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New and improved — now with added goats!
Welcome to advertising executive Jill Campbell's life, version 2.0. Gone are the cheating ex-husband and the chaos of New York. Brand-new features include a prestigious job at a Boston ad agency, a stronger father-daughter relationship, and a gorgeous old farmhouse. It's bliss — until a snazzy car account evaporates, leaving her branding...beef. Un-snazzy, un-sexy beef — which she hasn't eaten in twenty years. Talk about false ...
New and improved — now with added goats!
Welcome to advertising executive Jill Campbell's life, version 2.0. Gone are the cheating ex-husband and the chaos of New York. Brand-new features include a prestigious job at a Boston ad agency, a stronger father-daughter relationship, and a gorgeous old farmhouse. It's bliss — until a snazzy car account evaporates, leaving her branding...beef. Un-snazzy, un-sexy beef — which she hasn't eaten in twenty years. Talk about false advertising. Owning a two-hundred-year-old house in a one-store hamlet is not the nirvana Jill imagined, even with the addition of a dog, two needy goats, and unexpected encounters with the town's most eligible — and probably only — bachelor.
Peace of mind sold separately.
Wondering how she sold herself on this new existence, Jill forms an unlikely bond with Sarah Watson, a feisty twelve-year-old with an aversion to training bras, makeup, and all the trappings that supposedly make sixth grade worthwhile. While Sarah teaches Jill the basics of home maintenance and animal husbandry, Jill helps Sarah deal with impending womanhood. And as men start to complicate matters, every idea Jill ever had about love and advertising gets turned on its head. Suddenly, her life looks nothing like the picture on the box, but it could turn out to be exactly what she didn't know she needed.
If happiness struck, suddenly and uninvited, would you recognize it? Would you scare it off with cynicism and denial, or let it tag along like an old friend, confident in its rightness? You'd be surprised how many people fuck it up. You can miss it just by hating traffic or obsessing over stupid people at work. Like an honest lover you've repeatedly failed, eventually it wanders off, seeking validation somewhere else.
Jill Campbell. As Jill scribbled her new, old name for the billionth time, sealing the last of her divorce vows, she wondered if she and Ben had ever been happy. She must have thought they were, at some point — on their wedding day, certainly, but that was so long ago and such a blur she couldn't remember feeling anything except anxiety over how bad the DJ was when he slipped into Kool & the Gang's "Celebration." Finally they realized he had the wrong playlist, and Jill had laughed about it, eventually. They had laughed a lot in the beginning. So much had happened since then. New York social life. Jobs. Age had happened, had snuck up on them and planted differences between them, forcing their common paths to widen slowly apart like separating subway tracks. We are different people now, she thought, remembering how young they were, how free, how...self-absorbed. It was okay back then, to be self-absorbed. People expected it when you were twenty-something and ambitious, with a lot to prove.
They had grown apart. There was that, and there was the fact that Ben had successfully seduced a twenty-five-year-old account executive on the Best Deodorant account after a lovely afternoon of harmless canoeing. He was sorry, but now he suddenly wanted children. Maybe that's what happens after you sleep with one, Jill thought bitterly.
"Miz Campbell — er, Jillian?" Ben's attorney, a rigid, menopausal red-haired creature named Eleanor, had caught her drifting off. She had black eyes and a beak for a nose, although something about her was more reptilian than fowl.
"It's Jill," Jill insisted again, clearing her throat and pressing her tongue against the roof of her mouth, a habit built by years of stress and fatigue and worrying about other women. Today she was changing everything — her marital status, city, job, and goddamn it, a name that never felt right. Jillian Campbell-Marks was now Jill Campbell again, at last. Lew Donaldson, Jill's round, kind, and wrinkly lawyer, was gnawing the end of a plastic Paper Mate pen, willing her to complete the process without emotional complications. He'd taken too many divorces this far and then not reached the finish when the weepy wife wouldn't go through with it. But Jill noticed it was Ben who was sniffling, not her. She smiled discreetly at Lew — this had been Hell Week for him — divorce papers, a new contract with a new agency and getting out of the old one, signed all in the same day — and she was grateful.
"Sorry, just rereading," Jill lied to Eleanor, continuing to sign. Jill Campbell, Jill Campbell, Jill Campbell. Her name felt half-dressed without its old hyphenated-Marks at the end, but she liked writing it, like a teenage girl who practices writing her name coupled with the last name of the boy she has a crush on. And the more she wrote it the better she felt. He gets the apartment and the agency job and the fish; I get the cool new job and new life and my old city, she thought to herself, staring neutrally at her ex-husband, this mediocre slab of a man who had yanked the proverbial rug from under her comfortable, expensively pedicured feet. At least her own money had bought the pedicures. She shivered at the thought of a careerless woman suffering the humiliation of an affair and divorce. How hideous to endure the shame of being not only unwanted but also useless — nowhere to apply yourself every day but the yoga studio. Her career may not have taken the path she'd wanted, not exactly anyway, but it was a solid foundation of security upon which she could now rebuild her life.
Let him have the twenty-five-year-old canoe paddler. Named Kale, for God's sake. I mean, honestly, who names their child after greens? Let Kale keep up with his moods, his primatelike body hair, his manic exercising, and his obsession with the Yankees' shortstop and the latest consumer segments for "upscale deodorant." Let them paddle off into the sunset of the Harlem River. Hell, Jill would buy them two oars for Christmas, from L.L. Bean, to show there were really no hard feelings. There were no feelings at all, in fact. She was just fine, thank you. There had been that one brief display of childish behavior when Jill took a cab to Hoboken at midnight and smeared Kale's Honda, hood to trunk, with Best Solid Stick in Woodsy Pine scent. Jill still hadn't admitted to anyone how shockingly fulfilling that had felt.
Ben shifted in the fat leather chair, clearly uncomfortable. He hadn't shaved and looked as though he hadn't slept. Jill noticed his familiar left eye tic — a clear sign he was stressed — and stared at his pink tie, the one they'd picked out together before the Best Deodrant pitch two years ago — was he wearing it on purpose? He was still handsome, thick brown hair, hazel eyes, sharp nose, solid rugby build, but clearly older. Six years, and Jill would probably never see him with his shirt off ever again. Maybe she would meet a man who wasn't so hairy, she thought selfishly, and then Eleanor put a hand on Ben's back protectively, as if sensing her shallow thoughts. Jill must have snorted mildly, for Eleanor suddenly made a big gesture of wiping off her jacket cuff and staring into Jill's forehead. A communications major and creative advertising executive who'd spent the last ten years studying consumer psychographic profiles and sitting through hundreds of focus groups, Jill knew this meant Eleanor didn't have the guts to look her in the eye. She quickly and silently hoped all childless women didn't turn out like Eleanor. Then again, Eleanor was probably very rich. And it was likely the only underwear she ever had to pick up off the floor was her own.
No wedding finger on that claw, Jill noticed, staring at Eleanor's fingers. How could women attorneys represent men in divorces? Jill wondered what percentage of divorces was the man's fault. How many twenty-five-year-old account managers were there in those stats?
If Ben's lawyer looked like an aging, irritable dragon, well, Lew looked like W. C. Fields as a fattened, friendly groundhog. Short, round, scrubby, and sincere. He was an old friend of Jill's grandfather, and she knew anyone trying to take advantage of her in a negotiation didn't stand a chance.
"When do you leave?" Ben suddenly asked in his honest, gentle voice. Damn him. He knew that voice disarmed her. Like the sound of soft gravel under slow tires. She was not going to weaken. She wanted this. It was a good thing. She didn't need him. He was now part of her past, the fucking asshole. Onward.
"Two-thirty shuttle," Jill answered neutrally, tucking a lock of caramel blond hair behind her ear, newly outfitted with diamond earrings that had been purchased with the haul from selling her wedding rings. The earrings were spectacular, Jill knew, imagining how they were catching the light in this glum office as she looked Ben directly in the eye. Oldest trick in the book, she thought, as he glanced quickly away, unprepared for the naked gesture.
She liked having an appointment or a plane to catch at two-thirty. It was the longest, most empty time of the day if you were suffering. Not morning, not evening, not even the promise of evening...the day's ugly midsection, its midlife crisis, she'd always thought, and run from it. An existential promise of doom, daily, if you didn't plan ahead. Meetings, manicures, conference calls, or matinees. You had to kill two-thirty every damn day, before it killed you.
"Boston's cold now," Ben tried, and Lew began busily packing up Jill's papers. Eleanor mimed him, shuffling Ben's folders and checking her watch. "Dress warm...," Ben added awkwardly, studying the carpet.
"Warmly," she corrected out of habit. He smiled. "Duh," Jill said, ceding the moment, choosing to pity instead of need him. He sighed with relief and then gushed, "Jills...When you feel ready, I, I'd like to...keep in touch. If it's not — too weird." His eyes were gaping holes of confusion. Men always realize things late. As in months or years late. Time, Jill suddenly realized with a shrieking clarity, is different for them, like it is for animals. Still, it took courage to say that, she thought.
Jill wondered briefly if Ben had the happy drugs. Zoloft, Prozac, even Xanax...throughout the last six months her therapist had practically begged her to take them all, but she'd insisted on quitting her job, marriage, and city without the help of Big Pharma. The divorce papers and exit contracts had been initiated months ago and survived endless negotiations. The last few months in the Upper East Side studio had been strangely soothing; she'd busied herself with headhunter conference calls and the real estate section of the Boston Globe. "Consulting" for Shine had been a joke. She'd drafted a couple designs, written a few brand positioning briefs, and used the rest of the time to milk every contact she had (there were hundreds of them) for Boston agency leads. Today was D-day, signing every aspect of her life into the past in one afternoon.
Like skydiving, she thought, there was really no point in doing it halfway. Dr. Springer had been right — boy had it sucked. Especially at two-thirty. She couldn't remember feeling so empty, hollow, or helpless since the death of her mother thirty years ago. She hated pretending to be in control, hated pretending to hate him when what she'd wanted all along was to be understood. Now so much had happened she almost didn't care. Hate was big enough to keep the other emotions out of the way.
Almost. She'd been trying to see the glory in starting over. With a new beginning, perhaps she could become the person she'd always meant to be. She didn't like considering the possibility that the person she'd become — coolly successful, guarded, lonely — was as good as she was ever going to get.
"When you're ready," Ben repeated, looking up. "I mean it. I want you to be happy." This time he met Jill's eyes, and she found it convenient to look deeply into her paperwork. "You deserve to be happy..."
"Is that what you were thinking when you seduced my account manager, Ben?" she finally snapped, slipping her tall but slender frame into her new cashmere coat, rising from the chair, and capping her new Cross Lady's pen with feminine significance. Eleanor and Lew exchanged miserable glances, as if to say, Uh-oh, we were almost there, too. Jill capped her pen again for effect. Snip.
"Friends? Really, Ben." Jill said this last part softly, for drama. Katharine Hepburn, her personal style heroine, could have pulled it off. But for the vulnerable, angry Jill Campbell the words hung there, embarrassed for everyone in the room. Lew harnessed the moment with customary grace. "Jill, you don't want to miss that shuttle," he chided like a parent, jostling the heavy chairs and squeezing through the opening between the door and massive mahogany table. "The real estate broker's picking you up at Logan." Lew took her arm, nearly cutting off her circulation with his protective grip. Unaccustomed to physical contact of any kind, much less a man's tenderness, she nearly collapsed before reaching the door.
"Good luck at Wiseman/Connor. And with the house," Ben called as Lew shuffled Jill out the door and toward her new life. She turned to look at her fresh ex-husband, determined to remember him — and the marriage — with this memory: standing with his ugly lawyer in this office of endings, and not a happy scene from six years of photos from a time when they were going to conquer the world together.
"You know how to get a hold of me," Ben said, trying to smile, a wave of hope curling weakly over his handsome features, but Jill was halfway down the hall before the attempt reached the corners of his lying mouth.
"Don't forget to feed your fish," she called back, forcing a smile and ignoring the tears that were stinging her eyes like invisible jellyfish. The car was waiting. Must make that two-thirty shuttle.
Copyright © 2007 by Tracy McArdle