My cell buzzed in the pocket of my track pants. Three times in a row, so I told my client, Elizabeth, “Do you mind if I check my phone?” And she shook her head as well as she could with a barbell on her shoulders.
It was Jessi: Hey, are you available?
I just dropped of O at MA’s, and she seems to be in a pretty bad place.
I’d stay myself, but the daycare charges a fortune if I don’t pick up D by 6:30.
Thankfully, El is one of my favorite clients and pretty chill. I’d been training her for years, ever since she had her first baby. “I hate to do this,” I told her, “but I have a bit of a family emergency. Can I leave you with your finisher? I’ll give you fifteen extra minutes next week. I promise.”
“Oh, no!” she stopped mid-lunge, and her frowned. “Is Watson okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. He’s fine. It’s Mary Anne.”
“Ohhhh… “ she replied. She knew that while Mary Anne technically wasn’t family, we’d known each other so long that she was as close as one of my sisters. Maybe closer. Personal trainers and their clients end up sharing a lot about their lives, so Elizabeth heard all about the fiasco of the end of Mary Anne’s marriage, and her husband had even represented Mary Anne’s during the divorce proceedings. (Elizabeth was actually a lawyer as well, but she did something in taxes.) “Yeah, go ahead. Give her a hug for me.”
See? Great client.
“Thanks!” I shot off a quick text to Jessi to let her know I’d head right on over, and asked Brandon, one of the new trainers I’d just hired, to cover my bootcamp that was supposed to start right after I finished with El. Less than five minutes later, I was stuffing things into my duffel bag.
“Where you running off to?” I looked up. Monica, another trainer I’d hired around the same time as Brandon, leaned against the doorframe to my office. Door frame is a strong word, given the office itself was really a giant glass cube set in the middle of the gym’s workout area. It offered as much privacy as a fish bowl. No, less, because fish are boring and nobody really watches them that long. Middle-aged gym-goers, though, had no problem staring me down while I updated sales goal spreadsheets.
I kept throwing things in my bag, not letting her distract me from my purpose. “I need to run over and help Mary Anne out with something.”
“You’re always ‘helping her out with something.’” Monica looked at me pointedly, then when I didn’t give her the reaction she expected (which is to say, I started looking through my desk drawers for my keys), she pouted.
“Well. She’s my best friend, so.” I didn’t finish the sentence because finishing it seemed ludicrous.
She raised her eyebrows. She didn’t believe me. Which was ridiculous, because she’d even met Mary Anne. Sort of.
“I thought we were getting Chipotle after you finished your bootcamp.”
“We were?” I’d spent the better part of my day fantasizing getting home and having a beer and watching the Red Sox game. I would have remembered making plans with Monica.
She shrugged. “I mean, we went last week. And the week before. And…”
The week before. Right. “Oh, I didn’t realize it was a standing… thing.”
“Well, when will I get to see you?” Her voice raised a half octave.
“Aren’t you opening the club tomorrow?”
She huffed. When I started to go towards the door, she stood in the middle. She wasn’t tall, but she still had a good two inches on me. I held up my hands. “We’ll hang out! I just have to get going right now.”
She stepped to the side. “Fine.”
“See you tomorrow, Mon.”
She pouted again, and I dashed out of the way.
The moment I exited the gym, I told my phone to dial Mary Anne. After a couple rings, a familiar voice said, “Hi, Aunt Kristy.”
“Hey, Alma. Can you put your mom on for me?”
“She says she’s indisposed at the moment.”
“That’s a big word.”
“Yeah, I think it means she’s pooping.” I couldn’t help it. I let out a laugh, in part because Mary Anne would be mortified by the interpretation. Alma proceeded into a prolonged tale about a volleyball game gone awry (apparently a cardboard cutout of the school mascot, Eddie the Eagle, lost his head), until I heard Mary Anne’s voice in the background asking who it was. After a moment of back and forth, where Alma insisted she wasn’t done talking to me yet, my best friend finally wrangled the phone from her nine-year-old.
“Hey,” she said, her voice heavy with exhaustion. “What’s up?”
“Not much. I heard through the grapevine that you’re a little stressed out, and I wanted to see if there’s anything to do.”
“Oh, you’re sweet. No. I just had a long day subbing, and then I forgot to get stuff for dinner on the way home, and literally everything we’ve ordered for takeout recently has made Oliver sick, so…”
Her voice broke on this last word, and then there was a sharp intake of breath that told me she was trying to suppress tears.
“Well, hey. I’m done at the gym, so I can swing by the grocery store, grab some ingredients, and we can have ourselves a little party. You have eggs?”
“I have mustard. A wide variety of mustard.” Then she added quickly, “But you really don’t. I know you have better things to be doing. I’ll figure something…” her voice trailed off.
“I’ll get eggs.”
She sighed. “Thank you. You’re the best.”
“I know.” Then I added, “Don’t worry, we’ll get you through this.”
Twenty-eight minutes later, I was in Mary Anne’s kitchen with all the fixings for a frittata, fruit salad, and gluten-free toast. The kids had been convinced to go to the living room to play, instead of hover around us like vultures. Mary Anne uncorked the bottle of Apothic Red I’d gotten from the package store and poured us each a glass.
“Do I deserve you as a friend?” Mary Anne asked as we clinked glasses.
“Does anyone, really?”
She smacked my arm, but one corner of her mouth curved upward.
My phone buzzed on the counter. I picked it up. Monica: How’s it going over there?
I put it down without replying, and started chopping veggies for the frittata. “So rough day of subbing?”
Mary Anne took a long sip of her wine. “Yeah. I mean, it was middle school math,” (I grimaced in sympathy), “so it’s not really my wheelhouse. But I don’t know. I’m not sure I’m cut out for teaching anymore.”
“Really? You’re the most patient person I know. Maybe it was just this group of kids?”
“It’s not patience. I just don’t feel like I have any control of them.” As she finished her statement, my phone buzzed again. And again. “Do you need to get that?”
I shook my head. “Not important… What about younger kids?”
“Yeah, I mean. That’s always been my goal. But so many people want to teach early childhood, and they’re fresh out of college and more on top of their game–” She sighed and shook her head.
“It pays so badly. And the hours– I would never be able to get Oliver to his doctors’ appointments.” I could see the tears welling up in her eyes, and I set my knife down and pulled her in for a hug.
“Hey, hey. It’ll be okay.”
“He’s been so sick. We’re supposed to go to the doctor tomorrow for more tests, but then the doctor had a family emergency, so he can’t see Oliver for two weeks, which is when I’ll be subbing for someone’s maternity leave–”
I patted her back. “When’s the appointment? I’ll take him.”
“But you have work.”
“I can move clients around. I’ll go in early if I need to. It’s fine. I’m the boss. I get to do these things.”
She let go of me and rubbed the tears out of her eyes. “That would be great.”
We shifted subjects then, chatted about normal stuff: her kids and the gym, the fiber arts show that our friend Claudia had coming up, her step-brother Jeff’s visit in a few weeks.
As we called the kids to the table, my phone buzzed yet again.
“Are you sure you shouldn’t get that?”
I rolled my eyes. “No, believe me…” But I picked up the phone anyway.
Monica: Maybe we can watch the game when you’re done?
Monica: I can bring wine.
Monica: Let me know what you think.
I shook my head. “Just someone from work”
Mary Anne raised her eyebrows, “Someone from work, or a girl from work?”
The problem with having a friend for so long is they can see through your crap. Being a more empathetic person in general, Mary Anne was particularly adept at knowing what I was thinking. When we were young, she was a bit too sensitive to call me out on it, but she outgrew that phase right around the time she started dating her ex-husband.
“Well, you know what they say,” Mary Anne tipped her wine glass at me.
“Don’t sh– poop where you eat?”
“Ewwww! Kristy!” Alma exclaimed, while Oliver burst out laughing.
Mary Anne rolled her eyes at me. “Thanks. My kids really needed to add that phrase to their lexicon. I was going to say don’t mix business with pleasure.”
I mustered the most serious face I could manage and looked each kid in the eye. “Do not repeat that phrase to anybody. Ever. Until you’re eighteen. Capiche?”
“Don’t poop where you eat!” Oliver shouted.
“Well, at least you’re losing your touch with kids as well.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I sipped my wine.
“What does that even mean?” Alma asked.
Mary Anne shook her head at me, but at least she was smiling now. She stroked the top of Alma’s hair, which was thick, long, and brown, just like Mary Anne’s at that age. “It’s really not important, sweetie. It’s definitely not something you should be using in conversation. Got it?”
Alma curled her lips and widened her eyes in horror. “Ew, Mom. Gross. I’m not as tacky as Kristy.”
“Hey!” I exclaimed. “I resemble that remark.”
“You’re such a dork, Kristy,” Alma said. I pretended to be offended, which finally made her giggle.
How great it would be to have every night be like this, I thought.
Then I had my awesome idea.
Once dinner was cleaned up and the kids settled in bed, Mary Anne and I collapsed on the living room couch with the remainder of the wine, and I turned on the game.
She collapsed back on the corner of the couch, head leaned back, eyes shut. How many heart-to-hearts had we had on couches like this one? Add to that the phone calls, the AIM chats in college, heck, even the morse-code messages we sent each other via flashlight when we were kids. It felt a bit like she was more than a friend; she was a part of myself.
I patted her leg. “How you doing?”
When she opened her eyes, I could see that they were bright with tears. “It’s just so hard to do it alone. How did our parents do it?”
My chest ached. She didn’t deserve this mess Logan left her with. “I have no idea. But, I think I know something that could help.”
“So,” I said. “My lease is month-to-month. You have a spare bedroom. Why don’t I move in for a bit? Be an extra set of hands?”
“Oh my god, Kristy, that’s so sweet. But you’re single and don’t want to be stuck in a house with an old divorcee and her two kids.”
“We’re the same age, Mary Anne.”
“Not in our souls.” She patted her chest. “This is the heart of a bitter, middle-aged lady.”
I rolled my eyes. “Please.”
“But seriously. How are you going to bring a date home if there are two children with the personalities of wild mongoose running around. I promise you, it’s not sexy. Hence,” she motioned at herself.
“MARY ANNE. Jesus.”
“Really. I appreciate the offer. But I’m already such a leech.”
“You’re not a leech. You just have more on your plate than is manageable. And I have time and energy to spare.”
“Kristy. No.” She set her wine glass on the coffee table, straightened up and looked me in the eye. “End of conversation.”
I’m not going to lie– her immediate dismissal of my suggestion felt a bit like a slap. It seemed like a reasonable solution, and it wasn’t like I was just anybody. We’d literally known each other since we were in diapers.
But before I could start to argue, Mary Anne changed the conversation: “So who’s the mystery texter?”
She looked at me dead on, with the earnestness only a person who was able to find long-lasting monogamy can. Even though she and Logan had been broken up for six months, she had yet to deal with any form of dating— ANY. I’d learned over the years she was a bit too much of a romantic—even now, in her more jaded form—to really comprehend the perils of dating as an adult. I’m pretty sure she thought I was making up some of the shit that happened to me.
“She’s this trainer I hired at the gym. She’s like a year out of college?”
If Mary Anne’s eyebrows could go any higher, they would have probably gone into the stratosphere. She gave a long, exaggerated blink. “Excuse me. She’s how old?”
“Well, she took a year off before going to school, then got her Associate’s, then transferred—“
“Kristy. How. Old. Is. She.”
I grit my teeth. “Twenty-five?”
“Oh. That’s not so bad.”
“It’s over a decade.”
“I thought she was, like, 21.” She took another drink of her wine. “What’s the problem?”
“I don’t think you remember what most of our friends were like at 25. We weren’t all as mature as you.” She and Logan had been trying to get pregnant with Alma by that point. It took another couple years, but still. None of the rest of us were even dreaming of children at that point. Sure, I had a sweet gig as an athletic trainer at a couple different private schools in the area, but I was also playing on the local women’s tackle football league and partying with my teammates til dawn. To call me a hot mess would be the understatement of the year.
The phone buzzed again.
“For Pete’s sake!” Mary Anne exclaimed. “Reply to the poor woman, or I’ll do it for you.”
“I don’t want to encourage her too much.”
“It doesn’t seem like not responding is DIS-couraging her.”
What do you think?
Not tonight, I said. I’ve had a long day.
She replied within seconds. It could be really chill.
I didn’t even know how to respond to that, so I didn’t. I placed my phone facedown on the arm of the couch. “Happy?”
On the TV, Mookie Betts hit a double. I clapped, then settled back in my seat. We didn’t talk much after that, just watched the game, lost in our own thoughts.
I woke up with a start on Mary Anne’s couch, my neck and shoulder aching, a line of drool crusted on my cheek. I rubbed it off and looked at my phone, only to realize it had died. Mary Anne had disappeared and the house was dark except for a nightlight in the shape of a unicorn. Upon tiptoeing into the kitchen, I saw that it was well after midnight. I put my empty glass in the dishwasher, then quietly exited the house, locking the front door behind me.
In the car, I plugged my phone into the charger, and found a dozen texts and three phone calls, all with the same sort of message:
Where are you?
How long til you get back?
Then I made the mistake of listening to the voicemails. In the first one, Monica greeted me in a chirpy voice, “Hey, bae! It’s like… 8:30. I just wanted to surprise you at your place, but it looks like you’re not home yet. Just wondering when you’ll be back. Call me, k?”
Then, an hour later: “Hey, it’s me again. I’m still here. I got you something, so I’d like to see you tonight.”
And another hour later: “I’m not sure if you’re ignoring me or you were lying to me about that Mary Anne chick.” I stopped listening and dropped my phone in the cup holder.
I suppose I deserved this for sleeping with an employee.
When I pulled up to my building, I noticed a figure sitting on the front stoop, leaning against the railing. I knew this was weird—our complex housed mostly young professionals who had to work in the morning. And even though I wasn’t usually awake that late to really know what the typical front-of-building whereabouts were, I had a sinking feeling.
Sure enough, when I climbed up the stairs, the hunched over figure was, in fact, Monica. A box from the local bakery rested in her lap.
I briefly considered sneaking in around her sleeping figure, letting her wake up and skulk away without any conversation. If I woke her, she could just pick up where she left off on her last voicemail, ranting and yelling. On the other hand, if I didn’t, maybe she’d be embarrassed and we’d never have to talk about it.
A girl could dream.
I put one hand on her shoulder. “Hey.”
She blinked once, twice. Looked up at me, lids heavy with sleep. She’d braided her long, black hair into two pigtails that framed her face. She smiled up at me. “Hey.”
“Sorry, I fell asleep on the couch. Watching the game.”
She accepted the response, stood up, held the box forward. “I brought a cupcake, but…”
I opened the box. All the frosting had been licked off. I couldn’t help but give one quick, sharp laugh.
She stood there, not moving to leave. I glanced at the building’s door, then at my cell phone. She yawned and leaned into me, nuzzling my neck. Something inside me softened.
“You want to spend the night?” I said.
She giggled and kissed my jaw. I put one arm around her waist and led her into the building.
When she went to the bathroom, I texted Mary Anne: Think about my offer. I’m serious.
© 2019 Kat Setzer. This page has no affiliation with Ann M. Martin, Scholastic, or any other entity involved with the Baby-Sitters Club Series. Original photos © 2019 Victor Koldunov, faestock, and Fotoschlick from Adobe Stock Images.