When I tell my mom I broke up with my hedge-fund investor, Princeton-alum, cheating and lying scumbag fiancé Charles, she promptly bursts into tears.
“You. Can’t. Be. Serious!” she says, her words elongated for emphasis as if there is a period after each word. She pulls a hanky from her Dooney & Bourke handbag and dabs at her eyes while making loud, hiccupping sounds that cause a number of people in the restaurant at La Rouge Country Club to crane their heads to our table. “Why. Would. You. Do. Such. A. Thing!”
I wonder if I can kill myself right here and now using a salad fork. “I caught him cheating, Mom. Do you really want me to marry a guy who cheats?”
She sniffs. “Men will be men, Marissa. Your father—”
“You two divorced twice, Mom,” I point out. Currently she and Dad are married again, but if marriage was all peaches and cream, they wouldn’t be flipping it on and off like a light switch, would they? There was a time in my life when I’d blamed myself for their unhealthy dynamic. After all, I’d been a trying teenager to say the least. Truth be told, I’d been wild—I’d drank, experimented with marijuana, hung out with one bad boy after another. It wasn’t until my latest boyfriend had almost killed me while driving intoxicated that I’d come to my senses. I’d vowed right then and there that as dramatic as my mom could be, it would be in everyone’s best interest to take her sensible advice to heart. After all, I clearly couldn’t trust myself.
Now it was ten years later, and I was having a harder and harder time being the compliant, sensible daughter. Not that I wanted to go all hog wild again. No, I just wanted to explore the idea of dating a man who made my heart race just by being in the same room with him, something that hadn’t been the case with Charles. I dreamed about leaving my unfulfilling job and finding my passion. Yet each time my instincts scream at me to fight back against my mom’s advice, or to be bold and take a risk, I inevitably remember coming to in that flipped vehicle, my boyfriend no where to be seen because he’d fled to avoid the police, and I realize there are far worse things in life than playing it safe.
I’m not that bold, wild teenager anymore. And that is a good thing.
Mom continues to put on a show, and I vaguely wonder why she never took up acting. She’s dramatic enough. Hell, right now it’s like she’s competing for an Emmy nomination, shaking and sobbing, acting like the world’s ending because I’m now twenty-eight and single. My sister, Larissa—Mom has a thing about rhyming names—just looks at me and shakes her head. Larissa’s twenty-five and getting married later this year so she won’t be any help.
“Way to go, Mar. How many cats are you going to adopt now?” My brother Kenny—as the one boy, he didn’t get a rhyming name—snickers into his plate. He’s eighteen and thinks everything out of his mouth is hilarious.
In some ways, he reminds me a lot of myself when I was his age, but I just glare at him.
Mom keeps crying, dabbing her eyes, moaning, and practically tearing her clothing in anguish at the thought of her daughter getting to the age of thirty without being married. I cringe as a waiter gives our table a funny look.
“You guys just had a fight. You need to call Charles and tell him you’re sorry.” Mom picks up my phone and hands it to me. “He’ll take you back. I know he will. He loves you, honey, and he’s the perfect man for you.”
How is a guy who cheats on me the perfect man? But Mom doesn’t care about that: she cares about pedigrees, wealth, and not having a child who would dare embarrass her again.
I scowl at my salad. “I’m not taking that sack of shit back,” I mutter, shocking even myself with my attitude. It appears the old Marissa is determined to make herself heard, after all.
“Language!” Mom gasps, throwing her hand over her heart.
Kenny snickers again and Larissa sips her water, unconcerned with anything that isn’t about her. That’s the way she’s always been though, so it doesn’t bother me so much anymore.
“You have to take him back,” Mom insists. “We already ordered your dress! The flowers! What will we tell the venue? Honey, he made a mistake. We all make mistakes, you know that better than most. But you can’t hold his faults against him!”
Yes, Mom, I’d made mistakes, but I’d also learned from them. And considering Charles was cheating on me with his secretary for six months, I think I can hold that against him. Besides, I’d always suspected I didn’t truly love Charles, that I’d accepted his proposal mostly because my parents thought he was a suitable match.
When I realized my reaction to finding out about his infidelity had been far more about anger than hurt, I knew for sure he wasn’t the love of my life. Maybe I’m just too emotionally stunted to feel true love. Assessing my family right now, it seems a reasonable conclusion to draw.
I try to focus on my meal, hoping Mom will drop the subject. But she’s like a dog with a bone. She’s not letting me get out of here without making sure I don’t ruin my chances at getting married. If you love him so much, then why don’t you marry him? The thought is dangerously close to departing from my lips.
Mom hisses, forcing me to look up at her again. “You’re already twenty-eight. This isn’t up for negotiation. You aren’t going to embarrass me like this. You’ve embarrassed us enough for one lifetime, don’t you think?”
I almost wince at Mom’s not-so-subtle reference to the past. God, will I ever put that behind me? Besides, this isn’t 1816. Just because I made mistakes as a teenager, I still have the right to marry—or not marry—whomever I like, don’t I? But it’s not that simple. All the Woodcrest women before me have gotten married well before their twenty-eighth birthday. Even my job working for one of my father’s associates’ marketing firms was handed to me, with the implicit understanding that I would only work until I was married and started popping out kids.
I’m pathetic, I think. Stand up for yourself, Marissa!
But my mouth stays firmly shut. I don’t have the right to complain. I’ve had a privileged existence. I’ve never had to worry about my next meal. In truth, I’ve gotten almost everything I’ve ever wanted, including a second chance to do things right.
Be patient. Mom cares about you and just wants you to have the best in life.
At least I’m not a total doormat. I broke my engagement to Charles! And I’m not taking him back no matter what Mom says.
Just get through this lunch and you can go home and get your next dose of drama from celebrity gossip websites (looking at the effed up lives of celebrities always helps me feel better about my own) or watch the latest episode of Alien Love.
I pick up my fork, but my appetite fled long ago.
I glance at the clock on my phone, hoping that somehow, miraculously, time has flown by and I can make an excuse to leave this delightful meal early.
“Marissa, are you listening to me? Marissa!”
Before I can say anything, my mom scoops up my phone, jabs at it, and shoves it into my hand. It’s already calling Charles. Before I can disconnect I hear Charles pick up. Horrified, I hang up.
Great, now Mom is going to be extra pissed at me.
Sure enough, Mom’s cheeks flush red with anger. “Did you just hang up on him? What is the matter with you? Are you trying to give me a heart attack? You know heart failure runs in our family, but it’s all about you, isn’t it?” Mom starts fanning herself like a damsel in distress. “You’ve never thought of me or your father. You think the world revolves around you. Well, I’m here to remind you that it doesn’t, and you need to make this right.”
Guilt swamps me. I know Mom is being dramatic, but that doesn’t stop me from second-guessing myself. Maybe I should just put on my big girl panties and accept that chivalry is dead, princes don’t exist, and real life isn’t a Hallmark Channel rom-com. Still, is it too much to ask for a guy whose company doesn’t come in a far second to a nice pair of cozy pajamas and a good old Netflix binge-watch? Deep down inside I know I did the right thing in dumping Charles, but if anyone can make me feel like I’m a selfish ingrate, it’s Mom.
I try sinking into my chair, especially as people are still watching us. Larissa checks her phone, and Kenny keeps eating all of the bread in the basket because he has no worries outside of wondering if the Pornhub servers will be down by the time he gets home. I glance around, searching for help, for someone to save me from this never-ending circus I call my family.
I see an older man across from us with a large beard and even larger nose. He sees me and narrows his eyes. He probably thinks I’m some demon child who deserves all this scorn, if my mother is any indication.
I keep looking. I catch the gaze of a little girl in pigtails, who giggles and then shoves food into her mouth as her mother scolds her for not sitting up straight.
Is there no one? No one at all?
But as I twist back around, I see a man sitting at a table near the window. He’s tall, blond, and with the features of an angel—that’s all I can think. Not really an angel, though, because his chiseled jaw is unshaven and he has a wicked scar on his cheek, but…is that a golden aura around his head? If he’s an angel, he’s a fallen one, because when he cocks a mischievous smile at a woman passing by, I almost fan myself. I was so preoccupied dealing with my mother I must have missed him earlier. Something that seems impossible now.
Damn, he is fine.
A lock of his blond hair falls across his forehead and he brushes it away with long, tapered fingers as he unfolds his menu. Every motion he makes is grander than itself; he’s probably used to having everyone watch him. He reminds me of someone… A weird feeling of déjà vu settles over me. I’ve never seen a man so handsome. For a moment, I’m transported someplace else and Mom fades into the background completely.
He sips his water with full lips, and for a moment I imagine those lips trailing hot kisses across my collarbone, down to my….
As if he can feel my gaze on him, he looks right at me. Somehow, even from this distance, I know his eyes are a deep blue and I want nothing more than to swim in that sea.
I look away, blushing furiously. I feel like some kind of peeping tom. Did he know I was practically drooling?
“I’m calling your father,” I hear Mom say. “He’ll know what to do about this. I can’t deal with your behavior.” Mom’s voice rises, and all thoughts of the fallen angel man go poof in my head, almost painfully.
Someone save me. Someone take me away from here. Someone dump a plate of food into my lap so I can rush off to the bathroom and Mission Impossible myself out of this damn restaurant.
Wildly, I think of ways to get Mom off of my back. Or at least to stall her. Do I fake-call Charles and act like we’ve reconciled? No, she’ll just call Charles later to verify. I see the fallen angel man across the room again and suddenly I’m saying words I never thought I’d say. They spill out of me anyway, as if my mouth has a mind of its own.
“Mom, I didn’t want to tell you this because it’s so soon, but the main reason Charles and I aren’t getting back together is that there’s someone else.”
“You mean the woman he’s sleeping with? That’s no real impediment.”
I grimace. Right, Mom. “No, I mean, there’s someone else for me.”
Larissa leans forward, suddenly interested in our conversation. Kenny even raises his eyebrows while chewing his food.
The spotlight is on me. I swallow a nervous lump in my throat, because I’m really going to have to play my cards right. If there’s anything I have in common with my deranged family, it’s that I’m not good at playing it cool.
Mom just looks at me like I’m some strange puzzle she can’t unravel. She folds her damp handkerchief into a neat square. “Why didn’t you say so earlier? And might I inquire who this man is?”
Her tone tells me she doesn’t believe me. She knows I’m bluffing. But I can see the fallen angel in my mind’s eye. “We met at a charity event and hit it off.”
Right then, our waitress comes back. She refills our water glasses, trying to act like she didn’t hear Mom lecture me on a child’s responsibility to her parents.
I keep talking as the waitress goes around our table.
“Well, what is he like?” Mom asks. She raises a delicately plucked eyebrow, waiting, anticipating my bullshit from a mile away.
I swallow. “He’s tall, very handsome. He has blond hair.” I try to get more specific as I look at the fallen angel out of the corner of my eye for reference. “He looks best in dark purple ties, and he wears gray suits.”
I sound ridiculous. The hole I’m digging for myself rivals the Grand Canyon in size. But it’s like once my mouth opened, I can’t get it to shut.
Right as the waitress gets to me, I add, “He has a scar on his right cheek that he got from—”
Without warning, the waitress dumps water into my lap. I yelp at the ice cold water on my legs.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry!” the waitress gasps out, a faint Cockney accent in her tone. She grabs napkins off the table and begins dabbing at my lap. “I cannot believe—I’m so sorry, ma’am!”
Mom scolds the poor woman. “Watch what you’re doing, young lady! You could injure someone being so careless!”
Saved! I jump to my feet, wanting to hug the waitress. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll go dry off in the restroom. I never liked this skirt anyway.”
But my mother won’t let it go. She’s making a major scene, calling for the maître d’. When he arrives, she says at the top of her voice, “What kind of people do you hire here? We’ve been members of this club for ages, and the service is slipping, that’s for sure.”
“Mom! It’s okay.” I smile at the maître d’. “It’s really not her fault. I zigged when I should’ve zagged and must’ve knocked the pitcher out of her hands. No harm done.”
My mother looks at me with a raised eyebrow and then lets out an exasperated sigh.
I rush to the bathroom to clean up. When I close the door behind me I slump against it, grateful to be out of that hornet’s nest. After a few deep breaths, I stare at my ruined skirt in the mirror, $300 of the finest Neiman Marcus cashmere. Totally worth the sacrifice for a few moments’ reprieve. I wonder if there’s some way I can make it a permanent reprieve, because damn, I want to go back to our table like I want a hole in the head.
What have you done, Marissa? I stare at my reflection, the reflection of a total moron. The second I get back, Mom is going to dig for details about my imaginary boyfriend. I sigh and contemplate stuffing my body through the small window at the far end of the bathroom. By my calculations, I’m about twenty pounds too round to fit through it.
Realizing that I have no possible escape route, I take a deep, cleansing breath. Doesn’t work. But I can’t stay in here forever. Cursing my stupidity, I push open the door to the bathroom, only to bump right into a wall of solid muscle.
I yelp at the same time as a man with a delicious upper-crust English accent says, “Careful, there!”
I feel strong hands on my upper arms, and when I look up—way, way up—I gaze into the face of my fallen angel.