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Authors: Jackie Rose

Marrying Up

BOOK: Marrying Up
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Marrying Up
JACKIE ROSE

lives in Montreal, Quebec, with her husband, daughter and dog. After cutting her teeth in the publishing world editing a travel magazine, she decided to devote herself to writing full-time (and not just because she prefers to work in her pajamas). Jackie is the author of
Slim Chance, also
published by Red Dress Ink.
Marrying Up
is her second novel.

When she’s not looking herself up on the Internet, Jackie likes to spend her time sleeping, shopping and musing about the meaning of it all. She’s currently hard at work on her third book.

Marrying Up
Jackie Rose

For Dan, the bookends of my love life.

Eternal thanks to…

My amazing editors: Sam Bell, for your kindness, calmness and can-do-ness (I’ll miss you terribly!), and Farrin Jacobs, for your thoughtful, artful guidance in shaping this story. My devoted agent, Marcy Posner, for all your wisdom and patience. Superdesigners Margie Miller and Tara Kelly for another wonderful cover. Margaret Marbury and the rest of the brilliant group at Red Dress Ink for making it all happen so beautifully yet again.

A truly stellar team of baby-sitters—Sandy, Bubba, Rachel, Nelu and Allison Ouimet—for loving my kid as if she were your own. Galit, for letting me adopt and abuse your laptop (I hope it’s still under warranty). Shoel, Issie, Rose, Ted, Dan, Darline, Selena, Dino, Keenan, Jordy and Sarah, and all the girls, near and far, for asking, caring and sharing.

Dan, most of all, for being my live-in motivational speaker. Your passionate sincerity, sympathetic soul and boundless enthusiasm for all things me remind me daily why I married you. And, of course, Abigail—the littlest, loveliest person I know.

prologue

The Last First Day of the Rest of My Life

B
UZZ BUZZ! “Looks like another scorcher today folks! Eighty-eight degrees and—” BUZZ BUZZ! “—rising fast! But we’ve got twelve uninterrupted minutes of cool tunes coming up—” BUZZ BUZZ! “—so stick around for some Culture Club, Metallica and Phil Collins—” BUZZ BUZZ! “—right after these—”

My first conscious thought is that I want very much to stab myself in the eardrums to make it stop. But I smack Snooze instead, the blessed silence returns, and I bury my aching head beneath the pillow.

Soon, instead of cursing Buffalo’s Number One Home of the Eighties, Nineties and Beyond with all the fire and venom I can muster, I’m dreaming fitfully about Phil Collins. He’s holding a crisp white bouquet of stephanotis and riding naked on a unicycle down the aisle at my brother’s wedding….

BUZZ BUZZ!
“—and the seventeenth K-HIT caller who can tell me Axl Rose’s real name—”
BUZZ BUZZ!
“—will win a pair of tickets for tomorrow night to see November Rain—”
BUZZ BUZZ!
“—the rockingest tribute band Buffalo has ever—”
BUZZ BUZZ!

Oh, for God’s sake!

(SMACK!)

I lift the pillow and squint, one-eyed, at the glowing green numbers…. 8:10.
Crap.
But everything gets fuzzy and warm again and I drift off… Ahhh…there’s Phil again, and he looks lovely—

BUZZ BUZZ!

Grrrr…

(SMACK!)

I squint again… 8:23?
Damn.
I squint harder… 8:28!
Shit!

Painfully, excruciatingly, I open the other eye. A pack of Canadian cigarettes next to the alarm clock comes slowly into focus….

No. Please no. Oh God, NO! NOT AGAIN!!!

I wipe the sleep from my face, panicking now. On the floor, ripped spandex shorts, a bicycle seat and a muddy tire….

Maybe it’s a dream. A bad, bad dream.

I pinch myself—hard—just in case, and wait.

Nothing.

Hoping against hope, I turn over….

Ugh.
There he is—Jean-Jean. On my formerly very white Egyptian polished-cotton sateen jacquard sheets by Ralph Lauren. Still wearing that dirty baseball hat. Still sleeping.
Snoring,
even. The audacity.

Maybe he’s just a hallucination.

Yes, that’s it! A hallucination induced by alcohol poisoning!

But as last night’s events bleed through my slowly waking mind like a spreading stain, I recall that I only drank two and a half martinis over a four-hour period. Barely enough to
give me a hangover, let alone mental delusions or visual disturbances of any kind.

But wait… Hold on a second… I
did
have several olives, come to think of it, and hadn’t I once read somewhere that gin-soaked olives have been known to cause, in some suggestible individuals, effects not unlike those of the storied tequila worm?

Perhaps not. But surely there was an explanation other than the obvious: That I’d slept with the idiotic French-Canadian bicycle messenger from work.

Again.

And yet here he is, all wrapped up in my fine 400-thread-count bedding like a birthday present from hell.
Happy 29th, Holly! Here you go—humiliation incarnate. Hope you like it!
What, pray tell, could I look forward to next year? A tumor?

But it isn’t my birthday. Thank God at least for that. Nope, it’s just a plain old Friday morning. Which means that last night’s senseless debauchery was both desperate
and
stupid, completely devoid of any excuse—rational, alcoholic, depressive or otherwise. Understandable for a Saturday night maybe, when the symptoms of singlehood flare up and otherwise disgraceful hookups might be forgiven, but on a Thursday?

I should be ashamed of myself.
Beyond
ashamed, really. Why hadn’t I just stayed home alone and watched an
E.R.
repeat with a cheap bottle of wine like all the other normal, hopeless, single women in Buffalo?


Excuse
me,” I say, and nudge him with my heel. Hard.

He turns over, grunts and smiles.

“Ahem!” I say loudly, covering myself.

“Heh?”

“Please, Jean-Jean, wake up!
Allez vous!
” I don’t know much French, but I can assure you my tone spoke volumes.

“Come hon now,
ma petite.
Believe me when I tell you I
know
you don’t want dat! For sure I know dat!”

“Jean-Jean, it’s like this, so please listen carefully. Last night was a mistake. I know I’ve said this before and I’m sorry, but this time I really mean it—I don’t want to see you anymore! So please just go home, okay?
Please.
Just go…”

He grins and rolls his eyes at me. “Dat’s what you said hlast week, ’Olly, and da week before dat! But you halways come back to Jean-Jean for more!”

“Well, I can promise you I’ll be sticking to my word this time and—”

“Eh!” He puts a nicotine-stained finger to my lips. “Why say someting you regret? Jean-Jean, you know, is twice da fun! And to love ’im is to deserve ’im more dan once,
ma petite.
Many, many more time dan dat! So now dat you ’ad ’im, you can’t forget. No
never!

With that, he hops out of bed and begins collecting the T-shirts and rags and rubber bands which comprise his work uniform.

“What does that even
mean?
” I moan to no one in particular, and fling his cigarettes toward the door. “
Please
hurry, will you? I’m late for work….”

“Jean-Jean is halways ’appy to oblige you, ’Olly. See you—layter!”

The cheeseball winks at me twice, in case I didn’t catch it the first time. He stuffs his crap into a mud-splattered backpack and swaggers out the door, leaving me alone with a beer bottle full of cigarette butts and unwelcome memories of last night’s awkward fumblings.

I pull the covers back up over my head for a few precious moments and vow to try and see the bright side of this latest romantic debacle. Like…at least I was getting some! That has to be worth something, right? And to be completely honest, Jean-Jean isn’t such a bad guy, anyway—
he just needs to grow up a little. With some career counseling and maybe a
Queer Eye
makeover, he might even make a nice boyfriend for someone someday. Just not for me. In the meantime, what did it matter? Nobody would ever have to know…

Except
moi,
that is.

Fortunately, my history with Jean-Jean taught me that while the nausea and self-loathing born of my temporarily misplaced affections may linger for a while, eventually they dissipate along with most of the gory details. (Mother Nature is no fool—if the passage of time didn’t take the edge off our labor pains, our heartbreak, our bikini waxes, the human race probably would have died out aeons ago!) And thanks to a few modern amenities—namely condoms, soap and water—potentially unwelcome reminders of such ill-advised trysting are practically a thing of the past.

The regret, though…well I suppose that’s a little different. It never fully disappears. It just sort of fades away until it becomes a tiny little pinprick of shame, part of the growing list of things I wish I’d done differently, or not at all. Yes, the regret is unfortunately quite permanent. Kind of like the new grease spot on my pillowcase.

Two showers later—including a violent exfoliating session that would have skinned a lesser woman alive—I am officially late for work before I’ve even left my apartment.

No, the day has not begun well.

On difficult mornings such as these, I try to find solace in a series of uplifting aphorisms I’ve collected over the years. They help me salvage whatever shreds of optimism I can from the wreckage of my life. So I try to tell myself that the world is my oyster, that comedy is just tragedy plus time, that today is the first day of the rest of my life.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life?

The perfect mantra for chronically regretful yet eternally
hopeful sorts like me. Most of the time, the simple, wonderful truth of it is enough to put the spring back in my step.

Only today the slate is not clean, the start is not fresh.

The start, in fact, stinks.

part one
Buffalo, New York
*
chapter 1

The Day I Died

I
t would probably go something like this:

Hastings, Holly.
1975–2060. Passed away of chronic liver disease on Friday, December 31, 2060, alone again on New Year’s Eve, since she didn’t have a date, and hadn’t in many, many years. She was 85.

Miss Hastings, was born in Buffalo, the fourth child and only daughter of the late Louise McGillivray Hastings, a bookkeeper, and the late Lawrence Hastings, a schoolteacher, both also of Buffalo.

After completing a three-year degree in Journalism and Professional Writing in slightly more than five years at Erie County College, Miss Hastings took a job at this newspaper, which she believed would be an important stepping stone in her fabulous career as a writer. The single Miss Hastings quickly found her place among the
many talentless hacks at the
Buffalo Bugle,
penning obituaries and taking classified ads for more than fifty years, until her forced retirement in 2052.

During college, Miss Hastings took up social drinking, which eventually evolved into full-blown alcoholism after a string of failed relationships. Due to her inability to write the Great American Novel, or even a Not So Great One, the mateless Miss Hastings never left the
Bugle,
as she had planned. In fact, she never left the Buffalo-Niagara Region. Hell, during the last five years of her life, she never even left her house!

Miss Hastings leaves behind nobody—not even a cat. The bulk of her meager estate will be divided among her many creditors, and her body will be donated to medical science, unless somebody claims it before noon tomorrow.

Well, that wasn’t so bad, really. I’ve almost certainly—no, make that definitely—come across worse lives,
written
lamer obits for real, actual people. Haven’t I?

Hmmm…

Okay, so even if I haven’t, technically speaking, there’s no cause for alarm just yet. The whole point of the exercise is to imagine the way things
might
turn out, you know, if everything stays the same. To see where my life is heading, worst-case scenario. But even if it all comes true, so what? Cats, after all, are pretty crappy compared to dogs, so if ever there were a pet
not
to have… And let’s not underestimate the ultimate satisfaction of sticking it to the credit-card companies from beyond the grave.

I print my final draft, fold it up until it’s a tiny little square and shove it way down into the bottom of my bag.

Okay, Holly. Back to work. No need to feel sorry for yourself.

Despite the fact that I hardly have a thing to do except sit
around and wait for someone to call, I try to keep busy. I hone my pitch for a story about the Buffalo fashion scene (don’t laugh—we can’t all live in New York or London or Paris, no matter how much we might like to, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are oblivious to life’s finer things) and color-code my files until at last the phone rings. Will it be a trumpet seller? A passport found? A grieving relative? My boss, Cy, telling me he finally needs my feature, A.S.A.P?

“Holly Hastings,” I say into the receiver.

“Um, hi.” A woman’s voice. Very shrill. “I want to place an ad. In the personals.”

“All right,” I sigh. “Go ahead.”

“Okay. It’s for the ‘Women Seeking Men’ section.”

Of course it is. “Yup. Go ahead.”

“Will you tell me if you think this is okay?”

“Sure.” Poor thing. I knew she didn’t have a chance, and I hadn’t even heard it yet.

“Okay,” she exhales purposefully. “This is what I have. ‘Cuddly thirty-five-year-old princess seeks knight in shining armor. I love babies, four-star restaurants and international travel. You’re a gorgeous, tall, marriage-minded physician or lawyer, between thirty-three and forty. I’m five foot one, have brown hair and brown eyes.’”

“Oh, that’s perfect,” I say, taking it down.

“You think?”

“Definitely.”

“Oh my God! I can’t believe I’m doing this!” she shrieks. “I’m so excited! Can you get it in for tomorrow morning? Before tomorrow night, I mean? Can you? I have an extra ticket to
The Vagina Monologues
at Shea’s!”

“Sure thing.”

“Great!”

I take the details and hang up.

Women Seeking Men.
As if. Had she ever taken the time to
actually read our little rag, she might have noticed that for every ten women seeking men via the services of the
Buffalo Bugle
there is only one man seeking woman.

It is all just so sad. Sad and funny. Sad that she dares to believe Dr. Right will call her by tomorrow night to begin with. Funny that she thinks a show about female sexuality and the c-word will make suitable first-date entertainment anyway. And sad again that
The Vagina Monologues
is not just a theatrical experience, but also a fairly accurate way to describe so many of our sex lives. Because only the rare, the proud, the few can claim to be involved in any coed, long-term, mutually respectful…er…
dialogue.

And that’s okay.

Just because it’s sad doesn’t mean it has to ruin your life.

You see, some women wallow in singlehood the way pigs wallow in shit. But that’s just not me. There’s no shortage of far worthier sources of anxiety and self-reproach, like bioterrorism and ozone depletion and flat-chestedness. I also find obvious desperation of any kind profoundly futile, since I know that men—even the most uninformed, unenlightened, uninspired of them—unerringly pick up on that scent a mile away. In theory, therefore, there’s no point in being miserable simply because one happens to be flying solo, while broadcasting your panic at the thought of it will simply ensure that things stay that way.

So even though the prospect of dying alone and poor and completely catless might faze some, I will probably handle it quite well; as a person who’s experienced near-epic singlehood, I don’t even know what it’s like to be in a meaningful relationship, save for one long-term mistake and a few flings here and there, all of which ended in varying degrees of disaster and confusion. Truthfully, it has never really bothered me before. I’ve always trusted that fate will bring me together with the man I’m designed for, some day, some way.

Until now, I suppose.

I reach back down into the bottom of my bag and feel around for the little square of paper. For the first time ever, as I reread my pitiful obituary, twinges of doubt make inroads into the romantic certainty that has served me so well for so long.

What if he never comes? What if he doesn’t exist? What if we never meet, and just pass each other by in the street over and over again until we marry the wrong people, divorce, grow old, get senile and die? More likely still, what if I screw it all up when we finally do find each other, and all that lonely, crazy, catless stuff really, truly happens?

 

The seeds of self-pity had been sown that morning, when Jill, my roommate, whose life I’d always thought was at least a little bit worse than my own, threw some sympathy my way after she saw Jean-Jean exiting my room.

In the kitchen, she and her everpresent but vaguely mysterious boyfriend exchanged knowing glances across the table as I frantically ripped open a box of Pop-Tarts.

“There’s fresh coffee,” Jill offered. “Hazelnut-vanilla decaf. I just made it.” I could tell that what she really meant was,
Holly, you poor, poor thing. What a horrible ordeal you’ve been through. Perhaps a hot beverage might distract you from the memory of it, if only for a few moments.

“No time,” I said, fighting with a silver package. “You’d think there was gold inside these bloody things….”

She looked at me with sad eyes. “You’re so meticulous about everything, Holly. Except what you put in your body.”

“Thanks, Jill. I know.”

The girl is a health fiend. Yoga, soy, supplements—the whole package. How someone can go through life like that is beyond me. The way I see it, we only have five senses, and to squander one of them on the likes of kale and lentils is
akin to blinding yourself voluntarily, no matter how much cumin is involved.

Somehow, though, she manages to make me feel like a child every time I order a pizza or sleep in on Sunday. Don’t get me wrong—I love her to pieces. In some ways, Jill Etherington is like the mother I never had. Well, that’s not exactly fair, since I do in fact have a perfectly serviceable mother, albeit one who never really minded if I ate Count Chocula for dinner in front of the TV or skipped phys ed in high school.

To save a few minutes, I decided to eat my Pop-Tart raw. She shook her head as I stuffed the broken pieces into my mouth.

“It’s an acquired taste,” I informed her.

“Why don’t you at least sit down to eat?” she suggested.

“Why don’t you stand up?” I snapped back.

Despite my impatience with her that morning, one of the things I admire most about Jill is how she’s always ready and dressed for work two hours before she has to leave the house. Granted, she goes to bed at 9:00 p.m., but still—being early for anything is an excellent quality I hope one day to have. Maybe it has to do with being excited to get where you’re going—work, date, spinning class, whatever—but since Jill is a clerk at a paper-processing plant, and I know for a fact that she despises her job, that theory couldn’t possibly explain her rise-and-shine attitude.

Not to say that I’m late for things. Actually, I’m often on time, even if it’s just barely. When I have to be somewhere, the digital clocks in my life govern my every move. In the morning, I know precisely how long it takes me to shower, to get dressed, to eat. A mere minute one way or the other might make the difference between panic and calm. I’ll even blow a traffic light to save a few seconds on my way to work.

A therapist of mine (I no longer remember which one,
exactly) once suggested that my personal game of
Beat the Clock
has nothing to do with valuing punctuality, but rather that it’s part of a need to inject drama and adventure into my daily life. While that may be true, I also know that waltzing in past your coworkers twenty minutes after nine makes a bad impression, no matter how late you stay to make up for it, and is definitely not a good way to get ahead.

Lately, though, despite knowing better, I seemed to be having an awful lot of trouble getting to the
Bugle
on time, and not just on those mornings after the night before. Since it was becoming clear that I was never going to get ahead there no matter how early I showed up, I suppose I was finding it a little hard to stay motivated.

“Don’t be grumpy, sweetie,” Jill said.

“Huh?”

“I said, don’t be grumpy.”

“I’m not grumpy. I’m late,” I mumbled.

Boyfriend, who’d been uncharacteristically quiet until that point, slammed his mug down on the table. “No way! I hope that
dupa
with the bicycle seat isn’t the father!”

“No, you idiot. Late for
work,
” I said.

Boyfriend was a bit of a moron, and a lot of an asshole, though Jill chose not to see it. His name, for the record, is not at all important. Although my dear roomie is quite taken with the idea of having a boyfriend in general, she doesn’t seem to care all that much about who fills the position, and is content to overlook all manner of glaring biographical inconsistencies in order to enjoy the perks of coupledom. She hasn’t been single for more than forty-eight hours since junior high, and this latest prize was simply one in a long line of subpar rebound guys who’d morphed into serious boyfriends.

“Seriously,” Jill said. “What’s going on with you and Jean-Jean?”

“Umm, we… I mean he and I were just… I was… I mean, he was…”

She waited patiently for me to finish, but there really wasn’t much I could say in my own defense. It was a rotten, unholy lust whose name I dared not speak for fear of giving it any more power than it already had.

Boyfriend glanced up and offered, “Well, I think you two are perfect for each other.”

“You don’t have to be ashamed, Holly,” Jill added kindly. “Your personal life is your business and I’m sure you have your reasons. And he’s…not so bad, really. So why don’t the two of you consider dating more seriously?”

“Are you joking? I can’t tell…”

“Well, you obviously can’t keep your hands off each other. I suppose you have chemistry or something. What’s so terrible about that? It’s…
nice.
Embrace it.”

The girl was obviously insane. Served me right, answering an ad for a roommate from the bulletin board in my therapist’s waiting room.

“I don’t want your pity.” I put my head down on the table and closed my eyes.

“There, there,” she said, and began stroking my hair.

But Boyfriend would not be deterred. “I think Holly’s hot-hot for Jean-Jean!”

Brilliant.

“Yeah, I think maybe she is,” Jill agreed.

Walking in to work late was definitely better than this. “I think one of you’s
extremely
jealous and
incredibly
hot for Jean-Jean, and the other one’s crazy. And I think Jill’s the one who’s crazy.”

“I suppose that makes me jealous,” he deduced.

“Among other things.” I got up and headed for the door. “And if you don’t mind, keep your nose out of my business.”

“She must be on the rag,” he said loudly to Jill, who rolled her eyes and looked at me as if to say,
“I know he can be a little insensitive, but at least he’s got a pulse.”

 

The beauty of my job is that I know, better than almost anyone, how even the most pathetic of existences usually reveal at least some merit when you simmer them down to a mere two hundred and fifty words. Vacuous socialites, crooked politicians, celebrity pornographers and yes, even old maids—all leave their mark in one way or another. Sometimes you just have to read between the lines.

Take the life of John Michael Whitney. Local boy, beloved son and brother, star of his high-school football team—that part was easy. Unfortunately for Johnny, though, his True Defining Moment—most every life has one, subtle or not, and the best obituarists can nose them out like blood-hounds—came a bit later on, when he ran over and killed the mayor of a small town on the Texas-Arkansas border while fleeing the scene of a botched liquor-store robbery in the mid-’80s.

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