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By the Numbers

Jen Lancaster

  Other Titles by

  New York Times Bestselling Author


  Bitter Is the New Black

  Bright Lights, Big Ass

  Such a Pretty Fat

  Pretty in Plaid

  My Fair Lazy

  If You Were Here

  Jeneration X

  Here I Go Again

  The Tao of Martha

  Twisted Sisters

  The Best of Enemies

  I Regret Nothing


  Published by New American Library,

  an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

  This book is an original publication of New American Library.

  Copyright © Altgeld Shrugged, Inc., 2016

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  New American Library and the New American Library colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

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  Names: Lancaster, Jen, 1967– author. Title: By the numbers/Jen Lancaster. Description: New York, New York: New American Library, [2016] Identifiers: LCCN 2015041935 (print) | LCCN 2015045292 (ebook) | ISBN 9780451471116 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780698167001 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Sandwich generation—Fiction. | Divorced women—Fiction. | Domestic fiction. | BISAC: FICTION/Humorous. | FICTION/Contemporary Women. | FICTION/Family Life. | GSAFD: Humorous fiction. Classification: LCC PS3612.A54748 B9 2016 (print) | LCC PS3612.A54748 (ebook) | DDC 813/.6—dc23 LC record available at


  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


  For the crews at LFHF and IBJI

  because you had the technology and you had the capability























  To: [email protected],

  [email protected]

  From: [email protected]

  Date: May 30

  Subject: Greetings from Bridal Central!

  Hi, you guys!!

  I’m soooo excited to see you both! I can’t believe I’m getting married in a week—WOOOOOO!! It’s, like, everything that the fam is going to be together one last time in the house, except for Barnaby, which, OMG, don’t get me started or I will be sobbing all over again.

  Listen, I need you two to have my back on something—Mom says Daddy can’t stay over Friday night, which is ridic because there’s oodles of space. Like, he’s supposed to drive all the way back down to his place with Stassi in the city after the rehearsal dinner, then turn around and come back to the burbs first thing in the morning? What if he’s so tired he crashes on the Edens or something? I mean, WEDDING DAY RUINED, right? I kept pleading and pleading and she was finally all, “He can get a hotel room, an Uber, or a time machine and a code of ethics. His choice.” She’s THE WORST. When you guys get here, please, please help me change her mind. Like, we can make up a spreadsheet or something—those are always her jam.

  Bee-tee-dubs, she’s been such a bitchacrite about everything. She’s all, “Are you sure you want to decorate the tent with rusty birdcages? Happy to buy you new ones if you’d like. Would you prefer champagne glasses? Might they be easier to drink out of than Mason jars?” Why is she so controlling? She so doesn’t get my curated aesthetic, which is gonna be great, right?

  I think that’s it as I’m currently tied up sourcing an iron bathtub to hold craft beers at the reception—and it will be EPIC.

  Big love,


  P.S. Milo is bringing his food truck as a surprise for the after-party following the reception!

  P.P.S. I just got a flock of sparrows in flight tattooed across my collarbone. Bridesmaids don’t HAVE to get a coordinating sparrow inked, but it’s my gift to them, so they’re strongly encouraged to opt in. Don’t tell Mama Killjoy.

  To: [email protected]

  From: [email protected]

  Date: May 30

  Subject: Flight info


  What day are you coming home? My flight arrives from JFK on Wednesday at noon. That’s as late as I can possibly get in without (a) making Kelsey absolutely banana-sandwich-crazy by not being there sooner and (b) still being able to hit the party at Mimsy and Gumpy’s club. You know I love me some cocktails with the grandparents.

  Other than dinner with the oldsters, I’m not looking forward to any of this. For real. From the nosy cousins grilling me, all, “Since when is fashion blogging a career?” to the three-ring-hipster-shitshow of a wedding party to the tremendous passy-aggro question mark that is what’ll happen when our mother comes face-to-face with Dad and Stassi (who’s actually really chill), this will NOT be fun.

  I feel like the only lucky one is Barnaby. At least he had the good sense to die before Kelsey could proceed to drape his noble self in daisies and trot him down the aisle with the rings. Did we break some sort of record for world’s oldest beagle? Wait, I’m sure our mother knows the exact longevity statistic and will tell us all about it.


  Your favorite sister

  P.S. I am not getting Kelsey’s basic bird tattoo; I want to be crystal clear about that.

  P.P.S. If Kelsey doesn’t shave her pits for the big day, I will hold the bitch down and shear her like a sheep.

  To: [email protected]

  From: [email protected]

  Date: May 30

  Subject: Re: Flight info


  I don’t start my new job with Goldman until June 15th, so I’m coming home on Monday and flying back to San Francisco a week later. Really looking forward to being in Chicago—it’s been way too long. Think I can sneak away to catch the Cubbies on Thursday?

  Hey, saw your latest Instagram—not to sound like a cousin, but how do you afford the sweet Chelsea loft and boots with a comma on the price tag? Maybe you should have been the one to go into finance, because clearly you know something we don’t about cash flow.

  Anyway, see you soon.


  P.S. Kelsey’s higher than usual if she thinks I’m wearing the straw boater AND the bo
w tie AND the arm garter. I’m a groomsman, not a member of a goddamned barbershop quartet.

  P.P.S. R.I.P. Barnaby. You were a real good boy.

  P.P.P.S. No more Mom bashing, though, okay? Don’t forget, I’m on her team.

  • • • •

  I say, “I’m Penelope Bancroft Sinclair—Penny—and I can tell you when you’re going to die.” Then I raise my wineglass.

  Kelsey gasps and claps her hands over her eyes. Jessica makes a moue of disgust, grimacing with a delicately curled lip. That’s when I realize I’ve said the wrong thing and embarrassed my daughters.


  In my defense, that line kills at corporate dinners. When all of us executives go around the table to introduce ourselves, this is my go-to greeting, and it brings down the house every time. Granted, I’m an actuary, and there’s not a ton that’s funny about the business of predicting life expectancy for insurance industry clients. I mean, one of the biggest jokes regarding my profession is, “How can you tell when you meet an actuary who’s an extrovert? He looks at YOUR shoes when he talks to you!” so we’re not exactly famous for being toastmasters.

  A silence best described as “awkward” overtakes everyone in the private dining room. Of course, me falling flat had to happen here at the Centennial Hills Club, the hub of my parents’ social network and the epicenter of almost every one of my childhood humiliations.

  My mother was determined that I connect with the right kind of children, so I was subjected to an endless stream of activities at which I was destined to fail. Through forced participation on these grounds, I discovered early those undertakings at which I did not excel. I guess the silver lining is I learned what activities to avoid as an adult, such as tennis (e.g., black eye—1974, second black eye and fractured orbital bone—1975, broken wrist—1975, sprained ankle—1976, broken nose—1977) due to poor hand-eye coordination.

  I know I lack the intestinal fortitude to guide one thousand pounds of tempestuous Arabian over a gate jump (fractured tibia—1977, sprained coccyx—1978, broken collarbone—1979), so horses did not turn into a lifetime love as they did with my equestrian friends who still spend their weekends mucking out stalls. And that’s fine, because those thigh-strangling jodhpurs do no one any favors. Every time I see a woman in riding pants at Starbucks on Saturday morning when I’m grabbing a skim latte, I glance down at my flattering legwear and think, Dodged a bullet there.

  My ex should count himself very lucky that I never took a long-term shine to clay pigeon shooting (replace clubhouse window—1979, send flowers and Get Well Soon muffin basket to Range Master Rick at Highland Park Hospital—1980) because I imagine my aim would have improved had I not been banned from the sport entirely. (Unlike me and jodhpurs, Rick did not dodge my bullet. I still feel terrible about that even though I know his shoulder healed nicely.)

  Someone coughs into a napkin and the only other sounds are the clink of ice cubes melting in glasses and the creak of the swinging door opening and closing on the far side of the room as headwaiter Miguel gathers his team of servers in the back with the salad course. A minute ago, I was so looking forward to Centennial’s signature spring mix blend with caramelized walnuts and goat cheese tossed in a warm balsamic dressing, but now my stomach is suddenly twisted in knots.

  I can feel the pink tinge of shame starting to flower across my chest and up my neck. My cheeks begin to burn.

  Most of the people here know that I just gave my big actuarial meeting opening line, yet they’re all looking at me as though I’d confessed my deep and abiding love for practicing white witchcraft while frolicking naked in the moonlight to the music of John Denver, who’s actually probably so retro he’s cool again, especially on vinyl.

  (By the way, Kelsey and Milo’s apartment is full of vinyl records—full of them! They have knotty-pine paneled walls with spider-leaved plants suspended in macramé and lots of bright plastic chairs and owl-based knickknacks. Their tufted couch is made from crushed, burnt-orange velvet with paintings of big-eyed poodles staring down from the walls. They even have a horseshoe-shaped bar. Essentially, they’ve re-created the den in my parents’ house, circa 1974.)

  Why couldn’t I have just introduced myself to Milo’s extended family as Kelsey’s mother and left it at that? Why did I have to try to be clever or cute? I’m neither of those things and that’s perfectly acceptable; I have lots of fine qualities outside of comedy or country club endeavors. I make a mean heart-healthy frittata with garden-fresh herbs. I’ve never once been ticketed for speeding. My tax return is impeccable. (Not kidding; I should audit the IRS.) I have permanent premier status on two major airlines because of all the miles I’ve flown. Clever and cute aren’t even blips on my radar, so why did I try to haul them out this evening . . . here . . . now?

  I’m not one to feel sorry for myself or to make excuses; that’s simply not my style. I feel there’s little to be gained by dwelling in the past, by rehashing old hurts, by pulling off the scab again and again to see if the skin has healed.

  For the most part.

  But if I were to allow a moment of self-indulgence, I’d applaud myself for having held it together as well as I have in the past year and a half since my fiftieth birthday. For example, Karin, my best girlfriend since grade school, got a trip to Santorini, Greece, for her big 5-0.

  Me? My husband got a girlfriend and I got a divorce.

  Honestly, I thought we had it together, Chris and me. Our lives weren’t perfect and we were quite young when we got married. Technically, we were the same age as Kelsey and Milo are right now, although we certainly felt older. That’s likely because we didn’t request vintage comic books on our wedding registry. (Not a judgment, just a statement of fact, and, oh boy, did my mother have something to say about that social faux pas.)

  Chris and I had our share of ups and downs over the years, but I felt like we were on a definite upswing; we were finally empty nesters, with Topher at UC Berkeley, Jess in New York, and Kelsey in an apartment downtown with some of her friends. How lucky were we to have everyone out of the house in this economy, with a minimum of parental help? We were beating the odds, as thirty-six percent of all children between eighteen and thirty-six still live at home with their parents.

  Look at poor Karin—her kids tell her they have no intention of leaving her house until they’re at least thirty because they’ll never be able to afford to live so well on their own. They say it’s her fault for getting them accustomed to such luxury. I can’t say I disagree with their logic. Who’d want to live in a hovel when they can stay rent-free in a sprawling home with a full-time cook, maid, laundress, and BFF all sewn into the perky package that is Karin?

  Karin says all she wants is the freedom to walk down to the kitchen in her underwear. I kept telling her she should and maybe that would be the impetus to chase everyone out of there. Well, she finally took my advice . . . and now all her twenty-three-year-old son’s friends have seen her in a thong. On the bright side, she says the Pilates has paid off and her boy’s buddies called her a “smokeshow.”

  Again, not a selling point.

  Anyway, I thought with the kids gone, Chris and I could finally have our own moments alone, whatever that might entail. We had so little time to be a couple on our own before Jessica was born—less than a year. Having lucked into the house so soon (although we weren’t as fortuitous as we thought, we were soon to find out), Chris spent all his off time that whole year priming, painting, stripping, or sanding, and when I wasn’t at work, I was cramming for my first set of accreditation exams. We were never wild and free newlyweds, so into each other and unencumbered by other responsibilities that we didn’t even bother to turn on the television. We were both so exhausted every night, TV was pretty much all we could do. Heck, I’m still nostalgic for those days anytime I see a rerun of The Golden Girls as I flip through the guide.

  While having a house and kids in s
uch rapid succession wasn’t our original plan, we made adjustments. We adapted. We thought, We’ll just roll with this. If we have our kids young, then we’ll still be vital and vibrant when they’re on their own. We’ll pay off our mortgage and we’ll travel the world with our original kneecaps and hips. Win-win. So I thought we’d finally rediscover our whole lives together, and maybe give Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia a rest, wink wink, but . . . turns out it was not me with whom Chris decided to wink wink.

  Is it wrong to hate how damn comfortable Chris looks tonight with his new girlfriend? While Stassi isn’t That Hussy Who Wrecked Our Lives, she is practically Jessica’s age, which is almost worse. Oh, hi, young lady for whom gravity is yet to be a factor! Love that you didn’t want or need to wear a bra to this intimate pre-wedding family gathering!

  I’m generally not so catty, but (a) thin fabric and (b) cold room. Do the math.

  Patrick, my cousin and best friend since our mothers would stick us in a playpen together while they smoked and drank Gibson martinis, insisted I “glam it up” tonight, ditching my usual tailored suits for something more on trend. He said I should wear a cocktail dress cut a little lower, maybe with some sparkle at the neckline. But I’m here in my usual Elie Tahari two-piece with a tasteful silk shell. I figured if I tried to mix it up, everyone would see right through me, especially my daughters, and I’d never, ever hear the end of it.

  I’m just going to say it—my daughters are the Mean Girls at the lunch table that is my life.

  Here’s what no one tells you in the parenting books—regardless of how many times you take an earlier flight home from your trip, giving up your business-class ticket to fly standby, squeezing into the middle seat between two gum-snapping, deodorant-eschewing, close-talking amateur sumo wrestlers just to capture on videotape your kid picking her tree costume out of her bunghole in the school play, and irrespective of all the years you pilot to work the Cheerio-encrusted, juice-box-filled, humiliation-mobile better known as a minivan solely for the children’s safety and comfort (while rocking out to Radio Disney, which is so ubiquitous, you accidentally listen even when they’re not in the car), and notwithstanding the dance moms and soccer dads and myriad other obnoxious booster parents with whom you have to make nice over the course of your children’s quickly discarded and surprisingly pricey interests, it’s entirely possible that sixty-six percent of your offspring will grow up to be Regina George, despite your best efforts to love them, feed them, house them, and buy them the exact kind of light-up sneakers that will ensure their positive self-esteem.