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Despite the odds, we’ve made it. It wasn’t exactly a shotgun wedding, but we decided for the sake of the baby, we’d get married. I know my friends thought I was stupid, but I was already 21, Evie was 18 and Max was almost a year old, and, it just wasn’t right to me and Evie that we weren’t a family. So we became one. Our parents were relieved. They couldn’t hide that.

Then a year later we had Jess, so we were in it to win it. For a while we struggled, sure. Though the only time I ever seriously considered cheating was when I lost my job 10 years ago; the kids were almost out the door and my ego wanted massaging. One of the managers at the old office wanted to massage it, but I passed before things got to the point of no return. I also wanted to be able to look at myself in the mirror.

Max? He’s 27, a carpenter. Jess is 25 and a stand-up. She’s pretty good, once I got over hearing her swear. You never want to think of your little girl swearing. Our friends have little kids and teens, and you can feel the envy when they’re at the house, except for Trina; Trina met a friend of Max’s at our house and they’re together now. Trina’s 42. Will’s 30. They really hit it off.

I look strange? Yeah, well… Evie told me yesterday we’re pregnant. Jesus. Pregnant. I’m 47. Evie’s 44. I’ll be 65 with an 18 year old kid. 65!

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It was the briefest glance, but they looked each other dead in the eye. Almost at once, he looked down at his trainers. She jerked her head leftward towards the craft services table, but it was too late. Oh, I’m pathetic. The butterflies had stirred again.

How embarrassing was this? Or was she only imagining that it was embarrassing? She had every right to look at him. She wasn’t some star-struck fan; they were both on staff, both union, for goodness sake; theoretically, they were equals. Anyway, it wasn’t as if he didn’t have people gape at him every day. He probably had a steady rotation of lovers. Don’t they all?

Why did her knees feel like gelatin? They’d never spoken, for all their putative equality. Her mother had warned her that actors were narcissistic, flighty and not to be trusted for longer than the time it took to show them the door afterward. Mother had been adamant on the point.

She sensed his gaze. Great. You’re just another nitwit now. Wait a second, he’s not… Don’t turn don’t turn don’t turn! She was suddenly extremely interested in the fine print of the deal memo she was supposed to bring the director of this week’s episode.

Now he stood before her. He raked his dark hair as she looked up. Did he seem… nervous?

“You worked on Swann’s Way, right? You’re Adriana.”

I can’t run!

::sigh::

OK, I’m just gonna go with it. You only live once.

“Yes, I am.”

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Green shoots! I didn’t expect to see those for a few more weeks. This is the first winter ever that I became thoroughly sick and tired of it, it was so damp and cold. It’s too bad, really, because for hurf-durf-burf years, I have reveled in winter, including the sloppy, slushy New York City ones. After all, Mother Nature was just doing her thing. But this year, around about 26 February, I thought, F this. Seriously. Just F Winter! even though I knew Spring was on its way and I reckoned that, for all intents and purposes, I was relatively assured of sticking around long enough to see it arrive.

I wondered at first if things felt out of whack because of the job-or-lack-thereof. Impending mid-life crisis? Existential angst? Then I realized: Every year, there’s a hint around the end of February that hits me by the nose, just for a second and then it’s gone, and then I feel better. That didn’t happen this year. I suppose I somehow need that little reminder of what’s to come to stave off the Seasonal Affective Disorder.

I walked outside this morning and there near the entrance of my building, the shoots from the daffodils and tulips were poking out of the soil in the planters that are so carefully tended by resident volunteers. All my anomie fell away. For all my feelings of coziness during winter, my adoration for autumn and my excitement for summer, there has always been  something about spring.

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Vicki bolted upright.

She assessed her surroundings. A very warm room. Dark wood four-poster bed with no frills or drapes. Cream walls. Plain curtains. A man’s room. Undressed! With a dart of the eyes to her right, she saw an equally undressed handsome fellow lying there asleep, his right arm still managing to hook around her waist.

Lucas.

Five months ago, he came into the coffee place she and her friends frequented, and they took to him immediately. He was quiet, with a sweet smile. Alyssa, the Johannsen lookalike, went after him – and surprisingly, no result! Alas, Vicki was no Alyssa.

And if Alyssa couldn’t…

Vicki kept herself busy, but Lucas was in her head.  Recently, there’d been extra-coffee shop get-togethers involving everyone; a house party here, a bar hop there. He’d called her on four occasions to hang out; Vicki always had something planned.

He’s just friendly. Means nothing.

The night before was Lucas’s party. He more or less ignored Alyssa; she and her ultra-slinky outfit left early.  Soon enough, Vicki and Lucas were deep in conversation. She realized he was interested, but she had deliberately made herself “busy” because she thought she wasn’t in his league.

Why did I waste five months!?

When everyone else had left, he looked at her and said, “Finally.”

Should I go…?

She felt a gentle squeeze.

“Glad you’re still here. I thought you might take off.”

He did have a sweet smile. She would fight the self-sabotage. She was worth it.

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Heather sat quietly at the end of the row of seats at the theatre, alone.

This was a problem, this “alone” business. Her mother said so, and Heather hadn’t wanted to agree, but….

“I want to be able to hold my grandchildren. Hop to before neither of us is so young anymore. And, good Lord, could your clothes be any baggier?”

It wasn’t that Heather didn’t like men – she did – but she “knew” she lacked that spark that gave other women the glow that attracted the sort of fellows she’d consider having a baby with. Heather thought of all the things she wanted to do (yet still hadn’t found a way), and reflected that that was why she liked adventure movies. She also thought that her only choice with regards to men was the type who approached her at the coffee shop she frequented: nerdy, quiet, glasses-wearing and boyish, who talked about sci-fi TV and Robert Heinlein novels. Nice enough, but not for her.

Maybe Mother was right for once. Maybe Heather was hiding her light, her figure and her joie de vivre under a bushel. And for what? She thought of the handsome young man she occasionally saw at the shop who exuded experience and escapades. He always sat alone, too. A raised, jagged scar across his left arm had initially grabbed her attention. Asking about it wouldn’t hurt.

She looked at her outfit: baggy jeans, oversized sweater and a turtleneck.

A sudden thrill seized her. Change was coming.

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“Get rid of that one. That’s not the way it should look.”

“You mean that’s not how you want it to look. It looks how it looks.”

“Just get it off my table. Gnarled produce isn’t how I wish to represent my restaurant to people.  And you can save the epistemology lessons for later.”

“Ha! All right. Wait, that’s not epistemology.”

“What do you want? I only took 101 to fulfill the damn requirement –  now where are those table cloths? Where’s the vases? We’re missing three!”

“Hey. We’re taking care of it. Why don’t you go check on the ragú?”

Damian placed his large hands gently on Bianca’s shoulders.

“Or better yet, take a walk in the park for 10 minutes. You’re going to drive yourself crazy.”

“My head, I’m just, everything’s rushing…”

“I know, yes. We’re doing the job. Finding the table cloths, setting the places, the vases. There will be flowers in the vases. There will be flowers.” Damian chuckled. “There you go, take a break and have a milkshake!”

Bianca couldn’t help but giggle back.

“Look at all this! If I closed my eyes for a second and opened them again, I wouldn’t believe this wasn’t just a dream. I did this.”

“Why not?”

“A year and a half ago, I was only a secretary who liked to cook.”

He wrapped his arms around and leaned close to her ear.

“You believed in your dream so much, that now there’s this.”

“Yeah.”

“You’re gonna be all right, kid.”

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Once, I romanticized being unhappy, not realizing I was doing so. But if you asked me who was the “realer” person, what was the “more authentic” experience, I’d pick whichever one was most lonely and sad. In school (and later at various jobs), I was drawn to the moody people and tried to draw them out so that they’d bestow some measure of approval upon me, like, “You’ll do.”

How uncomfortable it is now to look at that me, starving for attention from angry people.  When I look father back, I wasn’t that person at all. I’d tap dance on my aunt’s bar for my own amusement, or sang songs loudly. Very energetic – and happy – even after the horrors that had gone on before, because I thought they were over.  I wasn’t manic, but I definitely ran on higher octane than, say, Shirley Temple.

By 6, the tap dancing stopped; my mouth was shut. What I was going through at ‘home’ was a partial cause, but I’d come to believe by then that what was happening there was “real life”.  No one told me that wasn’t true, or that I had control over the thoughts I’d think (and I’d work that lesson in every day if I had kids), but I didn’t get the memo by design. I lived my life firmly believing that “happiness”, for me, was a scam.

Stay miserable, you! And tend to the miserable forever! (cue cackling of villain)

Yikes.

Feels great to grow up.

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