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Here I Go Again: A Novel, Page 2

Jen Lancaster

  I mean, aren’t we?

  I kind of can’t be bothered with all that stuff. Numbers. Ick. My mom always said I was too pretty for math. But this has to be a mistake. I keep dialing Duke’s office number, but each time the phone goes straight to voice mail.

  I’m summarily escorted out of the club without even being allowed to change from my bathing suit. When I get down to the parking garage, my Infiniti is missing. The parking attendant blathers something in Mexican about a tow truck.

  What the hell?

  I immediately dial Nicole and tell her to come get me. I give her explicit instructions not to drive the van, but when she arrives twenty minutes later the family truckster is full of little bastards watching a show about a big gay dinosaur.

  The side door swings open and I’m suddenly overwhelmed by the stench of Cheerios. I point at her demon spawn. “Why are they here?”

  “Because I’ll end up on Dateline if I leave them home alone,” Nicole cheerily replies. “Hop in!”

  I attempt to climb in the front, but Charlotte’s already stationed herself in the shotgun position and makes no indication that she plans to move. She pretends I’m not standing there while she busies herself sending texts about important shit like Justin Bieber’s most recent haircut. When I try to nudge her out of my seat, she plants herself and rolls her eyes while Nicole grins at me like there’s nothing wrong with this scenario.

  Really? We’re letting the fourteen-year-old stepchild run the show now?

  Fine. I’ll just get in the backseat like some snot-nosed little asshole on her way to T-ball practice.

  I attempt to launch myself into the back of the hateful van, which is almost impossible with this slim-cut sarong. I hike it up and try again. Ugh. This place smells like juice box and desperation. As I attempt to clamber into the far back row in order to avoid the sticky hands coming at me from car seats on all sides, I catch a glimpse of an enormous blob in the side-view mirror.

  Upon closer inspection, I realize the big, fleshy moon eclipsing the mirror is actually how my ass looks while I’m bent over.



  Lissy Ryder and

  the Bummer Summer


  I pull my pillow over my head to drown out the tapping on my door.

  “Lissy? Honey?”

  I shrink down under my covers, rationalizing that maybe if I ignore him, he’ll go away.

  The knocking gets louder and his voice more exasperated. “Lissy, please. Lissy.” My door swings open and soon he’s jostling the bed. “Lissy! Melissa Belle Ryder! Wake up! It’s one p.m.!”

  “I’m awake, okay? Jesus, you shook me like a British nanny,” I grouse. I yawn and stretch and scrub at my eyes. He hovers by my bed for a minute, and when I don’t say anything, he takes it as his cue to exit. As he retreats, I remember something crucial.

  “Is there any coffee, Daddy? If not, make me a cup?”

  My father returns to stand in my doorway. He’s all duded up in his Sunday golf gear, with his silly red-and-green-plaid pants and a white alligator shirt. In the harsh light of early afternoon, his face seems a lot more lined than I remember, and when did his hair go completely gray? He clenches his lips and they turn all pale and puckered. “Melissa, I made coffee when I got up. Five and a half hours ago.”

  I say nothing in return.

  I think I’m supposed to feel guilty here.

  Yet I can’t feel anything without first having my coffee, so you can see my dilemma.

  He sits down at the end of my canopy bed and softens his tone. He gently pats me on the back and begins to wax all philosophic. “I know times have been trying, honey, but life does indeed go on. People face adversity all the time. Rise to the occasion and I guarantee you’ll be a better person for it. You’re stronger than this. Remember, the sharpest steel is tempered by fire.”

  I consider his advice for a moment. “So you’re telling me that I should be hot metal.”

  He sighs and his expression bothers me. I can’t tell if he seems more mad or frustrated, which is not fair, because I am the victim here. “This can’t go on. It’s been two months. When are you going to pull yourself together, Lissy?”

  “Um, I don’t know,” I snap, swatting away his hand. “Maybe when I get my job, my home, and my husband back?”

  To bring you up to speed?

  Worst. Summer. Ever.

  After Nicole drove me home from the club that day, I made an appearance at the office, and my fat-ass boss had the nerve to fire me. I mean, how does that happen? Fired by the secretary who used to fetch my cappuccinos? Granted, I may have taken a few liberties with company time recently, but come on! It’s swimsuit season! Also, did I not land the industrial plating company’s account? Sure, the owner’s in my dad’s golf foursome, but I did an excellent job for them on my own merits. Like, do you know how hard it is to make a press release about a new anodized coating on decorative carabiners sound sexy? That, my friends, takes skill.

  And then—then! I met up with Duke for dinner and he looked so handsome in his blue blazer with his sandy bangs flopping onto his forehead. I was amazing, of course. I had my hair all upswept to highlight my strong jawline, and my cheekbones were like knives! My almond-shaped blue-green eyes were practically emerald due to the color of my dress and careful shadow application. My bow-shaped lips were extra-kissable due to a recent round of injectables. Seriously? I was the hottest bitch in the whole restaurant, at any age . . . and yet none of that mattered. I was recounting my horrible day and we hadn’t even finished our appetizer when he told me, “I want a divorce.” I almost fell out of my chair.

  Um, hello?

  The twenty-six times we’ve broken up in our relationship were all at my behest. I’m the one who decides when we’re done. Since when is he allowed to break up with me, especially on the most awful day of my life?

  You don’t break up with Lissy Ryder, okay? She breaks up with you.

  The worst part is that he’s intent on staying in our Gold Coast condo. Apparently the prenup I made him sign entitled him to keep the assets he came in with, which included the apartment. Maybe it was his house, but I made it a home. (I mean, Restoration Hardware and me.) He didn’t even have a towel-warming rack before I moved in!

  While I contemplated stabbing him in the eye with an oyster fork, he was all, “Blah, blah, blah, we’re not functioning as a team, your spending is out of control, you’re going to bankrupt the both of us, you’re the Exxon Valdez of financial planning, etc.” But do you know how expensive it is to keep up this face and body after you hit the downside of thirty-five? Placenta-based wrinkle creams and eyelash extensions and personal training aren’t free, you know. And that doesn’t even take into account the cash I’ve spent bleaching things on this body, and I’m not talking about my teeth.

  I mean, sure, he mentioned something about my paying my own credit cards from my personal accounts, but I figured it was one of those heat-of-the-moment ideas, like when you drink too much tequila and suddenly everyone wants to go somewhere terrifying, like Tijuana or Harlem or Denny’s. I had no idea he actually meant it.

  So here I am, drowning in credit card debt and back in the time capsule known as my childhood bedroom. Which doesn’t make me feel like a failure at all.

  Nothing about this place has changed since I left for college, either. From the white wicker furniture to the French bulletin board plastered in pictures from my senior year, it’s like a portal to the past in here. Look at me in that photo wearing my trapeze dress next to my brand-new, custom-painted convertible. I was at the top of the world and the high school food chain. I mean, how do you divorce (or fire) a dead ringer for Jennie Garth? Makes no sense.

  My walls are still covered in Gerbera daisy–print wallpaper my mom surprised me with when I turned fifteen, and the posts of my bed are topped with my vast collection of Blossom-inspired hats.

  (Spoiler alert: Mayim Bialik does not grow up to
be cute. Like, at all.)

  The bookshelf is lined with all my old treasures, like the diaries I meticulously kept back then. Life was so fabulous that I didn’t want to forget a thing. I spent twenty minutes every single night before bed journaling the day’s happenings. Many exclamation points were used. And merited.

  The next shelf down houses my collection of Sweet Valley High novels. (Jessica Wakefield, you’re my hero!) After the shelf of books are all my trophies and ribbons. I’ve got memorabilia from student council, tennis, gymnastics, powder-puff football, and cheerleading. I mean, how could they not do a three-page spread of me in the yearbook? Oh, and on my bulletin board there’s a clipping of me in the town paper from the night I won homecoming queen, right next to the photo in my sparkly rhinestone crown at prom.

  I was the shit back then. The perm . . . the Clinique Rose Gold lip gloss that used to cement little strands of my hair to my lips . . . the overall pinkness of everything. My fuchsia tea-length prom dress had a massive tulle bustle, and I paired it with my funky white Doc Marten gladiator boots. (RIP, Sassy magazine. Thank you for defining a decade of outstanding personal style.) Of course, I changed into some chunky satin heels the minute I saw that everyone had copied my choice of footwear. Lemmings. Fortunately for them, no one dared to wear my signature shade of hot pink.

  To avoid seeing the disappointment all over my dad’s face, I turn and settle my gaze on a life-size poster of David Coverdale from Whitesnake, circa 1988, and I’m quietly comforted. The poster depicts Coverdale in all his feathered and oiled glory. He’s dressed only in sweaty leather pants and motorcycle gloves. Sigh. I used to tell the Belles I kept the poster for the irony factor. Total fib. Truth is, when everyone else was getting into Seattle music, like Nirvana and Soundgarden, I was still deeply in love with late-eighties metal.

  I never understood how the rest of the Belles worshiped those filthy grunge boys when rock gods so clearly still ruled. Who in their right mind would opt for Eddie Vedder over Bret Michaels? The man had an eight-pack and his eyes were the color of the Aegean Sea! Kurt Cobain? He didn’t even use hair product!

  My mother huffs up the stairs in four-inch wedges and a cloud of Chanel No. 5. “Leave Lissy alone, mister! Don’t you go fillin’ her head with notions that she did anythin’ wrong. She’s the injured party here and she needs time to heal! I mean it now, git! Go!”

  Mamma pushes past my dad before turning back to look him up and down. Her lips purse like she’s smelled spoiled milk, and she shakes her head. “And change your clothes right this minute, George! You’re dressed like Santy Claus on casual Friday.” Then my mother shoos—literally shoos—my father out of the bedroom. Defeated, he slinks out and retreats to the sanctuary of his law book–lined library, the one place in this big, overly decorated house that Mamma lets him have for himself.

  My mother places a silver tray on my lap. There’s a gardenia bud in a vase, and the whole thing’s piled high with plates and glasses. There’s shrimp and grits, fluffy buttermilk biscuits, rashers of bacon—chewy, never crisp—café au lait, fresh grapefruit juice, three kinds of jam, and a slab of butter the size of an anvil. Interesting thing about my mother—she’ll cook anyone (except usually Daddy) a million-calorie breakfast, but will she take a bite of it herself? Never. She exists largely on rice cakes and gin martinis.

  She smoothes my hair back from my face. “How are you today, darlin’?” Despite moving north of the Mason-Dixon line when she married my (damn Yankee) father in the early seventies, she still sounds exactly like Scarlett O’Hara.

  “Surviving,” I say, before amending it with “barely.”

  I examine the meal with equal parts revulsion and ecstasy. Much as I adore my mother’s Southern cooking, my waistline despises it. I’ve taken to wearing yoga pants daily because I can’t slide my Rock & Republic jeans past my thighs anymore.

  Oh, yeah. Life’s just awesome right now.

  I stab a piece of shrimp with my fork while my mother recounts the conversation she had with my dad earlier today. I guess all the arguing I thought I dreamed was real. Apparently not only is Daddy opposed to settling my debts, but he also wants me to do more with my day than mope. He thinks I should take a job, any job, like maybe working retail, until I find another PR gig. My mother reassures me: “I insist you hold out for an executive position. The mall! Can you imagine? My li’l girl is not workin’ behind a tacky makeup counter jus’ to pay some pesky charge card. We’ll cover whatever you need, sugar.”

  Which is outstanding, because I think American Express is about to send some guys.

  She keeps me company while I pick at (fine, inhale) my breakfast. The breakfast thing is still kind of a novelty, actually. I swear the woman wouldn’t let me ingest a single morsel that wasn’t green or cruciferous until I got married. As I gorge, she fills me in on all the local gossip. Apparently Mrs. Brandywine’s new face-lift is so tight she can’t turn her head, and her tennis partner has been dallying with her pool boy. And Beth Ann Carter’s feckless husband? B-A-N-K-R-U-P-T, my mother reports with more than a little delight in her voice.

  When I finish, Mamma stacks up my empty plates and, just as she’s about to go down the stairs, she remembers something. “This came for you today.” She slides an envelope out of her bra and hands it to me.

  I glance at the return address. It’s local and familiar, but I can’t quite place it. Using a butter knife, I slice open the envelope and an invitation flutters into my lap. I scan the page and I suddenly start to terror sweat.

  “Lissy, sugar, you look like you’ve seen a ghost! What’s the matter, is that no-account husband of yours tryin’ to take even more o’ what’s yours? You gave that worthless pissant your whole youth!” My mother snatches up the paper and begins to read aloud. “‘The LT Class of 1992 cordially invites you to your twenty-year high school reunion.’ Well, isn’t that lovely? I bet you’re so excited for everyone to see you and—” Then she stops herself, eyes lingering on all my puffy parts and problem areas.

  “Is it that bad, Mamma?” I ask.

  She quickly composes herself. “Oh, honey, no, you’re perfect just the way you are. Just perfect. But . . . perhaps you would like to consider takin’ a shower. And a ten-mile run.”

  So now I desperately need a life, a job, a smaller ass, and a shower.

  I’ll start with a shower.

  * * *

  I open my laptop. Instead of visiting, like I promised my dad as he stonily wrote enough checks to cover the GNP of Botswana, I pull up the reunion’s Facebook page. As senior class president I was supposed to be in charge of organizing this thing, but I couldn’t be bothered, rationalizing that I was already in touch with everyone worth knowing. But I guess someone else spearheaded this effort, because the planning is in full swing.

  I’m debating whether I should attend, because I’m not presenting my best self right now. There are expectations for me, you know? And up until two months ago, I was fulfilling all of them, from stem to (perfectly bleached) stern!

  Damn you, Duke!

  After swallowing my feelings in the form of an entire package of Oreo Double Stuf, I feel my attitude improve. I mean, the years can’t have been kind to everyone. Surely all my classmates have gotten older and fatter and poorer since high school.

  I scan the page’s fans and start clicking on familiar faces. I tab over to Nicole’s profile and am dismayed to see eleventy-billion photos of her rotten crotch fruit, including many of bad Charlotte, and not a single shot from our glory days. Seriously? She was second in command of the Belles! She was the top of our cheerleading pyramid! I feel like this is an act of betrayal, and we will definitely be having a conversation about this at our next friendship performance review.

  Who else is on here? Ooh, here’s that weird hippie Debbie, who was always smudging the gym with burning sage before home basketball games. She claimed it removed “negative energy.” Like some lame hocus-pocus was going to be more effective than my lead
ing the Belles in a “Be aggressive! B-E aggressive!” cheer? I guarantee we did not win regionals that year because she made the gym smell like soup first.

  Anyway, looks like she’s now . . . a new age healer?

  Oh, honey. Of course you are.

  Now, who’s this? She seems familiar, in a nerdy, overly eager kind of way. Hmm, Amy Childs. Dr. Amy Childs? Oh, sweetie, what are you, a chiropractor?

  I pull up her profile and I suddenly feel like I’ve been kicked in the stomach. One of the first shots I see is her and Oprah sitting in big, squashy chairs on an elaborate wooden deck by a lake, wearing matching jammie pants and roasting marshmallows. The caption reads, “Best neighbor ever!”

  That can’t be right.

  Thirty minutes of Googlestalking later, I find that Dr. Childs is indeed a famous plastic surgeon who spends half her year helping disfigured third worlders and the other half nipping and tucking society women on the North Shore. Well, I guess that explains why I didn’t recognize her. Clearly the first thing she did was fix her heinous beak. Yeah, well, you may borrow cups of sugar from Oprah, but I made out with the captains of the football, basketball, baseball, hockey, wrestling, and lacrosse teams.

  I win.

  Moving on.

  The beefy girl who spent all her time in the library has . . . damn it. Has been to Jenny, apparently. She must have dropped a metric ton before she sold her pilot to NBC. And, wait, won an Emmy? Argh. Wait a minute, I’ve seen her show! Come to think of it, Blake Lively plays a high school villainess who tools around in a hot-pink convertible. You don’t think . . . no. That’s crazy. Total coincidence.

  The loser orchestra geek is . . . on tour with Maroon 5.

  I grit my teeth and keep clicking.

  The mathlete is . . . proud to have served on the crew of the space shuttle Atlantis’s final expedition.

  The girl who always brought her creepy sprouted-bread sandwiches from home is . . . a food critic for the New York Times.

  That swishy kid has . . . just debuted his collection at Bryant Park. After winning Project Runway.