“Roomies? That’s cool,” I said, trying to sound positive while my mind immediately started running through all the possible consequences of Kristy moving in with Mary Anne.
I mean, I probably more than anyone knew Mary Anne needed the help, given the number of dance classes her son was taking at my studio for free. But I wasn’t totally sure that Kristy was the help she needed. The woman had a new girlfriend every other month and seemed to live at “dyke nights” at Stamford’s lone gay bar. And while the whole situation may be the grounding Kristy needed, I wasn’t sure Mary Anne’s kids needed to be subjected to any more instability as she got her emotional baggage sorted.
Of course, Mary Anne had told Kristy no initially. So something had changed, but I didn’t know what. Intriguing.
“Yeah. Sooooo… Any interest in helping me move?” Kristy grinned up at me from the Pilates Reformer, where she was supposed to be doing bridges. She pointed at me with finger guns. I snapped my fingers at her and she raised her hips. “Sorry. So…?”
“You’re not hiring movers?”
“Eh. Doesn’t seem worth the expense, given how little I own.”
“I mean, you have a whole apartment’s worth of stuff.” I thought once I’d hit my 30s, I’d never have to help a friend move in exchange for pizza and beer ever again. My husband loved to save money– he literally had us blind taste test Costco coffee and some bulk brand he found on Amazon to see if we could drink the cheapest coffee possible, or if we should splurge and stick with the second cheapest– but we’d hired people our last two moves. We weren’t sadists. (Masochists? I can never keep the two straight. I guess both apply.)
Also, Kristy did not have the best joint health post college sports, so she probably shouldn’t be running up and down stairs with furniture or boxes. For crying out loud, she came to me for Pilates because she’d thrown her back out and her physical therapist told her she needed to work on her core strength more consistently.
“Let me check with Ben to see if we have anything.”
Note to self: come up with something to do on the 31st.
“Okay, time for the Hundred. Grab the straps off your shoulder rests.” Kristy obeyed and proceeded to get into position without much coaching. That was one of the nice things of working with a former athlete– she actually remembered exercises from week to week, so I didn’t have to do step-by-step coaching for every move, which meant we got to chat. And as hard of a time as I give her for some of her life choices, they do make for interesting conversation. “How are things going with Monica?”
Kristy rolled her eyes.
“But I thought you’re still seeing her?”
“Yeah, I guess. She’s not happy I’m moving in with Mary Anne.”
I narrowed my eyes. “But… You aren’t even serious with her, right?”
“And you’re not planning to get serious with her.”
“Nope.” She sighed. “I need to break it off. I keep meaning to, then I don’t, because it would be awkward…”
“Because she’s your employee…”
She pressed her lips together in a tight line. “Yeah… But I don’t think she’d do anything?”
“I’m thinking I might just ride this thing out. A lot of new trainers give up in their first year.”
“So you’re waiting for her to quit to break up with her?” I shook my head. “That’s a terrible idea. You know that, right?”
She gave a withered laugh. “Yeah…”
“Kristy. For the love of all things holy, just break up with her if you don’t want to date her.”
She didn’t respond. The cliche, “It was like talking to a wall,” perfectly describes any interaction with Kristy about her dating life. I’m not sure where her hang-ups come from– her father left her mother when she was fairly young, but her mom got remarried to a really great guy; both her older brothers are married with children, and her younger brother has a long-term boyfriend. So it’s not an upbringing thing. And she’s perfectly logical when it comes to things like owning a business.
We both seemed to decide it was best to drop the conversation, and the rest of the session progressed as usual– talking about the gym, her brothers, her mother and stepfather, her step-siblings, the new Chipotle location she wanted to move into because she loved the burrito bowls so much, and so on, with only a perfunctory question about the state of my husband and child, because, I don’t know, my life has never been that interesting to her. (I’m not bitter.)
This was all standard procedure, and I assumed that the drama of Kristy’s fling would remain something I could just watch from the outside.
After our session, Kristy turned to me and said, “I have a proposal for you.”
“I know you really don’t want to help me move. But I’d really appreciate it. Particularly if Ben came.” My husband was 6’2” and could practically juggle furniture, he was so strong. Which was ridiculously unfair, given he spent most of his free time playing video games, and the only team he’d ever belonged to was the Science Olympiad in high school. “So,” she raised her eyebrows. “What if I offered you not one, but TWO nights of babysitting for free. Saturday nights.”
Shit. Given babysitters ran $15-19 an hour for one kid, that was worth over $100. (PS– Where was that kind of cash when we were kids? I legit thought it was a good night when I got $5 an hour). Ben would kill me if I turned that down, even if he broke his back working for it. The man loved a good barter.
I sighed. “Okay, sure.”
We shook hands.
* * *
Ben was INCREDIBLY EXCITED when I told him Kristy would babysit for us. And, because I’d chosen what we’d done last date night, he chose this time, which meant we were going to the fancy theater in Stamford with the reclining loveseats and the soda machine that let you make whatever type of Coke you wanted. To watch– wait for it– Shazam!. Yes, that superhero movie for 13-year-olds. (I should point out that I’m saying this as a person who has seen the entire MCU series of movies, and recognize that a good superhero movie can appeal to adults. But this was a movie for eighth graders. Don’t @ me.) And he wore his Shazam shirt, which he’d had since college, because he was a fan looooong before anybody else had heard of Shazam.
But you know what? It’s impossible for me not to be happy when he leans into the dork. His excitement is infectious. So we got dinner and made each other mystery beverages at the magic Coke machine (for him: Dr. Pepper, lime Fanta, ginger ale; for me: diet raspberry Fanta mixed with diet lime Fanta), and snuggled up in our reclining loveseat to watch a kid take on the powers of an ancient wizard to become a grown-up superhero. Cute. No Black Panther or Captain Marvel, mind you, but cute.
When we got home, the house was fairly quiet. I could hear the white noise from Davie’s sound machine, the light murmur of the television in the living room, and… giggling?
Then, more faintly, Davie crying behind it all.
I practically bounded to the living room, where I found Kristy and a young woman with long, dark hair canoodling on the couch; the woman reclined against one of the couch arms, Kristy’s hand up her shirt.
So this was Monica.
My hands balled into fists, my nails cutting into my palms.
I cleared my throat.
Monica sat up with a start, her face bright red. Kristy sat up more slowly, smiling bashfully. “Hey guys. How was your date?”
Ben’s face had also turned beet red, and I’m pretty sure he stopped breathing. He gestured over his shoulder. “I’m going to check on Davie?” Then he spun around and dashed off.
“Sorry about that,” Kristy said, smoothing out her ponytail.
I picked up the remote and turned off the television. Without the TV, or the giggling, Davie’s wails were abundantly clear.
Kristy’s face drained of color. “Fuck. I’m sorry. That must have just started.”
I legitimately did not know what to say to her, because about 900 things wanted to come out at the same time: How dare she bring someone I didn’t know into the house? Why wasn’t she paying attention to Davie? What the hell was she doing with that person on my couch?
She was more responsible as a babysitter when she was 13.
Finally, I just shook my head at her. “Please just leave.” The words erupted as a bark.
For once, Kristy didn’t try to argue. She just nodded silently. I followed her and Monica out, then locked the door behind them. I noted that Kristy had never actually bothered to even introduce me to Monica– this could have been any random chick she’d found.
My hands had started to shake and my vision blurred. I leaned my forehead against the wall and took a few deep breaths. In the silence, I realized Davie’s crying had stopped.
I wiped my eyes, took one more belly breath through my nose, and slowly let it out through my mouth. I always had Ben.
When I got upstairs, I found my husband dancing with our son in the nursery, one cheek pressed against Davie’s baby ‘fro.
“He feels a little warm to me,” Ben murmured.
I pouted at Davie, who reached one arm out. I kissed his hand. “You not feeling good, buddy?” He shook his head and buried his face in Ben’s chest.
We gave him a dose of some children’s Tylenol, and Ben said, “You go get ready for bed. I’ll get him settled.”
“Thanks.” I felt jittery and tired all at once, though. I went back downstairs to turn off lights and pick up. Thankfully, Kristy at least had the decency to put her dinner plate into the dishwasher and throw away her trash; there was only a couple of water glasses on coasters on the end table in the living room.
As I grabbed the glasses, I noticed a hint of lavender peeking out from under the couch. I set the glasses back down and went over. I’d barely pulled it out an inch when I realized it was a very lacy purple bra.
For fuck’s sake.
I didn’t even know what to do with it, so I walked it over to the kitchen and dropped it in the trash, right on top of what looked to be a pile of salsa and sour cream.
Once Ben and I got to our bedroom, I said, “What was that?!”
Ben shook his head. “Yeah… I don’t know.”
“What about if we hadn’t gotten home?”
He shook his head again and shrugged.
“She brought someone we don’t know into our house, with our child, when we weren’t there.”
He held his hands up in front of him. “I know. I totally agree with you.”
I sighed. “I know you do.”
He pulled me into a big bear hug, and I breathed in his smell– his Old Spice deodorant, the cocoa butter face lotion, and beneath it all, the sharp tang of sweat. “It’ll be okay. Davie will be okay.”
“Yeah.” I nodded. “But shouldn’t we be past this point in our lives?”
“What do you mean?”
“All the drama. The random girlfriends, moving people’s shit. And it’s not just Kristy. Dawn just got kicked out of her parents’ place. What was she even doing living with them in the first place? She’s a grown damn woman. Mary Anne’s got all her shit, which I know isn’t her fault, and I feel bad for her, but it’s so much drama. The only person who seems vaguely stable is Stacey.” I collapsed against him. “I’m tired, Ben.”
“Claudia seems to be getting her shit together. And Mallory’s a weird cat lady, but she’s pretty drama-free.” He put a finger under my chin. “You’re a good friend.”
I pulled away from him. “Your friends aren’t this exhausting.” Then, as an afterthought, pointed a finger at his face and added, “And don’t say it’s because they’re guys.”
“I was going to say it’s because we’re all antisocial nerds. Can’t have drama if you don’t talk to anyone!” He grinned.
“Am I expecting too much?”
“I mean, I think you’re tired. And you have known these people forever. But maybe you need to spend time with some of your other friends?”
“What other friends?”
He paused as he wracked his brain for a response, probably realizing how pathetic my social life had become. “Jackie?”
Jackie was a woman who went to the same recreational dance classes in Stamford as I did. She had a little girl the same age as my son, Davie. Of course, because she had a kid and also worked, and she lived on the other side of Stamford, most of our hanging out was restricted to class or the occasional cup of tea before class. Maybe that was part of the reason why when we did spend time together, it was… easy. No drama. My life didn’t move to the sidelines of our friendship.
When I didn’t say anything, he shrugged. “Join a book club?”
We turned off the lights, and he fell asleep almost instantly. I listened to his breathing and stared at the streetlights glinting through the blinds, one thought repeated itself over and over in my head: I needed to find new friends.
© 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 Cookie Studio, Luis Molinero, and Victor Koldunov from Adobe Stock Images.