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That would be me, Tracey Spadolini. A size eight.
Can you believe it?
No, not my shoe size. My size, size.
I'm actually wearing a size eight dress -- without one of those stretchy tourniquet tummy bulge compressors I used to live in -- and I'm not even holding my breath.
When I started my summer diet, I figured I had about forty pounds to lose. But I'm down at least fifty, melted off with good old-fashioned diet and exercise, and kept off thanks to the little pink pills I take daily.
No, not the kind of little pink pigs in a plastic baggie that you buy in a dark alley.
We're talking a prescribed drug here.
Officially, I'm taking it to stave off panic attacks.
According to the pharmacy's insert, potential side effects included diarrhea, constipation and severe flatulence. Not pretty, right? So I spent the first few medicated days close to home, not wanting to find myself on the crowded subway with a severe case of the runs -- or, worse, uncontrollable gas.
But I've had nary a disgraceful rumble or abdominal cramp. In fact, aside from banishing my anxiety, the pink pills have brought on only one glorious side effect: a diminished appetite.
Happy Pills, my friend Buckley calls them.
He's the one who referred me to the shrink in the first place, after the whole anxiety thing started this past summer. I thought I was just freaking out because my boyfriend, Will, had abandoned me. Technically, Will was away doing summer stock, but, essentially, he abandoned me.
Anyway, after a few sessions Dr. Schwartzenbaum suggested that although Will's leaving probably triggered the panic attacks, I might have an underlying chemical imbalance. That must be true, because I've been on the medication for almost two months now, and haven't had a single panic attack. Factor in that I'm rarely hungry and voilà -- Happy Pills.
Back to the dress: scarlet and snug; a slinky cocktail dress with a high hem and a low bodice that, last June, would have revealed alpine cleavage. But I certainly don't mind that my boobs shrank along with the rest of me. In fact, I barely notice. I'm too busy admiring my protruding collarbones -- the protruding collarbones I've coveted on many an award -- show red-carpet walker.
"Tracey?" Kate Delacroix taps on the dressing room door.
"It fits!" I squeal, turning away from the trio of full-length mirrors only for the second it takes to open the door and allow Kate to poke her blond head in.
"Wow. Tracey, you look ravishing in that."
Ravishing. There are very few people who can get away with using a word like that and come across as genuine. Kate is one of them, Southern drawl and all.
Embarrassed that she might have caught my admiring gaze at my own reflection, I make an attempt to portray uncertainty.
I shrug. Tilt my head. Pretend to ponder. "Oh . . . I don't know. I mean, I look okay, but . . ."
My jutting collarbones might be red-carpet-worthy, but an actress, I'm not. My brown eyes are still enraptured by the mirror, and I can't seem to keep an exultant grin from tilting the corners of my -- um, chapped lips.
Okay, it's possible that I've' been so focused on myself from the neck down that I've neglected the rest of me.
Mental Note: buy ChapStick at Duane Reade on the way home.
P.S. Make appointment for lip wax ASAP.
P.P.S. Haircut, too.
Back to skinny, ravishing below-the-neck moi. I look ten times better in this dress than I did in the silky teal shirt I wore into the dressing room. Kate gave the shirt to me for my birthday. It has a designer label and I know it cost her a fortune. But the cut and color are all wrong. Her taste is expensive, but not necessarily good. At least, not when it comes to others.
Kate's big on teal. Aqua, too. Shades that complement her bluish-green colored contact lenses and year-round tanning salon glow. Shades that seem to cast the same sickly tint to my skin that fluorescent lighting does.
Naturally, I told Kate that I love the shirt. Naturally, I feel compelled to wear it. But only to places like the ladies' dress department in Bloomingdale's, where the chances of meeting a potential boyfriend are about the same as finding one strolling along Christopher Street in Greenwich Village on a Saturday night.
"You don't think this dress is too skimpy for a corporate Christmas party?" I ask Kate now, tugging the hem southward.
She dismisses the query with a wave of one French-manicured hand. "Nah."
"Are you sure? Because the last thing I want to do is look cheap."
"Tracey, that dress is almost two hundred bucks on sale. It's not cheap."
"I know, but sometimes expensive things can look -- Kate, what the hell are you wearing?"
I grab her arm and pull her all the way into the dressing room.
"That's a wedding gown!" I accuse.
"Are you and Billy . . . ?" Still clutching her white-satin-encased arm with price tags dangling, I jerk it up to examine her fourth finger for a telltale diamond.
Kate is unfazed. "I'm thinking we'll get engaged at Christmas. He's coming to Mobile with me to meet my parents and . . . well, he knows I'm not going to keep living with him forever without a commitment."
"Forever? Kate, it's been three months."
Will McCraw and I were together three years. Three years, and instead of moving in together, we broke up. To be blunt, he dumped me. No, first he cheated, then he dumped me. And when he did, I passed out cold. Literally. I collapsed in an undignified, heartbroken heap on the parquet floor of his twenty-sixth-floor studio apartment.
But that was almost three months ago.
A lot can happen in three months.
Clearly, Kate thinks so. She sways her narrow hips slightly, the long white skirt rustling above her pedicured toes as she undoubtedly imagines herself at her reception in Billy's arms.
I glance down at her feet. Pretty pink polished toenails in the dead of November. Huh. That Kate sure thinks of everything. I don't even shave my legs at this time of year unless I think somebody's going to see them.
Maybe that explains why she's standing there in a wedding gown with a damned good chance of becoming a bride momentarily, while I don't even have a date for the Blaire Barnett Christmas party next weekend.
But I'm not the only one. Brenda isn't bringing her husband and Yvonne isn't bringing her fiancé and Latisha isn't bringing her boyfriend. It's going to be Girls' Night Out -- to celebrate my triumphant return to the ad agency.
I quit my job back in September; in fact, on the same day the dumping/fainting incident took place. But Blaire Barnett, unlike Will, wanted me back.
What happened was this: the temp secretary who replaced me filed a sexual harassment suit against my ex-boss, Jake. Long story short, he wound up getting fired, and they offered me my old position back.
I was reluctant to take it, because I was making more money working for Eat Drink Or Be Married, a Manhattan caterer. But waitressing is hard, dirty work, it encompassed my nights and weekends and there were no benefits. Besides, I missed my old friends at Blaire Barnett; I was offered more money, and they promised me the opportunity to interview for the next junior copywriting job that opens up over in the Creative Department. Meaning I won't be a secretary -- or broke -- forever.
All in all, it's good to be back.
In fact, all in all, there's not much about my life right now that isn't good. My regular life, that is. My love life is a different story. The kind without a happy ending. At least, so far.
Kate -- currently a vision in Happy Ending -- gathers her long blond hair on her head with one hand while running the other along the row of satin-covered buttons at her back, feeling for gaps.
I step toward her, my legs engulfed in yards of swishy white, and attempt to fasten two buttons near her tailbone. It isn't easy. They're slippery, and the size of those mini M&M's I haven't had since July.
She says, "I swear, Tracey, three months is long enough to live together without a commitment. If Billy doesn't get me a ring for Christmas, I'll be shocked."
"So will I." "I thought you just said -- "
"It's only been three months. That's what I said. I didn't say I don't think you and Billy should get engaged."
Nor did I say that I like Billy about as much as I like the teal silk hanging on the hook above my head. Kate is myfriend, and Billy -- like that ugly designer blouse -- comes with the territory.
Besides, I can't help wondering if maybe I'd be rooting for Kate and Billy if I had somebody, too. It isn't easy to watch your best friend fall madly in love when two complete seasons have turned since you last had sex.
"Raphael doesn't think I should have moved in with Billy," she says, as I triumphantly manage to hook one minibutton into its microscopic loop. "He said something about Billy not wanting to buy the cow when he's getting the latte for free."
I roll my eyes, muttering, "Raphael has given out so much free latte, he should have Starbucks stamped on his, um, udder."
"Tracey!" Kate giggles. "Raphael is the first to admit he's a slut, especially now that he's not with Wade anymore."
"He was a slut even when he was with Wade," I point out.
"Exactly. But he has old-fashioned standards when it comes to me -- "
"And me," I interject.
"Right. He wants to marry off both of us, so that we can make him an uncle."
"He said that?"
"He said aunt. Auntie, to be specific."
"Oh, Lord. I can see it now. Auntie Raphael." I shake my head. Raphael is one of my best friends, but he's definitely out there. In a good way, of course.
"Whatever you do, Trace, don't tell Billy what Raphael said."
"About the free latte?"
"About being the aunt to our future kids. He'd probably consider that grounds for a vasectomy. You know how he is about gays."
Gays. That's what conservative Billy calls Raphael and his kind.
His kind being another charming Billy phrase.
What Kate sees in him, I'll never know. Yes, he's as beautiful as she is, and yes, he's rich as a Trump. But he's shallow, and opinionated and ultraconservative -- the latter being his worst crime, as far as I'm concerned.
I was raised in Brookside, New York, a small town so far upstate that it might as well be in the Midwest. The people there -- including my own family -- are overwhelmingly blue-collar Catholic Republicans.
Billy might be a white-collar Presbyterian Republican, but there's little difference between him and my great-aunt Domenica, who is convinced that homosexuals will burn in hell alongside Bill Clinton and the entire membership of Planned Parenthood.
"Speaking of Raphael," I say, changing the subject as I fasten Kate's last button, "what time did you tell him we'd meet him for the movie later?"
In the midst of studying her bridal reflection, Kate drops her eyes.
"I can't go," she says.
"Billy -- "
Of course, Billy.
" -- is taking me to see Hairspray."
"You already saw Hairspray." Raphael got us both comp tickets when the show first opened, back when he was dating the wardrobe master.
"I know, but Billy has orchestra seats, and we're going with his boss and his fiancée. It's like a work thing. You know how it is."
"Yeah, I know how it is."
There's an awkward silence.
She knows how I feel about her blowing me off for Billy. This isn't the first time it's happened. And Raphael is going to be pissed when he finds out that she's not coming. These Saturday-night outings have been a regular thing for the three of us ever since Will and I broke up. Kate and Raphael teamed up loyally to make sure I wasn't lonely.
But Kate didn't come last week, either. Billy was sick, and she didn't want to leave him.
You'd have thought he had pneumonia, the way she went on about it. Turned out it was just a cold. But she spent Saturday night being Martha Stewart-meets-Clara Barton: making homemade chicken noodle soup, squeezing fresh orange juice, hovering with tissues and Ricola.
Raphael and I spent Saturday night drinking apple martinis and bitchily dissecting the Kate-Billy relationship.
"Come on, don't be mad, Tracey," she pleads.
I sigh. "I'm not mad, Kate."
After all, back when I was desperate to keep Will, I'm ashamed to admit that I'd have dropped my plans with Kate and Raphael, too.
But I didn't like myself very much back then.
And sometimes, as much as I love Kate, I don't like her very much when she's with Billy.
I check out our reflections.
Six months ago, I couldn't handle standing next to Kate anywhere, much less in a three-way dressing room mirror. Now, it's not so bad. We're like Snow White and Rose Red -- literally, in these outfits. Svelte Kate with long fair hair and big blue eyes. Not-quite-as-svelte-but-no-longer-zaftig Tracey with long dark hair and big brown eyes.
She catches my eye in the mirror. We smile at each other.
"You really do look good in that dress, Tracey."
"And you look beautiful in that. I hope he gives you a ring for Christmas. It would be fun to shop for wedding dresses, wouldn't it?"
She turns a critical eye toward the gown in the mirror.
"Yeah, but remind me that I don't like gowns with full skirts, will you? This one makes me look huge."
"Huge? Come on, Kate. You're teeny."
"Not in this. It's too froufrou. When I walk down the aisle, I'm going to go for sleek and sexy." She reaches for the row of buttons. "Help me get out of it, will you?"
I oblige, still wearing the red dress. I've made up my mind to buy it for the Christmas party. Who knows? Maybe I'll meet somebody there. Blaire Barnett is a huge agency that employs plenty of single men. And a corporate Christmas party is as good a place as any to hook up, right?
Copyright © 2004 Wendy Markham