Authors: Jennifer Weiner
* * *
Barbara Simoneaux had dated a fellow named Larry Krantz from the start of junior year through high school, and had followed him to Michigan State. Larry was a nice guy who’d grown up with three older sisters and, thanks to them, had a talent for styling girls’ hair. At the end of their dates, Bethie remembered, he would roll Barbara’s hair up in empty orange-juice containers after he’d kissed her good night. Everyone thought that they’d be together forever, but Barbara had met someone she liked better. Ronald Pearlman had been her brother Andy’s freshman-year roommate at the U of M. Barbara had dumped Larry, who, she said, had taken the news with his usual Larry-like equanimity. She and Ronald had gotten engaged the previous June.
“Remember when Andy used to want us to play Mister Potato Head with him?” Bethie asked as Barbara fussed with her dark-brown bouffant in the mirror.
Barbara nodded. “And then he got older and he’d hide under my bed when you came over and try to look up your skirt.”
“Really?” Bethie asked, and Barbara laughed.
“Don’t be flattered. He did it to everyone.” Barbara turned, peering at her teeth in the mirror, making sure she hadn’t gotten any lipstick on her incisors. They were in the bride’s room of Adath Israel, the synagogue on Rochester Avenue where Jo had gotten married and where, once upon a time, Bethie had wowed the crowd with her improvisational performance as Queen Esther. “So, what’s it like to be back home?”
“Strange. Everything looks too big.” It was true. The cars looked enormous, the yards looked as big as some of London’s parks, and the roads were as wide as football fields.
“How’s it going with your mother?” Barbara’s voice was
sympathetic. Of all of Bethie’s friends, Barbara was the one who knew the most of the story. She knew how Bethie had gotten pregnant, and how she’d ended the pregnancy; she knew how Bethie had run, how she’d missed her sister’s wedding, and how Sarah had let it be known, after Bethie’s departure, that Bethie had broken her heart.
“Oh, just great. She’s happy that I’m back.” Bethie braced for questions. Barbara had to know that, even if Sarah was delighted to have her younger daughter home, she was surely less than delighted with Bethie’s appearance, and her lack of a college degree, or a husband, or a job.
Instead of asking, Barbara turned back to the mirror, twisting left, then right.
“Am I a beautiful bride?”
“You are.” Barbara had chosen a simple sheath-style wedding gown that fell just past her knees, with no train, a fingertip veil, and white pumps that she was planning on dyeing some other, more practical color after the wedding. Bethie was wearing the less awful of the two choices her mother had brought home from Hudson’s, a shapeless dark-blue polyester tent that fell almost to her ankles, with a high neck, long, full sleeves, and a large paisley print that made it look like a slipcover. Mister Jeffrey had clucked at her hair, had trimmed off an inch—“just the dead ends, hon”—and had styled it to what were undoubtedly Sarah’s specifications, so that it obscured as much of Bethie’s round face as possible. Her jaw ached from having to remain open for so long, as her dentist tut-tutted over the state of her teeth. Her feet hurt because they were crammed into a pair of beige patent-leather shoes with a kitten heel. Bethie hadn’t worn any kind of heels since she’d ditched Michigan, and when she walked she felt like a lurching freight train, graceless and huge.
Barbara’s mother, in her pale-pink mother-of-the-bride dress, stuck her head inside the door. “You gals ready?” Bethie saw the way Mrs. Simoneaux’s eyes shone when she looked at her
daughter, and how her expression became sympathetic when she turned to look at Bethie. Anger surged inside her, and Bethie tried to push it aside.
I could have this, if I wanted it
, she told herself. She could starve herself thin again, cut her hair, find a guy, buy a little house in a neighborhood full of identical little houses. She could have everything Barbara had, everything her sister had, only she didn’t want it, not any of it.
“All set.” Barbara rolled on more lipstick, smacked her lips together, and smoothed her dress over her hips. Bethie stood up. She fluffed her friend’s veil, picked up her bouquet, and followed Barbara out into the sanctuary.
* * *
After the wedding, there was a luncheon at the synagogue. After the luncheon, the guests saw Barbara and Ronald off in a shower of rice, and some of the younger ones went to Suzy Q’s on Woodward Avenue for burgers. After the burgers, they adjourned to a bar, and by eleven o’clock the crowd had thinned to Bethie, Barbara’s brother Andy, Andy’s friend Art Lipkin, Art’s girlfriend Suzanne Loeb, and Leonard Weiss, Jo’s old high school boyfriend.
“She’s married?” Len asked. Bethie had spent the last hour or so telling stories of her travels—the ashram in India, the beaches in Goa, the forests in Nepal, where you’d fall asleep to the sound of monkeys swinging overhead in the trees.
“Married,” Bethie confirmed. She could still barely believe it herself. She’d met Dave Braverman once, in New York City. She had found her sister’s husband handsome and charming. Maybe a little too handsome and a little too charming. She’d felt his eyes on her chest and her backside when Jo introduced her, when she took off her coat and sat down at their table. She’d been thinner then.
Leonard lowered his voice and brought his head close to Bethie’s. “Hey, so, uh . . . you got any weed?”
, Bethie thought. “Yes. From Amsterdam.” “Amsterdam” was the magic word. Everyone assumed that, because pot
was legal there, it was better than anything they could buy at home. “I’ve got Thai sticks and sinsemilla.” Bethie kept her voice businesslike, remembering how Dev used to speak to his clients. “I can sell the pot by the lid, or it’s a hundred dollars for an ounce.”
“A hundred dollars?” Leonard’s voice was incredulous.
“Worth it,” Bethie said, and smiled into his eyes. “I promise.”
She reached into her handbag. Leonard bounced from foot to foot.
“Tell you what,” he said. “I’ve got some friends who want to buy. They can meet us out back. Can I call them?”
Bethie nodded. Leonard went outside to find a phone booth. Ten minutes later, he checked his watch and nodded at her. They went outside to where a beat-up Mustang was sitting with its engine on. There were two guys up front, another two in the back seat. Leonard opened the door, and Bethie was just getting ready to climb inside when a cop car pulled into the parking lot with its lights flashing and its sirens blaring.
“Shit!” Leonard yelped.
“Step out of the car,” came a voice from the bullhorn on top of the police car. For a minute, Bethie thought about running . . . but where would she go?
She stepped out of the car, trying to remember what Dev had told her.
Don’t raise your voice. Don’t tell them anything except
I want a lawyer
. It’s just another adventure
, she told herself as one of the officers escorted her away from Leonard’s friend’s car and into the back of his own.
* * *
Sarah didn’t say a word as she led Bethie out of the police station on Livernois Avenue and into the car. Not a word as she steered onto Twelve Mile Road, not a word as she merged clumsily onto the freeway, slowing down, then speeding up abruptly, as cars honked and flashed their lights behind her. Bethie waited for tears, or shouting, but Sarah was silent.
“I’m sorry,” Bethie ventured when they were on Rochester.
Her mother didn’t answer.
“I’ll pay you back for everything,” Bethie said. She would need a lawyer, she thought. Maybe Dev would know one. If she could find him, and if he’d even take her call.
Sarah pulled into the driveway and turned off the car. Instead of getting out, she sat behind the wheel as the engine ticked. Bethie sat beside her, head bent, waiting.
“I thought you were the good one,” Sarah finally said. “My good girl.” Sarah shook her head. Her curls were still sprayed stiff from the wedding, but she had chewed off all her lipstick, except for a single splotch on the right side of her lower lip. “And now look at you. Jo’s married, married to a good man, with a beautiful little girl and another one on the way. Jo has a home, Jo has a family, Jo’s happy. And you!”
“I’m happy,” Bethie said.
“You’re selling drugs.” Sarah’s voice was a moan. “You came back here to sell drugs.”
“I didn’t come back here to sell drugs, I came for Barbara’s wedding.” The drugs had been a last-minute decision, after Bethie realized that she wouldn’t be able to purchase a ticket to her next destination unless she scrambled up some cash, but she didn’t want to tell her mother that.
“You’re not too far away from turning thirty! And this is your life?”
“Maybe it so happens that I like my life this way.”
Sarah groaned. She shoved her hands into her hair and started tugging, a gesture Bethie recognized from the night her father had died. “I wanted everything for you,” she said through her tears. “Everything.” She looked up, eyes streaming, mascara running in muddy tracks down her cheeks. “What did I do? Where did I go wrong?”
Bethie bit her lip.
“Your father died. That was hard, I know. It was hard for all of us. But I got through it, and Jo got through it, and you . . .” Sarah shook her head, as if her despair had reached a level beyond
Bethie kept her eyes straight ahead, looking at the front door. Sarah would stop talking eventually. Bethie would go inside. She’d take a long, hot shower. She’d sleep. Things would look better in the morning.
“And that boy, in college, and the rock show, and . . .” Sarah waved her hand in a shooing gesture that Bethie supposed was meant to represent her abortion. “I told myself,
She’s been hurt. Give her time.
But it’s been years.” Sarah’s voice cracked. “Is this what you want? Is this all you’ll ever be?”
“I don’t know, Ma.” Bethie hadn’t meant to say anything, but it felt as if some invisible force was wrenching the words out of her. Her throat was tight, and her eyes were full of tears, and all she wanted to do was to go backward, to unspool time, to erase her abortion, her rape, Uncle Mel’s hands, her father’s death. She wanted to go back to Adath Israel and be that pretty, smiling little girl onstage. She wanted to stand with her sister and her mother beside her, to feel her father’s hands, warm and steady on her shoulders; to hear his voice saying,
My little girl was fantastic.
“I really don’t know.”
* * *
Sarah left her at the bus station. Instead of kissing her, she’d simply nodded when Bethie said “Goodbye.” The
was the three folded twenty-dollar bills she’d pressed into Bethie’s hand before Bethie climbed out of the car.
Bethie bought a ticket to New York City. When she got to Port Authority thirty-six hours later, she made her way out of the bus station and began walking downtown. An hour later, she’d found a club she’d remembered, a place where she’d once heard Phil Ochs. That night, a band called Television was making something that did not even sound like music. Bethie withstood an angry blast of cacophonous guitar as the lead singer—if you could even call him that—shrieked into the microphone. How had things changed so much? she wondered. How had so much
time gone by, without her even noticing? How had she gotten so old? In the grotty ladies’ room, she’d watched a woman with a mop of bleached-blond hair and tattered fishnet stockings loop a length of rubber tubing around her bicep while she held a loaded syringe clamped between her teeth, the way a pirate might have held a dagger. Pirates made her think of Dev, and thinking of Dev made her angry, and suddenly the woman was glaring at her.
“What the fuck are you staring at?” the woman had snarled, and Bethie had turned away, catching sight of her own face in the mirror. Her skin was pale, her lips were chapped, and her eyes looked haunted. She had forty-eight dollars in her pocket, and no idea where to go next.
She’d walked out of the club, ears ringing from the noise, and found a spot on a bench in Washington Square Park. There she’d sat, holding Jo’s backpack against her chest, trying to decide what to do next, when she heard a woman’s voice, almost in her ear.
“Hey, little sister.”
Bethie’s heart jumped. She remembered the twin bed in the house on Alhambra Street, with Jo in it beside her.
Princess Bethie was locked in the tippy-top of the tall stone tower, with thorns all the way down, and nothing but a stale loaf of bread and one tin cup of water.
She remembered the way she had leaned toward her sister, fingers hooked into the side of her mattress, her heart beating fast in the darkness, saying
Tell me how it ends.
She turned. A woman was perched on the bench, her feet where Bethie was sitting and her bottom on top of the rail. She was tall, flat-chested, and slender, with wide-set eyes and dark-brown hair. Her long legs were encased in velvet jeans, and she wore a floppy, wide-brimmed black velvet hat.
“I’m Ronnie,” said the woman, and pulled a joint out of her pocket. “Do you mind?”
Bethie shook her head.
“Were you here for the show?” Ronnie asked. She passed Bethie
the joint. Bethie took a hit. Good stuff. Not as good as Dev’s had been, but not bad.
“I heard Phil Ochs down here. A long, long time ago,” Bethie said.
Ronnie was looking at Bethie, her eyes intent. Bethie turned away. When she turned back, Ronnie was still looking.
“Didn’t anyone tell you that it’s rude to stare?” Bethie snapped.
“Sorry,” said Ronnie, sounding unapologetic. “I’m a healer. An intuitive.” Bethie kept her face blank, but inside, she was rolling her eyes. She’d run the same game on unsuspecting guys all over the world.
Give me your hand
, she’d tell them, in the dim corner of some club or bar.
I can read palms.
She’d trace the lines on their palm with one fingertip, murmuring nonsense about their love or their health or their heart line while gazing deep into their eyes, sometimes while delicately removing their wallets from their pockets.
Ronnie must have missed Bethie’s scorn, because she was still talking. “Sometimes I get senses about the people I meet. And I’m getting a very strong feeling that you’re in a lot of pain. Psychic pain,” she clarified, touching her spread palm to her heart.