Friday, April 23, 2010
As Good as It Gets
Jessie tingled. A little from cold. More from naughtiness. She wrapped the blanket around her and used her pointer finger to push down a blind. She squinted at the dark morning. She tracked the headlights as they turned left, right, then out onto the county road. And . . . he . . . is . . . gone.
She let the blanket fall and darted down the hall and into the office. She shook the mouse as she sat. Clicked Outlook Express and waited for new emails to load. Spam. Delete. I don’t like you and your political rants. Delete. Spam. Delete. I don’t want to review the seller. Delete. I don’t need Viagra. Block sender. I don’t like you and your ‘send this to 10 people or something terrible will happen to you’ forwards. Delete.
That’s all? She pushed back the twirly chair and stuck out her lip. Nothing. From him.
It had been a week since she’d gotten his friend request. Curtis Wheeler? She’d done a double take. Curt? She bit her lip. Oh my.
They’d been in homeroom together all four years of high school. His hair was the color of corn silk, his eyes the color of cornflowers. And the way he’d filled out his Levi’s? She’d glanced over her shoulder. Nothing. Nobody. Accept.
She scooched the chair back in, scrolled down, and clicked on an old Facebook comment. Her wall came up without her logging on. Love when that happens. 257 friends. Woohoo! I’m popular.
Jessie looked at her best friend’s wall. Cute pic, Lori. When’d you put that on? Then her mom’s. FYI, Mom, it is so lame that you have a Facebook page. I mean, really. She looked at Mark’s page and cringed. Why does he still have the picture of him and that dang dead buck as his profile pic?
She clicked to get the newsfeed--most recent. She scrolled down. Happy Birthdays. Song lyrics. Quotes. Be original, people.
POP! Jessie looked at the name in the window at the bottom of the screen. She squealed. She put her hand to her heart and clamped her thighs together. She glanced down to see if her heartbeat was budging her fingers.
They’d been talking, well, im’ing, over the last week. It had done something to Jessie. Made her feel alive again. She was wearing out the stairs, climbing up to check email and Facebook all day long.
She frowned. Where’d that come from? Up until now it had been “How are you?” and “Do you hear anything from . . .?”
She looked at her profile info. She’d never gotten around to posting much.
Most of the time. U?
Most of the time?
Jessie jumped when her cell phone buzzed in her robe pocket. She x’d out of Facebook and rolled the chair back from the desk. She slid the phone open to see the text.
“Good morning, sunshine.”
Jessie’s shoulders dropped.
“Morning to u too. R the bucks biting?” Send.
“I’m at office.”
"U on computer?"
"Yeah, y?" Send.
"Seems like ur on it a lot lately."
“I'm just saying. Ttyl.”
She put the phone back in her robe pocket and rolled back up to the desk. Got back on Facebook.
Curtis is offline.
Jessie woke in the middle of the night. She rolled over and looked at the clock—2:34 a.m.. No Mark. She rolled her eyes in the dark. Asleep on the couch, no doubt.
An hour later she was still staring at the ceiling, and there was still no Mark. She heard the faint persuasive murmurs of an infomercial. Why do they think they’ll sell more stuff if the announcer has a foreign accent?
She got up and walked down the hall to the office. Flipped the light on. She laid her hand by the light switch. The walls were yellow—neutral. It was supposed to be a nursery, but they’d given up after, how many tries? How many years? She’d lost count. Gone dry from the crying.
She’d had a thought. “Maybe we can—“
Mark had shaken his head. “If I can’t have a child of my own, why would I want to adopt someone else’s problems?”
That was that. End of discussion.
Jessie sat in the office chair and looked down. She puffed out her belly and rested her hands on it, fingers laced. That’s what all the pregnant ladies do. She made her stomach jump. Is that what it feels like? They’d never made it that far. Aunt Flo was too faithful. Visited every month. Jessie's eyes burned. She rubbed them.
She clicked on Outlook Express. No new messages. She logged onto Facebook and changed her status. INSOMNIA.
POP! Jessie’s breath hissed. He’s here. I mean there.
She went to his page. Touched his profile image. It was his senior picture. He’s so beautiful. I mean, handsome. But really, beautiful. That one tiny chip in his front tooth? It’s actually kinda sexy.
The stairs creaked. Jessie x’d out and tiptoe ran back to the bedroom. She pulled the covers up to her chin and made her breaths even and regular.
She heard Mark brush his teeth. No wonder his teeth are so perfect. He brushes them forever and a day. She listened to him pee, flush, and wash his hands.
He came into the bedroom. There was the soft clanging of his belt coming undone. Then the whoosh of his jeans dropping to the ground. In one motion he was in bed and spooned up next to her. She kept her breaths even and regular. She couldn’t help smiling when he lifted her t-shirt and used his pointer finger to trace, I ♥ U, on her back.
Jessie woke to the smell of coffee. He made coffee? Why? She washed her face, got dressed, and went downstairs.
He’d left a cup and saucer on the granite counter by the coffee maker. And a Nonni’s biscotti. She picked up the Nonni’s and pressed it to her heart. He’s a good guy. Most of the time.
“What am I going to do today?” she asked the empty kitchen.
The house was clean. The grocery shopping done. She’d been to the club yesterday.
She sat at the kitchen table. She squinted. What’s that? She stuck her head under the table. A laptop? Whose?
She took her phone out of her hoodie pocket and slid it open.
“Someone’s laptop is in the kitchen.” Send.
“I know. I’ve had it for awhile. You didn’t notice? Bill gave me a loaner for a project. I’ll get it at lunch.”
She carried her coffee and biscotti upstairs to the office. No good email. No one on Facebook. She sighed and changed her status. Bored. She resisted the urge to add, “Text me.” Too juvenile.
She changed her closet over from summer to winter. Now watch. It’ll get hot again.
She put on her walking shoes and pinched her pedometer onto the waistband of her yoga pants. If I do three miles, I’ll be home in time to make lunch.
One mile in, she took the pony tail holder off her wrist and pulled her hair back. Hay bale hair is what her hairdresser called it. Jessie’d squinted at Tami in the mirror. “What the heck is hay bale hair?” Tami said it was hair that had several different shades of blondes and golds and browns. Jessie’d smiled. “Cool.”
On mile two she pondered whether or not to call Lori and let her in on the Facebook secret. Naw. She’d squeal on me, or tell me to get rid of the Internet. As if.
She looked down at the pedometer. 5000 steps, 1000 to go. I’ll get on after lunch. After Mark . . . Just to say hi. Jessie pushed up the sleeves of her hoodie. It’s no big deal. Jiminy Christmas. He lives in Florida. It’s harmless.
Jessie set Mark’s plate in front of him. “So what’s the project?”
“It’s the water purification work we’re doing out at the lake.”
“And you need a laptop for that?”
Mark nodded and swallowed. “All the statistics are supposed to be recorded on-line right as the data is collected.”
“Oh, I see,” Jessie said. Not.
Mark stood. He leaned over and kissed her cheek. “Thanks for lunch, sweetie. Gotta run.”
Jessie listened to the car start, back up, drive down the street. She concentrated until she couldn’t hear it anymore. And . . . he . . . is . . . gone.
She set her glass of ice water on the desk. Then she put on lipgloss and pursed her lips to spread it around. I feel pretty. Oh so pretty . . . She clicked on Outlook Express and sat down. One new message--a comment on her profile picture.
You look beautiful in this pic. Radiant actually.
Jessie’s mouth fell open. She put her hands up to her cheeks to see if they were hot to the touch.
She minimized Outlook and got on Facebook. She enlarged the picture to see what he saw. Radiant? Really?
She changed her status. Not bored anymore.
She sat back in the chair and drummed her fingers on the arm rest. POP!
She smiled. A silly smile. She tried to make a straight face, but the grin kept coming back.
I love you.
Jessie’s mouth dropped. She put her hand over it. She stared at the words. The clock ticked off seconds, then a minute. She looked over at it. Saw their wedding picture next to it. Saw how perfect they looked together. Her eyes sparkling blue. His, deep water green. And they’d looked so happy. Happily ever after happy. She went over and took the picture off the wall. Put it face down on the bookshelf.
U still there?
Y do u love me? I want specifics. Give me a really long list of how beautiful, and funny, and sexy I am. Then I’ll feel all warm and liquid and tingly inside.
U really have to ask? I have memories. Don’t u?
Not as many as I’d like. Homeroom every day. Him sitting behind her, playing with her hair. At least once a week, him saying, “You’re so pretty. When you gonna go out with me?” The time he’d touched her ankle and said how soft it was. After that, she’d shaved her legs every single school day that year. Just in case.
Can I ask u a question?
Do u ever wonder if this is as good as it gets?
My as good as it gets is pretty great.
Jessie crossed her arms and sat back. She sneered at the screen. If that’s how you feel, what has all this been about?
She sat up. Warning. Change of subject . . . I’m sorry.
That I didn’t go to prom with u.
Yeah. U told me at our tenth h.s. reunion.
U told me u said no ‘cause I was only two out of three. U said I was good looking and funny, but not smart.
I said that?
Yep. As I recall, you’d had 3 margaritas. UR husband was standing next to us. He laughed.
Yep. I have to get off here. Clients waiting.
Clients? What do u do?
I’m a financial planner, remember? I told u that at the reunion too. And I’m a pretty good one. Guess I was smarter than u thought.
Curtis is offline.
Jessie put her elbows on the desk and cupped her chin with her hands. A financial planner? Who would have thought? I had to help him with his algebra almost every day, and now he’s a financial planner?
Mark came up behind her as she was doing dishes that night. He rested his hands on her waist and buried his nose in her hair.
“You smell good. Look good too.”
Jessie squirmed. “Thanks. Now scoot. You’re giving me chills.”
He didn’t let go. “Wanna try again?”
Jessie squinted over her shoulder. “Try what?”
“To make a baby,” he said.
Jessie sagged against the counter. “Oh, Mark. Not again. I don’t think I—“
Jessie turned, and he was gone.
Jessie opened her eyes in the dark. She slid a leg over to Mark’s side of the bed. Nothing. Nobody. She turned her pillow over to the cool side. He’s sleeping with the infomercials again. Probably because I . . .
She tiptoed into the office. The computer screen came to life when she sat. She opened Facebook. Went to Curt’s page. Clicked on his photos. He commented on mine. I’ll comment on his.
Your girls are beautiful!
I always wanted a little boy.
Boys run in my family. And, there’s ways you can make them, if you really want to.
LOL. Really? Like what?
I don’t know. I heard some women talking about it at Panera one day. I would have been happy either way.
U could try again.
And bawl my eyes out every month when I . . .? I don’t think so. Besides, I never told Mark, but my doc says it’s not me that’s the problem. If that’s the case, why keep trying? KWIM?
Curtis is offline.
Jessie huffed. That’s rude. Must have another client. She looked over at the clock. Wait. It’s the middle of the night. She x’d out of Facebook and went back to bed.
Mark was gone when she got up the next day. She was walking down the stairs when the land line rang. It was her Mom.
“Can you stop by sometime today or tomorrow? I have a couple things for you.”
“Sure. I’ll be over after I go to the post office.”
Her mom pointed to the pile on the dining room table. “Take that stuff when you go. It’s the usual—my old Good Housekeeping and Newsweek magazines and some chocolate that my insurance guy gave me. You’d think by now he’d know I’m diabetic.”
Jessie reached into the pottery bowl on the coffee table and grabbed an emery board. She worked on her nails while her mother gave her the lowdown on the neighborhood.
“Mr. Johnson across the street finally died,” she said. “And Alice Workman got food poisoning at the new Chinese restaurant.”
Why did he just disappear off Facebook? And why hasn’t he been on since?
“Don’t be a stranger,” her mom said as Jessie walked out to her car. “Give Mark a hug for me.”
Jessie took the Mom pile into the living room. Recycle. Give to Lori. Maybe look through. What’s this? She unfolded a newspaper. Obituaries? Why’d she give me--
Jessie’s mouth dried up as she looked at the picture. It was him. Curt. Her knees buckled and she sank into the sofa. He’s dead? She looked at the date. Three months ago? How is that possible? She skimmed the article. “Motor vehicle accident. Leaves behind mother, father, one brother.” No wife? No kids?
Jessie heard the front door open and shut. She sniffed and wiped under her eyes.
“What’s up?” Mark said.
She shook her head. “Just going through some stuff from Mom.”
“Not really. Found out a guy I graduated high school with died.”
“Aw, man. Who?”
She looked up. “You met him once. At the last reunion. Curt Wheeler?”
“Blonde guy? Good looking?”
“Yeah. He died in a car crash. A few months ago.”
Mark sat next to her on the sofa and rubbed her leg. “You okay?”
“You look a little green.”
“I don’t know. I guess it’s just that, someone your own age dying, it makes it seem so real. That we’re all going to die someday. Know what I mean?”
Mark nodded. He stood up and walked over to his briefcase. “I brought you a present.”
He held out a dvd. She leaned forward and took it.
Jessie looked down at the cover. What the . . . She felt the blood leave her face. She used her pointer finger to stroke the title. She forced a smile and looked up. “'As Good as It Gets.' It’s one of my favorites.”
He crossed his arms and smiled. “I know. Wanna watch it tonight?”
When Jessie got up in the middle of the night, there was a box on the back of the commode. A pregnancy test. She rolled her eyes. Not again. She sat down on the edge of the bathtub and pushed her fingers into her hair. Oh, what the heck?
She opened the box, pulled out the foil pouch, and followed the directions. She counted off the minutes while she plucked her eyebrows.
She glanced down at the plastic piece by the faucet. Her mouth fell open. No way. She held it up to the light and squinted at it. Double checked the instructions. She looked in the mirror. “I’m pregnant. There’s a baby inside me!”
She ran into the bedroom and flipped the light switch. “Mark! You’re never going to believe it. I’m pregnant!”
He propped himself on his elbow and blinked. Then his face broke into a grin.
“You are? I thought you’d been acting strange lately. Come here. Let me give you a hug. Mommy.”
Jessie huffed. “Strange?”
She turned the light off and headed in his direction. “Ow!”
“What? Are you okay?”
“I just stubbed my toe! What pray tell is in the middle of the darn floor?”
“Oh, sorry. It’s the laptop.”
“What’s it doing up here?”
“I wanted to remember to take it back to work,” he said. “The project’s finished.”
Jessie tilted her head. The project’s finished? In the dark, she looked in the direction of the laptop, then over at Mark. She shook her head. Naw. Couldn’t be.
She sat on the edge of the bed and kicked off her slippers. Could it?
She smiled as she felt Mark lift her t-shirt.
“Lay down. Let me write on your tummy this time. For the baby.”
Jessie giggled. “Okay.”
They were quiet for a few minutes. Jessie rolled to face him. “Hey. I just thought of something.”
Mark put his hand on her waist. “What?”
She took a deep breath before she spoke. “Sometimes as good as it gets can be pretty great.”
“I know, Jess. I know.”