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Friday, 7:17 a.m.
"Kevin, let's move! It's 7:17."
From the bottom of the stairs, Grace Becker heard the telltale thump of a body rolling out of bed. Jesus. They had thirteen minutes. She'd better find something he could eat on the way to school.
Megan and Callie were already in the kitchen, poking the food around on their plates.
"Finish your eggs," Grace said.
Callie stuck out her tongue. "What's in them?"
"Camembert and shallots," said Grace. "Why? Don't you like it?"
"What's wrong?" said Megan.
"What do you mean, what's wrong?" Grace grabbed a Pop-Tart from the pantry and stuck it in the toaster. "You always cook weird stuff when you're upset," Megan said. "So, what's wrong?"
Grace bit the inside of her cheek. What was she supposed to say?
Well, girls, I'm upset because your father left me for his older, less attractive assistant; he's been a complete dirtbag about the divorce; we're probably going to lose our house; and the closest thing Mommy's had to a date in the last ten months was drinking a Dixie cup of warm Gatorade with your field hockey coach, Ludmilla?
She sighed. "Nothing's wrong. Eat your breakfast."
"Mom, nobody eats breakfast. And I mean nobody." Megan, at twelve, had some sort of detailed list in her head about what everyone did or did not do, which she checked with agonizing frequency.
"They especially don't eat eggs for breakfast," Callie added.
"Yeah?" said Grace. "When I was your age, I would have killed to have eggs for breakfast. But it was cold cereal and a vitamin pill everyday for me. Grandma actually had a job."
"You could get a job," Callie suggested.
"Be careful what you wish for." Grace tried to draw a deep breath, but it got stuck halfway down.
She was going to have to get a job. But where? She hadn't held a position outside her yoga class in thirteen years.
Everything in her life had revolved around Tom, his career and their kids. His bosses had loved her, his coworkers' wives had envied her, and his clients had jockeyed for invitations to Becker parties. She'd been the events coordinator, secretary, moral support beam, taxi service and butt kisser extraordinaire, all without ever drawing a paycheck.
But it was time to face facts. Tom was gone. He was making a new life, with a new woman who would be all those things.
So who would she be now?
She forced a smile. "If I get a job, who'll take care of you guys?"
Megan rolled her eyes. "Please, Mom. I'm almost thirteen. I think I can get my own breakfast."
"What? A handful of grapes and a Diet Coke? I don't think so. You're going to have a decent breakfast if I have to give it to you through an IV. You're not going to end up looking like Lara Flynn Boyle."
"Who?" said Callie.
"The walking corpse on Twin Peaks."
"Never mind. Eat your eggs."
"I'm with Callie. I think you should get a job," said Megan. "You need a change. Don't you want some excitement?"
"There's plenty of excitement around here," Grace said. "Just yesterday while I was folding towels in the laundry room, I saw Mrs. Pollack's dog bite the mailman in the crotch."
"Mother!" Megan jerked her head in Callie's direction. "Was that really an appropriate thing to say in front of the child?"
"Who are you calling a child?" Callie shouted. "I'm almost nine!"
The Pop-Tart started smoking in the toaster just as Kevin flew into the kitchen and slid across the floor in his socks. "Four minutes!" he said, breathlessly.
"Wow, you can hardly tell," Megan said.
Grace examined her son. His hair stuck out from his head like he'd spent the night in electroshock therapy. His shirt was wrinkled, and she was pretty sure he'd taken the jeans he was wearing out of the hamper.
"No way. Get up there and do it right," she said. "Meet us at the car in—" she checked her watch "—three minutes. I'll have your breakfast with me."
"Why can't I have a Pop-Tart, too?" Callie whined.
"You only get something good around here if you're late."
"Is Dad coming to my game this afternoon?" Megan asked.
"I'm sure he is, but I'll ask him when I see him." She'd be seeing him this morning. Damned Tom and his damned lawyer. Big Prick and Bigger Prick, as she liked to think of them.
They'd scheduled the fifth meeting in two weeks to discuss the settlement. This divorce was such a joke, all they needed to get it onto network TV was a laugh track.
Grace plucked the molten hot Pop-Tart from the toaster and wrapped it in a paper towel. "Okay, let's roll. We have seven minutes to get you to school."
The girls happily dumped the rest of their eggs down the garbage disposal and grabbed their backpacks from the hooks by the door.
Friday, 8:25 a.m.
Foot Powder and the Mouth
The Grocery King piped a Muzak version of U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" into the aisles. Grace was just the age to find this both entertaining and disturbing.
She checked her list.
Salmon. Fresh dill. New potatoes. She was going to make herself something special tomorrow night to celebrate her freedom. Her parents were taking the kids for the Columbus Day long weekend and solemnly swore to get them to all extracurricular activities on time and dressed in the correct uniforms.
Maybe it would be good to have a relaxing weekend alone. Completely alone. She could think about what she was going to do with her life when she was the ex-Mrs. Thomas Becker.
The thought made her break into hives.
She hung a left into the pharmacy aisle and threw things into her cart.
She stopped in front of the Dr. Scholl's display. A lump crept up her throat, and before she could stop them, the tears came. She couldn't believe she hadn't had to buy foot powder in ten months.
Tom had notoriously damp feet. And it wasn't as though she missed his feet—they really were gross—but she'd loved him so much, she'd been able to overlook the grossness. Would she ever feel that way about someone's feet again?
As she fished through her purse for a tissue, she felt a hand on her shoulder. It was Lorraine Dobbs, otherwise known as the Mouth of South Whitpain.
"Grace? Are you alright?"
Grace nodded. Her blouse, now soaked with tears, stuck to her chest. "I think I'm allergic to foot powder."
Lorraine gave her a funny look. "O-kay, then. Are you going to Misty's later?"
Grace nodded again. "Alrighty. See you there." Lorraine hurried off, one of the wheels on her cart shuddering in time with the Muzak version of "Rock the Casbah."
Grace checked her watch. Already nine minutes over her scheduled grocery shopping time.
Friday, 9:33 a.m. Poster Girl
"We were about to send out the National Guard," said Tammy Lynn. "You're three minutes late."
"I know. I'm so sorry." Grace threw her coat and purse on a hook in the closet and rushed over to the chair at Tammy Lynn's station at Beautific, the salon where Grace had been getting her hair done for the past ten years.
"Grace, I'm only kidding," Tammy Lynn said, laughing, as she fastened the black polyester cape around Grace's neck.
"Right." Grace laughed with her.
But the thing was, she didn't really think it was funny. Punctuality was important. A minute here, two minutes there. They all added up. When you had three kids you learned how to manage your time, or else dinner was chronically late, homework time was chronically late, and you ended up cleaning the bathroom at ten-thirty at night instead of watching the rerun of Murphy Brown on Lifetime you'd been looking forward to all day.
Her shoulder muscles bunched painfully. She had to relax. Maybe she could squeeze a few minutes of meditation in before lunch.
"Cover the gray and trim the ends?" Tammy Lynn asked, plucking the barrette from Grace's shoulder-length, brown hair.
Tammy Lynn spun the chair around to face a poster of a slender, sophisticated woman with a soft, blond, bouncy cut that looked like at least twenty minutes worth of work every morning.
"Wait," Grace said. "I want that."
Tammy Lynn stopped the color bottle in midair.
"What? The do on the poster?"
Grace nodded. "Really? You sure? You gotta blow it out with a brush and curl it. You can't just put it back in a barrette."
Grace studied the poster again.
It wouldn't be a completely off-the-wall thing to do. She'd been blond once, a long, long time ago. Before Tom had hinted it wasn't quite sophisticated. Not quite who he thought she should be.
Maybe Megan was right. Maybe she needed to shake up her life a little. Hell, she could get up a few minutes earlier.
"Do it," she said.