Authors: Cathryn Cade
“Um, sure,” she said. “I can be there in…thirty minutes.” Her parents lived on Bull Mountain, which meant she would have to battle summer evening traffic.
“All right. See you then.”
Carlie clicked her phone off and set it down as she pulled up her panties and shimmied to settle them on her hips. Something was up. She just hoped it wasn’t too bad.
An hour later, Carlie sat at the glass-topped table on the large deck in her parents’ backyard. She had a glass of Columbia Crest chardonnay in her hand, and a half-eaten salad before her. She was relaxed and comfortable in black capris and tank with built-in bra, her hair tied back with a black-and-pink flowered scarf. She wiggled her toes in her black velvet-strapped flip-flops and took another drink of the light, fragrant wine.
Her mother had yet to spring anything unpleasant on her and even seemed determined to make the most of the chance to listen as Carlie shared about her week.
Typically, Carlie’s father had claimed her when she walked in the front door, with a hug and a demand that she come and view the latest woodworking project in his large basement workshop. She spent some time admiring the bookshelf he was crafting of oak, no hardship as the wood was smooth and gleaming, the workmanship perfect. The big space was full of the expensive tools and stacks of wood and finishing materials of his avocation. Other men played golf or fished; George Milton relaxed after a day writing insurance policies by working with wood.
“It’s beautiful,” she said sincerely. She had two end tables and an entertainment center in the living room of her apartment that he’d built for her.
“It’s yours if you want it,” George Milton said, stroking a polishing cloth over the top. A big, ex-athlete now gone soft, his dark blond hair mostly gray, he sighed dolefully. “Seth and Tiffany have some exotic hardwoods chosen for their new condo—although I’d like to know how they’re going to pay for the stuff on their salaries. Anyway, your mother says if I want to put more furniture in
house, I have to buy her a bigger one.”
Father and daughter exchanged a look, both knowing Paula would love to have a bigger house, but with Seth and Carlie gone, she couldn’t manufacture a good reason to need one.
“I could put it in my bedroom,” Carlie said, thinking. “For my romance novels.”
Her father scowled in mock indignation. “You’d stack bare-chested men on your father’s bookshelf?”
She wrinkled her nose. “Well, when you put it that way…”
He gave a last swipe of his polishing cloth to the wood and tossed the cloth aside. “At least that way the shelves will have pretty girls on them too, eh? I’ll have it finished soon. Just needs one more coat of sealant. Now we’d better go up to dinner before your mom sends the cavalry after us.”
Paula had just been putting the last touches on a green salad with mandarin orange and almond slices when they came upstairs to her big kitchen. Carlie’s height, she was reed slim, with highlighted blonde hair and perfect makeup. She wore slim black slacks and a sleeveless mint-green blouse, with diamonds at her ears, throat, wrist and finger.
She turned to flick a look over the two of them, as if assessing whether they were presentable for the dinner table. Her lips curved up a smile that to Carlie, trained by a lifetime of judging her mother’s moods, held a nervous edge. “Here you are,” she said. “Come and help. Carlie, you take the salad, and George the casserole. Careful, it’s hot.”
Now they sat at the outdoor dining table on the back veranda, which looked out over a large lawn and manicured gardens, and a hazy view of Portland’s Mount Tabor in the distance. The temperature had cooled to a balmy eighty degrees in the shade here on the east side of the big house. The deck was also covered, because Portland received a lot of rain in the spring and fall. It was going to rain later this evening, if the dark purple clouds building in the west were any indication. Carlie hoped the rain waited till she got home. She didn’t like getting all wet when she was dressed.
She took a sip of her wine and picked up her fork.
“I spoke with Tiffany this afternoon,” her mother said, her gaze on her wineglass, which she set down with careful precision on her tastefully flowered placemat.
Carlie took another bite of salad, enjoying the tart sweetness of orange, the cool crunch of lettuce and the salty edge of almond. She swallowed. “Really? What’s she up to?” As if she needed to ask. Even though it was not happening until November, The Wedding occupied every one of the brunette’s brain cells not required for her job as a receptionist and her task of turning Seth into an appropriate groom for her wonderful self. Okay, that was catty, but still. Tiffany was a bit…driven.
“Well, it seems that her cousin Stacy isn’t able to be a bridesmaid after all.”
Carlie paused with her fork partway to her mouth. Uh-oh, trouble in the ranks. She herself had not been invited to be a bridesmaid. At the time this had hurt her feelings, but Tiffany had explained that she had four friends she needed to invite, and a cousin whom Tiffany’s mother insisted at the last moment had to be a bridesmaid, and Seth only had five friends to ask to be groomsmen. Seth was not happy about Carlie’s exclusion, but Carlie assured him and his bride-to-be she was fine hostessing the table where the guests would sign the wedding book.
Then, when Carlie met Tiffany’s equally chirpy and type-A besties and neurotic cousin at the engagement party, she’d realized having to spend time with all of them doing bridesmaid-ish things would be sheer torture. Tiffany with Seth was a different person. Tiffany with her gaggle of gal pals was not someone with whom Carlie wanted to hang out. So, she’d shrugged mentally and gone on with her life.
Daisy had been pissed on her behalf, but Sara noted that at least this way Carlie could relax at the wedding and party with family and friends instead of with Tiffany’s bitchy and Seth’s immature friends.
Since Carlie agreed on both counts, she had relaxed, smiling at her own best friends. She and her brother, who was only a year younger, got along well, but while she liked his friends, she preferred them sober. And since Seth was the first of them to marry, at his wedding his friends would not be sober. They’d be drinking hard, while doing their best to get the groom so drunk he couldn’t perform in the bridal suite at the downtown Revillion hotel. The evening wedding would be held in the Revillion ballroom, and nearly an entire floor had been reserved for any bridal guests who wished to stay the night.
Now Carlie nodded, trying to look sympathetic about the bride’s plight, while her mother gave her a pained smile. Carlie’s father took another roll from the basket, staying out of the discussion, something at which he had become adept while living with a high-strung wife, and with a daughter. If pressed for an opinion, he would amiably ask them to repeat the entire conversation. Since Paula was too impatient to do so, this tactic worked for him.
“So,” her mother said, rubbing her fingertip up and down the stem of her wineglass in a nervous gesture, “I suggested that you might like to fill in. Tiffany thinks that would work.”
“No, really, I—” Carlie began. Be a fill-in bridesmaid? A last-minute pinch-hitter? No, thank you very much.
“Of course, you’d have to lose a little weight,” her mother went on in a rush. “To fit the bridesmaid dress. But you could do that. After all, you have until November. That’s four months.”
Carlie stared, her mother’s words ringing in her ears. Paula smiled encouragingly, eyes wide.
“She doesn’t need to lose any weight,” her father protested. He laid his hand over Carlie’s and squeezed, his grip warm and damp but reassuring.
Carlie barely felt it. The salad and wine knotted in her stomach, and she had to swallow hard to keep it down. Fire climbed her chest, her throat and into her face. Humiliation and rage poured up through her in a scalding wave.
“Tiffany said I can be her bridesmaid, if I
?” she repeated numbly. This was why she hadn’t been invited in the first place, because she was too fat to stand beside the toothpick bride and her friends? Stacy was so skinny Carlie was pretty sure she was anorexic.
Her father looked up, roll halfway to his mouth, alerted by her tone. Her mother cocked her head, her lipsticked mouth in a sympathetic moue. “You can do it, sweetie. I just know you can. You’re going to that gym and working out. Just cut back a little more, and the pounds will pour off.”
Paula’s gaze flicked away from Carlie’s as she clearly sensed she’d gone too far. She popped out of her chair, grabbing the salad bowl away with maniacal cheer. “Now, let’s have some chicken. I made it extra-light for you.”
She whipped the lid off the casserole, and Carlie and her father stared in silence at the chicken breasts huddled in the dish, each with a tiny dab of green-flecked white on their skinless surfaces.
“Where’s the damn sauce?” George demanded, his voice rising. “That’s not chicken tarragon, it’s—it’s naked poultry. It’s a desecration of fine cuisine.”
“It’s low calorie,” his wife hissed to him.
Carlie shoved back her chair with a loud grate of metal on wood decking. “You know, I’m…just not hungry anymore,” she said, which was the truth. “Mother, go get the pan of sauce I saw heating on the back of the range and feed it to Dad. He’s right—that chicken is a cooking felony.”
Her parents stared, her father in loving dismay and her mother with guilty determination and a hint of pleasure at the news that her daughter was full on only salad. Carlie rose and set her napkin carefully by her plate.
“You can tell Tiffany I won’t be able to be her bridesmaid,” she said. “I just like my cupcakes too much, y’know?”
She watched with satisfaction as her mother flinched. Then she walked around the table, kissed her father’s cheek, air-kissed in the vicinity of her mother’s cheek and walked away.
“Sweetie, don’t go,” her father called. “We’ll have double sauce, whaddya say?”
Carlie didn’t stop. She loved her father, but if she had to stay in the same airspace with her mother right now, she was going to do or say something she could never take back. She didn’t know what, but it would be bad.
And then she’d probably dump half the pan of tarragon sauce on her chicken and gobble it down even though she didn’t really want it anymore, in some childish can-if-I-want-to act of defiance. That was how her mother affected her.
Carlie drove back down Bull Mountain in a state of alternating hot and cold misery. This hurt was too big even to summon up any satisfying fantasies of vengeance and tearful remorse.
, now that Carlie was an adult, a successful career woman, chose to define her by her figure. Which Paula considered too fat. Too fat to get a man, too fat to stand in front of family and friends as her brother got married. Too fat, too fat,
. Not good enough the way she was, even though Carlie took after her father’s side of the family and he had two tall, plump sisters who were attractive and happily married. And now Tiffany was joining in the fray, on her mother’s side. How dare she?
The clouds moved over the sun, casting purple shadows over the boulevard. The clouds were nearly black with rain. Light flickered within them, and the air blowing in her open car window was oppressive with humidity.
It was going to storm, all right, and it would be a doozy. Part of her wanted to stand on the highest hilltop around while the rain pelted and the wind blew, throw her head back and scream into the belly of the storm. But since she did not want to get struck by lightning, this was probably not a good idea.
However, she needed…something.
First things first. She pulled over into a half-empty store parking lot, whipped out her phone, opened her e-mail, scrolled to a saved message, checked the address, took a deep breath and hit Send.
There. She’d finally done it. She’d applied to Club 3 for membership. And, irony of ironies, her own mother had driven her to join a sex club now, instead of later.
She’d meant to send the e-mail earlier, as she’d promised Daisy, but she kept hesitating with her mouse on the Send icon. Chickening out, more like it. Had Jake
meant that he wanted her to come to the club? Did he really want her to be with him? Attacked by uncertainty, she’d saved the form in the Drafts folder of her e-mail.
Well, now it was done. And she was through with trying to be the “good girl”. The heck with that, and the heck with her mother. She, Carlie Milton, was going to break free and have some wild, crazy, outrageous fun.
She slowed at the turn to her apartment, then put her foot down on the gas pedal and sped on down the boulevard. A salad was not enough dinner. She was hungry. No, she was ravenous. Black Magic Donuts might be closed, but Zellaby’s was open.
Jake had just finished showing a flustered, fifty-ish woman how to use the leg press. He watched as she executed five presses, making sure she kept the angle of her knee between one-eighty and ninety degrees. Then he nodded.
“Okay, Barbara, you got it. Do the other leg exactly the same way. For your second week here, you’re lookin’ like a real pro. But any questions, you come find me or Troy, okay?”
She nodded back, gave him a shy smile, her already red face going another shade darker.