Losing Mr. Right
CHAPTER 1 MINDY
IT STARTED WITH the perfect pair of shoes: canary-yellow Louboutin pumps. I’d been working hard to manifest such a pair. I’d put the image on my visualization board in my bedroom and I’d stared at it each evening before bed and then suddenly—there they were, front and center at Saks! I touched the soft leather and saw our future together. We’d brunch and attend elegant cocktail parties. We’d stroll past charming Main Street boutiques with an adorable handbag. These were not ordinary shoes. They were the perfect summer fling, and I had to have them.
I waited patiently while the saleswoman at Saks ran my credit card, but all I wanted was to race home so I could parade my darlings around my kitchen.
“I’m sorry, Miss Ling, but this credit card was declined.”
Cue the record scratch on the soundtrack to life with my new shoes. “That must be a mistake. Try it again. Please.”
The saleswoman slid the card through the reader, but I heard the telltale chime. “I’m sorry, hon. It’s not going through.” She smiled gently. “Do you want to try another card?”
I didn’t have another one. Panic. Had I remembered to pay my bill? Had I actually maxed out my limit? I tried to remain calm, but my armpits were damp at the thought of leaving those shoes—my shoes—behind. I pretended to look through my wallet. “I must have left my other card at home,” I said.
“No problem,” the woman said cheerfully. “We’ll hold the shoes under your name, and you can come pick them up.”
But that wouldn’t ever happen. My card was nearly maxed out, and so I was compelled to go without them. Farewell, lovely shoes. We could’ve had it all.
I wish I could have said this was the first time the universe had disappointed me on a shopping expedition, but I’d had a similar experience with a silver ear cuff only weeks earlier. A spiritual counselor I met once explained that we are all divine beings having a human experience. This, plus the unfortunate state of my checking account, is the root of all of my trouble.
I raised the issue of my finances with my best friend, Aletta Osborne, aka Lettie, at lunch. We were eating in the faculty lounge at Noah Webster Elementary. That day, it smelled like someone’s over-microwaved meatloaf.
“I’m going to sell a kidney,” I announced.
Lettie’s dark eyes widened. “Really? Wow, Mindy, that’s
noble. What made you decide to be an organ donor?”
“Not donate. Sell. There was something on the news a few nights ago.” I dug my thumbnail into the peel of my orange. “Do you know what the going rate is for a black-market kidney? I could easily get enough to pay off my credit card and get through the summer.” I’m a first-grade teacher, and my paychecks stop in June. That eight-week stretch through July and August is rough. “So, I was thinking if I could meet the right unethical doctor . . . Your sister works at a hospital, right?”
“Hmm.” Lettie’s lips thinned and she glanced down at her salad. “Or maybe you could sell clothing? I have a friend on social media who does it part-time, and she seems to make decent money. You make your own hours and sell things at parties in people’s homes.” She looked up at me. “I know how you love clothes.”
This was true. And so I kept my kidney and became a Lit Chick clothing consultant.
Now, listen. We could debate for hours whether a clothing company that names its products after literary women—calling them “chicks,” no less—is a sign of the apocalypse, or merely a by-product of cultural decay. None of that matters when I’m making a 40 percent commission on each item sold. Before the day of my first champagne boutique, I hired Lettie as my assistant and paid her in garishly patterned clothing: shirts with primary-colored arrows that pointed in all directions. Leggings with smiling dog heads on a navy background. Scarves in giraffe print. She accepted the clothing with a weak smile and said, “Guess I know what I’m wearing on laundry day.”
I love Lettie, but she can be dramatic sometimes. I’d told
her the Lit Chick clothes are very popular, but it was like she didn’t even believe me. When I arrived at her house on the day of my first champagne boutique, she was standing in front of her full-length mirror stressing about panty lines. “I see them,” she said. “They’re subtle, but they’re there.” She traced the shape on her rear to illustrate. “It’s from spending so many hours in front of a computer. My bottom is spreading like butter and these don’t fit.” She sighed. “I should change.”
“What? No, you look fabulous.” I folded my arms across my chest, rattling the car keys in my hand. “That Maya looks gorgeous on you.”
Her fingers flew to the peacock-green eternity scarf wound around her neck, but she frowned. “I don’t know. Are you sure this matches? I look like something a toddler drew.”
Lettie was wearing a blue tunic top with purple cross-hatching that fell mid-thigh, gray and green flecked herringbone leggings, and smooth black ballet flats. And the scarf, of course. Yes, under normal circumstances her outfit would have been an assault to the eyes, but this ensemble was classic Lit Chick. “You totally match,” I said. “Bold patterns are so on point.” Then, before she could argue, I added, “Come on, sweets. I’ve got some champagne in the car and I don’t want it to get warm.”
That was enough to convince Lettie to lock up her house and follow me to the car. Unfortunately, the contrasting patterns and colors she was wearing didn’t blind her to the fact that I had selected an understated silver and blue striped dress. “I didn’t know Lit Chick made this kind of dress,” she said as we sat in my Honda Civic. She reached over to feel the fabric. “It’s cute.”
“It’s actually not Lit Chick. Their clothes aren’t my style.”
Realization settled on her features. “Oh, I see. You’re making me the Lit Chick mannequin.”
“You don’t mind, right?” Silence. “Right?” I eyed her sidelong and noted her tight mouth. “Sorry. I owe you one.” I snapped my seat belt into place.
“Coffee every morning for a year,” she grumbled. Then we backed out of the driveway.
• • •
MY MOTHER would not approve of me selling Lit Chick. She is somewhat anguished that I’m an elementary school teacher and not a doctor or a lawyer because in her mind, this is her failure. I sort of understand. When I was little, my dad spent some time unemployed, and my mom clipped coupons and stretched dollars like rubber bands. Martyrdom is not my mother’s natural state, so she wasn’t shy about sharing her misery. “Remember this and get a good job,” she told me and my brother whenever we complained about the house being cold. “Be a doctor. Everyone needs doctors. Money is security.”
I never considered medical school. To me, there is nothing better than the feeling you get when you help a child who is struggling with reading. I’m a teacher and I love my career. Mom was right, though: Money is safety. It’s being carefree about buying the designer clothes and turning up the heat. It’s independence. But sometimes doing what you love means money is tight, and in order to feel secure, you need to clip coupons or get a second
job. The night I signed up to sell Lit Chick, I practically heard her voice in my head. Oh, Mindy. Are you sure this isn’t a pyramid scheme? Maybe it’s time to think about law school.
The Lit Chick website is decorated in pastel shades and with photographs of unnaturally happy women. They’re all walking arm in arm across the beach, laughing; dangling their bare feet off a wooden dock on a lake, laughing; and strutting sassily through a city park, laughing. They are all just tickled with life. Their heads are thrown back and their mouths are open to reveal sets of perfect white teeth. They are gathered from across a spectrum of races, united by beautiful smiles, great hair, and questionable tastes in clothing.
What kind of Lit Chick are you? asks the site coyly, and I reply, Other, because I can’t abide leggings with unicorns or rainbows even if they are “better than being naked” and feel “silky soft.” I’m thirty years old. The days when I could wear teddy bear leggings and remain socially appropriate ended decades ago. But I don’t care. Lit Chick is just a job. If women want to buy shirts with seashells on them and pair them with plaid leggings, I can make that happen—for a 40 percent commission.
Before the champagne boutique, I pored over the Lit Chick website and product offerings, which included a brief quiz to help me determine what kind of Lit Chick I was. An excerpt:
What is your love style?
A) Shy. You are a sensitive soul, but with a depth of feeling once someone gets to know you.
B) Passionate. You are a great romantic, and you enjoy sharing your feelings with the world.
C) Secretive. You love to break the rules, and revel in having forbidden crushes.
D) Dramatic. You instinctively seek rocky shores and have a soft spot for handsome smooth talkers.
What is your lifestyle?
A) Quiet. You are the quintessential introvert and crave time alone the way others crave chocolate.
B) Outspoken. You are no shrinking violet, and you will speak your mind on any issue that provokes your passionate nature.
C) Boldly individual. You forge your own path and make your own rules.
D) Creative. Short of ideas? Not you! You are inspired by even the most mundane situations in life.
The Lit Chick test—the website explains—is meant in good fun. “It’s only a suggestion. If you’re a Sylvia, that means that you may be drawn to the bold patterns and versatility of the Sylvia skirt. It doesn’t mean that you won’t also love the long, sensual lines of the Virginia pullover or the fun, frilly romance of the Emily dress.”
I made Lettie take the test first. She was hoping to be an Elizabeth (Barrett Browning), the Hopeless Romantic. We agreed that this seemed like the right answer, to be Elizabeths. Who wanted to be the reclusive, shy Emily (Dickinson), writing poetry alone in her room? Or the brilliant but tortured Sylvia (Plath)? But she wasn’t an Elizabeth. She was a Virginia (Woolf). According to Lit
Chick Inc., this meant she was a practical woman who should enjoy long, shapeless pullover sweaters in earth tones.
“It’s not like the Virginia line is all bad,” I assured her. “The colors are neutral and the design is practical.”
It’s what the handbook told me to say. Each sweater comes with two large, sturdy pockets for the no-nonsense modern woman, perhaps meant to hold grocery lists or tubes of unflavored petroleum-based lip gloss. Equipment for rendering beef tallow to make your own candles in an emergency, I don’t know. The design baffles me. I wonder if someone expects Virginias to fill those pockets with heavy rocks before walking into a river.
And Lit Chick is correct, because although Lettie is a Virginia, she still finds herself admiring “the soft textures and elegant silhouettes of the Elizabeth intimate apparel line.” “The lace hip-huggers are my favorite,” she said as we drove to the party, “and the matching bra is pretty. But I swear they give the worst panty lines of all my underwear. Look.” She pointed to her bikini region. “I can see the outline straight through the Ophelia leggings and the Desdemona tunic.”
“What? No, I can’t see anything.”
“I’m going to take my underwear off in the bathroom. Go commando.” She shifted in her seat. “I could throw on a taupe Virginia pullover and stuff my hip-huggers in one of those front pockets. That could eliminate the panty lines and neutralize the tunic.”
Lettie is one of my closest friends at school. She’s also a touch of a hot mess. I often visualize happiness and success for her, imagining her surrounded by a baby-blue cloud of
tranquility, maybe sitting on some gold bricks. Then she wouldn’t feel so anxious about the world. Like now, when she was worried about panty lines that I literally could not see. I needed her to be cool. “You can’t take off your underwear,” I said. “Otherwise how am I supposed to sell the Elizabeth line?”
We had arrived at our destination: a white colonial with blue shutters. I pulled into the driveway because those Lit Chick boxes weigh fifty pounds and I was not carrying them from the curb. Lettie was still hung up on her panty lines. “You’re not seriously going to ask me to model underwear, are you?”
I didn’t reply, because the moment we stepped out of the car, a woman with shoulder-length blond hair came darting out of the house as if running from a fire. “I thought something had happened to you!” she said. “Do you realize what time it is?”
“There was a bad accident on the highway. I think someone died.” I am firmly of the belief that God invented lying for times like this. “I’m Mindy, and this is my friend Lettie.”
Lettie waved. “Nice to meet you—?”
Darylle had a man’s name and a chin-length, frosted blond bob that said, I’d like to speak to the manager. She didn’t offer a hand, because hers were firmly on her hips, radiating her displeasure. “Well, hurry up, come in. Everyone’s going to be here, and they’re going to want to shop as soon as they arrive, and nothing is even set up yet—”
She turned and walked up the driveway, still muttering to herself. We were only ten minutes late, but of course
Lettie felt guilty. “Sorry. It’s my fault. Because of the panty lines.”
“Don’t even worry about it.” I popped the trunk and handed her a cardboard box. “We’ve got four of these. Setup should be a breeze.”
We assembled two large clothing racks in a lemon chiffon–colored living room with white couches and porcelain gargoyles on either side of a white fireplace. The built-in bookcases that flanked the fireplace—also white—weren’t used for books. Instead they were filled with random tchotchkes: colored glass orbs, porcelain sculptures of women in various states of undress, a wooden sign painted with the words Paris, 24 km, and a small set of deer antlers. “How did you find Darylle?” Lettie whispered as we poured the champagne into plastic flutes.
“Friend of a friend of a friend,” I said. “Chase knows her somehow.”
Chase is Chase Holloway, the Adonis of my dreams. Tall, blond, blue-eyed, chiseled chin—I’ve been in love with him from the moment we met, when he sat next to me in high school biology and said that if I needed any help, I should just ask him because it was his second time taking the course. Then he smiled and that was it—I was hooked. But we’ve been in “just friends” territory for years now. I’ve dated people, he’s dated people, and when the relationships fail we come back together to grab a beer and complain about how no one gets us. One time I told him that maybe we should date.
“You know. Like, each other.”
I’d held my breath while he picked at the label of his beer bottle. “Yeah, right.” He grinned. “Can you imagine?”
Oh yes, I definitely could. I could imagine exactly what I’d do to him, but it was all too impolite to describe. “It wouldn’t be that bad.”
He’d taken a pull of his beer. Then he’d said, “It would ruin our friendship.”
I’d forced myself through the sudden ache in my chest with an easy smile. “I know. It was a joke. Obviously.”
It wasn’t the right time for us, I’d thought. And I’d been patient. Now that patience was finally paying off. He was coming around. Of course he is. He is my destiny.
“So. How’s Chase these days?” Lettie approached all discussions of Chase cautiously, the way one might approach a wounded raccoon. But when she asked this time, I felt my face light up.
“He’s great, actually. He and Jackie are over, and this time it’s for good.”
Lettie beamed. “Are you going to finally talk to him?”
She didn’t know that he’d kissed me three nights ago. Sweetly, softly, and then with passion. We hadn’t gone any further than that. Chase had pulled back and said he needed some time to figure things out, and I understood. Once he sorted through his feelings, I was going to reveal my own. Put it all on the line and risk everything, because that’s what love is: a big, stupid risk.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m going to talk to him. Soon. Here.” I handed her a flute and we clinked plastic. “To our first boutique.”
I downed my glass quickly while Darylle was puttering around in the kitchen, setting up the catering order. The champagne hadn’t even hit my bloodstream when she
returned to the living room, looking pleased. “This is lovely,” she said. “I need everything to be just perfect.” She pressed her thumb and index fingers together to emphasize “perfect.”
“It will be fabulous,” I said, and smoothed a hand down my hair. Speaking of fabulous, I’d curled it to perfection that morning. “Everyone will leave the party happy.”
Darylle’s face relaxed into a smile. “It’s become a sort of impromptu celebration. My niece just got engaged last night. I had to order an emergency cake from Scarletti’s.” She laughed. “Oh! Here she is!”
We followed her glance out the bay window as a young woman in a light blue dress stepped out of a white convertible. She had straight, light brown hair that hit mid-back. She was thin and very pretty, and of course I recognized her immediately. “Be right back!” Darylle said with a light clap of her hands. Then she darted from the room.
I cursed and threw my plastic champagne flute into the trash can. Lettie jumped at the sound. “What’s wrong?”
Darylle was running out to embrace her niece and look at her ring. “I don’t understand.”
“That’s Jackie,” I muttered. “Apparently she’s engaged to Chase now. Nice of someone to tell me.”
We stood there for a few moments, watching the party begin outside. More guests were arriving and throwing their arms around Jackie. “I’m sorry,” Lettie whispered.
Sorry didn’t begin to excuse this sad state of affairs. So Chase had figured some things out after we’d kissed, and apparently he’d decided he was going to marry Jackie. Men
had lost testicles for less. “Dammit.” The backs of my eyes stung.
Lettie’s fingers lighted on my forearm. “Mindy, I’m so sorry. Do you want me to take over?”
The question snapped me back to reality. “Nope. Absolutely not. I’m fine.”
No way was I going to give Jackie that power over me—or Chase, for that matter. I forced myself to smile. “I think Jackie would look lovely in those pink paisley leggings, don’t you? I’m going to pick out something special. What a great day.”
And I knew, deep down, that the wizards at Lit Chick would say I was acting like a Virginia and valuing pragmatism over my emotions. Next thing you knew, I’d be trading white cashmere for camel-brown wool. But what were my options when I was playing hostess to Chase’s fiancée? I had to protect myself somehow, because according to Lit Chick I was an Elizabeth. I craved a happy ending.
• • •
IT’S PARTLY my fault that Chase and Jackie fell in love, or whatever this was. I was the one who’d introduced them. I met Jackie at a neighborhood bar and we got to talking, and then one night Chase was there and joined us. When they started dating, I gave the relationship four weeks, tops. My exact thought was that Jackie and Chase were about as compatible as a snake and a mongoose, with Jackie as the mongoose. Or the snake.
When Lettie and I administered the Lit Chick personality
test to Darylle’s party guests, Jackie claimed to be an Emily. She was lying. Exhibit A: the moment she set her champagne flute down and announced, “I’ve gotta run to the bathroom. I’ve got a gopher peeking out.” Exhibit two: the time she tried on a burnt-orange lace Elizabeth push-up bra over her dress and said loudly, “Does this make my tits look too big?”
I’ve read my share of poetry, and Jackie was no Emily Dickinson.
The wedding would be sometime in the fall, because why wait? And they would honeymoon somewhere tropical. “I’m going to take a hyphen,” Jackie said when Darylle asked if she was going to change her last name. “I’ll be Jackie Farnook-Holloway.”
Darylle nodded and smiled at that, but I thought that Farnook-Holloway sounded like something one would treat with penicillin. I hadn’t had high hopes going into my champagne boutique, and I was immensely relieved when the whole awful thing was finished.
While we packed the car, Lettie chattered nervously. “You sold half your inventory! That’s huge. You realize that all their friends are going to want to book boutiques now, right? You’re going to be so busy this summer!”
She was trying, bless her heart. I closed the trunk. “I’m not selling this shit anymore. I’m finished.”
Her eyes widened. “Oh, why? You’re good at it!”
But I didn’t owe her an explanation. Obviously I would forever associate Lit Chick with trauma, and I had to engage in self-protection. We sat in the car and I pulled out my phone to check Facebook. “Chase posted his status update this morning. I must have missed it.”
She winced. “What’s it say?”
I held the phone above the steering wheel and read aloud, “Candlelight dinner, a walk on the beach, and then she said yes! I can’t wait to marry the love of my life.”
Ouch. I pressed my lips together and sat back in my seat.
“Mindy, I’m so sorry about all of this.”
“Thanks. Me too.”
I shut off the phone and tossed it aside. We sat there for a few moments in Darylle’s driveway. Then I turned the key in the ignition and backed out onto the road. We didn’t talk on the ride home until Lettie suddenly said, “I’ll bet he’s bad at sex. Chase, I mean. ‘Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.’ I’ll bet he keeps his socks on.”
I shot her a quick side glance. “What?”
“Because he’s attractive. Hot people don’t make the effort. It’s true. They think their partner’s gratitude should be enough. Did you see that celebrity sex tape—”
“Lettie.” I put on my patient-teacher voice. “What about your boyfriend? Eric’s hot, and you say he’s good at sex.”
“Yes.” She fiddled with the hem of her Desdemona tunic. “I’m trying.”
“I know. And that’s why I love you.”
When I dropped Lettie off, she gave me a hug and promised to call. I told her I was fine. “Nothing a nap and some chocolate won’t cure.”
But then I drove straight over to Chase’s apartment, parked in his driveway, and sat staring at the two-family house with the wide front porch. How many beers had we shared on that porch? How many bad days had we soothed away for each other while sitting in those blue
plastic Adirondack chairs? It wasn’t supposed to be Jackie, dummy. It was supposed to be me.
I opened the car door and marched up the front steps to the porch, but Chase came around from the backyard, dragging a garden hose behind him. When he saw me, he blinked. “Hey, Min. Good to see you.”
He was shirtless, which gave him an unfair advantage. At least I wasn’t wearing dog-head leggings. “Chase.”
He tugged at the green hose, which whipped into place behind him. “You’re all dressed up. You had that party today, right?” He was focused on the hose, not looking at me.
I bunched my keys in my fist and stepped off the porch. I didn’t speak until I was standing right beside him and he couldn’t avoid my eyes any longer. “You’re engaged.”
It was a statement, and there were no congratulations attached. Chase’s blue eyes searched my face; then he brought one hand up to the back of his neck. “Yeah. Crazy, isn’t it?” He glanced away. “Look, I know I told you some things about Jackie—”
“You mean that she’s a high-maintenance princess who doesn’t get you the way I do?”
A painful laugh escaped his throat. “Yeah. Well, sometimes I say stuff without thinking. And me and Jackie—it’s complicated, you know? We’re trying to work things out.”
I folded my arms and bit the inside of my cheek. “You kissed me.” I could still taste him, could still feel his hands on the small of my back. “What was that about?”
Chase made a face like he was in physical pain. Good. He should be hurting, because God knew this was torture
for me. “I’m sorry, Min. That was the wrong thing to do. Jackie and I got in a fight, and I didn’t know if we were broken up for good or—”
Now or never. I took a breath. “You can’t marry her.” The calmness of my voice surprised me. “Because I love you. Chase, I’m in love with you, and I think you’re in love with me, too.”
There was a flash of a second where I believed he would release his breath and smile with relief. Yes. You’re right. I love you, too. It was something in the way his pupils enlarged at the confession. But just as quickly, that moment passed, and he said, “Mindy, I love Jackie.” He took a sharp breath. “And she’s pregnant, okay? It’s the right thing to do.”
And I thought I’d never breathe again.