CeCe knew the rules. Good girls didn’t ask boys out, or even approach them. Good girls didn’t chase boys. Good girls were innocent, well-dressed, demurely made-up. Good girls were quiet, non-threatening, unassuming. Good girls ended up with good lives. Handsome husbands, gorgeous homes, fat babies. They just had to be patient.
The rules, hammered into her brain by her mother from the time she could walk, circled her thoughts. This is what being a good girl gets you, she thought bitterly, at the movies alone on a Friday night. She usually enjoyed her own company. Besides, it wasn’t her friends’ kind of movie, a French film about two lovers who meet who meet at the tomb of Napoleon II. But for some reason, that night she couldn’t stop thinking about Ricky. They were both single for the first time in years and he still hadn’t asked her out.
She quieted the nagging voice in her brain and pulled out her phone, composing a text.
This restaurant isn’t my style. I would prefer someplace with peanut shells on the floor, a karaoke machine, shots of tequila lined up on the bar. Dancing. But there will be time for all of that later.
Still, it’s sweet that Renee wants to take me to dinner to celebrate my college graduation. We’ve been friends since we were five, when most of my friendships were determined by geography. She’d been my next-door neighbor. If we met today, I don’t know if we would even see each other, much less become best friends.
There’s a busboy clearing the table next to ours. He notices my stare and winks at me. Cheesy, I know, but I still blush. Renee does not approve. “Joss, seriously? You’re an educated woman now. Don’t sell yourself short.”
I watch as he carries something outside and follow him, mumbling an excuse to Renee. As I duck into the alley, he grabs me and pulls me close and I can’t think about anything else, other than the faint smell of tequila on his breath.
Every other hotel room, apartment, and house within a hundred-mile radius of the convention was booked. But somehow, the quaint little cottage with the bright blue door, tucked away in a quiet suburb a few miles from downtown, sat vacant amidst all the hubbub.
“So, what do you think?” Their realtor, Sara, asked after they’d completed the brief, unnecessary, tour. They would have rented it sight unseen. It was this or sleeping in a car outside the convention hall.
“I think it’s too good to be true,” Chris piped up before Meg could answer. “How come this place is vacant?” Sara lowered her face, shifting her eyes to the door.
“Is something wrong? You have to tell us.” Meg urged.
Sara sighed. “This home is where John Darden, that cannibal murderer, had his first kill.”
Sara turned away, shoulders slumped, resigned to the fact she would never unload this tainted property.
“Sara, wait!” Meg called after her. She looked at Chris, her mouth twisting into a hybrid of a grimace and a smile. “We’ll take it.”
The roar of the truck engine barreling down a dirt road pierced the calm of the Sunday afternoon. It was Ricky, in his dad’s old truck, the one he’d spent nearly the entire summer after graduation fixing up. CeCe leaned closer to the window to get a better look. She could smell the rosebushes her mother had planted along the front of the house as a brisk wind blew through the screen.
Her neighbor, Sara, ran down the front steps. She wore cowgirl boots and a flirty little sundress which swirled around her as Ricky lifted her in his arms.
CeCe’s mom tut-tutted behind her. “That girl! Running off with one boy after another every weekend. She’s getting a reputation!” Her mother put her hand on her shoulder. “You can hold your head high. You’re a good girl.”
Her mother left the kitchen, and CeCe stole another look across the street. Sara and Ricky roared past. Sara held her hand out of the window, catching the wind, a huge smile on her face.
“Thank you for taking the kids! I’ll be back in an hour.”
“Oh, it’s no problem!”
Iris smiled and thanked her friend again before heading down the driveway. She turned, making sure the door was shut and the blinds drawn before walking past her car, in the direction of the main road. She let her umbrella drop and turned her head toward the sky, letting the cold raindrops run down her face, through her hair.
She’d changed her last diaper, negotiated her last tantrum, wiped her last snotty nose, washed her last load of urine-soaked sheets, scrubbed her last oatmeal-encrusted bowl, spent her last sleepless night.
She’d imagined long sun-dappled days, the laughter of children in the air. Singing her babies to sleep and reading them stories that she’d written and illustrated. Not the stench of human waste, her clothes covered in all manner of bodily fluid, sticky hands always reaching for her, mouths screaming, demanding, needing, only her, never their father. Always Mommy.
Nate loved to sit next to his father on the dock and watch the ships come in. It was a beautiful day. The air was cool and fresh. The sky bright and blue. He laughed as a swift breeze blew his jacket open.
“I wonder where that one is going?”
“Maybe Singapore. Or Hong Kong.” His dad answered with a sly smile.
Nate wanted to go to Asia one day. When he was all grown up. He was going to explore the entire world with his dad at his side. They would have lots of money and stay in the best hotels and eat at the finest restaurants.
A passerby slipped a crumpled bill into his father’s hand. His father tipped his hat to the stranger and smiled.
“Time for breakfast!” They rose from the bench and walked to the small coffee-shop across the street. The owner always gave Nate a sweet roll as a treat. He slipped his hand into his father’s. It was going to be a good day.
The lackluster applause startled Megan awake. She straightened in her seat, rubbed her eyes and clapped along, more loudly than anyone else in the audience. Was I snoring? Oh God, please tell me I wasn’t snoring.
The play had been, in a word, horrible. The lead actress had been hospitalized with a nasty case of pneumonia. The understudy seemed unprepared, forgetting her lines repeatedly, then breaking the third wall and apologizing to the audience.
Casey let out a long, labored sigh and turned to her. “Ready?” She nodded.
They showed their passes to the guards and made their way down the winding halls backstage, knocking on one of the dressing room doors. Andrea whipped the door open and leaped into their arms.
“I thought it went really well. What about you guys? Haven’t checked my twitter yet…”
Casey and Megan sneaked glances at each other.
“Why don’t we all go get some drinks?”
“A lot of them…”
As they left, Casey slipped Andrea’s phone in her purse.