07 October 2015

Mountains Never Meet, Chapter Two

Chapter One is here, in case you missed it. And this is all I'm going to share until the book comes out next month!

As fall approached Thomas’s mother put more pressure on Maggie for wedding planning.
            “I just don’t see how you don’t have any opinion on the food, dear,” Mrs. Henderson said over the phone one evening. Maggie was only half listening to her. She and Thomas sat at the coffee table in his living room eating Thai take-out with the Red Sox game on mute in the background. Things had been better between them since their last blowup about Madison and the girls’ night out. They’d escaped the city and cell phones a few times to go hiking in the Berkshires and Thomas even watched a Sox game with her brothers one night, coming home looking like he’d had fun. Thomas still wasn’t interested in wedding planning but Maggie was too busy with a new work project to be that involved in it, either.
            “It’s not that I don’t have an opinion, it’s that I’m not a picky eater and neither is anyone in my family. We’ll eat anything that’s delicious.” Maggie gave Thomas a pleading look.
            “Chicken?” Mrs. Henderson asked.
            “Sure, chicken’s great,” Maggie said. Then followed up with, “As long as it’s not that dry, bland chicken that gets served at a lot of big catered events. It has to be juicy and flavorful.” Maggie could almost hear Mrs. Henderson frowning.
            “Beef then?”
            “Sure, beef is great, too,” Maggie replied.
            “Have you thought about a theme? Or colors? If you want an April or May wedding it’s almost too late to start thinking about those things.”
            Maggie didn’t really care about a theme or colors but she knew it was important to Thomas that she get along better with his mother. She was a little resentful that her own mother didn’t want to get more involved. Her mom had made it perfectly clear that as much as she loved her daughter she wanted little to do with the wedding industrial complex, as she called it. Everyone kept saying they just wanted Maggie to be happy. Maggie would be happy if people stopped bothering her about the wedding.
            “A theme for the wedding? Boston Red Sox,” Maggie said. Thomas laughed and threw a crumpled up napkin at her.
            “Pardon me, dear?”
            “A Red Sox–themed wedding.” Maggie held back giggles. “Blue and red, some gray.”
            Again, Maggie could practically hear Mrs. Henderson frowning. 
            “Those aren’t really spring colors…”
            “I’m kidding, Mrs. Henderson,” Maggie said. “Um, my favorite color is blue though. Can something be done with that? Maybe something beachy?”
            “A beach theme, yes, coastal New England. Now we are getting somewhere.”
            Maggie was relieved she finally gave one right answer. “Okay, great, well, I have to go now. I have a little work to do tonight. Do you want to talk to Thomas?” Thomas was shaking his head, “No,” but Maggie smiled and handed the phone to him anyway.
            She really did have work to do. Dr. Rodriguez, the malaria researcher she’d met at the cocktail party a few weeks earlier, had e-mailed her. He had a friend writing some tourism articles on East Africa. He asked if Maggie was available to copyedit them. Maggie had jumped at the chance to learn more about travel in Africa.
            Thomas walked out of the room while he was on the phone and Maggie opened up her laptop on the couch to work.
            During the ball game’s seventh inning stretch, Maggie stood up from her laptop to stretch, too. She had an idea.
            “Hey,” she said, finding Thomas at work on his own laptop in his study.
            “Hey,” he replied, closing his laptop quickly.
            “How do you feel about a vacation before the wedding?” Maggie asked. “I just want to get away from it all for a while.”
            “I love going on vacation. What did you have in mind?”
            “Camping for a week or two?” she suggested. “Something a little challenging. Hiking, mountains? I feel bored. I want a little bit of an adventure.”
            “I’m not in as great shape as you are,” Thomas said. “Hiking and camping for a week? And it’s getting cold out.”
            “I’ll find something we can handle, nothing too technical. And in a warmer climate.”
            “Sure, what the hell?” Thomas agreed. “But on one condition.”
            “What’s that?” Maggie asked.
            “The honeymoon is you and me on a secluded tropical island wearing bathing suits, or less.”
            “It’s a deal.”

A few days later Maggie landed on the perfect destination.
            “Mount Kilimanjaro,” she announced over dinner.
            “You’re back on this Africa stuff? I was hoping more for day hikes in Tuscany or something.”
            “I’ve been working on those articles for Dr. Rodriguez’s friend,” Maggie said, “and East Africa will be awesome. We’ll go in February, which is the worst month in Boston but will be warm there, except for the last couple of days at the top of the mountain. And afterward we’ll go on safari for a week. Nice and warm. Relaxing in luxury camps. Bathing suits by the pool, even.”
            “It will be a hard climb,” said Thomas. “It’s, what? Twenty thousand feet?” His reluctance was obvious.
            “Highest point in Africa,” Maggie replied. “Difficult, but not technical with ropes or anything. Totally do-able if you’re in decent shape. Porters and guides take care of everything for you. All you have to do, literally, is walk.”
            “You really want to do this?”
            “Yes, I do. I want a real adventure.”
            “Alright, let’s do it, if it’s what you really want.” Thomas gave in with no enthusiasm in his voice.

Maggie planned the trip with more enthusiasm than she had for wedding planning. With advice from the travel writer she’d been editing for, she researched tour companies and made their reservations. She borrowed some camping gear from her brothers and Thomas gave her the jacket she’d wanted from REI for Christmas.
            It was a brutal winter in Boston and as the trip neared, Maggie consoled herself with warm thoughts of equatorial Africa.
            “Only one week left!” Maggie said one night as she and Thomas were huddled together under blankets on the couch with hot chocolate, watching a movie.
            “Yup,” Thomas said, not matching Maggie’s enthusiasm. She’d had to drag him to a clinic that morning to pick up their malaria pills and he’d been in a bad mood since.
            “Do you think the mefloquine is making you cranky?” she asked him. The doctor had advised them to take the first dose right away, to get the medicine into their systems before arriving in a malarial zone and to see how they reacted to it. The weekly malaria pill was notorious for its side effects, and there were daily pills, but lots of people took mefloquine and felt fine. Maggie felt okay.
            “Maybe,” Thomas mumbled. “That’s probably it.” He continued, “You never told me which hotel we’re staying in, in Paris.” They planned to spend a couple days there to recover from jet lag before heading to Tanzania.
            “Annelyse invited us to stay with her,” Maggie said.
            “I guess it’s too late now to book a hotel?” Thomas asked.
            “Do you have a problem with Annelyse’s place?” replied Maggie. “It will be more fun.”
            “No, it will be fine. Just don’t speak too much French.”
            “We’ll be in France.”
            “Yes, but I don’t speak French,” Thomas said. “You and Annelyse get together and forget that no one else can understand you.”
            “That’s not fair. Maybe we could be a little more considerate at times, sure. But our families speak French. We’ve always spoken it.”
            “It’s just that you two have a wall I can’t break through. The same with your brothers. You’re practically a different person around them all sometimes.”
            “I’m not going to apologize for being close to my family and for my family being different from yours,” Maggie said. “My family has tried to be welcoming to you but lately you haven’t made much effort.”
            “Your brothers hate me.”
            “They don’t hate you,” Maggie said. “They just think you’re kind of a jackass. But they feel that way about almost everyone who didn’t grow up in our neighborhood so it’s really nothing to worry about.”
            Thomas didn’t look convinced.
            “You’re marrying me, not them,” she said. “Now, come on.” Maggie turned off the movie with the remote, then reached out to Thomas to draw him closer. “Do you really want to talk about my brothers right now? We’re all cozy under the blanket.” She had one hand in his hair and the other was under the blanket, working its way up Thomas’s leg.
            “Not tonight.” He gently nudged her hand off his leg. “I think the mefloquine is giving me a headache and I have an early morning. Lots of work to do before vacation.” He kissed her on the forehead and stood up.
            “Oh, okay.” Maggie sat back. “I’ll just watch television for a few more minutes then go to bed, too.”
            Maggie couldn’t believe Thomas was bringing up the tension between her friends and family again. She thought they were beyond all that and she didn’t think every weird emotion could be blamed on the malaria pills. Thomas hadn’t acted jealous of anyone recently, so that was something. But he still hadn’t been participating in wedding planning or defending her from his mother, either. Maggie had put Annelyse’s words from August out of her head but they crept in again. The strange feeling that something isn’t right. Maggie was starting to feel it, too, but brushed it off as pre-trip or pre-wedding jitters.
            Maggie had started packing Thomas’s bag that afternoon but he’d stopped her, saying he preferred to do it himself so he knew were everything was. Maggie gave him a packing list but she noticed that he dropped it on his desk without glancing at it. She wasn’t the world’s most organized packer, but there was a lot of essential gear for this trip.
            She rolled over on the couch to grab her phone from the coffee table. Annelyse wasn’t online. Mikey was at work, but he’d be free to talk until a call came in.
            “Hey, Mikey,” she said when he answered.
            “Hey, Mags,” he replied. “It’s late. Everything okay?”
            “Yeah, I was just bored.”
            “Thinking about your little vacation isn’t exciting enough for you?” he asked.
            “What is it with everyone being so against this?” Maggie said. “Mom thinks I’m crazy. I don’t even think Thomas really wants to go. He’s acting all weird.”
            “Well, it’s kind of a weird thing to do. Running off to Africa.”
            “I’m not running from anything,” Maggie said. “It’s not like I’m disappearing into the bush. I’m going to a popular tourist destination.”
            “There’s plenty of camping and hiking to do around here.”
            “Not in February,” she replied.
            “There’s always Florida,” Mikey said. “The Sox will be arriving for spring training soon.”
            “Florida’s not an adventure.”
            “I’m teasing. I don’t know where you got this idea to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but I know you’ll be great at it.”
            “Thanks,” Maggie said.
            “Hey, the alarm’s going off. Gotta go.” Mikey ended the call abruptly.
            Maggie sighed and stood up to go to bed.
            The bedroom was dark. Thomas breathed deeply with sleep. Maggie snuggled up against him, absorbing the heat he radiated. “What are you really thinking, Thomas?” she whispered.

Maggie had been to Paris several times so didn’t need to visit the tourist spots; she and Annelyse immediately started up their familiar habits, drinking coffee all day and wine all night long. Thomas quietly tagged along. Maggie chalked up his quietness to jet lag and the malaria pills. She made an effort to speak as much English as possible so as not to exclude him but she and Annelyse often lapsed into French without realizing it.
            “This is a side of you I haven’t seen in a long time,” Thomas said one night as they laid on the pull-out sofa in Annelyse’s living room.
            “What do you mean?” Maggie asked. She was sleepy from the late night and the wine.
            “You’re acting like you’re still in college, drinking and staying out late.”
            “I’m having fun with my best friend. And we’re on vacation. In Paris.”
            “Maybe,” he said. “Maggie,” he went on, then stopped suddenly. Maggie struggled to keep her heavy eyelids open.
            “Mmm,” she mumbled.
            “It’s nothing. Good night.”

Two days later, on the morning they were to leave Paris, Maggie awoke early. She was alone in bed. The apartment was freezing. She stood up, stretched, pulled a sweater on over her pajamas, and, thinking warm thoughts of Africa, double-checked the itinerary sitting on the coffee table: Nairobi, Kenya, to Mount Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania. She would be warm by the end of the day.
            Maggie smelled fresh coffee, which surprised her since she knew Annelyse wouldn’t be up yet and Thomas never made it. 
            “We need to talk,” Thomas said, handing her with a hot coffee mug as soon as she entered the kitchen.
            Maggie paused, mid-sip. She sat across from him at Annelyse’s tiny kitchen table. “Okay,” she said, slowly.
            “I don’t want to go to Kilimanjaro.”
            “Okay,” she said again, furrowing her brow.
            “I don’t want to hike for a week,” he continued. “I don’t want to not take a shower for a week. I want to want to do it, for you. But what if you make it but I can’t? I’m not going to pretend I’m as fit as you are.”
            “You can do it. Lots of people do it. The guides are there to help you.”
            “No, I’m not doing it. I’ve already made arrangements to meet some friends in Italy. I need to leave for the airport in a few minutes.”
            “Italy? When did you make those plans?” Maggie demanded.
            “It was sort of a last-minute thing. I got a message from one of my friends a few days ago.”
            “A few days ago? Like when you tried to tell me something the other night right before I fell asleep?”
            “Yeah.” He looked down at his fingers playing with the edge of a napkin.
            “When did you pack for Italy?” Maggie asked. “You’d need some different clothes.”
            “I’m taking the clothes I’d packed for the safari. The Kili gear is still in my backpack in the other room.”
            Maggie frowned, noticing Thomas’s small carry-on bag sitting by the door.
            “What does this mean for us?” she asked.
            “I love you. I just can’t do this trip with you. Go do it, have fun, then come home and marry me,” he said.
            “I feel like you’re telling me to grow up and get something out of my system, then marry you and settle down.”
            Thomas hesitated.
            “You’ve known me since college, Thomas, and none of my habits bothered you until we were engaged.”
            “I thought being engaged would make you more,” he paused, “serious.”
            “Serious?” she said. “About what? I have a good job. I pay all my bills on time and have a savings account. I never drive after I’ve been drinking. I’ve been faithful to you. What else do I need to be serious about?”
            “That came out wrong,” Thomas said. “I love you and I love that you are nothing like the world I come from. I envy your sense of adventure. But I don’t want to go on this trip. I wanted to make you happy. I’ve been dreading it, though.”
            “I won’t go. I’ll go to Italy with you.” Maggie was angry with herself as soon as the words left her mouth.
            “No,” he said. “You want this too much. You’ve put so much time into planning it and preparing for it. I’m okay. We’re okay.”
            Maggie didn’t know what to say and that was unusual for her. She often chose to stay quiet but she was rarely at a loss for words. She didn’t feel like they were okay. The strange feeling that something isn’t right. If Annelyse was awake and could hear them from her bedroom, Maggie was certain she was sending that message telepathically just then.
            “How long have you felt this way?” Maggie asked. “If you couldn’t mention it before now, then something isn’t right.”
            Thomas stood up from the table.
            “I’m fine, but I have to leave for my flight now.” He took her hand and pulled her up to stand next to him. “I love you.” He hugged her tightly. 
            “Maggie?” he said, when she didn’t respond to him.
            “We’re through,” she said.
            “You’ve been acting funny since we got engaged. You planned a secret trip to Italy. You could have said something much sooner about being reluctant to climb Kilimanjaro. I don’t want to come home and marry you.”
            “Maggie, don’t say that.” Thomas looked hurt and confused now.
            “I’ve been reluctant to fully move into your place,” Maggie said. “You’re even less into wedding planning than I am and you couldn’t even tell me that you didn’t want to go on this trip.”
            “How can you do this right now, when I have to leave?”
            “You were doing the same thing to me! You were just hoping for a quicker getaway.”
            A car honked from the street below. “That’s my taxi,” Thomas said.
            “You have my spare key. You can move my stuff back into my apartment before I get back.” She crossed her arms over her chest.
            Thomas raised his hand toward her shoulder but she stepped back from him. Instead he put the hand over his forehead and closed his eyes for a moment, sighing.
            Then he turned, grabbed his suitcase, and walked out. Maggie closed the door behind him and watched the street from the kitchen window. Thomas looked up and waved at her, then got in the taxi and was gone.

02 October 2015

Book Review: Am I Going to Starve to Death?

This is my review as it appeared on Goodreads.

Am I Going to Starve to Death?: A Survival Guide for the Foreign Service SpouseAm I Going to Starve to Death?: A Survival Guide for the Foreign Service Spouse by Donna Scaramastra Gorman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For anyone interested in living overseas at all, this book is valuable even if some of the agency specifics don’t apply. There are questions you have to ask yourself and discuss with your partner and family before making the decision to live and work overseas. Although I don’t agree with every single piece of advice, Ms. Gorman is honest and it’s important to hear what worked and what didn’t work for others if nothing else than to know you’re not alone.

We are ten-year veterans with the Foreign Service, so this book was less how-to for me and more nodding my head with recognition. Mix up with my birth control prescription causing me to go without for several months? Resulted in a wonderful daughter a few years before we’d planned to have kids, plus the fun of being pregnant in Burundi.

My wedding ring accidentally packed into the shipment for the slow boat? When my husband went to training and I decided to spend the summer at the beach with our daughter instead of hot and humid D.C., single dads practically fell out of the sky every time I appeared in public.

Losing a pet overseas? That happened to us, too.

Watching my husband pack a bag before leaving for work in case he had to sleep at the consulate because local authorities wanted to arrest him for doing his job? Living in fear that we’d be PNG’d any day because he continued to do his job, even after they decided not to arrest him?

Worrying about terrorist attacks, malaria, ebola, food riots, etc., have all become so much a part of my daily life that I’m almost completely desensitized to them. When they happen (when, not if, in the countries we live in) we’ll deal with it. Oh, and have you heard of acid bugs?

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro? Seeing the Taj Mahal? Taking a three-year-old hiking through Bhutan? Having a five-year-old whose French is better than mine? Eating great new foods? Making friends all over the world? Yup, all that great stuff happens, too. (We’ve also wrangled three assignments in a row on or near the equator, so the endless summer is pretty nice, too.)

These are the experiences that happen to all of us and you can either learn to roll with them or not. You’ll be happier if you relax and roll. I eventually learned that I’m going to make a fool of myself somehow every time I go out so I may as well be resigned to it.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

30 September 2015

Mountains Never Meet, Chapter One

“What the hell is this?” Maggie Flannigan asked when she came home from work to find her older brothers wrestling in her living room. A stack of books had been knocked off the coffee table and the futon was out of place. It was a familiar sight. They both wrestled in high school and twenty years later it was still one of their favorite ways to kill time.
            “Sorry, Mags,” said her eldest brother, Mikey, as they broke apart and stood up. “Fortunately you don’t have much furniture for us to knock over.”
            He bent down to pick up the books. Most of Maggie’s things were already moved into her fiancé’s place but she couldn’t quite let go of her own studio apartment yet. The lease was up in a few months and she figured she may as well run it out. She enjoyed her fortress of solitude and she was a little nervous about living with someone else full-time.
            “Red Sox game starts in five,” Maggie said, turning on the television. Pat, the middle child and the most reserved of the three of them, moved the futon back into place while Mikey went to the kitchen for beer.
            Mikey handed a bottle to Maggie as she and Pat settled on the futon to watch the game.

            After the third inning they walked to the bar on the corner. The Sox were behind and they wanted company to commiserate with.
            “I’ve got tickets for Saturday’s game at Fenway,” Mikey said as the slid into their usual booth. “Wanna come?” he asked Maggie. He lived in Boston with his wife and kids, not far from Maggie; Pat and his family were still in Lowell, where they’d grown up.
“I can’t. It’s girls’ night.”
            “Girls’ night?” Mikey said. “Are there going to be pillow fights? And underwear?”
            “Really? That’s where your mind goes when you think of women hanging out together?”
            “Don’t tell Mom.” Mikey looked horrified. Their mother was a women’s studies professor. She’d raised her boys to be sensitive and respectful and for the most part they were, but they were still guys. Their mom had also ended up with a daughter who was a tomboy and preferred the company of her brothers and other men to most women.
            Her phone buzzed and Maggie excused herself to check it. She had texted her fiancé, Thomas, when they got to the bar. Thomas replied that he wouldn’t make it. It was a Monday night and he often didn’t go out during the week. 
            “This place not swanky enough for Thomas,” Mikey said. It was more a statement about Thomas than a question of if he were actually coming. As usual, Pat was glued to the television, watching the game, saying nothing. He was always listening, though. He glanced at Maggie before turning back to the game.
            “He’s going to turn you into a Stepford wife,” Mikey said.
            “Oh, please,” she replied, rolling her eyes.
            “He thinks you’re cool now,” Mikey continued, “but before long you’ll be making dinners and quitting your job to stay home with rug rats.”
            “Katherine works and you cook family dinners.”
“That’s because I’m awesome,” he replied. “And I was raised by our mom. But you get this rich guy and he’ll talk about how he can afford for you not to work and it really is better for the kids for you to stay home with them.”
            “What makes you think I’ll let that happen?”
            “It always happens,” Mikey said. “I know guys like Thomas.”
            “Guys like Thomas?” Maggie said. “I know Thomas! And I know plenty of women who work and raise families. Do you think I’m weaker than Mom? Or Katherine?”
            “No, it’s not that. It’s just different when you can afford not to work.”
“Nothing’s going to change about me unless I want it to. I’m a long way off from having children. And I’m a terrible cook. Thomas would never ask me to make dinner.” Maggie excused herself to use the bathroom.
            She looked at her reflection in the mirror as she washed her hands. I’m not blonde enough to be a Stepford wife, she thought, looking at her long, chestnut brown hair. She resembled their mother, slim and petite with large, round brown eyes and a round face. Her brothers were spitting images of their father, stout and muscular with reddish-blond hair. All three of them had their father’s fair, freckled skin.
            She sat at the bar for a minute to order another beer before joining her brothers in their booth. She watched them watching the game and wondered if Mikey was right. She didn’t want to lose nights like this.

“You okay?” Pat asked when she returned to the table.
            “Yeah,” Maggie replied. “I should probably head home after this drink. It’s late.”
            “I’ll walk you home,” Pat said.
            “No, it’s only a couple blocks.”
            “Mom and Dad would kill us if we were here and something happened.”
“I’m fine,” Maggie said. “I do live in this city on my own. I’m thirty. I’ve been doing things on my own for a long time. Besides, growing up with you two pretty much guarantees that anyone who messes with me is going to have a rough night himself.”
            “Are you sure you’re okay?” Pat asked. Maggie wondered if he meant more than just her personal safety walking home alone.
            “I’m just tired. I’ll see you guys.” Maggie gave each of her brothers a kiss on the cheek and waved good night to some of the bar regulars.
            She was fine walking two blocks home. She always was. She walked the same city blocks every day and nothing ever happened.
            At home, she sank onto the futon and kicked off her Converse sneakers. She checked her phone and saw a message from Thomas. She tapped the screen to call him back.
            Bonsoir, mon amour,” she said when he answered.
            “Hey, babe,” he replied. “English please.”
            Mais, mon chèr, je parle français.” Maggie may have had a little too much to drink that night. She lapsed into French to tease Thomas. She was fluent, as were her brothers. Their mother was French-Canadian and the neighborhood in Lowell they’d grown up in was a French-speaking one. Thomas couldn’t speak a word of it.
            “Go to bed, Maggie,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow night. I love you.”
            Je t’aime,” she replied, giggling as she hung up the phone.
Maggie couldn’t quite settle in to sleep yet, so she checked the time in Paris. She saw that her best friend, Annelyse, was online so sent her a message: “You’re up early.”
            A second later Annelyse replied, “I’m up late, just getting in. You’re up late. Out with Thomas?”
            “Brothers,” Maggie typed back.
“Kat says you’ve been hanging out more with them than with Thomas lately.” Annelyse’s sister, Katherine, was Mikey’s wife. They’d all grown up together in Lowell.
            “Don’t sleep through your flight. I need you here this weekend,” Maggie typed back, ignoring the previous remark. She knew Annelyse would roll her eyes but move on.
            “See you in a few days! Love you! —A.”

The next morning Maggie woke up early as usual. No matter how late she stayed up or how much she had to drink, she almost always got up to go running before work. She couldn’t quite handle the gorgeous, but painfully bright, sunshine so hopped on her treadmill for a few miles while she watched the news.
            She showered and left for work. She liked to walk and she stopped at the same café most mornings.
            “Thank you!” she said to the college student who handed her a large coffee and ham sandwich to go. As she walked she ate half the sandwich for breakfast and wrapped up the rest for lunch. By the time she arrived at work she was a complete person again, ready to face the day, the effects of the late night of drinking completely erased.
            Maggie pushed open the heavy, sleek glass doors of the modern office building. The soles of her sneakers gripped the marble floor as she walked to the elevator. Alone in the elevator, she pulled heels out of her bag and pushed off her sneakers with her toes. She always challenged herself to change her shoes before she reached her floor, or before someone else came onto the elevator. It was silly but she enjoyed the little thrill of getting caught. 
            At the sixth floor, the bell dinged and the doors opened. She’d beat the clock and strode into the office, just as confident in heels as in Converse.
            Maggie worked in the editorial office of a scientific journal. She found editing to be soothing. Few things made her happier than helping an author find just the right way to say something and then putting all the punctuation and grammar in the right places. Part of it was creative, part of it precise. It was a good balance. It was quiet work, independent work. She could close a door and submerse herself in manuscripts all day long and emerge feeling like she’d put things in order. She could then walk out of the office and put work out of her mind.

After work that night, Maggie took the T a few stops to Thomas’s apartment. His investment firm was hosting a cocktail party for their new clients. Maggie kept most of her dress clothes at his place now to make it easier for changing after work; they went to these kinds of events together often. She had to admit she kind of liked getting dressed up sometimes. Contrary to her mother, Maggie believed she could be a strong feminist in a cocktail dress and high heels.
            Thomas wasn’t home yet so she let herself in to take a quick shower and get ready.
            Maggie couldn’t say exactly when or how they came together in a serious relationship. They’d met in college but were in different social circles. They were friendly but not close friends, running into each other in the occasional class or at a party. Years later they reconnected on Facebook and started seeing each other once they were both living in Boston.
            Maggie had been completely surprised when Thomas proposed to her. True love and marriage hadn’t occurred to her; she’d never spent time thinking about the perfect man and a dream wedding. She said “Yes” because it seemed like the next logical step in life. They were thirty. Thomas really wanted a family and Maggie did, too, eventually. And she loved him, of course. Or at least she assumed she did. She cared for him more than she’d cared for anyone else she’d dated.

“Hey, Maggie!” Thomas called out.
            “Hey! I’m in the bedroom looking for my shoes.” She was on her hands and knees looking under furniture for a missing heel.
            Thomas appeared in the bedroom doorway. “They wouldn’t be under the bed,” he said. “That only happens at your place.”
            Thomas opened the closet door and retrieved the shoe.
            “Thanks.” Maggie gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I wonder how they got separated like that?”
            “You must not have put them away the last time you wore them,” he replied shortly.
            “Everything okay?” she asked.
            “Yeah, just a busy day.”
            “I’m ready to go when you are. We can make it an early night if you want,” she said.
            “Okay, let me just change my shirt.”
            Maggie sat on the edge of the bed, watching him take off his jacket and tie. Thomas always looked good in a suit. Beneath the years of stressful work and too much junk food, Maggie could still see the college lacrosse player she’d found so cute back then. She’d been distracted by a lot of cute athletes in those days.
            Sometimes Maggie wondered what would have happened if she’d dated Thomas when they were younger. Annelyse always teased Maggie about dating “mimbos,” male bimbos, and maybe that was true for the most part. But Thomas had an intellectual side she’d never noticed back in college. They had the same sense of humor. He liked having a smart, attractive woman by his side for work events and Maggie liked a good party with amazing food and free drinks. With all the running she did, she could never eat enough. She and Thomas both enjoyed the looks on the faces of the other socialite wives and girlfriends when Maggie was unabashedly seeking out the waiters with her favorite appetizers and the best dessert trays.
            “Ready to go?” Thomas asked when he emerged from the closet, straightening a new tie.
            “Yup.” Maggie stood up and reached for his hand. “You look great.”
            “So do you,” he replied, finally returning her “hello” kiss and taking her hand in his. “I’m sorry I was so distracted when I came in. I actually love finding your shoes all over the place, reminding me of you. And then cleaning them up for you.”

Thomas’s firm was investing in a biomedical company. Maggie often found herself alone at these cocktail parties because Thomas had to talk with clients. Thanks to her job at the journal, though, at this particular party she could hold her own in conversation with most people there. She ended up not seeing Thomas most of the night. She was engrossed in a discussion when she felt his arm around her waist.
            “Hey,” she said to Thomas. “Dr. Rodriguez was just telling me about his malaria vaccine research.”
            Thomas shook his hand in greeting.
            “I’ve just come back from Kenya,” Dr. Rodriguez said. “Have either of you been?”
            Thomas shook his head. “No,” Maggie said, “but I’ve always wanted to go on safari.”
            “You have?” asked Thomas. “Since when?”
            Maggie frowned. “I’d like to travel to a lot of different places.”
            “It’s about time to go,” Thomas said, “speaking of traveling.”
            “Okay.” Maggie put her nearly empty glass of champagne down on a nearby table. “Dr. Rodriguez, it was nice meeting you.”
            “Good evening, Maggie,” Dr. Rodriguez replied. “It was lovely chatting with you.”
            “What was that all about?” Thomas asked as they walked away.
            “What do you mean?” asked Maggie.
            “Fawning all over that guy,” Thomas said. “Africa? What do you know about malaria?”
            “Jealous much?”
            Thomas frowned.
            “I happen to be working on some malaria articles at the journal. And who wouldn’t want to go to Africa for safari? Besides, you were gone all night.”
            “You know I have to schmooze the clients at these things.”
            “Well, I like to talk to people, too,” Maggie said. “Am I supposed to talk about wedding planning to scientists who are studying something I know about, too?”
            “I don’t see how you could talk about wedding planning when you haven’t actually done any yet.” They were on the street, looking for a taxi.
            “Good night,” Maggie said, turning away. “I’ll walk to my place from here.”
            “Wait.” Thomas reached for her arm. She pulled away but stopped walking and turned to face him.
            “Your mother has no interest in my ideas for our wedding,” she said. “And you seem to have no interest in making it our wedding rather than the wedding she wants to have for you.”
            “I’m sorry,” Thomas said. “Let’s just go home and talk about it.”
            Maggie crossed her arms. “And you need to drop the jealousy. If it bothers you that I’m talking to other people, then talk to me yourself. But don’t expect me to stand quietly by your side when I have something to say. I will not become your mother or your sister.”
            It was a low blow but Maggie didn’t care. Mikey’s words from the night before had touched a nerve.
            “I had no idea you felt that way about them.”
            “It’s not how I feel about them,” she said. “It’s what I feel might happen to me if I let my guard down. I don’t want to be a housewife who stands silently by her husband.”
“Considering you don’t cook or clean, I don’t want you to be a housewife, either.” Thomas smiled hopefully.
            Maggie smiled despite herself.
            “Come home with me,” he said. “We’ll talk about it.” A cab pulled up just then and Maggie got in with him.
            “You invited my sister to go out with you and your friends on Saturday.”
            “I know,” Maggie replied. “I’m trying to get to know her better. I really am working at this, Thomas.”
            “You think I’m not?”
            “When’s the last time you went out for a drink with Mikey or Pat?”
            “You’re right,” he conceded. “I can only use being busy with work as an excuse for so long. I’ll talk to my mom. I’ll help you with the wedding.”
            “Thanks,” she said. “Mikey’s looking for someone to go to the Sox game on Saturday.”
            “Shit. I really do have to work on Saturday.”
            “As usual,” she replied with a sigh.

In the following days Maggie didn’t see much change in Thomas’s attitude toward wedding planning and she couldn’t bring herself to be more interested in it, either. She was too anxious waiting for Annelyse to arrive.

Annelyse’s plane landed on Friday morning. Maggie took the afternoon off from work so she’d be home by the time Annelyse made her way from the airport to Maggie’s apartment. It was a hot August day and Maggie was in running shorts and a T-shirt when she heard a knock on the door.
            Maggie opened the door and Annelyse barreled in, looking as fabulous as always, so much more fashionable than Maggie. They screamed and hugged each other.
            “You’re home from work!” Annelyse said.
            “And you went running, of course, instead of sitting here waiting for me.”
            “Of course,” Maggie replied. “Help yourself to a drink and some food. I’ll take a quick shower.”
            When Maggie came out, she found Annelyse on the futon with an open bottle of champagne.
            “What’s that for?”
            “Your engagement present. We haven’t seen each other since Thomas proposed.”
            “Mm, real champagne, from France?”
            Oui, bien sûr.” Annelyse handed Maggie a glass. “So, tell me all about it.”
            “We talk to each other almost every day,” Maggie said. “There’s nothing new to tell.”
            “Shouldn’t you be a little more excited than that?”
            Maggie sighed. “It’s his mother. She’s going totally upper crust with this thing and she asks for my input even though she’s not really listening. Thomas doesn’t notice and I don’t think he cares all that much.”
            “Have you talked to Thomas about it?” asked Annelyse.
            “Yeah. We had kind of a fight over it the other day.”
            “Maybe you need to fight with him less and try regular talking.”
            “He started it,” Maggie replied.
            Annelyse looked at her. “You never let a remark go without picking a fight.”
            Maggie waved her hand as if to wipe the words away. “It doesn’t matter. I want a small wedding with close friends and family but that’s not going to cut it for Thomas Edward Henderson the Third of Fairfield County, or at least not for his mom. He’s changed a little since he proposed.”
            Annelyse frowned. “How has he changed?”
“Hmm.” Maggie sat quietly for a moment, thinking of the right words. “It’s like planning the wedding is woman’s work and he’s supposed to say ‘yes, dear’ because that’s what the men in his family always say about that sort of stuff. We’ve always been connected, making decisions together. But I can’t get him behind me with this. The few ideas and suggestions I have about the wedding fall on deaf ears because they’re not big and fancy enough. And I’m supposed to be working harder to get in good with his mom and sister. ”
            “So that’s why were doing this thing tomorrow night with his sister?” Annelyse asked. “What’s her name again?”
            “Madison,” Maggie replied. “Either bond with her or scare her into ignoring me.” Maggie smiled.
            “Don’t look so mischievous. She can’t be that bad.”
            “She’s not, really, when it’s just her,” Maggie said. “But when her family or friends are around she’s terrible.”
            “How so?” asked Annelyse.
            “They either talk about their husbands’ achievements or complain about their husbands’ bad habits. Which, some don’t sound all that bad at all, like wanting to watch a ball game with friends. Or they talk about their kids. Never about their own achievements or interests. I once asked Madison if she’d read any good books lately and she said when you become a wife and mother you don’t really have time for those things.”
            “And they’re always pestering me about having kids,” Maggie said. “You’re supposed to get married, move to the suburbs, and have a family. And apparently give up your own identity.”
            “Have you talked to Thomas about any of this?”
            “I’ve tried, a little. He doesn’t want me to give up my career and we’re waiting to have kids in a few years.”
            “Do you want to have kids?” asked Annelyse. “Neither one of us spent much time playing wedding or family when we were little.”
            “I guess so, eventually,” Maggie said. “But it’s not my top priority. I’d like to travel and have some adventures first.”
            “That’s fair, but you change when your brothers are around. You are not exactly a socialite unless you’re in a fancy dress at one of Thomas’s work functions.”
            “I’d like to think I’m still myself, just a different side of myself.” She remembered Wednesday night. “Thomas got super jealous of me talking to someone from the company they’re investing in.”
            “Really?” Annelyse said. “That doesn’t sound like Thomas.”
            “I know. Nothing was happening. We were discussing malaria, which is hands down not a flirtatious topic.”
            Annelyse poured them each another glass of champagne.
            “It’s weird,” Annelyse agreed. “But would it be weirder if he weren’t a little jealous?”
            “What do you mean?”
            “He knows your history,” Annelyse said. “You’ve dated a lot of guys.”
            “I’ve never cheated on anyone. Most of those guys I wouldn’t even consider as having dated. Just fooled around with.”
            “It’s always women thinking they need to tame the guy,” ventured Annelyse. “Maybe Thomas is worried that he won’t tame you.”
            “What the hell?”
            “I’m not saying you need to be tamed,” Annelyse said. “Or that you need to stop being friends with guys.”
            “What are you saying then?” Maggie braced herself. She expected Annelyse to be harsh but besides her brothers, Annelyse was the only person who would be frank with her.
            “We’ve known each other since we were five. I’ve known Thomas for almost ten years. I don’t doubt your love for each other. But I get the strange feeling that something isn’t right between you two and you either need to figure it out or break off the engagement.” 
            “I’m sorry,” Annelyse said. “You know I’m behind you whatever happens. Even if we go through with your girls’ night thing tomorrow night.”
            “I know,” Maggie sighed. “You’re right. How many fights is too many? Couples argue.”
            “Yeah, they do,” Annelyse said. “And when they love each other they have amazing make-up sex afterward.”
            Maggie wrinkled her nose involuntarily.
            “What was that?” Annelyse asked.
            “The sex is good, right?”
            Maggie hesitated.
            “It’s fine.”
            “Fine? You want fine for the rest of your life?”
            “I’m tired of games, of dating. The sex is fine. It’s reliable. It happens regularly and we are both satisfied, most of the time.”
            Annelyse narrowed her eyes and took a sip of champagne but didn’t say anything. Maggie was relieved Annelyse didn’t push the issue further. She’d had great sex with some real jerks and bad sex with some nice guys and what she had with Thomas was a nice middle ground.

Despite Maggie’s lack of female friends, between Annelyse and a few women from work Maggie managed to assemble a nice girls’ night group for Madison. They’d gone to one of her favorite bars. There was good music and the conversation flowed nicely. Maggie had had a good time and it looked like Madison had, too.
            Maggie stayed at Thomas’s that night and the next morning when she got up to go running, Thomas was already awake making coffee. He never drank coffee and it was clear he was making it for Madison and not for his caffeine-addicted fiancée.
            “What the hell happened last night?” he asked Maggie. It was unusual for him to sound so upset.
            “What do you mean?” Maggie said.
            “You took my sister to one of those mangy old dive bars that you love? She was terrified.”
            “We were just around the corner at the place I always go to.” It was true it didn’t have the most upscale crowd, but for the most part everyone was always friendly and Maggie and her coworkers were regulars there.
            “We were never in any danger,” Maggie continued. “And she wasn’t acting terrified when she was four beers in and singing along to Journey songs.”
            “And I’m sure your friends would agree with that version of the story.”
            “My friends plus anyone else who was at the bar, because there’s no story,” Maggie said. “We drank, we talked, we sang songs, we came home. Nothing scary at all.”
            “Madison told me some guys were bothering you.”
            “Ha! Some douchebag hipsters from the university came in and bought us a round of drinks. We all chatted for a bit and left it at that.”
            “You get friendly with guys.”
            “Not this again!” Maggie said. “Since when is polite conversation such a bad thing? Yes, I’m friendly. How many years have we been together now? Since we started dating I have never gone beyond conversation with anyone. And you know that.”
            Maggie didn’t think it was wise to mention how Madison flirted all night long with one of those hipsters.
            “You’re right,” he sighed. “It’s just weird thinking of my sister acting so…”
            “So what, exactly?” Maggie challenged. Thomas hesitated.
            “So not like herself,” he finally said.
            “Maybe she’s embarrassed because she actually enjoyed slumming with my friends, where we have a good time talking about books and movies and politics rather than drinking cosmos and nitpicking about the men in our lives.”
            “Maggie, I didn’t mean that,” Thomas started, but Maggie cut him off.
            “And, incidentally, her friends think I’m a freak because I never complain about you. I try to stay on neutral topics while they always bring it back to how awful their husbands are. Once I made something up about you leaving your dirty socks all over the place just so they’d leave me alone. We both know I’m the one who leaves the dirty socks laying around!”
            “I’m going out for a run.” She didn’t wait for Thomas to respond.
            For the first time in a long time Maggie felt like she was running away from a problem. When she was younger she ran from her relentlessly teasing brothers and then from the pressure from her parents to get good grades. She ran because her coaches thought she could be the best. And for a while, she was. Since she graduated college, though, she’d been running simply for the fun of it.
            This run was not fun. Thomas’s apartment was along her favorite part of the marathon route and it usually cheered her up. It took ten miles of being both nauseous and hungry before she was so exhausted she had no choice but to be calm.
            Thomas and Madison were both warm and welcoming when she returned, however, so Maggie didn’t bring it up. Neither did either of them. Maggie had apparently scared Madison into ignoring her.

Chapter Two following soon!


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