I swear to you, when I get married, I am NOT going to make my bridesmaids pay $250 for a dress. A hideous dress that makes them look like a) a grandmother; b) an elephant; or, in extreme cases, c) a grandmother elephant.
Just because it comes from J. Crew Weddings does not mean you can actually wear it again in real life. Trust me on this.
Also, I’m not making them fly to Las Vegas or Cancun and pay thousands of dollars to stay at a resort for three days just so I can post pictures on Facebook and Instagram of them toasting me by the pool. With fourteen-dollar cocktails. And a stupid caption, like, “What would I do without my besties?”
I am not doing this.
And yes, I know, they all said that, too. Before.
Perfectly reasonable women get engaged and apparently their memory banks are instantly wiped clean. Common sense, too.
They forget their college roommate’s wedding, when — due to an unfortunate YouTube sensation — they were required to dance (dance!) down the aisle in a $300 sequin minidress (with coordinating sheer organza coat for modesty in church, $95).
They suddenly do not recall their cousin’s sweet country theme, with the daisies and the barbeque and the IPA beer, and the $175 lavender flowered cotton maxidress with puff sleeves that went with it. Just try wearing that one to a future cocktail party. I dare you.
In my darker moments, I suspect there may be a kind of payback factor at work here.
Anyway, there’s a reason it’s called the wedding-industrial complex. And that’s not the end! Then there are the baby showers.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my friends dearly. I really don’t know what I would do without them. I want their special day to be a treasured memory of perfect happiness, rare and well-deserved, documented in photographs. Their joy is my joy.
But my pain is apparently not their pain.
Let’s look at the plus side.
I’m going to be the maid of honor in my friend Jenny’s wedding. You probably saw that coming. I met Jenny at work here at the O Spa, the women’s private club chain where I am the Assistant Director for Design. O Spas are the “fourth space” for women. Home, work, and other public venues are the first three.
We are meant to be the ultimate space. From highly-trained, well-oiled, hot massage therapists who wear g-strings that are outlawed in 111 countries, to a sex toy boutique with weekly workshops, to a new coffee shop with lattes that are better than sex, the O Spa caters to what women want.
A break, a chance, and a friend.
Jenny loved working for O, but she moved on a year ago, a promotion she could only get by changing companies. We were never just work friends. We’re true best friends, and besides that, we could be sisters-in-law someday. I’m dating her brother, Jamey.
Who is standing in front of my desk right now, telling me about the tickets he just scored to Straight No Chaser at the Wang Center in November. We love a cappella.
“Fifth row, Carrie! And it’ll be near the holidays, so maybe they’ll do songs from their Christmas album!” His dark, wavy hair falls over his forehead in a boyish little curl. His eyebrows are perfectly arched. He gets them threaded more often than I do. His narrow chinos are rolled at the cuff, exposing his bare ankles in brown loafers. And is that my cotton scarf knotted around his neck?
I smile at him. Jamey is a great boyfriend because he always wants to do fun and unusual things. Has ever since we began dating two years ago. Our friends rely on Jamey to keep them current. When Steve Martin curated the Lawren Harris show at the MFA, we were the first people in the door. When Juliet opened in Union Square, we were tasting the tasting menu before anyone else had tasted it.
You can see why a lavender flowered cotton dress — with puffed sleeves — is of no use to me.
“We can go back to my place after the concert and I’ll make cocoa. Bet you’d enjoy something sweet and hot,” I say with a flirtatious grin. I give him what I hope is a smoldering look. He’s holding my hand and his eyes widen in mock excitement, then he looks away.
I love Jamey.
And he loves me. What kind of guy stops by his girlfriend’s work with Grind It Fresh! cinnamon lattes after finishing his Crossfit routine?
Jamey would fit in so well here at O.
A little too well. Looks like he’s thinking about moonlighting here, judging from the way he’s tracking Zeke, one of the master masseurs.
“Hey,” Zeke grunts, his English accent somehow coming out even in a single-syllable sound.
Jamey doesn’t say a word. He just keeps staring at Zeke, whose face hardens. His eyes dart to me, as if he’s asking What the fuck?
I shrug. “Like what you see?” I whisper in Jamey’s ear.
He jumps so high he nearly knocks my latte out of my hand. I recover quickly. Can’t waste a Grind It Fresh! latte. But a few drops spill down the edge of my skirt.
“Whoops!” he shouts, a little too brightly. “So sorry, angel.” His hug is swift and sweaty, his scent changing, skin clammy and hot at the same time. Jamey is so affectionate. Always ready with a snuggle or a hug, a hand to hold while we go shopping.
Who needs lots of sex when you have a boyfriend who is practically a professional cuddler?
Not that we don’t have sex. I mean, you know. We do. I’ll bet we have as much sex as any other couple. Or most couples.
Just… I am so fortunate to have a man who appreciates affection.
I take a sip of my drink. Now we both track Zeke’s ass as he turns to the left at the end of the hallway.
“You would look great in that uniform,” I tease Jamey.
He flushes, eyelashes fluttering. “What?” He clears his throat. “Why would you say that?” The judgmental tone is harsh, different from anything I’ve heard from him before.
I flinch. “I just meant, um… the way you were looking at his uniform, I thought…”
“You thought what?” He looks wounded.
Oh, God. I’ve offended him. I have to fix this. “Oh, I just meant, you know, that if you’re thinking about getting a part-time job like Zeke’s, you’d be fabulous here.”
His eyebrow quirks. “Fabulous? I’m an associate professor of rhetoric and composition. I don’t need a part-time job.”
Just then, one of the other master masseurs, Ryan, walks by. He’s coming in to start his shift so he’s fully clothed in faded jeans, flip-flops, and a ragged, tight t-shirt that shows off muscles on top of muscles. Ryan is my best friend here at the O Spa. We started on the same day, two years ago, so we bonded. We’ve been buddies ever since.
Jamey gives him a nervous glance. I think he’s jealous of Ryan! How sweet is that? Look at the way Jamey combs over Ryan’s muscular body… or maybe he’s thinking about getting a tattoo? Ryan’s arms are sleeved. Jamey’s pupils dilate and it’s so obvious.
He’s thinking about working here.
“I’ll see you tonight, beautiful. I’ll bring Thai,” Jamey says, breathless, a genuine smile in his eyes. “Don’t want you slaving over a hot stove when you could be rubbing my feet on the sofa.”
Ryan gives him a weird frown, eyes doing that wide and narrow combination where you’re not sure what the person is thinking, but it isn’t good. He disappears down the hall to the men’s locker room for staff.
Jamey kisses me on both cheeks. So European. Then, without even looking at me, he disappears in the same direction as Zeke.
I love Jamey. Did I say that already?
I hate Jamey.
I tolerate him because Carrie thinks he hung the moon. When your friend is too clueless to realize she’s dating the wrong guy, there’s only one way to handle it.
Shut your mouth.
I scramble out of my street clothes and into my thong, moving quickly. Can’t have waistband lines marking my body. We show up a little early to get in uniform and adjust to the spa’s atmosphere. Women pay us a lot of money to be their oasis.
No man is an island, but for an hour or two, we can be a peninsula of pleasure.
“You rocked the Captain America costume yesterday,” Carrie says, her troubled look fading as she turns her attention away from the disappeared Jamey. She happens to stare down the hallway as I walk toward her. Now I’ve got her full attention.
Which is how I like it.
“Thanks, but we’re back to the standard uniform. In keeping with our new goal of remaining culturally relevant, the next costume is Dr. Strange.” Her eyes creep over me, my blood’s pace picking up. When Jamey gave me the once-over, it made my stomach clench.
When Carrie does it, other parts tighten.
“I wear more than that when I get a Pap smear, Ryan,” she says with a smirk. A vision of Carrie naked, honey-colored hair fanned out behind her and over the edge of an exam table in a doctor’s office with her shapely legs in stirrups flashes through my mind and oh, shit.
“How’s Jamey doing?” I ask. I don’t give a rat’s ass about him. Talking about anything that will deflate my ever-growing boner is my goal. Think about Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton. Ken Bone. Betty White.
Perfect. Deflation sequence activated.
“Jamey is so sweet!” Carrie gets that weird look again. Her eyes fill with a mild form of panic, which fades quickly, leaving her chewing on a pen cap. “He got us tickets for a holiday concert and just stopped by with my favorite coffee.”
“Nice. But every guy should do that for the person they’re dating.”
“Really?” She looks so surprised. I hate that she looks so surprised.
“It’s pretty basic Dating 101 stuff, Carrie.”
“Like you know anything about dating,” she lobs back at me. “You haven’t had a girlfriend since I met you.” She walks into her cubicle and nods for me to follow.
My heart just got decimated by a SCUD missile. I can’t look at her. I follow, then pick up one of the metal balls on her Newton’s Cradle and let it clack against the others. The force shoves the ball on the other end to strike out in an arc.
“Well, you know…”
She snorts. “Yeah, I know. Why settle for one woman when you can have a taste of so many?”
I’m not sure when she got the idea that I’m some kind of playboy Casanova manw*ore. That’s Zeke. But no matter what I tell her, she doesn’t believe me.
“Right.” Our eyes meet and I can’t breathe. You spend years pretending and hiding your feelings and when those little slivers, fractions of time that don’t show up on a clock, protrude through your facade, you take them as they are.
Real, raw, and so hard.
But so good.
Her expression is serious. The world telescopes. Maybe now is the time. I swallow, my throat dry, and open my mouth as she keeps the gaze.
And then — smack!
A loud crack of a palm against a$s cheek ruins the moment.
“You been upping the protein and dropping the carbs?” Zeke asks, butting in. He appraises me like I’m running for Mr. Universe, running his hand up and down my torso, counting my eight-pack. He mouths the numbers.
“You’re more cut than usual,” he adds. A smirk tickles his cocky English face as he widens his eyes, then gives Carrie a meaningful look. “What do you think, Carrie? Ryan’s looking damn good.” He turns me like I’m a piece of meat being inspected.
I fucking hate Zeke, too.
But Carrie, in that moment, does what people pleasers do. She follows his order, her inventory of my body starting with my feet. I can feel her attention, like a lingering touch, a visual caress that makes the hair on my body start to rally. Not quite gooseflesh, but damn close.
She passes up over my calves, across the knees, hesitating on my thighs, which are tight as I remind myself to unlock my knees. I have to control my breathing. Zeke crosses his arms over his chest and leans against the doorjamb. He’s wearing the same damn shoestring costume I’m wearing as we start our shift, so it’s not like I’m special here at the O Spa.
Carrie, though, makes me feel damn special as her look moves on to my package. I’m frantically trying to think about anything but how hot this is.
Aside from Zeke, of course.
And then Carrie walks toward me.
Think about dead bodies. Rotting carcasses. Dead possum by the side of the road. Jabba the Hut having sex. Jamey having sex — wait, no, because then I have to think about Carrie having sex with that a$shole, and I’ll get an angry boner.
Which is worse than a regular boner.
“ZEKE!” Henry Holliday, our master massage therapist and unofficial leader of all the male attendants here at O, calls for him. Peeling off, Zeke leaves me alone with Carrie, whose eyes have narrowed, head tilted, that long hair brushing her shoulder right in that spot I’ve fantasized about kissing a thousand times before.
“You look good, Ryan,” she says to my abs as Zeke walks away..
“Thank you. It’s that all-coconut-oil diet,” I joke.
She won’t make eye contact, but her chest rises and falls a little faster, a light pink dotting the creamy flesh her open shirt displays. Her eyes dart around the hallway, trying desperately to look at anything but me.
Any other woman and I’d go in for the kill. I’d assume she’s aroused and this is the perfect time to make a move. But if I’m wrong…
I freeze, my body ninety-five percent naked and my heart one hundred percent on the line.
She finally gives me a fuzzy smile, like she’s trying to pack a thousand emotions underneath the one casual, bland grin that covers everything.
“You’ll make a great Dr. Strange.” And then she turns away and hurries off with a hand wave.
I slump against the wall and slowly bang the back of my head against it, like a heartbeat.
“Oh. My. God. Oh my god!” Jamey is beside himself. “Carrie, look at this!”
He is holding up a disembodied hand made of white china.
“What is it?” I ask, laughing.
“A vintage glove form,” he answers. “This is perfect for your bedroom, to hold your jewelry. So graphic and cool. I’m buying it for you.”
We are in an antiques shop in a town filled with them, Essex, north of Boston. The perfect Saturday outing on a crisp September day. I’m flipping through a bin of hundred-year-old post cards, hoping to find a familiar scene. One of our hometowns, maybe, or someplace we’ve been together. I love to look at the messages written on the back in spidery script:
Dear Maudie the baby is much better. Amos went to Bangor. Your Sister Edith
And the impossibly brief addresses:
M Chapin Rural Delivery Bucksport Maine
“Very cool,” I say, half distracted. “It is perfect for my bedroom.”
I like to imagine life without email or messages or even phones, when important news arrived by postcard and the postman already knew where you lived.
Now the people answering the phone aren’t even people. My new project at work is helping design the automated phone tree. You know, press 1 for hours, press 2 for directions, to book an appointment press 3 or stay on the line…
I’m going to suggest another option: to describe your wildest sexual fantasy, press 4. Begin speaking at the tone; when you have finished, press O.
My wildest fantasy? I make eye contact with Jamey, who grins at me.
And then an image of Ryan at work in that g-string invades my brain, unbidden and unwelcome. Where did that come from? I shake my head like a wet dog and move on, stroking a tea tray covered in hand-painted roses, ignoring the flushed tingles that climb up the back of my body from Achilles heel to neck.
How my name came up for this phone tree assignment at work is a mystery to me, unless someone noticed how often I have my cell phone glued to my ear and figured I was the world’s expert. But I don’t have to think about that until Monday.
Jamey buys the porcelain hand and a silver cocktail shaker. I buy a German glass Christmas ornament in the shape of a clementine, the glass so thin, I can’t imagine how it has survived for one hundred and twenty years or so. I can’t wait to hang it on my tree. Someday — maybe soon — our tree.
My girlfriends would kill to have a boyfriend who loves spending the day poking through dusty antiques shops.
I am so lucky.
“We scored!” Jamey crows as I reach for his hand. He holds it with his fingers together, like a parent and child.
Leaving the shop, we wander down the street towards the next one. Jamey has brought a wicker shopping cart on wheels to carry our purchases, and he pulls it along behind him. A few hundred yards down, he stops and pulls out his phone. From the wicker cart he extracts a selfie stick.
I’m used to this routine. I touch up my lipstick quickly, then press my cheek to his, flashing my widest smile. Jamey likes to document our fun; our Facebook friends don’t miss a single thing. They call us the Happy Couple.
Sometimes I think I detect a certain irony in their comments, but that’s probably just me.
The next shop specializes in old maps, not really our thing. We keep walking, but suddenly Jamey stops short.
“Remember we went in there once and the owner was a really nice guy? Really interesting? I wonder if he’s working today?” He peers through the display window. “Let’s go in and see.” When he looks at me, I get his eyes for a split second before he looks back at the shop. Excitement dilates his pupils.
“It’s just maps,” I answer, reluctant. “Tell you what, you go see and come meet me at the next place.”
He’s already running up the steps to the door. Huh. The place must sell some really amazing antiquities.
I can get really absorbed in browsing through bins and shelves, hunting for some unexpected uber-cool object, but after forty-five minutes I realize that Jamey hasn’t appeared. Odd. I head back to the map shop, and there he is, just coming down the walk.
“Hey, where’ve you been? It’s no fun without you.” I slip my hand through his arm, but he pulls away quickly and grabs his cart handle instead. He glances back at the store window.
“Old maps are actually fascinating,” Jamey tells me. “I think I might start collecting them. Kevin says he’ll take me on his next buying trip!”
“Really?” I say doubtfully. “That’s nice. While we’re here, we should look for a wedding present for Jenny and Aiden. The wedding’s in a month.”
“I am so excited to stay at the Chatham Beach Inn,” I continue. “Our room has a king-sized bed and an incredible view — it’s going to be so romantic! And you are going to look so hot as best man. A whole long weekend together, oceanside,” I sigh, imagining our nude bodies twisted in the sheets, so much sex we can’t remember our own names.
“Jamey?” He’s studying a business card, which appears to be from the map shop. It has writing all over it. “Jamey?”
“Yeah,” he says quietly. “Romantic.”
He is uncharacteristically quiet for the rest of the day, actually. We have an early dinner at a restaurant on the water and head back to Boston. The top is down on his BMW convertible and the stars overhead are beautiful.
“Want to stay over at my place tonight?” I ask him in the car. “Seems like a really long time since we’ve… you know… we’ve both been so busy.” I rub his neck and give him a hopeful smile. It’s been thirty-two days since we did more than kiss and cuddle, but who’s counting?
“I don’t think tonight’s a good time.” He doesn’t take his eyes from the road. “But thanks.”
“Okay. Maybe tomorrow.” A piece of concrete the size of my libido sinks into the bottom of my stomach.
“I’m going to Chicago on Monday morning for that conference, so I think I need to spend tomorrow preparing. But thanks.”
I have to ask. I have to. “Jamey, is everything okay? With us, I mean?” My fingers worry a thread on the edge of the upholstered seat.
“Of course it is,” he snaps. “Why would you ask that? You are so needy sometimes. I told you I have to get ready for a meeting!” The growl in his voice fills me with shame. I’m not sure why.
I am taken aback. “I’m sorry,” I stammer. “You’re right. I apologize.”
But he continues to stare straight ahead all the way home. When we get to my apartment in Southie, he helps me carry my purchases, plus the ceramic hand, up to the porch.
“Sorry I wasn’t very good company,” he says, giving me a quick peck on the lips. “I guess I’m just stressed. I have a lot going on right now. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
But he doesn’t.
After work most nights, Zeke and I head to this dive bar down the street from O, Tooney’s Bar. It reeks of old cigarette smoke and unwashed men, the soured beers of decades past all absorbed into the cheap paneling. Dart boards are everywhere, and the two stained pool tables in the bar are constantly busy.
An antidote to a shift at O.
Carrie normally works regular hours, so she’s not around for the night shift, which is what I pull four days a week. We pass each other mid-afternoon, like today, and then she leaves at 5:30 p.m. like all the other office drones, while the clients come pouring in.
Zeke and I spend the post-corporate hours massaging women, listening to them talk about their worries, flattering them, and trying to bring a little spark of fun and light into the lives of overstressed, overshamed, overwhelmed women.
Is our work frivolous? Should I go back to electrical engineering like my sisters all say I should? Robots don’t sigh with relief when you unwind a nasty knot in their shoulder. They don’t tear up when you tell them they’re beautiful without the tummy tuck their new rich boyfriend insists they get.
Then again, robots don’t pinch your ass, either.
“Made a move on Carrie yet?” Zeke asks as we grab a couple of bar stools and lean. My first shot of tequila goes down like that moment you get home and kick off your shoes.
“Just asking. She was combing over you with those sweet brown eyes.”
“Don’t talk about her eyes.”
His nose twitches. “Got it. Eyes are off limits. Can I talk about her t!ts, then?”
I didn’t know I could growl.
“She’s not yours, Ryan. She’s Jamey’s.” His voice goes sickly sweet as he says Carrie’s boyfriend’s name.
“It won’t last.”
“No shit.” He barks out a laugh that is half belch, half snicker. “Does she realize he’s gay?”
I bristle. We’re getting into dangerous territory. “You see it, too?”
“You’d have to be daft not to.”
“Carrie isn’t stupid.”
“Then she’s in denial, or they have some sort of an arrangement.”
“You read Dan Savage’s column? Maybe he fucks whoever he wants on the side, and she…. I don’t know. Who cares?”
“I don’t think Carrie’s the kind of woman to have an arrangement.”
“You have no idea what kind of woman Carrie is in bed, Ryan. You’re too chickenshit to find out.”
“I know more than you think.”
His eyebrows shoot up. “You made a move?”
“No.” Fuck. I just walked right into a trap.
“She talks with you about her sex life? Jesus, Ryan, why don’t you just braid her hair and paint each other’s nails?” For whatever reason, this sounds way worse in an English accent as Zeke sucks down half of his pint of beer. He orders it straight from the tap in those big Pilsner glasses, wide at the top and more narrow at the bottom.
“Oh, man… you do braid her hair, don’t you? When you watch those stupid survivalist shows with her? Might as well cut off your c0ck and hand it to her.” He holds a pretend knife and cuts off his dick in Pretendland.
“It’s not like that.” I give the pool tables a look. Long line to grab one. I groan inside. That means Zeke’ll want to play darts. I suck at darts. He’s a king. Do they start teaching kids darts in England before they’re out of diapers?
Zeke continues pretending, cackling maniacally as he chops off his own dick. I’m damn close to moving him into Realityland.
“You friend-zoned yourself,” he says, then finishes his beer, slamming it on the scarred wooden bar. The bartender starts pouring him another, the dark lager contrasting with the white foam that forms, like a beer wig.
“Just tattoo ‘Friend Zone’ on your c0ck, man.”
“Who tattoos their own junk?”
Zeke just cocks — no pun intended — one eyebrow.
I hold up my palm. “I don’t wanna know. And besides, I hate that term. Friend Zone.”
“Because you’re it, dude. You turned yourself into The Nice Guy.”
“I am a nice guy!”
“Nice guys don’t get pu$sy.”
“I don’t want Carrie’s — ” Okay. Even I can’t finish that sentence, because it’s not true.
His eyebrow goes up, carrying the piercing along with it, like a ball of mercury in a thermometer, measuring something.
Measuring my stupidity.
“You want her bad, Ryan. Everyone in the spa can tell. We have behind-the-scenes bets on you. There’s a grid and everything.”
“You — you bet on my feelings for Carrie? Like the Final Four?”
“Odds are 78 to 1 you’ll never man up and tell her how you feel.”
“78 to 1!” That’s less than 1.3 percent. Damn.
“Once I tell everyone you braid her hair while you’re watching Naked and Afraid, those odds will plummet even further.”
“You’d seriously use what I tell you in private as leverage for a work betting pool?”
“Do you even know me?” He laughs. “If it ups my odds of winning, shit yeah.”
“You bet against me?”
He shrugs. “Turns out I’m right.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Prove me wrong, then.”