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Authors: Ann Christopher

Just about sex (page 4)

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Shirley’s attempts to hide her age were, on the whole, comically inept. She was sixty, no matter how desperately she tried to pretend she wasn’t. What was it Indiana Jones once said?It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage?Well, Shirley had seen more than her fair share of the road.

Shirley kicked off her stilettos and walked to the sofa in bare, French-manicured feet. “Oh, good.” She reached for Simone’s champagne flute as she sat. “I was hoping you had some open.” Tossing her head back, she gulped down the remaining four ounces like it was grape juice. A wide, approving smile split her face, and she smacked her lips. “You always keep the good stuff.”

The uncomfortable knot in Simone’s stomach tripled in size. Maybe it knew as well as she did that her last chance for a relaxing evening had just disappeared with the champagne. Shirley would have to spend the night here unless Simone wanted to pour her into a cab and pay for the twenty-minute ride to Shirley’s own apartment.

Irritated, Simone went to the kitchen and poured herself a new glass without bothering to ask her mother if she wanted more. She wouldnothelp Shirley get drunk.

Basic politeness forced Simone to ask, “How was your birthday?” even though she had no desire whatsoever to discuss the topic. The more expedient question was,what’s [insert name here] done now?but Simone couldn’t think of the current name.

Names didn’t matter anyway since nothing ever changed. Shirley’s life was exactly likeGroundhog Day,where the Bill Murray character relived the same day over and over without learning the lessons life wanted to teach him. In Mom’s case, the bad—and good—events in her life were invariably and inextricably tied to her current man and what he had or hadn’t done.

Still, Simone played her role as dutiful, interested daughter. “Did you go out?”

“Earl took me to The Palace for dinner.”

Oh, him. Simone hid a grimace. Why had she foolishly hoped Mom would be upset about one of her unmarried boyfriends? Or—most foolish of all—that Mom had stopped sleeping with married men?

“Nice,” Simone said, sitting beside her and threading her voice with the little bit of enthusiasm she could muster. “But I, ah…I thought you and Earl stopped seeing each other last year.”

Mom focused her bloodshot though currently dry gaze on Simone long enough to give her a withering look. “We got back together, Simone. I told you that. Because he’s going to leave his wife in June when their youngest graduates high school.”

Simone just shook her head. Her mother’s willful naiveté was, as always, mind-boggling. “My mistake.”

Shirley either didn’t hear or preferred to ignore the sarcasm in Simone’s voice. “Don’t you want to know what he gave me for my birthday?”

Not really.Simone forced what felt like a crooked smile. “Of course.”

Reaching into her fringed cocktail bag, Shirley withdrew a narrow black velvet jeweler’s box. Simone watched with wary interest as she opened it to reveal a stunning pearl bracelet with diamond clasp.Well, well, well.

Simone’s opinion of Earl climbed slightly, but remained well in the negative digits. He had good taste in jewelry, although he didn’t know Shirley at all if he thought she’d prefer the quiet elegance of pearls to the flash of rubies or emeralds. Still, expensive jewelry was expensive jewelry.

Shirley stared and waited for Simone’s reaction, her expression a little surly for someone who’d just received such an expensive gift.

“They’re beautiful,” Simone told her.

Apparently that was the wrong thing to say. Without warning, Shirley’s arm lashed out and she hurled the box across the room, where it hit the fireplace and clattered to the hearth.

Simone cried out with horror. Dropping from the sofa, she scooted across the rug on her knees and rescued the bracelet, which lay, crumpled and, for all she knew, badly scratched, on the bricks.

Pivoting on her knees, she gaped at her mother. Obviously Shirley was much drunker than she’d thought. “What was that about?”

Shirley erupted, a volcano of hysterical sobs and nonsensical words. “It was supposed to be a ring!” she screeched, her flapping arms punctuating every syllable. “He promised me aring!I don’t want some lousy bracelet!”

Simone’s spinning thoughts refused to comprehend the nonsense spewing from Shirley’s mouth. Drama was one thing, but this evening had passed into surreal territory. Her sixty-year-old mother could not be throwing a temper tantrum because her married lover didn’t give her an engagement ring for her birthday. That simply could not be happening. Even Shirley could not be so misguided.

Clearing her throat, Simone chose her words carefully. “A…ring? He said he’d give you aring?”

“Yes,”Shirley hissed, pounding the sofa’s cushion for emphasis. “So we can get married in June! After his son graduates! He promised me! He promised me!”

For ten full seconds, Simone couldn’t think. Dimly aware of her mother’s harsh breathing in the otherwise quiet apartment, Simone could barely hear it over the roaring in her own ears.

But then the single, inviolable truth about her mother reared its ugly head for the millionth time in Simone’s life: Shirley was the most foolish woman to ever walk the face of the earth. No matter how many years passed, or how desperately Simone hoped for it, Shirley would never get smart. She would never open her eyes. She would never change. Heck, maybe Simone was the foolish one for repeatedly thinking that she would.

Suddenly, blinding anger disconnected Simone the daughter from Simone the trained clinician who knew how to handle upset, irrational people. She exploded.

“Get real, Mama! You’re sixty years old! You can’t be that misguided! What would make you think he’d propose after all these years of stringing you along? Don’t you get it? He’s been married to the same woman for thirty years!He loves his wife! He will never leave his wife. He is using you!”

Shirley’s face froze, midsob, her mouth a twisted, gaping mass of garish red lips and teeth. She gulped once and dropped her head. Her shoulders shook with silent sobs.

Sadness replaced some of Simone’s anger, but not all. It was tough to get all worked up with sympathy when she’d seen this self-destructive routine so many times before. Maybe she should say something comforting, but she doubted even the good people at Hallmark had words for such an occasion. The best she could do was drop onto the sofa and rub Shirley’s back.

After a while Shirley cried herself out and sat up. Her wrecked face, streaked with its layer of spackled makeup, looked like a melted wax figure at Madame Tussaud’s in London.

“I’ll have to move,” Shirley said on a hiccupping breath. “I told him to get lost. There’s no way I can afford my apartment if he’s not paying for it.”

“Oh.”

The loving daughter in Simone wanted to offer financial help, maybe write Shirley a check, but they’d already traveled that dead-end road more times than she could count. Simone had no intentions of seeing any more of her hard-earned money turn up as Jimmy Choos on her mother’s pampered feet.

“You could get a job,” Simone said hopefully. “You’ve always been good at decorating. I’d be happy to help you pay for school if you wanted to—”

The horrified look on Shirley’s face told Simone she’d have an easier time selling sand in the Gobi Desert. “I’msixtyyears old, Simone. Can you see me on campus with a backpack?”

Actually, what Simone couldn’t see was her mother deigning to go to school, hold a job, or do anything that required mental exertion, physical exertion, or getting out of bed before 10:00 a.m.

Bile heaved up Simone’s throat, but she choked it back. Sixty years old today, and Shirley was as immature as she’d ever been. Nothing had changed or would ever change. Shirley still thought it was better to earn her living on her back, at the whims of some man, rather than to do a little honest work. Lazy to the bone, she’d spend her golden years as she’d spent the rest of her adult life: as a glorified prostitute.

Well, fine. So be it.

Shirley sighed. “I’ll figure something out.” Straightening, she tiredly fished a tissue out of her purse and wiped her eyes. “I can stay with someone in L.A., or maybe New York. I still have people.”

Rare tears burned the backs of Simone’s eyes as she stared at the desiccated ruins of this beautiful woman. Oh, well. Everything would be all right as long as Shirley hadpeople.People to party with, gossip with and crash with. People always on the make, always looking for the next big thing—whether it was a man, a designer, a restaurant, or a Botox treatment.People.Whatever.

“You could come with me.” Shirley’s ice block of a hand cupped Simone’s cheek. “Maybe set up a practice there. And when your book—”

Disbelieving, Simone jerked her face free, unwilling to submit to the hypocrisy of a motherly touch from the woman who didn’t understand a thing about her and never had.

“I’ve told you, Mom,” she snapped. “When we moved to Cincinnati I told you this is it for me. I am stayinghere.I have put down roots in this city. I’m not moving to another city ever again.Not ever.Twenty moves on two continents in my thirty-four years of life are more than enough. I’m going to find a house and I am stayinghere.”

“Oh, baby darling.” Shirley shook her head and slipped deeper into her fond, rueful mother mode. “Can I give you some advice?”

Simone gaped at her, too incredulous for words. Shirley knew as much about dispensing motherly wisdom as a tiger knew about being a turtle. But why fight it? Nothing short of a nuclear strike would stop Shirley now, so Simone may as well keep quiet and suffer through. The sooner this whole, ridiculous conversation ended, the sooner she could go to bed and put this awful day behind her.

“Advice?” Simone said with polite disinterest. “Sure.”

Shirley’s hands gripped Simone’s and squeezed. No doubt Shirley had once seen the gesture in a movie and thought it would be a nice touch right about now. Goodness knew she had no innate mothering instinct.

“You’re thirty-four now, baby darling.” Shirley said it with a grave, though kindly, expression, as if she was telling Simone the test results were in and the cancer had spread throughout her body. “You’ve been too choosy. All the rich men are mostly taken now. You need to get serious. Find a man.”

Simone’s jaw dropped.

“Don’t ever trust him or love him,” Shirley warned. “Men can’t be trusted. But they can darn sure pay your way.”

Stunned horror locked Simone’s vocal cords, stopping her from making even an outraged squeak.

“Your looks’ll start to go before you know it,” Shirley continued. “I can already see a few little crinkles in the corners of your eyes. They’ll be crow’s feet soon. Don’t be so picky with the men you date. As long as a man’s got money, it doesn’t matter how old he is. And maybe you should start dating white men. Some of them love a little something exotic. Like your daddy—”

A cramp seized Simone’s stomach and pulled her out of her mesmerized incredulity. Sick. This woman wassick.Throwing Shirley’s hands off, she leapt to her feet and backed away.

“A man like Daddy,” she echoed furiously, nearly choking on the title the man had never bothered to earn. “What a great idea. Look how well that turned out for you.”

Shirley clamped her jaws shut and had the decency to flush.

Simone bent over the coffee table to jab her index finger in Shirley’s face. “I’m going to tell you this for the one billionth time,” she snarled. “Maybe this time you’ll listen to me—”

Shirley flinched.

“—when I tell you I do not want to get married to or be kept by someman,and it doesn’t matter whether he’s black, brown, white, or purple. Do you understand me?”

Both seething, they stared at each other. Finally the warning note in Simone’s low voice seemed to penetrate Shirley’s understanding, and she backed off.

“Fine,” Shirley said, as if she’d tried and failed to stop her reckless daughter from playing Russian roulette. “It’s your life.”

“And you remember that.”

Trembling and huffing with anger, Simone marched off to the linen closet to find an extra blanket for her mother.

Chapter 6

Alexander, your obviosly a jerk. Leave Dr. Simon alone go @#$* yourself.

Pat shifted, resettling her hip and thigh against Simone’s desk. “Eh, well. At least you have some fans, even if they are illiterate swine. Scroll down to the next one. Let’s go.”

Alexander, are you taking donations? I want to send you a check to help get rid of this witch. Dr. Simone told my wife to explore her hidden feelings. This was fine until my wife turned out to be a lesbo and left me for her yoga teacher. Get rid of this woman, Alexander! By any means necessary!

Great,Simone thought. Someone else hated her. Feeling crowded and edgy, she glared up at Pat, who hovered over her in a pretty good approximation of Snoopy perched on the edge of his doghouse, pretending to be a vulture.

They were supposed to be monitoring the situation by keeping up to date on posts to the site. Simone doubted her ego could survive much more monitoring. Who were all these people who wrote in, and why didn’t they have anything better to do with their lives than talk abouther?Now she knew how all those poor paparazzi-stalked celebrities felt when they walked down the driveway in their pajamas, hair sticking up, only to find their pictures splashed on the front page of some tabloid. Maybe she should just delegate the whole monitoring task to Pat.

Maybe she should just apologize, so Greene would take down the blog. Assuming, of course, that his word was good. No. The thought of caving in to that bully made her cringe. Forget him. Let him do whatever he wanted. She was a big girl. She could take it.

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