Just one of the guys, p.35
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       Just One of the Guys, p.35

           Kristan Higgins
 
Page 35

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  Dr. and Mrs. Darling (whom I was urged to call Dr. and Mrs. Darling)…well, they’re the kind of people I’ve read about. Live in the Hamptons, golf, lunch, redecorate their sixteen-room “cottage. ” Their last vacation was spent in Brazil having “some work done. ” Both of them were quite keen on the newest laser face-lift/Botox treatment and urged me to give it a go. Me. Thirty-one years old, being urged by my potential in-laws to have a face-lift, twenty minutes after walking through the impressive front door. I stifled my urge to run, and tried to be open-minded.

  Meanwhile, Bubbles, the much adored Chihuahua of the elder Darlings, snapped and snarled at my luggage from Mrs. Darling’s arms. “Yi! Yi! Yiyiyiyi!” he barked, the shrill noise like small-caliber bullets.

  Mrs. Darling set him down, where he promptly attacked my overnight bag. “Oh, Bubbles, you naughty wittle darling!” she said in a hideous falsetto voice as he gnawed with his batlike teeth on the handle. “Don’t you wuv Chastity? Hm? Don’t you just wuv Chastity?” She scooped the angry rodent up, where he continued to snarl at me, flecks of spittle landing in Mrs. Darling’s hair.

  Then I was a bit surprised to find that I was supposed to stay in a separate wing (yes, wing) from Ryan. Ryan is, after all, thirty-six years old, and one would assume that his parents wouldn’t feel the need to segregate us. But they did. We had cocktails—martinis, a family tradition—then an awkward, stilted dinner. Glances of concern were exchanged over my large family, Irish surname and profession, though the word “Columbia” brought a twitch of frozen lips to both parent faces. Mrs. Darling barely ate, which explained why she looked as bony and unappetizing as the pale and doomed Gollum.

  Self-conscious of my strapping physique, I picked and nibbled as well, irritated with myself even as I did so, and tried to find neutral topics of conversation. “So, Dr. Darling, do you—”

  “Yi! Yi! Yi! Yiyiyiyi!”

  “Oh, no! You naughty wittle thing!” Mrs. Darling jerked up the damask tablecloth and peered underneath. “Chastity, don’t feel bad, but Bubbles just had a wittle accident next to you. He doesn’t like strangers. ”

  Ryan continued to eat his salmon, grinning vacantly as Mrs. Darling sent the grim-faced housekeeper in to clean up Bubbles’s wittle accident.

  I wasn’t expecting it to be fun, exactly…I’ve met parents before, after all, but this was something else altogether. Some awkwardness is to be expected. But my jaw ached from all that smiling, and my shoulders were tight. When our endless dinner finally ended, Ryan walked me to my bedroom door, professed exhaustion and kissed me on the cheek. And I was more than happy to flop into the king-size bed and fall instantly asleep.

  The next day, we drove to Yankee Stadium, sitting in traffic for an hour because rich people don’t take the subway, however superior public transportation may be in getting one to the Bronx. I was wearing my Lou Gehrig T-shirt to show how old school and classy I was, and I hadn’t pinstriped my face, though it is a bit of a family tradition when going to the Stadium. Our seats were twelve rows off the third-base line, and I was a little overcome with the thrill of seeing my boys up close. I may have screamed a few names out, sure. But that’s normal, isn’t it? Did I perhaps eat a lot of hot dogs? Well, if you think four is a lot, then yes, I did. Remember, though, I hadn’t had much to eat the night before, and breakfast consisted of muffins and cappuccino, while, though delicious, is not my usual three bowls of Choco-Puffs or the lumberjack special at Minnie’s Diner.

  But I did have a great time at the game. It was hard not to scream out my usual encouragement, but I was on my best behavior (except when Jeter hit a line drive double in the eighth to put my boys in the lead. Needless to say, Jeter did not accept my marriage proposal, but I like to think he was flattered, and I definitely know he heard me).

  When we got back, we went for dinner at a high-pressure French restaurant in town, where the Darlings schmoozed with fellow Hamptonites, introducing me as “Ryan’s little friend. ” Little. Honestly. I’m five foot eleven and three-quarters. I’d like some respect. Ryan smiled and chatted and held my hand, but he had taken on that zombie affect that many men get in the presence of their parents…distant and lifeless. I pinched him once or twice, just to make sure he was still with me, and he jumped and asked if my meal was okay. Which it was. Small, expensive, delicious, but small, you know?

  Finally, though, Ryan snapped out of it. He thought it would be fun to sneak me into his room à la college days, giving a forbidden thrill to our nooky. I sneaked, we were doing it more or less happily (I couldn’t seem to stop thinking about how hungry I was and how I might wrangle a snack), when we heard a little sound.

  “Darling?” Mrs. D. crooned, tap-tap-tapping on the door with her manicured fingernails.

  “Yi! Yi! Yiyiyiyi!” Bubbles. Great.

  “Uh, um, hang on a second, Mother!” blurted the devoted son, hauling his now-naked, apparently illicit girlfriend out of his bed. “Chastity, quick! Get in there!” he whispered, and if I wasn’t being shoved into the closet, I’d have thought his panicked expression was kind of cute. But I was being shoved into the closet, along with my bra and panties—but no other clothes.

  “Ryan!” I squawked.

  “Be quiet! Please, Chastity!” he begged. “I’ll explain later. ” He slammed the door shut.

  Being as tall as I am, I couldn’t stand up straight, due to the presence of a shelf that was exactly three inches shorter than I was. Thus, I had to crouch on some ancient lacrosse gear (by the feel of it), which I found a bit uncomfortable. Clenching my jaw, I now found the game of Illicit Girlfriend less than fun. I understood (sort of) Ryan not wanting to get caught in the act, but come on! Hiding me in a closet?

  The sound of pants being hastily zipped was heard over the ricocheting yaps of the dog.

  “Darling?” Mother called. Illicit Girlfriend wondered why Mother couldn’t find a term of endearment for Devoted Son other than their mutual last name.

  “Be right there, Mother!” There was a pause, then the sound of the door opening. “Hi, Mom!”

  Illicit Girlfriend heard the scrabbling of tiny toenails as Bubbles the Chihuahua rushed into room and began a frenzied yapping at the closet door. “Yi! Yiyiyiyi!”

  “Darling! I thought we’d have a chat and catch up. We think your…er…little friend…is quite…er…”

  “She’s great, isn’t she?” Good man, Ryan, Illicit Girlfriend thought, trying to shift so the lacrosse gear wasn’t quite so intrusive.

  “Yiyiyiyiyi! Yi! Yi!”

  “Oh, yes,” Mrs. Darling said. “She’s quite…well…Bubbles! Stop your barking, darling! You’re giving Mummy a migraine!”

  The miniuscule black nose of the batlike “dog” appeared in the inch-high gap between the closet door and the parquet floor. Illicit Girlfriend tried to remain frozen and silent. Bubbles was not fooled. Snuffles and frenzied whining ensued. Then tiny black toenails began digging furiously under the door. “Yiyiyiyi!” The miniscule, snuffling nose returned with Gestapo ruthlessness.

  Girlfriend, fearful of discovery, gave said nose a shove with her big toe. A second later, tiny, razor sharp teeth had sunk into aforementioned toe. Suppressing her yelp of pain, Girlfriend jerked foot away, causing precarious balance on the aging lacrosse gear to surrender. Girlfriend fell, thudding against the wall of closet, hitting her head on old cleats, judging from the feeling of spikes in her scalp.

  “Yi! Yi! Yiyiyiyi! Yi! Yiyi!”

  “What was that?” Mrs. Darling asked.

  “What?” Stupid Boyfriend replied, making Illicit Girlfriend wonder just what Harvard/Yale had imparted on this supposedly brilliant mind.

  “What made that thumping noise?” Mrs. Darling queried.

  “What thumping noise?”

  “Is there something in that closet?”

  “What closet?”

  Due to fear of making more noise, Girl
friend remained splayed in said closet, still clutching underwear to naked bosom. Girlfriend was very aware that, should closet door be opened, her female anatomy would be quite inappropriately and widely visible.

  Luckily, Bubbles, having made the transition from enraged to hysterical, now began the telltale sounds of dog vomiting. “Roouh! Rooah! Roouh! Rooaaaaaack!”

  “Oh! Oh, no! Bubbles! Ryan! Darling! Call the vet! Bubbles is sick! Darling!”

  Illicit Girlfriend couldn’t see the rest, but there came the sounds of rushing. Bubbles’s tiny paws disappeared from the limited view provided by the crack under the door.

  “Bubbles! Poor baby! You poor poor poor darling! Did you have a wittle accident?”

  Over the baby talk of my hostess and the gacking of her dog, I believe I heard the words “Be right back” from my boyfriend.

  A welcome silence ensued. After a few deep breaths, I decided it was safe to take a look. With a clatter of hangers, disentangling hair from the cleats, I stood up, lingerie still clenched in my fist. Then I tried the door. It didn’t open.

  Running my fingertips over the doorknob, I ascertained that there was no lock, mercifully. The door was simply stuck. I gave a tentative knock. “Ryan?” I whispered loudly. There was no answer. Sighing, I assumed that my boyfriend had enlisted the aid of the other Dr. Darling in ministering to the nasty little canine. How I missed Buttercup! She could eat that yipping rat-dog in one gulp.

  I tried the door again, which resisted firmly. Gritting my teeth, I pushed again. Nothing. It was one thing to hide in a closet for five minutes—it was even possible that we’d laugh about this someday—but come on! This was getting ridiculous.

  Taking a step back for some leverage, I pushed harder, ensnaring my hair on some wooden hangers. “Crap!” I exclaimed. My back was cramped, my toe throbbed. Finally, I yanked my hair free, losing a few strands. Enough was enough, damn it! I dropped the underwear and, using the famed O’Neill shoulders, rammed the bleeping door like an enraged Brahma bull.

  The door, no match for my strength, burst open. I staggered into the room, stepping right into the puddle of dog vomit, naked as the day I was born.

  “Oh, there you are, Chastity,” came a voice. “We were looking for you. ”

  Dr. Darling Senior stood in the doorway. The blood drained from my face. I remained frozen in the puddle of vomit, horrified, dismayed, unclothed, uncovered, unshielded. “Ryan and Mrs. Darling took Bubbles to the vet,” Dr. Darling Senior said, giving me the old once-over. “Care for a drink?”

  RYAN CAME TO MY ROOM LATER on to check in on me. Which moves us along to the joys of post-argument sex.

  See, Ryan and I hadn’t had a fight yet. No, things had been really smooth for the month or so that we’d been seeing each other. There had simply been nothing to fight about. However, being shoved into a closet, abandoned and trapped, having one’s potential father-in-law see one breaking down the door, buck naked…well, it was a pretty good fight. And let’s face it…it was kind of fun to be fighting.

  “Honey, you’re exaggerating,” Ryan said calmly after I chewed him out. “I’m sorry you’re upset, but it’s not like I knew the closet door would stick like that. I fail to see what I did wrong here. ”

  A series of enraged squeaks came out of my mouth. “Ryan! I—naked—closet—your father!”

  “My mother’s dog was sick, Chastity. I had to help. ” He looked so earnest that I wanted to clock him one.

  I took a deep breath. “You know what, Ry? You’re a jerk,” I finally managed.

  “I’m not a jerk,” he protested. “An animal was sick, Chastity. I had to help. It’s in the Hippocratic oath. ”

  “Okay, fine! So you were nice to the dog! But the dog wasn’t sick. It was hysterical because it knew I was in the bleeping closet, Ryan! Because you put me there!”
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