Authors: Jane Porter
Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women
“What kind of show can we do again?” one of the sophomore girls asked.
Irritation beat at Kit. She hadn’t slept well last night, had woken late, and had dashed to school without breakfast and was starving right now. Her gaze fell on her sandwich. It was looking bruised inside its plastic baggie but it made her mouth water. But she couldn’t eat it here, in front of them. She might get grape jelly on her white blouse. She might need to answer a question. She might choke…and these kids, helpless as they were, might let her die. Or worse, they might try the Heimlich maneuver on her.
Better to go hungry.
“You can do virtually anything,” Kit said, hiding her exasperation with a wry smile. They were just teenagers, after all. Fourteen-, fifteen-, and sixteen-year-olds searching for identity, meaning, and clear skin. “Remember the list you brainstormed last month? You could choose a comedy, musical, drama, a series of one-act plays…it’s up to you. Perhaps you’d like to take a vote?”
Alison Humphrey, the current president of the Drama Club, and the only senior in the club this year, came to life. “We’re going to vote now,” she said decisively. “It’ll be anonymous. Write down on a slip of paper what you’d like to do for the spring production, fold the paper up, and pass it to the front, and then we’ll tally the votes. Okay?”
The classroom door opened while the students were scribbling down their preferences. It was Polly Powers, one of Memorial’s math teachers and Kit’s closest friend, in the doorway and she gestured to Kit.
Kit left her desk and stepped out into the hall.
“Are you going to be stuck in there all lunch?” Polly asked.
“Looks like it. They can’t agree on anything.”
“My little thespians.”
Polly rolled her eyes. “No wonder.” She didn’t get theater, or theater kids. Thought they were weird.
And perhaps they were, but Kit liked that. “How was lunch? Anything interesting happen in the staff room?”
“Lunch was boring. Fiona stayed in her room, too.”
Fiona Hughes was one of the science teachers, and Polly’s and Kit’s close friend. The three of them hung out together a lot. “Why?”
“Chase is being a dick. She was crying. Didn’t want anyone to see her.”
Kit frowned. Fiona and Chase had been married for only eighteen months but it’d been difficult from the start. “What’s he doing now?”
“I don’t know. The usual. But she needs some cheering up. Think we need to take her out after work. Have a drink. Are you free?”
“Yes.” Kit peeked into the class, saw that Alison was now recording the votes, and turned back to Polly. “Let’s head out as soon as the staff meeting’s over.”
hey met at Z’s Cocktail Lounge in Alameda after the school staff meeting ended. It was one of their favorite places to go since it was far enough from Memorial High that they didn’t risk bumping into other teachers or parents, and quiet, as Z’s was a bar that only locals knew about. The outside was nondescript and drew little attention from the street. Inside, it was small, cozy, and upscale, with just a few tables along the walls, the stools at the bar, and the requisite piano.
“I don’t think I could do it again, not knowing what I know now,” Fiona was saying, her Irish accent pronounced as she pushed her empty beer glass around on the table. “It’s too hard, this blended family thing. I was so naive thinking I could make it work. Thinking that we could all get along.”
This wasn’t new news. Kit and Polly were aware that Fiona, a Dublin native and brilliant science teacher, had been struggling for a while. The problem was the kids. Chase’s kids. She’d never been married before, but he had, and he came into the marriage
with three children, two teenagers and a preteen. Fiona knew that the kids had been scarred from a bitter divorce and a poisonous mom, but she’d thought that with patience and love they would warm up to her. They hadn’t.
“I’m trying so hard,” Fiona added, blinking back tears. “I honestly couldn’t try harder.”
Polly couldn’t contain her frustration any longer. “That’s the problem,” she said tartly. “You’re too good to them.”
“No,” Fiona protested, but unconvincingly.
“Yes!” Polly slammed her fist onto the table, making the glasses bounce. “They’re little shits, especially the youngest, Alexander. They’re trying to break you and their dad up, and they’re winning. It’s time you fought back. Turned the tables. Taught those brats a thing or two.”
“Polly!” Kit choked on smothered laughter. She’d taught with Polly for years now, and loved her sense of humor, but to call Fiona’s stepkids brats and little shits?
Polly shrugged. “I’m right,” she said, successfully catching the eye of the waitress and indicating that she’d have another round. She’d already finished two strong key lime daiquiris but was by no means drunk. Polly could hold her liquor. “Those kids totally manipulate you, Fiona, just as they manipulate their dad, their mom, and everyone around them. It’s time you turned the tables. Put them in their place. Taught them a thing or two.”
Fiona’s forehead wrinkled. “But wouldn’t that just give them more ammunition?”
Polly rolled her eyes. “They’re already armed and dangerous. You’re the one who’s vulnerable. You have to stop playing nice.”
Kit’s phone suddenly vibrated from within her coat pocket and quietly she retrieved it and checked the message under the table.
It was from Sebastian.
Kit’s heart fell. She didn’t enjoy being mean. She was the proverbial good Catholic girl, and she’d grown up to be a good Catholic
schoolteacher, but Sebastian Severs would not take a hint and his frequent, flirty texts were driving her crazy. Tonight’s text was just like the others:
Hey, gorgeous, you’re a sorceress and you’ve got me under your spell! Let’s get together Friday night and make some magic happen.
Kit shuddered rereading it. There were so many things wrong with the message—and Sebastian—that she didn’t even know where to begin. She should never have given him her cell number. Why hadn’t she realized that once you gave a man your number, he could, and would, haunt you for the rest of your life? But then, why had she thought that meeting men online was a good idea either?
Annoyed with Sebastian, angry with herself, Kit turned off her phone, slipped it back into her purse beneath the table, and kicked herself yet again for joining Love.com in the first place.
She couldn’t imagine what had possessed her to join back in September—
No. Not true.
She knew exactly what had possessed her.
In September, three months after the end of her ten-year relationship with Richard, a relationship that had probably stalled out eight years earlier, Kit did some serious, if not panicked, soul-searching, and concluded that action was needed.
action. She was closing in on forty—the big birthday was January 28—and Kit couldn’t wait for love to find her. She’d have to find it for herself. And so, after watching a late-night TV commercial promoting Love.com, she signed up for a one-year membership, since she had no idea how long it’d take to find true love.
At first it’d been exciting poring over profiles, exchanging messages, setting up the first few dates. But it had taken only a few dates to realize many men weren’t truthful on their profiles. They
either used photos from ten or twenty years ago, or padded their height while decreasing their weight. But weight and height discrepancies weren’t a serious issue. The personalities were. Or lack of.
Kit had never thought of herself as particularly difficult to please—after all, she ended up staying with Richard for ten years—but her dates from Love.com were invariably uncomfortable. Some were boring. Others made her uneasy. And then there were the few that were plain humiliating. But Kit, Irish Catholic and from a sprawling opinionated family, was made of stern enough stuff that she attempted to endure all, determined to at last find the Real Thing. The Real Thing being love, marriage, and babies—and preferably in that order.
But after three months of online dating hell, Kit no longer craved True Love. She just wanted to be left alone.
So in December, after a particularly horrifying date, Kit closed her account at Love.com, and her profile promptly disappeared. But the damage was done. A dozen different men had her number and e-mail address. And while most of those dozen men had moved on to greener, fresher pastures, there were a few like Sebastian who couldn’t.
Kit suspected it was time to change her number. Such a shame since she loved the order of the digits. It’d been her cell number for twelve years now and the numbers looked good together. They suited her. But difficult times called for difficult measures.
Resolved to take action, Kit forced her attention back to the conversation.
“Now I’m supposed to go home and make dinner and smile and act like everything is okay,” Fiona was saying. “But I can’t. Everything isn’t okay and I’m sick of acting like it is.”
“Then don’t go,” Polly answered.
Kit frowned. Polly wasn’t helping. Of course Fiona had to go home. Fiona was married. “You can’t avoid going home, but you
can, and should, talk to Chase. You have to make him understand how you feel. Does he know how unhappy you are?”
“I’m sure he does,” Fiona answered. “All we ever do is fight.”
Kit and Polly exchanged swift glances again. “But does he understand
you’re fighting?” Kit persisted, having just gone through a six-month roller-coaster ride with Meg when her eldest sister derailed her marriage by having an affair with her boss because she felt unloved at home. “Guys aren’t like us, Fiona. They don’t read between the lines very well. You have to let him know that the kids are wreaking havoc on your relationship.”
Fiona’s blue eyes flashed. “He knows, but he just makes excuses for them. Says that they’ve been through a lot with the divorce and that they’ll eventually grow out of it. But it’s his fault that they treat me like rubbish. He doesn’t set any boundaries with them. Doesn’t insist that they respect me,” she added, her Irish accent growing thicker. “But then, of course, he knows everything about kids because he’s a father. I’m just a teacher. He forgets that I spend eight hours a day with kids, and have for the last ten years of my life!”
Her words died away but the pain and bitterness in her voice hung in the air, mingling with the mournful minor chords of the piano.
Times like these, Kit was glad she wasn’t married. Marriage was not easy. And after months of uninspiring dates, she was no longer sure men were the answer. If anything, they were the problem.
“You know this isn’t about you, Fiona,” Kit added with a rueful twist of her lips. “He’s compensating. Feeling guilty for leaving their mom. For breaking the family up—”
“So better to break my heart! Better to let his children tear me apart because I had the audacity to fall in love with their father!”
“Just shoot the bastard and get it over with,” Polly said grimly.
Kit slapped Polly’s arm. “Shut up. We don’t need Fiona in jail. She’d lose her green card. Get sent back to Ireland. And we don’t want that, do we?”
“No,” Polly agreed. “Fiona is the only one who can drink me under the table. I like that about her.”
Fiona laughed. Kit was relieved to hear the sound. It’d been a while, which was tragic, since Fiona had a wicked sense of humor.
“You and Chase just need some time to yourselves,” Kit said, finding it hard to believe that it was only two years ago that Chase, a San Francisco investment banker, spotted Fiona in a bar in the Marina district, and fell for black-haired, blue-eyed Fiona on the spot. There had been an immediate connection between the two and things moved quickly between them after that. “But I know it’s hard when there are always kids around.”
“Which is why we’re going away this weekend,” Fiona answered. “I’m trying to hold on to that. Otherwise I think I’d go mad.”
Polly frowned, confused. “Is it already Martin Luther King weekend?”
“It is,” Kit said, sitting back as the cocktail waitress delivered a tray of drinks to their table. “And you and I are going to the beach house in Capitola this weekend.”
“That’s awesome.” Polly sighed. “I’d completely forgotten.”
Fiona glanced at the pint of beer set before her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t order another one.”
“Neither did I,” Kit said as another glass of chardonnay appeared at her elbow.
“You didn’t,” the waitress said. “They’re compliments of those guys at the table over there.” She pointed to a small table not far from the front door where two men sat smiling at them.
“Wish they hadn’t done that,” Polly muttered as the waitress
walked away. “I don’t want another drink, and I definitely don’t want to talk to any men right now.”
“Me either,” Kit agreed.
“And I’m married,” Fiona chimed in, stealing a peek in the direction of the men at their table. “Even if unhappily.” She scrutinized the two men. “But they’re not bad-looking.”
Kit glanced over her shoulder, sizing up the pair, noting that they both wore blue dress shirts and were drinking beer. “How can you tell? All I can see are the back of their heads.”
Abruptly Polly pushed her untouched cocktail glass away. “Sorry. Not to be a party pooper, but I need to get out of here. You two mind if I call it a night?”
“Not at all,” Kit said, reaching for her wallet. “I’ve got grading to do.”
“And I guess I have to face the music, too,” Fiona added, with a quick glance at her watch.
They paid the bill, gathered their coats and purses, and headed for the front door, but one of the men rose from the table and intercepted them. “Polly?” he said, putting a hand out toward her.
“Jon?” she said, blinking with surprise.
He nodded. “I thought that was you. Wasn’t sure. How are you?”
“Good. Really good.” Polly turned to introduce Kit and Fiona. “These are my friends Kit Brennan and Fiona Hughes. We teach together at Memorial.”
“You’re teaching now? No more pharmaceutical sales?”
“No. Got my credential a number of years ago.” She looked at Kit and Fiona, and explained: “Jon and I used to work together at Pfizer. First job right out of college.” She glanced back at Jon. “You still with them?”