Lexi, Wendy and I are in the front store window, with brown paper taped up to prevent anyone from getting a sneak preview of our Back-To-School debut. I don’t know what kind of medication Wendy’s on today, but she adored our Back-To-School window idea. She’s doing what she usually does – overseeing our progress, and basically standing around.
“Girls, this is so terrific! Management is going to love it!” Wendy looks at her watch. “Oh, I almost forgot. I told Dean I’d check the windows over at the south entrance. Want me to bring back coffee?” Lexi and I accept, knowing we won’t see Wendy for the better part of an hour.
After Wendy leaves, Lexi and I work in comfortable silence for a while, attaching shimmering purple kites to the ceiling.
“Did I tell you I’m babysitting my nieces in a few weeks?” Lexi says.
“That’s great! I know you miss the girls a lot.” Then I ask, “Do you ever want kids of your own, Lex?”
She grabs the tape measure and stretches it across the window panel. “Oh yeah! I love babies!”
“So, you’re planning on having children someday?” I press on.
“Oh God, yeah, I want two or three, probably three. What could be better than having a bunch of rugrats cuddling and snuggling with you, loving you unconditionally because you’re their mama?”
I hadn’t thought of it that way. She’s being so earthy granola, and all I think about is how my life would be affected negatively, and not about a beautiful child I could have with the man I love.
“Sounds kind of like having a puppy,” I finally say.
Lexi puts her hands on her hips and whips her head so her curls shake all over.
“You’re kidding me. Tell me you’re not comparing a scrappy little dog to a beautiful child, your own flesh and blood?” Clearly, she is disappointed in me, and she looks at me kind of sideways, scrutinizing me. “Are you pregnant?”
“God no! Adam’s been bringing it up again. He’s really ready, I think, but I’m not.”
“Well, he is in his thirties. Maybe he’s worried about his swimmers losing steam?” Lexi laughs.
“Oh God, Lex, I’m no good with kids! Remember when Paul and Jolene had the twins and the first time I held one of them it started howling at me, and I almost dropped him!”
Lexi cracks up.
“That kid’s face was beet red and I had absolutely no idea what to do, and as soon as Jolene took him from me, the screeching stopped! I had to take a Xanax to calm down because it freaked me out so much.
“Besides, my sister wants one. I can’t have a kid before Jana. She needs to go first.”
Jana and Josh, her high-school-boyfriend-turned-husband, have been married seven years and they’re trying to get pregnant, and Jana does not keep this a private marital matter. I hear about ovulation and the unique ways she and Josh are doing it, and really, it kind of grosses me out. Every month she takes her temperature and charts the results on a graph. She studies her own secretions to map her cycle. They’ve had sex every day for fourteen days in a row to make sure there’s a constant sperm supply. Josh goes sans underwear so he’s nice and cool and loose. Just the thing I want to know about my brother-in-law. Next, they are trying some fertility drug that’s supposed to rev up the eggs.
I don’t want to know about my sister’s sex life.
“It would kill Jana if I got pregnant and she didn’t.”
“That’s an excuse,” Lexi accuses, and she’s right.
“Look, things are really good right now between Adam and me. And I really, really want the director position, and if I do get it, a baby will complicate things. And I don’t want to be one of those stay-at home moms. I don’t want to go to playgroups with moms I don’t even know, or worse, when I do get to know them, I might not even like. I don’t want to have to lug around a whole extra bag of crap. You see how much crap I need just for myself! And I don’t want to get up in the middle of the night because of a crying baby who needs a diaper change and a breast!” I feel like a horrible person for admitting all of this, but it feels good to confess to Lexi. “It’s scary.”
“Hey, I bet every woman is intimidated by the idea of pregnancy. It’s all new territory. Maybe that’s why pregnancies last nine months. To give the mom time to adjust, time to prepare.”
“Yeah, and that brings me to the other stuff.”
“What stuff?” Lexi asks.
“Everything! I just can’t think about all of it – the whole nine-month thing. There’s baby gear and weight gain; sleep deprivation and strollers and car seats and milky boobs and sleepless nights, and… and I love working and don’t want to be stuck at home with a squalling infant I might start to resent. I’d be miserable to be around – fat and hormonal. Heck, you know how terrible I am when I’m PMSing. Multiply that by a thousand and that’s me pregnant.”
I feel better after venting to Lexi, and then I think about her being gay and wanting children. “You want kids? How?”
“Oh please, Ellen. There are so many ways for a woman to have a baby these days. I can adopt. I can pick out a potential donor like Melissa Etheridge did, although I have to say, I think she should have picked a father according to his looks and not his musical talent.”
We both laugh.
“David Crosby ain’t exactly hot. Dave Matthews or Chris Martin – now those are hot daddies.” It’s funny how we are sitting cross-legged in Lindstrom’s main window drinking soda and discussing sperm donors. It’s a good thing we covered the windows with brown paper. You’d hardly know we were working.
* * *
So, Adam has planted the figurative seed, and while I’m trying to think of ways to stall him aside from “Jana wants one,” or the old “I’ve got a headache” standby, I know Adam really wants to be a father.
And I love him, so I’m trying to see his side. Desperately.
Every now and then there’s this teeny, teeny, very itsy-bitsy, teeny-tiny voice inside my head I can barely hear whispering, “Have a baby while you’re young. Eventually it’s going to happen, so get it over with. Someday, you will conceive, and carry, and deliver (with not too much pain, and a lot of drugs) and raise for eighteen plus years, a hopefully healthy and beautiful child.” Most of the time, I tell this voice to shut the hell up.
I don’t want all the crap that comes along with getting pregnant. I don’t want to give up sexy thongs for grandma panties. I don’t want power bras to hold up Vitamin D fortified jugs. I don’t want to become a cow, which is what I’d be – a milk-producing mammal.
The pregnant women I see are frumpy-assed and waddling around in their tent-like tunics that accentuate their widening hips. Or else they’re hip little things strutting around all bare-bellied. I know I wouldn’t be this cute little thing that doesn’t look pregnant from the back. I’d be the tunic-wearing frump-crab-assed prego.
And, who the hell said pregnant women glow? They don’t look like they’re glowing. They look tired; most look absolutely miserable. They don’t look happy, even the skinny ones with perfectly round bowling ball bellies. I don’t want to be tired, crabby, fat and unhappy – the seven dwarfs all rolled up into one cranky lady. That would be me – one big fat, dopey, sleepy, grumpy woman.
I’m not even thirty yet and there’s plenty of time for the mom stuff! Let my sister go first. I don’t want to think of all the stuff involved with becoming a mother. Call me vain. Call me selfish. I love my work, I like how I look, I like throwing back a couple on the weekends, and I enjoy sleeping far too much. Okay, yes, I admit it, I’m really, really, really selfish. But at least I’m woman enough to admit it.
* * *
I hear the phone ring as I jam the key into the lock and push open our door. I drop my things in the foyer and run into the kitchen, thinking I’ve missed the call.
I grab the phone. “Hello?”
“Hey! You sound out of breath. Are you heading out somewhere?” Jana asks.
“Hi! No, I just walked in though, so hang on a sec.”
I kick off my shoes, grab a diet Coke, and plop down onto my favorite chair.
“You guys want to come here for Mom’s birthday?” she asks.
“You’re planning already? It’s more than a month away!”
“Yeah, I know. But you know how she is,” Jana says.
Jana’s right to plan ahead. Because if Mom didn’t get a celebration of some sort, she’d be annoyed, and we’d never hear the end of how disappointed she was. In subtle motherly ways, of course.
The fact that she wants to be honored each year is kind of ironic considering she hates her birthday – hates the fact that she’s getting older. She’ll be fifty-five, although she looks like she’s in her mid-forties. She’s a pretty hot mom and is very stylish, from highlighted head to glittery toenail polish in the hippest colors. Mom never goes out unless she is completely put together. She’s got the matching bag, belt and footwear, funky chunky jewelry, embroidered Capri linen pants or skirts with coordinating tops, accessories and a face made up straight from the Lancome counter. She looks great even if she’s only going to the end of the drive for the paper.
I don’t know how Dad has put up with it for all of these years. He must have wasted a few years’ worth of time waiting in the car while Mom yelled out to him that she’s “putting on the finishing touches, dear.” Fortunately for Daddy (and their thirty-five year marriage), he takes it all in stride and loves her for who she is (a major shopoholic), and for what she does (shops).
“What kind of party do you have in mind?” I ask Jana.
“A simple barbeque. Just us, and Adam’s folks of course.”
Mom and Dad got friendly with Adam’s parents right after we got engaged. I’m actually glad they enjoy each others’ company as it makes for relatively pleasant family gatherings.
“What do you want me to bring?” I ask.
“Not sure yet, but how does Sunday the twenty-sixth work for you?”
“Yeah, that should be fine.”
Then I decide I might as well ask her, because if I don’t, she won’t say anything.
“So...” And I pause hoping she knows what I’m fishing for. When she doesn’t say anything, I continue, “What’s going on in the land of baby-making?”
“Oh God, don’t ask.”
I’m relieved she doesn’t feel like talking about it, because I don’t really want to hear anything new about Josh’s testicles or her incompetent eggs. But then, after a short silence, she says, “We’re giving it six more months and then we’re calling it quits,” she says.
“What do you mean?”
“We’ll quit. We’re so tired of all the shit involved with trying to have a baby. You know, when you don’t want it, you get it, and when you want it, you don’t. Here we are, doing all this stuff to try to get pregnant, and nothing’s happening. Sometimes I wish I could just go back in time. But back then, what the hell did I know?”
Back then is when Josh and Jana got pregnant in college. It was a mistake and totally bad timing as Josh was graduating and Jana was finishing her junior year. I had gone to visit Jana at school when she and Josh told me the news.
“I’m pregnant,” she had said, and I was ecstatic. I knew they were talking pretty seriously about marriage and a family. But when Jana looked at me, I knew something wasn’t right.
“Oh God, Jana, no,” I said. “You can’t. You love each other. Please don’t say...”
Josh spoke because Jana was near tears. “Ellen, we can’t have a kid. We haven’t even graduated yet. We’ve got no money, we’re not married. We’ve already thought of everything. And it’s been a hard decision, but …”
“I’m getting an abortion next Friday,” Jana had said.
And, she did.
Jana feels she jinxed her fertility by giving up what she could have had years ago, and she can’t let it go. She’s never gotten over the guilt of her choice, and that frustrates me. It’s a choice, and yes, it was her choice, and she and Josh made it together. But she shouldn’t keep blaming what happened so long ago for her infertility. I’m tempted to tell her she’s not being punished for something she did eleven years ago, but I know she hates to discuss it, so I keep my mouth shut.
“All Josh and I do anymore is fight. Well, when we’re not having clinical sex, which, by the way, is the absolute worst,” Jana tries to laugh, but she sounds so bitter.
I can’t even imagine what clinical sex is like. Positioning your bodies just so, pillow under the ass, pelvises aligned for maximum penetration. Discussing each thrust – is it in deep enough, are you sure you’re ovulating, has the sperm had enough time to build back up? I imagine no foreplay, no loving words, no candles, no soft touches or whispers. Clinical sex must be like opening a bank account. Make that deposit, don’t withdraw too quickly, and hope for some interest.
“I’m so pissed that we’re not pregnant yet,” Jana continues. “Our friends are starting on their second kids, and we’ve spent the past four-and-a-half years having clinical sex. Do you know how many months that makes? How many periods I’ve gotten I didn’t want? Shit, we’ve spent fifty-three months waiting for a little pink line to show up on a goddamn stick. We’ve spent a shitload of money on pregnancy tests, ovulation kits, doctor’s visits, fertility specialists. And we’ve got nothing. No baby, and practically no marriage left either.”
She’s exaggerating about her marriage suffering and she’s crying so hard, I don’t know how to comfort her. All I want is for her to feel better, so I say what I think would be a sensible thing to say.
“You can always adopt.”
“Oh Christ, Ellen, you don’t have a fucking clue, do you? It’s a good thing you don’t want kids because you are completely clueless. Hell, you can’t even say the right things a sister is supposed to say!”
She might as well have leapt through the phone and sucker-punched me.
“Why the hell are you on my case?” I yell. “You’re right. I don’t know what to say. I’ve never had a desire so strong that I couldn’t concentrate on anything else, that I can’t work or think or enjoy life because I’m waiting around for something I’m not positive will ever even happen. I wish you could stop stressing out so much, take some time for each other and relax and be happy. You’ve got so much of this negative energy, what do you think that’s doing to you guys, physically and mentally? I really wish you two could just start enjoying your lives, already, and be thankful for what you do have.”
I don’t want to hear anything else she has to say. “And since I am just your dumb little sister who can’t figure anything out, you shouldn’t look for my shoulder for your sob stories anymore!”
I slam down the phone and am I’m so shaken up I start to cry. I feel terrible for Jana, and sorry for what I said, and sorry for what she’s been through, but I can’t change the past and she’s the one making her life so miserable.
When I calm down, I take a deep breath, wipe my eyes and pull the afghan over me. It’s the afghan my dear sister crocheted for my wedding gift.
* * *
Adam gently rubs my cheek and I shake myself out of a restless fog.
“Ellie, baby, wake up, honey. You okay?”
I pull the blanket up higher, not ready to wake, hoping the argument was something I’d dreamed. But the headache I’ve got because of crying is proof of my conversation with Jana.
“Jana and I got into a fight.”
He rubs my temples while I tell him about it.
“I can’t imagine how your sister and Josh must feel,” Adam says. “I’m sorry every time you talk, the conversation turns to this.”
“I know. I mean, it’s all she ever talks about. It seems like she loves this non-existent baby she might never have more than the people who are here and who love her.”
“I guess we shouldn’t assume we know how they feel unless we’ve walked in their shoes, which, I hope we never have to do. What they’ve been going through sounds really tough.”
I know all too well what he is thinking. He’s worried that someday we might be like Josh and Jana, having our own fertility problems, fighting incessantly over whose sperm or egg is not working properly, having clinical sex.
I want to take his concerns away. I want him to know that someday I will give him the child he wants, the child we both will want, when the time is right. But I can’t share these thoughts with him yet. Instead, I take his hand and I take him to our bedroom. I’m not dwelling on what our future may hold, but I’m also not ready for the next step where there are three of us instead of two. I just want two for a while longer. I want it to be Adam and me for a while.
We make love, and it’s nowhere near clinical. It’s soft and giving and selfless and real. And afterward, we fall asleep while the candle on the nightstand flickers to a gentle glow and drifts off, the flame melting itself into the wax, turning our room dark.
* * *
On Tuesday, I have a lunch meeting with Claire, the regional vice president of marketing for Lindstrom’s. I am pretty sure this “lunch” is an interview so she can gauge my interest in taking over Barb’s position. It’s killing me because I know Wendy wants it too, and because of Owen, I’m afraid he might pull some strings. I’ve spoken to Claire on the phone, but this is the first time we’ll meet, and I start sweating as I make my way over to the café.
I arrive early, so I wait in the lobby near the front doors. I’m so nervous because I want to impress Claire. I’ve worked so hard to get where I’m at now, and getting promoted to creative director is the next rung on my career ladder, and I’m ready to climb it. I plan to tell Claire about all our plans for the upcoming season, and to let her know Lexi and Dean also have some fabulous ideas for the spring fashion line. Of course, I will not be mentioning Wendy in any of this, because she has stepped forward with absolutely nothing.
I reapply my lipstick and curse myself for being suckered into buying a twenty-eight dollar tube of lipstick that “will not smudge, smear, or budge.” It does all three of these things, and very well. Why the hell do I buy lipstick on eBay?
I turn around to meet Claire.
My God, she’s pregnant!
“Claire? Hi. Oh, hi, how are you?” I’ve just addressed her belly instead of her face, and my cheeks flush. “Wow, you’re pregnant.”
From the smile on Claire’s face, I am guessing our lunch conversation will quickly go from job descriptions and holiday displays to nursery décor and babies. Fabulous.
The hostess leads us to a booth but Claire asks if we could have a table instead.
“Booths get a little tight,” she chuckles and pats her belly.
When our waitress arrives and asks what we’d like to drink, Claire orders water with lemon and I ask for a diet Coke.
“God, I would so love a diet Coke,” Claire says when our waitress walks away.
“I’m sure she won’t mind if you change your order.”
“Ohhh, no, no, no. No thanks. Caffeine’s not good for the baby. I’m allowed one cup a day and I’ve already had coffee this morning.”
“Caffeine is off limits?”
“Well, there’s no definitive study on the effects of caffeine in utero, but, I always say, ‘Better safe than sorry,’ right baby?” She pats her belly again and laughs.
I chuckle along with her. Dear God.
Our waitress returns and I order the chicken salad on a pita and Claire orders an appetizer, the French onion soup and a pasta entrée.
“I’m so famished these days, you know. I swear they aren’t kidding when they say ‘You’ll be eating for two!’” Again, as if she’s trying to include her unborn child in the conversation, she looks down and rubs her belly.
I don’t think it’s cute at all, but I figure the politically correct thing to do is to smile. I still don’t get it though – she can’t have caffeine but she can eat everything on the menu? At least I’m no longer nervous; just perplexed by Claire’s pregnant oddities.
Claire asks me the basic “I’m-trying-not-to-make-this-look-like-an-interview-but-it-is” questions, including, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I smile during all the right parts, answer the questions as truthfully as possible, including a response to her five-year question of, “Your position?” where she laughs good-naturedly. And rubs her belly.
Things are going well, and we’ve moved on to the subject I knew I wouldn’t be able to avoid. Her baby.
“Well, I’m about half-way there!” she beams. I can’t imagine what the other half is going to look like if she’s already this big.
“I’m feeling pretty good now since I’m in my second tri.”
Second tri? What the hell is a second tri? I don’t want to ask because if I do, I’m afraid I’ll be stuck here until the third or fourth tri.
She’s jabbering on about things I’ve never even heard of, all the while including her bulging stomach in the conversation. I’ve never gotten into any details with my friends who have had babies, because they all know I’m not interested, which maybe was a mistake on my part. It would have been better to hear about this stuff from friends rather than the company’s regional vice president.
“I already had my sonogram, and thankfully, I didn’t need an amnio. Since I’ll be thirty-five at the time of delivery, we considered it, but then, the sonogram came back fine. Good thing, because I didn’t want a huge needle shoved right in the middle of my belly! I’m scheduled for the glucose test next week.”
Second tri? Glucose? Amnio? Sonogram? What does all this mean? I wonder if there’s a textbook pregnant woman study. I bet Jana would know, but there’s no way in hell I’m ever going to ask her about all this. In fact, it’s doubtful I’ll ever be talking to her again after our last phone call.
Then, after all this cute baby talk, Claire drops the bomb.
“Well, I’ve had the chance to meet with Wendy, and you’re both definitely qualified to take over Barb’s position. I’ve got a plan though.”
I’m so glad she was looking down at her belly and patting it when she announces this because it gives me time to put my eyeballs back into their sockets. Wendy? She’s already talked to Wendy.
“I thought it would be fun to put your talents to the test? The holiday windows are such a hit each year, and I’ve come up with a great idea to see who’s right for the job, because, as I see it, you’re both highly qualified.”
What? How can she be comparing Wendy and me? Wendy started with a non-paying internship she got because of her uncle! She’s never even had a designing class – she studied poetry in college! She can’t design her way out of a paper bag; she’s unethical, she’s not a team player, she criticizes everything but then takes credit for things she has no involvement in!
“We’re going to split up into two teams. You and Dean; Wendy and Lexi. Each team will create a unique theme for the holiday windows, prepare drafts and layouts and present them for review. Mr. Lindstrom will have final say on which theme most accurately reflects the holiday season and the quality of Lindstrom’s Department Store. That theme will be the one the holiday windows are drafted upon, and that designer will become Lindstrom’s newest Visual Display Creative Director!”
Claire has stopped talking and is waiting for me to say something. I touch the corner of my eye and say, “My contact’s out of whack. Will you excuse me a moment?”
I don’t wear contacts.
I rush into the bathroom and splash cold water onto my reddened face. This cannot be happening. A contest? Wendy and I cannot be competing for the job. This is just too much.
But maybe this is a good thing. She’ll never figure out how to come up with a unique theme for the holiday windows. Never in a million years.
* * *
“So, how was your meeting?” Lexi asks. I avoided everyone when I got back into the office, but now we’re at The Living Room and I so need to vent. Besides, tomorrow Claire is going to send out a press release announcing the Holiday Window Slaughter, as I have named this ‘event.’
I take a swig of my vodka tonic and twirl the straw. “Did either of you know Wendy met with Claire last week?”
Lexi and Dean exchange guilty looks.
“Do you know why they met?”
More guilty looks.
“You knew already! And neither of you said anything to me!”
“What were we supposed to say?” Dean asks. “It’s not like it was our idea? Like we want to be working against each other? Like Lexi wants to be stuck with Wendy?”
Lexi looks down into her glass like it’s the most interesting fusion of vodka and tonic she’s ever seen. She even pokes at her lime. Then, she looks up at me sheepishly.
“You think I’m happy about this? Getting teamed up with her?” she finally says.
“I know, I know. But damn it! She’s Owen’s niece! There’s no way she’s not going to get the position!”
“And how am I supposed to work exclusively with her?” Lexi whines. “This totally sucks.”
We’re wallowing in our pissed-off-ness and decide to keep wallowing and stay for dinner. We order appetizers and more cocktails, which is our idea of dinner. Adam’s working late at the golf club – there’s a tournament and banquet he’s overseeing so there’s no reason for me to rush home.
Bizarre Love Triangle comes on and Lexi shrieks because it’s her favorite song. She grabs Dean and leads him onto the dance floor.
“Frannie, can I get another?” I yell to our waitress.
“Vodka tonic?” she asks.
“Yep! And make it a double!”
Looks like tomorrow’s going to be another one of those fun Fridays at work where we tape up the windows, order lunch in, and gripe about our hangovers. And you can bet we’ll be bitching about this latest development.
“Want one more?” Dean shouts from over at the bar. Lexi gives him the thumbs up, walks off the dance floor toward our table, grabs her purse and nods in the direction of the ladies’ room. I follow her while Dean orders another round.
Lexi applies another layer of lipstick to her already pouty mouth as I check for feet under the doors, and find an open one. Then she starts singing, “Do you really want to hurt meeeee? Do you really want to make me crryyy?”
“You’re going to make me cry if you keep singing!” I shout from the stall. “I’m already in a crap mood!”
“Lighten up. Everything at work will be fine,” Lexi says.
“Easy for you to say. You’re not up for a promotion,” I say as I’m peeing. “Hey, I left my purse at the table. Do you have a tampon?” I ask.
“Got your rag?”
“I’m spotting. And I’m so bloated. And, completely pissed off. Major PMS.”
A super-plus tampon flies over the top of the stall.
“Nice shot, Lex.”
“Do you need another? Did it land in the toilet?” she asks.
“Nope. But it whacked me right on the head.”