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Authors: Jackie Rose

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BOOK: Marrying Up
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“This party sucks,” I conclude.

“No available men.”

We survey the scene. Aside from my brothers, my dad and a few other bored-looking fathers, the magician appears to be the only unattached postpubescent male.

As if she could tell what I was thinking, George shoots a dark look my way. “I think he might be a bit young for you.”

“Maybe, but I bet he has a few tricks up his sleeve….”

“Cute. Very cute. At least you can still joke about it.”

“I don’t want to be a sad singleton,” I sigh.

“Better a sad singleton than a happy breeder.”

“Enough with the Camille Paglia. Tomorrow you’ll be begging Professor Bales for a booty call.”

“Yeah? Well the day
after
tomorrow you’ll be back at work.”

“Oh, that was cruel.” I clutch at my heart. “So, so cruel.”

She shrugs. What can she say? I’m trapped and we both know it.

We sip warm beer from sticky cups for the rest of the afternoon.

 

“So?”

George is demanding an answer. It’s Sunday, the last day of my “vacation.”

“Well, as you know, I’ve been doing some thinking….”

“Mmmm. Come up with anything since yesterday?”

“Well, I can admit you were right about the whole factory idea. I wouldn’t want Cole to be my boss, and he’d probably just make fun of me all day long and I’d end up pushing him into some sort of giant turbine or whatever they have there and that wouldn’t really be fair to Olivia or the kids.”

“Obviously not.”

“So I guess I’m still sort of mulling things over. Trying to see the big picture…”

“And?”

“These things take time, George. There’s no telling when my epiphany might come. Could be tomorrow. Could be next month. Could be next year.”

“Could be never.”

“You can’t force it.”

“Enough’s enough, already, Holly. I’m coming over.”

“Knock yourself out. But I’m warning you—I’m
profoundly
depressed, and in no mood for company.”

“Whatever,” she says, and hangs up.

I am, of course, feeling fine. Things are much better now that I’ve had a full week to catch up on
The Young and the Restless.
Something about having a peek at the problems of others—especially the rich and fictional—always makes my concerns seem almost trivial. Who cares if a single Burberry scarf is enough to throw me into debt for six months? I have a job and a roof over my head. Does it really matter that my cup size is an A while my grades were always Cs, instead of the other way around? I can’t change the past, but one day I might get the boobs I’ve always wanted. And so what if I don’t have a boyfriend? At least I’ll be spared the pain of him cheating on me with my devious stepmother and then developing amnesia after being thrown overboard from his twin brother’s private yacht while fleeing to the Cayman Islands to escape some dark secret of his nefarious past. Plus, I don’t have to worry about anyone leaving the toilet seat up.

By the time George shows up it’s after eight and I’m starving. Not only is George incredibly slow-moving to begin with, but she still lives at home with her mothers out in Williamsville, so for her to shlep her ass into the city by bus takes forever. I’ve been on her case for years to get her own place, but with her salary, she’d need at least two roommates to make it work.

“Sorry,” she says when she finally arrives. “There was an accident on the Kensington.”

“You at least need to get a car if you’re going to live out there.”

“I know, I know. But then I’d have to get my driver’s license, too.”

Even though George claims to still be full from too much birthday cake and hot dog buns the day before, we order an extralarge pizza and wait for it to arrive.

“How’s Jill?” George asked. “I never see her anymore. Where is she?”

“Oh, she’s pretty much always out.”

“That’s good for you. It’s like having the place to yourself.”

“I guess.” Truth is, I’d rather have someone around to talk to. “She’ll probably be home soon. I think she does an underwater bicycling class on Wednesday nights. Or is it Pilates in a steam room? Something like that.”

“Does she stay at whatsisname’s a lot?”

“No. He usually stays here. I doubt if he even has a fixed address. He’s such a weirdo. I caught him going through the Dumpster out back yesterday.”

“What? Why?”

“He said he threw out some important paperwork by accident or something. Not that he has a job, so I have no idea what he was even talking about.”

“Yikes.”

“Yeah, plus I’m pretty sure I saw him on
America’s Most Wanted
.”

George’s big green eyes widen in horror. “Tell me you’re joking.”

“Well, the actor sure looked an awful lot like him.”

“Who are they looking for? What did he do?”

“Some guy from Wisconsin who disappeared from a halfway house about six months ago. He apparently slips in and out of a violent state without knowing it, and he’s already responsible for three murders in the Midwest—”

“No!”

“Yes. But the really creepy part is that all of his victims look exactly like his mother—”

“Get out!”

“Yeah, and first he stalks them and then he lures them into this creepy van and then he—”

We both jump as we hear the key in the door.

“God! Oh my God!” George whispers frantically.

But it’s just Jill.

“Is this pizza boy yours?” she asks. “I found him in the lobby.”

“Yup!” I say, jumping up to get my wallet.

“Hi Jill,” George says as I pay for dinner. The pizza boy ignores my attempt at a flirty smile and I consider taking part of his tip back.

“Hey,” Jill answers, tucking a blondish strand behind her ear. “Long time no see.”

“I brought a movie over, if you want to watch with us.”

“Thanks, but I’m exhausted. I’m going to try and go to bed early. Don’t let Holly stay up too late, ’kay?”

“I won’t,” George said. “She has a big day of doing nothing tomorrow.”

“I hear you!” I yell from the kitchen.

“Yeah, well, get a life!” Jill yells back. “I’m not complaining,” she continues to George. “Holly’s been doing a lot of things around the house.”

Since Saturday, I’ve reorganized the pantry, installed three new coat hooks in the hallway, laminated a list of emergency phone numbers to put on the fridge
and
found time to watch at least six hours of TV every day. All in all, time well spent.

After Jill watches us eat (she grabbed a sprout sandwich earlier), she retreats to her bedroom to talk on the phone. Boyfriend, apparently, is away on “business,” and missing her terribly.

“Well at least she has someone to make her happy,” I conclude sadly after we’ve torn apart his many flaws as quietly as we could.

“That’s no excuse,” George says. “She can do better.”

“Do you have a pash on her or something?”

“What’s that?”

“A girl crush.”

“Oh,” George giggles. “As if.”

“Anyway, you’re a fine one to talk about standards.”

She sits up abruptly. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that maybe you should try taking your own advice for a change.”

“Oh, really.”

“Don’t be annoyed. You know you can do better than Professor Bales, but I don’t see you turning him down when he invites you over for a quickie every once in a while.”

“Would you stop calling him that already? And for your information, what I have with Stuart is totally different. I consider myself single. I’m still in the game. Jill’s not. And I don’t just drop everything and run whenever he calls me, by the way. I go only if and when I want to.”

“When was the last time you didn’t go?”

“I’m not a teenager,” she frowns. “I don’t keep track of things like that.”

“Oh, admit it—if he wanted to get serious, you would in a second, even though he’s a total player.”

“We’ve agreed to keep it casual. It’s worked for us for this long.”

“You mean it’s worked for
him.
Because casual or not, it sucks for you and you know it. You’re afraid to call him. The sex is lousy, I’m sure. How could it not be? He’s, like, at least fifty. And he won’t even bring you out in public…”

“Umm, hello? It’s, like, totally inappropriate for us to be seen together.”

“Come on! I can’t believe you’re still buying into his bullshit. He’s not your teacher anymore, G. No one gives a crap if you’re together. I bet he’s just afraid one of the dozen or so students he’s probably sleeping with will see you.”

She pouts for a while and stomps off to the bathroom. I put the pizza away and file what’s left of my nails while I wait. After about five minutes, she returns with a dour look and
puts the movie in the DVD player. As it’s about to start, she lets out a big sigh and gets up to pause it.

“Not that I have to defend myself to you, Holly, but I still like him, okay? And I’m using him as much as he’s using me. No more, no less. So until I find someone better, I see no reason to call off a perfectly good thing.”

Poor George. She really believes what she’s saying.

“Just as long as you keep your options open,” I tell her. “Because he’s never going to change.”

“Why does everyone say that about him? He might. Stuart’s very sweet when he wants to be.”

“Don’t confuse sweet with charming,” I warn her. Although she tries to put on a feminist front, George is incredibly naive about men. Maybe it’s because she had virtually no exposure to straight men growing up or maybe it’s because she’s just overly trusting in general. In any case, her instincts are notoriously off when it comes to the unfairer sex.

“You don’t really know him, Holly.”

“Well, I know that he gave me a D in ‘Journalling for Profit, Part II’ and that was enough for me. As if I needed Humbert Humbert to tell me my memoirs wouldn’t sell a million…”

George rolls her eyes.

“What?”

“Don’t even go there,” she says.

“Fine. All I’m gonna say is that I can tell you for an absolute fact that that man will never change. How do I know for sure? Well, let me enlighten you, G—it’s because
he
doesn’t want any more out of the relationship. And he can tell that
you
do. That’s why he only calls every couple of months—he doesn’t want to give you the wrong idea. Because then the whole thing would be more trouble than it’s worth.”

I’ve tried to explain to George many times this most basic
of all dating truths: that neediness is like new-relationship poison. This fact is one of the few things I know for certain about men. In much the same way that sharks can smell a drop of blood in the water from miles away, men can pick up on even the slightest whiff of neediness. A more sporting type might circle your lifeboat for a while, letting you think you have a chance of surviving, but don’t kid yourself: He’s just playing with you. He knows you’re wounded in there, and he’s smacking his lips. If, on the other hand, you put out the ice queen vibe right away—let him think
he
wants you more than
you
want him—then you’ve got some breathing room. And I’m not just talking about sex. Getting a man into bed is easy, no matter how desperate you may appear. The hard part is sustaining your desirability. The hard part is convincing him that he wants to stick around long enough to fall in love with you. Once you figure out how to do that, you’re in business.

“Yeah? Well maybe the reason you’re single is because you never let anybody know you’re actually interested in them,” George suggests. “Did you ever think of that? All you do is go on like a
million
first dates, and then reject every one of them before he has a chance to reject you!”

“Well, duh.” It isn’t anything that hasn’t occurred to me or a half dozen of my therapists before. But at least I’m reasonably confident that once I find a worthy prospect, I’ll be able to keep him. In the meantime, I’ll protect my heart from any further damage.

“Not all men are Jims, Holly. They’re not perfect, God knows, but they don’t have to be. Because neither are we.”

“How perfect is your professor?”

“Let’s just watch the damn movie,” she grumbles.

“Fine,” I say and press Play. “What is it, anyway?”


How to Marry a Millionaire.
It’s with Marilyn. And I don’t care if you hate it.”

“Wasn’t there anything with Brad Pitt?”

“I don’t know. Who cares? This is
so
much better… God, Holly. You’re, like, totally boy-crazy these days.”

George loves Marilyn Monroe because she was sexy and powerful and vulnerable all at once, and also because she was a size 12 and the whole world loved her for it. She’s seen all of her movies a thousand times. For me, though, Marilyn’s sadness fills every frame of every film she made. I imagine I would have liked her better before, when she was just Norma Jean Baker. Plain and simple.

“There must have been
something
with Brad Pitt…”

“There wasn’t.”

“Not even an old one?”

“Just shut up and watch.”

 

Purple moonlight filters through the gauze panels covering the open window, giving my bedroom an almost fluorescent glow. I glance at the clock—4:15 a.m. Everything is perfectly still.

Since insomnia is one of the few anxiety-related problems I don’t normally suffer from, I’m a bit confused. After thinking for a while, the image of Marilyn Monroe sneaking her glasses onto her face playing on a constant loop, a memory of Dr. Zukowski surfaces from among the usual places my mind goes when it wanders. She’s a behavioral therapist who once berated me ferociously in the middle of Pearl Street during an exercise to get me to step on sidewalk cracks. Something she said, lost on me then, flashes into my mind.

“Life isn’t really about luck or coincidence, Holly. Nor is it about destiny or kismet or any of that other stuff. You won’t win a Pulitzer just by sitting around collecting good karma and then waiting for your fingers to accidentally strike the right keys. And if your mother ever breaks her back—”

“Bite your tongue!” I’d interrupted.

She ignored me and went on. “…and if your mother ever breaks her back, it’ll probably be because she tripped over something.
Not
because you walked down the sidewalk like a healthy, well-adjusted person. The world just doesn’t work that way.”

BOOK: Marrying Up
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