Dan and Jessa continue on their path. Sometimes, man plans and God laughs.
The dinner Friday night had been amazing. When Greg announced Jess’ promotion, everyone came over and congratulated her. Jane came over and said, “That explains the bar.”
“Sorry,” I said, “I wasn’t sure what was for public consumption…”
She laughed, “Please. I totally get it.” She gave me a hug and whispered in my ear, “Did you see Bonnie’s face when they announced Julie Mannheim was getting Bruce’s job?”
I giggled and said, “I am above such things,” and then I paused, “But if I wasn’t, I would note that I thought her face was going to crack from the fake smile she pasted on and that John looked sick when he realized he had to work for a woman. But, I won’t because I am better than that.” Then, I wondered if I was being bitchy? I was always sarcastic, but didn’t want to be catty and bitchy. I wanted to be the best Jessa, not the worst parts of Jess.
I was talking to Jane, Renee and Courtney when Bonnie came over and said, “Well, congratulations, Dan,” as she gave him a peck on the cheek. Jess looked somewhere between amused and irritated, as she took in the obvious sycophancy.
“Thank you, Bonnie. I appreciate it,” Jess said, as she turned to John. “I look forward to working with you, John. I’m due in Chicago in a couple of weeks. Let’s set something up.” I was proud of the way she ignored Bonnie. The old Jess wouldn’t have. The new one wasn’t sure what she could do.
Bonnie looked at me and said, “Congratulations to you too, Jessica. Are you going to quit your job now?”
Courtney looked at Jane, who looked at Renee who looked at Courtney. Then, they all looked at the floor, at the ceiling, at anywhere but Bonnie and me. “Um, no, Bonnie. Why would I?”
She smiled sweetly, the vinegar overpowering the honey. “Well, now, that Dan’s been promoted, you don’t need the second income. You don’t have to work anymore.”
I wanted to tell her off, to call her a retrograde bitch who had so little self-esteem and identity that she tied it to her husband and mocked other women. To tell her that everyone saw through her bullshit and it was hurting her precious John, who was cheating on her. But I didn’t. It would be bad to make a scene on the first day of Jess’ new job. I needed to be aboard. Besides, because I’m not 100% altruistic, we won and they lost. I just smiled and said, “Bonnie, that’s a very interesting idea. I’ll have to take it under advisement. I enjoy my career,” not my job, you dumb cow, my career, “but who knows? Excuse me,” and I walked to the bar.
Renee walked next to me, laughing, “I am very impressed, Jessica.”
I laughed, “About what? That was a very interesting idea she had,” as I quickly stuck my finger down my throat.
“I didn’t know that people still thought that way. Even my grandmother, my 93 year old grandmother, doesn’t think that way”
I smiled. “I know. Please.” But, it planted a seed of doubt. Was I expected to quit? I had no interest in quitting. I liked being a lawyer. I liked what I did and I was good at it. No one expected Will Mannheim to quit his job. Why should they expect me to? Did Jess expect me to? I wasn’t ready for this.
The party ended and we went upstairs to pack. They were picking up our bags in the morning. That was one of the fun things about this trip, no dragging bags through the lobby. Jess was on a high. She was taking off her tie and said, “That was the most incredible night of my life,” she said. I thought about asking about our wedding night but that would be teasing. I knew what she meant and was letting her bask in the sunshine. “I feel so amazing. Wasn’t it amazing?”
I thought about bringing up Bonnie’s comment or whether I was getting catty but decided against it. Jess earned this feeling and I wasn’t going to spoil it. “It was. Again, I am so proud of you. I love you,” I said, kissing her.
She hugged me and said, “I couldn’t, I can’t do it without you. You’re my rock.”
“I’m a pretty small rock,” I said, laughing.
She lifted me in the air and spun me around. I liked the way this felt, like I was flying, like we were flying. I felt my dress fly around me. I was wearing a sleeveless black dress. It had lace rosettes on the bodice and a full skirt that came down to just below the knee. “You are, but you are the reason for this. You are the smartest, most beautiful woman, no person, in the world.” I knew she meant it. If I had made partner as Dan, would I have said that? I hoped so, but didn’t know. “And you were the most beautiful woman there. You looked perfect.”
“Thanks,” I said. “You really like it?”
She smiled and spun me around again. “I love you in lace. You were made for lace, Jessa.”
I smiled, “Meaning?” I knew what she meant, but wanted to hear it.
“Meaning,” she said, kissing my neck. “It is pretty, like you. It is delicate, like you. And,” and she took a deep breath, “it is feminine, like you. Like it or not, you are feminine, Jessa. You are smart. You can be tough. But you are feminine and beautiful. And I love it. Sorry.”
I took a deep breath, “Don’t apologize. This is who I am now and I like the way I am. I didn’t at first but I do now. I like the way I feel, the way I look. I’m happy. You’re happy. We’re happy.” I paused, “You are happy, right? This isn’t weird, right?”
She gave me a deep kiss. “It is not weird. I have never been happier, Jessa. If we woke up tomorrow the old way, I’d still be happy but I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life and it’s because of you, because of Jessa. I am going to spend the rest of my life showing you that. The past seven years have been the best seven years of my life. The past eight months have been the best eight months of my life. And I want the next fifty years to be the best fifty years of our life. I want you to be the mother of my children, the grandmother of my grandchildren. I want us to be the old couple in the restaurant, with you telling me to not eat that, it gives me gas.”
I laughed, “You’re nuts, you know that?”
“Uh huh. But I mean it. I have never been happier. By the way, thank you for offering to look at apartments with Julie.” Julie was going to move to New York, while Will stayed in Denver. He said that he’d be able to telecommute at least a couple of weeks a month but that he’d need time to make it happen. In the meantime, Julie needed to find a place. “I mean, you don’t have to. You know we have relocation people for that.”
“I know but I think she likes the idea of someone she knows showing her around and being another set of eyes. If you don’t want me to, I won’t. I just thought it was a nice thing to do.”
“It is,” she said, kissing me again. “I didn’t mean it that way at all. It is nice. Thank you for doing it. I’m sure she appreciates it.” She did, I thought. I couldn’t have done it as Dan and wouldn’t have thought about doing it. That would have been weird. But, now I was Jessa and people wanted me aboard.
“I was surprised to see you and Becca all buddy buddy.”
“Why? She’s great, really cool. When she comes in in May, she and I are going out.”
“That’s, uh, great,” she said, with a half smile.
“I just didn’t expect it,” she said.
“Why not? She’s funny and a hell of a pop-a-shot player.”
She smiled. “I’m not the idiot you used to be.” OK, I’ll take that as a compliment - I’m not an idiot anymore. Take what you get. Then she got serious. “The first two days you wanted to rip her to shreds. And I know why. Sorry.”
I looked down at the ground, and then at her. “Still, I made a mistake. I owned it and she and I got past it. It’s fine. We’re fine. It’s all good.”
She laughed. “Owned it? How?”
“I apologized. I told her I was wrong and that it was my fault.”
“Wow. You amaze me, Jessa. You really are the best of both worlds.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means,” and she put her arms around my waist, “that you look like that but you still think the same way.” She kissed my neck. “I could never have done that. I don’t know that many women who could, and not here especially.”
“Yeah, well, I can,” I said, putting my arms around her neck. “Besides it made me feel better. Letting it stew would have been bad for me. And for you.”
She spun me around again. “Like I said the other day, you don’t play games and that’s why I love you, why everyone loves you.” She unzipped my dress and pulled it off my shoulders.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
She kissed my shoulders and unclasped my bra. I was lucky that she used to be me. She was so much smoother at it. “I think I am going to make love to the most beautiful woman I know.” I loved when she was forward like this. I found it incredibly sexy. I thought about it for a second and wondered if she liked it that way before. Then, I realized that it didn’t matter. I was Jessa. I wasn’t Dan and didn’t want to be. I was Jessa, Dan’s wife and hopefully Emma’s mother. Everything was good.
Until it wasn’t. Two weeks later, I was at work. I went to the bathroom and when I looked at the toilet paper, I saw blood. I wasn’t pregnant. I was glad that I didn’t have any clients to see that day. I could just put my head down and do my work, and ignore what happened. I left work and walked home in a funk. I couldn’t handle the train today. I didn’t put in my ear buds, the noise in my head being enough.
I came in the door and realized Jess wasn’t there. She had a late dinner meeting with her team. On the one hand, I was grateful that I didn’t have to talk to her. On the other hand, I hated that she wasn’t there, that I had to sit by myself thinking about this, about how I had failed. I clearly had timed my ovulation wrong. I marked down my period in my phone, so that this month I could do better.
An hour later, Jess came in. “Hey, Jessa,” she said, giving me a kiss. She looked at me, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I said, staring past her, at the wall.
She looked at me. “It’s all over your face. Something’s bothering you.”
It took her a second and she said, “I’m sorry, honey.” She gave me a hug. “Are you upset?”
This time, I was honest. “Yeah. I was thinking and hoping I was. Everything was going so well,” and I started to tear up.
“Shhh,” she said, holding me. I hated feeling so emotional. “It’s going to be OK.” She smiled, “It was only the first month. I mean the odds were against us.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said, sitting up. “It still sucks.”
She smiled. “You know what’s worse? We can’t even practice.” I swatted her. “I couldn’t resist,” she said. The stupid joke made me feel better.
Intellectually, I knew she was right. The odds were against us. It was only the first month. Maybe I was still stressed from the night before, from Becca. Maybe I ate the wrong things. Maybe I screwed up and we were supposed to have sex a whole bunch before ovulation. I decided that this time I was going to do everything right. I was going to eat right, not get stressed (well, as much as possible). This time next month, I was going to be pregnant. Being the neurotic obsessive person I was, I went online and did research.
The next night, I heard Jess come in. “I’m in the kitchen,” I said.
She walked in and smiled. “Mmm, that smells good. What brought this on?”
“I was doing research on the right foods…”
She pulled my t-shirt to the side and kissed my neck. “That’s my OCD Jessa,” she laughed.
“Stop! What do you say at work? Fail to plan, plan to fail?”
She grabbed me by the waist and kissed me. “I’m teasing. So, what are we eating?”
“Salmon, brown rice and broccoli. We both need to eat more fruits and vegetables and whole grains. I’m cutting out Diet Pepsi and coffee completely. Not even caffeine free.”
She rolled her eyes and laughed, “Do I have to?” Jess and I were both caffeine junkies. I had cut down on it once we started trying but she hadn’t. I didn’t want to deprive her unless we had to and then she would be out of luck.
I smiled and kissed her on the lips. “You don’t have to cut out coffee but soda can affect sperm count so it’s out. Drink iced tea instead. Unsweetened. A little sugar if you have to, but no artificial stuff,” I said, in a tone that brooked no opposition. She saluted. “Also, starting tomorrow, you start on vitamins – C, E, calcium and folic acid,” and I handed her the bottles.
She laughed, “The internet is amazing, isn’t it?”
“You know what else? I screwed up. We’re supposed to have sex every day in the three days before ovulation, not abstain.” The minute I said that, I knew I was in for it.
She grinned, from ear to ear and took my hand, “Honey. I know how important this is to you. I am willing to make that sacrifice. In fact, I think it’s important to increase our odds as high as possible. As soon as your period is over, we should do it every day. Twice a day, if needed.”
“Shut up,” I laughed. “God, we’ve switched places, haven’t we? Sorry that I want this.”
“We want this,” she said. “Not you, us.”
I smiled, “We want this. I want to be making you miserable by summer time. Now, go sit down. I’ll let you know when dinner is ready.”
She smiled. “Take off your shoes.”
“Take them off for me,” she said, with a big grin.
“Why?” I said laughing.
“Because I like my women barefoot and in the kitchen,” she said, leaving off the third part of that saying. ‘Next month,’ I thought.
The next morning, Jess woke up. “Hey, beautiful, are you OK?”
I was in bed and had a thermometer in my mouth. I held up one finger as if to connote, ‘wait a second.’ The thermometer beeped. I looked at the display and typed my temperature in my phone. I had downloaded an app to track it. “Sorry, I was taking my basal body temperature. They say to take it every day at the same time. When it’s lowest, that’s when you’re ovulating.”
She laughed, “Uh no shit Jessa. I know that.” I forgot. Lately, that part of our lives seemed like other people. “Did you do this last month?”
“Yes, but no. This time, every day same time starting today.”
She started rubbing my shoulders. “Relax. It is going to happen.”
“Do you believe that?” I needed the affirmation. I hated feeling this needy but, since we started trying and especially since I got my period, I felt lost. I was Jessa. I was happy being Jessa but I still felt lost. I felt like the last part of Dan in me was going away and, although I couldn’t have expressed it then, I needed this pregnancy to feel anchored to something.
She kept rubbing my shoulders. “Of course, I do. We are going to get pregnant. You are going to get big and fat and your feet will swell and you won’t sleep….”
I smiled, “Shut up. I’m serious.”
She kissed me. “Sorry, I forgot who I’m dealing with. It is going to happen and you are going to be beautiful.”
“Here’s hoping,” I said.
I went off to work, pleased with myself. I was crampy as hell but I was in control of my life. I was eating right, I was tracking and nothing was going to stop me. I was wearing black pants, a blue sweater and flats. I couldn’t wear a dress on the first day of my period. I felt bloated and disgusting. I couldn’t help laughing. If you had told me a year ago that I would thinking about what to wear when I had my period, I would have had you committed. Now, it was like breathing, eating or locking the front door; I just did it.
I went down to the lobby of my apartment and saw my neighbor Jodi and her son Leo. Leo was sixteen months old, with brown hair and green eyes. Every morning, they’d go to the lobby where the doorman and building staff would indulge him by chasing him around and making stupid noises. I wondered if they went home and told their wives how they spent the day entertaining little rich kids. I walked over and squatted down, “Hi Leo,” I said brightly. “Good morning.” He hid behind his mother’s legs and peeked around. This was the game we played every day. “Hmmm, Jodi. Where’s Leo?”
She played along and made exaggerated looking around gestures. “I don’t know. Where did he go?”
He came out and gave me a huge smile. I looked forward to it every day. “There’s Leo,” I said. “Hi Leo!”
He started laughing. “Hi. Hi. Hi.”
“Can I have a kiss Leo?” He gave me a kiss. I had realized that this was one of the perks of being Jessica. If I had even thought about this as Dan, I would have been arrested. I would’ve played with him and that would have been OK, to a point. But this freed me to do more and I liked it. I leaned down and gave him a kiss. “Thank you, Leo.”
Jodi laughed. “He jumps up and down every time he sees someone who looks like you, Jess,” she said in a tone that suggested “when are you going to have your own.” The doormen looked at me like I was already late to the game. I just laughed, knowing that I was trying to get into it.
I got to work and Mike stuck his head in my office. “Hey, Jess, got a second?” Of course, I had a second, I thought. You’re my boss. Do I have a choice?
“Sure, what’s up?” I said, a little nervously. He usually didn’t ask.
He smiled. “Relax. I have good news. We just got a new matter.” It was a condo development on Long Island. We were representing a developer in a suit involving buyers who wanted to be released from their contracts because the development was taking longer due to environmental reviews. I had researched this before and was as familiar with it as anyone. Mike must’ve recognized this because he said, “But the good news is you’re going to take the lead on this. You ready?”
I grinned. “Of course.”
He laughed. “Good, because you have no choice. Who do you want on this?”
I thought for a second. “Jake and Rachel.” I wanted to give her a chance to show what she could do. I wasn’t a big fan of Jake, even before. I felt like he thought he was the smartest guy in the room. I held to the theory that, if you thought you were the smartest guy in the room, you should find another room. Even still, he was smart and worked like a bulldog.
Mike smiled, “Really?”
I knew what he meant. “I know, but I think she can do the job. I’ll make sure of it.”
He laughed, “OK, if you think so. So long as it’s done right. What about Wonderboy?” This was our sarcastic name for him. Kevin, who thought he was great, called him “Marmalard,” the arrogant prick from ‘Animal House.’
“He’s talented - just ask him. But I can control him,” I said, with a smile.
“I have no doubt about that, Silverman,” he grinned. “The documents are on the system.”
He left my office and I leaned back. I was given the lead on a big matter. Maybe I wouldn’t have to move to Florida. Maybe I could do it here. I was excited and called Jess. “Hey honey, guess what?”
“What’s up? Kinda busy.” That was not the response I expected.
“Mike just made the lead on a big case. It’s a developer…”
She interrupted me. “That’s great,” she said, with genuine enthusiasm. “Can we talk about it later? Sorry, but I have this big meeting coming up with the Xaldor team.”
“OK, sure.” I was a little upset. She couldn’t take two minutes.
“I’m sorry, Jessa. I want to hear this. I just really have to get to this meeting. The double duty is killing me.” Jess was still leading the team while learning her new role with Bruce. “I promise you that tonight you will have my full attention.”
“Fine,” I sighed. “I love you. Go get ‘em.”
“I love you too,” she said and then she hung up. I thought for a second. I was upset that she didn’t listen, but then I thought about the number of times she used to call me at work and I had to get to court or work on a brief. Was I being unreasonable now or was I unreasonable then? I shook it off though. I had a big project and I needed to bring everyone in. No one cared about my angst.
I called in Jake and Rachel and explained the case. When I was finished, I asked, “Does anyone have any questions?”
Jake smirked, “I’ll take on the fraud complaint. Rachel, digest the contracts.”
“Excuse me, Jake?” I said.
He kept the smirk on his face. “I said I’ll take on the fraud complaint. Rachel can digest contracts. That makes the most sense.” I noticed that he never said, ‘I think that,” just ‘that.’ He believed he was right and was going to let the two girls know that.
I smiled.“Jake. I’ll tell you what makes the most sense.” I needed to put the little shit in his place now or he’d never be there. I had worked with too many arrogant pricks like him and they needed to be beaten down. If I were a guy, I could cut him in his face but that would be looked at as being a bitch now. I needed to be more subtle. “You and Rachel will be digesting contracts. I need to know every provision in there and you’re going to tell me.”
“Respectfully, that’s not the best use of my skills,” he said. When you start a sentence with respectfully, it’s like saying ‘no offense.’ You’re not respectful and it’s offensive.
I kept smiling, as painful as it was. “Jake, let me tell you what Mike,” emphasis on Mike, “always told me. Cases are won on details, not theories. We need to know what’s there because the plaintiffs are for damn sure going to know every phrase, every word, every comma. And I need to know,” and I looked him in the eye, my gaze never leaving his, “and Mike,” and I said that with special emphasis, “needs to know all of that. Jake, you’re a smart guy but you’re not as smart as you think you are. Did they do the Socratic method at your law school?” Rachel looked nervously between us.
“Huh?” He looked confused, which was good. I could still play the game. I just needed to change the method. Like a pitcher who lost speed off his fastball and learned a curve and a slider.
“Did. They. Use. The. Socratic. Method. At. Your. Law. School?” I said, enunciating each word.
“Yes,” he said.
“Well, then you know who Socrates is. Well, anyway, Chaerephon once went to the Oracle of Delphi and asked who the wisest man was. And he said Socrates. Know why?”
“I have to get back to work,” he said, in a haughty tone, though his eyes were darting. He was nervous.
“One second. I’ll tell you why. So he says Socrates and Socrates wonders why. And then he realized why. He thought about the smartest guy he knew. And he realized that he was wiser because, and I quote, ‘Well, although I do not suppose that either of us know anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is- for he knows nothing and thinks that he knows; I neither know nor think that I know.’ You don’t know what you don’t know and you need to know that. One day, you probably will but today is not that day. Now, if you don’t want to do the work, I’ll let Mike know and I’m sure he’ll find something else for you,” I said, with a smile.
He gritted his teeth, while Rachel kept looking at the floor. ‘Look up, dammit,’ I thought. ‘Cut in. Tell me that you’re ready to do what’s needed.’ She didn’t but Jake said, “I’ll start digesting.”
“Good. Get to work. I’m looking at the environmental aspects.” I smiled. “If you want to learn about them, get the May 2012 report from the New York State Bar. Page 21-24.”
Rachel said, “OK. Why that?”
I smiled. “I wrote an article on that. Published that month.” That got a smile from her and an eye roll from Jake, who got up and left. Probably already telling the other male associates how I was a total bitch. When I had worked for Victoria, a former associate never missed a chance to call her a twat and a bitch and a dyke. I wished that I had said something but, if I was being honest, it never crossed my mind until now.
As Rachel walked out, I stopped her. “Rachel, I’m counting on you.”
“I’m serious. I asked for you. I need you to do this for me. Don’t make me look bad.”
“OK?” She was driving me nuts with upspeak.
“First, what have I said about upspeak? Don’t upspeak unless you’re asking a question. You sound like, no offense, my niece. And I love her but she’s 12 and you’re here.” That was mean and if I did this as Dan, I’d be before HR in twenty seconds, except that Rachel was too much of a mouse to complain. “Second, I know you can do this. Do not let Jake tell you what to do. You answer to me on this. Me and Mike. That’s it. You’re as good as Jake is.” This was a lie. She wasn’t. He would, barring an implosion down the line, would be a partner somewhere in seven years. She, barring a change in, well, her, would not. But I needed her to believe that. I wanted her to be the best that she could be, for her. And for me. “You’re ready, right?”
“Uh huh,” she said, nervously.
“If you don’t feel you can do it, let me know. It will not reflect poorly on you.” Yes, it would.
“I can do it,” she said, as forcefully as I’d ever heard her.
“Good,” I smiled. “Show them what you can do. Now go.”
She left with a smile. I leaned back in my chair and felt proud of myself. For about ten seconds. Then I got back to my caseload.
I got home before Jess and changed into a t shirt and shorts. I played on the computer, going down the YouTube rabbit hole. Lately, I had found myself watching videos of babies and dogs. I had a favorite, where a baby was getting licked by a dog and, when the dog moved, the baby followed him to keep getting licked. Somehow, from there, I ended up on a clip of a little kid hitting his father in the groin with a Whiffle Ball bat. I wasn’t really paying attention when I heard the door unlock.
“Hey, Jessa,” Jess said, as she came over and gave me a kiss. “How’s my princess?” She had lately taken to greeting me that way, which felt weird. Not for the reasons you think, but because I remembered my father calling Laura that. It felt like I was a child. Not that Jess intended that, at least not consciously, but it still felt that way to me. “So tell me about the case.”
I explained the case and her eyes glazed over. Not that she didn’t care but it was rather complicated. Kind of like when she explained drug protocols to me. I was the Socrates of drug protocols. I knew that I knew nothing. Her eyes lit up when I told her that Rachel and Jake were working for me. Office politics, she understood. Sexism, she understood.
She laughed, “That’s why I love you Jessa. Always looking out for the underdog. I like that you want to mentor her for some reason, but is Rachel really the right choice? I mean she’s like this little nervous kitten.”
I paused, wondering if I had made a mistake in picking her. “It’ll be fine. She’s not going to do depositions or anything. She’s doing all the grunt work, digesting contracts, drafting memos, all that. No second year is ready for depositions. I wasn’t and she, no offense, isn’t the exception.”
“OK, just be careful.” She must’ve seen the look on my face because she said, “It’s great that you want to mentor her but just make sure that she doesn’t bring you down.”
“Bring me down?”
“You’re a woman and she’s a woman, well a girl at least, and I hate to say it but men protect their own. I thought I knew it before. I know it now.”
‘Great,’ I thought. “Don’t worry about me,” I said with mock cheer, that Jess clearly saw through. “I know how to take care of myself.”
She smiled and gave me a kiss. “I’m just looking out for my princess. So, what about Wonderboy?” I smiled and repeated the whole story, the Socrates included. Jess laughed. “God, you’re an intellectual snob.”
“I think it’s safe to say that no one in my office has ever worked Cheerophon,” she said with uncertainty, not knowing who he was, “and the Oracle of Delphi into a conversation.”
“Yeah, well, I needed to put him in his place. I’m sure he went back and told the other male associates how I was a bitch and on the rag and everything.”
“Probably. Keep an eye on him though.”
I smiled. “I know. Beneath this beautiful exterior,” and I flicked my hair, “I’m still me.” Was I though?
Jess went into the kitchen. I heard the refrigerator door and then the fizz of a soda bottle top being opened for the first time. She came back in, holding a glass of Diet Pepsi.
“I thought we agreed no soda.” We didn’t agree. She begrudgingly sort of accepted it but too bad for her.
“Sorry,” she said, with a smile. “I forgot. One glass won’t hurt.”
I wasn’t happy but I wasn’t going to fight. “This is the last one.”
She kissed me on the cheek. “OK. I promise. I have to tell you what happened today. We were meeting with the Xaldor team and…” she proceeded to tell me about her day. And I listened. I used to wait to talk, now I listened. It was funny. I watched her. As she told the story, I could see little bits of Jessica coming out, in the way she added extraneous details and when she laughed, but she was really all Dan now. She used to begin every story with, “and I told them I thought,” or “I told them I believed.” Now, like Jake, it was just “I told them that” or “I told them I knew that.” On Jess, it didn’t bother me.
We ate our dinner - organic grilled chicken, barley and steamed spinach with garlic. It was as good as expected and I knew it was what I needed, but god it was bland. We had strawberries for dessert. I wanted to get pregnant so I couldn’t have a slice of pizza and some ice cream. We curled up on the couch and watched Netflix. I laid in the crook of Jess’ arm and I felt loved. We were always good, now we were better.
A little less than two weeks later, it was Sarah’s bat mitzvah. It was a split day affair - service and kiddush in the morning and a party at night. The party at night had a theme. Mine was basketball. Laura’s was movies. My father used to say, “You know my theme was? Bar mitzvah.” Sarah’s theme was “Sarah’s Beach Party.” The card said the attire was “Beach Party Chic.”
When we got the invitation, I called Jill, “Beach Party Chic? What in god’s name does that even mean?”
She laughed, “It means your niece wanted a beach theme and you know Yoram can’t say no to her…” I smiled, thinking of Jess and Emma. I wondered if she’d be able to handle a daughter.
I laughed, “Did you tell her she was getting bat mitzvahed in Westchester in March? What’s beach party chic? Polar Bear Club?”
She kept laughing. “Please, Jess. Do you know how many calls I’ve gotten from ha’aretz?” Whenever Jill was annoyed with Yoram’s family, she would call Israel by its biblical name, in an exaggerated and very phlegmy accent. “I’m afraid. Have you been to the beach in Israel? I’m afraid his uncle Shimon will show up in a Speedo.” Shimon, like many Israeli men, weighed 300 pounds and, with his shirt off, looked like a gorilla costume with no head. And he had no shame. I shuddered at the thought. Jill continued, “I’m sure you will look gorgeous. Besides ha’aretz, I have to deal with her honor. Please not you too. I’m begging.”
“You’re lucky I love you,” I said. And I did, in a way that I never did as Dan. I liked her, but I didn’t love her. She was just Jess’ sister, now she was mine. “Tell Sarah she’s lucky I love her,” I said. “No more calls, I promise.” In a bad Israeli accent, I said, “Jeel, Ma’zeh beach chic? (What is beach chic?)” In the end, I chose a blue, sleeveless fit and flare dress with a bubble print. Not 100% beachy, but it was in Lord and Taylor’s poolside collection, so close enough. Plus, I looked cute.
Chappaqua is about an hour north of the city, if traffic is running well. The service was for 9:30 in the morning. Rather than rushing around Saturday morning, we decided to stay over Friday night. We were staying over Saturday anyway, so we figured we’d make it a long weekend.
I had, as I promised myself, been taking my basal body temperature every day. We started around day twelve of my cycle, which was Wednesday, three days before the bat mitzvah. I wasn’t sure that we needed to do it the day of the bat mitzvah but (a) better safe than sorry and (b) there are worse things to do on a Saturday morning. I woke up at 7:00, took my temperature and shook Jess. “OK, up and at ‘em, you big stud. Time to impregnate me.”
She laughed and then pulled the pillow over her head. “Do we have to? I’m tired.”
If I were being honest, I was sore. But I wanted this. I pushed her and giggled, “Get up, you big baby.”
She laughed and unplugged our phones. She flipped mine to me. “Turn it off.”
“Trust me.” The she hit the “Do not disturb” button on the room phone.
“What are you doing? Get over here.”
She jumped into bed and said, “You’ll thank me.” Then she started kissing my neck and nibbling on my earlobe. All these months later, she still remembered what worked. I started kissing her back. I bit her nipple, which used to drive me nuts and worked for her. “Oh g-d, Jess. Dig your nails into my back. Harder. Oh G-d.” She entered me and we made love. In Hebrew school, a teacher told us, in the seventh grade, that it was a mitzvah to have sex on Shabbos. That teacher was later fired, although he was correct according to religious law. I figured deliberately trying to make a baby on Shabbos was like a super mitzvah. I wasn’t sure how deeply I believed, but I’d take all the help I could get.
While I laid there with my legs up, Jess gathered up our phones and took off ‘do not disturb.’ I laughed and said, “What was that about?”
She smiled. “Turn on your phone.”
There were three calls from Evelyn on it. Jess had two and there was a voice mail on the hotel phone. The messages were increasingly annoyed. ‘I expect this from Dan, but not you, Jessica. Call me.’ “How did you know?” She looked at me like I was an idiot and just raised an eyebrow. “Point well taken.” I giggled, “If she knew why we didn’t answer, we wouldn’t have to go.”
Jess laughed. “We wouldn’t have to go? She’d post two court officers at the door to stop anyone. She cannot wait for you to have a baby.” Then she stopped and said, “Probably more than me,” and she sat down next to me.
I was still laying there, for another ten minutes at least. “That’s not true. She loves you. And it’s the same baby, just in reverse.”
She sighed. “No, it isn’t. You’re the mommy,” she said, leaning over and kissing my stomach. I had come to like this a lot, it felt intimate. “I know the genetics are the same and all, but it’s different. It’s going to be inside you. You’re the voice it will hear. You’re giving it life,” all of which scared me and made me feel alive at the same time. Then, she switched gears. “And that’s what she sees. Her smart daughter-in-law having her smart grandchild. Her smart daughter-in-law’s genes overpowering her dumb son’s…”
I patted the bed next to me. “Lie down.” She did, and rested her head on my chest. I stroked her hair. “That’s not true, Danny,” I said. “She loves you. I love you. The baby,” and I knocked three times on the night stand, “will love you. And your genes are perfect. Not as perfect as mine, mind you…” I joked. She laughed and leaned over and blew a raspberry on my belly. “Hey! Now, it’s going to get dizzy!”
She rolled back over. “Sorry. I’m just…”
“I know.” I looked at my phone. “Let’s have a court conference,” I sighed.
“Hi, Evelyn. Sorry about that. Well, my phone kept binging with e-mails last night, so I turned off the ringer so we could sleep. You’re right. Thank g-d nothing happened. I don’t know what’s up with Dan’s phone. I think he said IT was doing some kind of upgrade over the weekend,” Jess smiled and gave my lie a thumbs up. “Yeah, well, I don’t know what’s up with the hotel phone either. Dan! Did you put the phone on ‘do not disturb?’ I know Evelyn. They’re all hopeless.” Jess laughed and stuck out her tongue. “Well, anyway, what’s up? How was the flight? Oh, that’s good. I know I can’t believe it either. She was a baby” well, 4, “when I met her and now she’s a bat mitzvah. We’re proud of her too. When I called the other day,” Jill and I spoke a couple of times a week now, about life and stuff. Last time, it was to plan their next trip into the city. Sarah and I would spend the day together alone but Jill and Yoram didn’t feel comfortable letting a 13 year old take the train by herself, which I understood more and more. “I could hear her practicing. She sounds fine to me, not that I’d know if she got something wrong. Oh? I have a black dress with long sleeves for shul,” the Yiddish word for synagogue, “and then a blue sleeveless print for the party. I told you already, you live in Miami, you tell me what beach chic is. He’s wearing a Tommy Bahama shirt and khakis. He’ll bring over the nail file in a minute. Don’t worry. Everyone forgets something when they pack. I have to get ready. Love you. Marty too.” I got off the phone and Jess had a huge smile on her face.
“The baby is probably hiding in a corner of your uterus now,” she laughed. “Wow. Did it always sound that bad?”
“Yes,” I laughed. “Go bring your mother the nail file.” My phone beeped. The twenty minutes were up. I got up, slowly. I know it wasn’t going to fall out, but better safe than sorry. “I’m going to start getting ready.” I put on a shower cap and went into the shower. It had long since stopped feeling weird to me. If i wasn’t going to spend an hour and a half on my hair, this is what I needed to do. I turned on the shower and let the water wash over me, smiling and humming to myself. This time would be the charm. Thirteen years and nine months from now, I would be having an argument with Emma about her hair and her dress. And I was happy.
When I got out, Jess was sitting on the bed, watching the news stone faced. “Everything OK?” I said.
She shook her head. “Yeah, fine. I gave her the nail file. She gave me the business about turning off the phone. It was fine.”
I was wrapped in a towel and sat down next to her. “What happened?”
“They congratulated me on the job in person. Told me how proud they were and all that.”
“That’s good, right?”
“Yeah, I guess it just feels like they were told to do that.”
“That’s not true.” Well, it was sort of true. They were proud of him. Evelyn told me. And I told her to tell Jess that. “They are very proud of you.” I put my arm around her. “Come on. We are going to have a great time. And we,” and I knocked on the side of my head, “are going to have a baby and you are going to be president of the company and I am going to make partner and we are going to be happy. Dammit,” and I smiled.
She laughed, “What if I don’t want to be happy?” This was a running joke.
“Then, I will make you miserable until you’re happy. Now go. You smell.”
Jess went into the shower and I got ready. I kept humming to myself. I was happy. Jess was happy, I thought. It was all good. When Jess got out of the shower, I had put on my dress and was putting on my makeup. Like I told Evelyn, it was a black knee length dress with long sleeves and a v neck. Not my favorite look - I liked showing off my shoulders, what can I say? - but it was for synagogue. I remembered my mother lecturing Laura about covering her arms in shul. I was putting on eyeliner, when Jess came up behind me. Thankfully, I saw her in the mirror. “God you look gorgeous,” she said.
I turned around. “Thank you,” I said, pecking her on the lips. I always put on lipstick last for just such an occasion.
“I’m serious. You look beautiful. I am so lucky you’re mine.”
I blushed. “You don’t have to say that all the time, although it’s nice to hear. I’m lucky too.”
“I mean it. You’re beautiful and sexy and smart.”
“What brought this on?” I laughed.
“Today. I look at my parents and Jill and Yoram and I think I couldn’t do this without you. I walk in and I know that everyone is thinking, ‘he did something right. He has her.’”
“Stop. They think the same thing about me.” I hated the way Jess felt around her family. I hated that, even if they didn’t mean it, she felt inadequate around them. I put my hands on her upper arms. “You are amazing. You just got an amazing job and you are going to be amazing at it. You will have Bruce’s job in two years and he will be working for you,” I said, with a smile. “I love you.”
“Thanks,” she said. “Sorry I’m so crazy.”
“You’re not crazy.”
“You’re just saying that.”
I laughed. “Well, of course, you never tell a crazy person he’s crazy. Duh! Seriously, you are great. Come on, get dressed. We don’t want to be late.”
We got to synagogue at 9:00 AM, since the service was called for 9:30. It started at 10:00 because Jewish time. Everyone knows that it’ll be a half an hour late, but still they show around 9:30 because, ‘you never know.’ I’m fairly certain that we wandered the desert for 40 years because we got started late. Anyway, we were standing in the lobby saying hello to Jess’s various cousins as they came in. Jess’ Aunt Carole came over and opened with, “so when will you two be having a bat mitzvah?” as she looked me up and down. It was a stupid question, I thought. I debated saying, ‘if this morning went right, December 2030. Dan was an animal, so here’s hoping,’ but that was tacky in shul. I figured I’d save it for the party. I also wanted to say, ‘I had mine in 1996. You never responded,’ but why start something. Instead, I just said, “Hi Carole,” and I gave her a kiss. “It’s Sarah’s day. Let’s focus on that.” Carole congratulated Jess on the new job and we talked for a bit.
When Carole left, I whispered, “See, they are proud. They’ve told people.” Jess gave me a little smile and squeezed my hand. Various relatives came over and asked, “So, how ARE you two? What’s new?” After the tenth time, I wanted to print cards that said, “Fine. Dan got promoted. No, I’m not pregnant yet. Yes, we want them.” On the other hand, all of the women oohed and aahed over my weight loss, which made me feel really good.
Before we went in, Jess laughed. “You are such a girl.”
“No, I’m not.” Yes, I was.
“Please. Every time someone congratulates you, you smile and you do that thing where you bite your lip and move your right foot behind your left.” She leaned down and whispered to me, “Which I found incredibly sexy.”
I blushed, “We’re in shul…” I wondered if the mitzvah rule applied if you had sex in the youth room.
“Girl,” he smiled, surreptitiously pinching my ass. “Let’s go in.”
The service was a bat mitzvah service. Long and boring. I mean, it felt amazing to see Sarah standing on the bimah (the altar) becoming a bat mitzvah. As far as I could tell, she did everything right. She didn’t mumble or look like she made a mistake like I did at mine. When she saw us, she gave us a big smile and a little wave. Yoni sat in the front row in his suit, looking like he was on trial. We were called for the fourth aliyah, after both sets of grandparents and Yoram’s sister Aviva. An aliyah is a big honor. You get called up to give a blessing before a portion of the torah. There was no way we weren’t going to get one - we were her aunt and uncle - but I felt a special connection to Sarah. I knew she’d get called up at Emma’s. The cantor chanted our names. When you get called, they say your Hebrew name and then “ben” (son) or “bat” (daughter) of your father’s Hebrew name. It took me a second when I heard “Chava Ruchel bat Dovid,” Jess’ Hebrew name with my father’s. It reminded me of how far we had come.
I won’t bore you with the kiddush after services. What’s to say about bagels and dairy? The only interesting part was when Yoram’s sister Aviva came over. She was 34, an orthopedics fellow at Johns Hopkins - and unmarried. See if you can guess what was most important to her family. She came over and gave me a kiss. In an exaggerated Israeli accent, she said, “Jessica, you pregnant yet? Is there a problem? Make the baby for Marty and Evelyn already.”
I adopted a thick Bronx accent. “So, Aviva? Nu? Have you met someone? It’s all well and good about your job but,” and I spat three times, “you’re not getting any younger. A surgery won’t keep you company in your old age.”
She laughed and gave me another kiss. “Thank god you’re here. I can’t, I just can’t.”
“Please. Do I have something on my uterus? I mean they keep staring. So, what’s new?”
“Work. Well, that’s not new. But that’s it. You?”
Well, I hate to break this to you, but, if we’re lucky, this time next year you’ll be on your own. Emma will be too young for them to start on another one. “Same. I have a big trial, they put me in charge of two associates. They made me the lead,” and I looked around, “not that anyone cares. Except maybe the judge.”
“Congratulations,” she said. “That is amazing. Would I understand it?”
“About as much as I understand surgery probably. But, it’s a big deal. It’s a lawsuit over condos.”
“Still, that’s got to be huge for partnership.” Aviva intrinsically got it. She was a woman in a male dominated profession. She got it. I was still getting it, but she got it.
We stood around and chatted for a while. Yoram came over and gave me a kiss. “Uncle Yossi’s looking for you, Viv,” he said. “Sorry, Jess.”
She groaned, “See you at the party, Jess.”
The kiddush lasted for two hours. Jill invited us back to the house, but I knew she didn’t really want us. She had Yoram’s relatives who were enough. I begged off, saying that I wanted to rest and that my dress and everything was at the hotel. She smiled knowingly and gave me a hug. “Thanks, Jess,” she whispered. “You’re a great little sister.” I smiled and wiped away a tear. I was a great little sister. I shouldn’t have been so happy over a throw away comment, but I was.
We went back to the hotel, and met Marty and Evelyn for a drink. “I told Jill I wanted to rest,” Evelyn said, rolling her eyes. “But she doesn’t need us. She has the whole kibbutz there. They have enough money. They should get rooms.” If you couldn’t tell, Evelyn did not like Yoram’s family. She was OK with his parents, she loved Aviva (guess why) and said, “The rest of them, oy.”
Jess laughed. “They’re not that bad, ma.”
“Go watch basketball with your father. I want to talk to Jessica.”
Jess shrugged and walked away towards the other end of the bar, happy to get away. Over Evelyn’s shoulder, she mouthed, “Uh oh.”
I took off my shoes, under the table. I had worn 3 ½” heels. They looked good but they hurt sometimes. “Ah, that feels better,” I said. “What’s up?”
She smiled. “Nothing. I wanted to catch up in person. We won’t have time tonight. So, how’s everything going with the case?” She and I had been talking about since it started. I had called her to tell her when Mike put me in charge. She congratulated me and said, with a laugh, “this wouldn’t be a big deal to you if you were in Florida.” We didn’t talk about the case itself, more about managing it. “How’s everything going with Frick and Frack?” She had several nicknames for Jake and Rachel. Frick and Frack. Jack and Jill. The pig and the mouse. “Is she getting any better?”
I sighed. “I’m trying, but I’m starting to wonder already. She is just such a little mouse and everyone sees it. And don’t get me started on the upspeak….” She just smiled and rolled her eyes. I decided to let the similarities go unnoticed. “Anyway, I hate it but I don’t want her to jeopardize my possibilities. Is that wrong?”
She sighed. “No. I mean if you want the feminist answer, yes. If you want the realistic one, no. You need to work with her. Take her to lunch with Robin. Let her see what she can be.” I thought about it and she was right. Mentoring was modeling, not just talking. I liked talking to Evelyn more than my own mother. She remembered everyone and understood what I was going through. I felt bad that I couldn’t talk to mine. I thought about it and realized that I couldn’t remember if Jess and my mom ever talked like this either. “And the little shit?” He needed no name, like Voldemort.
I smiled. “He hates me. He’s doing a great job, which kills me, but he hates me,” I laughed.
“Good. I’ve seen his kind in my courtroom. You need to keep him in line. You’re the boss.”
“I don’t want to seen as a bitch,” I said.
“Oh god,” she moaned. “You too? It is not being a bitch to let someone know who’s boss. Men do it...”
“Hold on.” I smiled, “I didn’t say I wasn’t going to BE a bitch, just that I didn’t want to be seen as one.” Maybe I did get it.
“Good girl,” she said. “I’m proud of you. I still think you can do more in Florida…” she said with a smile.
“Stop it,” I said. “Thank you for telling Dan how proud you are of him.”
“We are proud of him,” she sighed.
“I know. But thank you for telling him today. I appreciate it.”
She half smiled and looked over at Marty and Jess. They were watching a game and not saying anything, which is exactly what I would have done, except that Jess would be sitting here with her shoulders hunched up, looking at me for support. OK, that sounded bitchy. It’s just that Evelyn wasn’t my mom. “Speaking of that, how’s everything with you two?”
“I told you. We’re happy. We’re better. No, we’re good.”
“Good. I’m happy. You look terrific,” she said. “Danny, too.”
“Thanks. I’m only a few pounds different from when we were down.”
She looked at me. “That’s not it. There’s something, I can’t put my finger on it. You seem happier, more at peace and it shows, not to sound all touchy-feely.” Touchy-feely was Evelyn’s favorite epithet. Social workers were touchy-feely. Kindergarten teachers were touchy-feely. Grown women were not supposed to be.
“I don’t what it is, but I’ll take the compliment.” I knew what it was. I was Jessa and I was happy. “Do you want to see the dress?”
She smiled, “I’d love to. Marty,” she called. “We’re going upstairs for a minute.” He and Jess waved, never taking their eyes off the set and passing corn chips between them. I was going to show my mother in law my dress and Jess was eating corn chips. What a difference a year makes.
The dress met with Evelyn’s approval. “That is gorgeous, Jessica,” she said. “It is you.”
“Thank you,” I said, turning this way and that, feeling the skirt swirl around me. “Is it beach party chic?” I was wearing it with 4” blue sandals. I wanted to wear my Louboutins but decided these were cuter. And beachier. Whatever that meant.
“I told Jill….”
“Oh come on,” I said. “Sarah only gets this once. ”
She smiled. “You are such a softie.” I smiled, thinking of how much Sarah reminded me of someone that I used to know. She called me at least twice a week, just to talk. I did the best I could, given that I was, at bottom, a former thirteen year old boy but it seemed to work. Jess would half-listen to the conversations and tell me that I didn’t give myself enough credit. She said, with a mix of bemusement and respect, that, I was better at being a 13 year old girl than she was. I still wondered how she’d respond to having a daughter. Evelyn showed me her dress. It was a blue knee length dress with a v neck and beading. “I’m the grandmother. I’ll wear what I want,” she said, laughing. “Besides, I can only imagine what they will be wearing. And Carole too.” Carole was Marty’s sister. She thought Evelyn was a stuck up intellectual snob (which made me shudder). Evelyn thought she was a moron who was only interested in gossip. She said that she hated those games and wouldn’t play (and made me shudder again). We sat on her bed and talked some more until Marty and Jess came up.
“Sorry, Jessica,” Marty said, giving me a kiss. “I need to take a nap before tonight.”
I smiled. “That’s fine, Marty. At your age, you need to rest,” I said, teasing him. If I had said that as Dan, he would have not been amused. Now, he just laughed and said, “Ah, go jump in a lake.” I gave Evelyn a kiss and said, “We’ll see you later.”
We walked back to the room and Jess said, “Well, you seem in one piece.”
“She’s fine,” I said. “She was giving me tips on Rachel and Jake. She liked my dress…” Jess smiled. I could hear ‘you all dress for each other’ in her head. “Then she said something weird. She said I seem happier, more at peace.”
“Aren’t you, Jessa?”
“I guess. Is it that obvious?”
She smiled. “Kinda. You look as happy as I’ve ever seen you. Me too, I think.” I nodded and she continued. “We’re us. I wouldn’t have guessed her for it but she’s right. You’re you. I’m me. We’re us. And it shows.”
“How was it with you and your father? Did you talk?”
She looked at me and raised an eyebrow. “Not really, no. He asked about work, that’s it.”
I went, “Oh yeah. Are you OK?”
She smiled. “Yup, I am. Wanna go take a nap?”
I just smiled and bit my lip, and moved my right foot behind my left. Then I remembered. I was sore and she was tired. Oh well. Instead, we just laid in bed and cuddled. I fell asleep on Jess’ bare chest, her arm wrapped around me.
The party started at seven and so we napped for a couple of hours. I woke up around 5:15 and started getting ready. Thank god for YouTube. I had learned how to do evening makeup. Once again, I polished and plucked and made up, while Jess slept. She was sitting on the bed in her khakis and shirt. The concessions to beach party chic for her were the shirt and a pair of sandals. “Zip me up,” I said.
“Wow,” she said. “You look gorgeous,” she said, picking me up and twirling me. Lately, whenever I wore a dress that flared out, she would pick me up and twirl me. There was a meaning here that I couldn’t figure out. I liked it but figured there was a subtext that I didn’t want to know probably.
“You like?” She leered and nodded, as I put on my heels. “Is it beach party chic?”
She laughed. “My princess.” I shuddered a little inside. Twirling, princess. Was I Jess’ helpless little girl? Did I want to be? I just smiled and went along with it. If I was right, I had three months max in this dress.
We were at the party, beach party chic meaning palm trees and beach pictures. Someone greeted us at the door with leis and pina coladas. I took a virgin one, telling Dan’s uncle Jerry that, “I was taking medication.” We were making idle chit chat with Jess’ relatives when a small Asian woman came over.
“Danny? Is that you?” I assumed this was someone from Jess’ past. Only old friends and relatives called her (well me, well her) ‘Danny.”
Jess laughed, “Hannah? I haven’t seen you since the wedding.” I stood there, looking from the woman to him and back. ‘Anytime, honey.’ Hannah smiled and nodded. “Hi, I’m Hannah Chen. I was Jill’s roommate at Dartmouth. Danny,” she said, with mock disapproval.
I laughed. “Hi, I’m Jessica, Dan’s wife. Nice to meet you.”
She looked me up and down. “Good job, Danny. Danny used to have a huge crush on me,” she said laughing.
Jess turned red, although I don’t know why. It wasn’t him that had it. It was me. Well, it wasn’t me. I didn’t know her. It was neither of us.
Jess said, “I did not.”
She turned to me. “Ohmigod, he so did. I remember he came up his junior year, right Danny,” as Jess nodded, looking confused. “And he was totally trying to hit on me. It was so cute.”
I winced for Jess. There is nothing more painful than hearing your game is ‘cute.’ Puppies are cute. Babies are cute. Game? Uh no. Still, I tortured her. I hooked my arm into hers and looked up. “Oh Danny, that is so adorable.” I turned to Hannah. “Well, I am so grateful that you didn’t realize how wonderful he was. Otherwise, I would never have met him,” and I gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“Haha, you two,” she said, still blushing. “I don’t need this. Who wants a drink? I do!”
She laughed again. “Well, anyway, Danny. You have,” and she dropped her voice, “grown into a fine man. Get me a vodka tonic, please.”
“Same,” I said, giving Jess a wink. We had already decided that I’d drink club soda. You could pretend it was anything. Jess walked away, the redness fading away, shaking her head.
I burst out laughing. “That was hysterical. Seriously, a crush?” I shouldn’t have been laughing. I had a crush on Laura’s friend Lisa when I was 16. She was totally cool about it, but still it hurt to be treated like a little kid. But, that was then and so, “What did he do?”
“Oh, he tried to do what I liked. Told me how pretty I was. It was kinda cute. Really dorky but kinda cute.” Jess came back with the drinks. Hannah smiled and said, “Thanks Danny. I’m going to go say hi to your mom. Nice meeting you, Jessica,” and she walked away.
“Her, huh? I would not have guessed.”
She laughed. “OK, that is surreal. I mean I went up to visit Jill junior year but I totally did not have a crush on Hannah. I mean I had a girl crush. She was so cool. Huh. That is so weird.” It was and I just nodded.
The bat mitzvah went on for five hours. I spent half of it dancing, mostly in a group with other women. Not for religious reasons. Just that, at every bar or bat mitzvah, you’d have the hora that everyone did; the requisite slow couples’ dances; and the rest was women dancing together to fast numbers. Well, mostly. There was always one couple that would get their freak on, arms and legs flying. I was envious of them. I would never have had the confidence to utterly embarrass myself like that. The DJ handed out sunglasses and feather boas, which I happily put on when Sarah asked. I would never have been caught dead doing that as Dan, but found myself enjoying it. I danced for awhile and then Jill said, “Come here. I have some people I want you to meet.” She took by my arm to a group of women, all of whom appeared to be in their 40s. They had the toned bodies of women exercising to outrace aging, but the tired eyes of the busy suburban mom. I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I hoped I looked that good. “Carrie, Andrea, Elissa, this is my sister, well my sister-in-law but she’s like my sister, Jessica.” I smiled, happy about the relationship. “Jessica, these are Carrie, Andrea and Elissa. We met when the girls were in preschool.” That made sense. I always saw groups of moms with little kids at the Starbucks near me. The moms would sit, while the little boys climbed and the little girls colored.
“Hi,” I said, as they all looked me up and down. “It’s very nice to meet you all.”
Andrea said, “I love your dress. I take it you don’t have children.” She smiled, a fake smile that she hoped I’d miss. I didn’t.
“Um, not yet.”
Jill flashed her a look. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m just jealous. It’s three kids since I could wear that. Enjoy it.” Then a look flashed on her face and she smiled, a genuine smile. “Oh wait, you’re the famous Jess.” The other women laughed knowingly.
“Um…” I said. “Famous?”
Carrie laughed. “Sarah does not stop about her aunt Jess. You are, and I quote here, ‘the coolest aunt like ever.’ Not ever, just like ever.’
Elissa said, “Oh, and thanks for buying her that pocketbook. Julia has not stopped.” In a singsong voice, she said, “Jess has a Dooney and Bourke pocketbook.” She laughed and said, “I told her, in the future, to make a more judicious choice of aunt.”
I smiled, “Sorry.”
Jill laughed, “No you aren’t.”
I laughed. “OK, I’m sorry that they have to listen. I have one niece, sue me.”
Andrea said, “Don’t get me started on how she comes into the city every month. I don’t have time for that.”
I wanted them to like me, so I said, “Um, if they come in, I’ll take them.” They all burst out laughing, loud enough that their husbands turned around. “What?”
Carrie laughed and took my hands in hers. “You. Are. An Idiot.”
“What?” I said. “I can totally handle it.” How hard could it be? “Sarah’s coming in in two weeks. I’m serious.”
Jill smiled. “Have you forgotten what it was like to be 13?” Well, kind of. I mean I was 13. I was a boy. But I was 13. If you had left us at Best Buy to play Xbox, we would’ve been fine. That and gave us money for pizza. How hard could it be?
Fast forward two weeks.
“Fuck,” I said, when I woke up Friday morning. “Fuck fuck fuck,” I screamed. I had my period. “Shit!” I started to cry.
Jess came into the bathroom. “What’s wrong?” I didn’t speak. I just held up the wad of toilet paper. She just snarled, “Dammit!”
I stood up and cried. Jess held me and I cried into her shoulder, my panties around my ankles. I didn’t bother pulling them up. I just cried. “How?” I screamed, my words muffled by her shoulder. “How the fuck did this happen? How? What else can I do?”
She just held me. “It’s going to be OK. It will happen. You said the odds were one in three.”
She didn’t mean anything by that. She was trying to comfort me. By saying the exact wrong words. “You’re quoting odds at me? Seriously?” I started pounding my fists into her. “I get my period and you quote fucking odds? Goddamit, what is wrong with you?” And I cried some more. To her credit, she just held me and said, “I’m sorry.”
I walked over to the bed, fell face forward and started pounding my fists. “This is just not fair. It is just not fucking fair. Why? Why?” After fifteen minutes, I was cried out. Jess was on the couch. I walked over and gave her a kiss, “I’m sorry. I know you didn’t mean anything by it, it’s just.” I started to tear up and stopped myself. “No. No. No. No. I’m not going there again.”
She took my hand, “It’s OK if you do. It’s all OK.”
My eyes were red and I sniffled. “Is it?”
She looked at me and said, “It is. It’s going to happen, I promise you. Do you want me to call Jill and reschedule?”
Shit. Sarah and her friends were coming in tomorrow. It was the last thing I needed. I needed to sit on the couch and eat salt and vinegar potato chips (which, by the way, I used to hate but loved once a month now) and sulk, but I wasn’t going to do that to Sarah and her friends. I needed to be the cool aunt. I looked at Jess, “No, of course not. What did you tell me that first month? Man up? Life can’t stop just because of my period.”
She looked at me and said, slowly, “OK, I just…”
“I know. It will be fine.” Free piece of advice - it will not be fine. Taking four thirteen year-old girls around the city is not fine. It’s occasionally fun, incredibly trying and a sociology paper writ large. It is not fine.
Saturday morning at 11 AM, Carrie brought the girls to my house. Sarah and her friends Emily (Carrie’s daughter), Chloe (Andrea) and Lily (Elissa). It was 11 and it looked like she had already gone ten rounds. She smiled, “You have a beautiful apartment. It reminds me of the place Rich and I used to have when we lived here. Before the kids,” she said, with a wistful smile.
“Thank you. Can I get you coffee or anything?”
She smiled. “Is it 5:00 somewhere? I could use a drink.”
I got worried. “Were they, uh, that bad?”
She laughed. “You’ll see. Nah, they were them. I’m headed to the old country, Flushing, from here.” Carrie was Asian. Flushing used to be Italian and Jewish, now it’s Asian. Immigration in America - the Lower East Side, then Queens, then the suburbs. “See my mom,” she said, with the most deliberately fake smile I had ever seen.
I laughed. “Deep cleansing breaths. Serenity now,” I said, taking one. I winced.
She looked at me, “Are you OK?”
“It’s the second day,” I said. I no longer felt awkward talking about my period. Women traded pregnancy and period stories like men talked about sports.
She looked at me, wide eyed. “You could have canceled.”
I smiled, looking over at the girls. They were all sitting on the couch, looking at their phones. “We will be fine. Anything I should know? Things they can buy, things they can’t. Fake IDs, drugs, any of that?”
She laughed. “I think Andrea said no makeup. Elissa said no revealing clothing. Use your judgment on that. No drugs for Emily. They charge way too much here. I can them for like half in Queens,” she said, with a grin. “Are you really sure?”
“Yes,” I said. I was sure. I shouldn’t have been but I was.
She turned to the girls and said sharply, “Girls! Look up! You’re going to behave, right?” The girls all said, ‘yes,’ in unison. “What Sarah’s aunt says, goes. She’s like your mom today, got it?” They all nodded. I had four 13 year old daughters. I wanted one baby and I had 4 teenagers. “I am going to get a full report when I come back and I speak for everyone when I say that it better be good. You better behave, better than you do with us, or you are in trouble.” They all smiled sweetly. She turned to me and chuckled, “You’re sure about this?”
I laughed, “When you say it like that...no I’m sure.”
She smiled and typed her cell in my phone. “If you need me, call me. In fact, around 2, call me with an emergency,” she said, with a laugh. I knew what she meant.
I smiled. “2, that’s optimistic.”
She laughed and said, “If I’m in luck, there’s a pileup on the L.I.E.” She gave me a kiss and said, “Thanks and good luck.”
I smiled. “OK, girls, so what do you want to do?”
Emily piped up. “Can we go to SoHo?” They all nodded along and said, “Yeah, SoHo.”
“Sure,” I said. “That sounds like fun. We’ll go to SoHo and then get lunch. OK?” They all smiled. “So, put back on your coats. We’ll walk up to the train and head down.”
Lily said, “Is that safe? My grandma says it’s not safe.”
“She said that she got mugged on the subway when she lived here.”
“When did she live here?”
“Before my mom was born?” She upspoke. Sarah looked at her and then me, wondering how she could tell her friend to stop that. ‘Don’t bother,’ I thought. ‘I can live for an afternoon.’
“And how old is your mom?”
“Um, 43?” ‘Great,’ I thought. ‘Your grandmother thinks it’s ‘The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3.’ The original with Walter Matthau, not the crappy Denzel-Travolta one.
“It’s changed since then,” I said. “I take it every day to work. It’ll be fine.” We walked to the train at 59th Street, the girls in front of me. They were talking and giggling. Every woman we walked past looked at them, looked at me and shook their heads. We walked past H & M.
Chloe squealed, “Can we go in? Pleeease.” God, she had a squeaky voice, even by teenage girl standards. I pitied her first boyfriend.
“Why don’t we go to the one in SoHo? There’s much cooler stuff there,” I said. I had no idea. I was too old for H & M. It was, as a client in the industry called it, “one season cheap crap” and made for girls in their teens and twenties. Anyway, Chloe said, “OK, promise?”
“Yes, I promise,” I sighed. We took the train to Spring Street. Due to the inevitable weekend trackwork, the express was running on the local line, which meant it was packed. I had to explain to them that they needed to not sprawl out. Everyone was giving me dirty looks. Three teenage boys got on the train, about 14. The girls looked at them and giggled. The boys, all arms and legs and protruding Adam’s apples, looked them up and down, trying to decide if they were worth it. I moved over near the girls and looked at the boys and gave them a tight smile. ‘Not on my watch, boys,’ I said, with my eyes. ‘I know your game. And they’re 12.’
We started off fine and then we saw Ricky’s. Ricky’s is a chain of makeup and hair care supply stores for teenage girls and their mothers who were denying reality. I never told Jill, but Sarah and I went whenever she was in. We’d try on makeup together. I never thought I’d enjoy that but there was something about the pleasure she took that was infectious. “Can we go in, Aunt Jess,” Sarah said.
“I don’t know. I think Chloe’s mom said no makeup…”
“Pleasepleaseplease,” they all said. “We just want to try it on. We’ll wipe it off, we promise.”
Sarah whispered in my ear. “Please, Aunt Jess. It would be so cool. I told them how we did it and they think it’s really cool. Please.” The pleading look made me fold. She just wanted to be cool. I thought about it and said, “Fine. But it goes off before we get home. Deal?” Like a good lawyer, I decided Carrie said they couldn’t buy makeup, not try makeup.
The girls went it and started playing with the tester blushes and nail polish. I drew the line at lipsticks and eyeliners, not wanting them to get god knows what kind of infection. They were playing when a nineteen year old salesgirl came over and said, giggling, “Here are some tester lipsticks. Don’t worry mom, they’re new.”
Ouch. Bitch. “I’m her aunt,” I said. “These are her friends.”
She rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Have fun girls.” The girls had a blast trying on everything. They looked like they went to junior high at Jodie Foster Junior High (think Taxi Driver) but I figured it was all in good fun. Then, they all took out their phones and started taking pictures.
“What are you doing?”
Lily looked at me and gave me a look of utter contempt. “Instagram?”
“Um, do your moms follow you?”
“Yeah,” she said, with contempt.
“Hey, Chloe,” I said. “What did your mother say about makeup? Do you want her to call Carrie now?” I saw four lights go on, then four hands start deleting. “I want you to have fun but do you want me to get in trouble?”
“Good,” I smiled. “You look ridiculous.”
“Mrs. Silverman,” Lily said, laughing. “You should totally try some with us.”
I laughed. “I think I’m a little too old for this stuff.” I was. I shopped at Sephora. Yes, I had a preferred place to buy makeup. I had my period and I bought makeup. While Jess was playing basketball.
“Come on, Sarah’s aunt,” Emily said. “Please.” I let them put some blush and sparkly pink and blue nail polish on me. I was due for a manicure anyway. They were all so giddy that I couldn’t help but giggle too. OK, I can do this, I thought. They found the breast enhancers and started giggling. They were holding them up to their chests. Chloe told Sarah, “You don’t need any.” Sarah looked like she wanted to cry. I looked at her and she gave me a pleading look that said, “don’t get involved.”
I debated what to say. With a boy, I would have said something like, “you stare at other guys?” and that would have been it. This required finesse. I wanted to say, “Hey, bitch, I invited you and you did this?” Instead, I went with, “Chloe, please…”
She looked at Sarah and said, with utter insincerity, “I was just kidding, right Sarah?”
“OK,” she said, hunching down. While Chloe went with Lily to find a nail polish, I whispered to Sarah, “She’s just jealous of us. Hello, does she even need a bra?” Sarah giggled and said, “Stop it.”
Then, Lily, Emily and Sarah all bought some nail polish. “No fair!” Chloe whined. “Come on. That’s not fair.” Neither is making fun of your friend, I thought. Serves you right.
Emily said, “It’s not our fault that your mother won’t let you buy it.”
“Stop it!” Chloe whined. “That’s mean. When your mom wouldn’t let you buy that shirt, I didn’t buy one. I can’t believe you would do this.” I couldn’t believe I was listening to this. I looked at Sarah who looked back at me, begging me not to get involved. Chloe looked at me like she wanted to. I sighed, “Let’s just get this done. Chloe, we will find something for you at H & M, OK?” She gave me a look that acknowledged that she had no choice.
Lily, Emily and Sarah all giggled and compared their nail polishes, while Chloe stewed. Sarah eventually said, “you can totally try it at my house. Sorry your mom won’t let you.”
Chloe looked at me. “I didn’t hear anything,” I said, with a smile. Why was I trying to get teenage girls to like me? I needed to think like a mom, not a girl.
We walked in and out of stores, the girls trying on clothes. It was adorable, the way they’d go in and out of dressing rooms, oohing and aahing at each other. Sarah found a cute slip dress. It was $50. I could see her looking through her wallet. “Next time,” I whispered, with a smile. “Not now. I can’t afford all four of you.”
Emily came out, wearing a denim skirt. She looked really happy when Lily and Chloe said, “Ick.” I mean it wasn’t great. Sarah had told me Emily played field hockey and she had big thighs, but it wasn’t “ick.”
Her face fell. “What’s wrong with it?”
“It makes you look fat,” Chloe said. I didn’t like her. I didn’t like her mother at the bat mitzvah and she was a miniature version of her.
Sarah looked torn. She wanted to help Emily but she didn’t want to get in the middle. She really was Jess. Then, she made me proud. She went over to a rack and found another skirt. “Ohmigod, this would be so much better and it’s on sale.” That’s my girl, I thought. I was proud of her. And it was better. She had been listening to me.
We went to H & M and it was Lily’s turn to suffer. She tried on a skirt that was way too short. “Um, no.”
“You can’t tell me what to do.”
“Oooh,” my three girl Greek chorus said.
I thought, ‘yes I can.’ Then, I thought, ‘that’s your best?’ “You’re right. I can’t,” I said.
She stopped. “What?”
“I can’t,” I said, taking out my phone and holding it up.
“What are you doing?”
“Taking a picture. Sending it to your mom. If she says OK, it’s OK. And you said she’d say OK, so here we go.”
The other girls giggled. She snarled, “Fine.” I felt bad, she was so gullible. I found a slip dress with a t shirt under it. “Try this on. It’s way cuter.” Way cuter? Whatever, she tried it on and was happy. This won me points with the other girls who kept asking me what I thought, even Chloe who said, “Sarah, your aunt is cool.” Sarah and I smiled.
We were walking out of the store to go get lunch when Emily said, “Mrs. Silverman, you should totally try that dress.” She pointed at an off white lace dress with long sleeves. “You would look totally hot in that.”
Did Jess send you I thought? “I don’t know.” It was cute. I never shopped here but it was cute. I was a little worried about wearing a white dress on my second day but crossed my fingers.
They all said, “Come on. Pleease.”
I couldn’t resist them. I went into the dressing room and tried it on. It fell to mid thigh. I liked the way it looked. I felt feminine which, given my period, was in short supply. Not that I didn’t feel female. With every cramp, I felt female. But I didn’t feel feminine. I came out and the girls all said, “You look so hot. You totally have to get it.” I smiled and gave in. It made me feel good.
That lasted for ten minutes. “Can we go to Sugar Factory for lunch?” Sarah said. She and I went there once. It was loud. It was bright. They served neon colored drinks and crappy food and Sarah loved it.
“What’s that?” Emily said.
Sarah bubbled. “I told you about it. It’s the place with the really cool drinks and stuff. It’s really fun.”
Lily said, “It sounds fattening.” Lilly weighed approximately 15 pounds. She looked like a lollipop stick with a head.
“They have a lot of stuff there,” I said. “Don’t worry.”
“Uh huh,” she said, unconvinced.
The Sugar Factory was north and west. I figured we’d walk up, it was a nice day. I forgot that these were suburban kids, taking from door to door by SUV. I had trained Sarah that it was OK to walk, but not these three. We had walked about twenty blocks, a mile, when Chloe whined, “How much farther? My feet hurt.” It’s further, not farther, I thought.
She was wearing flip flops. Someone should have told her not to wear flip flops. It’s April, for chrissake. “Not that much further.”
“Well, my feet hurt. Why can’t we take a taxi? I’ll pay.” You impudent spoiled little shit, I thought.
“Thanks but no thanks.” Just then, my phone rang. It was Carrie. “Hey Carrie, are you surviving?”
She sighed. I knew what that sigh meant. Jess used to sigh like that. I sighed like that now. Then she laughed, “Are you? Should I call your mother-in-law and apologize?” I knew what she meant.
“They’re fine. We’re going to lunch.”
“OK. 4 o’clock?”
Yes, yes, yes. Sooner, if you want. “That’s fine.”
“It’s almost over,” she laughed.
We ate lunch. The girls drank martinis. No, not those kind. Giant alcohol free chocolate and banana and berry martinis. But they acted like they were real, pretending to be grown up. I smiled, sipping my iced tea and thinking, “you spend your childhood wishing you were an adult. Now, I’d give anything to go back.”
The girls ordered lunch. For girls that were so focused on weight, they ordered red velvet pancakes and nutella crepes and sliders. And they split them. Jesus, it starts early I thought and then I realized their moms did it too. I picked at a salmon salad, which was the healthiest thing on the menu. Which was like being the captain of the sub-Saharan bobsled team.
We finished up and went back to the apartment. When we came back, Jess was in a t shirt and shorts. The girls looked him up and down. He was drying his hair, having clearly just finished showering. “Hey girls,” he said. “Did Jessa show you a good time?” They all giggled and looked away. Jess gave them a big grin, clearly enjoying the attention. He gave me a kiss, which made them giggle more. He whispered in my ear, “Did YOU have a good time?” I smiled and groaned.
“Hey Sarah,” he said, giving her a kiss. “Are you going to introduce us?”
She beamed. “These are Chloe and Emily and Lily. This is my uncle Danny. He’s my mom’s brother.”
“Hi,” they all said, giggling some more. Then, they all looked at their phones until Carrie got there.
Carrie came in. “We had bets on when you’d break,” she said, laughing.
“I came close. The drama.”
She smiled. “Remember that age?” No, not really. Talk to Jess, I mean Dan. “Do I want to know?” That seemed the key to parenting. Deliberate ignorance.
“No. Really, they were fine.”
“So next week,” she said, grinning.
I took out my phone. “Oh, shoot. We have plans until...they go to college.”
“SHE was fine.” She looked over at Chloe and raised an eyebrow. I just smiled. She reminded me of what my friend Matt’s father used to say to his sister - you’ll make someone a fine ex-wife some day.
“OK, girls,” she said. “You have taken advantage of Mrs. Silverman enough. Let’s go. Say thank you.”
As the girls left, they each said thank you and gave me a kiss. When the door closed, I fell onto the couch and put my hand on my forehead. I groaned.
“That bad,” Jess asked.
I recounted everything and she said, “Yup, that’s about right.” I told her what Sarah did with Emily and Chloe and she kissed me. “She’s lucky to have you.”
“Huh?” I was too tired to think.
“You’re a great role model for her. You’re really helping. Jill told me at the bat mitzvah. You’re a great aunt. You’ll be a great mom,” and she laughed, “assuming today didn’t kill you.”
“We’ll only have one at a time, right?”
She kissed me again. “Well, if we have four, you can give birth in a box under the table, like a dog.” I swatted her and she said, “Oh, shoot. One of the girls left her bag,” and she pointed at the H & M bag.
“No, that’s mine.”
“H & M? Since when?”
“Since four 13 year-old girls made me.”
“We’ve discussed peer pressure,” she said, laughing.
I took the bag and went into the bedroom. “If you don’t like it, I’ll return it.” I put on the dress and a pair of white sandals and came out.
The smile on her face said it all. “That is perfect. I love you, Jessa. Next month.”
‘Next month,’ I thought.
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