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"I've already bought tickets, so you're coming with us and you're going to have a good time whether you like it or not." Alice still managed to look determined even while sitting in the tiny chair at one of the desks of my kindergarten classroom.
"You didn't have to pay for my-"
She waved me off, "it's your birthday present from me and Rose. Ok, your turn."
"I can't take that much time off of work; it's the beginning of the school year."
Alice grinned, "I already talked to Principal McHenry and she says it's perfectly fine. Do you realize you haven't taken a single day off since you started here?"
I stared at her, wide eyed. How does she do that? "But, Mike…"
She gave me a dry look, "is that all you've got left?"
I knew all too well what she thought of my boyfriend, but I thought I might as well throw him into the excuse pile too. I sighed and she jumped up, knowing she'd won.
"Excellent! Now get up and let's go." It was Friday which meant the weekly women only dinner and drinks. In the beginning, they seemed kind of silly to me; I mean, we saw each other all the time. But after the past two years I'd begun to see them as a lifeline, the one evening a week where people didn't look at me with pity in their eyes, where I didn't have to listen to the whispers of "why is she still working here then?" or the old familiar "oh that poor thing."
I grabbed my purse and followed Alice out of the classroom. I worked as a teacher in a very small private school in Balboa, California. I didn't have to, but I loved working with the kids; it was my only other social interaction if you didn't count Alice and Rose. It was walking distance to the beach, if you didn't mind a bit of a walk, and the grounds were beautiful. Our Lady of the Sea was a one floor, Spanish style building set up in a "U" shape with the middle of the "U" reserved for the faculty and staff's break times. I typically went there to read by a fountain that sat against one of the outer walls; it was covered in ivy and I liked to pretend, for a moment, that things weren't really the way they were.
I followed Alice through the narrow streets of Balboa to the peninsula where Rose's home was; she lived in an exclusive area right at the tip with unbroken views of the ocean. We pulled in to the extra spaces in her garage against the back of the house and walked around to the front. Alice took off her sunglasses and opened the front door without knocking, "hey lady! We're here!"
Rose came into the foyer from the kitchen wearing a white bikini and a white cover-up that went to mid-thigh. She gave us each a kiss on the cheek before turning to me. "You're coming, right?"
I gave her a drawn out "yes" and she smiled brightly. "I feel a little overdressed, by the way," I added.
"Speaking of which, did you tell her-"
Alice cut her off with a glare.
"Tell her what?" I asked.
Alice took a step closer, "well, I got you a few things to wear for the trip. Don't worry," she said before I could protest her spending even more money on me, "they're from my own line so they didn't cost me anything. You need to look like you belong in New York, Bella. I won't have you walking around the city looking like a tourist."
"You have me completely packed already, don't you?"
"Just clothes, shoes, accessories, and some new perfume, you can pack all your toiletries before we leave in the morning."
"Ok, now that that's settled, do you guys want to eat outside? Everything is ready," Rose was already walking into the kitchen.
Alice and I looked at each other, "you cooked?" We asked at the same time.
"Are you kidding? Maria's delivers. I did go out and buy the alcohol though." She reached into the fridge and took out a six pack of beer and a few limes, Alice grabbed the foil covered containers of food while I took care of plates and silverware. My mouth was practically watering as I remembered I'd skipped lunch that day. We walked out the front door and onto the deck, setting everything on a circular table overlooking the beach. I slipped off my shoes and stretched, letting the sun warm my legs and feet. Alice did the same, tossing off her heels and hanging her tan leather jacket on the back of her chair.
I uncovered the steaming food while plates got passed around. "Ok, tortillas, lemons, bell peppers, sour cream, and more limes are in this one…and rice, beans, and chicken over here." We passed everything around, including the beer. I ate two helpings of food while Rosalie went on about her latest obsession. She'd stopped working when she got married and now had a lot of free time on her hands. She belonged to a car club, did yoga on Mondays and Wednesdays, went for a run every morning, and went through new hobbies on an almost weekly basis. This time around she'd discovered a book about getting what you wanted through visualization or something like that; I couldn't possibly imagine what else she might want.
"So you just think about what you want and you get it?" Alice raised an eyebrow skeptically.
"You have to really want it; it helps if you write it down." Rose's expression was emphatic.
"Have you tried it?" I asked, squeezing the last of the juice from my lime wedge into my bottle.
"Not yet." She opened her second bottle and cut up another lime. "But I'm going to," she looked up at us from under her eyelashes. "Emmett and I are going to try and have a baby," she smiled, "hence the enjoyment of beer while I still can."
I reached out to touch her hand, "that's wonderful, I'm so happy for you guys." I smiled through the slight sting of envy I felt.
"Do you have names picked out?" Alice asked, almost bouncing with excitement. "I can plan your shower!"
"I'm not pregnant yet," Rose grinned.
"Yet, but you will be," Alice nodded.
"You sound pretty certain," I said.
"I am. I have a feeling about these kinds of things."
We talked until it got dark; it was fun and for a while I was able to completely immerse myself in their worlds.
I had to drive Alice home; she seemed to have forgotten how tiny she was and drank a bit too much. Of course, a bit too much for Alice was only two beers. "Is he going to be at your apartment?" She asked, resting her head back; her eyes half closed.
"I don't know, probably. What time are we leaving tomorrow?" I asked, changing the subject.
"Rose is coming to get me at eight and then we'll pick you up; don't accidentally on purpose forget your suitcase." She was referring to the one she'd packed for me that was now sitting in the trunk of my car.
I pulled up in front of her condo; it wasn't much bigger than my apartment, but her mortgage was astronomical. I undid my seatbelt to walk her to the front entrance of the complex, but she stopped me. "No, no, I got it." She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. "Things are going to be looking up for you soon."
"And how do you-"
She interrupted me, tapping her temple with one finger.
I thought about Alice and Rosalie on my way to my apartment. I was so happy for them, but things seemed to come to them in a way they didn't come to me. In fact, things seemed to come to me in the exact opposite way. I didn't linger on it for long; what's that old cliché? Play the hand you're dealt.
I let myself into my apartment; it definitely didn't look like this when I left for work this morning. There was a pair of dirty work boots by the front door, socks on the floor a few inches away from them. I saw Mike's feet dangling off the edge of the couch, the rest of his body obscured. The television was tuned to a show I'd never seen before. "Hey baby," he called. "How's my best girl?"
"Hey," I replied. I moved into the adjoining kitchen to deposit my purse, dragging my suitcase behind me. Remnants of whatever Mike had for dinner were strewn about and I set my things down to clean up the mess. When I was finished, I walked over and sat on the arm of the couch. "So, Alice and Rosalie surprised me with a trip for my birthday."
"Uh-huh," his eyes remained fastened to the TV screen.
"To New York, I'm leaving tomorrow," I said, trying to get a reaction.
His eyes flickered up to mine, "not a lot of notice. How long are you going to be gone?"
"I'll be back next Saturday." He nodded, not saying anything. "Well, I'm going to take a shower." I stood and picked up my suitcase. "Oh, and Mike? If I leave you my itinerary can you pick me up from the airport next week?"
He looked up and smiled, "of course, baby, anything you want."
I wasn't really sure why I asked him; initially I thought it was because I didn't want to put Alice or Rosalie out, not that they would have cared. Regardless, I felt vaguely satisfied by his promise and stepping into the shower I thought to myself, it's really not that bad.