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Authors: Jackie Rose

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“Maybe they’re in your room.”

“No, I’m sure they’re in here somewhere… Why are you hovering?”

“I’m not, I’m just…”

“Wait a sec…do you smell something?”

She sniffs the air and shrugs. “Nope.”

“How can you not smell that?” I ask, struggling to pull a
big green garbage bag out from the back of the closet. “It totally reeks in here…”

Jill makes a beeline for the kitchen as I untie the bag. Inside is something quite different from the tangle of musty scarves and gloves I was expecting.

Holy crap! This can’t be what I think it is…

“Jill!”

No answer.

“JILL!!!!!”

She peeks around the corner.

“Come here!” I yell, waving violently. “You gotta see this! You’re not gonna believe what’s
in
here!”

Slowly, she approaches the bag and looks down.

“So?”

“So?” I shriek. “
So?
You know whose this is, don’t you? You know what this means, right?”

Jill rolls her eyes. “Come on, Holly. It’s just a little pot. Don’t be such a goody-two-shoes.”

“What?”

“You heard me…”

Of course, I naturally assumed that Jill would be as shocked and as furious as I am to discover what Boyfriend meant when he said he was self-employed. But now I see that she knew exactly what he’s been doing all along.

God, I am so naive.

“Are…are you serious?” I stammer.

“Come on. It’s not like you’ve never smoked.”

“Not since college. And I didn’t inhale.”

“Yeah, right.”

“That’s not the point, Jill—he’s a
drug
dealer. A fucking drug dealer! Do you understand what that means? Do you
know
what that is? You have to dump him…get him out of your life! And get
this
out of our house!” I try to lift the bag for emphasis, but it’s too heavy.

“You’re totally overreacting,” she says coolly, walking away. “It’s not like he’s a crack dealer. Marijuana should be legal, anyway.”

I follow her into the kitchen. “He could be dealing Tylenol for all I care! But if I found fifty pounds of it in a giant Hefty bag hidden in the hall closet, I’d dump his ass, anyway!”

She slams her coffee cup down on the counter. “Dammit, Holly! You don’t know him, okay? He’s just doing this to make enough money to start his business.”

I can’t resist. “What kind of business?”

“Paintball. All he needs is to get enough money together for a down payment on a few wooded acres and some insurance. It’s his dream.”

“Yeah? Well my dream is to live in peace without worrying about the vice squad breaking down our door.”

“Now wait a second—he’d
never
deal out of our place.”

A string of brief visits from Boyfriend’s no-good “buddies” springs to mind.

“Jill, Jill, Jill…” I say, pounding my head against the refrigerator.

“I can promise you it’ll never happen again, okay? This was just a one-time thing.”

“You
knew
about this? That he was storing this stuff here?”

“What difference does it make?”

“Oh, I don’t know…maybe the difference between you getting off with a warning and going to jail? Wow, Jill…I hardly know what to say. He’s really done a number on you.”

“You’ve never been in love, Holly. You can’t understand. And I don’t want to talk about this anymore!” she yells, heading towards her room.

Maybe she’s right. Maybe I can’t understand. But if love means completely subjugating your common sense in order to hang on to a go-nowhere criminal loser, I don’t think I want to understand.

I follow her, grabbing her by the arm. “Jill, please. You have to listen to me. You need to get away from him. A joint here or there is one thing, but this isn’t a joke.”

She twists out of my grasp and begins to cry. “You’ve always hated him. I don’t know why. What did he ever do to you?”

I step away, amazed. “Hello? I was, like, completely, 100-percent right about him! What kind of asshole would get you involved in something like this?”

“God! He
didn’t
involve me. He’s not like that.” She pushes me out of her room and slams the door in my face.

“Go ahead!” I yell. “Waste your life with this loser! But tell him he better get that shit outta here tonight or else! And I swear, Jill, if I ever see his face in here again, I’m calling the police!”

And I would, too.

 

The cracks in the office ceiling come slowly into focus.

“How long was I out?”

“We’ve been working for almost an hour and a half.” Lacy is now seated behind her desk, her cheeks flushed. “Everything’s fine, Holly. Just fine.”

Maybe the wormwood has gone to her head. I check my buttons and bra hook, just to make sure nobody has been molested.

“And?” I rise up onto my elbow.

“Very exciting.
Very
exciting.” She readies her notepad. “Tell me what you remember, even if it doesn’t seem to make any sense.”

“I don’t really remember anything.”

“Think. I want to see what floats to the surface here.”

“Ummm…let’s see. I don’t know. A guitar, maybe? No…a violin.”

Lacy’s eyes widen. “Excellent.”

“Oh, I get it. Is this like free association? I can do that.” During my short-lived stint with Dr. Chenkoff, the closest I ever came to real psychoanalysis, I made it from my father to cigars in four words flat. And my dad never smoked a day in his life.

“Sort of. Keep going. But close your eyes. What do you see? Close your eyes, please, Holly.”

“Okay, umm… Okay… A very old woman in a cornfield. With a…a barking dog?”

“Keep going. What kind of dog was it, Holly?”

“It was white and small. Maybe some kind of terrier…” I peek a bit, just long enough to see her scribbling furiously.

“Could it have been a Corgi? A Welsh Corgi?”

“A Corgi? No, I don’t think so.”

“Oh.”

“I guess that’s it. What does it mean, Dr. Goldenblatt?”

“Please, call me Lacy. It’s too early to tell, of course, but I will say that I found our session here today very interesting.
Very
interesting, both professionally and personally.” Personally? My hands instinctively flew up to my chest to verify that my Bounciful Bosom gel brassiere inserts were still neatly tucked in place. “There’s lots to uncover about you, Holly. Are you willing to go the distance to find out?”

“I think so, Lacy, but can I, um, ask you something first?” I get up and make my way over to one of the wicker chairs in front of her desk.

“Of course.”

“Now, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, because I’m not saying I don’t buy into this whole thing—actually, I kind of feel like I already do—but I can’t go forward in good conscience until you answer one question for me. The reason I haven’t tried P.L.R. before is because I’ve never heard a valid explanation for why people who’ve been through it always claim to have been someone famous or im
portant in a past life. The odds are pretty slim, wouldn’t you say?” I may be a therapy addict, but I’m no fool. Spending my hard-earned dollars on a sham is something I can’t afford to do.

“That’s an
excellent
question, Holly, and I completely agree with you. You’ve actually stumbled across the number-one pet peeve of all certified P.L.R. therapists. There’s no surer sign that someone’s been to a quack than hearing something like that, and of course they’re the ones who get all the press. Believe me—if I had a rupee for every guy who’s been told he was King Louis XIV or Rasputin or a passenger on the
Titanic
… Look, Holly. I’m going to give it to you straight. I’ve been doing this for almost twenty years, and false memories aside, the closest
any
of my patients has ever come to anything like that was the one who I’d lay dollars to donuts was the lover of Napoleon’s illegitimate half brother.”

“Damn. I really wanted to be Cleopatra or Mata Hari or someone fabulous like that.”

“Well, you never know…” She sighs, and leans in a bit closer. “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, because, like I said, there are never any guarantees, but I can already sense that you’re a great candidate for this kind of therapy, and frankly I’d be quite surprised if we didn’t learn
exactly
who you’ve been at least once or twice.”

“Really? Wow.” What made her think that? “So, uh, what exactly happened today? While I was…you know…”

“Since this is our introductory session, my goal was simply to get a feel for who you are today, with maybe just a smidge of who you might have been. Basically, I asked you some standard questions, about your childhood, your job, your dreams, your fantasies, that sort of thing. You see, the beauty of hypnosis is that it leaves your responses completely unrestricted and unedited. It’s how I begin the process of opening your mind to energy imprints that are older than
you are. And I also need to get to know you well enough so that you can be completely uninhibited in a way that your conscious mind would never allow. Does that sound okay?”

“Oh, what the hell. Knock yourself out,” I tell her. “I hope you enjoy the Johnny Depp dreams as much as I do.”

She smiles knowingly and leads me to the door.

In a generous leap of faith, I sign up for four more sessions over the next month. For all I know, the woman slipped some sort of barbiturate into my chamomile and spent the last ninety minutes filing her nails while I snored on the floor. But I do feel quite rested, which definitely counts for something. That and the subtle suggestion, however unlikely, that I might have been someone wonderful, like a Vanderbilt or an Astor or a Getty. Or Jane Austen or William Blake or Sylvia Plath. Or Genghis Khan or Catherine the Great or Mary Magdalene. It sure would put things in a new light.

Chances are, nothing interesting has
ever
happened to me, in this lifetime or any other. But my ego is no different from anyone else’s—I’m hoping to learn something wild and amazing about myself nonetheless. If I turn out to be someone as cool as Napoleon’s illegitimate half brother’s lover, I’m more than willing to engage in the temporary suspension of disbelief to find out.

chapter 7

Where Have All the Magnates Gone?

“Ms. Hastings? Violet Chase here. Please call me back as soon as you get this message. I assume you still have my number.”

At last, the call I’ve been waiting for. And seeing as it’s December 18th, there’s plenty of time to get a date in before Christmas.

Since it isn’t the sort of conversation I want to have at my desk, I sneak into the bathroom (one of the private ones, so there’ll be no chance of anyone overhearing) and call her back from my cell.

“Hi. It’s Holly Hastings.”

“Ms. Hastings! How are you?”

“Fine,” I say, nearly jumping out of my skin with anticipation. “So who have you got for me?”
Please, oh pretty please, let it be somebody halfway decent. I’m not asking for anyone great, just good. Good would be great.

“Whom have I got for you? What do you mean…?
Oooohhh.
You thought… No.
Heavens,
no. I mean, nobody. I’m calling to remind you that it’s been sixty days and it’s time to renew your membership.”

Umm… I don’t think so.

“Ms. Hastings? You still there, dear?”

I am lonely, randy, poor and about to head into two weeks of holiday festivities flying solo. In fact, I would say I was on the verge of angry. Sure, I’m willing to settle for less—hairless, feckless, even penniless—but certainly not
this
much less, this phantom Millionaire and his empty promises, the continued shame of every day passing without an invitation to the ball. My self-esteem has plummeted as I envision guy after guy squirming uncomfortably in the luxuriously appointed viewing room at Moneyed Mates, possibly even snickering out loud as he watches me bare my soul for his amusement, or worse still, skipping immediately to the next gold digger’s tape on the shelf upon seeing my listless hair and modest endowments….

“Hello? Ms. Hastings?”

God, I’m sick of feeling this way.

“Ms. Hastings?”

You know what?
Screw ’em.
Screw ’em all! Who are they to judge me? They don’t even know me! And who is this Violet Chase but a harpy in Halston, a Heidi Fleiss in Herrera? And who am I but a complete idiot, paying her to auction me off like some sway-backed old nag in a last-ditch effort to avoid the glue factory?

I channel the sternest voice I know, the one Granny Hastings used to admonish my mother’s skill as a laundress whenever she noticed a spot on my dad’s tie or a dimness to his whites. (Granny may not have been the nicest lady, but nobody could say she was cheap with the bleach.)

“Actually, Ms. Chase, it’s been more than two months, and I still haven’t been contacted for a date yet. I am not satisfied
with your service, so I think it would be best if we terminate our arrangement. At least for the time being.”

“Well, I beg to differ, Ms. Hastings,” she replies without skipping a beat.

Unfortunately, I’m miserable at terminating arrangements. I’m afraid to make a fuss, send a meal back, return defective merchandise, point out mistakes on the bill. It hadn’t taken Anna Padgett—one of my first therapists, and below-average in every way—too long to figure out that my phobia of being judged by servicepersons could be traced back to the end of my senior year, when my mother insisted I keep the tags on my prom dress (“$217 dollars for something you’ll only wear once? It’s a
sin!
Your brothers never spent even
close
to this much!”) and made a huge, public scene the day after the dance when the saleslady at the fancy store where we bought it refused to take it back.

“No returns on evening wear, ma’am. Says so right there on the bill,” she’d said, louder than was necessary.

“But she didn’t even wear it!” Mom shrieked, while I pretended to be dead, invisible and not hungover at the same time. I was also still reeling from the fact that I hadn’t lost my virginity, despite my best-laid plans. By the time I’d finally peeled it off my aching, poisoned body at six-thirty that morning, the dress I’d insisted I’d die without—a sand-colored Calvin Klein knockoff, barely more than a shiny slip, really—already made me want to forget that the whole night had ever happened.

“Are you saying my daughter’s
lying
?”

The salesgirl raised an overly plucked eyebrow.

Mom snatched the dress, stuffed it into the bag and stomped out of the store, pushing several other mothers and their nondrunk, nonlying, proud-to-be-a-virgin daughters out of the way.

On the way home, I threw up in the bag.

Of course, my mother refused to have the dress dry-cleaned (“Your father’s not spending one more
penny
on that thing!”) so it ended up snagged and ruined and four-and-a-half sizes too small after she ran it through our old Maytag. The textile embodiment of all this pain hung in the back of my closet until the day I moved into my first apartment, where, in a small ashtray during a simple ceremony, I burned the silk of my adolescent shame in effigy.

All this to say Ms. Violet Chase was not going to get the better of me. Not without a fight. Not today.

“But it’s been over two months,” I remind her, “and I believe you said I could get my money back if nothing happened.”

“Minus the sitting fee.”

“Yeah, minus that. I know.”

“Ms. Hastings, I’m going to be frank with you.”

“Please do.”

“It would be a shame to let your membership slide now, sweetie. New Year’s is coming up and it’s a very busy time for us. I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you I think you should give it another month.”

I can only assume she’s suggesting the Moneyed Mates who’d already passed me up once might be getting desperate enough to choke back their revulsion and take me for a spin around the block. In the bathroom mirror, beneath the stark fluorescent lighting, my pores seem deep and dirty as potholes. Tears I hadn’t noticed welling up begin to slide down my cheeks.
A date for New Year’s would be nice, and maybe with the proper facial…

Slowly, my resolve slips away.

“Well…how much is it again? Just for another month?”

An exasperated groan escapes from Ms. Chase, whose tight white face I imagine contorting in agony at my utter stupidity. “Didn’t you read the contract you signed?”

A second ago I was her sweetie, but now that she has me on the hook again, I’m just another idiot taking up her valuable time. “Refresh my memory.”

“The special introductory offer was $995 for sixty days,
including
initial setup fee and including membership dues. Each month thereafter, we charge $150 to your credit card unless you cancel. That’s why I’m calling. We tried to put the charge through and it was declined.”

A knock at the door.

“Sorry—I’m in here!” I call out.

“You gonna be much longer?” It sounds like Cy.

“Yes… No… I mean, hold on.” How incredibly rude to pressure a woman to come out of the washroom. “Can’t you use the one down the hall?”

“Sorry,” he grumbles.

Is there anything more nerve-racking than someone lurking on the other side of the bathroom door, sighing audibly?
Especially
when there’s no good reason for it. It’s not like we’re on an airplane or in a nightclub. There are three other freaking toilets on this floor alone.

“Oh. I think it expired,” I lie to Ms. Chase, silently praising myself for having the foresight to decline that last limit increase tendered by Visa. (If you cough up those minimum monthly payments like a good girl, they “reward” you with all kinds of nice offers and upgrades and points, but ask yourself this: Whose interest is served, exactly, by all that interest you’re paying? Hint: Not yours.) But $2000 of credit card debt is my absolute cutoff. Any more than that, and it’s impossible to ignore.

“Yes, yes. The new number, please, Ms. Hastings.” I might as well have told her my dog ate my paycheck, because she clearly doesn’t believe me, nor could she care less, so long as I ante up.

Shamed into submission yet again, I read out my Master
Card number, wish her a Merry Christmas, even, and hang up. But it just doesn’t seem right.

I straighten my collar, blow my nose and step back out into the hallway, where Cy is picking his teeth with a matchbook.

“I thought you’d left. Sorry,” I mumble in the unsorriest way possible and push past him.

“What were you doing in there? Are you okay?” he calls out after me, but I pretend not to hear.

 

I toss and turn for hours, trying to imagine what I’m doing wrong, where I’m failing in my plan, in my life. Certainly, I’m open to the possibility of meeting someone; George and I both are. We have been diligently hanging out in grocery stores and coffee shops in the best parts of town. We’ve been doing happy hour in the financial district and brunch at the Hyatt downtown, for lack of anywhere better to go. And as for Moneyed Mates and my scandalous personal introduction, I’m not about to change it—not on your life. Even though George and I are both beyond broke from months of $10 cocktails and $20 omelettes, my reluctance has nothing to do with the $250 Ms. Chase would probably charge me to redo my tape. I am who I am, and if a guy doesn’t want to date me because I dare to speak the truth,
my
truth, then I would rather not be with him, anyway.

I suppose.

So I’m not going to regret the tape. And I’m not going to beat myself up over letting that meanie talk me into parting with another one hundred and fifty hard-earned dollars. Maybe she’s right—maybe the optimism (or desperation) of a New Year would lead to a date from a Moneyed Mate. I’m just going to have to be patient, give it a little longer…

But in the morning, I am still bothered. Bothered by my failure, not by my still-singleness, I realize as I pump gas into my Tercel in the freezing cold. (
Dammit!
8:56—I’m going
to be late. Again.) The fact that I will most likely spend New Year’s Eve with George and her mothers watching
Pretty in Pink
and eating kosher Chinese food doesn’t faze me. The fact that I never seem to make good on any of my resolutions does.

No matter how hard I try, things never seem to change.

When I pull into the parking lot at work, I grab some cash and my phone, and leave my coat and purse in the car to make it seem as if I haven’t just arrived—
Who, me? I’ve been in since dawn. You?
—and try to not look cold and rushed as I walk past Cy’s office and the desks of all my coworkers. Of course, the message light on my phone flashes tellingly when I finally slip behind my desk at 9:20ish. And of course, I spend the entire morning calling back proud suburban mommies wanting to submit head-shots of their offspring at $65 a pop for our “Babies of the Year” section before the deadline of noon today.

After a nice long lunch with Jesse, during which he tells me in excruciating detail how he plans to propose to whateverherdamnnameis at “exactly midnight” on New Year’s Eve, I decide to devote the rest of the day to consoling myself with peanut M&M’s from the machine in the lobby and figuring out why George and I are having so much trouble landing Moneyed Mates.

But first, I think I’ll read the paper.

You might assume that I always read the paper, but you’d be wrong. Although I’m technically supposed to check over the ads and obits every day, I find the legion of overeager copyediting interns remarkably adept at making sure all the
i
’s are dotted and
t
’s are crossed. (Save for that one time Mrs. Millicent Beasley’s grieving friends and family were politely requested to make donations to the American Dung Association in lieu of flowers.)

While skimming the
Bugle
’s front section, a little wire story picked up from the Associated Press catches my eye. The headline reads, “Buffalo Rated Least Desirable City For Dogs.”

That seems a little harsh, I think, and proceed to read about how bad the canine set seems to have it here in the Queen City, which ranks dead last on a list compiled from such generally well-regarded indicators as mean annual temperature, square acreage of urban green space, veterinarians
per dogita
and the average income of pet owners.

Average income?

Hmmm…

Wait a second…

Could it be?

Frantically, I Google “Buffalo Millionaires.”

Oh my.

It hadn’t occurred to me that the problem wasn’t me. Or George. Or our boobs or brains or posture or personality or hair or hearts or any of the other innumerable things we’re taught to believe make us either attractive or abhorrent to the opposite sex. Yet there it is, plain as day, spelled out in detailed census information over the last one hundred years. The problem is Buffalo!
The problem is Buffalo!

After an hour of research and two packs of M&M’s, I have discovered four crucial facts:

1. In the year 1900, Buffalo, NY, was home to the most millionaires per capita in the United States.

By the turn of that century, you apparently couldn’t throw a croquet mallet in these parts without hitting a titan of industry or future president. Buffalo’s location at the terminus of the Erie Canal and near the burgeoning hydroelectric potential of Niagara Falls attracted prospective East Coast shipping magnates and bankers and businessmen, and here they founded their empires. Pretty soon, their wealth was ex
panding faster than the railway tracks they laid to connect their city’s bustling port with the rest of the country.

2. There are between three-and-a-half and-five
million
millionaires currently living
throughout
the United States.

Although I can’t find any statistics related to their marital status, it’s pretty much safe to assume that several hundred thousand of them are still single and in the market for the love of their life.

3. In the year 2000, Seattle, WA, was home to the most millionaires in the United States.

By the turn of this century, however, Buffalo had become synonymous with chicken wings, while on the other side of the country, those teenage alchemists at Microsoft had spun software into gold during the ’80s and ’90s. Stock options made thousands of employees a part of the Millionaire club. Legions of nerds were rolling down their mansions’ driveways in Bentleys and bling-bling.

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