My lovely editor at St. Martin's Press asked how my edits were going on Mr. Right-Enough (now called What More Could You Wish For). She said she wasn't trying to rush me but they’ve had a couple of requests from foreign publishers wanting to see the manuscript and she wanted to be able to give them some sense of a time frame.
Yippee! This dream keeps getting better and better.
So, here's the revised first chapter. Take a peak and let me know what you think.
Sometimes people throw out the question, “If you could turn back the clock what age would you go back to?” and I would always say, “I wouldn’t...I love the age I am.”
Well, fuck that. Ask me now.
When you're 20 or 30 or even 40 you can't imagine being 50. But all of a sudden there it is, smacking you in the face and you think, "Holy shit, how did that happen?" It's better, as they say, than the alternative but really...holy shit.
I thought if I ignored my fiftieth birthday it would go away but Michael, my significant other, called on his way home from work, bursting my balloon of denial.
“Happy birthday, sweetheart,” he said. “Let’s go to that new sushi restaurant for dinner. What do you think?”
“We don’t have to go out tonight,” I said, thinking that crawling into bed and pulling the covers over my head would be the preferred alternative. ”We’re celebrating at my folks’ tomorrow.”
“I know, but it’s not every day you turn fifty.”
“Thank god,” I said, examining myself in the mirror on the wall of my workroom and face-lifting sagging skin with my free hand.
Michael and I had been together nearly two years. We didn’t live together but traded off staying at each other’s house several times a week. It was a nice arrangement and we had a sweet, comfortable relationship, far more peaceful than any relationship I’d been in before, including my two marriages.
Michael and I had planned that he’d stay at my house tonight but I was thinking we’d spend the evening quietly at home with a nice bottle of Malbec and take-out from my favorite Szechwan restaurant. But he sounded so pleased with his sushi idea that I agreed. It was just dinner out, after all, not, I knew, a surprise party. I’d made him swear more than once that he’d never do that to me and Michael was a man of his word.
I finished hemming one of the purple satin bridesmaid dresses I was working on for my best friend Sophie’s daughter’s wedding. There were four duplicates hanging on a rack and I was anxious to finish them and get that purple extravaganza out of sight. It clashed with the décor.
My workroom, which was in the finished basement of my Chicago-style bungalow, was painted soft pale yellow and had nubby Berber navy blue carpet. The windows were small and high up on the walls but there was a fair amount of natural light, and lots of indirect lighting in the drop ceiling with spot lights for specialized work.
In one corner there was a big, soft two-person chair and ottoman that were upholstered with striped yellow and navy fabric and next to that was my desk, computer and some bookshelves. The room was bright and crisp, but cozy and snug. I loved the look of it but I especially loved what it represented: my independence from the sterile corporate world I used to inhabit.
Now, while I waited for Michael to return phone calls and take a shower, I turned on my computer, double-clicked the AOL icon and heard, “Welcome! You’ve got mail!” I loved that. It was like winning a little prize.
An email from my mother said, Happy birthday, Libby. I can’t believe you’re 50! It makes me feel so old.
Tell me about it, I thought.
I’m making some of your favorite things for dinner tomorrow. Come over about 6.
By the way, I saw this article and thought you might be interested.
She’d attached a link to an Internet article titled Retirement Planning for the Single Woman.
Jeez, AARP was already sending their damn magazine, wasn’t that enough? Did I need this from my mother, too?
My parents couldn’t grasp why I’d quit my job as a graphic designer six years ago and went into business for myself as a dressmaker/tailor. I think they worried my clients would dry up and I’d end up living in a cardboard box under an expressway. Or worse, at their house. But the fact was my business was thriving. It had taken a few years but I’d had some money saved. It’s not as if I didn’t plan the transition. Didn’t I get my resourcefulness from them? How could they not appreciate what I had done, how hard I’d worked at getting the word out about the new business; going to networking events, doing mailings to large apartment buildings in high-end neighborhoods, sending out eBlasts. And now I had a nice client list that kept my hair stylist in business, stocked my cupboards with smoked oysters and champagne, and paid for some nice vacations. And I was even putting money into a retirement fund, which I guess I needed to tell my mother.
I answered emails from clients, checked an eBay auction, looked at some fashion sites, and then just browsed, checking out the AOL welcome box with news briefs and weather forecasts and “Best Cities to Retire In.” God, more retirement stuff. It was everywhere.
At the top was a hyperlink for SearchForSchoolmates.com, and a picture of a girl who could have graduated in my high school class in the seventies. She wore a dark turtleneck sweater with a locket on a small gold chain, and had long straight hair parted down the middle. It was exactly like my own senior picture, and I smiled, thinking of my high school days. So I navigated to the website. I had to select my state, then the city, then my high school, and finally I could enter the years I attended and my own name, Elizabeth Carson. And voila! a list of 104 alumni from my graduating class came up. I laughed, looking at the familiar names; Mary Blevins, Susan Caldwell, Danny Schultz. I could picture Danny’s blond hair and dazzling smile and wondered if he was still cute or if he was now sporting a comb-over and forty extra pounds.
Page two was more of the same and vague memories swam through my brain, memories of walking the locker-lined halls and sitting in various classes passing notes to my friends. And homecoming and prom and the gymnastics competition. It had been thirty-two years since I’d seen any of these kids. The thought that these kids were all fifty now was unimaginable.
I was on page three when I saw a name that made me sit back in my chair. Patrick Harrison. Wow. That was a name that hadn’t surfaced in my brain for a hundred years. Patrick had been my first love, the one I thought I couldn’t live without. He was the bad boy with long hair, the one my parents didn’t like and I couldn’t resist. I remembered how we’d walk the tiled halls hand in hand, how he’d drop me at my classroom and give me a soft kiss before he’d walk off to his own class. My heart would just about beat out of my chest and I thought I’d never survive until the hour passed and I could see him again. I clearly recalled that sweet terror, the heart palpitations, the blush that started at my chest and infused my whole body when I saw him walking toward me. Was it possible to feel that way at fifty or was that territory reserved for teenagers?
“Libby,” Michael called, “you about ready?”
“Be right there,” I said and saved the SearchForSchoolmates.com website to my Favorite Places.
Michael seized a piece of sushi with chopsticks and popped it into his mouth.
“Raw fish good,” he said in his best caveman voice.
While we waited for our dessert of green tea ice cream Michael told me about his new listings and a high-maintenance client he’d just started working with. Michael was one of the top real estate agents in the city and I admired his dedication, I really did, but he always gave me more details than my attention span had room for. So now I nodded and smiled and thought about Patrick Harrison, wondering what he was doing now, what he did for a living. I couldn’t imagine him an attorney or an accountant. Definitely not a real estate agent. I could see him as a forest ranger or maybe something in non-profit. Or maybe he was a fifty year old bike messenger pouring himself into spandex and still wearing a ponytail.
I knew I was going to send him an email and thought about what I’d say. Hi, remember me? Remember when we slept together on New Year’s Eve when we were seventeen?
The waitress brought two tulip-shaped glass dishes, each containing a perfect scoop of green tea ice cream. Mine had a sparkler twinkling in the middle.
“Happy birthday,” she and Michael said in unison. I braced myself for them to break into an off-key rendition of the song and let out a relieved breath when they didn’t. I pulled out the sparkler and we both dug in, remarking how yummy it was; cold and creamy. Then Michael put down his spoon, reached into his pocket and placed a small black velvet box in front of me. I blinked.
“Open it,” he said pushing it closer.
I stared. I had a bad feeling. It was surely a ring but hopefully it was a cocktail ring or a friendship ring. I’d even be happy with a claddagh ring. Even though I wasn’t Irish. Trepidation swirled around my throat.
The waitress and two busboys stood watching from a respectful distance, grinning like kids with a new Game Boy. “Go on,” Michael said.
What could I do? Refuse? So while everyone watched I gingerly lifted the little lid. There, like a searchlight, sat an enormous diamond ring. My mouth fell open. The waitress clapped her hands together.
“Will you marry me, Libby?”
Marry him? Really? I studied his face thinking (hoping) maybe he was kidding but he watched me eagerly.
What was he thinking? Fifty percent of all marriages fail. Not to mention one hundred percent of mine. “My god, Michael, it’s huge,” I said. What I wanted to say was, What the fuck, Michael? If you wanted to get married couldn’t we have talked about it privately instead of turning it into a spectacle? “How could I wear this? It’s bigger than my fist,” I said. He laughed. “You shouldn’t have bought this. I’m too old for an engagement ring.” And I don’t want to marry you.
“You’re never too old for diamonds,” he said
Well, of course I knew that, but still...
I noticed then that the only sound in the restaurant was the faint clanking of dishes from the kitchen and I looked around to find five or six tables of patrons watching me. A plump, gray-haired woman in a flower-print blouse smiled encouragingly. A small blonde girl with a pink feather in her hair sat on her knees, arms crossed on the back of the chair. It was like a stage play and Michael was enjoying his role as the romantic male lead. What was I supposed to do now? How could I say anything other than yes with all these people watching?
“Put it on,” he said. I hesitated. “Go ahead.” I took it out of the box. I made a show of it being too heavy to lift and Michael and our little audience laughed. When I slid it on my finger his eyes sparkled and he leaned forward.
“Well?” he said. “Will you?”
I held up my hand and made another show of being blinded by the glitter. The crowd loved it but I was just stalling, trying to think what to do. The silence enveloped me as they all waited for my answer. I had a quick vision of taking off the ring, putting it safely in Michael’s hand and then running like hell out of the restaurant, disappearing down the street, maybe going into witness protection. Instead I said, “How could I not want to marry a man who would buy a ring like this?” Not a yes, I reasoned. An answer I could explain away later when I told him what I really meant was no.
The waitress let out a little squeak and there was a spattering of applause.
“Did you pay these people?” I asked.
Michael’s smile illuminated his face like a sunrise. He put his arms around me and pulled me close. “I love you, Libby,” he said and kissed me.
As I kissed him back I waited for the tingle, the blush, the thrill I’d felt with Patrick Harrison so many years ago. It didn’t come. What came was like a solid mass of cement sitting on my chest. Shit.
“You’ve made me a very happy man,” Michael said, his eyes crinkling with pleasure. “We’ll have a great life together.” He laughed. “Well, we already do, but somehow it feels different now. Don’t you think?”
“Yes,” I said. “It definitely feels different.”