Excited to share an excerpt from the upcoming MR. RIGHT-SWIPE! Hope you enjoy!
I squeal into my primo spot—the one by the Dumpster. More accurately, the first spot I can access when I get stuck in the carpool line, like I do almost every morning.
The throb of this headache slowed me down some getting ready, but I rallied. Nothing a handful of Tylenol can’t quell.
I climb out of my Camry and straighten my blazer. The air is as thick as the Spanish teacher’s accent. Heave my bags from the back seat over my shoulder —what in baby Jesus’s name do I have in my purse?— and only maybe flash Dr. Something or Other in the Cadillac SUV as I do so.
I wave at him—You’re welcome—and click, click, click my way through the Benzes. The BMWs. The Land Rovers and the Porsches. Maybe I’m just imagining it, but I swear I feel parents’ stares scorch me like the morning sun behind their D&G sunglasses. Through tinted windows so I can’t quite make out which students they belong to.
“Morning, Rae!” The lady with the mullet beams.
What’s her name? Quinn and I have called her Mullet Lady for so long I don’t actually remember her real name, but it will come to me. I know she does something with the music program and she has a propensity for white polyester pants. Labor Day Rule be damned!
She’s helping direct traffic, opening car doors for the kids like we’re not only their teachers but their valets as well—and I’m pretty sure she’s just here to make my walk to the building extra annoying.
I answer with a sarcastic wave, because—balls—no one should be allowed to speak before 9 am. (11 am?)
Regardless, I’m pretty sure she’s only saying it so sweetly because she knows I’m late. I catch the cursory glance at her rhinestone-encrusted watch.
But then I feel bad.
Like maybe she is just being nice and I’m The Actual Worst.
Or maybe she doesn’t know or care about my tardiness because she has a life and my insecurity is working overtime this morning.
I suck it up and play the game. “Haven’t had my coffee yet!”
“Oh, you don’t need it! You’re always a Rae of sunshine!” She lights the whole parking lot with her veneers and I fight the urge to gag.
“Did you have a nice weekend, Carol?” Carol! #nailedit
“Oh yes,” she trills. “Not long enough!”
My stomach curls as I realize I’ve stopped and now I’m helping some little ginger out of her daddy’s Lexus.
“Watch your step,” I say.
My God. What’s happening.
I wiggle some fingers at the dad through the open back window and pat the adorable little tootie on the head. I’ve always had a soft spot for redheads.
I have to Adult for a few more minutes—just until I can get away from Carol and to the sanctuary of my classroom to do my thing with the kids and be left alone.
Away from the judging eyes of others. (Whether they’re really doing it or I’m just perceiving it that way because I’m insane.)
That’s one of the great things about working with kids. They laugh at my dumb jokes and appreciate my goofy antics in earnest. I don’t have to pretend to be what someone else thinks I should be, nor do I have to work to impress them; they’re already happy and loving and impressed.
“Ugh—Monday. Am I right?” I toss a hand at another lululemoned mom before shutting her SUV door—and then I sprint up the stairs, leaving Carol in my wake before she recruits me to be a member of the party planning committee.
I’m just chucking my stuff in my classroom when I hear Deborah’s voice echo from down the hall.
Giving her spiel at Monday Morning Meeting already. Great.
“Hey, girl!” Sarah appears in the doorway and I nearly fly out of my heels. She’s got her hair in a ponytail, she’s holding a venti-sized something or other, and I can tell she did what I like to call the Slovenian Shower this morning. (Half Slovenian—I’m allowed.)
“Glad to see you recovered!” She hipchecks me and snaps her fingers above her head, doing the same white-girl dance we did at that club.
I wince. “Today’s gonna be a ‘Miss Wallace has a migraine’ kind of day. ‘No lights, no talking. Just draw pictures of your favorite woodland creatures while I try not to puke in my desk drawers.’”
I wish. But I like my job.
That, and six-year-olds can keep their mouths closed about as well as blow-up dolls; so, although my stomach’s already gurgling, it’ll be reading, writing, ’rithmetic, and . . . hopefully not retching for me.
“Wasn’t it worth it? That guy was seriously hot.”
Her golden hair and twenty-six-year-old outlook on life are too bright for me, but alas, I must take off my Breakfast at Tiffany’s shades and face it all.
We pass the third grade hall, the water fountain, and the entire length of the library before I can bring myself to speak again.
“I mean, not really,” I say as we make our way to the conference room. “I could do without being a party trick. ‘How old do you think she is?’ What is with that? Stop it.”
She bonks me on the shoulder. “Oh, come on. No one thinks you’re actually thirty-four. You can hang, girl!”
She stresses actually too much for my liking, and I stifle a snarl. Or maybe that’s just because the entire place smells like Expo markers and glass cleaner.
“They may not think it, but it doesn’t make it not true. Just—I can’t do this shit anymore,” I say a little too loudly as we cross the threshold and now the entire faculty’s staring, mouths agape.
Please. Like they never heard the word shit before.
I offer an awkward laugh at our principal. “Just your run-of-the-mill Lethal Weapon paraphrasing to start out the week—right, Deborah?” Sarcastic arm swing. “No?” I clear my throat.
“Good morning, ladies. We’re just wrapping up,” Deborah says like a disapproving father.
And, if we’re keeping score, she’s kinda dressed like one too.
Clusters of women, all shapes and sizes, sit like lumps of Play-Doh around child-sized tables. Marj Raynor’s ass all but engulfs a miniature plastic chair, and I’m mesmerized by this sheer feat of craftsmanship that the whole thing doesn’t just pancake to the industrial carpeting.
There are only two males among us—Hot Sub Guy who started showing up last week and Cliff Jones, Wesson Academy’s own computer teacher and tech dude extraordinaire. He’s slumped behind a newspaper and looking super chipper for a fifty-six-year-old who still lives with his mother.
“How are things going with the first grade play?” Deborah points to me.
“Still looking for some volunteers to help with the set, since the parents I e-mailed backed out, but I’m not worried. I’m so on it.”
Psh. Of course I’m on it. I wrote the damn thing.
I salute, which not only seems appropriate but also elicits some half-hearted chuckles from the room. Hot Sub Guy even offers a grin.
Valerie and Quinn crack smiles and shake their heads from the table by the Keurig. Even if I did forget about Thursday’s rehearsal, I know the two of them didn’t. They’ve been bailing me out of jams since high school.
When Deborah lets us go and the rest of the embittered old wives club file out, perfume clouds lingering in their memory, I clomp over to my friends like that big, brown ogre Muppet and give them sorority girl air smooches. Sarah’s beat me to the Keurig and already making a second cup, so I’m huffing at the available pods and trying to decide which roast will be the most potent and get me closest to resembling a human.
“So . . . how’d it go?” Quinn’s voice is all sing-song, her cascades of dark hair swept back in a long braid like she’s Katniss fricking Everdeen.
I bang on the coffeemaker as if that’ll speed Sarah along.
“Looks like she was out pretty late. I knew you’d like Ty!” Valerie’s beside herself with excitement and she gives a bunch of annoying little claps like I’m a child taking her first steps.
Sarah’s done, so I nudge her out of the way. Hearing The Tongue’s name reminds me these two have a lot of nerve, and I round on them.
“We’re not friends anymore.” I shun them over the sound of my delicious cup a-brewing.
Valerie gives a rapid blink, her doe eyes glassy, and I lean on the counter. Pop my hip.
“Well, I—I mean, he’s Mike’s golfing buddy. Thirty-nine, single. Perfect. I don’t understand what you—”
I swear, she’s about to burst a blood vessel somewhere underneath behind those side-bangs.
I pinch the bridge of my nose and close my eyes. “Love, just because someone’s a certain age and single . . . does not a perfect boyfriend make.”
With one scoff, her tone goes from walking on eggshells to launching missiles at me. “What was wrong with him?” She crosses her arms.
I start ticking things off on my fingers. “Where do you want me to start? He walks in there and spots me.” I slip some husk into my delivery. “‘I’m Ty, by the way.’ By the way? That’s how you start an interaction? And he was wearing high-tops like a ten-year-old.”
“So?” Quinn curls her perfect, Kylie Jenner upper lip at me, but her bitch glare is full-on Kim K.
“He has a cat. A cat, Valerie.” I shudder.
A laugh bursts out of Sarah, now over by the mini-muffins. “A guy who has a pussy—well, need I say more?” She tosses me a muffin and we high-five, and my very dear, very thirty-four-year-old high school best friends just scowl at her.
“Ew—I hate that that word.” Quinn grimaces, her half-Dominican features so silken, she almost doesn’t look offended.
“Me too,” Sarah concurs, “but what do you want me to call it?”
“Nothing. I want you to call it nothing. I don’t want you—or anyone—to talk about that ever.” Valerie can’t even bring herself to open her eyes when she’s answering the question. She’s all hair and shakes. A walking Garnier Fructis commercial.
“And he’s a terrible kisser. Just awful.” I squirm back to my mug.
“You kissed him?”
I might as well have told Valerie I’d set his gross cat on fire.
“Okay, now you sound like seventh grade.” I chuckle. “Let me rephrase. When he attacked my face, I wanted to throw up. He licked my lips. Who does that?”
“A weirdo.” Sarah gives a soulful mmm-hmmm that she can’t quite pull off, being whiter than the Coffee-mate she hands me.
“Yes—thank you!” I punctuate the point, a conductor’s wave of a red stirrer.
“But he’s what you told me you’re looking for.” Valerie’s long fingers are outstretched like even they are at their wit’s end with me and my Expectations. “He’s never been married—”
“Thirty-nine and never married? There’s a reason, Val. There’s always a reason. And I’m okay with the divorced thing. Hi—remember that time I was married? Just as long as I can see his papers, if I so choose.”
“What are you, the Gestapo?” She laughs in Quinn’s direction, but Q knows better than to return the merriment.
I threaten her with an eyebrow. She lets the moment pass.
“What did you do, then?” Quinn gets us back on track, her copper stare twinkling up at me. “Get all wasted and screw him?”
“Um. Hello—no.” I blow air from the side of my mouth. Clap a palm to my chest. “What do you think this is, a month ago? Geez.” I hitch a thumb at her like get a load of this and glance at the other two. “I did what any mature woman would do. I texted Sarah, and she called with a ‘lady emergency.’”
“What the hell is a ‘lady emergency’?” Quinn spits fire.
I wave it off. “Whatever he needs it to be to feel good about himself. Look, I was very polite. I left him forty bucks—”
“—and then she met me out dancing and spent the rest of the night pinned against the wall by some insanely hot British dude.”
“Love of my life.” I deadpan. “Look, I’m sorry. But no more fix-ups. Your idea of the ideal man for me is not my idea of the ideal man for me.”
“Your idea of the ideal man for you is Jason Segel.”
I yank back. “Your point is . . . ?”
Quinn gestures skyward and shakes her head. “Ay dios mio.”
“It’s not so crazy. We’re both writers . . . ” I talk with my hands.
“He’s a movie star and he writes children’s books. You don’t even have an agent yet.”
“Et tu, Q-te?” I rub at the invisible stab wound. Curl a lip. “I’m almost there with this latest manuscript. It’s not so farfetched that we’d bump into each other at a conference or something . . . ”
They all just blink at me. Sarah’s the only one with a smile in her blue eyes.
Valerie sinks her head in her hands and Quinn’s one-and-a-half-karat rock winks in the overhead lights as she gives Val’s back a light scratch.
“We need to talk,” she says, finally looking up and shrugging off Quinn.
“Are you guys breaking up with me?” I pour the hell out of some sugar and stir it in my coffee.
Valerie stands and she starts to pace. Her ombre waves nestled perfectly at each shoulder. “How long have we all known each other?”
I offer another eye-roll. I’m not a child. “Since ninth grade.”
“And, in all that time, how many guys have you dated?”
I chew a corner of my ChapSticked lips and feign counting on my hands. “Nine-hundred . . . seventy-four?”
“Be real,” she demands.
“Too many. I know.” I shrug.
Quinn interrupts my coffee-perfecting ritual and takes my hands. Leads me to the table donated to the lounge by some periodontist.
“Is this an intervention?” I snort as my ass hits the wooden chair.
“I know it’s been hard since the divorce. Daniel was—” She glances away. Her voice is soft like when you’re trying to calm down a crazy person. Or settle a wild beast. “Mine was hard for me too. That summer you and I spent in Europe right after was just what I needed. And what you went through afterward with Jesse . . . ” She purses her lips and stops a minute. He’s become the real Voldemort of our friendship circle; his name is not one we allow ourselves to utter often. “We know. We know you haven’t recovered yet—”
A tickle at the back of my eyes.
If she makes me cry before class and my students pick up on it—like they pick up on everything because that’s just their job—I’m going to rip those pearls right off that pretty little neck of hers.
“But, enough. You’ve got to stop this,” she continues. “Valerie and I just want what’s best for you. We want you to be happy. Like we are.”
I pull my hands away and examine my ever-chipped nail polish.
“Then you don’t mess with a woman’s morning coffee,” I say with a grin, working hard to keep my voice even.
Wondering how happy they really are.
“We are the luckiest.” Her tone brightens. “Are you kidding me? We stayed friends after all these years? We all got hired to teach the same grade, at the same school? We’re a team. And that’s why—”
“Oh no no no.” I rise and put up both my palms.
“Oh yes yes yes.” Valerie gets in my face. “Sit your ass down.”
“I want you in the wedding,” Quinn says. “I’m not taking no for an answer this time.”
There it is.
I avert my gaze over to the pencil sharpener screwed to the wall. Kinda how I feel.
“I had a panic attack at the last wedding I went to, and I wasn’t even in it. I love you, Q—you know I love you, but—”
“Then you’ll suck it up and do this for me.”
There’s a hopefulness in her stare that pricks at my chest, and the tickle behind my eyes starts all over again.
“And that’s not all.” Valerie wags her index finger like she’s reprimanding one of the nose-pickers in her class.
I groan. “We have first graders waiting—”
“You’re going to bring someone to the wedding. Someone real. Not Jason Segel. Not some twenty-year-old from Barbie’s band of friends—” She indicates Sarah with a languid hand.
“Hey!” Sarah laughs and double flips them off as she makes her way toward the door. “You’re on your own, fabulous,” she says to me as she exits. Blows me a kiss.
“You have five weeks to find him, and we’re gonna help you.”
“Like you helped with that dude from last night?”
“No. No more setups,” Quinn says.
My ears perk. “I’m listening.”
“You’re gonna find love the twenty-first century way.”
My chest tightens, and I direct my attention upward like I’m thinking. Bite at my bottom lip. “At Whole Foods?”
“The Spark app, to be exact.” Valerie practically bursts with pride like she’s Spark’s mother or something.
“Oh gross.” I lean back in the chair, and it squeaks. “And I’ve already tried it. It was all gay dudes.”
“That was Glitter, you idiot.”
“You have to let us help you with the profile—”
“And—you have to let us help you pick which guys you talk to.”
“Oh Lord.” I’m shaking my head. “If I say yes, can I drink my coffee in peace?”
“Yes,” they both say like we’re back in the eleventh grade and I’ve agreed to let them do the makeover this time.
“All right—I’ll do it,” I say. “Now get the hell out of my way. I’ve got young minds to mold.”
Have a book club? Here’s a Reading Group Guide to MR. RIGHT-SWIPE!