Authors: Ariella Papa
“Glossy and light, and filled with glamorous parties, exciting hookups, and cocktails, Papa’s hip romance is right on target for twentysomethings.”
On the Verge
“Filled with witty lines and hilariously detailed events, Ariella Papa’s debut novel is a winner.”
On the Verge
“A delightfully wry take on the aftermath of being 27 and downsized.”
Up & Out
“Papa’s entertaining second novel is ideal reading for women in their twenties and thirties who are still struggling to find their niches in life.”
Up & Out
For Michael William Greaney, plate maker extraordinaire.
Big thanks to Ellie for teaching me a lot and having such a funny mommy. Special thanks to Isabella, who has given me a new appreciation for fondue and whose mother always answered my questions. Thanks to Jack and Maeve for picking moms who shared gross stories with me. And thanks to Ryan Michael, our founding baby.
Thanks also to Mrs. Orlando Bloom for a night with taxicab comedians; Mrs. McCann for breakable pacts; and Mrs. Dolvie Hackett for children’s anecdotes.
More thanks to Zoe Ragouzeos for listening and translating; Laura Corby for stop, drop and rolling; Kurt Roth, Esq., for deciphering real estate; and Farrin Jacobs, a fabulous editor who likes melty cheese.
was procrastinating when it happened. I should have been doing a lot of things. I should have been calling various executives at the airline whose in-flight magazine I was writing an article for, but I wasn’t sure I could work up the enthusiasm to discuss statistics. I should have been paying some bills or following up with the magazines that didn’t realize that freelance didn’t mean free—they actually had to pay me in a timely fashion. But, I was procrastinating. It was a common occurrence.
So, I did what usually brought me the most happiness, the thing that pulled me out of my voluntary solitary existence— I called my best friend, Jamie.
“Jamie Jacobs-Sarakanti,” she answered on the second ring. Her voice gave no indication of the bomb she was about to drop.
“It’s me. Are you busy?”
“Oh, hey. Not really. What’s up?”
“Well, I wanted to see what you were up to tonight.”
“Procrastinating, are we?”
“Yep, and I’m in the awful empty time between Netflix. The next DVD probably won’t arrive until tomorrow.”
“The horror,” she said.
“So I thought I would check to see if you wanted to go out for just one beer.” That was our code for a night out. Whenever we said we were meeting for “just one beer,” it turned into many beers and a long night of psychoanalyzing everyone in our families and social circle. We would have the same conversation as many times as necessary to nail down the exact reasons for my mother’s psychosis or why her sister always went for women who were high maintenance.
“Actually I can’t tonight.”
“Re-he-heally, do you and Raj have a night planned? I thought your date nights were Wednesday.” It never ceased to amaze me that my formerly wild best friend, who had once been given to spontaneous encounters with men she met on the subway, was now settled enough to have an established date night with her super-busy television producer husband.
“I wish.” Her voice sounded funny.
“So what’s up?”
And in that pause I had no warning that I was about to hear two of the grossest words in the English language.
“What?” I was innocent then. I didn’t believe my normally, well,
best friend would ever say something along the lines of “making love” or any of those other expressions that gave me the heebie-jeebies, like calling your boyfriend “lover.” So, I had no idea what she and Raj were
“You know,” she said, then dropped her voice lower. “Trying…to have a—” there it was, barely a breath “—baby.”
“What?” I screamed. I worried that my roommate Armando would wake up, even though it was well after noon.
There was a pause (pregnant?).
“Yeah,” she said. “I was going to tell you last week, but you cancelled.”
Damn the breakup of Hollywood’s most overexposed couple! I had to cancel our dinner plans to do some quick coverage for
a weekly gossip rag.
“Unofficially for about six months now. I don’t think we really wanted to admit to ourselves that we were ready. We kept having accidents—you know ‘forgetting’ to use something. We were kind of just going to see what happens, but…I don’t know, I’m anxious.”
Anxious? “This, uh, is kind of big.”
“I know. That’s why I wanted to tell you last week.”
My work was always getting in the way at the worst times. “Sorry I had to cancel, but—I think this is a definite reason for just one beer.”
“It definitely is, but I can’t. Tonight’s the night.”
“Huh?” It was all so unknown, then.
“How do you know?” And that was the first time I ever heard the laugh. The
“how could you be so ignorant about every aspect leading up to the miracle of life?”
laugh. It would not be the last.
“I took my temperature.”
“Now, how does that work?” I imagined her with a thermometer lodged under her tongue.
“I have a vaginal thermometer.”
“You stuck a thermometer up your hoo-hah?”
“Yeah, every morning, to help me find the right days.”
I was happy she couldn’t see my contorted face.
“Welcome to the world of fertility.”
“Well, so what—today is like the magic day?” I asked.
“I’m pretty sure. It’s all a bit overwhelming.”
“So if you want to do it tonight, don’t you think you should maybe have a drink to loosen up?”
“I might want to scale back on the drinking, too. It’s not going to be just me in my body anymore.”
“Hmm. Well, when does this time end, this magic fertilization time?” Maybe that came out a little too cynical. I could tell by the way she waited a minute before speaking.
“Sperm can last a few days, but you never know. I keep
thinking I’m calculating all wrong. We should probably do it for the next couple of days.”
“Voula, I know you’re going to be supportive and not the typical isolationist, nihilist, pessimist that I know and love.” She didn’t sound convinced.
“Call me Aunt Voula. I’m ready. Really.” Lies all lies. It was the beginning of the time of lies. “Do you want to meet for coffee tomorrow at Murray’s? You can fill me in on the dirty blessed deed.”
“Well, I’ll skip the coffee and grab a bagel.”
This was a woman who lived on caffeine. The coffee cup was just an extension of her hand. I couldn’t believe the changes were starting so quickly.
“Cool,” I lied, but at least I hadn’t heard the laugh again. “I’ll see you tomorrow at nine at Murray’s.”
“Okay, Aunt Voula— I have another call.”
“Happy humping,” I shouted into the phone, trying to be as encouraging as possible.
“Thank you.” And she hung up.
I stared at the blinking cursor of my laptop. It seemed to be mocking me and my fallopian tubes. A baby? This was incredible. I was so far from even thinking about babies. I had never really had a boyfriend even. I didn’t count my two and a half lovers (eeew, I was going there, too) as boyfriends. But Jamie? The girl who used to dance on the table and make me be her lookout in high school when she hooked up in empty classrooms? She was going to be a mother? I might need “just one beer” on my own.
I’ve always sort of felt like everyone else was in on something that I couldn’t quite figure out. It’s not a joke necessarily, but it’s kind of like maybe there’s this guide that everyone read, that I didn’t get. Part of it might be that English is my second language. Even though I picked it up quickly, I didn’t really learn it until kindergarten, and one of my first memories is sounds coming out of everyone’s mouth that I didn’t understand. But, it’s more than that. I’m suspicious of people.
I just don’t trust them. Maybe that’s why I like being a writer so much. It’s a solitary job for the most part and it’s sort of a one-sided conversation. I don’t have to see another side looking at me like I have a bird on my head. I’m more confident communicating through written words than trying to make myself clear in person. But, it was always different with Jamie.
Almost fifteen years ago, Jamie and I met at Stuyvesant High School. I don’t know why she took to me, but I’m forever grateful that she did. Jamie opened up a whole new world for me. I was a nerd and still sort of am, and before I got into that school my world was limited to Astoria, Queens, and the trips to Cyprus my family took every other year.
Jamie’s family was all-American while my parents spoke to us in Greek. There were no secrets in her family like the ones my sisters and I kept from our strict parents. Jamie’s parents were fine with her dating; we were forbidden from dating anyone, and then he better have been Cypriot, or at least Greek. It was Jamie’s mother I went to when I had questions about my changing body. My mother thought that if we didn’t talk about it, I wouldn’t realize what breasts could be used for.
From the beginning Jamie’s family wowed me. The first time I went over to her house in Park Slope, the phone rang and no one bothered to answer it.
They were having too much fun with each other!
They treated me like one of theirs. They found out things about Cyprus and asked me how to say things in Greek. They took an interest in me, not like I was some kind of freak but like I was an interesting person. I’d never felt so relaxed before. In my apartment, someone was always on edge.
As soon as we met, Jamie and I were inseparable. Well, except for when she was with whatever boy she was dating. We hung out at her place all the time and watched
after school and ate melba toast and cream cheese. We shared clothes and scoped boys. With Jamie, my life seemed almost normal.
We met when I was fourteen, right after the summer that my oldest sister, Cristina, died in a moped accident in Cyprus. I can’t say that I had ever had anything close to a functional family, but nothing was the same after that. It was as if my par
ents switched personalities. My mother, who had been given to constant yelling and hysterics, just shut down. My father, who had rarely said anything, started slamming doors and picking on us whenever we were in his presence. I retreated to a fantasy world of trash TV and books, both of which I still rely on. My middle sister, Helen, finally got to run with the bad crew Cristina had always stopped her from being around. Without Cristina, we fell apart.
It was Jamie who kept me tied to reality. She was the one I studied to find out how regular people responded to things. She seemed like she had it all figured out. Everyone wanted to be her friend, and for some reason she wanted to be mine. I was afraid of a lot of things that didn’t seem to worry other people. I always imagined the worst. Tragedy seemed to strike whenever I let my guard down. Jamie “got me” and never minded my blue moods or my sarcastic comments. Jamie pulled me out of my chair and got me to dance.
She’d been married for two years, but now she was really settling down. What was I going to do? My social circle was on the small side, and working from home didn’t really help me network, which I wasn’t good at anyway.
Maybe this was all happening because of the article I’d written for
On the Verge
magazine. The idea was to get to the truth about what I’d considered a baby backlash—the media warnings about dropping fertility levels after the magic age of twenty-seven. Granted, you aren’t as fertile after twenty-seven, but it’s not like your eggs shrivel up and rot. The editors peppered my article with photos of Susan Sarandon and Madonna and the babies they’d had as older women. I thought it was a pretty good piece that let them put “The Truth about Your Fertility” on the cover. Everyone had been happy when it came out six months ago.
Jamie had asked me a bunch of questions about the facts I’d gathered. I’d thought she was just curious about the real story because we enjoyed uncovering all the ways the media lied to us—but maybe she was starting to panic.
She was three months shy of thirty at the time, so perhaps
that was adding to the pressure. Her younger sister, Ana, often joked about turkey basters and artificial insemination, but Jamie always said she was in no rush. Raj had gotten a pretty sweet promotion and was a few years older than us. Could
be behind the baby push? It didn’t seem possible that all of this was what Jamie really wanted.
This felt like when Jamie decided to go to Amherst and I went to Columbia, like we were hurtling in two opposite directions, and I worried that our days of giggling and sleep-overs and (even back then) just one beer were coming to an end.
But our friendship had survived that distance. I continued to go with her family to Block Island in the summers. I learned what skunked beer was and how to tap a keg. I met her roommates Morgan and Alice, whom I continue to have a love-hate relationship with. The trips from my mother’s apartment in Queens to Amherst were just another part of our friendship. Now, instead of the Olsen Twins—my affectionate name for the roommates, and their histrionics and body obsessions—I would have a bouncing, drooling, shitting baby to get to know. I wasn’t sure I was ready.
I should have known this was coming. Ever since Jamie met Raj it was like she was no longer just Jamie. Now, she was part of a unit. Jamie had made me co-maid of honor with her sister when she got married and I really liked Raj, but I admit I was also a little jealous of him. Jamie appreciated having her girlfriends (as different as we all were), but more and more it seemed like Raj was the person whose opinion mattered the most. Once again I looked to Jamie for clues about the world, and I guessed that was just the way it was when you got married.
Armando said, coming out of his bedroom. He was just getting up. It was two in the afternoon. He was shirtless and filled the tiny room I’d commandeered for my desk and laptop with the smell of his cologne.
“Hey, Armando,” I said, trying to stifle the blush I often had when he traipsed around the house without his shirt on. Armando was from a small village in southern Italy, right at the
arch of the heel. He often told me of how fresh the produce was because of the soil in his
and I believed there was something in that soil that nurtured men who were unbelievably handsome. Several of Armando’s fellow villagers had stayed with us over the years for short stints and all of them seemed to have been bred on another planet. I had had a crush on Armando for a while. After a year or so it had turned maternal, but that first glimpse of him in the morning (or early afternoon) always got to me. Jamie and I had often joked that it hurt to look at Armando he was so hot—and even after living with him for three years, it still did.
“Vou-lah, I mus’ go in a leetle early this morning, but I wan talk to you.”
I turned away from the work I wasn’t doing and didn’t remind him that it was way past morning. Armando managed the front of an Italian restaurant in the West Village and he kept completely different hours than I did. It worked out well; for my job I needed as few distractions as possible.
“Okay, ’Arry cannot live here anymore.”