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Authors: Marilyn Brant

Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women

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BOOK: Friday Mornings at Nine
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Bridget thought of her husband, Graham, and their fifteen years together. The dreams of being a master chef she’d put aside when she got married, the “issues” that had arisen between them since she’d started working more regularly and, if she were being honest, the knotty niggles that had plagued their relationship for several years before that. Her friends didn’t know the half of it.

“So, what are you suggesting?” Bridget said. “That for the sake of our marriages we should ‘experiment’ with other men?” She pushed her thick, dark hair away from her face in a futile attempt to cool herself off.

“I’m not saying anyone
do anything,” Jennifer murmured. “Experimental or otherwise. Just that maybe we owe it to ourselves, and even to the men in our lives, to know for sure who we want to be with. And why.”

“Well, that can only lead to trouble,” Tamara said with a distinct snicker.

Not that Tamara considered this a “bad” question, per se. It was one that had floated in and out of her mind a time or twelve since she’d gotten knocked up with Benji at age twenty-four…and then gotten married to Jon. Certainly, it would liven up their weekly coffee dates to hear what Jennifer and Bridget learned about themselves as a result of getting friendly with some other guys, but this was one area where she doubted she’d be too opinionated.

People always commented on her candidness and assumed she was fearless, too. But she wasn’t some Trampy Cougar Chick, despite her youthful mannerisms and her predilection toward wearing animal-striped stilettos out in public. (Hey, they matched her three favorite skirts perfectly.) She may have had a mountain of bones to pick with her husband but, trapped as she felt by her marriage at times, she took her commitment seriously. And, anyway, she didn’t have the guts for adultery.

Still, to be a good sport, Tamara added, “Ah, what the hell? As long as I don’t actually have to sleep with the guy, I’ve got someone in mind I’d like to get to know better. Let’s see if Jon can hold his own against a man fifteen years his junior who competes in triathlons
for fun

Jennifer raised an eyebrow at this, then turned her gaze on Bridget. “What about you?” Jennifer asked, her voice barely audible above the XM radio station piping in 1970s music overhead. Nothing like the melancholic strains of Firefall for setting a mood.

“You wanna do it, don’t you?” Tamara said in a singsongy tone. Adding a saucy expression, she mimed smoking a joint, simultaneously mocking both Bridget’s reticence and the standard plea of peer pressure. “C’mon.
Everyone else
is doing it.”

Bridget laughed in spite of herself and forced a nod, but she bit her bottom lip to keep from saying the words aloud. The other two understood what she meant because, of course, all three women wanted to allow each other this taboo-laden freedom—just once. But it was embarrassing to admit such a want. The clichéd arm twisting was a requirement in Bridget’s case, if only for appearances’ sake.

And so it was decided that next Friday, during their morning coffee date, they would share with each other in detail whatever transpired with their extramarital objects of interest over the course of the week. It was promised that such a conversation would be undeniably spellbinding, and all three found themselves most curious (and also rather anxious) to let the spinning of the tales begin.

The ladies may have had differing reasons to contemplate stepping outside their marriages and exploring alternate relationships—reasons both verbalized and deeply closeted. But, as they further discussed the idea in low, charged tones, shivers of realization pranced along the skin of their forearms, giving rise to tiny body hairs and great expectations.

Only one thing proved more startling to them than the revelation that each was at least willing to
having an affair: It was that they thought they knew each other after so many years of chatting and sharing. Understood each other’s marriages. Felt they were in tune with themselves, their needs, their desires.

And yet, it turned out, they weren’t nearly as in the know as they liked to believe.

It turned out, they weren’t even close.


Tuesday, September 7

very woman remembered her firsts:

Her first kiss.

Her first lover.

Her first blow job gone awry.

Her first crush on a man who turned out to be gay…or married…or, in Bridget’s most unforgettable and inadvertent case, both gay
married. And a bad community theater actor to boot.

And, now, a new first: her first time contemplating an affair.

Darn that Jennifer for suggesting such a thing! What had gotten into her friend?
The idea was so wrong, so immoral…but so horribly compelling. Bridget tried to shove it from her mind, but images of Dr. Luke lingered there, melting over all of her other thoughts like vanilla ice cream on a hot brownie.

She checked her watch (only twenty minutes before she was due at the dental office) and returned to the important task at hand.

“I will choose only whole grains,” she instructed herself, eyeing the near-endless rows of packaged bread loaves on the grocery store shelves. “Stone-ground. High fiber.”

She inspected a line of breads produced and distributed by the popular Hearth & Harvest Company, all of them boasting the words “New!” “Healthy!” “100% Whole Wheat!” on the wrapping. The blatant enthusiasm and multiple exclamation marks grew more unsettling with each passing minute.

An older woman with blinding white curls and a large daisy print handbag pushed her cart down the aisle with vigor, stopping a few feet away to grab a box of organic honey-wheat pretzel twists. Bridget felt her vibration as she moved. The air currents seemed to dance around the stranger in harmony, like forest animals circling a storybook princess. Could this woman be the Snow White of the Geriatric Set? Bridget couldn’t explain it, but she expected magic to occur at any moment.

The lady was at least fifty pounds overweight, but she stood tall, dressed in a classic style with comfortable fabrics and looked supremely confident. Her cart was filled with an array of colorful fruits, vegetables, flowers and gourmet items. Bridget spotted a couple of mangoes, a large bunch of cilantro, fresh asparagus stalks, a bouquet with carnations in three shades of pink and…was that a jar of fig jam?

She took a few steps closer and noticed the woman wore a pair of dazzling ruby earrings and, most conspicuous of all, a joyous and welcoming grin.

“Hi, honey,” the woman said brightly.

Bridget returned the smile. “Hi. Your flowers—they’re lovely.”

“Well, you should get yourself some. Plenty of pretty bunches left.”

“Oh, I can’t. I’m on my way to work. They’d wilt in the car.” Plus, flowers were an unnecessary expense, one she never thought to indulge in just for herself. But the vibrant colors of the other woman’s bouquet kept drawing her gaze. The carnations seemed so happy, so celebratory. Which might’ve influenced Bridget a bit more if she’d had something, anything, to celebrate.

The woman nodded as if understanding and pushed her way farther down the aisle.

Bridget turned back to the packaged breads once again, suddenly realizing why the decision of which brand to buy was so difficult: She didn’t want any of them.

She wanted something fresh baked. Warm from the oven. Or, at least, not in plastic wrap. She wanted an Italian loaf. Or crusty French. She wanted to avoid anything presliced. And these wants grew stronger as she watched the lively lady walk away. She wanted to be more like
woman. She wanted to have a spring in her step and an irrepressible grin on her face. She wanted to ignore supposedly “healthy” items so full of preservatives they could probably last for a week in her car without a noticeable difference in taste.

Wanting all of these things meant she’d have to come back to the store later to finish her shopping, but she couldn’t contain her relief in being able to waltz by those boring old bread loaves.

Before she left the store (only seven minutes until work!), she impulsively grabbed a bouquet of baby roses, their sweet scent filling her with something—hopefulness? eternal spring, even though it was nearly autumn?—and raced to the express checkout lane.

She wanted to clasp the flowers to her chest and drink in the rightness of them, like a cherry slushie on a humid day or a cup of chicken noodle on a snowy night. Sure, they’d been a spontaneous purchase, but sometimes a woman had to honor her impulses. Sometimes she needed to allow herself to step out of her ordinary, uninspiring routines and grab on to something beautiful. Sometimes pleasure, just for its own sake, had to be valued.

She strode into Smiley Dental still clutching her bouquet.

“Hi, Bridget,” the first-shift receptionist said. “Glad you’re here. I’ve gotta run.”

Bridget nodded. Pamela was nice enough, but she
had to run. On Tuesdays, like this one, and Thursdays, too, the office offered early morning hours. So Pamela managed the first shift, then Bridget did her four hours and, finally, Stephie came in until closing.

Pamela pressed the appointment schedule sheet into Bridget’s free hand. “Everyone up until here is checked in,” she said, pointing toward the middle of the sheet. “Mrs. Roberts called and is going to be about fifteen minutes late. And Ms. Palton is coming in at one-thirty now instead of two o’clock.” She grabbed her purse and her sunglasses. “Oh, and Dr. Jim and Amy are working on Mr. Breson in the back. Dr. Luke has little Jake Armarino. And Dr. Nina is on break, but she’ll be back in a half hour. Okay, that’s it. Bye.” She was out the door before Bridget could answer.

Bridget eyed the two people sitting in the waiting room. Both smiled briefly at her, then returned to their magazines. She glanced at the giant bulletin board on the wall and saw her picture had been added to it. She was really a staff member now! Unable to suppress her grin, she walked behind the desk, deposited her belongings in a drawer—except for the baby roses—and hunted down a sturdy glass to fill with water.

“Hey, pretty flowers,” Bridget’s favorite hygienist said, rounding the corner, a patient’s chart in her hand. “Birthday? Anniversary?”

Her grin broadened. “Nope, neither. I just wanted them.” She fiddled with the arrangement a bit more, then took a step back to admire her bouquet.

“That’s the best reason, isn’t it?” the hygienist said, and Bridget wanted to hug her for reinforcing this burgeoning belief.

Candy (yes, an unfortunate name in her line of employment) was one of the many reasons Bridget loved working there. The young newlywed had a warm, upbeat nature and a delightful sense of humor (she wore a button with a giant smiley face that read: “I’m the only ‘Candy’ allowed in this office!”), and she was the one who’d enthusiastically recommended Bridget for the receptionist opening based on the handful of times they’d worked together when Bridget was temping over the summer.

Bridget’s husband, Graham—bless him—had been right to insist upon her trying out a bunch of positions as a temp first. She soon discovered all day jobs weren’t created equal. At Smiley Dental, the other hygienists, the three dentists in the practice and the support staff all proved to be friendly and professional, a far cry from the gossipy snits at the high school central office, the chilly automatons at the corporate library or the collection of backstabbing minions at the real estate company.

And, of course, there was also the added benefit of getting to chat with Dr. Luke—all of the dentists went by their first names—for a little bit every day she was there. She considered it a perk, like the individual flavored cappuccino packets in the staff lounge or the trial-sized cinnamon floss she got to take home.

Ever since Friday, she’d been thinking about him nonstop, but today was the first time she’d been in the office since the infamous affair conversation, the first time she’d have a chance to see him again. She would just be herself, she vowed. Just notice what he said and did. Probably nothing would be too different, even if she kind of wanted it to be.

She finished with the flowers and tidied up the desk area that Pamela had left cluttered with scratch paper and scattered pens. She glanced at the placid face of Mr. Armarino, waiting for his son, and the anxious magazine-flipping of a teenage girl (two cavities, poor kid), who’d gotten out of school early for her appointment with Dr. Jim.

Bridget turned to Candy, who was filing the paperwork of her last patient, and asked her about the morning.

“I’ve only been here since nine,” Candy said with a shrug. Then, lowering her voice so the people in the waiting room couldn’t hear, she added, “Long enough to know something’s going on with Dr. Nina today. She was a crab when I got in.”

Bridget raised her eyebrows. “Really? Thanks for the warning.” Of the three dentists, Dr. Nina was the one with the most dramatic swings in temperament. Some days she was on the quiet side, on others she could be livelier. But, in the two weeks Bridget had been on the official staff roster and in the five or six times she’d temped, she’d never seen Dr. Nina in a bite-your-head-off kind of mood, so this news came as a surprise. “Any idea what could be wr—”

“Hello, ladies,” the deep voice of Dr. Luke said, interrupting Bridget midsentence and making her forget why she cared about Dr. Nina and her crummy mood anyway. “Where did all these flowers come from?”

“Bridget brought them in,” Candy piped up. “Aren’t they beautiful?”

He homed in on Bridget’s face with the radiant warmth she’d come to associate with him—the unusual combination of exuberance and sensuality, which made her tingle with happiness and nearly brought a blush to her cheeks. “They are very beautiful,” he said, every syllable delivered with a bestowal of approval.

And that, just
was enough to make her day.

But he didn’t stop there. “We need to get you a prize for being so good, don’t we?”

Bridget swallowed. She didn’t think a prize was necessary, but she wouldn’t turn one down.

“That’d be great!” little Jake Armarino said, and Bridget almost groaned aloud at her mistake. Of course the prize was for the child! Still, she couldn’t help but feel a teeny bit disappointed as the cute six-year-old, same age as her son Evan, came into view from behind her favorite dentist to claim his prize.

“Do we have the treasure chest back there, Ms. Bridget?” Dr. Luke asked. “This brave young man deserves a couple of goodies.”

“Of course!” she said, overenthusiastically. She pulled out the kiddie box, filled with tooth-shaped erasers, wind-up hopping mouths and “Smiley Kylie” stickers, and held it out for Jake to peruse. “Here you go. Take at least two.”

“At least?” the boy asked hopefully. “You mean I can have more?” He stared wide-eyed at Dr. Luke.

Mr. Armarino chuckled as he pulled out his MasterCard to cover the bill for his son’s cleaning. Candy grinned, but Dr. Luke laughed deeply, his whole face lit with care and kindness. His age and the air he gave off reminded Bridget of actors George Clooney and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, although, perhaps, Dr. Luke wasn’t quite as physically handsome as either. Still, when he sent her one of his lopsided grins, she felt it, like a bolt of warmth to her heart.

He told Jake, “Quick, grab three,” and Bridget couldn’t help but marvel at the twinkling eyes and affectionate nature of this man…and wonder why he wasn’t a father. Why he wasn’t even married.

What was Dr. Luke’s

The Armarinos left soon afterward, but the dentist remained, leaning into the reception desk, the very picture of relaxed contentedness—a man comfortable with his masculinity and his easy ability to take up space. He inhaled the scent of the baby roses a few times and made small talk with the nervous teenager, until Candy called the girl back.

Bridget expected Dr. Luke to leave immediately then. Return to whichever room he’d been working in and straighten up, or at least take a quick break in the staff lounge until his ten-thirty appointment arrived.

But he didn’t. He stayed with her. She felt an innate thrill at this and, simultaneously, a few prickles of guilt. She probably shouldn’t enjoy his company so much, should she?

“You know, my brother’s visiting,” he said. “He and his wife are in town for the week, seeing Ma, Pops and our sister. And they brought the nephews along this time, so the house is like a live-action video game. Bam! Boom! Bash!” He mimicked kids at war. “Little boys have all this energy.”

“I know,” Bridget replied. “I have two of them.”

“Oh, yeah. They’re six and ten, right?”

“Yes.” She stared at him in shock. “I’m amazed you remember that.” She’d told him about her children only once, and it’d been months ago while she was still a temp. “And I also have a daughter who’s twelve.”

“Three kids…wow. Bet they keep you busy,” he said.

“They do,” she admitted. “And you?” she asked, already knowing through the office grapevine that he wasn’t a father, but hoping he’d reveal other information if they continued along this line of questioning.

“Nope. Maybe someday, though.” He locked gazes with her, his brown eyes beaming fondness, though she couldn’t tell if it was at her or at the idea of one day being a dad. “Until then, I’ve got some squirrely nephews who need entertaining, and I’m on Uncle Duty this weekend. They’re eight and five. Got any suggestions?”

She did. The Museum of Science and Industry. Lincoln Park Zoo. A Cubs or Sox game. “And there’s always Six Flags,” she added, “if you have the stomach for it.”

“The coasters scare you?” he said with a laugh.

“No. The food does.”

He threw his head back and laughed harder, a deep rumbling of sound that she felt down to her unpolished toenails. “Isn’t that the truth. Funnel cakes, greasy pizza, elephant ears and the like. It’s indigestion inducing. And it’s even worse to think about that stuff now. I’ve been so spoiled lately.”

She squinted at him. Spoiled by whom?

He must’ve read her confusion, because he said, “My Italian mama’s been cooking all week and she lets me play wingman. Not just with her homemade pizza with the basil and the fire-grilled porcini mushrooms.” He flexed his muscles and mimicked double-handed spatula flipping on a big gas grill. “Ooh, boy. And not only with her top-secret lasagna recipe with the spicy sausage, the sweet red peppers and the Asiago. But also with the cream-filled cannoli and the rum cake and butter cookies. The woman’s killin’ me.”

BOOK: Friday Mornings at Nine
6.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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