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Authors: Jackie Rose

Slim Chance

BOOK: Slim Chance
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JACKIE ROSE

was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, where she now lives 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.
Slim Chance
is her debut 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 also currently hard at work on her second book.

For Dan, my one and only love

SLIM CHANCE

JACKIE ROSE

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thanks to…
Robyn Berman, for lighting a fire under me and keeping it burning. Sam Bell, my devoted editor, for all your help and encouragement, every step of the way. Rachel Pritzker, for being the absolute polar opposite of the mother-in-law in this book. Nelu Wolfensohn, for that whole roof over our heads thing. Riana Levy, Tara Cogan, Wendy Cooper, Kathy De Koven and Ilana Kronick, for being the very paragons of friendship, if not always virtue. Lorne Scharf, photo expert, for the back-cover shot. Rose and Issie Lipkus, for your endless smiles and support. Natalie Rosenhek—aka “Bubba”—for baby-sitting with a passion. Shoel Rosenhek, for getting me started with all those trips to the library. Jordy, for sending news of the world home from New York, London and beyond. Sarah, lover of ideas and pursuer of wisdom, for everything, always. Sandy Lipkus, for being the best teacher I ever had.

And, of course, Abigail,
for helping with revisions from the inside.

1

I
f you’ve ever puked at work, it has probably been for one of two reasons—either you’re desperately, uncontrollably ill with some type of stomach flu or food poisoning, in which case you’re just glad to have made it to the bathroom on time and don’t really care if anyone hears you throwing your guts up, or else you’re sick in the sort of way you’d prefer to keep to yourself (i.e., violently hung over; just discovered you’re pregnant; fired, and so on). That afternoon, as I stared down into the bowl in the unforgiving light of the ladies’ room on the third-floor offices of Kendra White Cosmetics, The Second-Largest Direct-Selling Makeup Company In America, I realized that this situation definitely falls into the latter category, the sort of barfing where you pray for privacy while processing the certain knowledge that your entire life as you know it is about to change.

I can’t believe I said yes.

Until that moment, thanks to a healthy aversion to mayonnaise and an inherited ability to hold my liquor, I’d never suffered the indignity of being sick in public. Now, though, a gaggle of thick-stockinged co-workers fretted outside the stall
door, gossipful glee disguised as concern. They’d seen me bolt for the bathroom. Now they waited for completion.

Please, just let me not puke.

But it was no use. My eyes filled with water, my knees hit the floor and the bowl became my whole world. In my day-to-day life at Kendra White, I make a concerted effort not to put my ass anywhere
near
these toilets. Now, my face was inside one.

An eternity passed, during which time I pretended I was in the Ally McBeal Unisex, so sterile, so sleek, so much
fun
…not at all like this abysmal pit, where ladies’ unmentionables are strewn all over the wet floor and the garbage can’s always overstuffed.
Oh my God, is that a pubic hair on the seat?

“Are you all right, Evelyn? Do you need someone to hold your hair back?” Pruscilla Cockburn, my boss, wheezed from the other side.

“No, I’m fine,” I gagged.

“Well then, get a hold of yourself, dear. It’s only nerves! You’re going to make a
wonderful
wife. And what a fellow, that Bruce. He’s waiting just outside the door, you know. Gosh! Have you ever
seen
such a romantic proposal? Well I know I certainly haven’t—not even on
A Wedding Story,
and I’ve got every one on tape. I mean, can you
imagine?
Asking her at
work?
In front of
everyone…?

At this point, it was obvious she’d forgotten all about me, and was simply sharing with the others. What a hag. I had just suffered the worst sort of humiliation imaginable, my love life savagely ripped from the privacy of my own heart and put on display in front of everyone I hate most in the world, and all Pruscilla could think about was what a great story it would make at the coffee cart tomorrow morning. My entire life had just been turned upside down, and all they could think about was how it affected
them.
I turned away from the bowl and saw four pairs of feet, each in worse shoes than the next. Pruscilla’s were stuffed like sausages into worn-out red pumps. She always
matches her shoes to her outfits—vast swaths of brightly colored fabric that go under the guise of “caftans” and “capes” in plus-size stores. They should be illegal, as far as I’m concerned.

“I’m okay. I’m coming out,” I sniffed, opening the door.

 

I should have seen it coming. Bruce’s proposal, I mean, not the puking.

That morning, for some reason, I read my horoscope, which is something I never do, seeing as how I’m usually far too late to read the paper, or even bring it in, mind you. Plus, I hate touching newsprint—it always ends up all over everything, especially my face. Not that I really believe in astrology anyway. Except for maybe the page at the back of
Cosmo,
since it’s a magazine, not a newspaper, and because once I used the lucky numbers and won $125 in the lottery. But I suppose that’s numerology.

Anyway, that morning, my horoscope was dead-on, although I had no way of knowing it at the time. The first sign that the planets were aligning against me occurred when I actually woke up early. Well, not so much
early
as just not late. And Bruce, dear that he is, made us breakfast. Three-egg cheese and mushroom omelets—
with
the yolks, of course; none of that whites-only shit for us—and coffee. It was unusual for me to lose my dietary resolve so early in the day (that usually doesn’t happen until right before lunch), but I knew that since it was Friday anyway, Monday would doubtlessly be a better time to start watching myself. Better not to spoil the weekend, and all the wonderful meals that might have been.

“Evie, you wanna go out for dinner tonight, just us?” Bruce asked, knowing full well we almost always go out Friday nights, just us. He probably thought he was being adorable for asking, but to tell you the truth he was verging on smarmy. Or maybe it was just that he’d already asked me three times. With our busy career-person schedules, Bruce doesn’t always see as much of me as he’d like, so I try to keep our weekly date sacred no matter what. That is, unless his mother, Roberta—known as Bertie
to those who love her, or at the very least to those who don’t despise her, since not too many people can claim more than that—decides that she wants to have us over for watery soup and boiled potatoes, in which case we drop everything and run directly to the Fulbrights’ Greenwich, Connecticut compound for a meal that would make dinner with the Royal Family seem like a hoedown.

I was at the very least glad to hear tonight would not be one of those nights. One Friday a month with his mother is quite enough for me, though Bertie would have us over every week if I didn’t put my foot down. It’s my theory that these so-called family nights are really just an excuse for her to try and turn Bruce against me, since she obviously thinks I’m stopping him from fulfilling his true potential. And who could blame me? Bertie sets the tone with interview-style questions like “Bruce, do you feel that teaching second grade is a challenge for you, intellectually speaking?” (A: “As you know, Mother, it’s a school for gifted children, so yes—it
is
a challenge”). Or perhaps a confusing zinger like, “Evelyn, does being Italo-American give you an edge in the mail-order cosmetics industry?” (A: Well, I’m only one half
Italian
-American, Mrs. Fulbright, but no, I don’t think it really makes a difference.”)

Then we all sit back and enjoy the show while Bruce’s wicked WASPy sisters, Brooke, Wendy and, of course, Diana—each lovelier and thinner and perkier-breasted than the next—turn the emasculation of their older brother into a spectator sport, while at the same time taking an obvious mental inventory of every bite I manage to put in my mouth without gagging. By the end of the night, I’m ready to kill, ready to shake his sweet old dad and say “Wake up! They’ve got you by the balls, man! Get out now, while you’ve still got a good 20 years left!” But nobody seems to notice any of it except me, and Bruce and I spend the train ride home fighting.

But we’ll save all that for next Friday. Tonight, we’re free.

“I was thinking Luna,” Bruce continued. “I made reservations for nine.”

He knows I love it there. Luna is where my parents had their first date, a blind date. It was where they fell in love the second they laid eyes on each other. When I was little, and sad or not feeling well, I begged my mom to tell me the story over and over, and she would always oblige, sparing no details—what she was wearing, the food they ate, how my dad said she looked like Elizabeth Taylor, only with brown eyes and a bigger butt. I tried to imagine them there, sitting next to the steamy window on a dark winter night. Luna was also where they went to eat the night I was conceived. It was the last time they did it before my dad died, although she left that part out until I was a little older.

Bruce and I always save Luna for special occasions, never more than once or twice a year. And walking around Little Italy makes us horny and couple-y feeling, so it’s always a guaranteed good time. There’s something so nice about prancing around, arm in arm, flaunting our delirious happiness to the droves of miserable Manhattan singletons out hunting in packs, or, even better, those on obviously painful blind dates. It’s like we’re members of a private club of two, and it reminds me how being a part of something, no matter how troubled or even depressing it may be at times, is usually far superior to being a part of nothing.

“That sounds all right, sweetie,” I said, playing along. Our anniversary was coming up—six years. I figured that’s what he had in mind.

“Okay, so I’ll call you around lunchtime. Will you be in the office or are you planning to go out?” he asked.

“Um, I should be in all day, but I have a meeting around one.” In retrospect, I can see now that he was being unusually inquisitive, but since interest in my workday comings and goings wasn’t something Bruce normally displays, his clumsy attempts at making sure I’d be there were lost on me.

“Good, good,” he said. “Well, have a nice day, then. Call me if you leave work for some reason.”

 

So I was wide-awake, full of omelet and full of energy as I stepped out the door on September 24, a glorious autumn morning, and decided to bring the paper to read on the train, despite the fact that I was wearing my new winter-white three-quarter-length trench from Anne Klein (
Marie Claire,
September: “Revamp Your Fall Wardrobe with These 10 Must-Haves”). It’s about a 40-minute commute from our Park Slope apartment in Brooklyn to the midtown Manhattan offices of Kendra White. Normally, I use the time to drift in and out of consciousness. Yes, I’m one of those unfortunate sorts you see on the train or bus whose head lolls to one side like an idiot or whose mouth suddenly drops open. At least once a week I miss my stop, usually twice a week.

That morning, though, I read the paper alongside the other commuters like a real Cosmo girl, maneuvering the pages deftly, spilling my grande latte only once.
There’s the usual something or other about Afghanistan on the front page… Better turn to the Entertainment section…oooh, it seems Madonna might be considering having another baby, just as I suspected. That’s good. She’s such a stylish mom… Bla, bla, bla, Leonardo DiCaprio broke his clavicle tripping over his feet outside a hot but unnamed L.A. nightclub…That little cross-eyed boy from Jerry Maguire has a new movie coming out…. Dreadful, I’m sure…Wonder how far off my horoscope will be for today….

Virgo
(August 23-September 22)
See the forest for the trees. Focus on partnership, communication, personal advances. Individual close to you confides, “I need you now more than ever.” Keep an eye out for details. Work situation may be stressful, but don’t lose your head. Taurus plays key role today. Spotlight on domestic situation, home, cooking. Financial prospects good. Be leery of Uranus, planet of sudden changes. Stay cool! This too, shall pass.

Oh for God’s sake, that could mean anything—they really do all sound the same. I can see why Morgan thinks horoscopes are for idiots who feel powerless over their own lives. How utterly ridiculous! As if
planets could have any effect whatsoever on what’s happening down here on Earth. Except for the moon, maybe. Now that’s another story. And it’s not really a planet anyway. I’ve heard that since the moon controls the tides, it can also pull all the water in your body around every which way, accounting for things like PMS and unexplained weight gain….

I woke up only one stop too late. By the time I got off the subway, the front of my trench coat was covered in black smudges and coffee, more than enough to ruin my good mood for the day. Ridiculous—white coats are even sillier than white carpet. What the hell was I thinking?

Upstairs, comfortably ensconced in my gray-carpeted cubicle, I worked hard at online solitaire for a good two hours until I realized that I’d forgotten to forward out Pruscilla’s memo regarding that afternoon’s staff meeting.
Oh God, no one even knows about it, and it’s Friday—half of them are probably out to lunch already.

As one of the legion of marketing assistants at KW, and, more specifically, as Pruscilla’s immediate underling, my responsibilities tend to lean more toward the administrative than the intellectual. A great way to put my four-year honors degree in philosophy (with a minor in psychology) to work, although, to be fair, I suppose my career does allow me to hone my existential angst.

After an hour of damage control and an hour and a half of lunch, I managed to round up most everybody in the department and assemble them in the boardroom. It’s not like it would matter much who was there, although pretty much everybody was. Pruscilla, Queen of the Universe and Director of Product Marketing for the East Coast, had called the meeting for no reason really, other than that she likes to call meetings from time to time to berate some of us for our laziness and impress others with her uncanny knack for finding typographical errors in promotional materials
after
they’ve been printed by the tens of thousands. The usual blame-laying and defensiveness followed, and I was getting quite sleepy, until there was a knock at the door.

And then someone walked in. A tall guy with rounded, wire-rimmed glasses and freckles. I stared at him for a few seconds
until I realized that I recognized him. It was Bruce.
My
Bruce. Of course, my first thought was that someone had died. My mother? My heart flew up into my throat. His mother? My heart settled back down to its usual position.

“Wh-what are you doing here?” I stammered, already embarrassed. At this point, the ten or twelve women seated around the boardroom table realized with interest that Bruce wasn’t a courier. One of them whispered to me, “Isn’t he yours? He’s got
roses!

And he did. A gigantic bouquet of bloody-looking ones. I know red roses are supposed to signify romantic love and all that, but to me they’ve always seemed a bit on the cheesy side. Orchids—now those make a beautiful bouquet, or maybe lilies… I glanced around the room nervously. All eyes were on Bruce. Awe and jealousy and confusion hung thick in the air.
Oh, Evie—give it a rest! Red roses are beautiful, and you know it! Most of the desperados in here would drop dead with shock and gratitude if they got even a single half-dead rose on Valentine’s Day, and here it was, a Friday afternoon in September, and my man was holding at least two dozen….

BOOK: Slim Chance
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