Turnabout Part 9

Once again, LIzzy Bennet, thank you for all of your help and encouragement

I woke up Tuesday morning ready to face the day. Today was the day we were going to try and get pregnant. I had been regularly checking my basal temperature and I was sure that this afternoon was the perfect time.

Jess was next to me, still snoring. I looked at the ceiling and thought about yesterday. “Do you really think people care that much? Do you really think they spent time going, ‘do you think she knows he cheated on her?’ No, they didn’t. People are self-absorbed. If they thought about Chicago at all, it was when they saw Jess and then they moved on. Calm down. Be positive. Today is the day. No matter what, be positive. I was not going to let anything bother me. Let’s start the baby on the right path. Happy daddy. Happy mommy,” and I smiled. I was going to be a mommy and I touched my stomach. I couldn’t wait to feel someone growing inside me.

I decided to go down to the lobby and get coffee and bagels to surprise Jess. Maybe, I’d grab her a chocolate chip muffin as well. She liked chocolate chip muffins. We called it the socially acceptable way to eat cake for breakfast. I put on a t-shirt and shorts, pulled my hair into a ponytail and went downstairs. I debated putting on makeup and decided against it. It was 7:30 in the morning and I figured no one would be there and, if they were, so be it.

I walked into the lobby and got the coffee and bagels. I looked out onto the patio, saw the sun and smelled the ocean. I decided that Jess would probably be sleeping for a while, so I thought I’d sit for a while and just enjoy the day. I was relaxing and just letting the sun shine on my face. When you’ve spent all winter in New York, it feels rejuvenating to be able to sit in the sun in shorts and t shirt and just relax.

I watched the travel staff supervise the hotel workers in setting up for the beach Olympics. It was 7:30 and they were up and working already and the Olympics started at 10:00 A.M. I could see why Rachel said that they had burn out. “Hi, Jessica,” I heard a woman say. I turned around it. It was Becca.

I took a deep breath. “Hi, Becca.” I hoped she’d go away. This was not a way to start my positive day.

She didn’t. “Did you have a good time last night? It was great meeting you.” I was not a morning person even with people I liked.

“It was good. Good to see everyone.” I paused, “What about you and Kristy?”

“We had a good time. It’s nice to meet the husbands and wives of the people you know.” Don’t you mean the wives of the men you fucked?

“That’s great,” I said, “I was going to surprise Dan with this, so I should get upstairs before it’s get cold. I’ll see you on the beach. You and Kristy.” OK, that last part was unnecessary.

“Yup,” she said, in a chipper voice. “See you there! Which team?” How long, bitch, do you expect me to talk to you?

“We’re blue.”

“We’re white. Well, good luck.”

I held up the coffees. “You too. See you later.”

I walked upstairs and started to get irritated. How dare she come over to me and think we’re going to be friends? Then, I took a deep breath. Be positive. Send positive thoughts into the world. I read that somewhere. Think about what makes you happy. Jess makes you happy. The sun, the ocean make you happy. This afternoon makes you happy. I opened the door. Jess was just waking up. “Where did you go?”

I smiled. “I got you coffee and a muffin. Or a bagel. Your choice,” I said, putting it on the nightstand next to her. She was in her underwear with no shirt. She looked good and I wanted her in the worst way, but I wanted a baby more and so I waited. Stupid basal temperature.

“Wow, that’s so sweet. Thank you,” she said, giving me a kiss. “You’re the best.”

I smiled, “Thanks, so are you.”

“Are you OK? You were pretty agitated last night,” she said, sitting up.

I smiled and put my finger to her lips. “That was yesterday. Today, I’m being positive.” I was almost starting to believe that. “Today is about positivity. We are going to do beach Olympics, then lay by the pool and then you,” I said, grabbing her crotch, “are going to impregnate me. Are you ready for that?”

She smiled and pulled me backwards. She was an inch from my face and said, “I’m always willing to try. As many times as necessary. More if you think that’ll help.” My pulse was racing. I needed to get up or we’d be doing it now.

“Stop, it’s not even twelve hours and then I’m all yours.” I couldn’t believe I was saying this but I knew I meant it. “Please.”

She kissed me. “I can wait. We’re going to be parents.”

I smiled. “Last chance. Do you want to wait to see if we switch back?” She better not say yes, I thought.

She smiled and took my hand. “Not one bit. You?”

I smiled, “No,” I said, taking off my shirt and shorts. “I’m going to change. Do you think I should shower first?” I had no idea why I was asking her. I think I felt the need to fill space.

“There’s no need. You showered last night. We’re going to be in the sand and stuff. You’ll shower before dinner tonight.” That was a fair point.

I went to my drawer and took out my bathing suit.

Jess said, “Hold on. What’s that?” She was smiling.

Busted. I held it behind my back. “Nothing. A bathing suit,” I said playfully.

“What kind of bathing suit?”

“A blue one,” I said coyly.

She got up and started tickling me. It was no fair. I was ticklish and naked. If she kept doing this, I was going to be in that bed. I giggled, “Stop,” and dropped it.

She smiled. “Well, look, what we have here,” she said, holding up the blue bathing suit. I forgot to mention that it was a bikini, a classic string bikini. “When did you get this?”

“Last week. When Robin and I went to Flywheel,” a spin class/torture program and an amazing workout.

“Yeah…,” she said, holding it in the air.

“Give me the bikini,” I said. I jumped but couldn’t reach it. I can only imagine what I looked like. Probably outtakes from “The Man Show.”

“No,” she grinned. “I like when a naked girl tells me stories….”

I actually liked this, which was freaking me out a little. “I told her I needed bathing suits and so we went over to Paragon. I took some one-pieces. She asked whether that was a company requirement. When I said, ‘no,’ she took those away and handed me bikinis.”

She smiled, “I knew I liked her. What did you do then?”

“I went into the dressing room, stood there for a while until Robin shamed me and then I put one on.”

“And?”

“And,” I said, with a smile. “I checked myself in the mirror and I didn’t look so bad. The kicker was when I came out.”

“What happened?”

“A stock boy was looking at me and crashed into a display rack,” I giggled. I put on the bikini and looked at myself in the mirror, like I had at the store. I shifted my breasts around. I checked out my abs and my ass. I looked fine, but It was still a strange feeling. All there was three triangles of fabric separating me from being naked before everyone.

“Wow!”

“So I look OK?” I said. I knew the answer, but wanted the validation.

“Absolutely, I….” and then she paused.

“You what?” I was nervous.

“I could never pull that off,” she said.

“Of course not. You’d look silly in a bikini,” and I held the top to another one to her chest.

“That’s not what I mean and you know it.” I knew what she meant. “I meant before.”

“You could’ve when we got married,” then paused. That was mean. “I meant we both put on weight. Me more…” I fumbled.

She smiled. “I love watching you sweat. I meant even when I was at my thinnest. I just couldn’t.”

“I have to tell you. I couldn’t either, not until Robin pushed me.”

“Pushed you?”

“She told me that I wasn’t the chubby girl anymore.” Jess had a half smile. “She said that I earned it and that I needed to think that way. And I still had to be pushed and I didn’t grow up with all that passive aggressive shit women pull. The “you have a pretty face,” crap. The “wear this, not that” crap. The “find the right suit for your body” crap. I didn’t have any of that and I still had a hard time with it.” I couldn’t believe that all of this was coming from me but I meant it.

She smiled. “She’s right although, ouch, chubby girl. That hurts. You have earned it. You know that, right?”

“Yeah, and this is still freaking me out.”

“Why? You look gorgeous. Be prepared for a lot of death stares,” she laughed.

“That’s just it. This is going to sound really weird but I’m kind of freaking about being an object.”

“Being an object?” The words said she didn’t understand but her eyes told me she did and was just waiting for an explanation.

“I’m the girl in the bikini. That’s THE symbol of female sexuality in America. Guys wait for the SI swimsuit issue every year and now that’s me,” I started to feel short of breath.

Jess sat me down on the bed. “Are you OK?”

I stopped for a few seconds. “I’m sorry. That was weird.”

“It’s not weird,” she said. “A little over intellectual, maybe, but it’s not weird. You’re a woman. A beautiful woman. A beautiful woman in a bikini,” she said, with a smile. “Combine that with your ability to over-analyze everything and your response is totally normal.”

“Shut up,” I said. I hated when she was right. “Sorry. I mean every time I think I’m used to this girl thing something else comes up. I mean it’s ridiculous. We’re going to try and get pregnant. To get ME pregnant. Which I want more than anything. I mean, if that’s not being a girl….and I’m worried about a bikini?”

She smiled. “Those are two different things, Jessa.” I noticed that she called me ‘Jessa,’ not ‘Dan’ or ‘honey’ or ‘sweetie.’ ‘Jessa,’ which I never called her. “Pregnancy is you and me, well until I get you knocked up,” she said, with a leer and a ‘heh heh’. “This is public. More than a dress or heels or anything. It’s a bikini, you said it, that’s as girly as its gets. But, keep in mind two things. Number one, you won’t be the only one in a bikini although you’ll be the most beautiful. Number two, you earned it. You have worked hard and you’ve earned it. And I don’t just mean workouts.”

“Huh?” I said.

“You’ve had to learn a whole new way of being. You’ve had to keep your mind and your job while learning about how to be a woman. About all the shit women have to go through all day every day that guys don’t. I never thought about it before but that’s impossible and you’ve learned it in a year and have done great at it.”

“You had to learn to be a guy,” I said. “That’s hard too.”

“It is but it isn’t. You spent your whole life learning to drive a tank and you had to learn how to drive a race car. I had to do the reverse. It’s the same but it’s different. Plus, I worked with guys. I had experience with them and women are trained to listen, especially to men, so I had that. Guys are trained to talk. You had to learn how to listen. How to deal with other women and with men and you have done amazing, better than me. No one would know that you weren’t born this way.”

That stung. “Thanks, I think.”

She looked at me and said, “It’s a compliment. You are still you. You have the same brain. You have the same heart. This is going to sound weird but, to me, it’s like when people lose their sight, their other senses get heightened. Well, you lost your…something and your other senses got sharper.”

“So why am I freaking out?”

“Because you’re you. What did we say about getting pregnant? Don’t think. Just be.”

She was right. I needed to just be. Just be me. I earned this. I worked hard for this. I ran until my legs hurt. Got up at 5:30 in the cold for Pilates. I did Flywheel until my lungs burned. I smiled, “I earned this. I earned this and I’m owning this. Do I really look good?”

She leered and grabbed me by the waist. I could feel her erection poking me in the ass. “Please go put on shorts and a shirt, before I can’t hold back,” she said. “Does that tell you?” I giggled. She looked through the drawer and pulled out a white bikini. She held it up. “No way. Uh uh. Absolutely no way.”

“No way what?”

She smiled. “There is NO way that you are going to wear this here in front of my co-workers. This is way too sexy for them. This is for when you and I go away ALONE.”

I put on my shorts and my t-shirt, my small t-shirt. Tracey was right, it did look better. I looked at myself in the mirror. When I smiled, I looked really cute. No, what I looked was girly. With my bangs and my blue eyes and my curves, I was all girl. I thought about what Jess said and decided to take it as a positive, as she meant it. I was thrown into a pool and I learned how to swim. No, I was thrown into an ocean and learned how to swim.

We drank the coffee and went down for breakfast. I had taken a bite of both the bagel and the muffin and decided they weren’t worth it. If you’re going to be the girl in the bikini, you take the bad with the good.

We ran into Doug and Donna in the elevator. “Good morning, guys,” I said. “We met at the airport,” I said.

Donna smiled, “I remember, Jessica. Our conversation was cut off,” she said, with a smile and a look at Doug. Doug gave her a look back that said, alternatively, “don’t go there,” or “don’t go there when I’m here.”

“Well, you had to catch the shuttle,” I said, with a sweet smile. “So, tell me about you guys. How long have you worked for Stone,” I said, putting a subtle emphasis on Stone. Donna smiled quickly. Maybe Jess was right. Maybe losing my…whatever…had sharpened my perception. Or maybe I just wouldn’t have cared before.

Doug smiled, “Nine years. It’ll be nine years in March. What about you, Dan?”

“Twelve. I started two weeks after I graduated.”

The elevator opened on the lobby and we walked towards the dining room. “What about you, Donna? What do you do?”

“I’m a part time software designer and full time mom to three…”

“Three, wow. How old?”

“Carly is seven. Michael is three and the baby,” and she pointed at Doug, “is 35,” she said, laughing. I thought about that later. That always bothered me. All women talked about their husbands as children. It brought back when Lori said that Jess used to say that she didn’t have children because she already had me. Were all men children? Had I been? Or was it just a way to exert power when you felt you had none? “What about you guys,” she said?

“None yet. Soon maybe,” I said, taking Jess’ hand. She smiled.

Doug smiled, “I know what this one says he does. What about you?”

“I’m an attorney. I do civil litigation, mostly real estate and construction.”

Donna laughed, “Well, my dad would hate you. He’s in construction. He always says that the lawyers make his life difficult. Lawyers make my life easier.”

“Now there’s a phrase I never hear,” I said. “How so?”

“I design e-discovery software systems. We’re in beta testing now and we’re looking for attorneys to test it. There’s an incentive system in place…” I was shocked. Another Barbie down.

“Donna,” Doug said. “I’m sure Jessica wants to relax.”

I laughed and said, “I can do both, Doug. Women can multi-task, you know.” Jess looked at me and raised an eyebrow.

To his credit, he smiled and mocked stabbing himself in the chest. “My mistake for messing with a lawyer. Dan, buddy, I feel for you.” Jess just laughed and looked at me.

We continued the conversation into the dining room when Donna saw Bonnie, who gave her a look. Under her breath, she said, “Sorry. The head shark is swimming.”

I smiled and said, “I get it. I do want to hear more about this. Anything that makes discovery easier is good for me. I mean I don’t have final authority, but, if it works, I’ll push for it. We’ll catch up later. Give her a big smile.” She snickered and walked over, giving Bonnie a big smile.

Jess and I walked over to the buffet. She said, as we walked, “I never knew that. Doug never told me that.” ‘Of course, you didn’t,’ I thought. ‘He wouldn’t tell you and you’d never ask.’

“Well, we’ll see what she has. If it works, I’ll push Mike and IT to try it.” I thought about asking if she told people about me but decided against it.

We sat down at a table with the managers from the Northwest region. I spent most of breakfast talking to two women, Ashley and Dana, whose wives were managers. Ashley was a pre-school teacher and Dana a nurse. Neither one had kids which made the conversation that much less stilted. We just talked about work. I made a mental note to introduce Ashley to Courtney.

At ten o’clock, Bruce stood in front of the dining room and announced that the Olympics were to begin. There were three teams, red, white and blue. He smiled and said, “Remember, while there are three teams, we’re all on one team – Team Stone,” and everyone cheered. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of Jane who gave me a quick eye roll to go with her cheer. Sean looked like he was trying to decide if he could publish in social science.

Beach Olympics was a series of silly events. The first event was a boat race. Basically, you started digging a trench from the ocean to a point on the beach. Once the trench filled with water, you blew the boat from the point to the ocean. The first team to get the trench dug and back to the ocean won. I guess the idea was you worked as a team to get the trench dug and the boat back. Whatever.

Bruce blew the whistle and we started digging. G-d help me but, for whatever reason, I was having fun. Something about sitting on the beach as an adult and digging a trench with a toy shovel started to crack me up. Maybe, I was remembering being a kid down the shore or maybe I was hormonal, but I was giggling and digging. I felt people looking at me but I didn’t care. Once our trench was dug, Rick, our team captain, yelled, “OK, everyone line up and start blowing.” We all laid down, about two feet apart on a diagonal and started blowing. I was the one closest to the ocean. Everyone was having a good time. Everyone except Bonnie, who was on the white team. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her looking like she owed people money and they’d break her legs if she lost. ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘you can always get a cane because I’m not losing.’ I was competitive as Dan and that hadn’t changed. The boat got to me and I blew as hard as I could. The water lapped up to my face. I was wet and covered in sand. I had sand everywhere, and I mean everywhere, and I didn’t care. I was not going to lose.

Bruce blew the whistle and announced, “And the blue team wins.” Yes. My whole team congratulated each other.

Bonnie came over and said, under her breath, “Good job, Jessica. You must have a lot of experience with…blowing,” and walked away. ‘Yeah, bitch,’ I thought, ‘if you’re doing it that way, I feel bad for John.’

The rest of the events were even sillier. The next event was the crocodile relay. Basically, every team had a giant inflatable crocodile. The first person passed it over their head to the person in front of them, the next person passed it backward through their legs and the third person stood up and passed it medicine ball-style to the person and so on. If you missed, you had to start over. I wasn’t sure how this helped in business, but I guess it had something to do with working as a unit. I was on medicine-ball. Something about a guy passing a crocodile through his legs to me made me giggle and I almost passed it overhead, but I remembered. Either way, we finished second.

Next up was the life raft relay. Basically, they gave you a bunch of foam rubber pool noodles and some rope. You had to build a raft and put three people on it. You then took it out to a buoy in the ocean and four other people pushed you to shore. Bruce blew the whistle and we started. Everyone was looking at the noodles and trying to decide the best way to thread them together when Jess piped up. “OK, line up the noodles, then thread it over and under. It’ll hold tighter that way.” I looked at her and, under her breath, she said “Girl Scouts,” she said with a grin. We got it done quickly and Jess tied some slip knots. She tugged on them and said, “OK, Claudia, Katie and Jessa, you’re the lightest, so you’re on the raft. Come on, go go. Sorry, Rick.” Rick just smiled and saluted. We ran out into the water and climbed on. Three guys started pushing us, when a wave hit. We fell overboard. I was wet and my shorts and short were clinging to me. You could see the bikini. Had I thought about it, I probably would have frozen but I didn’t. I was having fun, in a way I never had before. I pushed my hair back, climbed back on the raft and we were pushed to shore. We finished first and everyone congratulated Jess for her raft. It felt good to see her happy.

I won’t bore you with all the other events. There was a human pyramid. It felt weird to be on the second highest level. I had been the base for as long as I could remember. Corn hole, where you had to throw a bean bag into a hole on a board. No one expected it but I won that. Years of basketball and “pop-a-shot” made me a champ at that. The one that threw me was the buried alive rally. Basically, you had to bury one of your teammates completely in sand. The first team to do it won. I was claustrophobic. No, I am claustrophobic. I don’t like elevators. When I was eight and we went to England, my parents had me stand in one of those British phone booths. They closed the door and I felt so short of breath that I pounded on the door to be let out. So buried alive was not for me. But:

“OK,” Rick said, “someone has to do it and it should be someone small, so we can do it faster. Katie?” Katie was Rick’s wife. She looked at him like, ‘if you bury me alive, you will wish I buried you alive.’

“Claudia?” Claudia said, “No way. Sorry. I’ll take one for the team, but nuh uh.”

“OK, Jessie, it’s you.” First off, I’m not Jessie. Second, no way.

Jess knew I was claustrophobic and said, “I’ll do it. If we work fast, we’ll get it done.”

I took a deep breath, “No, that’s ridiculous. Everyone else is using women. I’ll do it.”

Bruce said, “Has everyone picked their victim?” Everyone laughed. Except me. Because it wasn’t funny. “Ready?”

I yelled, “You better blow that whistle the minute the last scoop of sand covers my face!” Everyone laughed. I wasn’t joking. I took a deep breath and he blew the whistle. I laid down on the ground and everyone started covering me with sand. They gave me a mask for my eyes to keep the sand out. I kept taking deep breaths and saying, “this is a game. This is a game. This is a game.”

Jess leaned over and whispered, “Are you sure you’re OK?”

“Shut up and cover me with the fucking sand so we can get this done,” I muttered. I had about six panic attacks before I heard the whistle blow. “Blue team!” Bruce shouted. Everyone congratulated me. I smiled. What made it better was looking at Bonnie’s team, who finished third. It almost made up for the Xanax I needed.

We finished second overall. As they were handing out the medals, Bruce said, “And the good sport medals go to Jessica Silverman, Gina Carlucci and Dana Faraday, for allowing themselves to be buried alive. Good job team! Drinks are on me.” Everyone cheered, even though everything was paid for.

We were walking to the beach when Jane came over, “What got into you today?”

“What?”

“You looked like you were having fun. Please say it isn’t so,” she said, laughing.

“Stop it,” I said, swatting her.

“I’m teasing. Seriously, though, you seem really happy,” she said. “What’s changed?”

“I haven’t changed.” Other than losing my dick, I mean.

She looked at me and said, “No, seriously. You seem really happy. How did you do it?”

I couldn’t say that I had accepted that I was a girl. That I was trying to get pregnant. That I decided to embrace my reality. That would be weird. I just said, “I don’t know. I decided that I only saw these women once a year and that I was going to be positive.” It was getting too earnest for Jane and me and so I added, “no matter what they did.”

She smiled. “That’s better. How come we never hang out? I mean at home.” I thought about it. I don’t know why we didn’t. I liked Jane. I liked Sean. Maybe it’s because it was on Jess and Jane to make plans and they weren’t friends. I was friends with Jane and it would’ve been weird for me to call.

“I have no idea. Let’s,” I said, smiling.

She smiled. “I’d like that. But if you keep this up, I’m going to have to report you to the bar.”

“Ha ha. Speaking of the bar, I could use a drink. That sand thing? I had like six panic attacks.”

We walked up the beach to the hotel. Jess and Sean were in conversation about I don’t know what, but they seemed to be getting along. We could totally do this. Maybe the positive vibes were paying off.

We stopped at the outdoor shower to rinse off. I had sand everywhere and I mean everywhere. I asked Jane and Jess to hold up some towels while I rinsed off. I had taken off my shirt and shorts and it hit me. I was standing there in my bikini. I was the girl in the bikini. Like I said before, three triangles of fabric kept me from being naked. I felt naked and exposed and got light-headed. I sat down.

“Are you OK, Jess?” Jane said, sitting down next to me on a bench.

“OK, this is going to sound really weird, but it’s my first time in a bikini and I’m kind of freaking. OK, I know I sound like a loser.”

She smiled, “If it wasn’t you, I’d call you a bitch. You look amazing. I would kill to wear that bikini. I am so jealous.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean it that way.”

She smiled, “Please. I know that you didn’t. I totally get it. But you did it, so show it. Stick it to them,” she said, pointing off to the hotel. In a mock-serious voice, she said, “For all of the first years working until 12 o’clock. For the pale and pasty. For the over-stressed and over-caffeinated. For the bitter and jaded,” she said, pointing to herself. “Be our light.”

I started laughing. “And I thought I was weird.” I was surprised. That was almost earnest for Jane. I liked that feeling of support. Guys didn’t do that.

Jane’s phone buzzed and she looked at it. “They’re still not bothering me,” she said, with a derisive laugh. “I’ll catch up,” and she walked off yelling, “fine, conference him in.”

Jess took my hand and whispered to me. “Are you OK?”

I smiled, “Yeah, I am. I’ll be fine.”

“I’m sorry you never got the view I’m getting right now,” she said, with a sad smile.

“I had a better one,” I said. It felt good to say that. I felt connected to her.

We walked up and looked for chairs. I saw Cindy and Jeff. “Are these taken?” I said, pointing to the chairs next to them.

She looked me up and down, “Yes.” I moved down a couple and and she said, “Those are too.” With a false smile, she said, “I think the whole row is,” and she pointed away, “Maybe over there somewhere.” Whatever. You can’t kill my positivity today. I don’t know you and I don’t have to know you. We walked along and I became acutely aware of guys staring at me. I know that sounds egotistical. I mean there were plenty of beautiful women there but I had been me for 33 years. If a cute girl in a bikini walked past, I noticed. I was conflicted. On the one hand, I liked having my work recognized even if the guys weren’t thinking about it that way. On the other hand, none of these guys had asked me about me. I wasn’t a person. I was just Dan’s wife, an object like Dan’s car or Dan’s watch. OK, I was spinning. We found some chairs. I had sprayed on some sun block and was reading on my Kindle when Nikki said, “Is this seat taken?”

I smiled, “It’s yours,” and she and Jack sat down. She pulled out “Modern Bride.”

“So, I didn’t get a chance yesterday. When’s the big day? Where’s the wedding going to be?”

She got a big smile. “It’s going to be next June, I know, so stereotypical, and we’re going to have it in Hilton Head, I mean everyone lives in South Carolina anyway so we’ll all go and my dad and all the guys can play golf and…” She was so bubbly and excited. 22 and full of hope. It was contagious.

Jack turned to Jess and laughed, “How ‘bout the Heat? They’re looking good this year, huh?”

She laughed, “Yup. Lookin’ good. Definitely. May stay down here a couple of days to go huntin’. Gator huntin’.” This was a joke she and I had, back in the old days. Anytime things got too girly, I would say that.

I rolled my eyes. “So, Nikki, can I see what you’re thinking about?” She started showing me various dresses.

We looked at a dress with a high waist. “What do you think? I’m worried about the waist. It’s high...”

“It’s gorgeous, but I could see what you’re thinking.” She had a small bust and that would draw attention to it. I flipped the pages. “How about this one? With the lower waist, it would totally show off your figure. I’m totally jealous.” Jess was half-listening and gave me a bemused look.

She smiled and folded down the page. “Thanks. That makes total sense. What about this one? Do you think I’ll look OK in sleeveless?”

I took her arm. There was no flab. “Please,” I smiled “Now you’re just bragging. You would look amazing.”

“What did you wear?”

I flipped through and found a similar dress to what Jess had worn. Satin, sleeveless with a little lace jacket. “Kind of like this.”

“Really? Huh.” Like she couldn’t see me wearing it. Neither could I. I had seen a dress a few pages before that was beautiful. The kind that I would wear if I was getting married now.

I smiled. “It was five years ago.” Jess looked sad and rubbed her eyes. “You OK, honey?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Contacts are itchy. Did you bring the drops?” I handed her some drops from the beach bag and she put them in her eyes. She didn’t wear contacts. She turned to Jack and said, “I could use a drink. Jess, Nikki?”

“Pina colada for me,” I said, looking at the magazine.

Nikki looked at Jack and said, “Diet Coke?”

Jack smiled, “You’re an adult. I’m sure you’ve had a couple of drinks at school…”

She laughed, “Pina colada for me too,” she said, flipping the pages and folding them down.

Jack said, “Let me join you, Dan. The longer I stay, the more I realize how much their conversation will cost me.”

“Jack, you’ll love every cent of it,” I said. “And you know it.” I knew he would. I saw it last night. I saw it on other trips too. He loved his kids equally but his eyes lit up when he talked about Nikki. And I was a little jealous. I never had that. And I never would.

He groaned and smiled. “And I used to like you…” Jess and Jack walked away.

Nikki turned to me. “Can I say something?”

“You just did,” I said, smiling.

She looked slightly confused then smiled in understanding. “Serious. Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For talking to me.”

That was bizarre. “What? Why wouldn’t I?”

“I don’t mean it that way. I mean my mom is fine and all. But she’s got her own ideas,” she said, sighing and looking up at the sky. I did it too. Like if you looked up long enough, you’d find the answer.

“Ouch. I’m only 33.”

She blushed. “I didn’t mean it that way.”

“I’m kidding,” I said, touching her arm.

“I mean, like, she can’t just like what I like. Or just keep quiet. It’s always ‘oh, you like that?’”

“I know. It sucks sometimes.” I remembered Jess’ mom when we were getting married. I thought they’d kill each other. “J..my mother and I almost killed each other. You don’t know how many times Dan told me to breathe. Realize that this is her one chance to be mother of the bride. When JJ gets married – stop rolling your eyes, it will happen – she gets nothing. So this is her show. Plus, it’s weird for her. She’s mother of the bride. Last time, she got to be the bride.” I paused for a second. If everything held, that’s what I’d be someday. I’d be someone’s mom and someone’s mother-in-law. I suddenly felt old. Which was ridiculous since we weren’t even pregnant yet. But I still had that pang of realization. I paused for a second, not enough for Nikki to notice but enough for me. “It probably makes her feel like she’s old. Last time, it was her show and now you’re the center. Like she’s passing the torch. And that has to feel weird.”

“Huh,” she said. “I never thought about it like that. Why does she have to be that way though?”

I laughed. “That one is way beyond my pay grade. You should find this book called ‘You’re Wearing That?’ It’s about mothers and daughters. Really calmed…me down.”

She laughed. “My mother’s book would be,” and she imitated her mother looking her up and down. I remembered Joyce and it was a perfect imitation. I realized that Emma would be imitating me like that one day. Or Jess. But probably me. “‘I don’t have to wear it, you do.’ My grandmother’s would be ‘Oh. Is that what people are wearing now?”

I laughed. “Just enjoy the day and the planning. I’m happy to listen. No judgments.”

“Thanks,” she said, touching my arm. “Were your friends weird during it?”

“Some were. I think it depended on whether they had a boyfriend. My friend Lori got kind of bitchy.” I remembered how, the minute Jess started talking about the wedding, even about something as stupid as little hot dogs, which, despite Jess’ complaints, were the most popular hors d’oeuvres, Lori would start sniping. When I’d ask why she put up with that, Jess would say something like, ‘but she’s my friend,’ as if that explained it. Sammie was right though. That’s why I kind of let the friendship die. Like I told Jess, I hadn’t heard from her in a few months and didn’t miss it. Nikki looked worried. “Nikki. Don’t look so upset. It’s fine. We were OK after the wedding. I think some girls just get jealous. And they should be. You’re beautiful and will be a beautiful bride. Who’s the lucky guy?”

She took out her phone. “This is him. Jason.” He was about 6’2” with sandy blond hair and green eyes.

“He is one good looking guy.” And he was. And I felt it. “How did you meet?”

“He was friends with a friend’s boyfriend. We met at a pool party three years ago.”

“And your mom didn’t tell me last year?” And she wouldn’t have told me, when I was Dan. She probably said “She’s fine. Thank you for asking,” in that way that women do when men they sort of know ask about their kids. Enough to be polite, but keeping you at arms-length. If Jess had asked first, I could’ve followed up. But I couldn’t go first. “How do your parents like him?”

“My mom says he’s cute. And my dad says he’s a good golfer. So, everyone is fine with him.”

“That’s good. It took my dad a while to warm up to Danny.” Truthfully, it took Marty a while to warm up to me. I wasn’t really sure he had until this last trip.

We sat for a while and looked at dresses and talked about her senior year of college. I liked it. I felt a closeness to her that I never had with anyone on other trips. Eventually, Jess and Jack came back.

Jess asked, “Everything OK?”

“Great, Dan. Jess is so cool. She’s like,” and she smiled at me, “a really cool older sister and she has great taste.”

Jess smiled and put her arm around me. “She is and she does.”

Jack groaned. “How much more did you cost me, Ms. Silverman?” Nikki swatted him on the arm.

I smiled. “Oh, you wouldn’t want to retire anyway. You’d get bored. You should be thanking me.” Nikki and I moved onto bridesmaid’s dresses. I looked at Jess, who just smiled and shook her head. After a while, Nikki and Jack went to get lunch. She left her magazines.

I looked at Jess and said, “What was that all about?”

“What was what all about?”

“When I was talking to Nikki, you kept looking at me. When I talked about your dress, your contacts got itchy? Um, did you get contacts and not tell me?”

She smiled, “I was just remembering our wedding day. It was the best day of my life.”

“Mine too,” I said, taking her hand.

She reached over me and grabbed one of the magazines and started flipping pages. She stopped on one and handed it to me, “This one?”

“This one what?”

“This is your wedding dress, isn’t it?” It had a lace bodice with spaghetti straps and a tulle skirt. The model was wearing flowers in her hair. “This is the dress you would’ve worn, if we were always this, isn’t it?”

I started to tear up and nodded. “I’m sorry.”

She looked at me, “What are you sorry for?”

“That I was looking at dresses and thinking about it. I feel like I’m taking away your day from you.”

She looked at me and smiled, “You’re not taking anything from me. We both had that day and we’ll always have it. I’m just sorry you never got your day and that I never got the chance to see you come down the aisle in that dress with your daddy,” she said, stretching that out. I was glad. I needed the teasing to keep from crying.

“Stop. How did you know?”

“Please. That dress is so you, it practically says, ‘Jessica’ on it. That’s you. You’re the girl in the lace and the tulle with the flowers in her hair.” I looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “The hopeless romantic and the cynical lawyer. The girl who loves babies and can talk about the 3-4 defense like a sportswriter. The princess and the politician. You are the most amazing person I know. You can do anything and I love you,” she said, leaning over and giving me a kiss.

I smiled and decided to distract myself by going back to my book. “Hi, Jessica,” I heard Ellen say, as she sat down on Nikki’s chair. She picked up one of the magazines. “Getting married?”

“Oh, hi Ellen. No, those are Nikki, Jack Todd’s daughter’s.”

“I figured,” she said laughing. She looked at the Kindle. “So, what are you reading?”

“Underground Railroad. By Colson Whitehead.”

“Really? That’s so funny. Emily and I just started that. She picked it.”

“That’s so cool that you two read together.” I thought about it. OK, maybe you won’t have basketball, but you can read together. I hoped Emma liked reading. “That’s great that you share that.”

She smiled, “We always have. Harry Potter when she was little. She picked this one. I like that we have this. They get older and they develop their own lives. I only have her for a few more years before she goes off to college. I’m glad she does this for me…” and she started to tear up. I reached over and gave a her a little hug.

“Sorry, that was forward of me,” I said.

She smiled, “Not at all,” she said, picking up my Kindle and going to the home screen. “Nice choices. Beauty and brains.” I blushed. “‘City on Fire?’ What did you think?”

“I wrote a big important, capital B, capital I, novel, wanna see? Did you read it?”

“Yeah, meh. Plus, I grew up in the 1970s. Too many historical errors. That drives me nuts.”

Jess moaned, “Oh great, Jessa. You’ve found another one.”

Ellen smiled and said, “Who asked you?” She turned to me and said, “Give me an example.”

“Like there’s a scene where a cop talks about his Fraternal Order of Police pension. New York is PBA. Everyone in New York knows that and it’s like, ‘you got two million dollars as an advance and you can’t fact-check?”

She started laughing, “To me, it was when they had the trust fund wife doing yoga. No one did yoga in the 70s. Or drank box wine. I drove Bruce crazy complaining. He just kept saying…”

Jess piped in, “How’s the story?”

Ellen laughed. “I already said no one asked you. Go get me a diet Coke so I can talk to your wife without commentary.” Jess got up, bowed and said, “One diet coke, ma’am, very good,” in an indeterminate, yet still bad, accent.

She started looking at the rest. “The Nix. Brief History of Seven Killings. I liked that. If you can make me care about Jamaican politics and the killing of Bob Marley and drug dealers, you’ve done a good job. White Trash?” she said quizzically.

“It’s about class in America. All the Scots-Irish who were basically brought here as indentured servants and the whole myth of upward mobility and…ok, I’m babbling.”

She smiled. “No, you aren’t. You’re explaining it. I like that. You have the energy after work to read that? I’m impressed.”

“It’s a slow go, if that makes it better.” She laughed and then grimaced. “Oh, look, here comes Bonnie and Clyde,” she said, under her breath. “Hi Bonnie, hi Cindy, what’s up?”

“Oh, we saw you two talking and figured we’d come over to say hi. Jessica, why didn’t you sit with us? We need to catch up,” she said sweetly. I felt like I was going into diabetic shock.

Ellen patted the chair and said, “Come sit down.” She picked up my Kindle. “Jess and I were just discussing David Foster Wallace. I said that I liked his essays but found his novels a little too long and self-involved. Jess said that, while she appreciated the essays, she found him to be the worthy heir to Pynchon. Although, a strong case can be made for DeLillo. I mean read “Infinite Jest” next to “Underworld.”” Bonnie looked dumbfounded. “What are your thoughts?” Damn, Ellen was good.

“I, uh,” Bonnie stammered.

“What are you reading these days, Bonnie? Cindy?” Ellen said.

“I really don’t have the time to read,” Bonnie mumbled, “with the kids and all. I’m busy with my church too. Excuse us,” she said, walking away.

She turned to me and said mockingly, “I’m busy with my church… She’s always hovering around me. She drives me crazy. I figured that would drive her away. Do you think she even knows who David Foster Wallace is?”

I thought about saying something to show I agreed, but figured that could just make me look bad. Instead, I just smiled and went with, “She does her thing.” I added, for a little jab, “Whatever that thing is.” Ellen gave me a little grin. “I do mine. I’m just having a good time.” I figured that was anodyne enough.

She laughed, “That’s what it’s about.” Over my shoulder, I could feel Bonnie and Cindy seething and felt a little better. Hey, I’m not perfect.

Jess came back with the diet Coke and said, “Your drink, madam.”

Ellen laughed and said, “Why thank you, Daniel. I had a lovely conversation with your wife and now unfortunately I have to find Bruce. We will continue this later, Jessica,” she said, giving me a kiss. This time, I believed her.

“I saw Bonnie and Cindy come over and leave. What happened?”

I laughed. “So, they come over and pretend like they didn’t freeze me out and Ellen starts asking them their opinion on David Foster Wallace and they just run. She is good.”

“Wow. She really seems to like you.”

“You think?”

“I haven’t seen her sit down next to anyone else for that long,” she said, “Do you want to get lunch?”

“How about instead you take me upstairs and fuck me silly and we make a baby?” I said into her ear, finishing up with a little bite. I didn’t care who saw.

“Or we could do that,” she said, taking my hand.

We got to the door and she picked me up in her arms. “Hey, what are you doing?” I giggled. I liked this feeling. Jess fumbled for the key card and unlocked the door. She untied my top and started kissing my neck and earlobes.

“Oh, g-d,” I moaned. “Stop teasing me.” She didn’t stop. I could feel her erection brush up against my ass. She threw me onto the bed and started biting my nipples. I was getting so wet and wanted her in the worst way.

She took off my bikini bottom and rolled me over. “You’ve been a bad girl,” she said, swatting me.

“Not today,” I said, “Not now. Later. Now, just make love to me.” It sounded cheesy as hell but I meant it. We were making our baby and I didn’t want my weird kinks involved. We could save that for another time. Jess proceeded to make love to me. I had an orgasm about 33% of the time which, I had read, was not at all unusual. What can I say? Once I bought a car, I read the owner’s manual. But, today I did. I don’t know if it was the beach or the bikini or the baby or just the love I was feeling, but I did. We finished up and I laid with my legs up and my butt resting on a pillow. I didn’t want any of Jess’ sperm to leak out and I had read somewhere that, to increase your chances of conception, you should lay there for 20 minutes or so. “Wow,” I smiled. “That was…wow. That was amazing. Here’s hoping.”

Jess smiled, “I meant it. You are the most amazing person I’ve ever known. I love you so much. Do you feel any different?”

“I’m feeling pretty wiped, but in a good way.”

“No, I mean like a switch flipped or something.”

I thought about it. “No. You?”

She smiled, “No,” and then said, “Arania Exumai!” and waved her hands.

I laughed, “What the hell are you doing?”

She said, “I thought maybe, if I said a spell, something would change.”

“You’re crazy. And I think you just got rid of spiders.”

“Cacio Pepe!”

“Now, you summoned pasta with parmesan and pepper. Stop. I think this is it. No flashes of light or anything. Just you and me,” I said, with a smile. “And hopefully,” and I knocked on a table. “Baby makes three.”

She smiled, “I love you,” she said, running her fingers along my stomach.

“I love you too.” I did. I loved my husband. We were husband and wife now. And, hopefully, in nine months, daddy and mommy.

We laid there for a while and then got dressed. “Yoga pants or another bikini?” I felt pretty and wanted to look pretty.

She smiled, “I’ll never say no to a bikini, but go with the yoga pants. You can always change again. Mommy.” She was teasing but I liked the way it sounded. ‘I’m Jessica, I’m Emma’s mommy.’ I put on a yoga pants, flip flops and a spaghetti strap tank top. I put my hair in a ponytail.

“G-d, you look adorable,” Jess said.

“Adorable?” I knew what she meant. I looked girly. Feminine. And I was.

“Yes, adorable. With your ponytail and your pink toes. You’re just so cute. If I was you and you weren’t me, I’d hate you.”

That snapped me back for a second. “You’re OK with all of this, right?”

She kissed me. “Absolutely. Sorry, I forgot who I was dealing with. I’m not OK. I’m great. You and me,” and then she spat three times, “and baby makes three. We’re not Dan and Jessica. We’re us.”

We went back downstairs and went to get lunch. As we were walking, Cindy bumped into me, accidentally on purpose. “Oops, sorry, Jessica,” she said, with a smile.

I wanted to punch her but that wouldn’t be positive. “It’s OK, Cindy. I really enjoyed speaking with you before. Your opinions on De Lillo were really on point.” Jess looked at me. She always said I was an intellectual snob and I was, sometimes, OK most times. But, sometimes I was right. Cindy looked like she wanted to say something then walked away.

Jess looked at me and said, “Do I want to know what that was about?”

“It was nothing. And even if was something then, it’s nothing now. It’s just you and me,” I said, giving her a kiss on the cheek. I stood on tiptoes even though it wasn’t necessary. It just made me feel good. We sat on the patio and the sun shone and the ocean breeze blew on face. I felt stray hairs tickle my cheeks. I pushed around my salad with my fork, taking bites here and there. I drank my decaf iced tea. I watched Jess wolf down her chicken sandwich. I pictured sperm swimming up into my uterus which was admittedly weird. All seemed right with the world. We just sat there and enjoyed each other, holding hands. Normally, I can’t sit still or I need to have something – a book, my phone, a TV – to distract me. Now, I didn’t need anything. I was fine, nothing could distract me, except:

“Hey Dan, hey Jess!” Guess who? If you guessed Becca and Kristy, you’d be right. There were thirty-six people on this trip and, of all the tables in all the world, she had to come to mine.

“Hey Becca,” Jess said brightly. “Hey Kristy.” I gave her a quick look. “What’s up? Having fun today?” Which I heard as, “Wait until the ball and chain goes to sleep today….”

Becca touched his arm and said, “We had a great time. Jess, you were so great out there. I mean you were really going for it. Wasn’t she great, Dan?” And she touched his arm again. I almost ripped her arm off. I flinched slightly. Stupid positivity stopped me.

Jess smiled and gave me a wink. “She was amazing, all right,” and she put her arm around me. That’s right, bitch. He’s mine. My husband, who used to be my wife and I used to be her husband, is mine. I made a note to see if the welcome desk had anti-pyschotics.

“I just looked at the schedule and we’re in the same dinner group!” she said. “We’re going to Duffy’s. It’ll be so much fun.

“I can’t wait!” I said. Kristy gave me a sideways glance. Was I that obvious?

“See you guys later!” Becca said, touching us both on the shoulder.

She walked away and Jess turned to me, “What was that about?”

“What was what about?”

“What did Becca do to you?” Who did Becca do to you is the question.

I smiled, “I was nice. I wasn’t nice?”

“Whatever,” she said, pulling me close and giving me a quick kiss on the neck. I snuggled in and felt safe. I looked at Jess looking at me and I realized I was being irrational. Whatever was, was. We were here and we were happy. And Becca was not going to kill my mood. Or Kristy. We walked along the beach, hand in hand. We didn’t talk. We didn’t need to. I pictured us holding a little kid between us and going, “1-2-3, whee,” the way my parents used to. They’d lift me up and I’d feel like I was flying in space. It was the happiest, freest feeling I could imagine. As you get older, life brings you closer and closer to earth and I wanted to recapture that feeling of flying. I felt it today after we made love. I didn’t feel it in some “oh the earth moved” bad porn way. I felt it in the feelings of hope and love I had. We were going to have a baby, we were happy and I wasn’t going to let petty jealousy bring me to earth.

We went upstairs and took a nap. The shuttles for dinner left at 7 PM, so I set the alarm for 5:30. We passed out in each other’s arms. I only slept for an hour and a half but I had another dream. This time, it was our wedding day. I was in the dress. The lace and tulle dress we saw in the magazine. I had a garland of daisies in my hair and was carrying a bouquet of light pink roses. My dad teared up as he gave me a kiss and said, “I love you Jessica.” He took me down the aisle and gave me to Jess, who was smiling. Then, all of a sudden, I was holding hands with two kids, a boy and a girl, both about three years old. The girl was wearing a white lace dress and had flowers in her hair. She looked just like me. Like me as Dan but as a girl. The boy was in a white shirt and dark pants and looked like Jess. I leaned down and they both gave me a big kiss and said….and then I woke up. I laid back for a minute and tried to figure out what it meant. I couldn’t decide except that I felt very well rested for an hour and a half nap. I got up quietly, so as not to wake Jess. I was OK with the fact that it took me longer. It was right. I was the woman and she was the man.

I did all the usual – shower, shave, pluck, polish, makeup. While Jess showered and shaved, I got dressed. She came out of the shower, looked at me and said, “Wow!”

I smiled. “Do you like this?” I was wearing a sleeveless white macramé mini dress and 4” white wedge sandals. I spritzed some perfume into the air and walked into the cloud. I saw that in “Broadcast News.”

She put on a polo shirt and khakis and said, “You look amazing. Can you walk in those?”

I gave her a little strut, putting a little extra shake in my ass and then gave her a model turn. I had practiced. “Does that answer your question?”

“You amaze me. Every day,” she said, with a smile. “You do things…” and then she stopped herself. I knew what was coming was something like, “I never could.” And I didn’t care. I worked hard. I was sexy. More importantly, I was happy and this outfit made me feel happy. I was such a girl.

“I figured that I should get this in.” I knocked on wood. “Hopefully, soon, I’ll be too big for this dress.”

“I can’t wait. You will be the most gorgeous pregnant woman ever. With your big baby bump,” she said, rubbing my stomach. I couldn’t wait. I had forgotten how tired Sammy was.

We went downstairs and met the shuttle. Each group had twelve people. We had Courtney and Mark. Rick and Claudia. Ashley and her wife Debra. Another couple that I didn’t know. And Becca. And Kristy. Kristy was wearing a blue dress that came to 3” above her knees. On another woman, it wouldn’t have merited a second glance. On Kristy, it looked phenomenal. That sound you heard? Five wives smacking five husbands and glaring at them. It’s funny. Becca was, other than being the bitch who slept with Jess, a very pretty woman. 5’6”. Blonde. Blue eyed. Athletic. In any other setting, she’d be the slap catalyst. But, next to Kristy, she was lost. I wonder if she was Kristy’s wingman, forever taking seconds. I almost felt bad for her.

She came over and said, “Ohmigod, Jess. You look amazing!”

I smiled, “Thanks, Becca. You look really good too,” I said, with forced sincerity that I hoped wasn’t too obvious. Courtney came over.

“Hey Courtney,” I said, “I’m so glad you were able to make this happen,” and I kissed her on the cheek.

She smiled, “Me too.” She looked me up and down and said, “OK, we need to get you pregnant. This is not fair,” she said, with a smile. I took it as a compliment and wanted to say, “From your mouth to G-d’s ears.” Becca stood by me, waiting for the introduction. You can wait, I thought.

“Oh, please, you look phenomenal. I want you to meet someone,” and I walked her over to Ashley and Debra. “Courtney Turner, meet Ashley Bonds. Ashley, Courtney.” I pointedly didn’t mention their husbands. Becca gave a little cough. “Oh, and this is Becca Romano, she’s the DM for Idaho. Ashley is a pre-school teacher. I know you don’t want to talk about work probably but Courtney was telling me all about early intervention and I figured that you two would hit it off.” I positioned myself so that Becca was on the outside of the conversation. I had set enough picks in my time to know how to do it without getting called for the foul. She walked off and went to talk to Julie. And Jess. I debated going over but decided that Julie’s presence would be enough.

I went over and introduced myself to the new couple. “Hi, I’m Jessica Silverman,” I said, sticking out my hand.

The husband said, “Dan’s wife?” OK, sure. Dan’s wife. Nothing else. “I’m Tim Weatherfield and this is my wife Renee.” They were African-American, not that it matters. Tim was about 6’3”, 200 lbs. Light skinned with brown eyes. He was a good looking guy. Renee was 5’10”, 145 lbs. and medium skinned. She was absolutely gorgeous. When I was Dan, she would’ve been my object of lust. Now, she was just another woman. I felt better though. I thought she was hotter than Kristy, although I may have been in the minority.

Jess walked over and said, “Tim, how have you been? I haven’t seen you in…” Please don’t say Chicago. “forever. Since San Francisco.” Thank g-d.

Renee looked at me and said, with a smile, “Jessica! I haven’t seen you since…ever!” I liked her. “So, what do you do?”

“I’m an attorney.”

She smiled, “Me too.” OK, I had a new friend. “What kind?”

“Civil litigation. Construction and real estate, mostly. You?”

“I work for the ACLU on their voting rights project.” OK, I was going to propose. I made a note to keep her in mind should I ever take up Larry and Debbie on their offer.

“OK, I want to be you when I grow up. You guys do great work. I would love to do that,” and we started talking. I heard Tim say, “So, you want to go play pool? They won’t miss us.” We wouldn’t.

Dinner was fun. Like I said, the informal dinner was always in some fun place, so you felt relaxed. They tried to keep people from the same team in different places so that you could meet new people. Duffy’s was a sports bar with a karaoke machine. The food wasn’t anything to write home about, but it was a fun place to hang out.

We had all finished eating. The women were talking while the guys went off to play “pop-a-shot” and pool.

Becca said, “Oh wow. Pop-a-shot. I love that game.”

I looked at her. “Me too. Want to play?” Pop-a-shot was my game. I had spent far too many hours at far too many bars playing pop-a-shot.

She smiled. “Sure. That’d be great!”

We walked up to the machines. “Excuse us, guys. We’d like to play. Hey, Becca, want to make it interesting?” Jess glared at me. I smiled and shrugged.

“OK,” she said, with a smile. “What?”

I looked at the karaoke machine and said, “Loser gets up and sings. Winner’s choice.”

She smiled and stuck out her hand, “Deal,” she said, meeting my gaze. We went to the machine and the buzzer sounded. I was hitting every shot. I should’ve stuck to my own game and not looked at hers, but I couldn’t stop myself. She was matching me shot for shot, but she wasn’t looking over. We kept going. Afterwards, Courtney told me that the looks in our eyes were scaring her. The buzzer sounded. 55-53. Becca. She stuck out her hand and said, “Good game.” Now, someone else might’ve said, ‘You don’t need to sing.’ But Becca was not that person. To be honest, neither was I but that wasn’t important now. Everyone was laughing, including Jess. They weren’t laughing at me but, to quote Homer Simpson, ‘towards me.’ I was mortified but I needed to be a good sport. I went up to the stage and picked up the mike. The music started. It was “Hit Me Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears. I turned red. When I was in camp, all the 12-year old girls would imitate this video. In retrospect, that was so many levels of wrong. I could discuss the hyper-sexualization of young girls by another young girl but not now. Now, I had to start singing. I started mumbling, “My loneliness is killing me…”

“Louder,” Tim shouted.

I decided to lean into it. I started singing, almost in rhythm and with a glancing nod to pitch. I did the dance moves. Everyone was whooping and cheering. I was utterly mortified and absolutely enjoying myself. I would never have done this as Dan. Towards the end, Jess shouted, “Big finish.”

“Keep it up, big mouth, and that’ll be the only big finish you get tonight,” I sang, in sort of key. That got me a cheer. I finished up and Becca was waiting and laughing. To her credit, she got up on stage and took the mike. She did maybe the worst version of “Oops, I Did It Again” known to mankind. I hated her guts but respected them at the same time. I congratulated her after and was almost OK, until she went over to Jess, touched his shoulder and said, “Jessica is amazing.” I got pissed and froze her out again. I hoped I wasn’t obvious.

We got back to the hotel and some of the people headed to the bar. Jess looked at me and said, “Do you want to get a drink?”

I smiled and touched my stomach, “I don’t think I should. Besides, I’m kind of tired. It’s been a long day and you have golf tomorrow and I have the trip…”

“Oh, boy, Barbie time. Sorry, I know you don’t like that term.”

We went up to the room and I took off my dress and shoes and put on a pink nightie. I was in a pink mood. “My feet hurt,” I said, putting my feet in Jess’ lap. She started to rub them. “You’re really good at this,” I said.

She smiled, “I always was. You just never liked it. You were amazing tonight. Well, I mean your singing kind of sucks but I can’t believe the way you got up there. That’s not you or me. What happened?”

I thought about it. “I don’t know. I guess I just figured why not. We were all having fun. It was a silly bet. Did I look ridiculous?”

She smiled and kissed me, “Not at all. Everyone loved it. I had no idea you could move like that. How did you know all those moves?”

“I watched that video a lot. I mean for different reasons, but still,” and I got up and started doing them. “Does this really bother you?” She grabbed me by the waist and pulled me down. You fill in the rest.

The next morning, Jess got up around 7:00. The first round of golfers had an 8:30 shuttle to the course and she wanted to get breakfast first. I wasn’t planning on getting up but, now that I had, figured that I’d hit the gym.

I was washing my face, when Jess came in. “Are you sure you don’t mind this? I mean you won’t miss golf? I know you always liked playing.”

I thought about it. I missed playing the top courses but I wouldn’t miss the people. I wouldn’t miss the bro-iness of it. The false camaraderie. I wasn’t a Stone person and I wasn’t a jock, at least not like these guys. To be honest, when I played with my friends, it was like when you were a kid and you and your friends would go ride bikes. You’d have races and egg each other on to do tricks, but that wasn’t it. It was about hanging out. These golf trips were never hanging out. “Not really,” I said. “Will you miss the trip?”

She laughed. “Uh, on a scale of 1 to 10, negative -7. Just be careful. Be ready for sugar on top of vinegar.” I thought about that. She’s her. I’m me. I’ll just do my thing. I have Jane. I have Renee. I have Courtney. Which is more than she had. OK, that was bitchy, I thought. Today was positivity. We’re happy. We’re in a beautiful place. Maybe we made a baby. Positivity.

“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” I said.

We went downstairs. I gave her a kiss and said, “Just remember. Your brain. My body.” It felt strange to say that. With every day, it seemed more and more unfathomable that that was my body. This was my body and that was hers. I followed up with, “Just play your game. The goal is the hole.” I smiled and whispered, “The goal is always the hole…”

She laughed and said, “Oh g-d, I hate you. I love you but I hate you.” I laughed and gave her a kiss and walked towards the gym. As I walking, I ran into Julie and Will.

Julie smiled, “Not playing today?” She was dressed in a polo shirt and golf skirt. She looked cute.

“Nah, I’m not up for it. Plus, I actually want to go to the museum. There’s an exhibit I want to see.”

She smiled and said to Will, “Go in, honey. Get us a table. I need to talk to Jessica for a second. Women stuff.” He ran off. If you want to end a conversation with a guy, say “Women Stuff.” Or “cramps.”

I looked at Julie and said, “What’s up?”

She looked at me and said, “Let’s walk over here. Away from everybody.”

I was nervous. “Is everything OK?

She took a deep breath. “We’re friends, right?”

We were as friends as two people who saw each other every so often could be, but sure. “Of course.”

“OK. As a friend, why are you giving my DM the stink eye?” Becca was in Julie’s territory. I had never her describe someone that way.

“What are you talking about?” I knew what she was talking about. I didn’t think she noticed.

“You know what I am talking about. Why are you freezing out Becca? She’s been nothing but nice.” I started to say something but she held up her hand. “I always told everyone that you were cool. You worked. You weren’t one of THOSE wives. But, she tells me that every time she touches Dan, you lose it. She said that she mentioned Chicago and…” She froze.

I liked Julie. I could see that she was torn. She wanted to tell me as a friend but, if I didn’t know, she’d hurt me worse. I wasn’t going to let her twist like that. “I know about Chicago, Julie. It’s OK. I mean it’s not, but you don’t have to hide it from me.”

She came over and hugged me. “I’m so sorry Jess. I should’ve known better. You’re not a bitch like that.”

I decided to make her feel better. “Oh, I am a bitch, Julie. Just not like that.”

She laughed. “Oh g-d, I should’ve figured it out. But it was not Becca.”

“You promise?”

“Absolutely. I swear on my life. It was not her,” she said, looking upset.

“Is she here?” I needed to know.

“No, absolutely not. If she was here, I’d tell you.”

“Who was she? Was she from the company?”

“No. She was just some dumb slut from some office supply company that was having a meeting at the hotel.”

I took a deep breath. “Was she pretty?”

She looked at me. “Why go there?”

I sighed, “Because I need to know. I shouldn’t, but I do.”

“She was a set of tits, which is always what they go for.” I was surprised at how harsh she was. Not wrong, although I was a leg man, just harsh. “Good body. Face like Neil Harper. Remember him? Put Neil’s face on a set of Ds and that was her.”

I started giggling. “Oh G-d. I don’t know if I feel better or worse now.”

She giggled with me. “I tried to warn you. But, it was not Becca. She’s a toucher. She touches everyone, even me. I get it though. If it happened to me and some blonde at Dish did that to Will, I’d want to rip her arms off, no matter who she was. Or wasn’t.”

“So, you don’t think I’m a crazy bitch anymore?”

“Well, you never tell a crazy bitch she’s crazy…no, I don’t,” she said, giving me a hug. “Although,” and she started singing, “Hit Me Baby One More Time.”

I blushed. “So how many people know about that?”

“How many people are in this hotel?” I buried my face in my hands. She laughed, “Everyone thought it was cool. I’m impressed that you got up there.”

I took a deep breath. “A bet’s a bet. Thanks. One more question. Has he done it before?”

Without missing a beat, she said, “No. Absolutely not. I have to tell you that, when he did it, we were shocked. He was one of the good ones, we thought. I don’t know what got into him. What happened?”

I couldn’t explain it and even if I could, I wouldn’t. These were Jess’ co-workers. I owed her that much and decided to put positivity into play. “It’s not important. That’s all I needed to know.” Then I paused, “so who are the bad ones?” I said, with a grin.

She laughed. “Now, I don’t know if I should tell you. Oh wait, I need a lawyer and lookit, here’s one. You’re hired so now you can’t tell anyone. Let’s just say his wife’s name sounds like Donnie…”

“Really, Mr. Holier than Thou? We’re very busy at church. I mean maybe I shouldn’t say anything because I’m not Christian like them…”

Julie laughed, “Christian, from” and she moved her hand from the waist up. She laughed and said, “Consider that my present to you,” and she walked back to the dining room. It seemed like we talked forever but it was less than five minutes. Time stands still when you feel like an idiot.

I went into the gym and Becca was stretching. If someone wrote that in a story, I’d call it clichéd, but it happened. I decided to play this as Dan, not Jessica. I wasn’t going to play games. I was going to man up, well as much as a woman in yoga pants and a ponytail could.

She saw me, “Oh hi Jessica,” she said, coldly. I deserved that.

“I can go for a run, if you want. You were here first,” I said.

“It’s a free country.”

I looked at her and said, “I am sorry. I acted like a bitch and I am sorry. I apologize absolutely and completely. I hope that you’ll forgive me but, if you won’t, I get that,” and I headed out for a run. “Feel free to tell everyone I’m crazy.”

She looked at me and said flatly. “Wait. Do you mean that or did Julie put you up to this?”

“I mean it. If I didn’t mean it, I would’ve walked away when I came in. I am 100% unequivocally sorry for being a bitch to you.”

She looked at me. “Why? What did I do to you?”

I was probably making a huge mistake but I needed to unburden myself. “You didn’t do anything. Let’s just leave it as did you ever get something in your head and that’s all that matters? Like, you should know better but you can’t. Sorry, that makes no sense.”

She smiled knowingly, like she wanted to say something but wouldn’t. “I get it. Like you’re pissed at someone and someone else who didn’t do anything,” and she smiled, “does something completely innocent and you take it out on her. Because you’re crazy.”

I smiled and looked at the floor, then looked her in the eye. “I deserve that,” I said. I waved my hands towards me. “Keep ‘em coming.”

She laughed. “No, that’s enough. Julie said you were one of the good ones. I trust her. If she says you’re OK, you’re OK.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Can we start over, Becca Romano from Idaho?” I felt like an idiot but, at the same time, the weight came off me. The paranoia went away. I truly didn’t care what people said.

She laughed, “Chicago. I’m from Chicago. How many Romanos do you think live in Idaho?”

I laughed. “OK, Becca Romano from Chicago. Nice to meet you,” I stuck out my hand.

She gave me a hug. “I’m a hugger, sorry.” I got it now.

I hugged her back and laughed. “And I thought I could play pop-a-shot. You are a pop-a-shot hustler.”

She smiled. “Four brothers and we owned a Dairy Queen with a machine. That’s why I sang, ‘Oops, I Did It Again.’ Inside joke with Kristy.”

I laughed. “You bitch. And I mean that as a compliment.”

She smiled, “I take that as high praise and thank you.” We worked out and we talked. She and Kristy were roommates from college, at the University of Illinois. She didn’t have a boyfriend or, “at least no one I’m taking on a trip with my co-workers.” She said that Kristy wanted to confront me but that she wouldn’t let her. She asked me what it was like to live in New York. We talked about being an attorney. While we were finishing up, she said that she was coming in for training in May and I asked if she would let me show her around. I felt that I owed that to her, plus she was a fun person. I could see why people wanted to hang out with her.

As we were walking out, she said, “I know what you all think about us. You think we’re all sluts that want to sleep with your husbands. We don’t or at least I don’t.”

I said, “I don’t think you do. And you know what, if a married guy sleeps with someone, it’s on him and only on him. He made the vow, not you. Unless you know me, it’s not between you and me. It’s between him and me.”

She looked at me, “Well, yeah, you’re in the minority around here. I’ve gotten enough glares to last me a lifetime and Kristy gets it worse and she doesn’t even work here.”

I laughed, “Well, I am not giving you any glares. Not anymore. Kristy is just getting it because she’s gorgeous. Please tell me she’s a bitch or stupid.” I couldn’t believe I said that.

She laughed. “Nope. Sorry. She’s doing a fellowship in pediatric oncology at Northwestern and she’s the nicest person you’ve ever met. Once you stop hating her, you really like her.” I moaned and she said, “I’ll see you on the bus,” she said. She couldn’t golf because she had hurt her rotator cuff kayaking. She said her grandmother said, “You deserve it. Whoever heard of an Italian in a kayak?”

I looked at her, “Are we OK?”

She smiled and hugged me, “We’re good. Just so you know, no offense, but I don’t sleep with married guys or Jewish guys. Nothing personal, but they have too many mommy issues.” More than you know, Becca. More than you know.

I went up to the room, showered and changed. I decided on a tangerine colored top and a short blue and orange print skirt and blue leather sandals. I sprayed on some “Daisy Dream.” I had been thinking about daisies since the dream. To keep the feeling, I overpaid in the gift shop for a small bottle. I put on my makeup, grabbed my purse and went downstairs.

Everyone was milling about the lobby. I saw Jane standing by herself. “Hey Jane, what’s up? How was dinner?”

“Oh great,” she said, sarcastically. “We got John and Bonnie. They made this big show of saying grace. Over chicken wings. Jesus loves his wings.” I smiled and debated telling her. I figured I’d save it for when Bonnie was being a bitch. That was a when, not an if. She looked at me and smiled, “My loneliness is killing me,” she sang.

“Well, I figured I’d humiliate myself at some point…”

She laughed, “I’m just sorry I missed it. But, who are you and what have you done with my friend?”

“Stop it.” I saw Renee come in. “Come over here. You have to meet Renee. Renee Weatherfield, Jane Manion. Jane, Renee. Renee, Jane is one of us. For the company. Jane, Renee is a real lawyer. She works for the ACLU voting rights project,” I babbled. They both smiled and shook hands and started talking to each other. I saw Courtney come in and went over. She was with Ashley and Claudia. I said hello to everyone and brought them over to Jane and Renee. It felt good to have a group of friends, or at least people I knew.

Ellen stood up in front of the group and said, “Once again, everyone, it’s great to have all of you here. This trip wouldn’t be possible without all of you, both in and out of the company. The plan is to spend a few hours at the museum, get lunch and then go to Worth Avenue. Is everybody ready?” Everyone cheered, including me which got a smile from Jane, and we headed to the bus. It felt like a field trip from school.

We went to get on the bus. Ellen was up front with the travel rep, discussing plans. Bonnie and her crew came on the bus and plopped down right next to Ellen, who winced. I came on and Cindy said, “These seats are taken. Sorry, Jessica.”

Jane gave her a stare. Renee just smiled and shook her head. I sweetly said, “That’s OK, Cindy. We’ll sit back here.” As I walking by, Bonnie looked at me and said, “By the way, Jessica, that’s a really pretty shirt. I wouldn’t have gone with tangerine with your coloring but it’s a pretty shirt.” Her crew laughed. I suddenly felt self-conscious. I thought I looked cute. I looked at my reflection in the window. I looked cute. Why was I letting her get to me?

I sat down next to Jane. “Don’t listen to her. You look good.” I did. I wasn’t Jess. I was me. I mean I was Jessica, but I wasn’t Jess. I liked what I wore. She’s just a bitch. I put it out of my head as best as I could, and talked to everyone. Everyone seemed to get along. It turned out that Ashley and Renee had both gone to George Washington University, so they were sharing D.C. stories. Claudia, Courtney and Jane were all discussing “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” which I tried to watch, but couldn’t. I could wear a dress or a bikini, but some things just went too far. I sat down next to Denice and Gabriela, a manager from San Antonio and talked to them.

We arrived at the museum and were met by the docent, who showed us around. It really was like a field trip. A third of the group looked bored. Another third looked like they were going to ditch to go buy fake i.d.s and beer and the last third, which included me and Ellen, were actually interested. Bonnie looked like she wanted to shoot herself but was not going to leave me with Ellen. Before going to the main exhibit, the docent walked us through the galleries. I would have been happy to spend all day here if they let me. Even as Dan, I would’ve preferred this to golf. I could never have gone then though, but here I could enjoy it. The first painting we saw was a Jackson Pollock called “Night Mist.”

“Now, how many of you know who Jackson Pollock is?” the docent said. About half the group raised its hands. “Now most people think of his drip paintings when they think of him, but this is from his Surrealist period in 1945.”

I moved closer. “I totally get that,” I said. “Like you can see this sort of Picasso thing going on with the forms especially this thing over here,” I said, pointing at the left side. “But, he’s definitely moving towards the drips here.” I could feel everyone staring at me.

The docent smiled, “You know your Pollock.”

I suddenly felt very awkward. No one wants to be the teacher’s pet, but I liked art. I could feel some of the women sneering at me, which strengthened my resolve. I was a mess. “I mean, have you ever seen his ‘Guardians of the Secret?’” I pulled it up on my phone, which admittedly is not how to view art but you make do. “See, like he’s definitely got more discrete forms in there, like this shark. And you wouldn’t look at this and think he could get to,” and I pulled up one of the drip paintings, “this.” Some of the women started to look at my phone. “But,” I said, walking towards the painting, “you totally get how this goes to this goes to this.”

The docent smiled. “Maybe we should switch places.”

“Sorry,” I mumbled, as we headed to the next room. I held back a little and walked with Renee and Jane. They both looked at me and smiled. I felt incredibly self-conscious and I didn’t know why.

We walked through the Chinese art exhibit which, to be honest, bored me. I appreciated the brushwork but it left me cold. I felt that way about prog rock. I appreciated the technical musicianship but the songs had no warmth. Eventually, we got to the main exhibit, Lichtenstein and Monet. It was primarily Lichtenstein’s study of Monet’s paintings of the gardens at Giverny, but there was a sample of Monet to compare it to, as well as some of Lichtenstein’s more typical works. The natives were getting restless, milling about and chatting, and the docent was feeling it. I saw one painting, “Water Lillies with Cloud,” and went over. The docent, Ellen and a few of the other women came over. “Huh,” I said. “It totally makes sense.”

The docent smiled, “What are you seeing?”

“Well, look at it. It’s like he’s clearly trying to do the water lilies but it’s got that comic strip feeling, like with the Ben Day dots.” I had wanted to be a cartoonist when I was little. I had learned that the little dots in a comic strip were called Ben Day dots. “And these clouds and these trails down, it’s a total link between this and those paintings he did of the fighter pilots.” Dan was coming to the surface. I sounded like a total geek but I felt pretty happy, like at least the best part of me was still there. The people around me were at least feigning interest so I kept going. “Like look at this one.” It was a triptych of a plane called ‘As I Opened Fire.’ I turned to the docent and said, “You’re the expert. Am I making any sense?”

She laughed, “I didn’t make the link originally but I see it now. You clearly like Lichtenstein.”

“Definitely,” I said, moving my hands. Apparently, I had started talking with my hands. “I have a print of “Whaam,” in my office that we bought at the Tate.” I could see Bonnie face wrinkle up. Not that she knew what the Tate was. Yup, I was a snob.

The docent smiled. “Whaam? You don’t strike me as a fighter plane kind of girl. I would’ve guessed one of the Kiss series or Masterpiece.” OK, that was sexist. Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I can’t like planes. Also, I used to be a guy. There’s that too.

I smiled. “Some days you want a kiss. Some days, you want to shoot someone down.” Everyone laughed.

Ellen came over. “I’m sure you two could talk for hours, but unfortunately we have to go.” I wasn’t sure what that meant.

I said, “Well, thank you for the tour. I really appreciated it. I learned a lot.”

“So did I and you’re welcome.” She turned to Ellen and said, “Thank you. As I’m sure you can appreciate, sometimes big groups can get hard to manage but it was a pleasure showing you all around. It’s always nice,” and she touched my arm, “to have people who appreciate what we do here.”

I walked out and overheard Bonnie say, “I don’t understand why they make us do this. I mean who really wants to come here?” Then she looked at me and said, “Oh sorry, Jessica. I didn’t see you.”

A bunch of the women stood around, looking away but paying close attention. ‘You will not break me bitch,’ I thought. “Bonnie, if I told you that, by taking us to a cultural exhibition, the company was able to deduct a larger portion of the cost of the trip, would that make a difference?”

“Um,” she mumbled. “I didn’t know that,” she said.

“I mean, that if I told you that Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code would allow the company to deduct,” and I mimed like I was doing calculations, “35% of the total cost of all of us non-Stone people, you’d want to save the company money. Right? I mean, it’s the least we could so for Stone after everything they’ve done for us.” She grumbled and walked away. You aimed for the queen. You missed.

Claudia came over, laughing and said, “Are we exchanging the museum for another museum?”

“I’m sorry, what?” I said, sweetly. I knew what she meant. It was the only section of the tax code that I knew.

“Section 1031. A tax-free exchange of real estate. Lawyers should not do taxes,” she laughed.

I smiled. “I didn’t say the company could. I just asked IF it could, wouldn’t she want to do that? I mean IF I was 6 feet tall and blond, I would be a model,” and I kicked up my heel and walked towards the bus.

We went to a restaurant in Palm Beach. With a big enough group, it’s prix fixe and buffet style. We all sat at tables of eight. I sat with Renee, Denice, Courtney, Ashley, Jane and Claudia. I was eating my flank steak salad when Juliet, one of the wives from John Chapman’s district, came by and said, “Jessica, where do you put it? I mean, I just could simply not eat like that. It would just be everywhere on me.”

Jesus, don’t you people have independent thoughts. “Everybody has different metabolism,” and I turned back to my salad. I wasn’t getting into it with her.

“I mean, I would be careful if I were you. I mean you’ve done so well since Bermuda. I would hate to see you balloon up again.” I now knew what sugar on vinegar meant.

What happened next surprised the hell out of me. From behind her, I heard Becca say, “Well, SHE was in the gym with me at 7:00 AM today and she worked me into the ground.” I didn’t. We just did yoga and the treadmill. “Work hard, play hard, right, Jess?” I smiled. I owed her more than one. Juliet turned white.

I got up and whispered in her ear. “Thank you. You didn’t have to do that. I didn’t deserve it.”

She took my hand and pulled me close and sang, “Hit Me Baby, One More Time.” I had to stifle a giggle.

We went to Worth Avenue and thankfully broke into groups. Honestly, Worth Avenue did nothing for me. It’s a collection of uber-high end luxury stores, most of which they had in New York anyway. For the people who weren’t from New York, I guess it was fun. Anyway, I was just having fun walking with my friends, looking in the windows.

We were in Louis Vuitton and they were all looking at pocketbooks. No matter how long I had been this, I just couldn’t understand the appeal of pocketbooks. Clothes? I was a clothes horse. Shoes? I had, to my chagrin, developed a fondness for shoes. Those made me look good. But pocketbooks? They did nothing for me. Renee picked one up, looked at the price tag and said, “I have got to stop doing good. I need to do WELL,” and laughed.

Jane looked at a blue and black tote bag, looked at the price tag and said, “I’ll take this.”

I looked at the price tag. “$2500?”

She smiled, “Sean? Is that you?”

“Sorry, I don’t mean it that way.” She looked at me, as did Renee. I fumbled for words. “I just meant it’s not my thing.” All the women were looking at me. OK, I hit a nerve. “I mean I like clothes and shoes and…OK, I’ll shut up now.”

Courtney laughed. “For the first time, in history, Jessica is short of words. Someone mark this down.”

Denice helped up her phone. “I taped what you said for Dan. What’ll you pay me for it?” I laughed. I deserved this.

We walked past Tiffany’s and I looked in the window. There was a beautiful heart in the window. I don’t know why I liked it so much. It was just a delicate white gold heart but I liked it. I looked at it for a while, sighed and started to walk away. We all walked into Lilly Pulitzer and were flipping through the racks. Denice laughed and said, “There is nothing in here for a mother of five, especially with this shelf,” she said, patting her ass.

I was looking at the rack and I saw the perfect dress. It was white lace dress, with long sleeves and a lace up neckline. It fell to mid-thigh. I went into the dressing room and put it on. It looked perfect. I was going to wear it to dinner tonight. I was feeling great. I went out to show everyone. Courtney told me it looked beautiful. Denice, with a big grin, called me “skinny little white bitch.” Jane said, “Well, now, you’re making me want to go to the gym.” I was on a high. I was paying for it when I heard:

“You must be so happy Jessica. Now that you can shop in stores like this, I mean,” she tittered. “Maybe you will soon too, Jane.”

That was enough. I walked over to her. “That’s enough Bonnie. If you have a problem with me, you have a problem with me. I have no idea why you have a problem with me but I don’t care. You just lay off my friends, OK?” I didn’t know what I was going to do. I wasn’t going to hit her. I wouldn’t have hit her if I were Dan. I mean I wasn’t 22. I was 33 and this was Jess’ company. I just stood there.

“Oh, your friends. Aren’t you the social butterfly? Like Dan in Chicago.” With that went all of my positivity. I started to tear up. I took my bag and I left the store. I sat down on a bench and started bawling. I put my head in my hands and started bawling. People were looking at me. My makeup was a mess. I had put it out of my head and now that bitch put it back. It was October all over again. I had a pretty dress and a husband who cheated but now everyone knew. I was a freak.

Courtney came over. Renee, Jane, Ashley, Claudia and Denice were behind her. She sat down next to me. “Are you OK?”

“I’m fine,” I sobbed.

“Really, because you don’t seem fine,” she said with a small smile.

“OK, I’m not fine,” I sniffled. “I just…I can’t…I think I’ve had enough. I’m just going to walk back to the hotel. Please let the travel person know, so they’re not looking for me….” I started to walk back. I must have looked like a fright, but I didn’t care. I started walking.

Jane came up next to me. “I know you keep trying to get me in the gym, but these shoes suck. Come on.” I smiled.

Ashley came over. “If you’re not on the bus, she wins.” She was right.

Renee said, in the world’s most exaggerated accent, complete with the Maury Povich Show side-to-side head move, “You are NOT going to let that no-account bee-yotch win. I am NOT letting that happen,” which she followed up with, “Ow, my head hurts. What was I thinking? I never could do that move. See what you made me do?”

I started laughing. “Thank you. I appreciate it.”

Claudia took my hand. “Are you OK?”

I was. I had friends. I had put positivity out and it came back. Well, it sort of came back, mostly. But, I felt good. And no one asked about Chicago. I mean I’m sure they figured it out. It wasn’t that hard. All that was missing was someone pulling a mask off Bonnie and saying, “It was Old Man Whitaker who owned the campground!”

“How bad do I look?” I said.

Denice smiled. “Oh look, Starbucks! I bet they have a bathroom!” I laughed and went in. I freshened up my makeup and came out. I apologized to everyone.

“For what?”

“I made a scene back there and for crying.”

Claudia looked at me like I was nuts. “You didn’t make a scene. She did. I wanted to see you pull her hair though. That would have been really cool.” I laughed some more. It would have been. It would have backfired later. But it would be fun now. My phone buzzed. It was a text from Jess:

‘What did you say to Ellen?’

‘OMG,’ I had adapted to acronyms fairly easily. ‘I don’t think I said anything. Why? What’s wrong?’

We both had iPhones. I saw the three dots that showed she was typing for a while. Jess and I used to joke that, whenever I saw those dots for more than two seconds, I assumed I was in trouble. I wasn’t joking when I said it and I wasn’t joking now. I was getting nervous.
‘Nothing Bruce came over and said Ellen said, “We are having dinner with Jessica and Dan Thursday.” Thursday was when we usually had a free night. I used to joke that it was so everyone could debrief each other.

Next message: ‘When he said idk if that’s possible, she said, ‘make it possible.’ What did you say? ”

“Idk.” I really didn’t know but I felt better. I thought about everything, about this trip. None of this would have happened if I was me, the old me. I wouldn’t have been embarrassed. I wouldn’t have had to deal with grown women acting like Sarah’s friends. I wouldn’t have thought everyone was talking about me, because they wouldn’t have been. I would’ve been invisible. I would have had nodding acquaintances, a couple of people I knew but I wouldn’t have made friends. Maybe these weren’t my friends. Maybe we were just people thrown together on a trip but I was closer to them than I was to anyone else on any other trip, than Jess ever was either. Jess and I were closer. We were moving forward with life. My head hurt.



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