And you, Ms. Birthday Girl—quit sulking.
I BLINK BACK the exhaustion that has been creeping up on me for hours now, ever since the gang arrived at my condo this morning. I can’t bring myself to look in the mirror behind me above the sinks. The airport bathrooms here at Logan International are a little too new and a little too well lit. Nobody, with the exception of my sister-in-law, Darla, looks good in that lighting. I resolve to nap on the plane, and do my best to keep my spirits high despite our flight delay.
I can’t even think of that now. All I can think about is the fact that I’m missing work for this. I rub my eyes thinking over how it’s not a great time to be out of the office. I can almost feel the markings of age on my face: wrinkles and crow’s feet. I remember when the lines around my eyes first showed up a few years back. They were a charming feature that added a little wisdom to my face. Now I can barely see me behind all of the lines.
Sometimes, I think I’m too young to feel so old, so tired. And sometimes, I think the loneliness is making it all that much worse. My job doesn’t help, I know that. Life as an insurance defense attorney comes with long hours, and it shows. My blonde hair is lifeless with only the tiniest glimmer to it. Unfortunately, that glimmer is coming in gray. My green eyes have lost their luster. I’m rundown and worn out. For a moment I think that something has to change. I can’t continue to keep these hours. But then I reason with myself—the hours and the job are just perfect. I don’t need a break; I need more hours in the day and more coffee in my cup.
A yawn escapes me. I’m reminded that I’m still at Logan, and we haven’t even left Boston yet. I’m annoying myself with my whiny internal monologue. I’m being a crabby bitch who ought to be paid no mind. I don’t like my birthday, especially this birthday.
Thirty-five, I’m thirty-five.
“Colleen,” I glance at Darla, my sister-in-law. She stands to my right, powdering her nose. This is the first time I’ve seen her powder anything aside from a kid’s butt in God-only-knows how long. Darla stands at five-foot-nine and has some amazing curves, despite being the mother to three rowdy children. My curves are not-so-amazing and I don’t even have the excuse of childbirth. In short, I’m jealous of the bitch.
Her voice is soft and strained. “This is for your birthday,” she continues, “Try to act like you’re enjoying yourself, will ya?” She doesn’t sound like my Darla, and that makes me nervous.
I smile through a stifled yawn. “I’m sorry. I really am.” I’m partially sincere at least, though not enough to convince Lindsay, our other traveling companion. Lindsay stands just under five-foot-four and is slightly rounded on the bottom. Peeking her head around Darla’s busty form, Lindsay makes a face at me in silent agreement with Darla: I’m being crabby and I shouldn’t be.
I do my best to ignore her and focus on Darla, who is pleading with me with her eyes. This trip may be for my birthday, but this will be the first time she has gotten away from her kids in over a year. My nephews and niece are the coolest kids I know, not that I know any other kids, but after a couple hours babysitting, I’m worn out. Auntie Colleen can only keep up for so long. I know how valuable this kid-free time is for her, and I don’t want to be a jackass and ruin it. I quickly blot my face with a dampened paper towel and grin at my girls. Lindsay and Darla planned this trip for our entire group for my birthday, I remind myself.
“Okay, ladies,” I say, still grinning like a maniac, “If we’re going to be stuck in this airport, we should at least be drinking!” Lindsay and Darla both wear happy smiles at my change of mood. Lindsay, the petite little thing with unmistakable Black Irish features, zooms past me and shimmies towards the exit. Darla, now all perky, follows suit, shaking her voluptuous curves along the way. I do my best shimmy and bring up the rear of our impromptu conga line, exiting the ladies room, now determined to enjoy my birthday.
We saunter ourselves to the seating area of Gate 15, seeking out the male half of our group. We are creating quite the spectacle among the crowded terminal; all eyes seem to be on us with the exception of the three snoring lugs before us. Our boys.
My older brother, James, is a might of a man. At six foot five, he is a foot taller than me, and his muscular physique can be intimidating, despite his boyish dimples. Growing up, he was always Mr. All-American and he lettered in every sport he played—all four of them. He has never once let our parents down. Not when he joined the force, following in our father’s footsteps, and definitely not when he married Darla and gave them grandchildren—something they have given up on getting from me. Weekly, it seems, my mother reminds me that my ability to bear children is reaching a critical point. At my last OBGYN appointment I asked my doctor about getting pregnant and she threw a bunch of scary statistics at me. To make it worse, she kept repeating the words, “At your age.” Whoever decided that thirty-five was the new forty-five forgot to tell my eggs that. As though I need to be reminded that I’m thirty-five and single, and mostly disappointedly of all: childless.
Next to James is my childhood best friend, Brad. Just a few inches shorter than James, Bradley Patrick is tall and muscular. Built like a cop, my dad, Dan, says. Brad is slouched in his seat and asleep with his jaw hanging open and drool slinking down his unshaven chin. He is not at his best. He looks like he hasn’t showered in days, and his stubbly face indicates that my guess is likely true. I admire the way his slight gut is peeking out above the waistline of his jeans. I want to poke his belly, though I know better—for he might fart or belch without waking.
Brad may be handsome and have a certain appeal about him, but he is pure Southie: a loud, brash man with a thick Boston accent and whose idea of culture is trying different beers. When he went to the academy with James, my parents saw stars in their eyes. They thought their son would be a cop and their daughter would marry one. Brad’s parents, John and Emily Patrick, have been friends with my family since well before James’s arrival, and they have long since been praying that Brad and I would settle down together. I have instructed them not to hold their breath. I have never, not ever, wanted to be a cop’s wife.
Finally, on James’s other side is Lindsay’s boyfriend and the newest addition to our group, Adam Stuart. Sure, they’ve been dating for nearly three years—and living together for two—but he’s still the new kid. Adam is handsome in an academic way. He’d rather study a gun than fire one—unlike the meatheads next to him—even though he is a pretty good shot. His shaggy black hair hangs in his eyes. He is a graceful sleeper, nary a sound. I adore Adam and his Southern twang. His gentle Southern nature is in sharp contrast to Brad’s abrasive, Northeastern demeanor. I also adore the fact that Adam seems is able to calm Lindsay down. She stresses out like nobody I’ve ever seen (and I thought I was a perfectionist.)
Darla nudges James a few times until he stirs. His arms fly wildly at his sides, smacking both Brad and Adam in the process. I giggle unabashedly at the sight. Brad and Adam stare him down as they adjust to being awake. James is still sleeping, but they don’t allow this for long. With an exchange of devilish grins, the pair begins jovially slapping the big oaf. Our group is, once again, drawing the attention of everyone around us, including security. I try to voice my concerns, but it’s no use.
I’m going in.
I carefully watch for James’s flying arms as he bats away stray limbs that have found their way to his face, and I throw myself into Brad’s lap, narrowly avoiding a black eye. He makes a grunting sound as I land and loosely wraps his arms around my waist.
“Hey, pretty girl,” he groans dramatically. He is not in pain, the crybaby. “Are you gonna expect me to tip you for this lap dance?” I roll my eyes. He’s laying his accent on thick, even for him—something he normally only tries with tourists. I don’t understand why, but women go crazy for the thick Boston Irish accent, especially when they find out he’s a big shot detective. I consider smacking him and reminding him that I know him, and have known him, my entire life. That accent coupled with his striking red locks and baby-blue eyes make Brad the poster boy for Southie.
I try to wiggle out of his grasp and lament that the only reason I threw myself into his lap was to stop them from smacking my brother. James is momentarily mistaken and believes I was acting out of sisterly devotion rather than a strong desire to avoid airport jail. I don’t bother to correct him, but he picks up on my base motivation when the security guard approaches and strongly urges us to settle down.
I suddenly feel like I’m back in middle school and I’ve been implicated in James and Brad’s cherry bomb prank. So what if I lit the fuse? It wasn’t my idea.
“What time is it?” Brad stretches, arms still around my waist; and yawns, his breath blowing in my face. I grimace. He really needs a toothbrush, or a breath mint. Maybe a routine cleaning wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
I look at my watch, “It’s four.” I sigh. After this morning’s flight delay we were upgraded to first class, but only after being informed that we wouldn’t be flying out until six this evening.
“Let’s get those drinks, shall we?” I squirm out of Brad’s grasp and move towards Darla, Lindsay, and Adam, who are already heading to Boston Beer Works just down the terminal from us.
“Great, I need a beer,” Brad says, letting off a small belch at the end. With his accent, it sounds like he’s saying beah. Whereas I’ve spent countless hours trying to eliminate my accent, Brad’s seems to have gotten thicker with age.
Brad stands up and blatantly adjusts himself for all to see. He is worse than my two-year-old nephew when it comes to touching himself in public. At least Alex has an excuse; he’s a toddler. Brad, however, skirts the boundaries of indecency every chance he gets. Working-class or not, some things are just inappropriate in public. He catches me looking and gives himself a little honk and he raises his brows. I will have to remember to ask Darla why she invited him.
We crowd around a rectangular table at Boston Beer Works and down our overpriced lagers. I’m onto my third and Lindsay and Darla have just finished their second and first, respectively. Empty glasses and three mostly empty pitchers crowd our table—the boys have spent a lot. Airport beer is not cheap.
We hear the pre-boarding call for Flight 1128, non-stop to Las Vegas, and Adam pays the bill. He won’t allow me to see it. I graciously thank him and try to ignore James’s dismay with the bill. He and Brad are formulating a plan to arrest whoever set the prices so high.
Finally, we board the Airbus A320, and get ourselves situated in first class. The plane has one aisle with two seats on each side. Our group takes up half of the first class cabin. Lindsay and Adam occupy seats 1A and 1B. James and Darla sit across the aisle in seats 1C and 1D. James is thrilled about the leg room, as he actually has some. Brad and I sit directly behind James and Darla.
The thing about first class is that you wait forever for everyone to board. While it provides for some excellent people-watching, the downside is that you also find yourself being watched. Brad sits in the aisle seat, and all of the female passengers who pass by offer him their best flirty smile, even the women who are old enough to be his mother. I do my best to ignore them, but it’s no use. I am strangely intrigued by their gawking at my Brad.
Okay, so he’s not really mine in that way, but he is my childhood best friend, so he is more mine than he is theirs. I sit and watch the various women who board the plane. Brad’s only real specification is that they have a curvy top half.
One woman who boards is particularly attractive—curvy and put together. Her dark hair hangs down her back and her light brown skin practically glows. She appears to be no older than late twenties. Her lips are full and pouty and I admire her smart business suit and the way it hugs her body. I notice Brad admire her as well, and when I look to her face to see if she’s noticed him, I realize that her eyes are fixed on me. I smile, feeling my face heat. Her deep green eyes are enchanting. Slowly, she walks past but not before Brad can give her a quick head nod: his lady-killer head nod. He couples it with a sexy smirk and a slight chin rub; but the beautiful woman doesn’t take much notice.
I allow myself the indulgence of following her with my eyes, until she disappears into coach. During my experimental college days I’d tried dating a woman—a Venezuelan woman in fact—but it never got past a chaste kiss and some handholding for me to realize it was a phase.
Settling back into my seat, I see Brad staring me down. He’s not happy with me. Women are a touchy subject between us after what happened with Heather. It was so awful we took to calling it The Heather Incident.
“What?” I ask, feigning nonchalance, but he isn’t buying it.
“Are you gonna ask her out?” His tone is clipped and I can’t really blame him. He wanted to marry Heather before everything went wrong, and he’s never really forgiven me for my role in their breakup, not that I’ve forgiven myself.
“It was one time, Bradley,” I snap, sounding much too like his mother. Finally, about five years ago, he stopped finding creative ways to call me a lesbian. Brad doesn’t care if any other woman on the planet likes women, but after The Heather incident, he most certainly cares if I do. I don’t want this to rip open old wounds, though it seems it has.
“Do me a favor, just move on, okay?” My patience is wearing thin with this topic. It was over ten years ago and a plethora of women have found themselves into his bed since. Bradley Patrick is no monk.
He quickly turns away from me in his seat, indicating that our conversation is over. I huff and pull out the cheesy vampire book I’ve been enthralled with. I let myself drift into the imaginary world, all the while imagining the male lead is sitting next to me.
We remain silent for the entire flight—neither one of us is willing to budge on this topic—which suits me just fine. I can only apologize so many times, and I will only allow myself to feel sorry for so long.
Brad seems content to be my friend when it suits him, but then at the slightest blow of the wind, he’s back to chastising me. One of us is going to have to demand some finality once and for all. Either we can be friends, or we can part ways, but he can’t continue on punishing me like this at will. I won’t stand for it. My birthday has officially started to suck.
Our arrival in Las Vegas is far less exciting than we had intended it to be. The shuttle ride to our hotel is silent. I heard their subtle commentary on the plane to one another. They miss their kids. Darla is on the verge of tears. Her youngest is only six months old. She nearly backed out this morning to stay home with him, but my parents wouldn’t hear of it. They are no doubt in baby heaven right now, having their grandkids solely to themselves.
Lindsay and Adam seem to be staying quiet in an effort to avoid upsetting anyone. Brad’s and my silence is bringing everyone down. I hear subtle murmurs from Darla about how she knew this would happen—Brad and I haven’t spent more than six hours together in the last decade without getting into a fight. And it’s always about the same thing. It’s always about Heather.
The shuttle pulls up to Caesar’s Palace and we file out with no enthusiasm whatsoever. I can tell that our melancholy attitudes are wearing on Lindsay’s natural perkiness. Nevertheless, she keeps mum until we’re all checked in and heading to the elevators, where she promptly stops and turns around to face us.
“Okay, that’s it,” Lindsay says.
“Darla, James. You miss the kids, I get it. It’s only for two nights and they are in the best hands possible. You know this. Please, try to enjoy yourselves.” I nod a little too enthusiastically and she turns toward me next.
“And you, Ms. Birthday Girl, quit sulking and talk to Brad, will you? If you two choose not to be friends after this trip, fine. But we’ve all spent a lot of money on this goddamn vacation and I would really like if you two can just grow the hell up for a few days, okay?”
I gape in surprise. Lindsay intimidates me when she gets like this, which is seldom, but still slightly frightening. I have no idea why she’s yelling at me and not Brad, but I decide it is best not to ask. The pair has formed a tight relationship over the years. They have an implicit understanding. I want to get along with Brad; he just makes it so difficult.
Upstairs, I am surprised to find that they have rented a three-bedroom suite. Exquisitely draped, expansive windows and marble flooring surround us. It must have cost a small fortune, even though we’re only staying for two nights. I cringe at the thought.
I have yet to find out about the sleeping arrangements, but surely they don’t expect me to share a room with Brad. Thankfully, Darla soon hands me a key and informs me that the third bedroom is mine. Brad will sleep on the couch. I know he has paid his fair share for this trip, and I hate to relegate him to the couch. However, when I broach the topic he informs me he is likely to find another room and a lovely lady, perhaps a Latina, to keep him company—that stings, but I try to avoid him for the rest of the evening.
MARITAL BITCH will be released next Friday, January 25th!