Table of Contents
“Ahh,” Jan said as she sat up in bed and stretched her arms toward the ceiling. She glanced around for her phone and picked it up. The incident with Danny was a week old, but it felt fresh. She had experienced a few dreams in which Lisa and Becki had not interrupted them that night. They had all ended badly.
Last night, she had dreamed that Danny was about to attack her when Juan had swooped in on a white horse and chased Danny off. Instead of thanking him, Jan had stolen his horse and went after Danny to finish the job. The feeling of righteousness had persisted in her waking reality.
Jan began absentmindedly humming Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now”. She was in a glass-half-full, don’t-worry-be-happy kind of mood, thanks to her dream.
She glanced at the time. Or maybe getting up at, oh my God, it’s only 9:30, instead of oversleeping was a good way to jumpstart one’s day, she considered. Either way, Jan was going to ride this unexpected wave of positivity and do something productive for a change.
Going to work out seemed like the obvious answer. She hadn’t gone since the first time she’d nearly collapsed more than a week ago. Perhaps she should finally give in and take the fitness assessment she’d been offered. She had called several times already to cancel — and each time had been rescheduled against her protests (pushy bastards) — but she was sure they could just fit her in whenever she felt like it.
However, her short burst of energy did amount to something. The number of things accomplished in those twenty minutes: three. Positive, important life changing things: sadly, none. Jan had gotten dressed, made some toast, and signed on to chat.
Her energy crapped out on her as soon as she saw a popup heralding yet another amazing new version of an app she needed to download.
How is a girl supposed to accomplish anything in life when she constantly needed to download new versions of the most important tools available to her?
On second thought, who wants to sit around and talk to weirdos on the computer all day? There are so many weirdos right here in this building that I can talk to in person. Jan headed over to Lisa’s.
Sixty seconds later, Jan walked back into her apartment and went back to bed. Lisa wasn’t home and Jan didn’t know any other neighbors.
Three hours later, Jan woke up again, performed her morning ritual, and discovered one text message on her cell. This text inspired an idea for something productive Jan could do. It had been a reminder from Nichole that the Halloween deadline was three weeks away and for Jan to tell her the moment she shacked up with someone so she could collect her winnings.
She replied via text: friends don’t bet on friends.
Nichole did not respond.
For the next week, Jan brooded on the subject. During the next Monday’s class, she got a nice reprieve from her sadness when she received an hour massage. It was the first time the students had gotten to try the entire massage recipe they had been learning from beginning to end, and for once Jan was thrilled to be a recipient, now that Juan had eased off teasing her. His more relaxed attitude allowed Jan to relax as well. She realized his teasing must have been a cover for nervousness but wondered if his new familiarity was a good thing.
The end of the massage signaled Jan’s turn to be the massage giver and a wave of stress washed away her relaxed attitude. Working on Juan when his nakedness was barely covered with a sheet was difficult. She was also scared of messing up the recipe, especially after he had followed it flawlessly. By the end of the hour, Jan was more than ready to return to her apartment sanctuary and unwind.
As soon as class was over, she hurriedly exited the room. Juan called after her, but she pretended not to hear. She was not in the mood for more quality time with Juan, no matter how well he had behaved himself so far.
He caught up with her outside.
“Hey. Why are you always running out of class? It’s impossible to talk to you.”
That’s kind of the point, Jan thought.
“I just need to get home.”
“Well, I just wanted to tell you that you did a really good job, with the massage. You’re much stronger than the other girls.”
Jan looked up. “Really? Thanks.”
“Yeah. But you seem really tense. I know putting the whole routine together and making it flow can be tough, but you should try not to get frustrated. It is really obvious to the person getting worked on.”
“So?” Jan hurled defensively. She wondered why every time someone said something nice to her it always came before an insult.
Do they do that just to make themselves feel better, because they think a compliment balances out an insult? Or is it just to make sure I feel even worse because I thought they were being nice?
“It’s hard for the receiver to relax when the giver is tense. If you’re frustrated with the recipe, maybe all you need is a little practice. We could get together some night and go through it a couple of times if you want?”
She couldn’t believe the nerve of this kid. He follows her when she obviously doesn’t want to be bothered, insults her ability to give a good massage, tells her that she basically is toxic to be around, and then tries to trick her into coming over so he can make a move on her.
She felt a shameful, burning feeling deep inside her and all she could think was, Why is this asshole always butting into my life? Why is everyone always butting into my life and telling me what to do?
She was constantly being judged by her mother, her so-called friends, and now her classmates. She felt like she must be a really horrible person for everyone to dislike her so much.
Juan tried to fill the silence. “Maybe we can figure out why you’re so uncomfortable all the time?”
His words stopped her in her tracks. She swung sideways to face him. “Why don’t you just mind your own fucking business for once?” she raged, the anger inside her bursting forth from her mouth like fire from a dragon. “Since when did I have to start explaining myself to you? I don’t even like you. I hate sitting next to you and I feel disgusted every time you touch me during class. And just so we’re clear, I am never going to go out with you, so why don’t you just drop the juvenile seduction act, okay?”
Juan simply stood and stared at her. His jaw hung open slightly and his arms rested limply at his sides. For an entire minute he just stood there in shock.
Jan had no choice but to stay where she was and wait for a response. You can’t just walk away from someone after unloading on them like that, not without being a complete bitch, she thought. She tried really hard to apologize after he didn’t start yelling, but nothing could get out around the foot edged firmly in her mouth.
Maybe if I start crying then he’ll feel bad and I can let him take the blame?
Before Jan could do anything, Juan stammered an apology and promised that he would never bother her again. He then walked away with his head down and his metaphorical tail between his legs. Jan had never felt so guilty in her life.
“Juan, stop,” she called after him. She hurried to catch up and put her hand on his arm. She half expected him to shake her off. Instead, he calmly turned around, his face still displaying the same shell-shocked expression, and looked down at her hand.
Her words to him earlier, “I feel disgusted every time you touch me,” hung in the air. Jan wished she could take them back.
“Juan, I’m so sorry. I’ve been having a really hard time adjusting to the breakup and my friends are making things a hundred times worse. I know there’s no excuse for venting at you like that, but I swear I didn’t mean anything I said.”
The corners of Juan’s mouth turned up slightly as he tried to imitate his usual grin. “Even the part about never dating me?” he asked playfully.
Jan couldn’t tell if he was joking and was too concerned with keeping her foot firmly on the ground versus stuck back in her mouth to answer him.
Instead she decided to tell him the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, about the bet, her friends calling her a whore, and what she’d realized about her addiction to dating. She needed to talk to someone.
When she was done, Juan had recovered. He was grinning ear to ear. Jan braced herself for some kind of caustic comment or mockery. Juan surprised her with a hug and a declaration of outrage on her behalf.
Jan was so overcome with relief and gratitude that she wasn’t aware of her cellphone ringing, nor her decision to answer it without checking her caller ID, until the authoritative voice of her mother slapped her in the face like a sheet of ice water and brought Jan back reality.
“Why have you not been returning my calls?” her mother said without as much as a hello, my darling daughter.
“Mom!” Jan screamed. She was too surprised to answer the question. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to yell. I didn’t know it was you when I answered.”
“Ah, so that explains why you bothered to take my call for once.”
Jan gulped and looked at Juan for help. He gave her a supportive smile, but his body language said he didn’t have a clue what was wrong.
Jan held up one finger to indicate that she wanted him to hold on a minute. “I’m sorry I haven’t called you back yet. I’ve been really busy lately. I’ve started working out and classes are tough.”
“Jan, you’ll never get anywhere in life if you can’t even return phone calls. You’re on track to graduate college on time,” her mother’s skepticism clearly communicated itself through the line, “and enter the real world. You can’t continue to behave like a spoiled, sheltered child forever. It’s time to start making an effort.”
Jan would have thought she’d be used to her mother’s disapproval by now, but hearing her equate not returning phone calls with her never amounting to anything was painful. She knew her mother was being unrealistic and that the criticisms she made were often inaccurate and unfounded, but Jan still couldn’t help thinking that if her own mother was saying these things, they must be true.
“Mother, I am trying to make an effort. I’m making some positive changes in my life right now and...”
Her mother interrupted her, “I’m having a dinner party two weeks from today, on October thirty-first. It’s formal, black tie. I’ll have my assistant pick something out for you to wear. Will your date require assistance as well?”
“Huh?” Oh very sophisticated, Jan. Because ‘excuse me’ is so much harder to say.
“Please, Jan, say ‘excuse me’.”
“Right, um. I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Are you having a Halloween party?”
“The event will be held on the 31st, but it is not a Halloween party. There will be a string quartet, a varied selection of expensive wines, and a six-course meal. There will not be cheap costumes, cheap alcohol, and cheap women like at the parties your friends may be throwing. I expect you to be there promptly at seven. I’ll have my assistant call you to arrange the delivery of your dress and get the name of your date for the place cards.”
“Wait a second, Mother. I don’t have a date. I won’t have a date. That’s one of the things I was going to tell you.” Jan paused. She tried to anticipate a reaction to her saying, “I’m not dating anymore,” and realized how childish that would sound to her mother.
She decided to lessen the impact a little bit. “I’m taking a break from dating.”
A small, snort of laughter was her mother’s response. Laughter of any kind was disturbing, since her mother did not have a sense of humor.
“As I said,” Mrs. Weston continued as if Jan hadn’t spoken, “my assistant will be contacting you shortly about the final arrangements. Goodbye.”
Final arrangements? Jan thought as she sank down onto the curb and started biting her acrylic nails. That made it sound more like a funeral than a party. A sense of foreboding swept through her. Nibble, nibble.
“What was that all about?” Juan asked, joining her on the ground.
Jan started and pulled her fingers out of her mouth. She’d forgotten he was there. “My mother invited me to a party. A couple of her friends must have canceled.”
Juan gave her a disbelieving look.
“I’m serious. I get invited to all the family holidays that my mother’s circle expects to see children at, but that’s it. If she’s asking me to a dinner party now, it’s because one of the couples she invited couldn’t make it. She probably couldn’t think of a good replacement that wouldn’t offend the people she didn’t invite or upset anyone already going.”
Juan frowned, his forehead scrunched up in consternation. Jan could almost see the thoughts flying behind his eyes as he tried to make sense of the unfamiliar situation she had described.
“That all sounds complicated to me,” he said. “Shouldn’t you just invite whoever you want to a party and not worry about what anyone else thinks?”
“Sounds nice to me,” Jan found herself smiling warmly, “but I’m afraid you’d never make it as a politician.”
“Is your father a politician?” Juan asked incredulously.
Jan snorted. “No way. My father is a professional slacker.”
Juan stared blankly.
“Okay, not a professional,” Jan quickly clarified. “My dad isn’t a professional anything. His parents left him a lot of money, and although he does try to do something business-like with his life from time to time, mostly my dad just plays tennis and occasionally golf.”
“So, your grandparents are dead?”
“My mother’s parents are, but my dad’s aren’t. They moved to Australia before I was born and cut off contact, as far as I know. For whatever reason, they gave my dad a lot of money first and then abandoned him.”
“Any idea why?” Juan asked.
“Nope. Neither of my parents will talk about it,” Jan answered. “But why did you assume my dad was the politician? My mother is the one organizing the party.”
Juan blushed. “Well, I just figured your mom was organizing the party for your dad. You know, because he was too busy working or something. Is your mom a politician then?” he asked uncertainly.
“My mother is a lawyer, a very successful lawyer. She started a law firm. I think they specialize in defending rich scumbags or corrupt corporations. Something like that, anyway. I don’t really talk to my mother that often. Mostly she just talks to me, about how I’m screwing up my life, or occasionally hers. It’s all very confidence building,” Jan said bitterly.
Jan’s mouth slammed shut. She was mortified for having revealed so much about her family’s dysfunctional dynamics.
Embarrassed, Jan jumped up and started backing away toward her car. “Anyway, sorry again for being so rude. See you later.”
Jan sprinted to her car and was soon out of breath.
She glanced back once as she gasped for air to see if Juan had followed. When she didn’t see him, she told herself what she was feeling was relief, not disappointment.
An hour later, when Jan was safe at home and relaxing in her La-Z-Girl chair, Juan called. He offered his services as an escort to the “horrid affair” as he called it, saying that he remembered Jan telling her mother unsuccessfully that she wouldn’t be bringing a date.
Jan gushed a “thank you” and said she’d keep him posted if plans changed. He chivalrously offered to pick her up and take her to dinner first if she anticipated the food would be as horrible as the company.
She giggled — giggled, ick — and told him that wouldn’t be necessary. Jan briefly wondered what kind of white horse her new Prince Charming would be riding to her rescue, knowing everyone else at the party would be arriving in Bentleys and Mercedes, but reprimanded herself for the ungenerous thought and thanked Juan again for his offer.
Maybe I should confide in people more often? she considered.
Jan was practically purring with contentment when she hung up. She was so relaxed that she curled up in her chair and took a cat nap.