Stay Close

Page 6


Ten minutes later, Megan found a parking spot behind the Starbucks. She checked her watch. Fifteen minutes until the meet.
She grabbed a latte and found a table in the back. At the table to her left, a potpourri of new moms—sleep deprived, stained clothes, deliriously happy, all with baby in tow—were yapping away. They talked about the best new strollers and which Pack ’n Play folded up easiest and how long to breast-feed. They debated cedar playgrounds with tire mulch and what age to stop with the pacifier and the safest car seats and the back baby sling versus the front baby sling versus the side baby sling. One bragged about how her son, Toddy, was “so sensitive to the needs of other children, even though he’s only eighteen months old.”
Megan smiled, wishing that she could be them again. She had loved the new-mommy stage, but like so many other stages of life, you look back at it now and wonder when they fixed your lobotomy. She knew what will come next with these mothers—picking the right preschool as though it were a life ’n’ death decision, waiting in the pickup line, positioning their kids for the elite playdates, Little Gym classes, karate lessons, lacrosse practice, French immersion courses, constant carpools. The happy turns to harried, and the harried becomes routine. The once-understanding husband slowly gets grumpier because you still don’t want as much sex as before the baby. You as a couple, the you who used to sneak off to do the dirty in every available spot, barely glance at each other when naked anymore. You think it doesn’t matter—that it’s natural and inevitable—but you drift. You love each other, in some ways more than ever, but you drift and you either don’t fight it or don’t really see it. You become caretakers of the children, your world shrinking down to the size and boundaries of your offspring, and it all becomes so polite and close-knit and warm—and maddening and smothering and numbing.
“Well, well, well.”
The familiar voice made Megan automatically smile. The voice still had the sexy rasp of whiskey, cigarettes, and late nights, where every utterance had a hint of a laugh and a dollop of a double entendre.
“Hi, Lorraine.”
Lorraine gave her a crooked smile. Her hair was a bad blond dye job and too big. Lorraine was big and fleshy and curvy and made sure that you saw it. Her clothes looked two sizes too small, and yet that worked for her. After all these years, Lorraine still made an impression. Even the mommies stopped to stare with just the proper amount of distaste. Lorraine shot them a look that told them she knew what they thought and where they could stick that thought. The mommies turned away.
“You look good, kid,” Lorraine said.
She sat, making a production of it. It had been, yes, seventeen years. Lorraine had been a hostess/manager/cocktail waitress/bartender. Lorraine had lived the life, and she lived it hard and without any apologies.
“I’ve missed you,” Megan said.
“Yeah, I could tell from all the postcards.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
Lorraine waved her off, as if annoyed by the sentiment. She fumbled into her purse and pulled out a cigarette. The nearby mommies gasped as though she’d pulled out a firearm. “Man, I should light this thing just to watch them flee.”
Megan leaned forward. “If you don’t mind my asking, how did you find me?”
The crooked smile returned. “Come on, honey. I’ve always known. I got eyes everywhere, you know that.”
Megan wanted to ask more, but something in Lorraine’s tone told her to let it be.
“Look at you,” Lorraine said. “Married, kids, big house. Lots of white Cadillac Escalades in the lot. One of them yours?”
“No. I’m the black GMC Acadia.”
Lorraine nodded as though that answer meant something. “I’m happy you found something here, though, to be honest? I always thought you’d be a lifer, you know? Like me.”
Lorraine let out a small chuckle and shook her head.
“I know,” Megan said. “I kinda surprised myself.”
“Of course, not all the girls who end up back on the straight and narrow choose it.” Lorraine looked off as though the comment was a throwaway. Both women knew that it was not. “We had some laughs, didn’t we?”
“We did.”
“I still do,” she said. “This”—she eye-gestured toward the mommies—“I mean, I admire it. I really do. But I don’t know. It’s not me.” She shrugged. “Maybe I’m too selfish. It’s like I got ADD or something. I need something to stimulate me.”
“Kids can stimulate, believe me.”
“Yeah?” she said, clearly not buying it. “Well, I’m glad to hear that.”
Megan wasn’t sure how to continue. “So you still work at La Crème?”
“Yep. Bartending mostly.”
“So why the sudden call?”
Lorraine fiddled with the unlit cigarette. The moms went back to their inane chatter, though with less enthusiasm. They constantly sneaked glances at Lorraine, as if she were some virus introduced into their suburban life-form with a mission to destroy it.
“Like I said, I’ve always known where you were. But I would never say anything. You know that, right?”
“I do.”
“And I didn’t want to bug you now either. You escaped, last thing I wanted to do was drag you back in.”
Lorraine met her eye. “Someone spotted you. Or I should say, Cassie.”
Megan shifted in the chair.
“You’ve been coming to La Crème, haven’t you?”
Megan said nothing.
“Hey, I get it. Believe me. If I hung out with these sunshines all day”—Lorraine pointed with her thumb at the maternal gaggle—“I’d sacrifice farm animals for a night out now and again.”
Megan looked down at her coffee as though it might hold an answer. She had indeed returned to La Crème, but only once. Two weeks ago, near the anniversary of her escape, she had gone to Atlantic City for a mundane training seminar and trade show. With the kids getting older, Megan had decided to try to find a job in residential real estate. The past few years had been all about finding the next thing—there had been the private trainer and yoga classes and ceramics and finally a memoir-writing group, which in Megan’s case had of course been fiction. Each of the activities was a desperate attempt to find the elusive “fulfillment” that those who have everything crave. In reality, they were looking up when perhaps they should have been looking down, searching for enlightened spirituality when all along Megan knew that the answer probably lay with the more base and primitive.