Mrs. Perfect(7)

By: Jane Porter

“Not much,” I answer, and really, my troubles are nothing compared with her drama.

“When did you get back in town?” Monica asks.

Lucy appears momentarily rattled. “I’ve been here.” There’s a pause. “Was I supposed to be out of town?”

Monica has the grace to blush. “Sorry. I was thinking of Pete.” No one says anything, and Monica adds even more awkwardly, “He was the one out of town. He had the kids, right?”

Lucy’s fingers tighten on the towels, her fingers and knuckles shades of purple and white. She swallows hard. “They’ve just come home.” Her voice has dropped and deepened, reminding me of bruises. “It’s been a month since I’ve had them. Or seen them.”

I can’t help glancing toward her kids, who are in the pool, jumping and diving as though they haven’t a care in the world, and my chest tightens.

They’re pretending. Kids do that so well. Pretend to forget. Pretend you don’t feel. Pretend you don’t remember.

We had to do that in our family, too, when my parents divorced. Act like you’re just a kid and you don’t hurt. Act like you feel nothing and all you care about is your TV show and your bowl of ice cream. Because you are only a kid, right, no real feelings developed yet. . . .

Nathan returns just then with our drinks and welcomes Lucy with a genuinely warm hug and hello. “Hello, Lucy,” he says, handing me my drink before leaning down to kiss her cheek.

She stands stiffly, her body at an angle as though afraid to be caught touching him.

“Hi, Nate,” she says, using her husband’s nickname for Nathan. I’d never call Nathan “Nate” in a thousand years, but for some reason all Nathan’s friends shorten it up.

“Sit down,” he says, gesturing to our grouping.

Lucy looks at us, her eyes nearly as lavender blue as her voice. She’s depressed. It’s there, all over her face. I bite down, uncomfortable. “That’s okay,” she answers, sensing correctly that she’s not wanted.

Nathan shakes his head. “No, I insist. Let me get you a chair.”

“Nate, no. I can do it. Honestly. I’m not sick.”

But Nathan’s already gone to locate a chair, and once he’s returned we all settle into a rather stilted conversation about the coming school year and the start of soccer, although Patti’s boys have been playing football for nearly three weeks already.

Our kids appear periodically with requests for food and drink and ice cream, requests we all manage to resist to varying degrees.

“Hey, isn’t our book club meeting soon?” Patti asks with a small self-satisfied stretch. It’s nice just sitting here, feet up. The kids are happy. We’re happy. There’s nothing we have to do.

“One week,” I answer. I’m hosting the September meeting. Haven’t even thought about book club in a while. “I guess I better get reading.”

“You haven’t read The Glass Castle yet?” Monica’s lips purse disapprovingly.

I flex my toes. “It just sounds so depressing. Another memoir about a dysfunctional family. I mean, haven’t we read that already?”

“Book club isn’t genre reading, Taylor. We’re not just reading for the plot, but the beautiful prose.”

“I don’t find poverty, abusive parents, and alcoholism beautiful. No matter how one writes about it.” I’m irritated now. I don’t know why everyone gets such a vicarious thrill out of reading about childhood pain. I certainly don’t. “I wish we’d pick some different books this year. More uplifting subjects, maybe even some nonfiction.”

Monica rolls her eyes. “The Glass Castle is nonfiction.”

Monica so annoys me. I can’t even believe that we pretend to be friends. I don’t know why she does it. I do it because she’s Patti’s childhood friend, and Patti says she has a good side, although I haven’t seen it.

“The point is,” I answer, folding my hands neatly in my lap, “that we’ve read lots of stuff like this before, and I thought we could maybe read something more uplifting.”

Monica laughs. “Like what? The Secret?”

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