19,452
07.03.2019

RELENTLESS KAMIKAZE PILOTS FIRED WEAPONS inside my brain. I woke to an excruciating headache, as if someone were operating on my skull with rusty knitting needles. When I rolled over, it took a full eleven seconds for my stomach to catch up. Then memories of my disgraceful behavior flooded over me. I had cried. I had sat at that lovely restaurant in my sultry red dress and my strappy sandals and let some stupid boy make me cry. No, even worse. I'd let some skanky ho make me cry. I'd made a complete fool of myself. A YouTube video of me dancing the hokeypokey naked with a weasel on my head would have been less humiliating.

Des must think I'm psychotic. But then again, so what? We were only neighbors, right? It's not like I gave a flying rat's ass what he thought of me anyway. And now I didn't have to wonder if he was attracted to me. I'd ruined any chance of that and saved myself a lot of time and trouble.

So why did I feel like my body was rejecting an organ transplant?

Outside my window the gorgeous blue sky and beaming sunshine mocked me. It was a beautiful new day. Against my will, I started to cry again. I didn't want a new day full of the same shit as yesterday. I didn't want to be alone. But I didn't have the courage not to be.

"Mommy?" Paige opened my bedroom door and peeked inside.

I swiped away my hot tears. Oh, that's right! I wasn't alone! I had my children. They would comfort me in my dotage when I started wearing orthopedic shoes and a bra on the outside of my blouse. Jordan would pick me up from the Golden Years old folks' home every Sunday for church, and then we'd go to the park to feed the ducks. On Wednesdays, I'd wear my ratty gray cardigan and Paige would take me grocery shopping. It wasn't a very exciting future, but it was good enough for me.

"Come in, sweetie," I said listlessly.

She scampered over, her exuberance widening the chasm between her vitality and my imminent spiral into miserable old age. She climbed up and over, bumping her knee into my stomach, making it churn again.

"Did you have fun on your playdate with Des?" she asked.

"Yes, honey." No sense in telling her the truth until it was absolutely necessary. Let her be the fairy princess a little longer.

"What did you do?"

"We had supper at a restaurant."

"Did you have macaroni and cheese?" She picked at the fringe on one of the bed pillows.

"No, I had fish."

She wrinkled her nose. "Yuck. I don't like fish. Did you have ice cream for dessert?"

"No."

"Hmm." She looked down at my face. "Why are your eyes all fat?"

I rubbed them with both hands. "I'm just tired."

"Why are you tired? It's morning."

Should I tell her I was tired because her father is a deplorable excuse for a man who ruined my outlook on life? Or that I was boarding the Solitaire Express with a one-way ticket to Lonely-ville? And most of all, should I warn her that no matter how much a man might pretend to like her, he'd always have his eye on other women?

"Oh, no reason," I said. "Where's Jordan?"

"He's downstairs watching Fontaine do Yoda."

"What?" Please tell me she meant something else.

Paige swayed her arms up, clasping her hands over her head then bringing them down slowly in front of her tummy. "The bendy exercise. Yoda."

"Oh. Yoga. OK. Well, anyway, Mommy has to get dressed now. Why don't you go downstairs and I'll be there in a minute." I pushed off the covers and took a very deep breath.

"Can we go swimming?"

"We'll have to see, honey. Mommy doesn't feel very good right now."

"Des says it looks like a good day for swimming."

My churning stomach nearly dumped into my mouth. "When did he say that?"

"This morning."

"You talked to him this morning?" Neurons fired in every direction in my brain, with not one making a logical connection.

Paige nodded, her little curls bobbing in her face.

"When this morning?"

She wiggled off the bed. "When we were having breakfast on the deck and he was jogging."

Only my maternal instinct prevented me from grabbing my precious child and shaking her by the shoulders. "What else did he say?"

Taking me literally, she replied, "He said, 'Hi, Paige. Hey, Jordan.' I think he said, 'What's up, Fontaine?' Then he told a grown-up joke and I couldn't hear them."

"How do you know it was a grown-up joke?"

"Because when I asked what was funny they said it was a grown-up joke."

And there it was. Word was out. At least I'd be spared the indignity of having to share it myself. "Is he still here?"

Paige shook her head and walked to the door. "Nope. See you later, alligator."

She left with a flip of her curls. I sat up, with effort, and tried to come to grips with the last twenty-four hours, dreading the knowledge that the next twenty-four could be even worse.

I pulled on some loose pants and a huge T-shirt and tried to brush my teeth. Working up a lather with the toothpaste was tougher than usual. Maybe because my mouth was as dry as if I'd slept with a Shop-Vac in it all night.

I tiptoed downstairs, hearing murmured voices on the sunporch. If I could get to the coffee and ibuprofen before anyone saw me, maybe I could grab it and sneak back to my room. But the minute my big toe hit the hardwood, Fontaine pounced like paparazzi on the latest teen sensation.

"Hold up, kitten chow! There you are!"

I crouched, my reaction time so slow my body still thought it could hide. I'd never noticed how shrill Fontaine's voice was. Was it always like that? He could frighten bats with a screech like that.

He walked into the kitchen wearing bicycle shorts and a nylon shirt the color of circus peanuts. "How was your date last night?"

"Very funny," I said, reaching toward the coffee mugs with a trembling hand.

His dark brows furrowed. "What does that mean?"

"You already know I made a fool of myself."

Furrowed brows rose up. "What are you talking about? What happened?"

I set the coffee pot back in the holder and took a gulp. It burned all the way down my throat yet somehow managed to not leave any moisture behind. I looked at Fontaine through bloodshot eyes. "Des didn't tell you?"

Fontaine shook his head, his bangs flopping from side to side. He pulled out a chair and sat down. "No, he didn't, but you'd better!"

Was it possible Des had not revealed my humiliation? Richard would have made a huge production of such an occasion. He loved to repeat stories of my misadventures. Like the time I accidentally ripped an incredibly loud fart during a funeral at precisely the moment the priest asked if anyone had something they'd like to share. Or the time we were out to dinner with Richard's boss and I discovered I had Jordan's baby poo all over my sleeve.

"Des didn't tell you anything?"

Fontaine smacked his hand on the table with impatience. "All he said was you had a nice time. So what's your story?"

"I cried."

"You what?"

"Yep. Bawled like a little girl." I might as well tell it straight up.

Fontaine smacked both palms against his cheeks, sufficiently aghast. "Why? Why did you do that?"

My next slug of coffee didn't burn nearly so badly now that my throat was scarred over from the last swallow.

"Oh…I'd say it was thirty percent sake and seventy percent because he introduced me to some gorgeous whore as 'just a neighbor.'"

Fontaine sucked air in through clenched teeth. "That bastard."

I nodded. "I know, right?"

Dody breezed into the kitchen wearing a silky yellow caftan. "Good morning, sunshine. How was your evening?"

"We were just getting to that," Fontaine said. "Apparently our Sadie here had a bit of a meltdown."

"It wasn't that little," I said.

"She's not kidding. I was there," Jasper called out, thumping down the stairs two at a time.

Wonderful. Now we could all share the postmortem details of my evening together.

Jasper kissed Dody on the cheek, flicked Fontaine in the ear, and made a face at me. Then he poured himself a cup of coffee.

Fontaine put his elbows on the table and laced his fingers together.

"All right, let's have it. What's the real four-one-one?"

I shrugged and shook my head. "I drank too much. He called me his neighbor. I cried. He's never going to ask me out again. What else is there to say?"

Fontaine frowned. "When you say you cried, do you mean you had a delicate little tear on your cheek or did you do the whole gasping for breath, hiccupping, scary face thing?"

"I'd say it was somewhere in the middle," Jasper answered.

"It was not! It wasn't that bad."

"Sadie, you wiped your nose with the tablecloth."

"I did not! It was my napkin!"

"No, trust me. You pulled up the tablecloth. Des had to grab the glasses so they didn't tip over."

Oh God. It was possible to feel even worse. I didn't remember any of that!

Dody hugged me tightly, patting my back. "Don't worry, darling. These things happen. Des will understand. Did you at least remember to stroke his eagle?"

"What?" I gasped.

"His eagle. You know how much men like to talk about themselves."

"Ego," Fontaine said, interpreting.

"Oh, um, yeah, I guess."

"It couldn't have been that bad. Des was here this morning," Fontaine noted.

"Maybe he wanted to view the body," Jasper teased.

I pinched his arm. "You are not helping!"

"I'm not trying to."

"Clearly!"

Jasper laughed and twisted away from my reach. "OK, OK. I'll be nice. You weren't so bad last night."

"I wasn't? Then I didn't wipe my nose on the tablecloth?"

"Oh, yeah. You totally did that. But I think Des thought it was kind of funny."

"He did?" Fontaine was disbelieving. "But that's disgusting."

"Oh, like you haven't done worse?" I challenged.

"Hey, what two consenting adults choose to do in the privacy of their own room, or an elevator, is not in question here. And I have never blown my nose on a restaurant tablecloth."

"I didn't blow it. I dabbed it." The memory was starting to come back to me.

Jasper tipped his head, conceding, "It was more of a dab than a blow."

"See!"

"I'm confused," Dody said. "Why did you cry?"

"Because he introduced me as his neighbor."

Jasper snorted. "You are his neighbor, dumb-ass. How is that an insult?"

"You wouldn't understand," I sniffed.

"You got that right."

"I'm afraid I don't understand either, dear. Why did that upset you?" Dody asked.

Geez, what was wrong with these people?

"Never mind. It doesn't matter now. It's because Des is so…" I flapped my hands as if the words were dangling invisibly around me but I couldn't grasp them. "And I'm so…well, it's better this way," I said with finality. I looked around to see if they understood all that I was not saying.

Dody scowled. "Humph! Young lady, do you think that rainy day when I got into Walter's car for the first time I wasn't nervous? He was mature and debonair and I was a skinny bit of a girl, soaking wet in a hand-me-down dress with freckles from here till next Sunday. I wasn't always this put together, you know!" She patted her hair, pulling out a pink foam curler. "But I set my cap for him, and nothing was going to stop me."

Fontaine and Jasper smiled at each other. They'd heard this story before.

"He drove me home that day, and I tell you what, he came back the next day and the next day and the day after that. And do you know why?"

I was tempted to answer, "Because Uncle Walter was a boob man?"

Dody went on, "Because he said I was the sunshiniest girl he'd ever met. Being around me made him happy, because I was happy. He said I could find the silver lining in a mushroom cloud, whatever that means. So maybe I wasn't the prettiest back then, or the smartest, or the richest, but I made him happy. So he married me."

"That's great for you, Dody. But I'm not that kind of person. And none of this matters anyway. I'm leaving at the end of the summer, so even if I did like him, and he liked me, what good would it do?"

She poked her finger at my nose. "Glenville is not that far away, young lady. You are using that as an excuse. You have an excuse for everything, but not one good reason."

"So you think I should pretend to be happy so Des will like me? That's a little Stepford Wife, don't you think?"

"No, silly. Don't pretend to be happy. Choose to be happy."

She wasn't making any sense at all. You didn't choose happiness. It was pure dumb luck. Either it came your way or it didn't.

"Dody, it's not that simple."

"Yes, it is. You're the one making it complicated."

I looked to my cousins for backup. Jasper shook his head and walked away but Fontaine nodded, his lips pursed in agreement.

Dody patted me again. "You know what they say, darling. When life gives you oranges, have some juice."

Maybe my sister would know what I was talking about. Penny was pretty good about this kind of stuff.

"Oh for God's sake," she groaned into the phone, "screw somebody already, will you?"

"That's your advice?" I flopped back on my bed with my feet up on the wall, my standard phone call to Penny position.

"Yes. Honestly, Sade! This whole woe-is-me, my husband cheated on me thing is so last year. Richard was an asshole. Get over it! I mean, seriously, so what if this Des guy went out with the blonde from the restaurant? He wasn't with her last night. He asked you out instead, so clearly he wanted to be with you."

"But she was totally coming on to him and he let her. Right in front of me."

"What was he supposed to do? Punch her in the face?"

"He could have at least introduced me by name. But whatever. I gave it a shot. There's no point in dating him anyway."

"Why? Because you don't want to get married again? If you don't, that's fine. But does that mean you're never going out with a man again for the rest of your life? That's stupid."

I tapped my feet against the wall. "You're stupid."

Penny chuckled at last. "No, you're stupid, because you're acting like every date should be a job interview for your next baby daddy. Why must you overthink everything? Go out and have some fun and stop worrying all the time. You exhaust me."

It was unanimous. Everyone in my family, including me, thought I was an idiot.

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