."

"No, you won't. I'm proud of you. I was proud of you before. I'm prouder now. You can do anything."

"So could you."

She sighed. "No, I couldn't. And I can't. I'm good at what I do, but you're good at a lot. And before no one cared about me. No one noticed. You should run for office. I’ll support you, proudly. I’ll do all the wife stuff. Even like this. I can bake cookies.”

I smiled, “Since when?”

“OK, I’ll learn,” she said, cracking a small smile.

"Seriously, honey. I'm sorry. What can I do?"

She sat on the ground and looked down. "Nothing. I'm an afterthought in my own house. And it's not even mine. I mean, when you went home, yeah, the pictures and the stuff were different, but it was your house. Your room was your room, even if the color was different. The family room was the family room where you watched cartoons. Those were the stairs you slid down. You could see the marks on your doorframe where your dad measured you. I don't get even that. I never had that. I'm just some stranger in their house. Before, I wasn't much. My mom was the judge. My dad was the doctor and the business man. Jill was smart. Who was I? I was the fat, stupid one. But at least I was something. Besides my husband was smart, so they could placate themselves with that. Now, who am I? Just some guy in a place where no one else remembers him.". She started to cry.

I held her. "I didn't know."

"I know. And you didn't do anything. And I am proud of you. Don't feel bad because of me. I'm just...". And she kept crying.

I took her hands in mine. "I do feel bad. Because we're a team. Like I said, there aren’t your problems and my problems. There are our problems. When one of us feels bad, the other feels bad. Because we love each other. Right?". She nodded. "You are the best person I know. You were never fat, stupid Jess to me. You were smart and kind Jess. And you're smart, kind Dan now. And, if they don't know that, fuck them. I'm behind you all the way."

"I know. I guess I'm just facing myself for the first time. Does that make sense?"

"Yeah. I did it..." I almost said, 'when you cheated,' but that would be cruel. I looked at her and I can't fully explain it, but I realized for the first time why she did what she did and that she wouldn't do it again. I realized that she really had no idea who she was. She wasn’t Jess and she wasn’t Dan. Sure, she made jokes about periods and helping my mom but all she was doing was trying and discarding identities like a teenager to find what fit. It didn't make what she did right and nothing ever would. But, in the broken person sitting on the ground, I saw my Jess and I knew she wouldn't do it again. It's a cliche but I felt a weight come off me.

I took a deep breath. "Maybe this isn't the time, but I really...forgive you." I couldn't say forgive easily. My ego was in the way. But I meant it.

She smiled, a truly happy smile. "Seriously? You're not just saying that because I was crying?"

"How long have you known me?"

She got up and hugged me. "Thank you! Thank you! I will never stop showing you how much I love you and appreciate this, no, appreciate you. Thank you!". She kissed me deeply, with real love. Not just passion, love.

"I love you, Dan." I was surprised I said Dan, not Jess.

"I love you too, Jessica." She hugged me.

I smiled, “One thing. The driver? If you’re going to throw money in someone’s face, have all of it or don’t do it.” She started to laugh. “I mean, why didn’t you take out change?” I mimed, counting out change. “And here’s seventy-four cents.”

“And here’s a $50 Amazon gift card!”
We were both laughing. “And here’s 10% off Starbucks, so that’s like another 50 cents, 75 if you get a cookie…”

We walked into the house and Evelyn and Marty were sitting at the kitchen counter.

“Where were you two so early?” She said.

“Taking a walk.”

Marty said, “Do you want some coffee? We got this fancy coffee maker. I can make anything.”

“You sure?” I said. Evelyn smiled.

He puffed out his chest. “I can make you anything.”

“OK, a cappuccino, then.”

He fumbled around. “The one at work’s a lot easier.”

Evelyn said drily, “It’s a one-button. ‘Caroline, can you make me an espresso?’ See, easy.” She got up and made me a coffee.

“Anyway, so when Jill and Yoram and the kids get up, we’ll get breakfast and then go out on the boat.”

“Actually,” I said, “we’re seeing Adam and Vanessa today.” They were two high school friends of Dan’s. Years later, they reconnected and got married.

Jess smiled. “When did that happen?”

Evelyn looked at me and rolled her eyes. “When the magical plan fairy called them and made plans,” I said.

Evelyn chimed in, “Yes, the same fairy who buys food and does laundry.”

Jess smiled, “I don’t like you two ganging up on me. Seriously, when did that happen?”

“After your mom called, I called Vanessa. We’re going there for lunch. I wanted to surprise you.”

“Thanks,” she said, putting her arm around me.

Marty came over. “You calmer today?”

“Are you?”

“Yeah, well, we both got hot under the collar.” That was as close to an apology as he was going to give. Which seemed surprisingly fine to Jess.

“Yeah, we did. I can play my own game, you know.”

“I know. You were playing good. Don’t let people get under your skin so much.” That was it. That was all that I would’ve gotten from my dad. And it would have been enough. And Jess seemed to accept that.



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