Just Another Lunch

Ellie is twenty minutes late, and I stand just inside the doors of the restaurant beside the glass walls of the fireplace trying to appear nonchalant. The hostess gives me a quick look over the rim of her rectangular black glasses and smoothes her sleek asymmetrical black bob.

“Your friend will be here soon?” she says with a slight clip to her voice.

“Any minute. Traffic,” I say.

She gives me a brisk nod and guides a couple into the dining room. Ellie sweeps in, her gold bracelets jangling as she waves to me. She talks into her mobile phone.

“Have to go. Lunching today. Toodles.” She disconnects and gives me a wide, white smile. “Sorry I’m late, darling. It’s been a hellish morning. The decorator never showed up with my swatches. I don’t know how I’m supposed to redo the little parlor without swatches, though I picked out the most gorgeous wallpaper. Donald’s in a snit because it’s three hundred a roll or something, but it’s just amazing. White silk with a very thin ecru stripe. You have to see it.”

“I can’t wait.”

The hostess returns, and Ellie announces that we need our table at once.

“Oh yes, Ma’am,” the hostess says.

I take a breath. Ellie has a way of steam rolling people, but today I don’t mind.

Ellie leans closer once we’re seated. “So, how are you?”

“Well, I—“

“Oh, damn. That’s my phone. Just hold that thought.”

Ellie pulls out her phone. “Hello, Hello. Oh, yes. I can talk. No, nothing important.”

The waiter comes over to take drink orders. I order a Sauvignon Blanc, and Ellie waves her hand to indicate she’d like the same thing. I sit back as another waiter fills my water glass.

“What is this for?” Ellie holds out her hand and studies her nails, admiring her fresh manicure. I fold my hands together. I could use a manicure. I could treat myself to one so at least my nails would look decent before all my hair falls out.

“Is that right?” Ellie says. “Well, I hate the idea. I don’t want to host anything. Why don’t you ever offer up your house?”

“Well, if you must know. We’re redecorating, and we couldn’t possibly. It’s a tremendous burden. Yes. I have a hard time picking the kids up from school too.”

Ellie smiles at me, and I smile back, trying to look sympathetic. I haven’t even thought about picking up the kids. Who will do that if I’m too nauseated to drive?

“I suppose I’ll have to let Donna get them. Last time Donna drove she nicked the fender of the Mercedes.”

Donna is Ellie’s au pair. I’d like an au pair.

“Well, that would be nice if you want to have them over some time. I’m sure they’d love it. Yes, do stop over and see what we’re doing. We’re opening the pool at the end of the month. It’ll be great.”

I visualize floating in a pool of warm water and try to tune out everything around me, but Ellie’s voice breaks through.

“No. Of course, I’ll be glad to help with the faculty luncheon. I’ll just pull some volunteers together like always.”

I won’t be one of Ellie’s super-reliable volunteers this year. I’ll be getting my monthly chemo treatments starting in two weeks, but why remind her? She’s smiling at me with that anticipatory gleam in her eye while I take another sip of water. The waiter arrives and plunks down our wine. I take a long swallow.

What’s the theme?”

What is the theme? Survival. My youngest is only in fourth grade.

“I think we could do something with yellow and violet. That would be lovely. I’ve just got so much on my plate right now, let me think about it.”

The walls in my doctor’s office are painted soft yellow. He believes yellow is an positive color. He tells me it’s important to keep a positive outlook.

“Well, let me know, dear, and I’ll get back to you.” Ellie clicks off, and says, “Now what were we talking about?”

“Your wallpaper.”

She frowns. “No. I’m sure there was something else.”

I shake my head. I’ve already swallowed half a glass of wine. “No, Ellie, really. Tell me about you.”

Watching the Past Roll By

It’s three in the morning, and you’ve drunk enough that you have that buzz coursing through you. You don’t even mind the shitty electronic music throbbing and pulsing because you’re mellow, and there are lots of people mixing it up on the floor. You settle back and watch because since The Breakup you don’t feel like cruising.

You watch your best friend Katie on the dance floor and think she still looks like a dumbass when she dances, but she’s never figured that out, and you aren’t going to clue her in. Anyway, you’re only a guest, and it’s her party. You’ve been BFF’s since kindergarten.

You pour one more vodka from your private pint into an orange juice and try to ignore the fact that you don’t know anyone here, and most of the people haven’t bothered to learn your name. It’s just a party. Katie’s party. You don’t really mind that she’s ignored you most of the weekend because this is her life, and you’re just visiting. Maybe you haven’t been great company. The Breakup was rough, and maybe you are a little raw deep inside. Funny how Katie used to understand that, but she’s really busy these days. You don’t want to get in the way.

You’re chilling out when the guy Katie has been trying to impress all night sits down next to you and starts to talk to you. You try to ignore his big blue eyes and thick sun streaked hair. He’s majoring in economics but speaks Russian and has minored in history. He tells you he’s not really into partying as much as he used to be.

You say, “I thought you were with Katie.”

“We’re just in class together,” he says. “Econ. What are you studying?”

You tell him archeology and expect him to laugh, but he doesn’t. He starts to talk about Japan and visiting Joman sites, and you find yourself having a real conversation. Some of the heaviness in your chest lifts.

Katie walks over. She is smiling, but you can see by the way her eyes are slightly narrowed that she isn’t happy.

“Why’d you leave the dance floor, Jack?”

Jack shrugs. “I came over to talk to your friend. She was all by herself.”

“That’s ‘cause she’s a loser,” Katie says with a small mean smirk. “She doesn’t even go here. She didn’t get in.”

You don’t say anything because you can’t really believe Katie would say something like that, especially since you never even applied here. But it stings. You’re supposed to be her guest, and it strikes you that this isn’t the first time this weekend she’s acted like an asshole.

A couple of Katie’s housemates come over to get in on the action. They join in on the “She’s a loser chant”, and you just want to get out. You just stand up and tell them to fuck off, and head upstairs. The party continues.

You’ve been sacking out on the floor in Katie’s room, but it’s easy to gather your things. You were planning to leave on the early train tomorrow anyway. You slip out the door and head to the all night dinner four blocks down the street to sober up. You want to cry, but you tell yourself it isn’t worth it. You don’t feel better.

By six in the morning, you have a headache, and you sit at the train station waiting on the six thirty seven train. Your body aches, but you have drunk three cups of coffee, and ate some scrambled eggs and bacon. You’ll survive.

About fifteen minutes ago, you got a text from Katie apologizing for being an asshole, and you’ll probably forgive her because you’ve been best friends since kindergarten. But you know deep inside something has changed. The girl who practically lived at your house, the girl who helped you pick out your first prom dress, the girl who could finish your sentences, that girl could never have treated you like shit and called you a loser. Especially not over a guy.

The announcer calls your train and you head down to board. It doesn’t take long, and soon you’re moving out of the station. Grey light has broken over the countryside. You listen to the click clack of the wheels on the tracks as the train gains momentum.

You rest your head on the cold window and watch the past roll by.