The Guy Not Taken Stories
By Jennifer Weiner
Atria Copyright © 2006 Jennifer Weiner, Inc.
All right reserved. ISBN: 1-4165-3520-9
Marlie Davidow was not the kind of woman who went looking for trouble. But one Friday night in September, thanks to her own curiosity and the wonders of the Internet, trouble found her.
Her brother Jason and his bride-to-be were registered on WeddingWishes.com. Marlie, housebound with a six-month-old, did all her shopping online, sitting on the beige slipcovered couch where she spent most of her time nursing her baby, or rocking her baby, or trying to get her baby to stop crying. So, on that fateful Friday night after Zeke had finally succumbed to sleep, she wiped the fermented pureed pears off her shirt, set her laptop on the sofa's arm, and pointed and clicked her way through the purchase of a two-hundred-dollar knife set. As she hit "complete order," she wondered about the propriety and potential bad mojo of sending the happy couple knives for their wedding. Too late, she thought, and rubbed her eyes. It was nine o'clock - a time, prebaby, when a night might just be getting started - but Drew was still at work, and she was as whipped as if she'd run a marathon.
Just for the hell of it, Marlie typed in her name and reviewed her own choices, feeling wistful as she remembered compiling her wedding registry. She and Drew had made outings ofit, having leisurely brunches before driving out to the Macy's in the Paramus Mall to spend hours looking at china and crystal, silver martini shakers and hand-blown margarita glasses from Mexico.
Two years and three months after their wedding, the crystal and the silverware were still in their original boxes in her mother's basement, awaiting the day when she and Drew would move out of their one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side and into a place with a dining room, or at least a little more storage space. The fancy china had been pulled out twice, which corresponded to the number of home-cooked meals Marlie had made since she'd left her job as publicity director for a small theater company in Chelsea to stay home after Zeke was born.
The telephone rang. Marlie picked it up and looked at the caller ID. WebWorx. Which meant Drew. Who was probably calling to say he'd be even later than usual. She nudged the phone under a couch cushion and then, prodded by an impulse she didn't pause to analyze, turned back to her laptop, typed the words Bob Morrison into the "bride/groom" blank, and hit Enter before she could lose her nerve.
Nothing, she thought, as a little hourglass popped up on the screen. Over the last four years, on and off, she'd looked for Bob online, idly typing his name into one search engine or another during down times at work. She never found anything except the same stale handful of links: Bob's name listed as among the finishers in a 5K race he'd run in college; Bob mentioned as one of the survivors in his grandfather's obituary; Bob and a bunch of other graduates of a summer art institute in Long Island. Besides, if Bob ever got married, Marlie figured she'd feel it at some kind of organic, cellular level. After all the time they'd lived together, not to mention all the times they'd slept together, she'd just know.
ONE COUPLE MATCHES YOUR RESULTS, popped onto the screen. BOB MORRISON and KAREN KRAVITZ. MANHASSET, NEW YORK.
Marlie jerked her head back from the computer as if a hand had reached out and slapped her. Bob Morrison. Manhasset. That's my Bob, she thought, and then she shook her head sharply, because Bob wasn't hers anymore. They'd broken up four years ago. Then she'd met Drew, and now she was married; she was Mrs. Drew Davidow, mother of one, and Bob wasn't hers anymore.
CLICK TO VIEW REGISTRY, invited the text at the top of the page. Marlie clicked, and scrolled through the registry, her slack jaw and wide eyes bathed in the blue glow of the screen until her husband came home, looking wan and weary, and set his briefcase down next to the diaper bag. "Are you okay?" he asked. She'd blinked at him groggily and started to climb off the couch. The baby was crying again.
"No, don't worry, I got it." He managed a smile and headed toward the portioned-off part of their bedroom where Zeke slept. "Hey, little man," she heard him say. She managed to get herself off the couch and staggered toward the bedroom. I'll just rest for a minute, she thought as her head hit the pillow. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them again it was three in the morning. Drew was on the couch, with Zeke resting on his chest, just starting to open his eyes. Marlie unfastened her nursing bra, adjusted Zeke's weight in her arms, and eventually, the three of them fell asleep on the sofa, together.
"He's marrying a woman who registered for a Health-O-Meter food scale," Marlie reported to her best friend Gwen on Monday, over an early lunch at their favorite Midtown sushi place. Gwen, who'd been Marlie's friend in college and first roommate in New York, had gotten married at twenty-five and pregnant at twenty-seven, and had gone back to work in advertising when her daughter started nursery school. That day she wore high-heeled boots, fitted jeans, and a smart tweed jacket with ruffled cuffs, complemented by a gorgeous red patent-leather bag. Marlie carried a nylon diaper bag and wore maternity jeans. She'd never been a skinny girl to start with, and she was having trouble shedding the last fifteen (eighteen, actually) pounds of baby weight, which seemed to have settled themselves quite happily on her hips.
Gwen raised her eyebrows. "And we know this because ..."
Marlie gave her the condensed version of the story while pushing Zeke's stroller back and forth with her sneakered foot: she'd been buying her brother a present, just decided to plug in Bob's name ...
Gwen's saucer-shaped hazel eyes widened, but her voice was calm as she said, "Just decided to?"
Marlie's cheeks flushed. "Well, I was curious, I guess. And that's not the point. The point is that he's marrying the un-me! The anti-me!" She pushed the stroller so hard that it bumped into the table, spilling green tea onto Gwen's plate and into her lap. "Oh, God. I'm sorry!"
"No worries," Gwen said too quickly, as she tried to mop up the mess while keeping her cuffs dry. "It's just tea. So the un-me thing. You're basing it just on the food scale?"
"What kind of woman registers for a food scale?" Marlie asked.
"A woman who's concerned about portion size, I guess."
"A skinny bitch," Marlie muttered, handing her friend her napkin. "And if you're the person who gives them the food scale, what do you say on the card? 'Best wishes for a happy life together, PS, don't get fat?'"
"You could just go with 'congratulations,'" Gwen said.
"It wasn't just the food scale," said Marlie. "There was a plastic chip-and-dip set. Tack-ay. And beige china. Beige!" She shook her head, feeling her heart pounding, realizing she was angrier about this than she'd previously suspected. "Beige. Bor-ing." Yeah, she thought bitterly. Like she was leading such an exciting life. Her idea of culture these days was watching more than twenty minutes of uninterrupted Oprah.
Gwen set her chopsticks down. "Okay. Listen to me. We are not going down the Bob Morrison road again."
"What are you talking about?"
"The obsession. The agonizing. The dialing while drunk."
"I only did that once," Marlie protested. Gwen's cuffs were dripping. Marlie pulled a Pamper out of her diaper bag and handed it to her friend.
"The drive-bys," Gwen continued relentlessly, pointing a chopstick for emphasis.
"It can't technically be a drive-by if you walk," Marlie said. "And, listen, Gwen, what if he was the one I was supposed to be with? What if ..." She took a bite of dynamite roll, poured more tea, and popped a few edamame our of their shells. When she looked up, Gwen was still waiting, head tilted, eyes wide. She sighed, and said, reluctantly, "What if he was the one?"
Gwen looked taken aback, as if she'd never questioned her commitment to her own husband. She probably hadn't, Marlie thought. It was probably easy not to when your husband was tall, handsome, completely agreeable, besotted with you, and looked like a taller, not-crazy Tom Cruise. "Well, for starters, you married someone else and had a baby with him," Gwen said.
Marlie sighed. There was that. Gwen set her chopsticks down on her plate and looked at her friend intently. "Marlie," she said. "This is what you wanted. You wanted Drew, you wanted a baby, you wanted to stop working. Remember?"
Marlie nodded. She could remember, all too vividly, sitting across from her friend in this very restaurant, bouncing Gwen's daughter Ginger on her knee and avowing her desire for those very things. But Ginger had been an adorably pudgy baby who'd grown into an adorable little girl, with a collection of Little Mermaid purses and after-school ballet lessons, and Gwen, with her clean house and her nanny and her happy, accommodating husband, made it all look easy. Had Gwen's first six months of motherhood been this awful? If they were, Marlie wondered, would her friend have told her?
"I know things aren't great right now," Gwen said. "Marriages go through rough times."
"Did yours?" she asked.
Gwen shrugged. "Well, sure. Remember that fight we had about whether to take his mom on vacation with us?"
Marlie nodded, even though, as best as she could remember, that fight had ended after a day, when Paul had simply agreed to tack on the cost of another casita to their stay in Scottsdale. As for Marlie, she had thought, once or twice, late at night when she was so tired it was a struggle to get her limbs to obey her, that recent events in her marriage had transcended the boundaries of "rough time" and were edging toward "the whole thing was a mistake." Drew and his partners were in the process of launching WebWorx. Her husband left their apartment before eight in the morning and rarely got home before nine o'clock at night, and she couldn't fairly complain about it, because he was the only one bringing home a paycheck. She'd just never expected that caring for a newborn would leave her feeling so exhausted, so edgy and desperate for adult human contact beyond the ten minutes of conversation Drew could muster before falling asleep when he finally came home.
"It's going to get better," Gwen said. She glanced at her slim gold watch, smoothed her straightened hair, and got to her feet. "I know this part's hard, but trust me. You just have to live through it. Zeke's going to start walking and talking, and sleeping, and you'll be fine." She looked down fondly at Zeke, and bent to kiss his cheek. "And believe me, you wouldn't have wanted to miss this. It goes so fast."
Marlie nodded, feeling a jealousy toward her friend that was so strong and sudden that it was like being punched. She'd have given anything to be Gwen, with ruffled cuffs and beautiful boots, on her way off to an afternoon that would not include endless renditions of "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" and three baskets of spit-up stiffened laundry; an evening that would not involve a baby who screamed and screamed, no matter how she tried to soothe him.
She meant to walk home, but Zeke was still sleeping peacefully in his stroller, and somehow she found herself walking downtown, past the bus stop and the trash cans, the grocery store and the fancy boutiques, toward the neighborhood where she and Bob had once lived together.
"Hey, Bob, meet Marlie!"
"Hah hah hah," Marlie said, holding her plastic cup of beer and looking up at the man who'd just occasioned a joke she'd heard approximately a thousand times in her life - once for every Bob she'd ever met. But this Bob didn't seem so bad. He was broad-shouldered, maybe an inch or two taller than she was, with curling brown hair and gold-rimmed glasses, a soft belly pushing against the buttons of his blue-and-green-plaid shirt, and a friendly, slanting smile. He looked like an illustration of a friendly bear cub from one of the books she'd loved as a little girl.
"Is it Marley like the singer, or ..."
"No, it's Marlie with an i and an e."
"Oh." Bob nodded, leaning close so she could hear him over the sound of R.E.M. informing the assembled guests in the crowded off-campus apartment that it was the end of the world as they knew it. "Wanna dance?"
She shook her head. She didn't dance. Girls like Gwen - cute girls, graceful girls - they danced. Girls like Marlie stood in the corner, making caustic comments and guarding her friends' purses.
"No thank you," she said, but Bob either didn't hear or didn't care because he plucked her cup of beer out of her hand and pulled her toward the center of the room.
"No, really," she tried again, but Bob wasn't listening. He smiled and reached for her, putting one hand on the small of her back, tucking her neatly against him.
"Come on," he said. His skin was pleasantly warm, and he smelled of soap and beer and something sweet, like hay or fresh-cut grass. Even through the bass line, she imagined she could hear the beating of his heart.
Bob and Marlie stayed together until they graduated from NYU, and then they moved into a place that Marlie had found in Murray Hill. Marlie, who'd starred in every campus theater group production from Medea to Hair, did temp work in law offices and went on auditions and go-sees, trying out for everything from soap operas to experimental off-Broadway productions to made-for-cable shoot-'em-ups. Bob talked about graduate school and painted his big, colorful abstract canvases a few hours a day, a few days a week. Bob had a trust fund, thanks to a father who'd done quite well as a personal injury attorney (one big case involving a guy who'd lost both legs in a freak subway mishap, and he'd been set for life), so it didn't really matter if Bob never got a gallery to represent him, or a day job, or if he never finished the paintings he started, or if he spent most of his time making mix tapes and meeting his similarly semi-employed friends for lunches that turned into marathon Frisbee games in Union Square Park.
Marlie watched and waited, and went everywhere her agent sent her. It took her a few years to figure out, gradually and painfully, that she was a good actress, and New York City only had room for the great ones - and sometimes, not even them. She'd get the occasional callback for TV shows that filmed in New York, the every-so-often bit part, and once, a commercial for an antacid in which she portrayed Bloating Sufferer Number Three, and clutched at her belly convincingly for fourteen hours.
She and Bob turned twenty-three, then twenty-four, still in their little apartment with the kitchen full of newspapers and pizza boxes Bob could never remember to recycle, and the bed - well, futon, really - that never got made, where everything they owned had been scavenged from a street corner or donated by Bob's parents. Two weeks after Bob's twenty-fifth birthday, they had a talk that boiled down to Marlie asking, "Is this all you want from your life?" and Bob responding, "Yeah, and I don't see what's wrong with it." He'd sulked. She'd fumed, and gone to sleep on the couch. Two weeks later, she told her agent not to bother submitting her head shot anymore, took the full-time publicity job at New Directions Theater at 8th Avenue and 18th Street, and moved out. I have put away childish things, she thought, as Bob leaned against the doorway, giving her the boxes she'd packed and wiping at his eyes. "Be good," he'd said, handing her a nine-by-nine square wrapped in plain brown paper, a portrait he'd painted of her, back when they were still in college. Grow up, she thought, kissing his stubbly, salty cheek and then walking down the rickety stairs with the scuffed rubber treads, past the hole that some new tenant's king-size bed had gouged out of the plaster wall. And, except for one rum-soaked weekend involving a few late-night phone calls and three trips past their old apartment, that had been that.
Excerpted from The Guy Not Taken by Jennifer Weiner Copyright © 2006 by Jennifer Weiner, Inc. . Excerpted by permission.
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