Gillian is running late by the time she picks up Katie and Olivia from school. On Fridays soccer practice is supposed to end at four, but it’s nearly four fifteen before she can get the girls off the field and into the car, and that’s only because she begged Coach Resnick to let them go early.
“The team was sloppy today,” the coach says. “They’re supposed to run twenty sprints before they go. Olivia still has eleven to go.”
“I know, Coach Resnick, but she has a riding lesson at five, and I have to get Katie and her all the way out to Malvern. I’ll make her run this weekend. Scout’s honor.”
The coach sighs. “I’ll let them go this time, Mrs. Evans, for you. But I can’t make a habit of it. You understand.” Gillian and Coach Resnick both understand that Gillian and her husband are major donors to the school, though Gillian would never use that for leverage.
“I do,” Gillian says with all the sincerity she can muster. Some days she hates being the appointed cheerleader, groveler, chauffeur, school-volunteer mom. On those days, Gillian feels that she’s beginning to lose her identity. She’s Olivia or Katie’s mom. She’s John’s wife. She knows she has an easy life in so many ways, but when Gillian thinks about herself, she barely remembers the dreams she had and the things she wanted to achieve.
She volunteers at the abused women’s shelter and the hospital and the senior center. She is a homeroom mom for Katie’s class and serves on the parents’ board of the school, but lately Gillian feels more and more unsure of herself. So many of the young mothers she knows are executives and lawyers. They have purpose.
John tells her she has a purpose: to be a mother and wife.
“You don’t have to work, darling.”
“I know, but—“
“The girls and I need you just like you are.”
Somehow this doesn’t make Gillian feel better.
Katie runs up, sweating and gasping.“Third in,” she says. “Whoa, that was rugged.”
The coach gives her a dour look. “It was meant to be, Katie. Get your sister. You’re dismissed.”
Katie looks at Gillian in amazement, her blue eyes turning dark. She opens her mouth, and Gillian knows she’s about to say, “That’s not fair.”
Gillian points to the field. As usual, Olivia is bringing up the rear. “Get her now please if you want to go to riding,” Gillian says, and Katie shuffles off. Riding always trumps fairness.
No one would guess that Katie is two years younger than Olivia. Though only in sixth grade, Katie is tall and athletic; she plays soccer, basketball and lacrosse. Olivia is petite and hates sports, preferring books and dreaming.
Gillian often wonders how she gave birth to such different children. John always suggests they have a third just to see what comes out. After two miscarriages Gillian does not want to try for a third child. She’s already forty-two, and John’s pushing fifty-six. She uses an IUD, but hasn’t told John because she knows he wants a son. She’s just gotten her body back in shape and doesn’t want to start over. Gillian doesn’t argue, and John presses the baby issue less and less these days.
“Can we get Starbucks?” Katie asks once they piled into the car. It’s a five-minute detour Gillian doesn’t want to make, but both girls look exhausted and the water and grapes she packed for them didn’t perk them up. Plus the thought of a latte before she spends the next hour standing at the barn watching the girls ride in circles is tempting. Thank God, riding is something Olivia likes to do.
“Fine, but make up your minds now. We don’t have time to linger.”
“Vanilla Bean,” the girls say together.
“Cookies,” Katie adds.
“You have grapes. They’re better than cookies.”
“I hate red grapes,” Katie says. “Why do you always buy red grapes?”
“Daddy likes them,” Gillian says.
Olivia says, “You have to do what Daddy wants, or he’ll get mad. Grrrrrr.” She makes a face.
Gillian frowns. “That’s not true. Daddy works hard. I think we can cut him some slack on grapes.”
They pull into the parking lot near the Starbucks, and Gillian hustles the girls from the car. They hurry into the Starbucks and she greets Amanda who’s working the cash register today.
Gillian orders two Vanilla Beans and a skim milk latte and makes small talk about school. She knows Amanda is going to nearby Bryn Mawr because she graduated from Olivia and Katie’s school last year.
“Do you love it there?” she asks.
“It’s great,” Amanda says. “I’m working hard, but it’s fun. Mom says I should live at home, but it is so great living on campus.”
“I know. Olivia already told me she wants to go to school in California.”
“I think everyone says that, and almost no one does,” Amanda says as she rings up the sale. “Unless they go to Stanford or USC.”
“That’s a relief.”
Amanda leans close. “Anyway, I met someone.”
“You did?” Where does he go to school?”
“Haverford College. He’s from South Carolina. Oh my god, I think he’s the one. We’re going to meet his parents over spring break.”
“That does sound serious.” Gillian laughs, but she feels a little pain in her chest. “It must be true love.”
“It’s so romantic,” Amanda says. “Some nights we just lie out and stare up at the stars. You can’t see them so well here ‘cause we’re so close to the city.”
“True. But that is romantic. I hope it works out for you.”
She hands her money over and slips a two-dollar tip in the jar. Her wallet is bulging, and she pulls out a twenty folds it and palms it to Amanda. “You take care, honey. Good luck with your true love.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Evans.” Amanda’s voice rises in surprise.
Gillian smiles and join the girls who’ve picked up their drinks. She collects her latte. “We have to move girls so we can get to the barn before five. You’ll have to change in the car.”
Olivia and Katie look at each other and smile. “Strip Tease!” they shout.
Gillian laughs with them because they’re silly. “I don’t want to see any booties shaking out the window, ladies.”
Katie says, “Pizza for dinner, Mom?”
“You know your poor Dad doesn’t want to eat pizza every night, Miss Katie,” Gillian says. He wants a regular home-cooked dinner because he doesn’t think I do anything during the day.
“But we won’t be done until after six, Mom.”
Gillian bites her lip and tries to remember if she has any steaks she can throw on the grill. She says, “Let’s just move along, doll face.”
Katie skips out the door followed more slowly by Olivia, and Gillian shifts the coat she slipped off when they were walking down the street. It’s warm enough here, but out at the barn it’ll be cold. She feels her phone vibrating and digs through her purse to retrieve it. There’s a curt text from John. “Crisis with Ashbury. Home late. Eat without me.”
Gillian takes a breath. She’s not sure if she’s relieved or uneasy. There’ve been so many crises at John’s office lately. It’s not that she really thinks he’s having an affair; after all, she pays the bills. She sees his expenses. Not the office expenses, a little voice in her head says. Still she knows he’ll never leave her for any number of reasons: he’s always been possessive; he loves the girls; they have no pre-nuptial agreement; and her brother is one of the top five divorce lawyers in the state.
But she’s being silly. John’s a consultant, and he specializes in crisis management. It’s made him a rich man. If he says he’s dealing with a crisis, he is. Over the years, she’s gotten used to his absences, even come to enjoy them. In truth, life is more relaxed when John isn’t home. Gillian doesn’t feel like she’s always being watched and measured.
She opens the door and follows the girls down the street. She supposes it’s the price of stability. She wanted a settled life. Once long ago, she’d been like Amanda, romantic and foolish, living for the moment and thinking that lying out under the stars at night was a grand thing.
Gillian found out that romance dies fast when there isn’t enough money to put food on the table, and the man who says he loves you loves a whiskey bottle even more. She decided she wanted a stable life where she could have kids and not worry about how she’d take care of them from one moment to the next. She likes nice things, but she’d be just as happy with a Jeep as the big Mercedes John bought her. Their house is big and beautiful, but sometimes she feels lost in the magnificence, like if she leaves one thing out of place she’ll be thrown out for littering.
Gillian knows she’s lucky. She just wishes she could figure out what she lost along the way to her stable, easy life.
She wished Amanda luck with her true love. As she gets into the Mercedes, Gillian wonders if such a thing even exists. The man she thought was the love of her life turned out to be a two-timing bastard who drank too much and screwed every girl from Dallas to Austin. He was big on talk and bigger on letting her down. At least John has always been there for her–except when he has a business crisis. John is stable.
“Seatbelts on, girls?” she asks.
“Yes, Mom,” Olivia says. “We can follow directions, you know.”
She hears them wiggling around in the back seat, trying to get into their riding clothes, and she starts the engine.
True love, she thinks. It’s a nice dream, but she knows now that you lose something for every perk you get in life. Still, she hopes Amanda’s true love turns out better than hers. Gillian puts her latte in the cup holder and pulls out of the parking spot.