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Rebecca "Becks" Mansfield has a boyfriend who sets her on the edge, a job catering to the whims of a cartoon vampire, and she's shortly to be a bridesmaid in the fairy-tale wedding from hell. How could this have happened to the brilliant, brash-talking, rising star of marketing? Her three best friends tell her she's "date lazy," settling for the men who require the least effort. Maybe Becks isn't trying hard enough, but the "one" she's looking for isn't the perfect man—it's the ...
Rebecca "Becks" Mansfield has a boyfriend who sets her on the edge, a job catering to the whims of a cartoon vampire, and she's shortly to be a bridesmaid in the fairy-tale wedding from hell. How could this have happened to the brilliant, brash-talking, rising star of marketing? Her three best friends tell her she's "date lazy," settling for the men who require the least effort. Maybe Becks isn't trying hard enough, but the "one" she's looking for isn't the perfect man—it's the perfect job.
Of course, you can't always get what you want—a fact that's about to become crystal clear to Becks Mansfield. But sometimes you get what you need.
When you're looking for parking in North Beach you have plenty of time to examine where you've gone wrong in your life. It sort of forces you to go slowly and consider all your options. I was finding it increasingly annoying because--like finding a place to park--introspection is not an activity I generally build into my schedule.
I don't waste mental cycles kicking myself for not cashing in my stock options before the bubble burst. I don't examine my face in the rearview mirror and wonder if at thirty-three I'm starting to look like my mother. And I don't generally obsess about my boyfriend--possibly because I don't generally have a boyfriend.
However. The question that persisted as I slowed to evaluate a hand-holding, sunlit couple--who, it turned out, were not getting into a car and opening up a parking space--was the same question that had been announcing itself with increasing frequency and mounting urgency over the past few weeks: Greg?
Lately it seemed he was everywhere. It wasn't so much that he'd developed a habit of showing up unexpectedly; it was more as if he'd come over five weeks ago and never left. His Office Space video was on top of my television. His Head & Shoulders was in my shower. He didn't even have to bethere to be there.
Even now he was in my passenger seat, nattering on about--I tuned in briefly, heard the words "Internet baseball fantasy league," and tuned out again. He was sucking all the air out of the car.
I admit I had only myself to blame. If I'd noticed that what had, for me, been an I'm-bored-so-I-might-as-well-have-coffee-with-someone situation had, for Greg, been an if-I-just-hang-in-there-she's-got-to-fall-for-me-eventually scenario, this could all have been avoided.
But I hadn't. I'd let all the warning signs slip by and had never seen it until that night he'd come over to help me rearrange my furniture. Then bam--just as soon as he'd positioned the throw rug and the sofa at exactly the thirty-eight-degree angles I'd specified, he'd pounced.
I know I should have pushed him away. Or at least verified that this was just going to be sex between friends, no more meaningful than a game of racquetball, and not the beginning of something (shudder) beautiful.
But I hadn't. Because despite my better instincts . . . well, one gets swept up in these things. And although I knew it was imperative to set some firm parameters immediately after straightening my clothes, he'd made his post-sex declaration first--complete with puppy-dog eyes--"What are we doing next weekend?"
One goddamn moment of weakness and by the following weekend his Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch was in my kitchen.
I changed lanes to avoid getting caught behind a bus and was instead caught behind someone trying to make a left turn. "Whoops." I could feel Greg's loopy grin without looking over at him. "You're spanked. That's why I always stay in the right-hand lane."
I forced a smile. He wasn't really a bad guy. Most people seemed to classify him as a sort of likable flake. And professionally he had a reputation as a good-bordering-on-inspired programmer. At least he'd managed to hang on to his high-tech career better than I had. So there was no logical reason why I shouldn't be perfectly happy to spend half my life looking for a parking space just so we could buy the damn cannoli for the stupid party his idiot friend was throwing that night.
Maybe it was my attitude.
"Hon, can we find an ATM before we park?" he asked. I braced for the inevitable. "I think there's a Smells Fargo around the next corner."
Smells Fargo. Not Wells Fargo, the real name of the bank. Smells Fargo. Every time, every time, every time.
I wondered if he even realized he was doing it anymore.
I know we all have these little unconscious things. And the point is, they're little things. You have to look beyond them. You have to remember all the little unconscious things he does that don't make you want to hurl the car into oncoming traffic.
"There it is," he sang out. "Smells Fargo!"
I watched my knuckles turn white on the steering wheel. It was time for Greg to go.
"Aw, sweetie." This was accompanied by a crinkled-brow frowny face from my friend Max. "He broke up with you?"
"Hell no," I said, "I broke up with him. When are the girls supposed to be here?" I looked across the crowded restaurant toward the door, hoping to catch Connie and Vida as they came in. From the look of things, they'd have to force their way through a gang of suburban moms in the throes of a Union Square-induced shopper's high.
I glanced over to find Max biting his lip. Actually biting his lip to keep from saying what I knew he was dying to. I sighed. "Say it."
When it comes to offering opinions, Max never needs to be asked twice.
"He was driving me insane," I said. "But only in the right-hand lane."
"He was nuts about you," Max said. "And he was cute, and let's not forget he was nuts about you."
"He was nuts all right."
Max gave me an accusatory look. He was six-foot-four with jet black hair, deep gray eyes, and a body that was as near perfection as his five weekly appointments with a personal trainer could get it. Luckily, he was also just Max, and he didn't intimidate me for a minute.
"Okay," I allowed, "he wasn't nuts. He was perfectly sane. Annoying, but sane." I shrugged. "He'll make some dandruff-prone, pun-loving, cereal eater a lovely boyfriend someday. Can we change the subject now?"
Max took my hand in both of his, and I couldn't help noticing how much softer his skin felt than mine. "Becks, I'm you're oldest friend in this town, and . . . "
Excerpted from The Balance Thing by Margaret Dumas Copyright © 2006 by Margaret Dumas. Excerpted by permission.
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