“Great! That’s everybody,” I announced as I pressed the button to let Claudia into the apartment building.
“So Ben’s the only guy?” Jessi said, scanning the group of friends who’d gathered to help me move: Mary Anne, Stacey, Mallory, Monica, Jessi’s husband, and, in a few moments, Claudia.
“Yeah, Keith had to take his team to a tournament.” I patted Ben on his shoulder and grinned at him. “Ben’ll be okay. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by spending the day with a bunch of women.”
He smiled and flicked one wrist, replying in a falsetto, “Just call me one of the girls.”
We laughed. He’s a big, burly black guy, just shy of six-and-a-half feet tall, with a bit of an afro and one of those beards that’s kind of unkempt in a nerd-chic sort of way. He dresses exclusively in superhero t-shirts, cargo shorts, and Chuck Taylors — so “girly” isn’t a word anyone would ever use to describe him.
Jessi didn’t laugh.
“What?” I said.
“There’s just a lot of large furniture here. The sectional, the television, that wardrobe and dresser–” She listed my belongings as she scanned the room, rubbing one temple as she did so. She’d been snippy with me since the night Monica and I babysat. Which, I mean, I get why she’s pissed, and I apologized in our next pilates session, but really. She didn’t need to pull this passive-aggressive pouty crap.
I kept my cool, though, and just grinned and said, “What? You don’t think we can handle it? We’re strong. We work out! We don’t need a bunch of men to do all the work for us.” It wasn’t like we were moving a house– I had a one-bedroom apartment. It would take a couple hours, tops.
“Okay. Whatever you say.”
Ben murmured something under his breath, to which she took a deep breath, her nostrils flaring as she let it out, then rolled her eyes and muttered a reply I couldn’t hear.
Mary Anne poked me in the side, interrupting my staring. “So what do you want to get to first, boss?”
I scanned the room, then pointed at a pile. “Let’s do those boxes in the grandma’s attic, then the sectional. I want to get that out of the way first. I feel like maybe we can stack one part on top of the other in the truck, maybe? Then hold it in place with the dresser and wardrobe?”
“You’re keeping the sectional?” Jessi asked.
“Just in Mary Anne’s basement. Do you know how much it cost? I’m keeping it for life. I’ll be buried with it.”
“Oh.” She cocked her chin a bit and lifted her eyebrows, her eyes remaining impassive.
Ben clapped his hands together. “Okay, then. Let’s get moving.”
The first few minutes– running the boxes up and down stairs– weren’t hard at all. I’m on the third floor of a walkup, so we were all a bit winded, but we only had to do a couple trips each.
Then the couch. It was massive, but it also separated into two sections– one long and one short– so it wasn’t like we had to hook it through a stairwell. Just carry one chunk down, then the other.
Ben and I grabbed the longer section, which was about eight feet, and he started heading down the stairwell first. Heavy, but nothing I couldn’t handle. And this was by far the worst piece of furniture in the bunch. I don’t know what Jessi was getting at with her, Is Ben the only guy? crap.
We got down the first flight of stairs, and I was feeling pretty good about everything. We just had to stand it upright on each landing, which there was just barely enough room for, then I had to wiggle behind it and help push the bottom end out to Ben, carry it down the next set of stairs, and so on. A bit of a pain in the ass, but manageable.
We were heading down the next flight of stairs when I yelled to him, “Pivot! Pivot!”
“I’m not really in a good position to do that.”
“No, I mean. I was just referencing that episode of Friends. You remember, where Ross and Rachel get that fancy designer couch, and they can’t fit it up the stairwell?”
The tendons in his neck stood out and he spoke through clenched teeth. “Oh. Yeah. Never watched Friends.”
“You’ve never watched Friends?!”
“My parents didn’t think it was appropri– shit. Do you have that?” He backed down the step with a stutter. I leaned forward to drop my end of the couch more.
Have you ever seen a guitar string break? That was the exact sensation of my back giving out. I dropped my end of the couch onto the stairs.
“Shit!” Ben said, remarkably calmly, as he deftly lowered his end onto the landing. “You okay?”
I shook my head, and braced myself on the couch. If I stood perfectly still– you know, not breathing, shifting my weight, lifting an arm, anything– I was ok. Otherwise, shocks of debilitating pain travelled up from my hips, along the sides of my spine, and into my shoulder blades.
I felt Monica come up behind me and put her hand on my shoulder. “You okay, babe?”
“Back,” I groaned.
“Okay. Let’s get you sitting down somewhere.”
She hooked one arm around my waist and I hobbled back up stairs– which took like 10 minutes, and felt like an hour– and helped my lay back on the short end of the sectional (because, of course, my bed was already disassembled and there was no way I was getting down to the mattress on the ground and ever getting back up again).
“Do you have any pain killers?” she asked.
I shook my head, wincing as my back gave one more shriek of pain before settling into a dull ache. “Just ibuprofen and Tylenol.”
She went in search of the pills while the others discussed the remainder of my furniture. (Claudia and Stacey had apparently tag-teamed the end of the couch I’d been holding to help Ben carry it the rest of the way to the truck.)
Jessi held her hands up, and said, “My knees can’t do anything heavy. Happy to help with light stuff, but nothing else.” I’d known that– she’d dislocated a knee during a skiing accident her senior year of high school, plus tore multiple ligaments in the other knee, so they’ve never been up to snuff for much of anything.
Monica returned just as Jessi was saying this, and said, “Really?” But not in the “oh, that’s an interesting tidbit of information” sort of way– in the “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” kind of way.
“Mon,” I said. “It’s fine. We have plenty of people here even if Jessi’s just helping with packing the last few boxes or something.” I attempted to shift myself to an upright position. I winced and held my breath as the muscles along my spine seized. Everybody stared. “I’m fine. I’m fine.”
“I just don’t get why her panties are in such a bunch. She’s been like this all morning.”
Complete silence. Jessi raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms across her chest. Ben turned his attention to the baseball signed by David Ortiz sitting in one of the open boxes. Everybody else– Mary Anne, Stacey, Claudia, and Mallory– averted their gazes to other parts of the room while assuming their best deer-in-headlights poses.
Unfortunately, Monica took this silence to mean she should continue. “I’m sorry I’m dating your friend. I don’t get what you’re so mad about. Do you, like, have a crush on her?”
Sometimes, when you think silence can’t get anymore uncomfortable, you will be surprised by how much it can. This was one of those moments. Everybody’s gazes turned to their feet. Even Ben had set the ball back in the box and was standing completely straight, eyes unblinking.
Part of the reason I like Monica is that she has no problem speaking her mind– she’s one of the few people I know who can really put me in my place. And I know I need that. The only catch is that her mind goes in some weird places.
Jessi finally responded: “How about I don’t appreciate people treating my husband like a pack animal?”
Ben opened his mouth as though he was going to say something, but then thought better of it. None of us were used to seeing her angry, even him. It wasn’t really her MO. At most, she got scary silent for a while, then… I don’t know, would go do some yoga or something? And come back calm and happy as always.
“I thought he wanted to help,” I replied. I’ll admit it, a bit meekly. My voice scratched at the end.
“Because he’s too nice to say no!”
I looked to Ben for some sort of denial, but he’d returned to examining his feet.
“You couldn’t even bother to invite another guy to help, so he’s stuck carrying every single heavy item of furniture. It’s fucking ridiculous.” Jessi’s nostrils were flaring and I could see the beginning of tears at the edges of her eyes.
My insides sunk and my throat tightened. Dammit. Now I felt like an asshole.
“She just injured herself helping him move the couch!” Monica yelled.
I winced. I started to tell her to shut up, but Jessi started talking first.
“She knew she shouldn’t have been moving this stuff herself. You’re 37 years old, woman! Hire some fucking movers.” Jessi threw her hands up in the air. “Fuck this. We’re going. Come on, Ben.”
She grabbed her purse and stormed out the front door, Ben trailing behind her. He gave a small wave and then closed the door quietly behind them.
Monica broke the ensuing silence. “What a bitch.”
“She’s not a bitch,” I replied numbly, in monotone. “She’s right.” I glanced at Mary Anne, who’d pursed her lips and gave me a sympathetic look.
“We can still move things,” Stacey said. “I’ve definitely moved an entire apartment with only women. We don’t NEED Ben. He’s just helpful to have.”
“But I should be helping…”
“You hurt your back,” Stacey replied. “It happens. So. What are we doing next? The dresser?”
She nodded. “Claudia, want to get the dresser with me?” The two of them disappeared into the bedroom. A moment later, they shuffled out with the dresser in tow. They got about a foot out the door and set it down.
“Holy shit,” Claudia said. “This thing weighs a ton. Is this real wood?”
“You got it?” Stacey asked.
“Yeah. One sec.” Claudia squatted down and moved her hands to a different place on the dresser. Her cheeks puffed out as she lifted. They walked a couple more feet, then she set the dresser down again. “I’m sorry. I don’t think I can get this down the stairs. Even if I’m on the top. I’m either going to crush Stacey or the dresser. Or both.”
“It’s fine,” Monica said. “I’ve got this.” She went over, took Claudia’s end. She and Stacey lifted, then she set it back down again. “Oh, shit. I don’t think I can carry it, either.”
Everybody turned to me. I didn’t realize I could feel even shittier about today. Now what were we supposed to do?
© 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 photo of woman © 2019 Africa Studios from Adobe Stock Images.