First Page: Fluency Skills – Contemporary Romance
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When my best friend invites me to one of her parties, I go. It doesn’t matter that I don’t want to go, that I’d rather stay home and read, or bake a pie, or file my calluses. When Celeste asks me if I’m free Saturday night for “a little thing for Jay”, I tell her that I’ll be there, thanks for asking. Her grin is so wide it nudges her ears, which makes the blond curls framing her face quiver. That is awesome, she replies with a fist pump. And then I get the rundown of what she plans to wear, right down to the Spanx.
Of course I realize that she has an ulterior motive in asking me to the party, and that ulterior motive will have a penis.
It’s such a cliché: the love struck newlywed works tirelessly to pair up her lonely, single friend. I confronted her about this after the last party, when she maneuvered me onto the balcony with insurance agent Ned, then slunk back inside, winking at me from the other side of the sliding glass door. I had done my best, but his words streamed fast and smooth like a waterfall while mine hit every rock on the tumble-down. After five minutes he was looking past me, murmuring something about getting another beer. Celeste admitted later he was a bit green, said she would do better next time.
I could give her an excuse and wheedle out of it. Or just tell her no, it’s not my thing. She would still be my friend. But I’ve seen the effort she pours into these events; every gift she has is on display and it’s beautiful. It’s her way of showing love and I won’t say no to that.
So now I have a few days to worry about the party. I pull my little black dress from the back of the closet and check it for creases and stains. I buy a new pair of stockings during my lunch hour on Friday and pick up a bottle of wine. I’m staring off into space when a customer addresses me for the second or third time, asking me to bring down the Ted Harrison hanging in the back. My hands shake as I set up the ladder, and I leave sweat marks on the glass and frame that I rub out with a quiet apology.
On Saturday morning I tackle the stairs in my building, because there are fifteen flights of them and my body needs something to fight. I make my legs ache and my lungs wheeze going up and down those stairs, but I push past it. It feels so good that this part of my body I can control.
An hour before the party I drag out my yoga mat. I run through some sun salutations, a warrior pose and the tree pose. When I’m folded into child pose I sense a cramp in my gut and make it to the bathroom just in time. I wilt over the sink, wash my hands. Back on the mat, I begin the progressive relaxation exercises that I learned in grade five. Do they help? Maybe. I still have the cassette tape packed away in a box somewhere, but I can hear the soundtrack in my head: rhythmic surf, keening gulls, and classical guitar. I work from the bottom up, clenching and releasing muscles in my feet, calves, fists, all the way up to my neck and face. Pucker up my lips in a cartoon smooch…and hold. Take some deep belly breaths, visualize success.
Celeste says I’m getting better. Coming out of my shell. I step into my dress and jerk up the zipper. Tame the frizz in my hair with some ruthless strokes of a brush and apply a cloud of spray. A little mascara on my lashes, powder on my nose. Now comes the last part of my pre-party routine: practicing the two words that have the potential to ruin my evening.
“Victoria.” I repeat it several times in slow-motion, testing it for tricks. Close up to the bathroom mirror, I watch my teeth bite my lip, my mouth round for the “o”, my jaw drop and lift. It’s a micro dance on a slippery stage. Another deep breath, then the trickiest word of all:
I say it twenty times, even as I swipe some gloss over the tight lines of my lips. Stare hard at my reflection. Snatch my purse, grab the wine, and go.