Big Girl Steps

Freezing cold, I pushed through the door to the bar, grateful to get out of the fridid air. It was almost January, and we didn’t have snow on the ground, but that didn’t mean diddlysquat to the air temp some days.

I started to hum a little to myself as I looked around the room for any sight of Mallory or Nic. I came straight from dropping off my paperwork for a preapproval on a mortgage, I had Minda in the bag, and I had just turned in my final paper for my last fall classes at the U. I had 2 weeks till I took the GMAT, and felt pretty good about it. You know that feeling you get when you all of a sudden realize you’re an adult and making good, adult decision? Rare as it was, I definitely had that vibe going on and I felt like I could conquer the world today.

I still didn’t see them, so I pulled out my phone. You here yet? I wrote, but just then I saw a staircase leading upstairs. I put the phone away, figuring that I may as well check upstairs first. When I got there, I stopped cold. Nic was on a stool, and Mallory was laughing with her head thrown back, standing only inches away from him. With her perfect hair, heels, and wrap dress, and a bright yellow ribbon tied around her natural hair, she looked good. Damn good. And Nic certainly seemed to not mind the lack of distance between the two of them.

Gritting my teeth, I pushed past a few people and made my way to Nic’s side.
“Hi Nic!” I said in my most cheerful voice, giving him a big hug and kiss on the cheek. “I see you met Mallory!”

“Hey, yeah,” he replied, giving me a quick hug in return. I hoped Mallory noticed that he had his hand low on my back and had to resist the urge to look to make sure. “She said she recognized my picture from one you showed her once.”

I finally turned towards Mallory, wondering what in the hell she was doing. All the good feelings I had seemed to have about winning at life seemed to have evaporated.

Nic busied himself with ordering me my usual glass of Cab while Mallory and locked eyes for a moment. My eyes said what in the hell were you doing? Rather than getting defensive, she smiled as sweetly as possible. “We both got here a little earlier than you, so I figured I’d introduce myself while we waited!” Leaning closer, she whispered to me, “I made sure to tell him how awesome you’re doing at work. He was really impressed.”

I thanked her, once again feeling completely confused and wondering if I was a raging bitch. I mean, Mallory wasn’t doing anything, so it’s not like I could get mad, right? Right?
Luckily, right then Nic handed me my drink and Stacy, another one of our coworkers, showed up so I was at least distracted. The next hour and a half or so went smoothly, with the group of us sharing apps and drinks and chatting about what we were doing for the holidays and whatnot.

“So,” Mallory said, taking a sip of her drink, “What do you two have going on for New Year’s Eve?”

I shifted uncomfortably my seat. I was going home for Christmas, in and out within a few days so I didn’t even have time to make it to the city, so I was able to avoid the awkward Christmas thing with a newly dating couple, but since I had so little vacation time, I had to make it back to work on Monday the 29th.

“Oh, I don’t know yet…” I trailed off, hoping I wasn’t as lame sounding as it seemed. Nic and I hadn’t even talked about New Year’s Eve, and while I was sure I could crash Katy’s plans, I didn’t really want to be the third wheel on a NYE date.

Nic gave a little shrug. “My friend TJ is having a masquerade party as his house. You want to come, Maddie?”

My mind started racing. NYE party at an NBA player’s house! He’d probably have the good champagne, food…I’d have to buy a new dress…. “Sure!” I was saying excitedly when Mallory interrupted me.

“TJ?” she asked, a question mark on her perfect eyebrows.

Nic scooped up another blob of spinach and artichoke dip on a chip. “Yeah, he’s a cool guy.” By the look on Mallory’s face, she had her suspicions of who “TJ” was but didn’t want to come across as crass enough to ask. Luckily for Mallory, she didn’t have to wait long. “I’ll check to see if I can add a couple people to the invite. I’m sure he’ll be fine with it.”

My excitement at being asked to what I assumed would be a swank NYE part was dashed when Mallory grinned and clapped her hands. “That sounds like fun!” she cooed. “That is, if you don’t mind, Maddie.”

“Of course not! Why would I mind?” I said, not completely truthfully. I had no real reason to mind, I just did at some small level. Petty bitch, I told myself, irritated I was acting so immaturely when just that afternoon I felt like I was getting it all together.

Stacy, oblivious to who TJ may be, innocently asked, “Where does TJ live?” Nic named one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the wealthiest suburbs in Minneapolis. Stacy’s eyes widened. “Wow, nice.”

Nic gave a nonchalant shrug. “He’s got a good job,” was all he said. Mallory had an annoyed look on her face, probably for his lack of confirming who TJ really was. I could have reached across the table and hugged Nic. It was obvious he liked TJ as a person, and not because he wanted to be some kind of hanger-on. I smiled at him, my respect for him renewed.

The topic changed to what we were going to get our parents for Christmas and I relaxed until it was time to go.

“Bye Maddie!” Mallory cooed as she pulled me into a hug. Surprised, I hugged back stiffly. I am not a hugger, especially to people I didn’t know that well. Lowering her voice, Mallory said “You’re so lucky! He’s a keeper, alright!”

Smugly, I said, “I know!” under my breath back. Immature? Yeah. But I couldn’t help it.

Finally, with an air kiss in Nic’s direction and a wag of fingers, Mallory left Nic and me alone.

“So, err…” I shifted in my seat uncomfortably while Nic concentrated on his phone. “What did you think of Mallory?” Not only did I want reassurance that he wasn’t into Mallory, but I wanted to see if he had any insights.

He looked up briefly. “Cool girl. Seems nice.”

Right. That didn’t help out at all. I let out an involuntary but audible sigh, which made Nic finally look up from his phone. He grinned and put his arm around me. “Worried?”

“No!” I said a touch too loudly.

He leaned over and gave me a kiss, which reassured me a little. “Don’t be. You’re the gorgeous one.”

I allowed myself to relax and lean into his arm. “What do you have going on now?” I asked, hoping he’d suggest hanging out. It was only 8pm, and everyone knows you don’t get any work done the week before Christmas anyway.

Nic withdrew his arm and stood up. “I have to go back to work,” he said regretfully. “It’s peak season, and my boss needs me to put together a couple PT plans for some players.”

I nodded reluctantly. I knew Nic’s job was really demanding during the season, and he was often working late hours and evenings, being on call for games and practices in case of injuries. It was a dream job though, and I knew how much he loved it.

“Too bad…” I trailed off. He sensed my disappointment.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be completely free on Saturday. We still hitting up the tap room with your friends?”

I nodded even though I didn’t have the commitment of Katy and Bao yet. I’d get there. “Yes.”

Nic glanced down at his phone again. “I hailed you an Uber. It’s here.”

Surprised, I thanked him and struggled to get my jacket on. Nic walked me out to the car and kissed me goodbye as the amused Uber driver waited.

“I’m in no rush Saturday night,” he whispered as he opened the door for me. Smiling, I told him I couldn’t wait and jumped into the car.

I was just flipping through my mail as I walked through the door. Bills, catalog, credit card offer…. Completely engrossed, I didn’t notice Jessie on the couch until I heard a whimper. Dropping everything, I raced over.

“Jessie, what’s wrong?” I asked, surveying the empty wine glass, Kleenex, and Jessie’s form laying on the couch.

Jessie only lifted her hand up from her eyes for a second to make eye contact with me. “Tyler and I got into a HUGE fight. And we’re supposed to get married in 7 weeks!”

My stomach dropped.

Grrrrr….I have no idea why the comments fluctuate from working to not working again. I’m trying to fix – don’t worry, it’s not deliberate and really, it frustrates me too!

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