The Frog Prince by Jane Porter
By SMW Staff
Olivia rises, and her stomach goes concave making her trousers hit even lower on her magnificent hipbones. “You need friends.”
“I have friends.”
“Where?” I open my mouth but she holds up a slender honey cocoa finger. “Don’t say here. Work isn’t your social circle. If you got fired—”
“Am I getting fired?” Olivia doesn’t own the company, but as a director, she’s high up in management, knows everything, has a say in everything. It doesn’t hurt that Olivia has that enviable trait called star quality. People want to be around Olivia. Customers flock to City Events to work with Olivia. Olivia makes things happen.
“No.” Olivia glances at my half-eaten burrito in the foil wrapper, the crumpled napkin on my desk, the diet-coke with the smudge of lipstick on the rim and the files spread open in front of me. “You work hard, you’re conscientious, detail-oriented.”
“But what happens here, at your desk, is only part of the job,” she adds. “We’re all responsible for bringing in new accounts, for promoting City Events, and one of the best ways to sell City Events is by selling you.” And she smiles, a dazzling smile of lovely straight white teeth—her own, not veneers. “But you know that, Holly, and that’s why I hired you.”
I like her, I really do, and yet right now I’m wanting to crawl under my desk now and stay there forever.
More pathetic internal monologue: if Jean-Marc had loved me I wouldn’t be here now, in San Francisco, in a strange cold apartment, at a strange confusing job trying to figure out where I got it wrong, how I failed in love, why I’m the first of my friends to marry, as well as the first to divorce.
Rationally, I know Olivia is trying to help me. It’s her job to give me feedback and direction, but honestly, her cool crisp analysis cuts, wounding my already bruised (shattered?) self-esteem. I know we’re not supposed to rely on others for our self-worth. I know we’re supposed to look inside for validation but how are you supposed to like yourself, much less love yourself, when the person you trust most asks you to just go away?
“Two words,” Olivia says, holding up two fingers and looking down her long elegant nose at me.
I can feel my thighs sprawl on the chair, the weight of my limp ponytail on my neck. How can it only be Wednesday? I need Friday. I really need Friday.
“You’ve got to take charge, Holly. I know you said in the interview you’ve just been through a rough patch—divorce, you said—but it’s time to return to the land of the living. Get back in the ring. Make something happen.”
“Right.” And she is right. More or less.
“We’re going out for drinks after work. Join us. You already know some of my friends, and you’ll meet some new faces. It’ll be good for you.”
“Right.” Her friends are gorgeous. And manically extroverted. A thought comes to me. “But cocktails have calories.”
“A lot less than a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.”
Olivia walks away. I stare at my desk.
So that’s where we are. I’m Holly Bishop, living the suddenly single girl life in San Francisco, which is also the Turtleneck Capital of the US. Everyone here wears turtlenecks, lots and lots of black and gray turtlenecks with the inevitable leather coat, barn coat, barn leather coat. It might be the City by the Bay, but it’s also the City of Cold Hands, Neck and Feet.
Despite the need for sweaters even in July, I’m told that San Francisco is a great city to live in. You don’t have to drive to get around, there’s decent public transportation but I don’t know anyone that actually takes the public transportation. We drive on the West Coast.
We also pay huge sums to park. We pay for parking at work. We pay for parking at home. We pay for parking each time we head out to shop or see a flick or do anything remotely fun. (This is new to me. I was raised in a small town where you got angle parking on Main Street.)
But I’m not in Kansas anymore, or in California’s Central Valley, for that matter. I live in Cow Hollow, a great neighborhood not far from San Francisco’s Marina district, and work South of Market, which used to be cagey but now is cool at City Events, which as you can tell, is far hipper than I am.
Olivia hired me because I had the good sense to talk sports during the interview (thank God for a sport loving brother) and I pretended my limited PR skills in Fresno translated into something bigger than it did. And Olivia, showing rare sensitivity during the second interview, didn’t call me on the fact that a Fresno Golf Tournament isn’t exactly on the same swish scale as SF’s annual Leather & Lace Fundraiser Ball, and hired me despite my profound lack of interesting experience.
For three months she’s let me work at my own pace but clearly she’s ready for change. She wants something more from me. And she’s not the only one. I’d love more, too.
I eye my cold burrito in the creased foil wrapper. I should throw the rest of my burrito. Get started on my new life plan now. But I don’t have a new life plan yet. I don’t know what to do…
Correction. I don’t know what to feel.
This is the part I can’t talk about, because it’s been so long since I felt anything, much less anything good, that I just don’t know what’s normal anymore. But I am trying.
I left Fresno, a huge step for me since I knew next to no one in SF, but I did it. I found an apartment on my own. Searched the want ads and applied for jobs. I interviewed, even though most of the time I had no idea where I was going—and once I was hired by City Events I put on my happy face and went to work. Every day. On time.
Despite the fact there’s this ridiculously massive hole in my heart.
And people who say there’s no such thing as a broken heart, or pontificate on the physiological impossibility of a heart actually breaking, these people don’t know hurt. Because the day Jean-Marc finally said I-don’t-love-you, and I-will-never-love-you-that-way, my heart just stopped.
It stopped. It stopped because everything inside me was squeezing so hard and tight and kept squeezing until there was nothing left of me, at least not in the middle of my chest where my heart used to be.
So here I am in San Francisco trying to start over, as well as figure out what to do with the rest of my life.
And that’s where it gets murky because honestly, what am I supposed to do with the rest of my life? I’m a disappointment to my mother (I hate that she’ll be paying for my wedding forever). I’ve lost my new in-laws, although they do live in France and only met me once. And even my oldest friends have gone strangely silent.
So what do I do now?
I eat what’s left of my cold burrito.
Five thirty arrives and Olivia appears at my desk with her coat and purse slung over her shoulder. I save the document I’m typing up and look at her.
“Ready?” she says and I’m momentarily perplexed.
Ready? Ready for what?
“The others are waiting at reception.” Olivia taps her watch. “Drinks. Remember?”
No. I’ve obviously forgotten and I open my mouth to beg off but Olivia shakes her head. “I’m not letting you out of this. The city will never feel like home if you don’t give it a chance.”
She does have a point and I could use a new home. I can’t remember the last time I really felt like I belonged somewhere. “Give me just a second,” I say, pushing away from my desk and heading for the ladies room where I do a painful inspection.
Pale. Lumpy. Frumpy. My God I look tired.
I rummage in my purse, search for something to help revive the face, and find an old lipstick, a brownish shade that does nothing for me and apply some anyway. Hmmm. Brown lipstick, a black turtleneck, lavender circles beneath the eyes. Not exactly a come-hither look.
Maybe some hair would help so I lift my limp brown ponytail, pull on the elastic, freeing hair which becomes limp brown hair with a slight kink in it from the hair elastic. I fluff the hair. Comb the fingers through it. The ends stick out. Doris Day crossed with Chubbakah.
Irritably I pull the hair back into a ponytail again before wiping off the brown lipstick. Just get the hell out of here, I think, particularly as I don’t even know why I’m doing this. I’m not in the same league with Olivia. Olivia’s friends are all city girls. Sophisticated, urban, glam. I’m one step removed from country, and it shows. I wasn’t raised on a farm but I know my farm smells. They call the 99 Highway the scratch-and-sniff drive because it’s all sulfur, dairy and manure. But the 99 leads home. Or to what used to be home.
Olivia’s waiting at the front door with Sara and a couple of other girls who work in various City Events departments. “You look great,” Sara says with a big smile.
We both know she’s lying, but that’s how we women are. Practical and impractical. Helpful and cruel.
We leave our loft office, take the elevator down, exit the building and Olivia’s cell phone rings before we’ve even crossed the street.
“The Barrio,” she says into the phone, “and if we’re not there, then try Lucille’s.”
The phone rings three more times during our five minute walk. She gives the same info each time. Try the Barrio, and if not the Barrio, then Lucille’s. Olivia always makes the decisions, but then, she is the Queen and everyone wants to know the Queen and they want to keep the Queen happy.
We reach The Barrio. “How many people are coming?” I ask, as the club’s salsa vibe pulses out the windows and the Laffy Taffy purple front door.
“Five. Ten. Fifteen.” Olivia shrugs. “Who knows?”
And twenty minutes later I wish again I’d just gone home. I feel huge. Plain. Horrendously fuddy duddy. The salsa music is hot, sultry, sexy and Olivia and her circle feel it, slim shoulders shaking, amazing tone bodies in the groove.
I stand at the tall red and stainless counter holding my drink feeling like a Popsicle stick. I don’t really know what to do with salsa music. Or reggae. Or rap. Where I come from it’s country or hard rock. Jocks and goat ropers. In Visalia I was exotic but here, I’m just white and self-conscious and uncoordinated.
Olivia laughs and I glance her way. She’s sparkling and her laugh still hangs in the air. Despite the loud music, the raised voices, the speakers thumping, Olivia commands attention, and her dramatic coloring just plays off the crimson and ochre painted walls. Here at The Barrio she looks tall and thin, and as she leans back against the bar stool, even more of her stomach shows.
I hate her.
No. I hate me.
Olivia was right. I am fat. Whenever I stop tucking my shirt in that means I’m fat. And I’ve given up belts. Another sign of fat. The long loose skirts—fat.
Fat, fat, fat.
Rejected, dejected. I’m beginning to scare even me.
This has got to stop.
I need my old jeans back. I need the old me. The one that was fun. The one that laughed and didn’t take herself so damn seriously. The one that didn’t spend an entire Saturday in bed reading Oprah Winfrey’s bookclub novels where every child either drowns or gets abducted which I read crying and sniffling into my pillow because while I haven’t drowned or been abducted I do feel lost. Really lost and I’m not sure how to find where it is I’m supposed to go.
How pathetic does that sound? Snap out of it, Holly, I say, taking another sip from my icy salt-rimmed margarita. You’re not Hansel or Gretel. Not Snow White, or Belle from Beauty and the Beast. You can’t be lost. You’re an adult. Twenty-five. College educated. There’s a way out of this and you’re going to find it.
The thing to do is keep it simple. Take it a step at a time. Maybe Olivia is right. Start a diet. Then join a gym. Then get the legs waxed, and you know, reclaim the self.
I take a bigger sip from my hand blown margarita glass thinking it wasn’t so long ago that I had a decent body. Eighteen months ago I was that wide-eyed bride and I’d worked hard to look magnificent for the wedding. Slim, tone, fit. Ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.
The wedding photos never made it into an album. I still have the photos, though, in a big brown mailing envelope, a stack of glossy photos that will never get looked at, a stack of photos of a bride and groom laughing, smiling, photos that should have been cherished but won’t be.
I wish I’d known then that it wasn’t going to last. I wish I’d known what he was thinking. Feeling.
Funny, when I look at the photos now, especially the one where we’re dancing, our first dance, Jean-Marc’s unhappiness is so obvious. If you look at his face, you can see it there in his eyes. If you know Jean-Marc, you can see the emptiness behind the smile, the distance there. He’s not actually smiling. He’s already detached himself.
He’s already divorcing me.
“Another drink?” Aimee, Olivia’s friend, Director of Fundraising for the Met Museum, is gesturing to me and my now nearly empty glass.
I look up at her, but I don’t see Aimee, I see Jean-Marc and we’re on our honeymoon in the South of France. We’re doing everything big, everything splash, and I’m standing in the doorway of our suite’s living room, wearing a Victoria Secret’s pink lace teddy and not much else (but the hair’s done, lots of sexy tousled curls and flawless make up) and I’m smiling at him even as I try not to cry.
You don’t like this?
You don’t want this?
You look great.
But you don’t want me.
I’m just not in the mood.
It’s our honeymoon, Jean-Marc.
Holly, I can’t.
He says nothing. Why not? I shout.
Because I don’t love you that way.
I drain the rest of my hand-shaken, fresh fruit juice Margarita. Tequila’s good. It works. “One more,” I say to Aimee, blinking hard, refusing to cry, refusing to think about the disaster honeymoon, refusing to think about the pile of sexy lingerie that never got worn, refusing to accept that I own more Rosenthal than common sense.
That way? What the hell does that way mean?
Touching my tongue to the edge of the salt-rimmed glass, I’m suddenly hugely grateful for tequila and lime juice and Mariachi bands.
California would be nothing without Mexico.
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