"Before you say anything," Ashley said. "I just want you to know that Tom is going to see a therapist for anger management. Because I told him I would not marry him if anything like...you know...ever happened again."
Pretty sure it's a really bad sign if you have to couch your engagement news with the caveat that your fiance is going to anger management to avoid roughing you up again. I realized Ashley was just staring at me, because I had yet to have any reaction to the diamond on her finger, which was dazzling in the sun. "Sorry," I said. "This is just a lot to take in."
"I know," Ashley said. "I know it is." She held the door open for me so I could step inside. We climbed the stairs, Ashley chattering away, saying the word 'know' so many times I thought my head would spin off. "I know it's going to take a lot for you to trust him, and Tom knows that too. He wants to get to know you better. I feel like you have such a bad impression of him."
Well, domestic violence tends to cloud my judgement. We were at the the door to my apartment, and I unlocked that door and pushed it open with my shoulder. I dumped the pile of manuscripts on my little Ikea table, and the entire thing collapsed. "Motherfucker!" I yelled, much louder than I meant to. Part of it was my frustration with Tom. I just wanted to ride the train into Westchester like a fierce woman warrior and take him out.
Ashley dropped to the floor and helped me clean up the mess. "Thanks," I said. "This thing is such a piece of crap."
We cleaned up in silence. When we were done, Ashley rocked back on her heels and said, "I just hope you can find some way to be happy for me."
I sighed. "Ash, I want to be happy for you. I do."
"But?" Ashley asked.
"Why do you have to be engaged?" I asked. "Why can't he see the therapist while you're just dating?"
"Because he's in his forties, Jos. He's too old to be someone's 'boyfriend'."
"So call him your partner or lover or something."
That made Ashley giggle. "Listen, I know you're all anti-marriage"—
"I'm not anti-marriage," I said, defensively. "Why would you say that?"
"Well, you're all on this kick about being on your own and you don't like babies..." Ashley trailed off.
"That doesn't make me anti-marriage."
Ashley held up her hands. "Sorry. Forget I said it." She stood and brushed off her jeans. "Listen, the reason I'm here is because I wanted to invite you to a small engagement party Tom and I are having next week. It will be a chance for you to get to know him better."
It's like Ashley somehow had it in her head that the problem would be solved if I could just 'get to know Tom better'. She looked so hopeful that I didn't want to crush her, but I also didn't want to support this. It was one thing to be pleasant to Tom when they were just dating, but another thing entirely now that they were getting married. And while this was totally secondary to the issue of Tom being an awful guy who has clearly brainwashed my friend, there was an element of truth to what Ashley said about me being anti-marriage. It's really more that I'm anti-marriage right now. I knew this day would come, when my Facebook newsfeed would be littered here and there with news of former classmates' engagements, when my friends would start to drop off like flies. As much as I'm a relationship girl, I cannot picture myself getting married for many moons, and sometimes I feel like girls are just clamoring to get engaged just to be able to say they're engaged. Plus, you start to have less and less in common with your friends once they get married and have kids, and that makes me sad. I always knew I'd be left out in the cold with all of this eventually, but I just wasn't ready for it to start yet.
"Can I think about it?" I asked.
Ashley bit her lip. I thought she was going to cry, but she said, "Sure. But Josie, I'm not asking you to be my maid of honor and stand up at the altar and all of that. I'm just asking you to come to a small party, to get to know the Tom I know. That's all."
Oh God. I hadn't even stopped to think that I would probably be asked to be the maid of honor if they move forward with this. Compared to that commitment, the engagement party didn't seem so bad. "You know," I said. "Yes. I'll go."
Ashley clapped her hands together. "Awesome. You're going to love him. I promise."
I doubted that, but I didn't say so. "What about Nina?" I asked. "Does she even know?" I gestured to Ashley's ring. I still couldn't believe she was wearing one of those.
"I'm heading over to her apartment to tell her next," Ashley said.
That ought to be a calm, level headed conversation! "Well, good luck."
Ashley gathered her stuff and gave me a hug goodbye. I gave it one hour before Nina was on the horn with me, freaking out.
Right on schedule, about an hour later, my phone rang. "What the fucking fuck?" Nina said.
"I mean, seriously. Is this not the stupidest idea in the history of mankind?"
"I know," I said again. "But she can't see it. He's manipulating her. It's what guys like that do."
"She's going to be a stepmom," Nina sighed. "A child bride stepmom."
I hadn't even thought about that part. That was weird. "What did you say to her?" I asked.
"Everything I just said to you!"
I clapped my hand over my forehead. "Nina!"
"I mean, I put it a little more nicely. But I basically said this was a huge mistake and I just had to bow out of anything related to this engagement or wedding, and Ashley was all, 'I'm sorry I don't live up to the impossible expectations you have for everyone.' It was bad." Nina paused. "Do I have impossible expectations for people?"
"You have high standards," I said. "But it's not necessarily a bad thing. And having the expectation that a friend's fiance doesn't beat her is setting the bar depressingly low."
"Exactly!" Nina cried.
We chatted a little longer. I told her about Kate and Peter, she told me about the weekend she spent with Brad's family. "They love me," Nina said. "And you love Brad, so there's one engagement you can be genuinely happy for."
I felt sick. "If you guys get engaged."
"Calm down, crazy," Nina said. "Brad has crushing student loans that are going to take him forever to pay off. I give it a presidency and a half before it happens."
Good. Maybe Nina and I could be old cat ladies together.
After we hung up, I decided to do a little fashion show. I needed to figure out what to wear on my 'date' with Peter on Wednesday. I wanted to look hot, of course, but not like I was angling for any hanky-panky. It's a fine balance, you see.
Wednesday came, and I decided on a pair of fake black leather pants and a silk button down with the 'editor's tuck' that one of our fashion bloggers taught me to do (basically, you just tuck in the front of the shirt and leave the back out. Like a tuck mullet!). I didn't shave my legs or my arm pits. This way, even if I was tempted to hook up with Peter, my hairy body parts would stop me. The date was at this restaurant downtown, right off the West Side Highway. Peter was at the bar, sipping a bourbon, when I walked in.
"Hi, friend," I said.
Peter smiled and asked me what I wanted to drink. "Doesn't this place have a gold martini or something?" I asked. Peter pointed it out to me on the menu, and my eyes bulged out of my head when I saw the price.
"It's all included in the dinner anyway," Peter said. "Might as well go for it."
So I did. Just a typical Wednesday night, drinking a martini with gold shavings floating on top.
A few minutes later, the host came over and greeted us. "May I show you and your wife to your seats now?"
"That would be lovely," I said and winked at Peter. I think of words like 'lovely' as things wives say.
We were escorted to a large, private room, with an artfully decorated table. "Do you have a music preference?" the host asked.
Peter gestured to me. "I'll let my 'wife' choose."
"Hmmm," I said. "Do you have an 80s station or something? On Pandora?" Peter snickered.
I think the host was expecting me to say jazz or Beethoven or something, but he acquiesced graciously and soon the sound of Michael Jackson's Thriller filled the room.
The host exited, saying our server would be with us shortly. As soon as we were alone, Peter laughed. "Maybe we should keep this up."
"What? That we're married?"
"More like, pretend we're different people than who we are."
"Oh!" I said. I could get into that. "Yes, yes. Who are you?"
Peter thought a second. "I'm Brian. I'm a congressman from Texas. Who are you?"
"I'm Vivienne and I'm a professional piano player."
"Odd choice of music for a professional piano player," Peter said.
"I like to take a break from the classical stuff during my downtime," I said.
"Oh, I see."
Our server appeared and greeted us so formally that for a moment, I imagined what it must be like to be Kimye. I did not hate it. He asked us if we wanted tap or still, and if we'd have a chance to look at the wine menu.
"Vivienne," Peter said. "Would you like wine or are you going to stick with the gold martinis?"
"Wine," I said. "Martinis cause my joints to swell and I won't be able to play properly tomorrow if I have more than one."
The server was looking at us like we were insane, but he politely recommended a few reds off the menu. Peter went with a Pinot Noir from California. "Amurica," he said to me, and pumped his fist in the air.
"Right," the server sighed. I'm sure he couldn't wait to go home. "Well, I'll be right back with that."
"So, Brian," I said, once we were alone again. "What brings you to New York?"
"I'm on extended vacation," Peter said. "Government shutdown and all."
"How fabulous for you," I said. "I've never met a member of Congress before."
"I hope I live up to your expectations," Peter said.
"I have a feeling you will," I said. Underneath the table, I felt Peter's leg brush mine. I wasn't sure if it was an accident or not.
Our server returned with the bottle of wine. He opened it and gave the cork to Peter to sniff before pouring him a taste. Peter nodded his approval. When we were alone again, Peter raised his glass. "Cheers," he said.
"Cheers." I touched my glass to his and took a sip.
The waiter returned with the first course. An amuse-bouche with Ahi tuna and watermelon. I could have eaten a thousand of them.
"So, Vivienne," Peter said. "How long have you lived in New York?"
"Well, I was born here," I said. "But I moved away for a few years, to try something new."
"Why did you come back?"
"I always knew I would," I said, suddenly realizing how weighted those words were in relation to my situation with Peter. Peter seemed to too, as he was looking at me intensely. "Nothing compares to New York."
"Well," he said. "Sometimes you have to let the things that you love go. That way, you can come back, and be sure it's the right move for yourself."
I took a sip of my wine. "It sounds like you're speaking from experience."
"I am," Peter said. This time, when I felt Peter's leg under the table, I knew for sure it wasn't an accident.
The waiter returned with the second course. There were seven total, and by the end of the meal, the band of my fake leather pants had burrowed into my midsection. But oh baby, it was worth it.
"So where are you staying while you're in New York?" I asked.
"The Ritz," Peter said. "In Battery Park. It's the only place I stay when I come here."
"It is," Peter said. "This is my last night in town—you should come see for yourself."
Were we still playing? I wasn't sure. "I don't just want to...go to your hotel room and never see you again," I said.
"I think you'll see me again," Peter said. "Eventually." I felt his leg, warm against mine, underneath the table again. My leg hairs stood up with goosebumps. Hot, Josie.
Peter held his hand out to me. "Come on."
To my surprise, Peter told the cab driver to go all the way downtown, to The Ritz. "Wait," I said, breaking character for the first time that evening. "We're seriously going to The Ritz?"
Still in character, Peter said, "it's where I'm staying, remember?"
When we arrived, Peter walked right up to the front desk and booked us a room for the night. I'm pretty sure everyone in the lobby thought I was a hooker (hopefully a high class one) as I stood off to the side, trying to look nonplussed as Peter passed his credit card to the concierge. Which, I realized, is probably exactly how hookers act when a client books a room. "Let me know how much I owe you for my half," I said, loud enough for everyone to hear as we made our way to the elevator.
"You don't owe me anything," Peter said.
"Yes, I do."
Peter pulled me close as the elevator doors shut. "It's on the government."
Our hotel room had a stunning, panoramic view of the Hudson. I dumped my bag on the bed and just stood there, taking it all in. Peter sat down on the bed in front of me. "So you're a professional dancer, right?" he asked.
"Piano player," I said, rolling my eyes.
"I think you should switch to dance." Peter leaned back and laced his fingers behind his head.
"But I can't dance," I said. I knew exactly what he was getting at, but I'm the least graceful person I know and a 'strip tease' from me would be the biggest boner killer this side of the Hudson.
"I'll help you." Peter nodded at me. "Start with your shirt."
Under normal circumstances, I would not have indulged this request. But I'd had a gold martini and a bottle of Pinot Noir, and someone once sent me a birthday card that said, 'There is a certain amount of alcohol that makes you believe you're a damn good dancer' and I am positive I consumed it. So I untucked my editor's tuck and started unbuttoning my shirt. I was careful to keep my arms close to my sides as I peeled it off. I mean, really, did I think a few days of stubble was going to keep me from hooking up with Peter? The lies we tell ourselves.
"Pants," Peter said, and I unbuttoned my fake leather jeans. Getting out of those wasn't nearly as seamless as taking off my shirt, but I tried my darndest to make it look sexy
"Bra," Peter said.
I unhooked the back of my bra and let it fall to the ground. Then I just waited. It felt like every inch of my skin was on fire with Peter's gaze.
Peter sat up and scooted forward on the bed, until he was sitting on the edge of it. He hooked his thumbs in the sides of my thong and pulled me towards him. He kissed my stomach. He went lower, kissed me over the fabric of my underwear. I had to put my hands on top of his shoulders to brace myself. Peter flipped me onto my back and knelt on the floor between my legs, dragging my thong down my legs as he did. I tilted my head back and sighed when I felt his tongue against my bare skin. He didn't stop until I came.
Peter stood up, unbuttoning his shirt and kicking off his pants at the same time. Then he was on top of me, inside me, saying, "I'm going to miss this."
"Me too," I said, holding on to him tight, burying my face in his chest. I loathe sex-criers, but at that moment I was dangerously close to being one. It was goodbye sex, and we both knew it.
Afterwards, we rented a movie and broke into the minibar. Even though I was stuffed, I still managed to take down a king sized box of peanut butter M&Ms. I burned off at least half the meal with the sex, right?
I fell asleep at one point, and when I woke up in the morning to my alarm, Peter was already in the shower.
I dragged myself out of bed and started getting dressed. As I was putting on my shoes, Peter came out of the bathroom, a towel around his waist.
"Hey," he said.
"You're not getting ready here?"
"I have to get home first," I said. "There's a bunch of stuff at my apartment that I have to take into the office."
"Got it," Peter said.
I stood up and walked over to him. "Last night was really fun, but we failed miserably at the 'friends' thing."
"I knew we would," Peter said.
I gave him a big hug. His skin was still wet and he smelled impossibly clean.
"So, uh, good luck with the whole shutdown thing," I said, when I pulled away.
Peter smiled a sad smile. "See you around, Vivienne."
There was a mirror in the elevator, and I wiped away the smudged make up underneath my eyes. On the street, the bellhop hailed me a cab right away. On our way up the FDR, I Googled how much a hotel room at The Ritz cost, nearly had a heart attack, then logged into my bank account and sent Peter a check for my half. If we ever gave this a go again, I wanted us to be on equal footing.