Brenda Harrison has never been a slave to vanity and was never too concerned about the ill effects time and motherhood have had on her thirty-something body. But when she suspects that her husband may be cheating on her, Brenda has second thoughts about growing old gracefully. . .
Nora Perez has always enjoyed her life of late-night club-hopping, man-juggling, and just being fabulous. But as her fortieth birthday approaches, the men have started looking past her. Now Nora's booking an appointment with a plastic surgeon. . .
Although Kamille Cooper is still in her twenties, she firmly believes there's no problem that a little nip-and-tuck can't fix. But Kamille's so insecure she'd Botox her elbows to get rid of the creases, and, thanks to an operating room mishap, her latest obsession just may be her last. . .
Now three women are about to take a wild ride through plastic surgery seminars, Botox injections, aspirations of a Jennifer Lopez-derriere, and the endless quest for physical perfection. But along the way, they may just learn a few lessons about the real cost of plastic surgery and what it really means to be beautiful.
Patrick Sanchez is a native Washingtonian, having grown up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. After enduring twelve years of Catholic school, Patrick attended George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, where he majored in psychology (with a minor in naps, The Price Is Right, and The Young and the Restless). Prior to his career as a novelist, Patrick worked as professional writer in sales and marketing for a managed healthcare company in Falls Church, Virginia.
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By PATRICK SANCHEZ
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2006 William Patrick Sanchez
All right reserved.
I feel lucky. There is something about these harsh winter mornings that always makes me feel lucky. I hear the wind swirling outside the window and felt the sting of the freezing air when I was out walking Helga before bed last night. But now, lying next to my husband (and Helga) under the warmth of my goose down duvet, hearing the heat click on yet again, I feel lucky-lucky to be in a nice warm comfortable home when it's so bitter cold outside. The feeling won't last; of that, I am sure. It's hard to feel lucky when you suspect your husband is cheating on you ... when you suspect your sixteen-year-old daughter is a lesbian ... when there's a defiant seventy-pound dog named Helga taking up so much room on your mattress that your ass is hanging off the side of the bed.
I look at the clock. It reads 5:27. I have three more minutes until the alarm will sound and decide to beat it to the punch and click it off before it has a chance to go off. I hate to be awoken by those stupid morning DJs jabbering about their weekend or some dumb story about their kids. What on earth makes radio producers think we want to hear about these people's lives every morning? Why can't they just play some music?
I sit up in bed really wanting a cigarette, but, since Jim quit smoking a few years ago, I've agreed to smoke onlydownstairs in the den by a cracked window. Can you believe that? In my own home I've been banished to one room to smoke my Marlboro Lights, like an addict or something. As I rustle from underneath the covers, Helga turns her head, her wet nose skimming my forearm, and offers me a snarl as if to say, "Can't you exit the bed with less motion? I'm trying to sleep." I hate that dog. Now don't get me wrong: I don't hate dogs in general. Growing up, I had a dachshund that I adored, and the neighbors have some sort of poodle-looking thing that's sweet as pie. I love most dogs. It's just Helga I hate. That bitch.
I shove my feet into my slippers and throw on my robe. I stop by the thermostat on the way downstairs and turn it up another notch or two. As I start the coffee maker, I have the same conversation I have with myself every morning: "Why on earth did I agree to move to Sterling?" I ask myself. "Because you wanted an affordable home with a yard and some space ... and a decent school for Jodie," I answer back. I do like it here-the newness of everything-the houses, the shopping centers ... the relative lack of derelicts, but when I'm up at five-thirty in the morning, getting ready for my hour-and-a-half commute into the city, I begin to question living here. Sterling, Virginia is only thirty miles or so west of Washington, D.C., but, in rush-hour traffic and on a parking lot called Leesburg Pike, it may as well be a hundred.
When the coffee's done, I pour myself a cup, leave the machine on for Jim, take my java into the den, and settle into the lounge chair by the window. It's one of those hideous La-Z-Boy recliners from the '80s. It has a lever on the side and everything. I'd never have it in any other part of the house, but it's comfortable, so I keep it around as my smoking chair. I crack the window a hint, strike the pack of Marlboro Lights against my palm, and pull out a cigarette. I ignite it with the gold-plated lighter Nora, my best friend and colleague, gave me for Christmas last year. She doesn't smoke, but she's one of the few people in my life who never pesters me about quitting. I take a drag off the cigarette-nothing like coffee and a cigarette first thing in the morning. If I could just get rid of mornings, I might actually be able to quit. I lean back in the chair and feel the draft of cold air coming through the crack in the window. I hate getting up so early, but once I'm actually out of bed and have my coffee and a cigarette burning in the ashtray on the windowsill, all is well with the world. At least it's peaceful. Jim and Jodie won't be up for another hour. This is my time-my time without Jim looking so lost trying to match a shirt with a pair of pants that I have to go over and help him, without Jodie badgering me about my smoking and rattling off something about the oppression of women in our country, without that damn dog barking nonstop out the front window.
As I inhale the cigarette for a second time, I think I hear Jim stumbling around upstairs, which is odd as he usually sleeps soundly until his alarm goes off at six-thirty. I picture him walking into the bathroom in his underwear, which probably has a tear (or two) in it somewhere, which reminds me that it's about time I go through his underwear drawer and clear out all the ripped or stained items-Lord knows he'll keep wearing whatever is in there, regardless of condition, until I do. On more than one occasion he's put his leg through a tear in his drawers, thinking it was the leg hole, not noticed a thing, and gone ahead and put his pants on over the debilitated briefs.
I expect Jim's especially tired this morning as he came in after midnight last night. He's been working long hours lately-or so he says. At first I believed him. I didn't have any reason not to. He's been with his company for almost ten years and has always had to work the occasional late night or weekend, so it isn't that unusual. But this is the only time that I can remember the late nights at work continuing for such a long stretch. It's January now, and I seem to remember these ongoing late nights starting some time before Thanksgiving. I laugh to myself as I think of Jim having an affair. The idea just seems ridiculous. I can't imagine there are women lining up to sleep with him. He's not a bad-looking man, but he's put on the pounds since we got married (as have I) more than fifteen years ago, has a small bald spot at the crown of his head, and God, how I wish he'd get those eyebrows trimmed. Like me, he's thirty-six years old. Yes, we're the same age. In fact, we were in the same class in high school. We've known each other since we were kids, but didn't really start hanging out together until we were seniors at Robinson. Just before graduation we started dating and were sort of "on-again, off-again" after high school. I think we really were in love, but I'm not sure either one of us planned on marrying the other; however, it seemed like the thing to do when I found out I was pregnant during my sophomore year at George Mason University. We were so young and so stupid. "Oh, this one time without a condom? What will it really matter?" I remember one of us saying during one of our "on again" periods. I'm really not sure if it was me or him, but obviously it did matter. I should have been on the pill, but at the time, I was still living on my parents' dime and their health insurance and couldn't bear broaching the subject with them. I didn't even tell them I was pregnant until after the wedding, although I'm sure they figured it out when I expressed the importance of making the wedding happen sooner rather than later. To this day neither my mother nor my father has said a word about Jodie being born only six months after our wedding, like she was a seven-pound preemie or something. Not a word! How ridiculous is that? Welcome to my world of Wasp dysfunction.
After a few more drags I smash the cigarette into the ashtray, shut the window, take a last sip of coffee, and head back upstairs to take a shower. I go through my morning ritual with easy efficiency-getting showered, dressed, and groomed in time to be out the door by six-thirty.
"Up, up, up!" I say in a chipper voice as I poke my head inside Jodie's door on my way out of the house. "It's six-thirty, sweetie. Get moving," I prod. She looks so innocent first thing in the morning. At least when she's first getting up she's too tired to pontificate about vegetarianism or explain why we (as in me, her father, and all Americans) are personally responsible for all that ails the world. When I look at her first thing in the morning, struggling to wake up and get out of bed, I can still see the little girl in her. I miss that little girl.
"Okay," she replies through her grogginess. "I'll be up in a minute."
"Have a good day, sweetie," I say and head down the hall, knowing that Jim will make sure she's up and moving before he heads downstairs. It's not much, but I at least like to have some form of contact with my daughter before I leave the house. I hate the idea of her getting up in the morning and her mother just being gone. Otherwise, I'd just let Jim nudge her out of bed every morning. Lucky for him, he works fairly close to home in Reston, Virginia and doesn't have to leave as early for work as I do. "Love you," I add before I head down the stairs, grab a bottle of water and a banana (breakfast) to have on the way to work, and walk out into the January cold to really start my day.
"Oh, come on and go with me, Brenda. I don't want to have to go alone and sit in a room with a bunch of crusty old hags looking to have their chins lifted and their soggy breasts heaped up to their shoulders," Nora blurts out at me from across my desk.
"Nora, what on earth am I going to do at a seminar about plastic surgery? I'm a wife and mother. My days of trying to turn heads are long over ... not that I ever did anyway."
"Just come for some moral support. You can help me decide if I really want to go through with this."
"I've already told you my thoughts. You don't need to have anything done. You're beautiful," I say and mean it. She is beautiful. Maybe not as beautiful as she was when she was twenty-five, but she's still one of the most attractive women I know.
"I'm not so sure about that. I was looking in the mirror this morning, and I was thinking 'Maybe forty isn't too early for a full facelift.' And maybe cheek implants wouldn't be such a bad idea."
"Nora...." I'm about to protest her detailed ambitions when Jill Hancock, our boss, pokes her head into my office. "Yes, we should get on that right away," I say to Nora, trying to sound as if we are discussing business instead of face lifts and boob jobs.
"Nora?" Jill asks, taking a couple steps into my office. "How's the Verizon presentation going?"
I quickly shut my Web browser so Jill won't see my bank account up on the screen if she gets too close to my desk. I was trying to balance my checkbook before Nora stopped in to say hello, and Jill doesn't take kindly to employees using our Internet access for personal use.
"Good ... great," Nora replies, and from the look on her face I can tell that it is not going "good" or "great."
"Okay. Make sure I get a draft to review by the end of the day."
"Sure," Nora says. She watches Jill nod at her and then head back to her office. She gives Jill a few seconds to make her way down the hall. "Shit, shit," she mutters. "What Verizon presentation?"
"The one Jill assigned to you last week at the staff meeting."
"What? Why didn't you remind me? You know I never pay attention during those meetings. And I really start zoning when she begins talking about her stupid baby."
"Nora, she gave birth to her first child three months ago. Of course she's going to talk about him."
"Why? When I got a new cat last year, I didn't yack about it to everyone ... people and their stupid kids."
"Oh yeah. A cat. A baby. I can see the similarity," I reply, doing a weighing gesture with my hands.
"And I'm so tired of everyone complimenting her on how good she looks," Nora sighs. Nora doesn't like anyone being complimented other than herself.
"She does look good. It's only been three months, and she's so thin. Who would know she just had a baby?"
"Look at her stretched out vagina, and I bet you'll know she just had a baby."
"I think I'll pass, but thanks," I say, grimacing.
"Well I'm up shit's creek," Nora says, getting up from her chair. "Jill wants to see a draft of the Verizon presentation today, and I haven't even started on it."
"Don't worry about it. I'll e-mail you a presentation I did for Citigroup last month. Just replace Citigroup with Verizon, take out the financial services industry stuff, and add some crap about telecom. It shouldn't take you more than an hour."
"Perfect! Thanks so much," Nora says. "I guess I'd better get back to my desk and get started on it then. Can you send it now?"
"Now come on and go with me to the seminar, Chica," she adds. "We can grab dinner afterward-girls' night out."
"All right, but let me make sure Jim isn't working late that night. I hate for Jodie to eat dinner alone. What time should I be ready to go?"
"It starts at seven-thirty, so we should head over there about seven."
"Hmm ... what does one wear to a plastic surgery seminar?"
"I don't think there's a dress code for learning about nose jobs and vaginal rejuvenation."
"Vaginal rejuvenation? Eew!"
"Hey, don't knock it. It may be you on the operating table one day getting your coochie all tightened up."
"Nora!" I reprimand. "This is a place of business." I feel my face starting to blush. Nora and I have been great friends since she joined the company two years ago, but I still haven't gotten used to her mouth, which has been known to curse like a wet hen. I'm your quintessential Wasp, born and raised in Fairfax County, an upper-middle-class and generally white (at least back when I was a kid) suburb of Washington, D.C. Nora Perez, on the other hand, is a New York Puerto Rican (a "Nuyorican" I think I heard her call herself a time or two) and grew up in the Bronx. For the longest time I thought she had a Spanish accent. It was months after I met her that I realized it wasn't so much a Spanish accent as a New York/Bronx thing she has going on. Her accent sounds kind of harsh to me-the way she says Noo Yawk instead of NewYork, or tawk instead of talk, or hahd instead of hard. Her voice, and often her choice of words, do not match the way she looks. She's very petite and quite beautiful with soft features. When you see her, looking demure in one of her lavender pantsuits or silk blouses with perfectly styled hair, you expect her to be very lady-like and maybe even speak in a refined southern accent. Instead she talks to you about "getting your coochie all tightened up."
Nora and I are worlds apart, but for some reason we hit it off. We are both graphic artists for Saunders and Kraff, a national consulting firm headquartered in D.C. Our jobs mostly consist of developing marketing materials and presentations for the sales vice-presidents, who travel around the country selling all sorts of worthless consulting services to major corporations and government agencies. We regularly work on presentations selling Saunders and Kraff's ability to assist companies in "reengineering" their operations, or instituting "change management" or "total quality management." Whatever trumped-up buzz word we use, it all translates to the same thing: let Saunders and Kraff come into your organization, charge you barrels of money, and, after a few cursory meetings with each of your departments, hand select masses of employees for you to lay off.
I had been with the company for a few years before Nora was brought in to replace one of my former co-workers, who went to lunch one day and simply never came back. We were introduced on her first day, but it wasn't until we were both in a meeting presenting some of our latest work to Jack Turner, one of the leading sales vice-presidents, that we started to have any real interaction. I showcased two presentations I had developed for him for Microsoft and 3M. I had worked with Jack several times and already knew what he liked, so he only had some minor edits for me to make to the presentations. Nora also presented her work to Jack-a presentation for a new Internet company called LifeByDesign, which apparently was a Web site that provided some kind of on-line life-coaching sort of nonsense. As Nora went over the PowerPoint slides with Jack, I could see her annoyance growing as he critiqued each one and made numerous edits to her work. He kept nit-picking at little things like the fonts she had chosen (Jack only liked Times New Roman), the colors (Jack liked red), and the overall organization of the presentation. With every criticism, I could hear the irritation growing in Nora's voice. She'd respond every now and then with "okay, no problem," or "sure," or "yes, of course," but there was an edge in her tone, and this thing she did with her eyes, that made it clear Jack was royally getting on her nerves. After going over the more detailed edits, Jack got into this whole thing about how LifeByDesign was a new cutting-edge company, and he really wanted the presentation to be innovative and "sexy."
Excerpted from TIGHT by PATRICK SANCHEZ Copyright © 2006 by William Patrick Sanchez. Excerpted by permission.
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