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Bitter is the new black, p.14
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       Bitter is the New Black, p.14

           Jen Lancaster
 

  Obviously buying a new car is out of the question, given our recent financial straits. I’d previously planned to purchase my parents’ Cadillac. When the Caddy was brand-new, my dad loved it so much that he’d contemplated having it buried next to him in the family plot. “After all,” he’d say, “your mother is nice, but Bavarian engineering like this only comes around once in a lifetime.” However, he finally agreed to sell it to me after Mom started driving it. She quickly turned his pristine baby into a Bavarian garbage barge, its backseat brimming with leaking bags of potting soil, gas station cappuccino cups, dog fur, shoes, umbrellas, and therapy journals.78

  I loved the Caddy from the minute I settled into the creamy French vanilla leather interior and cooed over the golden glow of its vanity mirrors. When I took it on the open road, I found myself—Little Miss Safety First—flying along at ninety miles per hour, windows ajar while Courtney Love wailed on about skies made of amethyst. When I saw my reflection in a shiny-sided passing truck, I realized that I looked as thin, rich, and cute as I felt. The Caddy isn’t a car; it’s a magic carpet!

  I imagined how cool I’d be, casually toying with my key ring when approaching the checkout counter at the grocery store. The other plebes would see the Cadillac logo and know they were in the Presence of Greatness. Naturally they’d insist I go to the head of the line, where I belonged. Just thinking about its emerald green paint job, heated adjustable seats, and twelve-disk changer makes me weak in the scabby knees. I mourn for the car that I can no longer buy.

  “Maisy, this sucks. I have no Cadillac, no esthetician services, no Vegas trip, no tan, and no damn job. My life is a country music song.” I exhale loudly. Maisy snaps at the stream of air I expel. “If something doesn’t change soon, we’re going to have to move in to a cardboard box.”

  The prospect of fresh air and outdoor living sends Maisy into peals of delight, and she wriggles, writhes, and nips at my callused heels. Why the hell is this dog so happy all the time? And hopeful? She’s grinning one of those big-assed pit bull smiles, complete with a curl at the end of her tongue. Temporarily licked out, she’s panting contentedly. Does she not understand that our situation is bleak? We need money and a car, and no one’s just going to give those things to us.

  Or…or…would they?

  I’m struck by an epiphany that takes me a minute to wrap my mind around, what with it being so brilliant and all.

  OH, MY GOD, I AM A GENIUS!

  I know how to fix everything!

  I will GET MARRIED!!

  People always receive lots of cash and prizes at weddings, right? Foldable wedding presents would definitely get us out of debt, and maybe we’d even get enough money to buy a car. No, better yet, if we only did a small wedding, my parents might give us the Caddy in lieu of a big shindig. A huge ballroom full of well-wishers would be fun, but it’s not necessary, especially since I’m no longer obligated to invite business associates. Intimate could still be cool, right? And if abandoning the idea of lobster tails at the Drake means I’d have the tools to get a proper job, then selfish trumps shellfish!

  Wait, I’m having another brainstorm! Call the Guinness Book folks because I may just be the smartest person alive! We could have the wedding in LAS VEGAS! Since marriage would mean the culmination of her lifelong dream, I’m sure Mom would spring for all the spa services I’d need to prep for the wedding. And, ooh…a honeymoon in Vegas sounds just dandy!

  But when? My beleaguered pores can’t wait much longer for a facial, so I think we should do it soon.79 More guests—and their gifts—would show up if we did it on a three-day weekend. Memorial Day is too soon, so scratch that. Hmm, if we got married over Labor Day weekend, I’d have the whole summer to pull a wedding together. People have awesome weddings there on the spur of the moment, and with four months’ lead time, it could be magnificent! And not cheesy! This is the best idea EVER!

  A terrible thought derails my happy train. What about my cherished and deserved princess-cut Tiffany bauble? I look forlornly at my self-manicured, naked left finger. There’s no way Fletch could buy my beloved multicarat ring before the end of the summer with our present rent burden. We’re barely scraping by now. Could I live without it? I fantasize about jewelry the way other girls do about Brad Pitt. Forget chiseled abs and a square jaw. It takes platinum and baguettes to make me swoon. I wouldn’t be ringless, though. I do have the small diamond from Nanny’s engagement ring that I’d planned to make into a pendant. Could I be satisfied with an engagement ring that didn’t require a full-time bodyguard? I wonder.

  I ponder while gazing at the city displayed before me from the best vantage point in town. The sun is setting, and the reflection on the buildings is a hundred shades of gold, pink, and blue. As I enjoy the spectacular view for the thousandth time, I decide that if a smaller ring meant keeping the dot-com palace, then…yes. Yes, I could.

  I guess that covers all the bases, which means…Holy cats, I’m getting married!

  I begin to hoot and hop around on the deck while Maisy, unaccustomed to such a vigorous outpouring of emotion, dances and yips along beside me as I shout80 out across the rooftops.

  “Hey, Bucktown, I’m getting married! And keeping my house! And getting a Cadillac! Then I can get a job so I’ll get paychecks! Big, fat, happy paychecks! So I’ll be rich again and I can go to Neiman Marcus and buy those shoes with the cherries hand painted on the wooden heels that made me cry when my credit card was declined! Yay!!”

  I gather steam while Maisy leaps and turns semicircles in the air. “Pedicures! I’ll be able to afford pedicures again! No more limping for me! And there will be a big party and I’ll look amazing and I’ll wear a gorgeous dress and I’ll see all my favorite people in my favorite place and maybe play a few slots! I might even win a jackpot! And people will give me presents! Lots and lots of wonderful presents! I wonder if I can register for cosmetics. Ooh, or possibly the cherry shoes? Regardless, it doesn’t matter, because I’M GETTING MARRIED!!! Hooray!”

  I sit down to catch my breath. I wonder who I should tell first. Obviously I want to talk to my parents and their checkbook, but Shayla will be dying to know, too. What about Carol? I was the first person she talked to about her engagement. Is there some sort of quid pro quo protocol I’m supposed to follow?

  Should I tell my brother? No, he’ll just squeal to my parents and wreck the surprise because he’s a jerk like that. Or how about Melissa? Will she be mad if she doesn’t hear the news first? She’s my best girlfriend around here, but Andy is really my best friend, but he lives in Indiana and we hardly ever see him. Michael and Amy are our closest married friends, but we’re also tight with Brett, and especially with Chris, even though he’s not dating Shayla anymore and—

  Oh, wait. I should probably tell Fletch first.

  Maisy and I hobble down the spiral stairs from the roof deck. She landed wrong while we were jumping for joy upstairs and now has a sore paw. Hopefully she’ll be OK in a few minutes. If not, I’ll run her over to the emergency vet. For once I’m not concerned about price, because, given the size of their initial medical bills, Maisy and Loki now have doggie insurance. How ironic is it that my puppies have health coverage and I don’t?

  “Where are you?” He’s supposed to be in the kitchen making salsa for our Cinco de Mayo gathering, but he’s not there. Now that I’m getting married, I have calls to make, bridal magazines to buy, menus to plan, etc. I’d like to start right this minute, but I really ought to confirm he’s my betrothed before I book a chapel.

  From the bathroom, I hear, “I’m on the mug. What do you need?”

  “Come out here!”

  “I’m kind of busy.”

  “Well, how much longer will you be?”

  “I don’t know. I think the enchiladas last night were bad. Give me a couple of minutes.”

  The enchiladas and not the twelve Coronas he had with dinner are to blame? Right. But now is not the time to criticize; now is the time to quietly wait.

/>   And wait.

  After five interminable minutes, I am unable to contain myself, and I bang on the door. “Hurry up!” Patience is not one of my virtues.

  “Why don’t you just use the other bathroom?”

  “I don’t need to go.”

  “Then stop bothering me. I’ll be done soon.”

  “Why is it taking you so long? What are you doing in there?”

  “Euclidian geometry. GO AWAY.”

  I’m antsy but figure that marriage proposals are better when not yelled through bathroom doors, so I loiter in the hallway for what feels like an eternity. Actually, it’s only another two minutes. He soon emerges in a cloud of crisp cotton air freshener, holding this week’s Crain’s Chicago Business magazine. I practically leap on him.

  “What is wrong with you?” he asks in exasperation.

  “I need to talk to you. Come over here and sit with me,” I say, gesturing from the couch.

  He blanches because no good conversation starts with those words. Never in recorded history has the dread I need to talk to you phrase been followed by something a man wants to hear like “I think we should have a threesome with my hot friend” or “I’m buying you a 1969 Camaro, and is black OK?” Fletch is understandably nervous.

  I can practically see the cogs moving in his head as he scans his mental Rolodex for recent transgressions. Sometimes I worry I’m too hard on him. On the other hand, he says I’m worth the aggravation and he did consent to follow the Jen Commandments, so it’s not like he wasn’t warned.

  The Jen Commandments

  One: I loathe cooking. Therefore anytime I am forced into meal preparation, expect it to be done as loudly, profanely, and grudgingly as possible. (Angry: It’s what’s for dinner.)

  Two: I hate holding anything heavier than my purse. If I have something in my hands, I will attempt to trick you into carrying it for me.

  Three: I am not a great listener, although I might appear to be. Sure, I may be nodding and saying, “Mmm hmm,” but usually I’m just trying to think of a way to steer the conversation back to being about me.

  Four: It is always all about me.

  Five: I complain. A lot. Be particularly cautious if I am hungry, hot, or tired. May God have mercy on your soul if I am all three.

  Six: I am fashionably late for social obligations. The only exception is when I brunch with Melissa. You must chauffeur me to the restaurant and I will shriek at you the entire time for dawdling, also known as obeying traffic signals. If it means getting me there on time, you will be expected to drive on the sidewalk.

  Seven: Speaking of friends, many of them are cuter or thinner than me. You are not allowed to notice this.

  Eight: There will be occasions when you breathe too loudly for my liking. Ditto on chewing.

  Nine: All men’s socks look the same to me. If you care about wearing a matching set, please double-check them yourself before crossing your legs at a business meeting.

  Ten: I enjoy rearranging furniture. You need to enjoy moving bookcases.

  “Stop looking nervous. I promise this is good,” I say. Warily, he sits down while I lay out my proposal. In the same calm, convincing voice that I used to sell $10 million worth of goods and services back in the day, I highlight the pros and dispel the cons of the plan.81 The more I talk, the more he nods and verbalizes his agreement. Turns out that he’s amenable to everything from Cadillac to Calphalon.

  Although he concurs with each point, I sense reluctance.

  “Fletch, make sure this is something you absolutely, positively, one hundred percent want. Don’t say yes because I’m a good salesperson. Say yes because you think it’s the right thing for us to do,” I plead.

  “I do want to do this. You’ve nicely laid out all the business reasons that this is a good idea.” His voice is full of reticence.

  “Honey, I know when you’re holding something back. Say whatever’s on your mind. If you’re not ready for this, you have to be honest.”

  “No, no, that’s not it. Overall, I think a Vegas wedding is a great idea.”

  “Fletch, I can hear the hesitation in your voice. What is it? Are you disappointed we aren’t going to get married here in the city? Or is it the timing? I thought with my not working and so few prospects, this summer is the perfect opportunity to do it. But if you aren’t sure, then we’ll forget about it for now.” Fletch doesn’t say anything. “Or is it because of how I look? Dear God, tell me it’s not because I’ve put on a few pounds.” A few pounds? Try almost twenty. I can’t fit into half of my wardrobe anymore.

  “Jen, you look fine. The thing is, I’m excited and I wish we’d have gotten married years ago.”

  “So you don’t think I’m too fat to be a bride?”

  “Now you are being ridiculous.”

  “Then what’s the problem?”

  “In terms of romance, this stinks on ice. It feels like a business deal, not a proposal. Like I should shake your hand instead of kissing you.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I’ve been thinking about how I’d propose for a long time. In all the scenarios I’d imagined, none of then included being ambushed in the bathroom after a bout with bad Mexican food.”

  “Oh. Did I steal your thunder?”

  “No. Not really. Well, yes. Seems like I should have been the one to propose.”

  Dammit, I forgot that he might have a stake in this whole marriage thing. It didn’t occur to me that he may have had expectations, too. I’ve got to return his thunder because I hate seeing him disappointed. I suggest, “Why don’t you officially propose once you get a setting for Nanny’s diamond?”

  He brightens immediately. “That’s a good idea! I’ll do that. But I won’t tell you when, because I want it to be a surprise. How about I take the day off tomorrow to go to Jewelers’ Row and look at settings?”

  “Sounds like a plan.” We smile at each other. As he leans in for a kiss, Maisy jumps up between us and gives him a once-over with her tongue. She’s small but determined, so the easiest thing is to simply let her finish. Fortunately, she tires quickly, and he returns his attention to me, drying his face with the tail of his shirt.

  “We’re really going to do this, huh?”

  “As long as my parents are cool with the finances, and we can get a nice space booked some time over Labor Day weekend, then, yeah, I think so.”

  We seal the deal with a dog-free peck. Just as I’m about to get up from the couch, he stops me.

  “Can I ask you something?”

  He wants to ask me something? OHMIGOD! He’s going to propose right now! I bet he was planning to do this all along! It all makes sense…. We are having people over tonight, and we never have guests on a Sunday…. I think our barbecue is really supposed to be a surprise engagement party. Woo-hoo! He’s going to ask me to marry him!

  Yes, I know we’ve technically just agreed to marry, but I wasn’t expecting my big, romantic proposal today. No wonder he got squirrelly for a minute there. HE was going to propose, and I beat him to the punch! What an unbelievable coincidence that we both decided to do it today! Are we in unison or what? We are SO meant to be together.

  With my heart in my throat and hands shaking, I look adoringly into his eyes and say, “Fletcher, you can ask me anything.”

  He stops to catch his breath. Aww, he’s trying to work up his confidence for what is the biggest moment in his life. We both pause. OK, here we go!!

  “What’s wrong with Maisy’s foot?”

  Courtney, Brett, Kim, and Biola are here for our Cinco de Mayo gathering, and the wedding announcement has put everyone in a particularly festive mood. We’re all drinking margaritas and woofing down guacamole while Fletch tends to the rib eyes sizzling away on the grill.

  “Fletch, when did you know Jen was the one?” asks Biola.

  Fletch closes the lid to the grill and sits down with us. Cracking open a Miller High Life, he says, “I knew years ago.” He takes a sip and reflects for a minute.
“Specifically, it was our first Valentine’s Day, and we’d been together about three months. We went to the nicest restaurant in our college town and had the best dinner of my life. Jen picked out everything—the wine, the appetizers, our entrées, etc. I was so impressed by her confidence and the way she handled herself I began to think she was out of my league.”

  I laugh. “Didn’t last long, did it?”

  “We finished dinner and went to her apartment. When we got there, her cats were acting strange. They normally sleep twenty-three hours a day, so to find them awake and alert was really unusual. They were fixated on this black spot on the wall. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was a small bat.”

  “How did you get a bat in your apartment?” Brett asks me, but his eyes never leave Courtney’s direction. Hmm, I may have to try my hand at matchmaking. I bet they’d make a nice couple, especially since Court’s finally rid of the Chadifornicator.

  “I lived in an incredibly scary building but it was almost the only place on campus that would allow pets. The creaky old fireplace flue had come open and the bat let itself in.” I’m not kidding—that place was a dump. Once I even persuaded a local news crew to do a broadcast from my apartment because it was so cold. My landlord practically had a heart attack when he saw his building on TV, but you know what? When you don’t respond to twenty-five consecutive calls about a heat problem, I take matters into my own hands.

  “Yeah, and Jen lost it,” Fletch says. “LOST IT. She began running around, screaming about cats getting rabies. I helped her examine them, we determined they were untouched, and we put them in their carriers. But Jen was still pushing the panic button because of a Far Side cartoon. A disheveled bat with a briefcase walks into his house and tells his bat wife, ‘I musta been tangled up in that bimbo’s hair all day.’ She had really long hair at the time and was sure the bat was going to nose-dive into it. She kept yelling about bimbos, and then she put a wicker basket on her head and closed off the opening at the bottom by wrapping a sheet around her neck. Suddenly, I understood the sophisticated girl in the restaurant was just an act, and the real Jen was standing in front of me, wearing a garbage can on her head. And I knew at that moment if I married her, life would never be boring.”

 
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