There are a lot of things worse than being slightly engaged...being entirely broke, completely alone and wholly perplexed.
It's been a year and a half since Tracey and Jack moved in together, and everything's totally perfect--well, okay, almost perfect. There's still Tracey's mom, who says they're "living in sin," and her friends, who are all smug, married and totally sure that there would already be a ring on Tracey's finger if she hadn't been in such a rush to cosign a lease. Even Tracey is beginning to wonder whether Jack really is looking for a permanent relationship, or whether she's just renting space in his heart.
But just when Tracey's doubts are seriously raging out of control, Jack's mom lets her in on a secret--he's just taken an heirloom diamond out of the family's safe-deposit box, which must mean that he's going to propose any day now.
Okay, any week now...
Any month now?
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Red Dress Ink
February 01, 2006
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Excerpt from Slightly Engaged by Wendy Markham
I love weddings!
Um, apparently not. "Cripes, Tracey, I can't believe this is how we're spending the last Saturday of the summer."
That's my live-in boyfriend, Jack, grumbling as he gazes bleakly through the windshield of our rented sub-compact car at the holiday-traffic-clogged Jersey Turn-pike. The midday sun is glaring overhead and heat radiates in waves off the asphalt, along with toxic black exhaust fumes.
Thank God for air-conditioning. I adjust the full-blast passenger's-side vent to blow in the vicinity of my navel, lest it muss my fancy upswept do.
It took me almost an hour and a half a can of Aussie Freeze Spray to get my straight, bra-clasp-length brown hair looking this supermodelish. It'll probably wilt the second I get out of the car, but at least Jack got to appreciate it. He was momentarily complimentary about my hair and my slinky red cocktail dress before he went back to grousing about the wedding.
It shouldn't bug me that he didn't mention anything about how I was wearing a similar red dress the night we met.
It shouldn't, but it does.
I can't help it. For the first year or so that we were together, he made a point of noticing details like that. I guess he's gotten less romantic the last few months. Or maybe I've gotten overly sensitive. I shouldn't go around weighing every comment he makes#nbsp;-- or noticing the ones he doesn't make anymore.
I shouldn't, but lately, I do.
It's not that I think we've fallen out of love. If anything, we've become closer, our lives interwoven. His friends are my friends; his mother and his favorite sister,Rachel,sometimes call just to talk to me. My friends are his friends; my mother and sister#nbsp;-- well, forget about them. The point is, we're still a solid couple. We laugh all the time; we know each other's most intimate secrets; the sex is frequent and good, if I do say so myself.
So what's the problem?
I want more,dammit.I deserve more.I'm finally over the pesky feelings of unworthiness and insecurity that festered in the wake of my arrogant ex-boyfriend, Will, who callously blew me off two summers ago.
It's not as though I've come right out and asked Jack what his intentions are#nbsp;-- maybe because I'm afraid of the answer. But lately,I've found myself wondering pretty frequently#nbsp;-- all right, constantly#nbsp;-- whether Jack is ever going to take the initiative to make our relationship permanent.
Since he hasn't, I tend to secretly look for evidence that he's got the opposite plan in mind. Or, at the very least, that he's losing interest.
All right, maybe the ghost of unworthy, insecure Tracey has come back to haunt me.But I really should stop nitpicking#nbsp;-- even if it's just mental nitpicking.Really.Before I turn into one of those Bitter Shrews.
Which Bitter Shrews, you might ask?
Oh, you know. The Bitter Shrews who nobody wants to marry. The ones who eventually become joyless middle-aged spinsters with mouths that have those vertical wrinkles in the corners from wearing perpetually grim expressions.
Oblivious to the horrific visions careening beneath my divine updo, Jack props his outstretched wrists on the top curve of the steering wheel in frustration as he brakes to yet another stop.
"We should have RSVP'd no, Tracey. This is ridiculous."
"How could we do that? Mike's one of your best friends. Plus he's my boss."
Right. Mike was fired a few weeks ago. Sort of. The command came down from the formidable Adrian Smedly, director of our account group, to Mike's supervisor, Carol the Wimpy Management Rep. But she didn't have the balls#nbsp;-- or in her case, the heart#nbsp;-- to come right out and ax a soon-to-be groom. Instead, she called him into her office and more or less told him to start looking for a new job as soon as possible.
The thing about Mike is that he's incessantly upbeat in a dopey, wide-eyed kind of way, like a big old happy pup. He trots nonchalantly through life wearing an open,friendly expression, heedless that his shirts are frequently rumpled and his hair is always mussed. If Mike had a tail, it would be perpetually wagging.
So when Carol told him in so many words that he doesn't have a future at Blair Barnett Advertising, Mike seemed pretty unfazed.In fact,from what I can tell,he hasn't started cleaning out his office or even put together his r?sum?. I should know. He's all but illiterate.
For the past almost three years I've been working at Blair Barnett, my primary purpose in life is to proofread Mike's stuff, both work related and personal. I've doctored his memos, his presentations, even the supposedly impromptu toast he gave at his engagement party. If he were doing a r?sum?, I'd definitely know about it. I'd probably be writing it.
Never mind that what I should be writing by now#nbsp;-- what I fully expected to be writing by now#nbsp;-- is ad copy.
Last year I was promoted from my original entry-level account management position, but not into the coveted Creative Department, as promised. No, I was given the title account coordinator on the McMurray-White packaged goods account, which basically means I make a few thousand dollars more per year to remain in my claustrophobic cubicle and officially do administrative stuff while unofficially assisting my incompetent boss with his own duties. Oh, and I get all the freebie product I want, which means I am pretty much stocked for life on Blossom deodorant and Abate laxatives.
I'm supposedly still first in line for the next junior copywriting position that opens up in the Creative Department.
The trouble is, thanks to the lousy economy, Blair Barnett has been routinely laying off employees, including junior copywriters and account coordinators, for the past eighteen months. Jack, who is a media supervisor at the agency, keeps reminding me that we're both lucky we still have jobs.
But I'm twenty-five years old. I don't want a job; I want a career. And with Mike gone#nbsp;-- which,presumably,he soon will be#nbsp;-- who's going to push for me to get another promotion? Certainly not wimpy Carol.
"Aside from whether or not Mike's my boss, you still lived with him for years," I point out to Jack, shoving aside troubling thoughts of office politics."You can't just not go to his wedding."
"Why not? I should be protesting his wedding."
"Protesting?" Amused, I imagine Jack picketing the church in a sandwich board."On what grounds?"
"On the grounds that I loathe the bride."
"Yeah, well, who doesn't?"
Back when Jack was Mike's roommate and Dianne was Mike's omnipresent girlfriend, Jack referred to Dianne as a one-woman axis of evil.
I have to say, he wasn't necessarily exaggerating.
It's hard to remember that I actually kind of liked her back when she was just a voice on the other end of the phone whenever I answered Mike's line at the office. My opinion changed rapidly when I found myself sharing girlfriend privileges with her in Mike and Jack's tiny Brooklyn apartment.
Miscellaneous things I hate about Dianne:
1) She's a catty, mean-spirited snob.
2) She talks to Mike in this cutesy-poo baby voice whenever she isn't bitching at him.
3) She once called Jack an asshole behind his back and probably to his face for all I know.
Oh, and 4) She's getting married.
Hell, yes, I'm jealous.
Don't you think it's unfair that she's getting married, and I'm not?
Yeah, so do I.
Ironically, if it weren't for me, Dianne wouldn't be walking down the aisle today. Or, most likely, ever. I mean, who would want a one-woman axis of evil for a wife?
I guess Mike would.
Except that I don't think he really does.He's basically getting married by default.
When Jack and I moved in together a year and a half ago, Mike was left without a roommate. He halfheartedly tried to find a new one for a while,then told Dianne maybe they should live together. She said no way. Not without an engagement ring on her finger and a wedding date on her calendar.
Mike swore to me and Jack that there was no way he was getting married. Not to Dianne, not yet, maybe not ever. He supposedly looked for an affordable studio apartment for a couple of weeks to no avail.
The next thing we knew, he had gone over to the dark side and was shopping for diamond rings.
Rather, he was arranging a five-year payment plan with sky-high interest for the rock Dianne had already picked out.
Wuss. "Are we almost at the exit?" Jack asks, lifting his foot off the brake and creeping the tiny car forward a whopping two or three feet before stopping again with a colorful curse. It isn't the first time he's said that#nbsp;-- or worse#nbsp;-- since we left Manhattan this morning.
The day started off on the wrong foot at the rental-car place down First Avenue from our apartment on the Upper East Side.
Funny how even after seventeen months of living with somebody, you still get a little thrill over the mundane daily reminders of domestic coupledom. At least, I still do.
Anyway, we had reserved a midsize sedan, but for some reason the counter agent couldn't quite express#nbsp;-- either because she didn't speak English or because she simply didn't have a logical explanation why#nbsp;-- we got stuck with a car that's roughly the size of a toilet bowl, give or take.
At least it doesn't smell like a toilet bowl, like the rental car Jack and I had when we went to my friend Kate's wedding in sweltering Alabama last summer.
Then again,the lemon-shaped air-freshener thingy hanging from the rearview mirror in this car isn't much better. It kind of reminds me of that bathroom spray that doesn't really eliminate odors, merely infuses them with a fruity aroma. My parents' bathroom frequently reeks of country-apple-scented poop.
Jack and I keep good old-fashioned Lysol in our bathroom.
In Our Apartment.
See? Little thrill.
After said thrill subsides,I consult the contents of the engraved ivory-linen envelope in my lap: an invitation with a tag line that reads Grow old along with me...the best is yet to be...a reception card and a little annotated road map of this particular corner of hell.
Er, Jersey. "I think we're about five miles away from the exit," I tell Jack.
"That means at least another hour. Maybe we'll miss the ceremony," he adds hopefully.
But we don't.We eventually find ourselves driving along a strip mall-dotted highway with fifteen minutes to spare. Unless we're lost.Which,come to think of it,we just might be. I think I might have missed a turn a mile or so back, when I was trying to dislodge my numb feet from the cramped space between my purse and the glove compartment.
Jack's getting crankier by the second, I have to pee, and we're both scanning the sides of the road as if any second now we might see a picturesque white steeple poking up amidst the concrete-block-and-plate-glass suburban landscape.
"What's the name of the church again, Tracey?" he asks, apparently thinking we might have somehow overlooked a place of worship nestled in the shadow of Chuck E. Cheese.
Without checking the invitation again, I quip, to break the tension,"Our Lady of Everlasting Misery."
Jack laughs."Really? I thought it was Our Lady of Eternal Damnation."
I giggle."Or Our Lady of Imminent Sorrow." Then, the nice Catholic girl in me adds, "We probably shouldn't be making jokes like that."
"Sure we should. If Mike's asinine enough to get married, we can make jokes about it."
Okay, here I go again.
But the thing is...
Jack didn't say, If Mike's asinine enough to get married to Dianne.
He said, If Mike's asinine enough to get married.
Which makes me wonder if he thinks only the Asinine exchange vows.
It's not as if he's ever said anything to the contrary. "What's wrong?" he asks, looking over at me. "I have to pee."
"Are you sure?"
I squirm and struggle to cross my legs beneath the skirt of the slinky red cocktail dress he earlier admired but callously didn't remember to relate to the slinky red cocktail dress I was wearing the magical night we met at the office Christmas party, lo, twenty months ago.
"Am I sure I have to pee?" I echo, irritated."Of course I'm sure."
"I mean, is that all that's wrong?"
No. I have to pee and there's no room in this car for leg-crossing and I'm doomed to bitter spinsterdom,thanks to him.
My mother and sister were right. I should never have moved in with Jack so quickly.