Table of Contents
The next morning, Jan was back at her mirror. She was debating whether she looked sociably acceptable enough to go to class without being arrested for indecent exposure.
With her brain working overtime to come up with a plan for concealing the damage, Jan forgot about her plan to get up early to schedule a haircut. She had turned her alarm clock off in her sleep and woken up at her usual time: noon.
Jan’s hazel eyes were red from crying. Nothing sunglasses won’t fix, she thought. Her normally tanned skin looked pale and blotchy. Thank God for MAC concealer. Her hair looked as if it had been ravaged by Edward Scissorhands.
“Whatever,” she exclaimed and stormed out of the bathroom.
Twenty minutes later, Jan was outside her apartment contemplating a different dilemma. She studied her reflection in the beast’s mirrored skin and decided that her black hat hid her hair perfectly. It complimented her outfit, her sunglasses, and her mood. Jan refocused her eyes to take in the bulk of the problem. Raising herself gracefully into the Jeep Wrangler was a daily struggle. It was a Rubicon model based off Lara Croft’s ride in the Tomb Raider movie. Her dad hired an auto broker to find the limited-edition vehicle. Jan never missed an opportunity to tell the story.
No new solutions came to mind that morning. There was simply no way to get in without clearing a decent runway, sprinting to gather momentum, and then catapulting herself off her lead foot.
Here we go again.
“Eek.” Jan was airborne. She caught hold of the steering wheel and the door frame, and pulled herself the rest of the way into the driver’s seat. She felt undignified after her clumsy acrobatics display. To compensate, she sat up ramrod straight in her seat and attempted to fake poise.
Once out of sight of her apartment complex, Jan allowed herself to slump back in her seat. She looked the other way as she drove past the university she was not enrolled in to begin the twenty-minute journey to the school she did attend.
It was too quiet. She switched on her six-CD changer and selected an appropriate song. “In the end, it doesn’t even matter!” she shouted along with the music, her hands gripping the wheel like a stress ball before reaching to turn up her Linkin Park CD. She felt slightly better after several minutes of scream therapy.
Unfortunately, after a few more songs that should be titled “I Swear I’m Over That Horrible Relationship Yet Still Obsessing About Every Detail,” Jan felt less empowered and more introspective. Her brain began replaying the last conversation she’d had with the ex. She remembered how he gave her asinine excuses for the breakup before biting her head off and then hanging up on her. She ran over a thousand ways she could have handled it better.
She took a moment away from daydreaming to check the road, just in time to see her exit approaching rapidly. She prepared to swerve across several lanes, glanced over her right shoulder to make sure the road was clear, and swore when she saw a little old lady in a gigantic Hummer cruising alongside her. She jerked back into her lane. The exit, like everything good in her life, disappeared behind her.
Jan burst into tears.
She was late, of course, even more so than usual. This meant no parking spaces. Jan had to circle around her school like a vulture waiting for something to die. It took ten minutes for her patience to croak and for her to park illegally in front of a fire hydrant. She began fixing her makeup.
As she worked, she assured herself that if she ever got a ticket she could send the bill to her father. It was an educational expense. If her father was unavailable, Jan figured her mother could take care of it. She owned a law firm after all. If she could assist corporate slimeballs in avoiding jail, she could easily fix a ticket.
As Jan speed-walked to class, she began the exhausting task of thinking up a new excuse for being late. She never thought people believed her when she told the truth. She needed a story based in reality, but exaggerated a little to be sure it had the desired effect. The day off from class would be great, but she was also hoping for an extension on the project that was due Friday, which she hadn’t started yet.
Her teacher was waiting in the hallway. She was tapping her foot impatiently. Jan guessed she was not in a sympathetic mood.
Andrea’s foot silenced. “What happened this time?” Her tone was polite but not enough to hide her frustration.
Jan rushed through a bullshit explanation with added exaggeration. “My boyfriend of a year dumped me for another girl. This morning, I was too distraught to get up on time to make it to class. I’m really sorry, but I’m sure you understand.”
“Class started at one,” said Andrea, implying that she wasn’t buying Jan’s inability to get up in time for a one o’clock class. She didn’t know Jan very well.
Andrea glanced at the clock on the wall. Jan looked too. It read 1:38 p.m. Jan had spent more time in front of the mirror then she had thought.
“There was a lot of traffic,” Jan protested. Okay, it was just that H2, but surely it was big enough to count as more than one car. “And then there wasn’t a single place to park.”
Andrea’s eyebrows rose slightly, conveying mild amusement. It made her appear closer to Jan’s age rather than a decade older.
Jan realized that she sounded a bit silly. Obviously, there must have been someplace to park or she would be having this conversation from the front seat of her car. It was an amusing mental picture.
“All right, I’ll let it go this time. But, next time you’re late, you’re going to have to pay for a make-up tutorial.”
Jan was miffed that she was not asked if she wanted to go home. The massage school prided itself on its holistic approach to healing, which surely included mending broken hearts. Jan considered pointing that out, but couldn’t muster the energy to argue. Instead, she faked graciousness, turned off her cellphone, and walked into the classroom.
Jan scanned the room for a place to sit and groaned inwardly. The only open seat was next to Juan, the sole male in an otherwise all-female class.
Seeing her predicament, Juan grinned like a Hispanic Cheshire Cat. He waved. Jan’s fake smile slipped for a second before cementing itself on her face. She crossed to the back corner and sat down. Ten pairs of sympathetic eyes followed after her.
As Andrea took up position in front of the class, Jan whispered a prayer that today would be a lecture day. That would mean no “hands on” practice; the “hands” she was worried about being Juan’s, and the “on” being on her.
Juan scooted his chair closer and brushed his knee against Jan’s thigh. “Did you have a good weekend?” he whispered.
“Not really,” she replied cheerfully through gritted teeth. She pivoted her body to angle away from Don Juan, Jr. “But look, I was already late and I really don’t want to get into more trouble by talking, okay?”
Over the years, Jan had come up with a theory on how to deal with guys like Juan. They were obviously working under the delusion that annoying a girl to get a reaction was a way to tell if she was interested. As long as Jan pretended she wasn’t bothered, he would eventually move on to more responsive prey.
Juan shrugged his shoulders and acquiesced with a creepy smile that made Jan feel like an injured gazelle alone in the wild. The hungry expression made her wonder anew if he took this class solely to meet women. If so, it had been a waste of $1,000 in tuition. No one was interested.
If all he wanted to do was pick up girls, he should go to a bar like everyone else, she thought. At least at a bar he could offer to buy us drinks, instead of feel us up.
She quickly calculated how many drinks Juan could have bought with the money he had spent on the class, assuming an average of $5 a drink, taking into account happy hour and beer specials, as well as mixed drinks and shooters.
Oh my god! Should I tell him that he could have bought drinks for twenty times the number of girls in this class with that money? Maybe he isn’t twenty-one?
Jan studied Juan’s profile closely. He had one of those baby faces that narrowed his age down to somewhere between nineteen and thirty.
Juan caught her staring. “Are you okay?” he whispered, sans sketchy leer. “You seem a little more crabby than usual.”
Jan’s smile, which had began to wane, became instantly brighter after she had processed the word “crabby.” She wished that all men over eighteen were fitted with a zapper that emitted a mild electric shock whenever they ruined an otherwise nice thing to say with typical male insensitivity.
“I’m fine, thanks,” Jan bubbled. “I got dumped this weekend and am understandably upset about it.”
Juan’s eyes bulged in astonishment. Jan wanted to tell him that he looked like a fish, but was afraid he might consider that flirting.
“Sorry,” he apologized quietly, eyes returning to their normal location inside their sockets. “I’m not used to girls admitting to being dumped. They usually ‘stop seeing someone’ or say things ‘didn’t work out.’ They don’t ‘get dumped.’”
“Yeah well, that’s because they don’t want to admit that someone, however retarded, saw them as dispensable,” Jan said haughtily.
“And you don’t feel that way?”
“I just stopped caring what people think.” What she meant was she had stopped caring what boys like Juan thought.
“Sounds like you’re in denial to me.”
An exasperated Andrea interrupted, “Leave her alone, Juan, and pay attention please.” Jan stuck her pointy nose in the air, but Juan simply smiled.
The girls agreed to meet at Jan’s favorite bar around seven. At 7:40 p.m., Jan walked into Mick O’Donald’s Irish Pub and scanned the room for her friends. She spotted Lisa sitting in a booth at the back of the bar with two strangers, a 6’2” African American male built like a football player with a beer gut, and a husky brunette wearing pigtails. How they had managed to smush their oversized bulks together on one tiny bench baffled Jan. She figured it was worth the walk over to get a closer look.
When she was five feet away, the brunette hefted herself over her date and ran up to Jan. She threw her oversized arms around her and gave Jan a hug. Jan almost decked her.
The girl screeched, “You must be Jan. I’m Becki. I’m so sorry to hear you got dumped.”
The perky demon was back in her seat before Jan had recovered enough to murder her. She barely had time to register that Becki’s Seven jeans had been drastically too small and made her look fatter, but was somewhat placated by the observation. How anyone could voluntarily put on clothes that caused a roll of fat to spill over the edge like blubber was beyond Jan’s ability to comprehend. Sure it made your butt look firmer, but it also made you look like a trashy whore with no fashion sense.
Jan glared at Lisa, assuming correctly that it was Lisa’s fault there were strangers at Jan’s cheering up party, and refused to sit down. Lisa was sitting in a chair at the end of the booth. She wouldn’t meet Jan’s eyes.
Jan looked around. Nichole was nowhere to be found. Becki was beaming at her and the strange male was leering. Jan was not happy.
She returned her glare to Lisa. “Where’s Nichole?” she demanded without bothering to speak to anyone else.
“Flirting with the bartender,” Lisa said to the floor.
Jan spun around and walked off without a word. She knew she was being horribly rude, but if she didn’t walk away she would lose the ability to control her boiling temper.
She caught a quick glimpse of Nichole on the other side of the room. Her friend was leaning seductively against the bar in a classic arms-crossed-under-the-chest pose that pushed her breasts practically out of her low-cut shirt. She was chatting up a hot bartender who was six and a half feet tall with bleached-blond hair styled in spikes.
Jan fought the urge to join Nichole and show her how it was done. Competing with Nichole had been her favorite sport. She reminded herself that she was above that now and headed to the bathroom to check her makeup. Nichole was gone by the time she got out. Jan returned to the table and found Nichole sitting across from Becki.
The girls said hey, but before Jan could take the empty seat on the outside of the booth, Nichole sprang up to let her in. Jan stood her ground. There was no way she was going to let Nichole maneuver her into the inferior position next to the wall.
The two friends locked eyes like combatants about to engage in a fight to the death. Nichole was an inch shorter than Jan and smoker-thin. She generally made up for her smaller stature with major hostility.
The battle of wills finished quickly when Nichole noticed Jan’s demeanor. They had been friends a long time. Nichole could read Jan’s body language. It happened to be saying, “I just got dumped, was hugged by a psychopath, mentally undressed by an asshole, and will break you in half if you don’t sit back down immediately, if not sooner.”
Nichole broke eye contact and sat down. She mumbled something about needing a smoke, then changing her mind.
Jan sat and stared at the strange couple. “So, who are you guys?”
Lisa cleared her throat. “This is Becki. We, uh, ran into each other earlier. Literally. She just moved here from L.A.”
Jan waited for further explanation. It was supposed to be her night. Lisa’s eyes begged her to let it go.
“Jan, this is my boyfriend, Danny,” Becki announced. Jan caught the look in Danny’s eyes. Apparently, “boyfriend” was up for debate.
“Nice to meet you, Janey.”
Jan said coldly, “It’s Jan. How are you?”
“Shitty,” Danny grunted and immediately began ranting about the lack of free parking. “Why should we have to pay for parking? Even Monopoly has free parking.”
Jan’s scowl deepened. She had not wanted an answer. She used her phone to text message Lisa under the table.
Lisa reached into her pocket and glanced at Jan. A few seconds later, Jan’s phone vibrated.
Jan read Lisa’s answer: I found her crying in the bathroom. She was upset about her bf blowing off their date tonight. She invited herself when I told her how we were having a girls night. I think his plans got canceled so she brought him.
Lisa’s feeble attempt at a suitable explanation pissed Jan off. She couldn’t understand how Lisa didn’t see that a preppy Valley girl like Becki would get under her skin even more than a simple jerk like Danny.
Jan intended to text this to Lisa when, as if to validate her feelings, Becki asked, “How did you get such a boring name like Jan anyway? You don’t look like a Jan.”
Jan’s face went red. She pretended not to hear. Instead, she typed out: Does she have sum sorta turrets or have they not heard of being pc in la.
Jan had yet to figure out the predictive text feature on her cellphone. She could consult the manual, but didn’t believe in reading anything besides Vogue.
Becki said, “You look more like a Rebecca or Evelyn.”
Evelyn was Jan’s mother’s name. Jan erased her message and wrote simply: I hate her.
She sent the message to both Lisa and Nichole. She felt a little bad for being mean to a girl she didn’t know, but rationalized that she had been through a lot recently. She wasn’t normally like this, she told herself.
“Leave Jan alone,” said Nichole, leaning diagonally across the booth to get in Becki’s face, literally. Becki’s face crumbled. Jan was sure she was going to cry. Becki apologized profusely.
Danny spoke up. “You’ll have to forgive Becki. She’s kind of dumb.” He smiled indulgently at his date. Like a dog, Becki smiled and figuratively wagged her tail.
Jan almost felt a little sorry for Becki, the curly-haired brunette who was too dumb to go blonde. However, any girl who allowed a man to treat her that way deserved it.
Nichole grunted agreement and leaned back into her seat, her shiny auburn hair swinging gracefully back with her. Jan tried not to notice. Her hair was still hiding under her hat.
What she needed was a drink, Jan decided. She surveyed the laminated Mick’s Happy Deals menu displayed under the glass tabletop. She thought it was a bit excessive to both laminate the menu and place it under glass.
“What do you want to drink, Jan?” asked Nichole, her expression plainly saying what she really meant was, “Why haven’t we left yet?”
“I have no idea,” Jan responded, meaning exactly what she said.
“So how long has everyone known each other?” Becki asked to fill the silence.
Nichole answered first, “Jan and I have been friends since junior high.”
Lisa said, “Jan and I met a couple of years ago when I moved across the hall from her.”
Becki exclaimed, “What a coincidence.”
Nichole and Jan snickered.
“Sort of,” Lisa said politely. “It turned out that we both had graduated from the same community college and had applied to State.”
Everyone waited for Becki to say something.
Nichole and Jan exchanged amused expressions. “Which was coincidental,” Nichole prompted.
“What does ‘coincidental’ mean?”
Danny patted Becki’s hand sympathetically. Jan started to relax. She decided Becki was comic relief.
Danny turned to Jan, “So Becki tells me you just got dumped? I guess that means you’re back on the market, right?”
Jan blinked. Is he hitting on me? Not that it mattered. She would rather eat food from a dollar store than hook up with Danny.
Everyone was quiet.
A few seconds went by before Becki again tried to fill the silence. “So, then why did your parents name you Jan?”
Jan changed her mind. She wished Becki and Danny would become the victims of a murder/suicide tragedy. Answering Becki’s question and praying she couldn’t think of any more seemed her only chance.
“My mother apparently had a crush on some actor in the ’70s named Jan,” she replied nonchalantly, going for the old this-subject-is-boring-and-not-worth-pursuing tack.
“Your mother had a crush on a chick?” asked Danny, grinning from dimple to dimple.
Jan rolled her eyes, to which Danny responded by sticking out his tongue. Against her better judgment, Jan smiled. Danny licked his lips.
“His name was Jan-Michael Vincent. My mother was apparently sentimental before childbirth turned her into a psycho. She decided to name her firstborn Michael, if it was a boy, or Jan, if it was a girl. I think she was counting on saving Vincent for the family dog, but I’m allergic.”
“What’s your middle name?” Becki asked politely, her voice reaching a record-high pitch as it strained to sound as sweet as possible.
Out of her peripheral vision, Jan saw Nichole wince and reach for a napkin as if to stuff it in her ears.
Fighting to sustain a bland expression in the face of this new question Jan whispered, “Michaela.”
Nichole, Danny and Lisa burst out laughing. Lisa tried to choke it down.
“Better than Vincetta,” Nichole said dryly.
Becki asked, “What’s so funny?”
Nichole doubled over clutching her stomach. Jan was afraid to look at anyone else. Jan stood up. She decided to escape to the bar and order a double shot of Jägermeister, or possibly four.
“I’m going to get a drink. Anyone want anything?”
“No, Michaela,” chorused Nichole and Danny.
I want to go home.
Three hours later, a remarkably less-sober Jan was deposited into her bed by a completely sober Lisa. Danny had offered to help Jan get home, but Lisa had vehemently refused.
Before heading home herself, Lisa got Jan a glass of water and pointlessly tucked her in. Immediately upon Lisa’s departure, Jan threw aside her bedding, ran to the toilet and puked up the Jäger, two Tokyo teas and five amaretto sours. She then wrapped herself in her bathmat and settled in for the night.
There’s no place like home, she thought, and passed out on the tile floor. Click to read Chapter 3