By Stephanie Elliot
I lift my head from the cold porcelain and reach up to flush. A spattering of water hits my face and the swoosh from the toilet sounds like I’ve just entered a wind tunnel. I hadn’t planned to spend the last hour hugging the American Standard. Not exactly my ideal morning.
Of course, I blame Adam.
He had arrived at the table with a Cosmo for me, not knowing I had already downed two of the cranberry-vodka concoctions. So, it’s mostly Adam’s fault that today I’ve got a pounding head, bloodshot eyes, pasty mouth and clenched stomach. However, I know it’s never a good idea to have three Cosmos on an evening when lunch was a pack of cheese crackers, a Butterfinger and a diet Coke.
Streams of sun splash through the paper blinds as I crawl my way back to our bed. My head’s throbbing, my chest pounds from dehydration, and my body’s making all these internal noises, echoing loudly, blaring through my skull. Everything sounds freakishly like Gloria Estefan’s, “Rhythm is Gonna Get You.” If the rhythm catches up to me, I hope it kills me flat out dead.
I heave myself onto the bed, nudge Adam, and ask, “Can you get me the Advil?” He doesn’t answer. I swipe drool from his lower lip and pull the blanket over my head, feeling like death might be a nice alternative.
It’s almost ten when I wake up, Adam’s no longer in bed, and I smell coffee brewing, which churns my stomach. A glass of water and three Advil are on the nightstand. I ease up slowly, testing the severity of the hangover, and fumble for the pills. I choke all three down.
“Adam?” I croak. He appears in the doorway, freshly showered, a towel wrapped around his waist.
“What happened?” I ask, rubbing my still-throbbing head in an attempt to dull the pain.
“What don’t you remember? Slamming the fourth Cosmo?”
“Four! I did not have four!”
“Ellen. You had four. And then, you and Lexi started ragging about Wendy.”
“Oh God. Do you think she heard us?”
“You weren’t exactly whispering, but if it’s any consolation, you were speaking ‘Slurvakian’ so if she heard you, she probably didn’t understand a word you said.”
My head pulsates louder, and I close my eyes. “Why is this fun for me when it’s happening, but not the day after?”
“Oh, it was fun alright. Especially when we got home.” Adam winks and my mind shuffles to recall the events. I sort of remember being in the kitchen and… Oh God…
He grins. The memories flood into my thrashing head.
“Not the kitchen island? Tell me we didn’t do it on the kitchen island?”
“Okay. We didn’t do it on the kitchen island,” he smirks.
I muster up just enough energy to throw a pillow at him. Great, I’ve done it again. I’ve become the drunken slut every man fantasizes about, thanks to my little Thursday evening Cosmo habit at The Living Room bar.
In the shower, I let steaming water run over me, and think about last night. We go to The Living Room every Thursday, but there was special cause for celebration last night as it was Barb’s last day, and I’m in the running to replace her as Visual Display Creative Director at Lindstrom’s Department Store. But, so is Wendy.
After that third Cosmo (or was it the fourth?), things got really foggy. Wendy was flitting around the bar, making the rounds, chatting up the department heads, basically kissing ass like she usually does. Dean and Lexi were dancing to some retro eighties mix, and I remember kissing Adam, his lips tasting of summer ale. He smelled like citrus and freshly mowed grass from the golf course, like he always did after work. I remember telling him I wanted to inhale him forever, and do other things to him. Apparently, I had followed through with that, right on a slab of granite counter top.
I change the temperature from scalding hot to almost freezing. Cold water splashes over my body, and a case of the goose bumps proves to me I’m alive. When I feel like I can function again, I shut the water off. I might survive today after all.
“You’re going to be late,” Adam says as he grabs a towel for me. I take it, pretty sure I’ve cleansed away the telltale hangover signs – flaked mascara under puffy eyes, swollen lips from the kitchen make-out session, and blood-shot eyes.
I pull on black fitted pants and a hot pink top with flouncy sleeves, spread some concealer under my eyes, then spend two minutes under the dryer, thankful for my short hair. I brush my teeth, which feel a bit like bunny fur, swipe on some lip gloss, and grab an Evian from the fridge to rehydrate. Even though I don’t feel anywhere near functional, I think I may look half-way presentable at least.
Oh hell, who am I kidding? I look like I’m trying to look not hung over, which ends up looking just as bad.
“Love you. So glad it’s Friday!” I say, and kiss Adam goodbye.
“Me too.” He taps me on the butt and I slap his hand away. “Call me when you’re done with your appointments,” I say as I head out the door, trying to remember what I’m forgetting. I search my purse and find my cell phone, and Adam follows behind me and hands me my keys.
Ten minutes later, I pull into Lindstrom’s employee parking garage, grab my purse, and finish my water. Some of the hangover pangs have evaporated. However, with the easing of the headache, the nagging part of my brain kicks in to tell me what I’ve forgotten this morning.
Lexi’s at her drafting table, ringlets of auburn curls camouflaging her eyes, which I suspect are red-rimmed like mine. Dean is across the room, tapping a pencil against his thigh and staring at black and white photos of George Michael tacked to his bulletin board. Lexi, Dean, Wendy and I share a very small office, which is really a dressing-room-turned-utility-closet-turned-office. I’ve often wondered why we don’t have more space to be creative, possibly an office with a window view of the tree-lined avenue below for inspiration.
“Morning Ellen,” Dean says. Lexi smiles up at me.
“Hey guys. Nice shirts.” They’re wearing black tees studded with rhinestones. Lexi’s spells out Feisty. Dean’s says Lover. Fashion isn’t a priority when you’re behind the scenes, drafting designs, creating unique displays, or scrunched in the windows dressing plastic naked anatomically-impossible people.
Dean’s a girly boy, but not in a blatant gay way, more like a sensitive, caring way. He’s got this deadpan way of looking at you like he’s all serious when he’s telling you something important, and then he’ll start cracking up for no reason, and the next thing you know, you’re cracking up too. Lexi’s very feminine but she can be stubborn, which is a dangerous combination. She’s this little spitfire that stands five-foot-nothing in three-inch chunky shoes, and you definitely don’t want to make her mad, ever. Enraged Lexi is not good.
“Ellen, can you look at these composites for the Back-To-School window?” Lexi asks.
“Sure; and do you have any aspirin? I took Advil earlier but it’s not helping.”
“Tylenol.” Lexi tosses me the bottle she keeps at her desk, then asks, “Did you have too much of a good time last night?”
“It sure looked like you did,” Dean pipes in. “Especially when you were hugging Barb and slurring, wishing her the best of luck at wherever she’s going. Remember when she walked away and you whispered that you hoped she was going to hell?”
I glare at Dean.
“Is it lunchtime yet?” I ask. “I could use a Screwdriver.”
Even though we’re hanging, it’s a relatively good day, mostly in part because Wendy does not work on Fridays. When she was hired by Owen, who happens to be her uncle, and Director of Human Resources, it was written into her contract that she would have a four-day work week. While Fridays are less stressed because Wendy’s not here, we do have to spend more time avoiding Owen since his snoop isn’t around. Wendy’s like that girl in elementary school no one wanted to sit with at lunch – the bossy, tattling one.
Lexi, Dean and I had been working for Barb and the three of us had immediately clicked. Then, Owen got Wendy an internship, and next thing you know, she was working in our department. She is nowhere near creative, although she thinks she is. She’s good at one thing, and that’s standing over us while we work, and throwing out compliments, like she’s in charge of us. Oh, and avoiding anything that remotely resembles work.
Dean and Lexi are the production and props team of our staff, and by no choice of my own, Wendy and I share the same role as Associate Designers, even though I’ve been at Lindstrom’s two years longer than Wendy.
After lunch, I tell Dean and Lexi about last night’s kitchen-island tryst. What I can remember of it, anyway.
“On the kitchen counter?” Lexi shrieks.
“I know! Can you believe it?”
“What got into you?” asks Dean. “Besides a couple Cosmos?” he snickers.
“Adam said I had four.”
We’ve managed to avoid Owen all day long and have created a spectacular design for the boy’s window for Back-To-School. It’s an autumn scene, with falling leaves and bare trees, in purple, silver and black. Headless mannequins will be flying kites, except the kites will be shirts, and the mannequins will be wearing cargo pants only. Hidden fans will blow leaves throughout the window so the shirts ruffle in the makeshift wind.
“I don’t think Barbara would have given us the go-ahead for such a retro window,” Lexi says. “What do you think Wendy will say about it?”
“Who cares,” I say, gathering up my things to go home.
“Well, what if she doesn’t like the changes we’ve made?”
“Then she should start working Fridays so she can be a part of this team. I’m so sick of her getting special treatment just because she’s Owen’s niece.”
“Tell me about it, girlfriend,” Dean says.
The three of us head out to the garage at the end of the day, and my cell phone rings. “You guys have a good weekend,” I shout at them and flip open my phone.
“Hey,” Adam says.
“Hi hon, what’s up?”
“Do you want Lil’ Dumplings tonight?” he asks.
“Sounds great. I’ll call for the food; you pick up the DVD.”
Friday night is our usual “Take Out and Movie Night” and Adam always picks up the movie. Last week it was Grease and like the geeks that we are, we both belted out that Whamma-Lamma-Ding-Dong song at the end as Danny and Sandy are flying off into the sky in that red convertible.
I dial Lil’ Dumplings and Hao Ping answers. It’s frightening that I have the number programmed into my cell, and even scarier that Hao Ping recognizes my voice.
“Have the regular tonight, Mrs. McMillan?” Hao Ping asks.
“Hao, come on, you know Mrs. McMillan is Adam’s mother.”
“Ellen, you so funny, make me laugh all time. You wan number 103H and spring rolls, right?”
“Can you add some crabmeat wontons?”
“Sure thing; you and Adam my best customers, you know.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you soon.”
When I arrive home with the steaming food, Adam has already pulled out the paper plates and opened a bottle of Chardonnay. I cringe at the thought of wine.
“What movie did you get?” I ask.
“Guess,” he says. “I don’t think you’ve ever seen it.”
“Tell me,” I scan the room for the DVD.
“I’ll give you a clue,” Adam grins. “Bacon.”
“Hmm,” What was the name of that early eighties flick? “Oh, I know! You got Porky’s! Great clue – bacon, pig. Pig, Porky’s!”
“No, Elle. Come on, think here a minute. Bacon. But not a breakfast food.” He continues, “Well, maybe for Kyra Sedgewick… heh, heh,” Adam grabs the box on the kitchen island, that island from last night, and does a little ‘ta-da’ move as he reveals the DVD.
“It’s Kevin Bacon!” he announces.
It’s definitely not Footloose, and it doesn’t look like a DVD I’d seen before. Then I read the box.
“She’s Having A Baby? Are you kidding me?”
“Aw, come on. It’s a chick flick. I thought you’d love it!”
“God, I am so not in the mood for a sloppy baby movie. You might as well have picked Bridges of Madison County. I would much rather watch Clint Eastwood make out with Meryl Streep than see Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth somebody-or-the-other in a stupid movie about getting knocked up.” Sometimes he does these idiotic things that make me want to hit him over the head and yell, “Hello, anybody home?”
“Oh, so you know what it’s about then?” he asks.
“Yeah, it’s about a cute suburban couple having a kid. It’s you and me, in like five years, talking about whether we should start a family. It’s you, in five years, looking the same, and me, fat and roly-poly carrying the fruit of your loins. I’m not in the mood for this right now.”
“Five years?” Little veins protrude from his neck, his face gets splotchy red, and his voice rises.
“Come on, Elle, we’ve talked about this. I’m not waiting that long. I want to start having kids. I want to have children running around this house. I’m ready for baseball practice and ballet lessons! You know I’ve always wanted to be a part of a big family. I didn’t have that growing up. It’s something I really missed out on.”
Adam is an only child. When we first started dating, I asked him why his parents didn’t have more kids, but he just shrugged. He would have liked to have had siblings but I think after he came along, Adam’s parents weren’t too sure they were cut out for the job.
Adam looks at me, his blue eyes all soft. He starts to say something, but stops, and I look away from him then. When I look back at him, he stares down at his clenched knuckles, and says slowly, “I don’t want to wait another five years.”
I hate when we get into these conversations, and it’s been coming up more frequently lately. I pour a tall glass of wine, slump down onto the kitchen chair and take a big swallow. The immediacy of the wine does little to comfort me.
“I’m just not ready yet.”
“We’ve been talking about this for months.”
“Yeah, we’ve been talking, not doing. It’s kind of like oral sex… talking,” I mutter and take another gulp of wine.
“Didn’t you straddle me against the kitchen island last night?” Adam counters.
“SHIT!” I stand up, nearly knocking over the bottle of wine.
“Ellen, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“No, not shit because of our discussion. I forgot to take my pill this morning!”
In the bathroom, I grab the pills from the medicine cabinet and open the oval packet. If it’s Friday, why is the next pill under the Thursday tab? Did I forget yesterday’s too? I am responsible enough to own a three-bedroom town home, and have a successful designing career, yet I can’t remember to take a stupid pill every morning?
I shove the pills into my mouth, lean over the sink and slurp water from the faucet. When I go back into the kitchen, I’m ready to apologize to Adam for being snippy.
But before I can say anything, Adam delivers the winning blow. “For someone who’s not interested in having children, you sure forget to take your pill a lot.”
We eat in silence, and I finish the bottle of wine.
We don’t watch the movie.