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Authors: Marilyn Brant

Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women

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BOOK: Friday Mornings at Nine
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He was flowery in his speech and mannerisms, whereas David was direct to the point of bluntness.

Poetic-linguistic whereas David was mathematical-logical.

Sappily romantic vs. sexual, bordering on kinky.

Technicolor vs. black and white.

Openly loving vs. secretive, skeptical and shielded.

Michael was so much
to love than most men, and he clearly cared about her, too. So, Jennifer didn’t know why she was still drawn to a challenging man she hadn’t seen or even spoken to over a phone line in eighteen years.

No. That was a lie. She knew exactly why.

She had loved David
He’d flipped on her switch and never turned it off. On a certain level, she was as binary in her thinking as the processing chips inside her HP tower—a characteristic that David fully understood in a way her husband didn’t and couldn’t.

And she wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if David, intentionally or not, used this knowledge against her. He was capable of a great many trespasses.

David, unlike Michael, didn’t exaggerate, didn’t embroider. Not ever. David had once called her a “talented mute who could type fast,” and he meant this literally. Yet, she could believe his declaration, even though it bordered on unkind. A part of her almost reveled in the sting of it, craved the tangibility of the insult.

She Googled her alma mater’s home page. So many acronyms. C-IL-U (the school—Central Illinois University). TJH (the dorm—Thomas Jefferson Hall). CPU (the club—Carnal Pundits Unlimited).

Seeing snapshots of the places she’d loved in this isolated, two-dimensional forum was painful, too. A part of her still existed in that world. If she squinted, she could almost see her body walking around in the pictures. In many of them, holding hands with David. But
Jenn had been neglected…betrayed not just by an old lover, but by herself.

Realizations like these kept her up at night. They lived in memory’s infamy and tended to pop into her consciousness at the oddest possible moments. While paying bills. Or driving to yoga. Or cleaning up Michael’s latest morning disaster. Of course, IM’ing with David again had made it worse. They’d been so right for each other. But
he’d walked away. Lame excuses and all.

She’d cry about it if she could, but she’d shed her tears decades ago. So, instead, she just listened to the crickets inside her computer tower with their twitters and beeps. She could’ve sworn they were chirping an old song she’d heard again at the café not long ago. Carole King. “It’s Too Late.”

Was it? And for which relationship?

The Trio

Friday, September 10

he café was hopping at nine
., but the ladies, sequestered at their favorite corner table, were oblivious to the concerns of their fellow Indigo Moon patrons.

Not only were none of them late on this sunny and rather temperate morning, all of them were at least ten minutes early. (Even Bridget, who tended to cut things close.)

Each woman had found the week an exercise in fluctuating emotions, discovering the dividing line between titillating and terrifying to be precariously narrow. All had an incident to share—and advice to seek—but each worried about how her friends would perceive her.

Tamara spoke up before the other two. “Okay. We’ve gotta talk.”

Jennifer gave an owlish blink, cleared her throat and said, “I know.”

Bridget bobbed her head. Catching Tamara’s eye and twisting her lips upward on one side, she added, “I think we could use some brain wave energy first.”

Their waitress brought them a tray of their usual mocha lattes—crafted to individual specifications—and a platter of grilled double-chocolate-chip muffins. Bridget, in desperate need of comfort food, did not concern herself with calorie counting or portion control on this day, nor did Jennifer claim lack of appetite.

As David Gates and the rest of Bread crooned “Make It with You” on seventies XM radio, the women (immersing themselves in carbs of both the aural and oral variety) devoured the muffins with a voraciousness fitting a pack of
contestants at their final, prevote buffet.

“That helped,” Tamara commented. “But I had a…weird day yesterday.” She squinted at Jennifer and Bridget, remembering Aaron’s return of the trimmer to her house, his visit to her kitchen and the peculiar conversation that followed. How much should she tell her friends?

“Oh, God! Me too!” exclaimed Bridget, brushing crumbs from her lips and chin. Muffins or no muffins, she’d eaten one of Dr. Luke’s heavenly cannoli at the dental office yesterday afternoon and remained incapable of getting that taste out of her mouth.

“Me three,” murmured Jennifer, thinking, of course, about her IM session with David the morning before. Then louder, “Really weird.”

“What happened with you?” Tamara asked Jennifer, figuring if she quizzed the others first she’d get a clue as to how much to reveal.

“David instant messaged me,” Jennifer told them. “He wants us to meet. In two weeks.” She gulped two long, consecutive swallows of her latte. “Should I do it?”

Bridget crumpled her napkin, trapping a few errant chocolaty morsels. “What did he say? What led up to this?”

Jennifer explained about scouting on campus for a party location and tried to put into words the pull of a man who wooed her with multiples of thirteen and talk of Bluetooth devices. Her friends were understandably perplexed.

Tamara frowned. “When he left you, at the end of college, did he explain why he was breaking things off? Talk with you about it personally?”

Jennifer shook her head. “But he faxed me a note a week later.”

Bridget pivoted toward Tamara for confirmation. “Did she just say he

“She did,” Tamara said. Then, to Jennifer, “What did this post-breakup fax say?”

At this point, Jennifer had to careen a little bit away from the truth. As always, there was what David
and there was what David
Outsiders could never decode his words correctly.

“He explained that he needed space to make a few decisions. That he didn’t want to lead me on if he couldn’t follow through. He apologized for not being strong enough to tell me this in person, but he hoped I’d forgive him someday. That it was all for the best.”

“Did you believe him?” Bridget asked her.

“No. N-Not entirely.”

“Then why do you think he
did it?” Tamara said.

“I think his sister got into his head.” Jennifer took a deep breath and downed the rest of her latte. “I think that bitch had an ulterior motive.”

Bridget blinked. Unlike Tamara, Jennifer only swore on rare occasions and usually under her breath. Plus, these curses were directed inward. Jennifer didn’t make a habit of name-calling so, to Bridget’s mind, David’s sister must’ve been one serious Medusa.

Tamara’s eyes widened as she heard this, too. Her gaze and Bridget’s locked across the table before Tamara, not about to let social niceties prevent her from getting the dirt on the ex-boyfriend, turned her attention fully on Jennifer. “Huh. Wanna elaborate?”

Jennifer inhaled deeply and cleared her throat, unaccustomed to delivering long speeches or sharing such personal stories, but she was willing to make a partial exception this time. “Sandra is five years younger than her brother and me. David and Sandra’s parents didn’t have the best marriage. Not so much shouting and overt aggravation”—
unlike her own family,
Jennifer thought—“as it was a continual freeze out.” She shivered remembering the war being waged in front of her eyes during her few visits to their house. The battleground of raised eyebrows, clenched jaws, deadly silence during mealtimes. Or worse, the forced joviality. “They had a really stiff, undemonstrative family life and, as the only kids in the house, David and his sister formed a special bond. Almost like a sibling pact, actually. It was an unspoken decision to ignore their parents’ coldness.”

“So, the two of them are pretty close,” Bridget said.

Jennifer nodded. “Well, Sandra came up for Little Brothers and Sisters weekend one time, after David and I had been together for about eight months, but before I’d met his parents. Even though I was really nice to her and showed her around the dorm and made her s’mores, she moped around the whole time and kept looking at me like I was the devil incarnate. David tried to tell me that she was just overwhelmed, a small-town girl on the big college campus. But I’d overheard her telling him that he seemed like ‘a different David’ when I was around.”

“She was threatened by you,” Tamara inserted. “And she thought you were going to come between her and her only family ally.”

“That’s really sad,” Bridget said.

“Oh, yeah. I pitied her at first, too. Then summer vacation came and David invited me home with him for the weekend.” Jennifer shuddered at the memory. “We were between our sophomore and junior years in college then. Sandra had just finished her freshman year of high school. In her words, since David got to have ‘a friend’ stay overnight, she should be able to have one, too. Her parents agreed, and Sandra’s ‘friend’ was a flirty little airhead named Marcia. A teen as different from Sandra’s brooding, manipulative behavior as humanly possible. Maybe because Sandra wished she could be as easygoing and bubbly as her friend, or maybe just because Sandra could control her so well, she had a soft spot in her frozen heart for Marcia.”

“And David was attracted to her?” Tamara asked.

“Not at all.” Jennifer paused. “Well, not at first. At first he thought she was a dork. Marcia had no academic talents. She was very much a C student, which David—being brilliant—looked down upon. But she was lighthearted, made Sandra less grim to be around and even I thought she was kind of fun. David told me how much he appreciated seeing his sister happy, so he continued to encourage their friendship.”

Bridget leaned forward. “But?”

“But Sandra was just setting up her master plan. She wanted David and Marcia in her life, and she wanted me out of it. So she convinced Marcia that David had a secret crush on her but couldn’t act on it because of me. And anytime David was home from college, Sandra would parade Marcia around in front of him. We both thought it was funny and juvenile at first, but as the girls got older—high school sophomores, then juniors—it started getting more serious.

“The last time I was there, it was spring break of our senior year in college. Not even two months before he broke things off with me. Marcia was seventeen by then, tall and pretty. She’d had a few short-term relationships that I think Sandra managed to talk her out of, and she still held a torch for David. Sandra knew David and I had been making future plans. We weren’t ready to get married yet, but we were talking about getting jobs in the same area, putting a deposit down on an apartment, moving in together. But Sandra just wouldn’t let up on the Marcia thing, and David had stopped complaining about how irritating it was that Marcia had this crush on him and was always baking pies and things with Sandra at their house. He said it was like having ‘another little sister,’ and I, convinced he and I had a life together, tried to ignore the way his sister kept working to exclude me.

“We’d just come from two days at my parents’ place, where we’d had an argument because he felt my parents, especially my dad, didn’t like him. Dad kept grilling him on his career plans and asking if he’d consider grad school, etc., etc.” Jennifer didn’t explain to her friends that this was her father’s modus operandi, however. That his interrogation style of conversation and overbearing presence had been a painful constant in her life. Nor did she add that David’s slides into pompousness and his tendency toward game-playing were transparent to her, often funny, and seemed, by contrast to her father’s interpersonal conduct, a minute behavioral infraction. That David’s manners were in many ways a reprieve from what she’d grown accustomed to. “So by the time we got to David’s house, he was already defensive and nothing I said was the right thing.

“Sandra made sure we had almost no time alone to work things out. She’d whisper stuff to him and to her friend when I was just out of earshot, and she made sure that every night I stayed over, she and Marcia had a sleepover, too. The last straw was her encouraging Marcia to model the latest Victoria’s Secret sleepwear they’d picked up on their most recent shopping trip that week. It was a sheer ivory teddy, which left little to the imagination. I walked out of the room, but David stayed and watched, saying to me later, ‘Aw, c’mon. It was hilarious.’ The next day I told him to drive me back to my parents. He did and, on the road, he told me he was just humoring the girls but was sorry I’d felt uncomfortable…and blah, blah, blah. We sort of patched things up and, once we were back at school, everything seemed normal—”

“Until he suddenly left you,” Tamara said.


“Jennifer, didn’t David go to graduation? Did you really just not see him again anywhere for those last couple of weeks?” Bridget asked.

“No, he managed to avoid me very well. The only exams he had left were in classes we didn’t have together. He was living off campus with a few buddies that semester, and whenever I called there, I got their answering machine. When I stopped by, no one opened the door. I know he completed his class work and all the requirements for graduation, but he skipped the ceremony altogether. He disappeared from my life as if he’d never been there.” Saying it aloud, remembering it, reliving it, brought the rush of pain back into her body as if those eighteen years hadn’t buffered her from it at all.

“That sounds just horrible,” Bridget said, her voice so sympathetic Jennifer had to resist the embarrassing impulse to cry in public. “It does seem like his sister had something to do with your breakup.”

Jennifer sucked in some more air and forced her emotions back under wraps. “I’m not doubting it. The question isn’t whether or not David was manipulated. The question is how much—or how little—he regretted his choice. I’m inclined to believe it wasn’t enough.”

“Well,” Tamara said reasonably, “any college guy who could be so easily manipulated by a couple of high-school girls isn’t worth much in my book. But maybe there’s some important tidbit of information you’re missing. If you meet him at your old college campus in two weeks, you can find out for sure.”

And this promise of certainty took hold in Jennifer’s brain, tempting her to tinker with it like a stray bit of code, unfinished and seductive to her puzzler’s mind. “That’s true….”

After extracting a promise from Jennifer to let them know what happened next, Tamara then turned to Bridget, who was worrying her lip, her pale forehead deeply creased. Tamara knew she could gently suggest a few good creams to moisturize away those wrinkles, but if her friend kept grimacing that way, nothing would prove effective. “You said you’d had a weird day, too. What happened?”

Bridget tried to suppress the smile that always seemed to rise to her lips whenever she thought of Dr. Luke. “You know that dentist from my office? The one I talk about?”

Her friends nodded.

“Well, he brought me a cannoli dessert yesterday. One he and his mother made. And I know I can’t describe it well enough to do it justice, but it had this amazingly rich cream filling with slivered bits of chocolate and a hint of Marsala. And he’d kept the shell separate so it would stay crispy. But at the office he piped in the filling right in front of me and
I try it right away. He watched me eat the whole thing! It was unbelievable, but the weird part was afterward. We had this…moment. This really long moment when we just looked at each other. It wasn’t exactly flirting. It was more like recognizing some quality in each other.” She glanced at the other two women, trying to gauge their reaction.

Jennifer bobbed her head slowly in a show of quiet understanding.

Tamara squinted at her. “Let me get this straight. The guy you’re so hot for is that chubby old dentist? And he—like what? Lives with his mother?”

Bridget felt heat rush to her cheeks. “He’s not old! He’s, maybe, five or six years older than we are. And so what if he’s got a little paunch? Other than that, he’s in pretty good shape. Just not a beanpole. He’s one of those stockier guys, which I happen to like.” She rolled her eyes at Tamara. “And he doesn’t
with his mother. They just cook together sometimes. Jeez.”

“I can see how you’d like him,” Jennifer offered, her voice soft but kind. “I usually go to Dr. Jim for cleanings, but Dr. Luke has a warmth about him, and he seems to love to cook, just like you do.”

“Thank you,” Bridget said, feeling a little better and more than a little grateful to Jennifer for this comment. But still. If Tamara was going to be so judgmental, she wasn’t going to bother trying to explain her feelings anymore.

BOOK: Friday Mornings at Nine
10.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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