Authors: Jennifer Sturman
This book would never have been written without Michele Jaffe, who had the great misfortune to read every draft and provided invaluable encouragement and input.
Laura Langlie, my agent, guided me through this process with a sure hand, unflagging confidence and good humor. She even pretended to take my theory of jinxing seriously.
I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Farrin Jacobs, Margaret Marbury and the entire team at Red Dress Ink for (however clichéd it may sound) making a dream come true.
My college roommates—Anne Coolidge, Holly Edmonds, Heather Jackson and Gretchen Peters—kindly allowed me to steal bits and pieces of themselves and our past (liberally seasoned with artistic license, of course!). Rulonna Neilson,
image consultant, shepherded me through the jungle that is Bloomingdale’s cosmetics department and captured the moment for posterity. Meg Cabot offered the wise perspective of an industry veteran and more champagne than was probably good for either of us.
My mother, Judith Sturman, my sister-in-law, Lindsay Jewett Sturman, author Gini Hartzmark and friends Stefanie Reich Offit and Karen Bisgeier Zucker graciously served as early readers, critics and sounding boards. Finally, my father, Joseph Sturman, and my brothers, Ted and Dan Sturman, managed neither to laugh at nor tease me about the excellent use to which I was putting my MBA.
Thank you all.
This book is dedicated, with love and gratitude, to my parents.
met Chris at the beginning of my junior year. He was tall and handsome, with thick dark hair and green eyes fringed with the sort of lashes that only boys seem to get but that girls covet. He sat next to me one September afternoon in Modern Art and Abstraction. I dropped my pen, he picked it up, our eyes met, and I fell head over heels in love with a sociopath.
Of course, it took nearly six months for me to realize that he was, in fact, a sociopath. He was a senior and a bit of a mystery to my circle of friends. He’d transferred to Harvard from a small liberal arts college out west, and he had an air about him that was part Mark Darcy and part James Bond. He swept me off my feet, and I was more than willing to be swept.
The first time I realized something was off was the night he figured out how to call in to my answering machine and play back the messages. I was at the library working on a paper, but he was convinced that I was cheating on him. A few months and a number of similar incidents later, I was out of love and desperate to be rid of him.
He wasn’t easy to break up with, but after several tedious conversations that began with “We’ve got to talk” and ended with him still thinking I was his girlfriend, he finally gave up. Soon I heard that he was dating a sophomore, who no doubt was just as enchanted by his attentions as I’d originally been.
The night my breakup with Chris became official, my four roommates and I rose to the occasion with a Girls’ Night Out, a ritual that we’d perfected since its inception freshman year. We would start with blender drinks in our common room in Lowell House and then embark on a pub crawl in Harvard Square, inevitably ending up at Shay’s, our favorite wine bar on JFK Street.
By the time we arrived at Shay’s that fateful evening it was after midnight. The tables were crowded with a mix of undergrads and some business school students from across the river, easily identifiable by their conservative dress and bottles of imported beer. We found seats on the front terrace and ordered the usual—a bottle of cheap red wine to be shared by everyone except Jane, who ordered a Black and Tan. As we waited for our drinks, I began lamenting my poor judgment for the umpteenth time that evening. “How could I have been so stupid?” I moaned. I was a little worse for wear after five hours of fairly enthusiastic drinking.
Hilary, never one to mince words, had a ready reply. “I don’t know. Was he that great in bed?”
Luisa exhaled a stream of cigarette smoke with impatience. “Have a little sympathy, Hil. Rachel was in love. Her first love. Everyone acts like an idiot the first time.”
Hilary snorted her reply but held her tongue while the waiter unloaded our drinks. Emma looked around the table expectantly. She was wearing a sleeveless Indian print dress and woven leather sandals, her mass of dark blond hair hanging loose down her back.
Jane took a sip of her Black and Tan and gave me a good-natured smile. “We all knew that you would come to your senses sooner or later. It happened to be later than we would have liked, but the important thing is that it happened.”
“But why didn’t I listen to you?” I asked. “You all tried to tell me what a nightmare he was—God only knows how many times—and I just didn’t want to hear it.”
“You were doing what you wanted to do,” said Jane.
“Even though what you wanted to do was completely fucked up. I mean, it was clear the guy was bad news from day one.” Hilary poured wine into her glass and passed the bottle to Luisa. “He was so full of himself.”
“He was not bad news from day one,” Jane protested. “He did a lot of things right at first. Remember all of the flowers? And when he took Rachel to Walden Pond? You have to give him at least a few points for that.”
“He’s a man,” said Luisa, stubbing out her cigarette and preparing to light another. “It’s a waste of time to dissect what he did right and what he did wrong.” She pointed the end of the unlit cigarette at me and locked her dark-eyed gaze on mine. “The most important thing is to learn to enjoy men but also to take care of yourself. Next time you’ll know better.”
“But what if I don’t know better?” I asked. “What if the next one is equally awful but in a different way, so that I don’t recognize that he’s awful?”
“Maybe next time you’ll listen to us,” said Jane.
“That’s right,” agreed Hilary. “You’ll remember what a fool you made of yourself with Chris, and you’ll listen.”
“You know, Hil, you haven’t always had the greatest judgment yourself. Remember Tommy Fitzgerald? And what about that guy from the Owl Club? What was his name again? The one with the—?”
“You’re one to talk, Jane. Remember freshman year when you and Sean were taking a ‘break’ and you started going out with that asshole from the crew team?”
“Okay, enough,” said Luisa. “We’ve all made mistakes—there’s no need to catalog them.”
“Luisa’s right. None of us has a very good record on assessing the men in our lives. And when push comes to shove, the rest of us always figure it out before the one who’s actually in the relationship.” Emma was so quiet that when she did speak people listened closely. We were all silent for a moment, considering her words.
“Well, the point is that if any of you come to me and tell me my boyfriend’s an asshole, I promise I’ll listen,” said Jane. This was easy for her to say, given that Sean was as close to the ideal boyfriend as a mere mortal could be. Still, her voice held a challenge in it for the rest of us. She looked around the table.
“Me, too,” said Emma, thoughtfully. “In fact, I’d even make a pact on that.”
“Well, I’d probably already know the guy was an asshole, but I’d listen to you,” said Hilary. “You can count me in.”
“No argument here, especially if it means that I never have to go through a relationship like this again,” I said.
“Luisa? What about you?” asked Emma.
She gave a slight shrug. “We’ve made so many pacts that it’s hard to keep them all straight. Remember the one about giving up caffeine? That lasted about five minutes. Why should this one be any different? What happens if we all promise to listen to each other but then we don’t? Then what?”
“Then the rest of us take matters into our own hands,” replied Hilary. “Obviously. We waste the guy.”
That made everybody laugh. “Come on, Luisa, don’t be such a skeptic,” said Jane. “This one’s serious.”
“Fine, fine.” She caved in to our pleading with another shrug of her shoulders. “I’m in.”
“Good. Then it’s unanimous. We’re making a pact,” said Emma.
“A pact,” agreed Jane.
“Let’s toast!” urged Hilary.
We laughed and clinked our glasses together—all except Jane, who hated when people clinked. In unison, we drank.
None of us would have guessed where this pact would lead.