10 September 2010

And then...what happened next

1. Tony Volcano called, and not about flying time. No. He wanted to know why, after he’d flown in the mayoral special delivery (his words, not mine), I’d gone and kicked him to the curb.

Tony Volcano: You’re killing me, kid. I’m a romantic. I don’t like it. But that’s how it is.

Me: It’s a big cross to bear.

Tony Volcano: It is! Especially when I go out of my way to help young love along. And then you just cut that poor feller off at the knees.

He made me feel so guilty that I ended up telling him about Preston, and that he had, indeed, helped young love along.

Tony Volcano: Heck. I already knew about that. I just had to call to give you a bad time.

2. He wasn’t the only one.

Ana: Wren. I’m putting you on speaker so that I don’t have to repeat every thing to Tom. Okay?

Me: Uh. Okay. Hi Tom.

Tom: Hey there.

Me: Is this awkward for you?

Tom: Not at all.

Me: Okay.

Ana: So. You and Preston.

Me: Yup. Me and Preston.

Ana: I never thought it’d happen. You two have been waltzing around the issue for years, each too hard headed for your own good. Tom had hope, though.

Me: Oh really?

Tom: I had absolute confidence.

Ana: He did. The rat.

Tom: Ana’s just mad because she owes me $100.

Me: Wait. You two were taking bets on this?

Silence.

Me: That is so not okay.

Ana: But we love you.

Me: Yeah. Send me the $100 and we’ll talk.

Ana: Anyway. How did old Preston finally make his move?

Me: You want to know? Take Tom off speaker phone.

3. Then Mom got a hold of me.

Only she was too distracted by Grandma’s news to harangue me too much about dumping the mayor at the out-of-state wedding, to which I’d invited him as my date.

No. That little bit of news was trumped by Alexi, who had decided to take up residence in Grandma’s independent living community.

God bless Alexi.

Mom: Have you heard what your grandmother’s up to now?

Me: No, what?

Mom: She told me she’s taking a lover!

Me: Grandma’s teasing you.

Mom: It’s not funny.

Me: Mom.

Mom: And it’s ridiculous. A woman her age!

Me: Mom.

Mom: She always has to be the center of attention.

Me: Mom! They’re not shacking up, and even if they were, who cares! Grandma’s lonely – how could she not be? And what a gift it must be to have Alexi – who knows her and understands her – come back into her life. Love is a gift!

Mom: Well. I never thought I’d hear that out of your mouth.

4. Sarah, who I was certain would clobber me over the head with a huge-ass I-told-you-so, was too wrapped up in Larry’s love life to give mine the attention it deserved.

Larry was supposed to be neutered. Sarah had called and made the appointment herself. But apparently when Dirk was supposed to drive Larry to said appointment, he ended up taking him to the Dairy Barn for ice cream instead. Because he couldn’t bear to participate in that kind of brutal unmanning (Dirk’s words, not mine). Sarah never got around to making another appointment, and now the good Reverend Jonas Vanderhill’s German Shorthair is in the family way.

Sarah: It’s so embarrassing. So irresponsible.

Me: Well. Apparently Gretel wasn’t fixed, either.

Sarah: Because she’s a show dog!

I laughed. I couldn’t help it.

Me: We can’t accuse Larry of setting his sights too low, then.

Sarah just pounded her forehead on the table. Because, in an effort to smooth over Larry’s little mishap, she’d offered to find all the puppies good homes after they’d been weaned.

I wanted one, for sure. And I had a good idea of where we could pawn off at least two more.

5. Margot: Absolutely not.

Me: Come on. They can play together in the yard while we’re at work; keep each other out of trouble.

Margot: I have to save up all my potty training energy for my child, Wren. For God’s sake.

Me: It’ll be good practice.

Margot: No.

Me: Every boy needs a dog.

Margot: Not mine.

Me: Guard dog?

Margot: Nope.

Me: Wow. You are cold.

Margot: I just don’t see the point in debating whether I will or will not take on a puppy that doesn’t even exist yet!

I’d already named my yet-unborn puppy and set her up as the store mascot.

Me: Don’t let Gretel hear you talking that way.

Margot: Okay. Fine. You fence in the yard so that I know you’re serious about this, and then we’ll talk.

As soon as the renovations were done, Margot is moving into the apartment above the garage that Grandpa had used as a man cave/shop. The garage is detached, so she’ll have her privacy, and I’ll have mine. Plus it’ll give her some space – free of any other associations – to regroup and decide what comes next.

I’d heard she’d conned the mayor into doing all the heavy lifting on moving day. Jack didn’t know it, but he was going to be the proud owner of a Larry-German Shorthair mix, too.

09 September 2010

The Beginning of the Beginning

I am now the new CEO (okay, I gave myself that title; I’m the majority owner and manager) of Bakker Bros. Sporting Goods store.

So. I’m staying in Iowa.

But not because of the disaster on the dance floor with Preston, whom I haven’t heard from since I spilled my guts and he looked at them and walked away. And not because I want to work things out with Jack. That’s pretty much completely over. Like, O-V-E-R. Over.

I’m staying here because this is where I want to be. These last nine months I’ve changed; my life – me – I don’t fit in Chicago anymore. My life is here. And for the first time, ever, I’m completely fine with that. More than fine. I feel like now I can finally stop waiting for the next big thing to get me out of here and actually start living here. Putting down roots, establishing career, my home, myself.

I’m freeing myself from Limbo.

And it feels great, despite the fact that I’m mostly a wreck. Devastated would be an understatement. Confused, angry. My feelings have run the gamut after Saturday, sometimes all at once. I’m not sure what to think about Preston’s reaction, but I do know one thing: I do not, for one second, regret telling him the truth. At least I can live with that. At least I don’t have to wonder.

Mostly what I wonder is what the hell he was thinking as he skulked off the dance floor.

Jack, of course, was the consummate gentleman about the whole thing, making sure I got to the hotel alright, giving me tissues. He never said a word to me the entire time, but he could have given me the finger and high-tailed it out of there. But he didn’t, and I will always respect him for that. I’m sure I apologized 100 times that night; he just nodded each time. I know I hurt him; I didn’t mean to, but it doesn’t matter. It was a shitty thing to do.

I hope at some point we can be friends again, even if it takes a while. I know this town is big enough for the both of us, but it would seem a whole lot bigger if I didn’t feel like I had to avoid him. He’s the mayor, and he’s everywhere now.

So much for that.

That’s the long and the short of it really. And I’ve been running a lot to fill in the blanks.

I went for a long, hard run Wednesday evening to clear my head and shake off the day. It was about dusk by the time I was done, the sun dipping low, the first hint of fall in the air –crisp and slightly cool. Despite the break in the heat, I knew my hair was still a frizzy mess; it always is when I sweat as profusely as I was sweating.

I was coming up my sidewalk, redoing my ponytail when I noticed someone sitting in the bench rocker on my porch (it still seems weird to say, my porch). I slowed my stride, slightly creeped out that someone would just be sitting there by themselves on my porch. (My porch). I started going over in my head the few self-defense moves I’d retained from the class Em made me attend with her when we first got to Chicago.

Then I realized it was Preston. With a bottle of wine.

I couldn’t decided whether I wanted to run up the steps and hug him or slug him. I settled on walking up the steps and standing there until he said something.

Preston: Hey, Pheasant.

Me: Hey.

Preston: Good run?

Me: Decent. I didn’t set any speed records.

Preston: Nice place you got here.

Me: Thanks. I like it.

Preston: Planning on staying in it?

Me: Yes. I am.

Preston: I see.

Me: Why are you here?

Preston: I came to apologize. Obviously. I brought wine.

Me: I don’t understand.

Preston: Apologies are generally offered when one behaves like a horse’s ass.

Me: That much I know. What I want to know is why you acted like a horse’s ass.

Preston: The real reason, or the one I’m using to make myself feel better?

Me: Either.

Preston: Okay. If I didn’t walk away, Jack Seward was going to smash in my pretty little face.

Me: No, he wouldn’t have.

Preston: You didn’t see his face. When you said you loved me, I thought he was going to come unglued. All over me. I left out of self-preservation.

Me: And the real reason?

Preston: How do you know that’s not the real reason?

Me: Preston.

He sat for a moment, rocking. Then he stood up and came over to where I stood.

Preston: I knew if I didn’t walk away at that moment, I would fall apart. Completely. I had waited so long -- longer than I realized -- to hear you say what you said. It was, I don’t know. Too much. I didn’t want you to see me like that.

Me: So you just walk away?

Preston: I know. It’s a pattern of mine. I’m a coward.

Me: You always have been when it comes to real feelings and real commitment.

Preston: This is the only time I’ve ever come back.

Me: So now what, you’re staying put?

Preston: If you still want me around.

Me: I’m not moving back to Chicago. I’m running the store now.

Preston: Good. It’s where you belong.

Me: So what does that mean then? For us?

Preston: You never said whether you still wanted me around.

Me: Of course I still want you around! Don’t be stupid. I meant what I said last weekend, even if I am really pissed at you right now for leaving me hanging.

Preston: I really am sorry.

Me: I just need you to understand that I am here. I’m not moving back to Chicago.

Preston: Understood. And I need you to understand that I can work from anywhere.

Me: You’d sacrifice Chicago for me?

Preston: It’s not a sacrifice if it doesn’t hurt to leave it behind. Chicago’s not the same without you anyway, Wren. I’m not losing anything here. Wren, I love you.

He leaned into kiss me then, and I didn't move away. We stayed that way, kissing, for longer than was probably prudent on a front porch in a small town. So I pulled away. For reasons that had a lot less to do with prudence and a lot more to do with risking vulgarity. It was that good.

Me: I love you, Preston. Even though you have a lot to learn about relationships.

So did I for that matter.

Me: And you can’t live in the house with me, you know. At least not yet.

Preston: I’ll rent something until I can make an honest woman of you. It’ll be fine. I’m still going to be traveling quite a bit, too. ‘Tis the life of a freelancer.

Me: You’ve thought this through then.

Preston: A long time ago.

Then he uncorked the bottle of wine and pulled me toward the bench rocker. I realized then what I must look like, all disheveled, frizzy and very likely tear-stained. I touched my hand to my hair, wiped my cheeks.

Preston: You’ve never looked more beautiful.

Me: Oh please.

I sat down and took a healthy sip of wine. Preston put his arm around my shoulders and I settled into him. Sighed involuntarily.

Then, very softly, he started singing. Badly. Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman,” just like he did the first morning we met in Em’s kitchen when I came into the kitchen wearing my holey, faded Garfield night shirt and jungle hair.

The ass.

08 September 2010

What You Don't Know

I think everyone has inside of themselves a little place they hide away bits and pieces of things – feelings, intuitions, realizations, what-have-you – so they can avoid processing these notions into something real and concrete. The reason behind it is primal, the most basic of all behaviors – self-preservation, an effort to protect oneself from that which might destroy.

At least, this is what I’m telling myself to explain what the hell happened at the wedding reception Saturday night. Blaire got things started off with a bang. I had made sure the DJ was all set to beam her into the reception via live feed to give her toast to the new couple. The DJ opened the live feed sooner than Blaire had expected, apparently, because when things got going, the big screen displayed an empty chair but the audio displayed a whole lot more.

Blaire: Yeah, well, the shitshow’s about start so I better let you go.

A pause, stippled with awkward silence as the crowd began to quiet.

Blaire: I know. I know. I should be getting married first, but Emily’s always got to be the center of attention. You know her. She hasn’t even known the douche bag a year yet! She’s got to run him down the aisle before he gets to know her.

I had practically crawled over people to get to the feed to disconnect it, but not before Blaire walked into view and realized she was live. I waited a few more seconds to let this register with her, so everyone could hear her audible gasp.

Yes, I know. It was bitchy. But the damage had already been done. Blaire might as well know it.

I realized then that someone had to deliver a toast on Em’s behalf, so I cleared my throat.

Me: Well, Chad, as the maid of honor, it’s my responsibility to fill you in on what you don’t know about Emily. You know, since she rushed you down the aisle and all.

 A few laughs.

Me: I knew Emily was my kind of girl when we met six years ago and she’d packed half of her suitcase with pencil skirts and blouses fit to wear to her internship assignment, and the other half she’d packed with Little Debbie snack cakes and a couple jars of peanut butter.

As I said “snack cake” my eyes involuntarily flitted toward Jack, and he flashed me a grin.

Me: Thankfully, she’s also one of the most generous people I know, and our friendship was quickly cemented over a package of Swiss Cake Rolls – okay, two packages. Fine, a box of Swiss Cake Rolls. And I know Chad loves Emily for many of the same reasons she’s one of my best friends: her vivaciousness, her unflappable positivity, her creativity and talent behind the lens, her generosity and her ability to make you feel like you are the most important person in the room. These two are meant for each other, and it doesn’t take years of dating to figure that out. I can only hope that someday someone will look at me the way Chad looks at Emily.

I was surprised when my voice cracked on the last bit. And a little embarrassed. But I saw Em’s mom wipe her eyes, so I figured my pinch hit was a success, if a bit saccharine.

Jack congratulated me on job well done, and whisked me out onto the dance floor, where we stayed for most of the evening, despite Jack’s two left feet. Every time I thought about leaving the reception with Jack and heading to the hotel, I felt a little fluttery and nervous inside. Like prom night. At 29. Of course, I was being ridiculous and clearly just running on maid-of-honor adrenaline or something.

Then I ran into Jill in the bathroom. Of course I did.

Me: Hey Jill. I haven’t seen you out on the dance floor.

Jill: You of all people should know that Preston doesn’t dance.

Me: I bet you could get him out there to dance to a slow one.

Jill: No. I couldn’t.

I noticed the distinct stress on the word I.

Me: Is everything okay?

It seemed like the right thing to ask at this point, even though I didn’t want to know the answer.

Jill: We broke up.

Me: Oh.

Jill: A few days ago. I’m only here because I’m a nice person and Preston didn’t want to come by himself. But yeah, we broke up.

Me: I’m really sorry. I’m surprised you still decided to come.

Jill: Yeah, not one of my better decisions. I figured I owed him though since I threw that plate at his head.

Me: He didn’t run into a cupboard?

Jill: No, it wasn’t a cupboard. And really it wasn’t even a plate. It was you.

Me: I’m sorry?

Jill: You’re why we broke up. You’re why I threw the plate. So that scar Preston has? It’s from you.

I stood there for a moment, the soggy wad of paper towel limp in my hand.

Jill: Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. He spent hours making you that CD, and he forgot my birthday a couple of weeks ago. He just forgot it. I spent far too long believing that you guys were just good friends. Best friends. And you have too. Wake up, Elizabeth. Wren. Whoever you are. Pull your head out.

Me: I’m so, so sorry. I don’t know what else to say.

Jill: The worst part is, I really think we could have been friends. But that was before you both broke my heart.

With that, she swung open the door and disappeared, leaving me standing alone in the bathroom.

I’m such an ass. For so many reasons.

The reception hall was noticeably more empty when I finally came out of the bathroom. It had taken me a bit to gain my composure and figure out what to do next. Which risk to take. I still had no idea what I was doing when I came back out.

Jack: Where did you disappear to?

Me: Sorry. I was feeling a little sick. Too much wine.

Jack: You want to go?

Me: Sure. Yes. Let’s go.

Jack left me standing by the door to go get our jackets from the coat room. I felt a light touch on my shoulder.

Preston: You weren’t going to leave without saving me a dance, were you?

Me: I thought you didn’t dance.

Preston: Just one?

Me: One dance. And then I have to say good-bye.

Jack came out of the closet with my coat draped over his arm.

Me: Do you mind?

I gestured toward Preston, who was waiting at the edge of the dance floor.

Jack: Nah. I don’t mind. I know who you’re going home with tonight.

He leaned against the door frame, and I turned toward the dance floor where the lights had dimmed, the music slowed, and the disco ball was casting small circles of light that moved slowly across the dark shadows of couples dancing close. Preston grabbed my waist and pulled me toward him.

That’s when "An Easy One" by Hem came over the speakers.

And so we swayed.

Here's an easy one
Since it's getting late
Since you're half asleep
And I couldn't wait
For the tired sun
With its tired light
To wake up the world
Just to see you tonight

Me: I really love this song.

Preston: I thought you might.

I put my head on his shoulder.

I know you don't believe me
But I have something to tell you
I know it's not so easy
But Baby, hold me now

Preston: Before I forget, I want to tell you how spectacular you look tonight.

Me: Preston, stop.

Preston: Stop what? Ever since you walked down the aisle I haven’t been able to take my eyes off you.

If I have to leave
Like I always do
Will you look for me
As I look for you
In a passing glance
From a passerby
I could cross the world
To be near you tonight

Something – some tiny piece of something atomic from some unplumbed part of me – broke loose at that moment and socked me right in the gut before settling at the base of my throat.

That’s when I began to cry. Sob really. Right through the chorus. Right there on the dance floor.

Preston pulled me away from him. Jack was beside me almost immediately.

Preston: What is it? Pheasant, what’s wrong?

Me: I can’t. I can’t.

Jack: You can’t what?

Me: I just can’t – I can't go home with you, Jack.

Jack: Did he say something to you? What did he do?

 I looked at Preston, my breath coming in thick staccato gulps.

Me: He didn’t say anything. He didn’t do anything.

But Preston had. He’d said it all. Just not in so many words.

Me: Preston, I’m so tired of this. I’m exhausted. We have to stop this.

Jack: Stop what?

Oh God. It would take me a while to forgive myself for what I was about to do to Jack.

Me: Jack. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry.

Jack: Sorry about what? Wren? What’s going on?

I was still crying and gulping, but I managed to say exactly what was going on.

Me: Preston, I can’t keep pretending I’m not in love with you. It’s killing me. Only I didn’t know it. Or I didn’t want to know it. I’m sorry because I know this isn’t the right place or time, and I don’t even know if I should say it at all. But there it is. I love you. And I think you might love me, too. Tell me I’m not crazy. No more games. No more CDs and magazine articles. Just say it so we can stop pretending.

Preston took his hands from my shoulders and lowered his head.

Then he turned and walked away.

07 September 2010

When You Know, You Know

Emily was probably one of the most radiant brides I’d ever seen. Seriously. She looked like one of those glossy brides in a magazine, all toothy, smooth and couture, only, like, real. And that made it so much better. Most of the day was a complete blur of make-up, hair, smiling for pictures, making sure the Blaire’s simulcast of the wedding went awry and keeping Chad’s mother at a safe distance from Em. Ana just so happened to be able to step in and sing “The Lord’s Prayer” on behalf of Blaire, whose screams could, no doubt, be heard in Indiana all the way from Toronto.

As I said, most of the day was a complete blur – for a variety of reasons, not all wedding-related:

-- The night before, at the rehearsal dinner, right before I was to leave with Em for the hotel, Jack not-so-subtly let me know that he had rented us a fancy hotel room for the night after the wedding. He had winked when he said it, then kissed me hard. I felt something then, in the pit of my stomach, and I could tell if it was excitement or anxiety.

-- Uncle Dan, with his infinitely ridiculous timing, called early in the morning and left me a voicemail asking me to call him right away. It had sounded urgent, so I managed to find a few minutes in the morning, after my hair had been tamed and sprayed into soft ringlets and my eyes had the proper smoky effect, to call Dan and make sure everything was okay.

Dan: Hey there, Wrennie. How’s it going?

Me: Fine. Is everything okay? You sounded like something was wrong.

Dan: No, no. Nothing’s wrong.

Me: Well, what is it? I’m a little busy at the moment – remember I’m at Em’s wedding today?

Dan: I know. I’m sorry to bother you, but Sarah told me about your job offer in Chicago.

Me: Word travels fast, as always.

Dan: I just wanted to make sure that you knew there will always be a place for you at Bakker Bros., and you shouldn’t feel like you have to take another job that might not be a good fit for you.

Me: That’s good to know, Dan. This Chicago job would be a pretty good opportunity, though. I wouldn’t do anything hasty.

Dan: We’d certainly miss you around here. Since you’ve come on board, our sales have never been stronger. And that’s in a slow economy.

Me: I’m glad to hear that.

Dan: Well, I’ve been talking to your dad and Jake, Bob and Paul. We all agree that we can’t afford to lose you, so we want to offer you full partnership in the store. Actually, Jack and Bob have been talking for sometime about getting out of the business now that they are at retirement age, so you would actually be taking over their shares of the store, which would make you majority owner. We’d work out the details later.

Me: I – I don’t know what to say.

Dan: Think it over, Wrennie.

Me: This is so unexpected.

Dan: Not really. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. And I wanted you to know that you don’t have to leave home to find good opportunities. So think about it, before you make any decisions on Chicago.

Me: I will. Thanks, Dan.

-- As I was standing at the front of the church in a simple black, tea-length bridesmaid dress, there was Jack, so handsome in his perfectly tailored charcoal gray suit with a steely gray shirt and tie. He was sitting about four pews back, right in front of Preston and Jill and Ana and Tom. I looked over, smiled and raised my hand slightly in a small wave at Jack, and he and Preston both smiled and waved back. Ana, of course, saw all of this happen and raised an eyebrow back at me. This all happened in a matter of seconds, but I spent the rest of the ceremony carefully focused on never looking in that direction again.

-- As Em made her way down the aisle, I couldn’t help but notice how utterly happy she looked, completely focused on Chad at the front of the church. I don’t know if I’d ever seen her look that way before. And Chad – well, the look on his face was of sheer adoration. I couldn’t at that moment remember why I’d ever questioned how these two could get engaged and married so quickly. I’m always so caught up in the “right” and practical way to do things, in the calculated risks, I’d never bothered to notice how perfect they were for each other and how right it was for them to just take the leap. Who cares how long they’d known each other?

Because, as they say, when you know, you know.

04 September 2010

Pillars of Grace

Preston: Who was that?

Me: Jack.

Preston: Oh.

I sat down at the table, and said hello to Jill. She smiled for a moment and then looked down at her lap. She was far less energetic than I remember her being. She looked tired. Almost sad. I wished then that the bottle of white I’d ordered would arrive. Along with a cab.

Me: He was just letting me know that he’s flying in for the rehearsal.

Preston: I see.

Jill: Wow. Nice to have a plane at your disposal.

Me: Well, he is the mayor.

Preston: Is he, now?

Jill: My grandpa was the mayor of my hometown for 24 years. It’s a good gig if you can get it. Especially if it involves a plane.

Me: Yes, well, the plane actually belongs to my flight instructor Tony. He’s actually doing a favor for the mayor’s girlfriend.

Preston: Girlfriend, huh? You’ve made it official.

Me: Yes.

Jill seemed to perk up. Noticeably.

Jill: Have you decided to stay in Iowa then?

I hated that question. I looked around for the waiter and our damn bottle of wine, then changed the subject.

Me: So, Preston, you never told me how you got your injury.

I gestured toward his eyebrow. He stiffened slightly.

Preston: Ran into an open cupboard door.

Me: Always pillar of grace, Preston.

Preston: Right. Your turn. Why are you in the city? I thought you’d be following Emily around in Indiana.

Me: I had a job interview.

Jill: Really?

Me: At a PR firm.

Preston: Really?

Preston seemed to perk up. Noticeably.

Preston: Are you going to take it if they offer it to you?

Me: Well, they kind of already did.

Preston: And?

Me: I don’t know. I need time to think. Make sure it’s the right fit. I’ve got a lot going on right now, and I can’t just pick up and move. I have a lot of projects going on at the store. I bought a house.

Preston: You bought a house? In Iowa?

Me: My grandma’s. Yeah. She moved to an independent living community, and I couldn’t just let some stranger move into the house.

Preston: You would do something like that.

Jill: So, you’re not taking the job here?

Me: I haven’t made any decisions yet. On anything.

Preston: What will Jack say about this Chicago job?

Me: I’m sure he’ll be supportive.

Preston: Haven’t told him yet?

Me: No. I didn’t want to spoil the weekend.

Preston: Why would it spoil the weekend?

Me: You know what I mean.

Just then, in a moment of grace, our bottle of wine arrived; I definitely drank most of it myself.

03 September 2010

Chance Encounters

It took just over two hours in light traffic to get from wedding central outside Mishawaka, Indiana, to downtown Chicago, where I had a lunch meeting with Alma Rodriguez, head of Rodriguez + Stevens, a medium-sized PR firm focused on small businesses.

Though I was planning to really downplay the lunch part, it’d been a long time since I’d had to zip up a pencil skirt, and if there was room for lunch in my old faithful Banana Republic number, it definitely wasn’t much.

Which turned out okay because Alma wasn’t much for lunch, either: She barely had time to breathe let alone eat for all the talking she did.

Even so, she didn’t set her fork down the entire time. It’s like she forgot it was there, in her hand, wobbling dangerously about with her emphatic gesticulations.

Hand talkers make me nervous, but I liked her. A lot. She was funny and warm and clearly passionate about her work.

And she was interested in hiring me as a project manager.

I don’t even know what a project manager does, really.

But Alma thinks I can do the job, and I don’t think she’s the kind of woman who suffers fools.

I told her I needed some time to think it over, and she said that was just fine.

On the way back to the parking garage, I ducked into a Starbucks bathroom to pry off the skirt and Spanx – which I threw in the can – and changed into the sundress and flip flops I’d thrown in my tote for the drive back.

But I ended up walking right past the garage, past my favorite old haunts. Past Whiskey West. Past Em’s apartment. Past my old office building. Past the Tasting Room, where I decided to sit outside with a glass of wine to people watch.

That’s when I saw Preston walk by.

So I called him.

And watched him take out his phone, look at the display, and decline the call.

So I sent him a text: I saw you do that.

He looked at his phone. Looked around. Put the phone back in his pocket, and kept on walking.

So I sent him another text: I’m serious. And you are an ass.

At least that’s what I meant to say. Autocorrect thought I meant to say ace.

That got his attention.

I watched him text me back: I am definitely an ace.

And then keep going down the street.

So I had to spell it out: Violet’s not your best color.

He stopped dead in his tracks, looked down at his sleeve.

Then my phone rang.

Preston: Where are you?

Me: Across the street.

Preston: Well why didn’t you say so?

He started jogging back my way, and I have to say this for the guy: He sure does know how to move.

I stood up to give him a hug, which turned awkward because he was going in for a handshake instead, and I noticed a scar cutting through the end of his right eyebrow. It hadn’t been there the last time I’d see him, and without even thinking about it, I ran my index finger across it.

He flinched.

Me: I’m sorry. Does it still hurt?

Preston: No. You just surprised me is all.

Me: Why are you so jumpy?

Preston: Why don’t you like my shirt?

Me: Because it looks like an Easter egg.

Preston: It does not.

I raised an eyebrow.

Preston: So what are you doing here?

Me: What did you do to your head?

Preston: When do you head back down to Em’s?

Me: Why have you been ignoring me?

Preston: Did you miss me?

Me: Yes!

Clearly Alma wasn’t the only emphatic one today. I retrenched.

Me: Well. You know. A little.

He just smiled.

Preston: It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

And I thought about Sarah and her stupid, stupid insinuations. And that made me blush. And knowing that I was blushing made me blush even more.

So I went inside to order us a bottle of white.

When I came back, Jill was sitting at the table.

And then Jack called to tell me Tony Volcano was flying him into South Bend first thing Friday morning: I’ll see you at the rehearsal, Snack Cake.

02 September 2010

Conversations

Uncle Dan: So. Wren. You raising some hell there in Indiana?

Me: If by raising hell you mean drinking sweet tea vodka on the porch while wielding a hot glue gun, then yes. Much hell has been raised.

Uncle Dan: That’s my girl.

Me: So what’s up?

Uncle Dan: Actually. I have a sales rep sitting right across from me here trying to talk me into stocking some of those barefoot running shoe contraptions.

Me: Andy Lehr?

Uncle Dan: That’s the one. He’s pretty disappointed that he has to deal with me today. So what do you think? Are we in?

Me: We’re not the right market. I ordered in a dozen pairs or so back in May just to see how they’d do; we sold one pair the last I checked.

Uncle Dan: Andy says we should give them another try; apparently they’ve had a lot of press over the summer.

Me: Yeah. I don’t think so. No one in our demographic wants to spend money on a shoe that’s supposed to emulate something they could do for free.

Uncle Dan: Okay, then. I’ll tell him no and that’s final.

Me: That’s right. Don’t let Andy push you around.

Uncle Dan: Okay, boss. We’ll see you back here next week.

***

Margot: Trent called.

Me: What!?

Margot: He did. He said he wanted to talk.

Me: About what?

Margot: About selling the house.

Me: That shit.

Margot: I know. I know. But it gets worse.

Me: I’m listening.

Margot: It gets worse because I wanted him to be calling to ask for a second chance.

Me: Oh honey.

Margot: I wanted – I don’t know – I wanted everything to be back the way it was, even if it was only ever mediocre.

Me: Mediocre isn’t good enough.

Margot: Isn’t it?

Silence.

Me: No. It’s not.

Margot: I know you’re right. But it’d certainly be a lot easier.

Me: I know. I do.

Margot: So when the heck do you get back from Indiana?

Me: Monday.

Margot: Well enjoy yourself while you can. Your Mr. Mayor has two town listening sessions planned for next week.

Me: Listening sessions for what?

Margot: I don’t know. And apparently we’re planning a community tailgate party for homecoming weekend, which means coordinating with the booster club, the junior prom committee and all the ladies on St. Stephen’s Catholic Church bake sale committee.

Me: I’m sorry.

Margot: Well. You should be. Because guess who’s in charge of the planning?

Me: You.

Margot: And you.

***

Em: If you don’t turn off your cell phone, I swear to God you’ll regret it.

Me: I have been obnoxious with it, haven’t I? Sorry.

Em: Apology only accepted if you run in for the refills.

Instead I went in and grabbed the bottle of Jeremiah Weed we’d been working on, a pitcher of Crystal Light and a bucket of ice. I mixed Em a drink and plopped down next to her on the porch swing and surveyed the pond in her parents’ backyard.

Me: So, last year at this time, did you ever imagine this is where you’d be?

Em: No. I thought I’d be in France, in culinary school.

Me: Really?

Em: Really.

Me: I had no idea!

Em: I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want to explain why it didn’t work out, if it didn’t work out.

I understood that perfectly.

Em: And then I met Chad. And everything shifted. You get that, right? You went to Iowa for a few weeks and ended up buying a house and dating the mayor.

Me: That’s a little different.

Em: Is it?

Me: It is – everything shifted because there was no other choice.

Em: There’s always a choice, Liz.

Me: So a year from now – where do you think you’ll be?

Em: If all goes as planned, we’ll have one baby with another on the way.

I spewed a good glug of Jeremiah Weed/Crystal Light/nectar of the Gods across our bare feet.

She laughed and went to get the garden hose.

Em: I’m only kidding. We’ve been kicking around the idea of opening an ad agency.

Me: You’d be fantastic at that.

Em: I know. Want to help us draft a business plan?

Me: Only if you name your firstborn after me.

Em: You will have to work that one out with Chad's mother.