Authors: Whitney Gaskell
Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Family Life, #Humorous, #General
Keep that breathless charm.
any thanks to
all of the usual suspects—
My editor, Danielle Perez, and the whole crew at Bantam, with special thanks to Katie Rudkin, Patricia Ballantyne, and Lynn Andreozzi;
My agent, Ethan Ellenberg;
My fellow Literary Chicks, Michelle Cunnah, Alesia Holliday, Beth Kendrick, Eileen Rendahl, and Lani Diane Rich, for their support and encouragement;
My husband, George, for everything he does;
And, finally, a special thank-you to all of the mothers I’ve known over the years: You’re the inspiration for this book.
The world is full of women blindsided by the unceasing demands of motherhood, still flabbergasted by how a job can be terrific and torturous, involving and utterly tedious, all at the same time. The world is full of women made to feel strange because what everyone assumes comes naturally is so difficult to do—never mind to do well.
Thinking Out Loud
nna Swann had
been running late her entire life. And things had only gotten worse since she’d become a mother. Mommy Time, she called it. Mommy Time meant that you automatically had to add an extra twenty minutes just to get out the door, while shoes were located, diapers changed, sippy cups filled.
Anna was now late for her Mothers Coming Together meeting. She weaved in and out of the traffic clogging up U.S. 1, swearing silently at every red light. The monthly get-together was a more organized version of what Anna’s mother, Margo, had always called a Girls’ Night Out. Thirty or so women would get together at a restaurant, drink wine, eat too much, and spend some precious adults-only time away from the demands of children, husbands, work, and life.
Anna’s eyes flicked to the red numbers lit on the dashboard clock. If she got there right this minute, she’d be only five minutes late. Unfortunately, she was still two miles away from the restaurant, and traffic had slowed to a crawl.
, she thought.
Mommy Time strikes again.
Her cell phone started to sing—“Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen—and Anna fished around in her purse for the tiny silver phone, trying not to drive off the road as she did so. She finally grabbed hold of it, checked the caller ID, and groaned when she saw who it was—her ex-husband, Brad. Which could mean only one thing: bad news.
She clicked the phone on and said, “So where are you this time?”
“What, no hello?” He sounded like he always did—charming, upbeat, good-natured. Mr. Vegas, she used to teasingly call him, because of his effortless Rat Pack charm. He was the sort of guy everyone liked immediately—men, women, children, dogs, even cats.
“Where?” Anna asked again, her voice cold.
There was a pause. “I’m in Tampa.”
Tampa. That would make it difficult to kill him. Difficult—but not impossible. Of course, the fact that she’d have to drive over an hour down to the West Palm airport, purchase a plane ticket, and then fly across the state in order to murder him might weaken her temporary-insanity plea.
“My boss sent me out to handle a meeting,” Brad continued blithely. He worked in sales for a pharmaceuticals company, and he was, unsurprisingly, quite successful. Brad was a natural salesman, which was another way of saying that he was full of shit. “I thought I told you I might have to cover it.”
Anna thought. He knew damned well he hadn’t told her. She considered taking her cell phone and beating it against the car window, hopefully rupturing one of his eardrums in the process, but then a Ford Explorer zipped in front of her, nearly hitting Anna’s station wagon as it did so.
“Shit!” Anna said, hitting the brakes. “Asshole!”
“What did you say? You’re cutting out. Why don’t you call me back later when you get to a land line,” Brad suggested.
, Anna thought. He knew she was pissed off, and, just like a turtle, Brad always snapped into his shell at the first sign of trouble. He had a truly remarkable instinct for self-preservation.
“No!” Anna bellowed at her ex-husband. “Do not hang up on me! Brad, you’re supposed to watch Charlie tonight. You
. I already told him you were coming to see him.”
Their son, Charlie, was two, and therefore too young to understand that his father was ditching him. Yet again.
But how long would that blissful ignorance last?
Anna wondered. She had visions of Charlie in his pajamas, the blue ones with the glow-in-the-dark rockets on them, sitting up and waiting for his father to appear. Her heart pinched at the image.
“Yeah, about that. I’m not going to be back in time to take him.”
“What a surprise,” Anna said. She hated how bitter she sounded, hated that he’d turned her into this, but even more, she hated that Brad was letting Charlie down.
“Anna, don’t start. It was a last-minute thing, and I didn’t have a choice. Tell the little guy I’ll see him this weekend,” Brad said.
“Brad! Seriously, you can’t do this! I have plans tonight,” Anna said, her voice rising.
“Can’t your mother watch Charlie?”
“That’s not the point. The point is that you said
were going to take Charlie tonight, and you can’t just back out of it at the last minute. It’s irresponsible, and it’s not fair to me or to my mom or to Charlie,” Anna said evenly.
There was a weird cellular pause, then Anna thought she heard a female voice speaking in the background, and then there was the unmistakable rustling of a hand being placed over the phone to muffle the sound. Anna rolled her eyes. Obviously, Brad had not gone to Tampa alone.
Anna got pregnant after a condom malfunction when she and Brad had been dating for only six months. They were still in that early golden stage of the relationship, past the awkwardness of the first few dates and yet still oblivious to the other’s less forgivable traits. Anna—who was thirty-one at the time and making peace with the likelihood that marriage and babies weren’t going to be in her future after all—had been terrified and thrilled when she found herself perched on the toilet seat in her bathroom, staring down at the two blue lines that had appeared on the home pregnancy test.
I’m pregnant! I’m going to be a mother!
she had thought, the knowledge cresting inside her, a soaring rainbow of happiness. And then, suddenly, a cold fear washed the rainbow away.
I’m going to be a
She was still vacillating between happy disbelief and terrified disbelief when Brad came over for dinner that night. Her original plan was to tell him over a dinner of pasta carbonara, and she’d even engaged in a brief fantasy of how it would go down: She’d be sitting at the table when she told him. She’d remain calm and serene and poised, Princess Diana posing for the cameras with her chin tucked in, a sly smile playing on her lips. Brad would be gallant and thrilled. Maybe he’d even get a little teary and insist on kissing her stomach, which would be cheesy but sweet. And then they’d agree that although their relationship was still relatively new, maybe this baby was a sign that what they had together was right. That it was Meant to Be.
Instead, Anna panicked and ended up blurting out the news while she was salting a boiling pot of water before adding the pasta.
“I have something to tell you,” she’d said. Her back was turned to Brad, who was leaning against the kitchen counter, sipping a glass of chardonnay.
“Let me guess,” he’d said. She could hear the smile in his voice as he continued, “Your ultimate sexual fantasy is to have a three way, and you’re not sure how I would respond to the idea. Well, have no fear, I’m all for it. Provided, of course, that we’re talking two women, and not two men.”
It was just the sort of joke Brad would make, with a teasing growl that would normally make Anna laugh. But right now it was all wrong, and Anna didn’t laugh.
Instead, she said, “I’m pregnant.”
Brad was silent. When Anna finally worked up the nerve to turn around and face him, she saw that he’d responded to the news of their impending parenthood by blanching the greenish-white color of bad yogurt, while his mouth opened and closed soundlessly, making him look like a fish. It was this fishlike expression—combined with her taut nerves—that made Anna laugh. Nervously.
After absorbing the news—Brad actually had to sit down, and she noticed that his hands were trembling—he looked up at her and said, “Are you going to keep it?”
“Yes, I’m going to keep it!” Anna folded her arms over her chest and glared at Brad. He visibly wilted.
“Oh. So…what do we do? Should we get married?”
And Anna—who had never been one to fantasize about Vera Wang white silk dresses or headlining the sort of overstylized event profiled in
Martha Stewart Weddings
—had felt a keen sense of loss.
Still. Even though it wasn’t the proposal of her dreams, Anna tried to focus on the positive: She was getting married. They were having a baby. She had her dream job as the food critic at the local newspaper. After ten years of bad dates, selfish boyfriends, and crappy jobs, life was finally falling into place.
Five months later, Anna—enormously pregnant and retaining so much water the only shoes she could wedge her swollen feet into were a pair of Old Navy flip-flops—had stopped by her new husband’s office unexpectedly, planning to surprise him with the picnic lunch she’d packed. It had been one of those fabulous late-winter Florida afternoons. The sun was softly filtered through the cottony clouds, a salty breeze rippled up from the intracoastal river, and the idyllic weather seemed to have filled everyone in their small seaside town of Orange Cove with a feeling of communal goodwill. Anna had thought she and Brad could take the deli sandwiches she’d packed over to the beach, something they used to occasionally do while they were dating. To be honest, Anna was trying to recapture some of those stomach-fluttering feelings they’d had back in the beginning, which had been fading away over the months as they adjusted to married life and the prospect of a new baby on the way.
We’ll just make it work
, Anna thought.
You can make anything work, if you put enough effort into it.
But then she walked in on her new husband sticking his tongue down the throat of one of his coworkers.
Debbie. That was her name: Debbie, spelled with an
. Debbie, with her perky breasts, tiny waist, and freakishly large lips. Debbie, who didn’t even have the grace to look embarrassed when caught making out with another woman’s husband. Instead, while Anna stood there, mouth gaping open, Debbie raised her chin defiantly and smirked at her.
Anna had stared at the two of them, waiting for the shock and anger to writhe up inside her, waiting to feel the sharp pain when her heart shattered. Instead, there was only an oddly hollowed-out feeling, as though it wasn’t really a surprise but something she’d been expecting all along. And then, distantly, a fluttering
as the baby shifted and turned before settling directly on top of her bladder.
“I have to pee,” Anna finally said, and then she turned and left.
She regretted that more than anything, wishing she’d had the poise and quickness of mind to think up a Dorothy Parkeresque quip.
I have to pee
. It had to be the worst exit line in the history of scorned women.
Afterward, Anna realized she had known, had even had a premonition when her hand curled around the doorknob to Brad’s office, that she didn’t want to see what was on the other side. There had been signs that later seemed obvious, and in an annoyingly clichéd way at that. Suspicious phone calls. Late nights at work. Odd excuses for where Brad had spent a Saturday afternoon or Wednesday evening. But it wasn’t until she’d actually seen the kiss, seen Brad’s hand resting on Debbie’s perfectly aerobicized bottom, that she’d faced up to the truth: Her husband was a cheating rat-bastard piece of shit. And Anna wasn’t about to give him a second chance.
Two hours later Anna had the locks on their modest bungalow changed. By the time Charlie was born, the divorce proceedings were under way. Anna took sole custody of their silver-fawn pug, Potato. Sharing a child had proved to be a little more difficult.
“Brad,” Anna now said, struggling to stay calm. It wasn’t as though she cared whom he slept with these days, but he was supposed to be coparenting Charlie with her. Ditching their son for work was annoying, but ditching him to jet off to Tampa with his girlfriend was unacceptable.
“Look, I’ve got to go. I’ll call you when I get back in town. Give Charlie a kiss from me,” Brad said.
“Brad!” Anna tried again, but he was gone. The words
blinked up at her from her phone.
The traffic came to a sudden stop at yet another red light. Anna slammed on her brakes again, narrowly avoiding plowing into the Explorer, and glanced at the clock to confirm that, yes, she was now very,
“Gah! How is it that I’m always late? How?
” she said out loud, thumping one hand on the steering wheel.
Most days, Anna didn’t mind being a single mother. Sure, it was hard at first, when Charlie was a newborn and totally dependent on her for everything, but Anna had lots of help from her mother, Margo—or Gigi, as Charlie called her. His baby-babble name for her had stuck, despite Margo’s attempts to brainwash Charlie into calling her
And Anna couldn’t get enough of Charlie. After she’d spent nearly twenty hours in labor and one solid hour pushing, Charlie entered the world with a birdlike shriek. The nurse laid him across Anna’s chest, and she’d taken one look at her squalling, blood-covered infant and fallen helplessly in love. Now just breathing in the powdery scent of his head or feeling his solid little body relax against her while she read to him brought Anna an indescribable joy.
But then there were days like today, days when Anna felt the full weight of single motherhood, of having to do everything on her own. Her morning had begun when she took Potato out in the pouring rain for her morning tinkle. Potato flatly refused to lay one paw on the wet grass and mulishly resisted all of Anna’s attempts to wheedle her into peeing. Anna, soaking wet and insanely late, finally gave up and dragged Potato back inside. Five minutes later, Potato deposited a puddle of urine and one large, stinky turd in the middle of the bathroom floor. Anna cleaned up the mess, took the fastest shower in modern history, and then raced around getting Charlie’s breakfast ready. Charlie—who had recently thrown himself into the terrible twos with alarming enthusiasm and was having the mood swings of a premenstrual teenage girl—wept bitterly when Anna presented him with a toasted whole-grain waffle spread liberally with cream cheese.
“Bagel!” he’d cried piteously, pushing the waffle away as though it were poisonous. When Anna—running on only one cup of coffee and thus not awake enough to fight about it—had given up and toasted a cinnamon-raisin bagel for him, Charlie poked at the bagel unenthusiastically, looked up at her, and said in a hopeful voice, “Waffle?”