Six maybe seven, p.1
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       Six, Maybe Seven, p.1

           Katie George
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Six, Maybe Seven
Six, Maybe Seven

  BY KATIE GEORGE

  Six, Maybe Seven

  Katie George

  Copyright 2017 Katie George

  PART ONE

  Chelsea

  Chapter One

  “YOU’VE GOTTA BE kidding me.” Not another one. Yet it was another one—another text with a picture of a huge rock on one of my friends’ bony fingers. I bit my tongue and flew into an apathetic state, unable to feel for a good minute. Then the lack of feeling was replaced by a reddening rage, and I gripped my phone so tightly it turned my fingers pink.

  Six of my friends decided to get hitched in the summer and in the upcoming year. Six beautiful, eloquent weddings of all shapes and sizes, prices and locations. One was scheduled in Mission Viejo, another on the coast out in Malibu. Then count the one in Kauai, Hawaii, while another set the locale along a rocky Big Sur beach. Throw an additional in Phoenix, Arizona, and then the newest one. The text alert stated that milieu was yet to be determined, but judging from the size of the engagement ring, I thought I would have to buy a ticket to Dubai.

  Emma, I said, clenching my teeth and alternately whispering a Lord’s Prayer. Keep it in.

  The phone beeped again, revealing a quick text. Can you believe it, Em?!?!

  Oh, yes, I could believe it all right. This was nothing new; I was always the late bloomer. I didn’t get my first kiss until I was eighteen, and my first date was literally a little walk into hades. No, I never even had a serious boyfriend, and until I came to college, I knew nothing about the dramatics of girly girls. Emma Richmond, far from rich, people would say. I had a reason to agree.

  A moment later I whisked my new cat into my arms and felt its reassuring fur on my skin. If I never found a man, I still had my cat. The little creature slipped out of my fingertips and scrambled away. Okay, maybe I didn’t even have a cat. Truth be told, the only reason I had the thing was because my professor had offered it as an extra credit opportunity for my last final. Of course I took that chance.

  I stood up, unable to take any more of my new, almost barren apartment in the hustle and bustle of Glendora, California. My best friend/new roommate was out pining for a role in an audition, and unable to handle any more of the indoors, I stretched and debated where to go. With a quick grab of my keys and a water bottle, I scurried out to my car and drove through the traffic to the nearest park at the base of Angeles National Forest. Nature had always been a method of coping for my puny brain, and once my feet hit a trail curving into the mountains I eagerly loved, I felt a warming peace calm me down. You will be okay, you will be okay. At least the chaparral will keep you company.

  Okay, so I admit it, I had a jealousy problem: But after six wedding announcements in the past four months, I’d about had it. I had graduated from college only a month prior, and I’d been living on my own (with Jamie, of course) all of twenty-four days, enough to buy a can of Spaghettio’s and a retro sofa. Meanwhile, my six beautiful friends (Chelsea, Annabel, Lacey, Monica, Sena, and Nina) were either cohabitating with the men they planned to marry or were in the heat of wedding planning. The wedding in Mission Viejo was only a month away, but Chelsea had been planning it since last fall, right after her fiancé decided to propose on fall break. Under a smoggy, starry Parisian night sky, he popped the question, and of course she accepted.

  Each step brought more jealousy and more loss of breath, so I dug my headphones deeper into my ear canals and proceeded to trek by myself, which is never a smart idea, mind you. But in my time of desperation, I wanted to be alone, and alone I was.

  WHEN I GOT home, I found my best friend in the world lying on the hideous couch with a wet cloth covering his face. I wrinkled my nose, something Jamie claims I do in confusion or outright frustration, and hurried over to him. Maybe our cohabitation was now allowing us to analyze each other’s little quirks. Then I thought how Grandma Eunice would roll over in her grave if she knew I were living with a boy, even if there was absolutely no romance between us. Before I could say a word, he croaked, “My dear Emma, please. Please. Just give me a moment of solace.”

  “What the heck are you doing?” I asked, sitting beside him. I stared at his long body, albeit faceless body, and understood he’d had a long day. When I realized he wouldn’t talk to me, I started fiddling with my chipped indigo nail polish.

  He sat up in a fury and broke my hands apart. “You know that sound riles me up. The sound of your fingernails clashing together is the sound of demons mating. Seriously, Em? Living with another person is really rigid.”

  “And having to live with Jamie Stewart is as hard as it gets.”

  “Sweetheart, look in the mirror.” He stood up and hurried to the cramped kitchen. By memory, I knew we had nothing of any interest—except a collection of healthy fruits Jamie claimed were “spirits that refresh the soul and bless in an audition.” I was not the superstitious one in our relationship.

  I followed him and watched as he pulled a frozen pizza out of the fridge. Despite his health nut tendencies, he always broke sometime during the week. I guessed this was the moment of his loss of resolve, and as he fiddled with the wrapping, I thought to how we’d met back in the first week of college four, long, arduous, memorable years ago.

  I’d been sitting underneath a leafy palm tree with a bag of In-N-Out burgers in my lap. I won’t admit that I was teary-eyed, but it was the day my dad and brother had left to head back to Texas, and so I was emotional and menstrual, and I’d needed my alone time.

  As I watched the clouds gather in lifeless abandon over the thick, rolling Pacific waves in the distance, a skinny African-American boy toppled over in the grass. I looked up, scrunched my eyebrows, and watched as he stood up, shaking off the grass clippings on his shirt. He saw me staring at him, and then he broke out into a bout of anger. “What are you looking at?”

  I raised my eyebrows and shrugged. “I was looking at the scenery. But, you know, that’s always changing.” I could not stifle the few laughs that rose from my chest.

  He walked over and stuck out his hand. “James Allen Stewart of Rossville, Tennessee. You’re, like, the only person who has talked to me all day.”

  “Tennessee, huh?” I asked, momentarily blinded by the giant glasses resting on his nose and the absence of a thick drawl. “Well, I’m Texas. I mean, I’m from Texas. It’s nice to meet you. How am I the only person who has talked to you all day?”

  He sat down and fiddled with his fingers. It would be another year before I discovered he had a troubling abhorrence of fingernails. He pushed on his glasses and said, “Everyone’s constructing their lively social groups already. And here I am, somehow on the edge, again.”

  “I doubt that. You seem vibrant,” I offered, my voice dripping with playful sarcasm. “I mean, look at your shirt.” It was a trout-red Hawaiian top that bagged over bones void of meat.

  “And you seem stubborn like tough biscuits.” He laughed, waiting for me to laugh in response, but then he said gingerly, “That was a joke because no one ever talks about biscuits where I’m from.”

  “Aw, poor kid,” I said, lightly punching his shoulder. That punch alone sealed our fate. “Here, want a cheeseburger, no onions? I bought a feast.”

  He took a burger but then handed it back. He glanced at it with trepidation—and what could be mistaken for lust. A squeak said, “I’m a vegetarian.”

  “Oh, come on.”

  He nodded in the likeness of a mockingbird, a thousand little nods in one. “I’ve sworn off all meats for my first semester of college.”

  “Give me a break, Jamie.”

  “Shut up, Texas,” he said, reaching into his backpack for a Granny Smith apple, green as what I knew of Tennessee.

  “That’s not my real name,” I
proffered.

  “Well, you never know in California…”

  “It’s Emma.”

  “Okay, Emma. So, do you gots any fries?”

  “Gots?”

  “Yeah, don’t correct my English. I am a proud scholar in the field; it is my prepossessing milieu.” I was impressed and even stole that vocabulary word from him.

  Therefore, our friendship blossomed below a palm in the midst of busy Southern California. Two somewhat Southern (although I consider myself Western, not Southern, but oh well) kids under a yellow Ventura sun. And four years later, in the midst of graduation festivities, not only was Jamie the most popular person in attendance, but he was known as “The Tasty, Zany Jamie Stewart.” He’d accrued friendship—and a whole lot of drama, even for a theatre major.

  In the present time, I watched as he heated the oven and began blabbing about his failed audition. Although he was only making a pizza, he’d donned an apron and began gesticulating like a flappy flamingo. “So, I got to the office—there are maybe five guys waiting for this role. Now, shut up, I’ll tell you again: I auditioned for the part of Peter the Gazelle in a piece called Squealy Squid. It is an actual thing, let me tell you. John Millor…”

  At this I thought of the handsome, intriguing leading actor of the century. With his tan skin and bright green eyes, he was a genuine Fabio. I’d never met the man but sure had dreamt of our marriage time and time again. The way his eyes lit up in a romantic flick, or the way he led his people in a redemption piece, or the time he was dressed as an alien from a sombrero-type galaxy or something like that… He’d even begun a trend: the “Millor” variation of the common name Miller.

  “Earth to Emma, hello?”

  “Hi,” I said, slouching against the bar. “You know, when I talk, you do the same thing, so…”

  “Anyway, so I’m auditioning for the part of Peter. And right in the middle of my audition, the casting panel received a phone call from another agent, who just so happens to be representing Samuel Woodshaw, as in that freaking some-percent British demi-god who starred in the Galaxy Wars film last year. That was his breakout role, and everything is set for him. Well, he was their frontrunner, and they didn’t think they’d get him. Well, he agreed to star as Peter.”

  “It wasn’t a casting where you’re auditioning for any part in the film?”

  “Oh, well, I did get offered a part as an extra. But I am James Allen Stewart, a charming Southern gentleman with manners, class, dignity, and proficient cooking skills…”

  “James,” I said in a motherly tone, pointing to the smoke puffing from the oven.

  “What in the world! It wasn’t in there but two minutes!”

  “Oh, well, I don’t know what to tell you. At least you got the opportunity to audition for a role that went to a guy like Sam Woodshaw.”

  “Do you even know who that is, Emma? Hmm? You are about to become a casting assistant, and you don’t even know who Samuel Woodshaw is! When you lose your job, I—out of the goodness of my heart—will allow you a bed, but I worry for your well-being.”

  “Jamie, the oven.” As a token of his ineptitude, I grinned, because I did know who Samuel Woodshaw was.

  He turned around and screamed, “Darn!” Through a mist of haze, I breathed and exited our kitchen, bent instead on taking a nice, cool shower to reward my aching muscles. There is a blissful bittersweet ecstasy that comes with working-out: Through the pain, the body accomplishes what society paints as a success. However, I did not work out to lose weight, or to tone my leg calves; I worked out because it gave me a sort of rush, a release that comforted my spirit in crises like six upcoming weddings. Six little stabs into the Stag Emma cake.

  The shower felt nice on my skin, like a healing waterfall, and then I found myself curled into a ball on my bed, with wet hair streaking down my skin. I hated the feeling, but there was a vivid moodiness about my persona. It hurt being such a wuss. People got married every day, young and old, black or white, American or Arabian. While I offered to my own brain, “Well, society defines it as a somewhat remarkable event…” I knew deep down it was not that society wished it, because I understood that my happiness was skewed by the idea. Cue my parents.

  When I was fourteen-years-old, a pure-bred Texan girl but a city-girl at heart, I’d walked into the kitchen of our ranch house. The odor of cookies permeated my nostrils, and after a long day as a freshman in high school, I smiled at the idea that my mother had actually taken time to prepare a snack for me. Things were hard at my house, because my parents either bickered or ignored each other a lot. I wasn’t stupid or ignorant, and I knew that the problems could culminate in divorce.

  But I did not realize that at fourteen-years-old, my mother would announce her departure to New York City to pursue a career as a recognized interior designer. The idea was stupid to me then, and even more ridiculous to me now. But in a matter of moments, the anticipation for cookies swirled into an acrid taste in my mouth, like the taunting sweet of the original flavor that blends into a sharp, painful aftertaste. I did not understand the words funneling from her mouth.

  Your father and I aren’t separating. I am still your mother. I will just be spending some weekends in New York because of my new job.

  Slowly, as I knew it would, those weekends turned into weeks; those weeks turned into months; and finally, my parents broke off their marriage. My mother remained in New York, while we remained in Texas. My father, myself, and a little brother—suddenly wifeless and motherless. But it had been a long process. I almost didn’t care when the divorce papers became official—but a little ounce of care still goes a long way in the pain department.

  Eventually, my mother met a man named Victor Swann, who happened to be a bigwig in the music scene in San Diego. He owned various homes all over the world, and my mother traveled with him whenever he needed her, so she gave up her “dreams” for someone else—someone who wasn’t me. Our relationship became a habit, and when it finally gave out, I missed her. I missed what I used to have, but I learned to do without.

  But spending time at the Texas ranch where my father had devoted his whole life to the Richmond name was like a slow, murderous poison. I felt little pinpricks in my skin whenever I looked into my father’s eyes.

  By the time of my senior year in high school, I made up my mind to move as far away as possible. I needed to be away from what I’d known, and away I went.

  My eyes slinked into the back of the sockets when a light thump of feet gently padded across the tile floors. I sat up, staring into Jamie’s eyes, and said, “What do you want?” It wasn’t really a question, because I knew he had something important to beg for.

  He bit his lip in consternation. “Uh, would you mind if I invited someone over?”

  “What do you mean? Seconds ago you had smoke fuming from the oven.”

  “Well, it’s Ella. Ella Monrey, you know…”

  “No, I don’t know this ‘Ella Monrey’ character. Why would I, hmm?”

  Jamie shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t know.”

  “Aww, James. Someone’s shy.”

  “Shut up.”

  I pulled a box of chocolate chips from the drawer and proceeded to pop a few into my mouth. Jamie looked at me like he wanted to actually shove me down a flight of stairs. I stared at him and said, “Okay. I get what you’re saying. You’re not making dinner for me. You’re making it for Ella. I’ll just go and get take-out.”

  “Seriously?” he asked quickly, too enthusiastically, although it did not bother me. If Jamie got a girlfriend, so be it. It would just be another wedding I’d have to mark on my calendar. But that was okay, too. I wasn’t even sure if Jamie was the marriage-type. He always acted like such a clown that I could not see anyone being romantically inclined toward him; but then again, I’d been attracted to his effervescent personality and classified myself as his best friend.

  “Yes, seriously. Don’t worry about it. I will go to Chelsea’s house—see if I can help her i
n any way. No worries, Jamie. None at all.”

  He got up from the bed and stretched. The fading light of the day poked through the blinds. “You’re the best,” he whispered and off he went.

  I fiddled for my phone and quickly texted Chelsea; she agreed that I could come over to her apartment in Corona, a good hour away if traffic was somewhat reasonable. Since it was Saturday, I quickly put a pack together so I could spend the night with her. As I gathered the toiletries, a smile formed on my lips as I heard Jamie humming in the kitchen—something undetectable, but something just the same. I truly wished him happiness, even if I seemed sour about it.

  With a backpack on my shoulder, I appeared in the kitchen and spouted off, “Okay, I’m spending the night in Corona. Have fun with Ella. Don’t get too rowdy—and don’t, please hear me out on this one, sleep with her on the first date.”

  Jamie turned beet red and shook his head. “I won’t, Em. You know me. You really do know me well. It’ll probably be the second date.”

  “Jamie!”

  I walked down the two flights of stairs that left my legs even sorer after the workout in the hills. My car sat like a bubble of rust, and a few minutes later, I was blasting down the road, heading to Corona. The sunset was dipping down, splashing a few remaining strokes of pink and orange. I felt blessed in the moment despite the craziness of life. Whose life isn’t hectic and insane, though?

  As I drove with the windows down, allowing the wind to cup my face, I thought of Chelsea Villanueva, whose wedding was a month away. She was one of my sweetest friends who had been the first in her family to graduate from college. We met sophomore year in a film class that spawned her love of film editing. She would be starting film school at UCLA in the fall, only a month after her nuptials with Jim Baycroft, a high school teacher and football coach. He was the embodiment of rugged man, while Chelsea was a few years younger and the embodiment of feminine. However, through the makeup and hair products, her passion for film provided a well-cut path for success. Chelsea’s senior year film project had received critical acclaim and won the university’s award for Best Film. It even screened at a few movie theaters in LA as an indie ticket—and had proved a true triumph.

  Through it all, Chelsea remained a committed Catholic. She was one of the most religious people I knew and a source of absolute wisdom. We did not always agree, but there was a certainty of trust between us.

  That’s why I felt immediately detoxed as I pulled into the parking lot of her apartment complex. The darkness still had a twinge of amber hue, yet a limited viewpoint of the sky offered barely any stars. I missed that about living in the country: The wide open spaces allowed for a major appreciation of God’s handiwork in the heavens.

  I pulled my bag out of the car and heaved it over my shoulders. A few muscle-aching lunges up the stairs later, I found myself standing in front of Chelsea’s little loft, which was much dirtier than mine—yet somehow seemed more homey and relaxed. She opened the door on the second knock, and I caught a whiff of her fruity lotion. Her long, dark brown hair was swept into a giant bun on the top of her head, a perfectly messy thing that took more space than the size of Lubbock. She pulled me into the apartment and breathed, “You won’t believe what happened, Em.”

  My nostrils wafted the scent of all sorts of candles. The flickering of the little flames offered a mystic tone my apartment would never offer. I was too anal about candles around Jamie. Beyond the flicker, the presence of an enriching presence livened up the air. It was the spirit of the natural scents Chelsea always used to heal her sinuses and clear the dankness of the apartment.

  “What?” I asked, dropping my bag by the door.

  “The seamstress somehow ripped my dress. She was mending something she said, and then, yeah! I really do not understand the human population. This is my wedding dress, for crying out loud! Am I supposed to be this mad? You know what, I think I am!”

  “You didn’t sound this angry when I called,” I pointed out, dropping onto her couch. I’d been with her when she bought it at a yard sale in the burning pit of a Los Angeles August day the previous year. (What is it with me and couches?) I warned her that the man who delivered the couch for her would know her apartment and somehow hijack inside, but Chelsea did not heed the warning. She was the type of person who went with the flow, even though she seemed reasonably level-headed.

  “That is not the point. I need sympathy, Emma! My wedding dress. I don’t know what to do. She said she can fix it, but when I tell Mama, she may do some bloody business, and that will not be good. Not good at all.”

  “Chelsea,” I said as she fell beside me with a bowl of pretzels. “Things will work out. They always do. What part of the dress was it?”

  “The very bottom, you know—a good part where…”

  “Ah, no one will notice,” I said quickly, popping a pretzel into my mouth. “You are losing it. One of those, as you called it once, ‘Quacking brides.’”

  “I take back all I ever said. Getting married has turned my hair gray.”

  I rolled my eyes and watched her mannerisms as she continued to update me on the aspects of the venue, the church setup, Jim’s Protestant parents, and something about the honeymoon. I tried to repress the urge in my stomach that was blooming big into a ball of burning fire. Why did I remain single? Why did my friends find Mr. Right, their Prince Charmings, all at twenty-two? I still felt like an infant, just with sharper cheekbones and a voter registration card. Dear Lord, I realized: Six weddings in six months means six possible children in the next year.

  “Chelsea, I gotta pee. Hold that thought.”

  She nodded, picking up a bridal magazine from the chocolate-colored coffee table. I found my way to the bathroom and rubbed my skin with some cool water, needing to calm down before I burst out into green, jealous tears. The girl before me was barely a woman; I did not feel that confident. I felt like I needed another shower, a cleansing facial, and a box of Nilla Wafers. The skin on my lips was cracked, there was a hint of redness in my eyes, and I said quickly, “You are twenty-two, and you do not need to be getting married.”

  I still felt bitter. And bitterness is a sour flavor. It infects the brain like poison, and it takes a major, earth-shaking event to take it away. Precisely the object I have described is a bowl of minty ice cream (or insert whatever flavor to your liking).

  I sat by Chelsea again, who was staring at me with such an honest sweetness that allowed me to drink it in like it was bourbon or some alcoholic beverage I will never taste. After living with a woozy mother for a long period of time—and judging from her life choices—I had decided to be a full-blown teetotaler.

  “So, if you don’t mind me asking, when are we going to talk about you in the frilly dress? When is it going to be you?” She smiled, pulling the wooly blanket up to her chin. In this act she seemed like a toddler, especially without the distraction of heavy makeup or her long waves. She seemed momentarily unsure of herself.

  “When will it be me? That is a good question. It will be me when Will Smith runs for president, okay?”

  Chelsea rolled her eyes and hesitated. Finally, she said, “Take your time. There is no rush.”

  Then I rolled my eyes, unable to handle the situation any longer. “Want to watch some trashy TV?”

  “You know, I have to shoot early tomorrow. It’s this thing down in Newport Beach, and I need to get my creative juices flowing—by resting. Make yourself at home, but I have to go to bed.”

  She disappeared a few minutes later, and I fell asleep to the sound of the faux reality of some production of The Real Housewives. In the haze of my dreams, though, I heard the word, repeated over and over, blasting on repeat: housewife. Wife. Housewife. Wife. Wife. Wife.

 

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