Best Laid Plans

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Chapter 9

“So, did you…” Ellie asks while she hoses down an empty kennel, careful not to create any splash back with the water.

“What? No! Of course not. He isn’t that kind of man. He’s different; he treats me with respect and honors me. Actually, I was so drunk I think I just passed out. Lucky for me, he really is a good guy who would never take advantage of me.” I recount my date night to Ellie, who seems a bit skeptical of this perfect man.

“Hmm, well, I suppose that’s good. A man with honorable intentions is hard to come by nowadays. Especially a man with a nice house, a great dog, and who is devilishly handsome,” Ellie’s tone still has skepticism in it.

I make a conscious decision to ignore Ellie’s implication. “I’m going to take Beemer for a walk. This is the week we are going to find his forever home, I just know it.” I turn and walk away. I do not want any negativity right now. Usually, Ellie is very supportive, but for some reason she doesn’t seem to like Dominic. I am certain this will change when she gets to know him. I find Beemer in his cage, jumping around as though this is the best day of his life. He is such a good dog. He’s a pointer mixed with Dalmatian. It’s an interesting mixture; he is excitable and has a lot of energy. We walk for fifteen minutes and then I drop him off at his cage. I feel bad cutting it short, but I am still feeling the hang over from last night. I need to go home to bed. I walk back to the cat section and I find Ellie in the cat room. She and I differ in our animal preferences, but in general, we love animals more than people.

“Hey, Ellie, I’m heading out, but I wanted to invite you to hang out with Dominic and I soon. I think it’ll be great if you meet him.”

“Meet Mr. Amazing, huh? I’m up for it. Ask him if he has any single friends he can set me up with,” she laughs. I give a small laugh back and tell her I will ask him. I turn and head out to my car. All I want to do is get home, shower and then finally sleep in my own bed. Staying at Dominic’s felt nice, but there is something to be said about being home in my own sanctuary.

I park my car and sense someone’s presence nearby. The hair on the back of my neck stands up and a chill runs down my spine. I turn and look behind me, nothing. The night is eerily still and calm. Crickets chirp, but silence falls as I walk near them. I hasten my walk to my apartment. I unlock my door and rush in and bolt it behind me. I take a deep breath and everything feels safe and normal again. Writing it off as my paranoia striking again, I decisively tell myself I am fine and I will sleep tonight. After I shower, I crawl into fresh sheets and close my eyes. My body thanks me with a deep, uninterrupted sleep.

Friday morning, Cora and I meet in the break room to discuss our happy hour plans for the evening. We used to go to happy hour every Friday after work, but since I started seeing Dominic, this has come to a screeching halt. I need to make it up to Cora. She has been super pouty about it. Coffee in hand, we each take a turn suggesting a place.

“How about the dive bar near the library? It’s not as dingy as you think, I promise,” I suggest. The look of disgust on Cora’s face answers my question.

“Veto, definitely veto. There’s a new trendy lounge bar that is having its opening night, Quench. We can try it?” she suggests. “It’s supposed to be up and coming. It’s the type of place that puts a unique spin on their cocktails and has over the top appetizers,” she says. I pick up my phone and check out Quench online. I give her a thumbs up and we now know our destination. I watch as Cora mirrors me and we take a sip of coffee at the same time. I read in a book that socially, people tend to sync up with the person they’re talking to as a way to establish a connection.

“Would you be okay if I invite Ellie? She seems a little bummed lately and I want to get her out.”

“Ellie? Um, sure. That’s fine as long as she isn’t lame this time,” Cora rolls her eyes.

I tried mixing Cora and Ellie’s company a couple of times before I gave up. They never quite hit it off and are more like oil and water, but they get along well enough that one happy hour together won’t kill anyone. The day drags on, until finally, we are free to leave for the weekend.

Cora and I walk into Quench and scan the room. The walls are white, but the lightbulbs are purple, giving the lounge a nice relaxing hue that creates a calm atmosphere. We quickly spot Ellie waiting for us at a table in the back. The table is short in height and, I already love this, the seats are couches. This gives Quench the finishing touch of a place to sit back, relax, feel elegant, and drink. I’m not surprised by the table she had picked. Ellie is more like me. She prefers to people watch more than being a person worth watching. She waves to us and we walk back to join her. Cora smiles brightly and hugs Ellie. It’s amazing how she turns on the charm for others. Kingsley and I might be the only people in the world who have seen Cora with her guard down.

“Ellie, darling! How have you been? What have you been up to since I saw you last?” Cora asks as though she is truly curious.

“Oh, you know, just work and volunteering at the shelter. I went on a date recently, but that turned out to be a dud. He talked about his car the entire time.” Ellie continued talking, but her voice fades into background noise when I notice him. “Dominic!” I say aloud.

“What?” Both Cora and Ellie say in unison. They turn and look. He is standing near the entrance scanning the room. We make eye contact and he smiles. In a flash, I hop up from my chair and I rush over to him.

“Hi, Lucy, I didn’t expect to see you here,” he said, sounding genuinely surprised.

“Nor I, you,” I smile back. “I’m here with my friends, Ellie and Cora. Would you like to meet them?” He glances to the table and gives a wave. They smile and wave back.

“Yes, I’d love to meet the important women in your life. I will only stay for a moment. I want you to enjoy your girls’ night,” he smiled. “Afterwards, would you like to come over and top off the night with me? I’ll pick us up a bottle of red wine, the grocery store’s finest,” he winks.

“It sounds perfect. I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I smile back.

We walk towards the table, my right hand on his left shoulder, guiding him. I introduce everyone and I can tell that Dominic has made a great first impression. I walk him back to the door to say goodbye. I can feel myself leaning into him and he wraps his arms around me pulling me into his strong embrace. He feels like home; I don’t want him to go. I find solace that I will see him later tonight and give him a quick kiss goodbye. I turn and circle back to join the girls at the table for drinks, and a rundown of their thoughts about Dominic.

“Wow, he is gorgeous!” Cora shouts as soon as I’m within ear shot.

“He’s even more handsome than I remember!” Ellie joins in.

“He’s taken, ladies!” I tease while feeling pleased with their compliments and interest. I rejoin them at the table and pick up my drink. I beam at both of them from behind my glass. This seems like the perfect time to make a suave move. I lift the glass towards them and wink, bring it to my lips for a sip, but end up spilling it on myself. Oh well, no one has ever accused me of being slick. I’m on cloud nine. Seeing Dominic tonight was such an unexpected surprise. I feel spontaneous having made plans to see Dominic after happy hour. Spur of the moment plans haven’t been my thing since I was twenty-one.

I love that Cora agrees that Dominic is indeed gorgeous. Not that I need her approval, but her opinion does mean a lot to me. I am also relieved that Ellie seems to have done a one-eighty on her stance on Dominic. Perhaps seeing how supportive Cora is about my relationship is helping Ellie to overcome her pessimistic thoughts and she can view it from another perspective. I didn’t realize until now how much I have been hoping for Ellie’s blessing on this.

“You’re radiating,” Cora points out. “A man like that is one in a million. He looks like he comes from old money, tell me I’m right? I noticed the Cartier watch on his wrist. Those aren’t cheap. The style he is wearing is easily $9,000. Which brings me to my next thought. It’s probably a gift from an old girlfriend. Men don’t typically buy themselves expensive watches to adorn their wrists. You’ll need to replace it with a gift from you as soon as possible.” I watch as she leans forward for her drink. She doesn’t break eye contact as she takes a sip.

“Get him a new watch, got it. Just one little problem, I can’t afford to replace his Cartier watch with another watch. My gift would be cheap in comparison, but it seems like he is from old money. He basically lives in a mansion that his mom inherited.”

“He inherited his house?” Cora raises an eyebrow and sips her drink, “Interesting.”

“I can’t wait to get to know him better. He seemed very nice and charismatic,” Ellie eagerly chimes in.

I contemplate whether or not I want to put this out into the universe, but I throw caution to the wind and go for it. “Ladies, am I crazy? I think I love him,” I look at their faces. Cora looks thrilled and Ellie looks alarmed.

“That’s wonderful, Luce! I’m glad you found your fairy-tale man,” Cora says.

I smile when Cora says that. I can’t believe we are sitting here gushing over a man that I’m dating. Me! This never happens. The last time we gushed over a man it was when Cora held out her left hand to show off the dazzling diamond on her ring finger. I’m feeling empowered! My thoughts are abruptly interrupted by Ellie’s intrusion.

“Fairy-tale? How can you say something so precarious? Lucy just met this man a few weeks ago. Come on, Lucy. You’re really taking a dive before checking the water’s depth. What’s gotten into you? He seems like a nice guy, but come on, seriously? Love?” she questions. More than mildly humiliated, I take a moment to breathe before I respond with a defensive comment. My instinct is to bite back, but it’s Ellie and I know she doesn’t mean to hurt me with her statements. Within the moment it took for me to take a deep breath, Cora is a recoiled snake striking her prey.

“How dare you come at Lucy like that! She just made a huge, life-changing revelation, and you just have to ruin it with your bitterness? It’s no wonder you’re single at 25. You’re wretched. You can’t even be supportive of your friend whom you’ve known for years? She finds love and you have the audacity to call it precarious? The only thing dangerous here is your insecurity. Pathetic. Check yourself.” Cora throws a hand up towards Ellie as though she is deflecting Ellie’s stare back to her. Cora turned to me. Her green eyes darkened, “It’s a good thing she doesn’t have children. Her cats will be the only ones who suffer through her intolerable cynicism.”

My eyes are wide now. I don’t know how to respond, but I see Ellie immediately start to cry. “Ellie, babe, it’s okay. Cora didn’t mean it. She’s just trying to protect me. It’s okay. Please don’t cry,” I stammer. Every ounce of me feels completely terrible. “You’ll find your fairy-tale someday.”

“Excuse me? That cow just cuts me straight through with a knife, right in front of your eyes, and you take a turn and twist it in deeper! Stop telling me it’s okay, when in fact, it is not okay! It’s the opposite of okay. It’s terrible. She’s wretched!” Ellie cries.

“What? What did I do? I said that to make you feel better, not worse! I’m not sure why I am being yelled at right now.” I’m absolutely appalled at the accusation that anything I said is comparable to Cora’s words. “Honestly, I meant no harm. Take it down a notch and let’s talk this out, all three of us,” I glance over at Cora who breaks eye contact and looks down at her drink.

“You don’t have my back. You have hers.” Ellie looks at Cora with pure disgust and gets up from the table and storms out.

A few patrons sitting at surrounding tables watch us quietly, turning to each other and continuing their conversations. I was not ready for Ellie’s emotion to ricochet and hit me. I thought she would aim her anger at Cora, but here we sit in silence, just me and Cora. We look at each other and Cora shrugs, indicating that she isn’t sure what to make of the scene that played out before our eyes. I hang my head down low and start weeping. Cora comes over to the couch I’m sitting on and gives me a hug. At least I know this friendship is still solid. I have never been the type of person to get into a relationship and turn my back on my friends. I’ve always given myself more credit than that, but somehow, Ellie has made me begin to doubt myself.

“Luce, don’t let her get to you. Her anger is a reflection of how she feels about herself, not how she feels about you. People see in others what they see in themselves. If she hates something about you, it’s because she hates it about herself. Right now, Ellie is suffering from meta-perception, and unfortunately, you’re the main subject for her bias.”

“That’s an interesting point. Do you really believe that’s what’s going on right now?” I manage to say between sniffling.

“Yes, I do, and to be completely honest, I think it has been going on for much longer than you know. I have noticed it myself, a few times actually, whenever we get together. I bite my tongue each time, but I couldn’t bring myself to sit here and let her berate us like that. You’re finally happy with someone. It is strange to me that she can’t be happy for you. Remember how jealous she got at the winery when that man hit on you?”

“Oh yeah, I forgot about that. You’re right, though. Thank you. You’re so insightful. I can’t believe I’ve never noticed it before. I think we should call it a night, though. Tonight has given me a lot to think about,” I tell her. I know what my face looks like when I cry. I’m definitely one of those ugly criers. I’m certain my cheeks are blotchy red and my eyelids are puffy and swollen. I need to fix myself up before I go see Dominic tonight.

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