I was late.
And I don't mean the kind of late where I spent too much time doing my hair and was now stuck in traffic. I mean I was late late. The kind of late where the 85% effective warnings on the side of condom boxes flashed before my eyes as I white-knuckled my way down the 405, silently screaming, why me? Why, oh why me? I'm a new millennium girl. I took copious notes in 6th grade Sex Ed. I carry just-in-case condoms in the zippered section of my purse. And, after that first singularly awkward experience in the back of Todd Hanson's '82 Chevy after junior prom, I have been meticulously careful. Me. I was late. And I was not taking it well.
"Dana?" Silence. "Dana, I need to talk to you." Silence. "I swear to God if you are screening me I am never speaking to you again."
I switched my cell phone to the other hand as I changed lanes, narrowly avoiding a collision with a pickup that had wash me carved in opaque dust, before continuing my desperate pleas into my best friend's answering machine.
"Dana, please, please, please pick up? Please?" I paused. Nothing. "Alright, I guess you really aren't there. But please, please, please call me back as soon as you get this message. I mean pronto. This is a serious code red, 9-1-1 emergency. I need to talk to you now!" I punctuated this last word by laying on my horn as a bald guy in a convertible cut me off then had the audacity to give me the finger. Welcome to LA.
I flipped my phone shut, breaking a French tipped nail in the process, and counted to ten, trying to remember some of that calming yoga breathing from the one class Dana had dragged me to last month. Unfortunately, at the time I'd had my full attention focused on not falling flat on my face during a downward facing dog, and I think I was beginning to hyperventilate.
I merged onto the 10 freeway, glancing down at the digital readout on my dashboard clock, and realized with a twist of irony that I was now not only late, but late. As in not on time to meet my boyfriend, Richard Howe, for lunch. He'd made one o'clock reservations at Giani's, and it was now twelve fifty-eight. I eased my suede ankle boot (which had maxed out my Macy's card, but was so worth it!) down just a little harder on the accelerator, after checking the rearview mirror to make sure the highway patrol was nowhere in sight. Not that I was speeding. Much. But considering the day I'd had so far, an encounter with the CHP was not on my list of to-do's.
As I checked for motorcycle cops, I also gave myself a quick once over in the mirror. Not bad considering I was having the freak out of my life. My ash blonde hair was still tucked into a flattering half twist, a few flyaways, but the messy look was in, right? I pulled out a tube of Raspberry Perfection lip-gloss and applied a thin swipe across my lips, ignoring the obscene gestures from the guy behind me. Hey, if a girl in a crisis doesn't have her lipstick, what does she have?
I'm proud to say I only got flipped off two more times before pulling my little red Jeep (top up today as a concession to my hair) into the parking garage on the corner of 7th and Grand. I fastened The Club securely on my steering wheel and prepared to hoof it the two blocks to my boyfriend's firm where I was supposed to meet him…I looked down at my watch…damn. Twelve minutes ago. Well, on the up side, as soon as I told him about being late, I had a feeling he'd forget all about my being late.
A conversation I was seriously dreading. In my mind it went something like this: Hi Richard, sorry I'm late, by the way I may be having your child. Insert cartoon sound of Richard hitting the door at roadrunner-like speeds. Ugh. There was just no good way to ease into information like that. We'd only been dating for a few months. We hadn't even made it to the shopping at Bed Bath & Beyond stage yet, and suddenly we had to have this conversation? I adjusted my bra strap as I walked, tucking it back under my tank top, trying like anything to present the appearance of a woman with it all together. And not a woman trying to remember which pregnancy test commercial touted early results with digital readouts.
Exactly fourteen minutes behind schedule I walked into the law offices of Dewy, Cheatum & Howe. In reality the firm was called Donaldson, Chesterton & Howe. But I couldn't resist the nickname. Considering the type of clientele they represented (the Chanel and Rolex crowd) it fit like an imported, calfskin glove.
Beyond the frosted front doors, maroon carpeting yawned across the reception area, muffling the sound of my heels as I made my way to the front desk. The large oval of dark woods stretched along the back wall of the spacious room, flanked on either side by more frosted doors leading to the conference rooms and offices beyond. The faint clicking of keyboards and muffled conversations billed at three hundred dollars an hour filled the background.
"May I help you?" asked the Barbie doll behind the desk. Jasmine. Or as I liked to call her, Miss PP. As in plastic parts. Jasmine spent two thirds of her salary every month on cosmetic procedures. This week her lips were collagen swollen to Angelina Jolie standards. Last month it was new boobs, double D of course. As usual, her bleached blonde hair was moussed within an inch of its life, giving her an extra two inches on her already annoying height of 5'6". I'm what could be referred to as a petite person, topping out at an impressive 5'1½" on a good day. I was lucky if I made the height requirement on half the rides at Six Flags.
"I'm here to see Richard," I informed Miss PP.
"Do you have an appointment with Mr. Howe?" Her blue eyes blinked (with difficulty due to the brow lift two months ago) in an innocent gesture that I knew was anything but. Jasmine's sole entertainment here at Dewy, Cheatum & Howe was wielding the power of entry to the sacred offices beyond the frosted doors.
I narrowed my eyes at her. "Yes. As a matter of fact I do."
"And you are?"
I tried not to roll my eyes. I'd met Richard here for lunch every Friday afternoon for the past five months. She knew who I was, and by the tiny smile at the corner of her Angelina lips, she was enjoying this all too much.
"Maddie Springer. His girlfriend. I'm here for a lunch date."
"I'm sorry, Miss Springer, but you'll have to wait. He's with someone in the conference room right now."
"Why didn't you just say that in the first place?" I mumbled as I sat in one of the tan, leather chairs punctuating the waiting area. Jasmine didn't answer, smirking instead (which looked a lot like an Elvis lip curl in her new super-sized lips) as she opened what I'd guess was a game of solitaire on her computer and pretended to look busy. I picked up a copy of Cosmo from the end table and began flipping through the pages of drool-worthy designer clothes I could never afford. Or fit into if I was actually pregnant. Oh God. What a depressing thought.
After what seemed like an eternity of listening to Jasmine's acrylic nails click against her keyboard, Richard walked into the reception area. Despite the anxiety building in my stomach, I couldn't help a little yummy sigh at the sight of him. Richard was 6'1" and all lean muscle. He was a religious runner, doing 10k's for all the charities in his spare time. Muscular dystrophy, autism, even the breast cancer run last April. When we first started dating he tried to get me to run with him once. Just once. My idea of a cardio workout was elbowing my way through Nordstrom during the half-yearly super sale. Running was something I didn't do. Besides, I figured if the heels were high enough, walking the two blocks from my apartment to the corner Starbucks burned almost as many calories as running, right?
Today Richard's blond hair was perfectly gelled into place in a casual wave, a la early Robert Redford. He was wearing a dark gray suit, paired with a white shirt and tasteful paisley printed tie. He looked downright delish, and I resisted the urge to throw myself into his arms, unloading all my worries onto the shoulder of his wool suit.
Another man exited the offices with him, the two of them deep in conversation. I couldn't make out what they were saying, but whatever it was had Richard's sandy brows drawn together in a look of concern.
The other guy was dressed in Levis, worn with faded patches along the thighs and seat, and a navy blazer over a formfitting black T-shirt. His shoulders were broad, and he had the sort of compact build that made you instantly think prizefighter. A white scar cut into his eyebrow, breaking up his tanned complexion. Dark hair, dark eyes, and the sort of hard look about him that usually went along with prison tattoos. I hoped Richard wasn't branching out into criminal defense.
I waited until they'd shook hands and the other guy had walked out of the lobby before approaching Richard.
"Hi honey," I said, standing on tiptoe to place a kiss on his cheek.
"Hi." He was still staring after the felon, his tone distracted as if I'd just interrupted him during football season.
"Who was that?"
The way Richard was still staring after Mr. Nobody led me to believe that wasn't exactly true. However, I had bigger things to think about than Richard's latest client. Like being late.
"Huh?" I whirled around, panic rising like bile in my throat. Good God, could he tell already? Insanely I looked down to my abdomen as if it might have grown six inches in the last thirty seconds.
"We had reservations for one."
Oh. That late.
"Sorry, there was traffic on the 405. We'll just go somewhere else. How about the Cabo Cantina?"
Richard was still staring at the closed glass doors where Mr. Nobody had exited. I wondered again who the man was. He didn't look like Richard's typical clients, and he certainly didn't give off that new car scent of another lawyer.
"I, uh, don't think I'm going to make lunch today after all. Something's kind of come up."
"Oh, that's too bad." Am I a totally bad person that I was actually a little relieved? At least we didn't have to have that conversation now. At least now I had a little time to come up with a better way of dropping the bombshell than, "Richard, we've got to buy stronger condoms." Hmm…I wondered if I could sue Trojan over this?
"Sorry, Maddie. I'll call you later, I promise."
"That's okay. I understand. I'll talk to you tonight then?"
"Sure. Tonight." He gave me a quick peck on the cheek before disappearing back through the frosted doors and into the bowels of Dewy, Cheatum & Howe. Jasmine looked up just long enough to give me an Elvis smirk before going back to her solitaire game.
* * *
I walked the two blocks back to my Jeep and left another message on Dana's answering machine. If she didn't pick up soon I was going to have to start taking résumés for a new girlfriend. I started my Jeep with a roar that echoed in the parking structure, and instead of getting back on the freeway, made my way up Grand to Beverly Boulevard. I hit a drive-thru McDonald's and ordered a decadent Big Mac, large fries, and a strawberry shake. This was not a day to be counting carbs.
I parked in the lot, enjoying my comfort food in the privacy and full blast air-conditioning of my Jeep. As I slurped the last of my shake, I wondered what to do now. I should go back to work, something I'd neglected ever since staring in horror at my calendar this morning. However, the thought of being creative right now didn't seem quite realistic.
As a little girl I'd always dreamed of being a fashion model, parading down a Milan runway in the latest designer creations as the world ooh'ed and ahh'ed. But by the eighth grade it was abundantly clear I was not going to achieve fashion model height. So, I settled for the next best thing, being a fashion designer. After four years at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, I was ready to make my mark on the fashion scene. Only I hadn't counted on it being almost as hard to break into fashion as it was to break into modeling. After begging, pleading, and promising to wash every fashion exec's car in the greater Los Angeles area, I finally landed a job. Designing children's shoes for Tot Trots. Okay, so it wasn't Milan, but it paid the bills. Most of the time.
The perks were I set my own hours, I worked from home, and I was happy to say that my work had been featured on the feet of fashionable tots everywhere, including the Barbie Jellies last spring and the SpongeBob slippers in the fall collection. Currently I was working on the Strawberry Shortcake high-tops—available in both iridescent pink and sparkling purple, thank you very much.
However, at the moment the idea of spending a day with tiny tot fashions didn't hold enormous appeal. Kiddie shoes made me think of kids, which made me think of babies, which led to thoughts about condoms that for no good reason at all sometimes broke and led to women being in my current position.
I looked down at my dash clock. One forty-five. Dana was probably getting to the gym right about now for her Step and Sculpt class. In addition to being my best friend, Dana was an aerobics instructor at the Sunset Gym. That is, in between auditions and bit movie roles. Like 90% of Los Angelinos, Dana wanted to be an actress. Though she swore as long as she didn't moonlight as a waitress, she could keep from becoming a cliché. I figured if I took the 101, I might be able to catch her between classes.
I set my shake down and put the car in gear, pulling up in front of the huge concrete and glass structure of the Sunset Gym in record time. I parked in the lot, declining the valet parking. Yes, in LA people actually avoided walking the two yards from the parking lot to the gym before doing their three-mile run. Go figure.
As I entered the gym, a tall guy with a buzz cut and Popeye arms stopped me at the front desk. He looked me up and down, taking in the two-inch boots, Ann Taylor skirt, and lack of Nike bag slung over my shoulder. I wasn't fooling him. We both knew I only used my membership for a swim in the pool on those hundred degree plus days.
After whipping out my ID card and satisfying the steroid gatekeeper, I entered the main floor, scanning past rows of Exercycles for any sign of Dana. I spotted her by the windows at the front of a class, stepping and sculpting their little hearts out. I had a brief moment of guilt over my gazillion calorie lunch, but it didn't last long. Certainly not long enough for me to actually suit up and jump on a stepper.
Instead I grabbed a dog-eared copy of Elle, settling onto a bench along the wall to wait. It didn't take long for the gyrating steppers to finish, breaking into a self-congratulatory round of applause. The teacher of the step class came jogging toward me, her strawberry blonde ponytail swishing back and forth. A perfect size two, she looked like she'd just stepped off the pages of Sports Illustrated. And not the swimsuit edition, but the women-who-lift-and-the-men-who-love-them edition. I would hate her, except for the fact that Dana, aka aerobics queen, was my best friend.
"What's up?" she asked, looking down at my high heeled boots with a frown.
"I just ate," I said by way of defense.
Dana shot me a dubious look but let it go. Instead she began doing a little jogging in place thing as she talked. "So, I got your message. What's the big emergency?"
"I, uh…" I looked over my shoulder as if I almost shouldn't be saying it out loud. "I'm late."
"Okay, we'll talk fast. What's up?"
"No, no. Not late. Late."
Dana cocked her head to one side, taking this in before the meaning hit her. "Oh my God. You mean you missed your period?"
"No. I didn't miss anything yet. I'm just a little late."
"No wonder you're freaking out."
"I'm not freaking out. I'm…just a little late."
Dana shot me the yeah-right look she'd been using on me ever since we bonded over our love of New Kids on the Block in seventh grade. "Right. And that's why you left four messages on my machine this morning."
I cringed. Did I really leave four? "Okay fine. I'm freaking out. But just a little."
"Did you take a test yet?" she asked, switching to a jumping jacks routine.
"Like a pregnancy test?"
"No, an algebra test. Geez, anyone would think you've never been late before."
Truth was, I hadn't. And that's what was scaring me even more about my predicament. Ever since my monthly visitor began arriving, I'd been twenty-eight days like clockwork. Which is why I'd panicked and left a near stalker number of messages on my best friend's machine. Hey, wait a minute. If she got my messages, how come she didn't call me back?
"Why didn't you call me back?"
Dana got that wicked smile on her face that said she was either dating someone new or about to give someone twenty push-ups.
"I wasn't exactly alone."
"Do I want to know who?"
"Sasha Aleksandrov," she said, switching to a little two-step footwork in place.
Dana giggled. Yes, grown women with 1% body fat still giggle like middle-schoolers with braces when it comes to men. "He's a Russian body contortionist. Sasha's the bottom of the human pyramid in the Cirqué Fantastique."
I tried not to roll my eyes. Dana had an uncanny ability to pick guys who were destined for short-term relationships. "So where did you meet Mr. Pyramid Bottom?"
"Here. He came in with the Spanish trapeze artist to work out last week. I offered to show him how to use the Cybex machine. He doesn't have them in Russia."
"Of course not."
"And, we hit it off. He asked if I wanted to see him perform."
Considering the many meanings behind that statement, I'm betting Dana said yes. She never passed up an opportunity to see a muscular man "perform."
"That's it. I don't want to hear any more," I said, covering my ears. Dana giggled again.
"Okay, so how late are you?" she asked instead.
"And you called me before noon for that? Honey, three days is nothing."
"Dana, I've never been three days late before."
"Lucky for you, I've got an emergency preggers test at home. I have one more class then we'll go to my place and make a pitcher of margaritas while you pee on a stick. It'll be fun, okay?"
"No. No margaritas, Dana. I can't drink that stuff. I might be pregnant."
At this, Dana actually abandoned her aerobics, standing perfectly still. She stared at me, her pert little mouth hanging open. "You're not actually thinking of having a baby are you?"
"No. I mean, I don't know. I don't know what I'll do if I…if…you know."
"We see a pink line?"
"Fine. No margaritas for now. But you are so peeing tonight."
* * *
Luckily I convinced Dana that peeing on a stick was a solo mission and left her to her Kickboxing for Seniors class. I did stop by the drugstore and pick up a test, the most embarrassing purchase of my entire life, including the first time I ever bought condoms and accidentally grabbed super ribbed for her pleasure. I also purchased a Big Gulp, so by the time I pulled into the driveway of my second-story studio in Santa Monica, I was ready to pee. Physically that was. Mentally, I was a wreck.
I locked my Jeep, climbed the wooden stairs to my apartment, and let myself in, dropping the drugstore package on the kitchen counter. Despite the fact I had to pee like a racehorse, I couldn't quite get up the courage to take the pregnancy test into the bathroom with me. Somehow now that I was faced with an entire array of ifs, that test had become scarier than a Wes Craven movie. I mean, what if it did turn pink? Did I really want a baby? I looked around my cozy (translation: dinky) studio apartment, filled to max capacity with a fold-out futon and my sketch table. Where the hell would I even put a baby?
I guessed I'd always assumed I'd have kids someday. But even though I was closing in on thirty (and I refuse to say just how closely), someday still seemed far, far into the future. When I was more settled, domestic. Married. Oh God, would Richard think I wanted him to marry me? Did I?
I think I was hyperventilating again.
I went to the bathroom, sans stick, then checked my answering machine. No messages. Namely, no Richard. I picked up the receiver and dialed his number, waiting as it rang on the other end. His machine kicked in, and I left what I thought was a relatively breezy message, considering the circumstances.
I plopped myself down on the sofa and clicked on the TV, settling for Seinfeld reruns while I waited for Richard to return my call. By Letterman, I still hadn't heard from him. Which was annoying and also a little worrisome. He had said he'd call me tonight. And it wasn't like Richard to ignore my messages. I tried not to freak out, instead promising myself I'd take the pregnancy test just as soon as I heard from Richard.
A promise that would soon come back to haunt me.