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The Girlfriend Curse
Peg Silver, thirty-two, could make a man come, but she couldn't make him stay. She'd just spent two hours bemoaning this problem to her friend Nina at dinner, parsing to the syllable what she'd like to say to her most recent exboyfriend, if such an unlikely opportunity presented itself.
The night's chosen scenario: Bumping Into Each Other by Chance. Peg would be in a glorious gown, on her way to the Oscars, a nominee for Best Set Design in a Major Motion Picture. As she stepped out of her limousine onto the red carpet, she'd spot Paul in the crowd, looking like he'd just been attacked by dogs. He'd congratulate her, beg her to take him back. She'd be gracious. Briefly pitying. But she had to rush, since her date, Johnny Depp, was waiting, and he was a very possessive man. Besides which, having just won the lottery ("The same day I got the nomination!"), she was flying to the Bahamas for a year as soon as the awards ceremony was over.
Peg smiled to herself as she unlocked her apartment door. She knew, rationally, that spending hours refining tone and nuance in a conversation that would never take place was a waste of time. But, she thought, a girl can dream, can't she? Peg dropped her purse on her bed. The phone rang. She grabbed the receiver.
She recognized his voice instantly. It was Paul. He'd Called Out of the Blue. Panicking, Peg clicked the off button, giving herself three seconds to scramble for a good opening line before he called back. Something breezy. Casual. All she could come up with was, "You bastard, you ruined my life."
The first time in three months she'd mindlessly answered the phone, the one time the ring hadn't unleashed the flood of Pavlovian pretraumatic stress syndrome symptoms -- tight chest, shaky hands, constricted breathing, skin flush to a capillary-popping red. She felt eerily calm, actually, now that the wait was over. The phone rang again. She took a deep breath.
"Hello?" she said, exhaling sexily.
"Peg, it's Paul. Something's wrong with your phone. I got cut off. And you sound nasal."
"Paul! What a surprise. How long has it been? A month?" she asked.
"Over three, actually," he said.
"That long?" she asked, as if marveling at the flight of time.
The morning of the breakup, he'd promised to call her that night. She never called him, not once, which was a show of strength that would fill her with dignity until the day she died. She had buckled a few times, sending him artfully terse and transparently neutral Just Checking In emails. Paul would respond a day later, a week later, with a few sentences -- no caps or punctuation -- if at all. Lazy, lying bastard. Peg should tell him to go fuck himself. She should make herself proud.
Paul said, "I need to see you. Tonight."
It was eight on a Thursday in April, unseasonably hot for springtime in New York City. "Where's the fire?" she asked, having a pretty good idea where.
"I've been thinking about you constantly," he said. "I have things to say, face-to-face. I can't go another night without seeing you."
This was where she was supposed to say, "Johnny Depp is a very possessive man." Instead, she said, "Can't."
"You have plans?"
"Early day tomorrow?"
"Making a show of strength that will fill you with dignity until the day you die?" he asked. He paused, and then said shortly, "I hope you and your dignity will be very happy together. I'll let you go ... "
That was it? No more pleading, spilling blood while screaming her name and tearing his shirt? She said, "Giving up so easy? You've got a lot to learn about groveling."
He said, "Please see me. I'm begging. I'm supplicating -- wait, I need to find the thesaurus."
"Meet me at Chez Chas in twenty minutes," she said. "And don't be late." She'd waited long enough for him already.
Chez Chas was a bistro in the corner storefront of Peg's building on Grand Street in Soho. The restaurant had six tables and a tiny bar. Once featured in New York magazine as the smallest three-star restaurant in Manhattan, Chez Chas was, if not an A-list destination, a B+. Peg had never eaten there. They didn't take reservations, and it was impossible to get a table before five o'clock. But the bar -- cramped, poorly stocked -- usually had a vacancy. Peg had spent many cocktail hours at that bar, with a friend or a Chuck Palahniuk novel. Fight Club was a guaranteed male magnet; she met the boyfriend before Paul while reading it.
With a glance in her mirror -- she hated her new bangs -- Peg ran downstairs to the bistro. She wanted to get one drink in her before Paul showed up. Steady the nerves. The bar was in the rear of the bistro. She had to squeeze between tables, apologizing to diners as she jostled their chairs. She sat on a vacant stool, draping her jean jacket on the one to her left. The bartender was new; the bartender was always new. This month's model was, most definitely, a model. Lean and young, he had a chiseled chin, speckled with stubble, and perfectly chunky bangs.
Peg said to him, "How do you get your bangs to behave? Hours of private training? Is there a School for Bangs I should know about?"
The bartender nodded, as if he didn't speak English. "What can I get you?" he asked. No accent. Nor sense of humor.
Peg had wine at dinner. "Whiskey sour," she said.
"Out of sour mix."
"Out of milk."
"Out of olives."
"I'll take it."
He said, "As you wish."
Peg found that oddly comforting. Receiving her cocktail, she checked her watch. Five minutes more. She sipped and examined the couples at dinner. The tables were set up for two ...The Girlfriend Curse. Copyright © by Valerie Frankel. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.