Next Year I'll be Perfect, p.1
Copyright 2012 Laura Kilmartin
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Cover Design by Greg Simanson
Edited by Nikki Van De Car
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to similarly named places or to persons living or deceased is unintentional.
PRINT ISBN 978-1-935961-72-7
EPUB ISBN 978-1-62015-076-4
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Library of Congress Control Number: 2012948692
MORE GREAT READS FROM BOOKTROPE
As is true for most of my successes in life, this book would not have been possible without the love and support of my family: My parents Michael and Anne Kilmartin and my sister Catherine Krusiec. “Thank you” does not begin to cover the encouragement I drew from their unyielding belief that I would someday be a published novelist.
I am also fortunate to have a life full of people who inspire me and make me laugh on a daily basis: The Nantucket Girls; The Boston Girls; my close friends from Westbrook High School, St. Michael's College and The University of Maine School of Law; my Stonecoast pals; and my work family.
Thank you to Tess Hardwick and Tracey Hansen for their book, Write for the Fight: A Collection of Seasonal Essays that introduced me to the incredible world of Booktrope Publishing and all of the wonderful people I've met there including Kenneth Shear, Katherine Sears and Heather Ludviksson.
I owe special thanks to Nikki Van De Car who edited my book and in doing so made it so much better. She was able to say in a very nice way, “I think your characters are probably doing something during the seven pages of dialogue without any action. You might want to share what's going on in your head with the rest of the class…” Thanks also go to Cathy Shaw who proofread the final version and Greg Simanson who designed the book cover of my dreams.
Finally, a gigantic thank-you goes out to Kara Mann who managed the entire book publication process. She shared my vision, spoke my language and - most of all - kept me from going off the deep end.
I SCRAPED THE LAST BARNACLES of peanut butter frosting from the edge of the cake pan and surveyed the disaster that had once been my kitchen. Plates drowned in messy blobs of ice cream, loosely crumpled wrapping paper strewn about the room, and two absurd lumps of wax shaped loosely like a “2” and a “9” were all that remained of the night's celebration.
My twenty-ninth birthday.
Reeling from the frightening fact this would be the last birthday I would celebrate in my twenties – and perhaps just a bit from the vodka tonics – I picked up the candles that had been set aflame just a few hours earlier and flung them one after the other into the sink where they landed with a satisfying “plunk”.
My hand poised ready at the garbage disposal switch, I wondered when I had graduated from a package of cute little pastel candles to these chunky monstrosities. At what age did society decide that the sheer volume of my years on earth became a violation of the fire code?
Startled, I turned toward my friend Livvie, so silent in her inspection of my birthday loot that I'd forgotten she was still in the room. “What?”
“I'm answering your question. Twenty-one.”
Whoops. I hadn't realized I'd asked it aloud.
But since I had…
“Okay, I'll bite. Why ‘twenty-one’?”
Livvie rose, and knowing she had my attention, took her time fishing a bottle of Sam Adams out of the fridge and taking a long pull before explaining, “There are twenty little pastel candles in every box. No one buys more than one box at a time, so by the time you hit twenty-one, you've got to figure out another way of lighting up your cake.”
“And take those candles out of the sink,” she demanded. “You'll clog up the disposal.”
Livvie DiMarco. The person in my life responsible for holding my hair back after a rough night out on the town, for making sure my shoes matched my purse, for knowing just when to bring over a pint of ice cream, was now apparently also responsible for keeping my plumbing bills to a minimum.
Livvie had accepted these roles of questionable distinction along with the title of “Sarah Bennett's Best Friend” shortly after we met six years ago at Maine Law School's new-student reception. I had been twenty-three years old, lingering near the entrance to the classroom in my floral Laura Ashley skirt and powder-blue twin set, not quite ready to join the other young professional wannabes milling about when she spotted me.
For reasons still unknown, but to my eternal gratitude, Livvie trotted her five-foot Mary Lou Retton frame over, thrust out her hand and said, “Olivia DiMarco. My friends call me Livvie.” Then, thrusting a hip against the door frame and crossing her arms across her chest, she studied the room and muttered, “Jesus, why would anyone in their right mind want to be a lawyer, anyway? What the hell were we thinking?”
Voicing the very question that had been churning through my thoughts, I handed my new friend a cup of warm punch and responded, “No idea.”
A bond of friendship was forever sealed over bad punch and expletives, thus explaining why Livvie was the last soul remaining at my birthday party, stealthily trying to clean up the place without my noticing.
“Hey,” I blurted, trying to draw my friend's attention away from the plates and cups she was beginning to clear. “I was just thinking about the day we met. Can you imagine if you'd struck up a conversation with someone else? Like Ellie Stanton or Donna Cross? You might be best friends with one of them right now and eating their birthday cake.”
“Couldn't happen.” Livvie sat, picking at the remnants of her own slice of cake. “First: I'm convinced that Ellie doesn't actually eat. Can't have that body and still consume food.”
She had a point. In the three years of law school and four years since graduation, I'd never actually seen Ellie eat. Whenever I envied how amazing she looked in a pair of tight jeans, I thought of peanut butter cake frosting, and how I could have it, and she never could. My roomy, size twelve jeans seemed a small price to pay for that kind of happiness.
“Donna probably does eat,” Livvie allowed, “but only sandwiches. She's too dumb to figure out which end of the fork to pick up. Nope. For better or worse, you're it.”
Aww. That was the sweetest thing Livvie ever said to me.
“Of course, when you were standing there on the first day of classes looking like Miss Beedle, the Walnut Grove school marm, I didn't realize what a pain in my ass you were going to be.”
Now that was the affection I was used to.<
“Speaking of which…” My friend leapt from the kitchen stool which, along with its twin and a low counter composed my apartment's tiny dining space, and reached for her purse. “I almost forgot. I have a present for you.”
“You already gave me my present.” I protested, pointing to the DVD sets for the final two seasons of Gilmore Girls, completing my collection of the entire television series.
“Yeah, well, this isn't really a present from me,” she said, thrusting an envelope toward me. “I'm just the messenger.”
“Who is it from?” I asked, taking the well-worn paper from her hand. I exchanged birthday presents with a very small circle of friends, and they had already all been accounted for. Looking closer, I startled slightly. My name was written in a very familiar handwriting.
“What is this, Livvie?”
I actually flinched at the wicked grin I received, knowing from experience that the events it heralded could range from drunk-dialing ex-boyfriends to Class E misdemeanors.
“Do you remember your twenty-fifth birthday?”
“Some of it,” I answered honestly, as what I did remember was wrapped in a haze of tequila, limes, salt, and an unfortunate chaser of chocolate milkshake. We had been a month into our third and final year of law school when I hit that milestone, and a bunch of us went out for a huge Mexican dinner. At that time most of my friends were law students, and we were all either living on student loan checks or handouts from Daddy, so most social events revolved around Pay-per-view movies, frozen pizza, and a box of wine. An actual sit-down dinner made an impression. “But what does this letter have to do with my twenty-fifth birthday—”
Just as the question left my lips, a memory flashed, revealing the contents of the benign-looking envelope and filling me with a certain dread. After my birthday dinner, the evening had ended as most parties did back then: in the living room of my apartment where my friends and I would talk, drink, and dream about the future.
“Oh yes it is.” Livvie sing-songed back at me.
I dropped the envelope on the counter and scooted my stool backward, as if the slight physical distance might protect me.
“Oh, come on, Sarah. It's funny.”
“If this is the letter I think it is, there's nothing funny about it at all.” I snagged a spoon from one of the dirty plates littering my kitchen and ignored Livvie's wrinkled nose of disgust as I staggered to the freezer. Just as I'd hoped, a full pint of Chunky Monkey was wedged behind several freezer bags of broccoli and a large box of vegetarian breakfast sausage.
I briefly toyed with the idea of pulling out the ice cream scoop and a bowl to measure out my portion, but discarded the idea almost immediately. Nope. This letter Livvie had handed me, and the implications of its contents, called for diving in face first.
Which I did.
“Get over here, Sarah.”
“I don't care that you ‘don't wanna.’” Livvie rolled her eyes. “For God's sake, get your ass over here.”
Never one to react well to a direct order, I instead planted my feet more firmly and took another enormous spoonful of ice cream.
Ow. Brain freeze.
Recognizing her mistake immediately, my friend sighed and held her hands in surrender. “You are a lot of work, kid. Fine. Please sit down. Please read the letter. Please let me out of this stupid obligation I've had hanging over my head for the last four years.”
Direct orders may not work on me, but I rarely ignored the frustrated plea of my best friend. Putting Ben & Jerry back in the freezer, I slunk over to the counter and again picked up my dreaded “present.” Flipping over the envelope, I read the words, “To be delivered by Olivia Margaret DiMarco at her discretion” written in my friend's large, loopy script over the seal.
“So, why did you decide to give me this now? Why not wait until next year?”
“Please.” Livvie dismissed my question with a derisive snort. “Next year, when you actually turn thirty, I'm going to have you on suicide watch. Do you really think it's a good idea to hand you this letter then?”
“Probably not.” I admitted. Hoping to stall another minute or two, I tapped the envelope on the table. “Hey, Livvie, remember that time when…”
“For the love of God, Sarah. Please just open it already so we can finish cleaning up.” She nodded her chin toward the envelope.
Unable to stall further, I ripped open the envelope. It, and the paper it contained were both a cream-colored, heavy bond. Resume-quality. I vividly remembered the trip to Staples the spring of my first year of law school when I'd purchased the paper, envelopes and even a new ink cartridge for my printer. Competition for summer internships had been fierce, so I pulled out all the stops to make a favorable first impression on potential employers.
I was thrilled when my efforts paid off and I was offered a summer job at the largest law firm in Portland. I was less than thrilled, though, when I realized the job entailed copying files, scheduling meetings and fetching coffee.
As much as I tried to convince myself, I'd found it difficult to believe that Atticus Finch had started his career picking up his boss' daughter at day care when a deposition ran late.
Months later, when the job had ended and my birthday rolled around again, I knew a few sheets remained from my stash of good paper. After dinner, while my friends waited patiently, I ransacked my bedroom closet to find it. I had set in my mind that an important letter must be written on important paper.
And an important letter it was. Finally finding the courage to smooth out its folds, I read its contents for the first time in four years while Livvie stood over my shoulder, doing the same.
I, Sarah Jackson Bennett, being of mildly inebriated (but sound) mind and body do hereby swear before God and these witnesses that by the time I reach thirty years of age, I will have accomplished the following:
1. Be happily married
2. Fit into a size six purple suede miniskirt
3. Be partner at a law firm
4. See Bruce Springsteen in concert
5. Sleep with George Clooney (preferably before #1, but if not, make it a condition of the pre-nup)
6. Own my own home
7. Visit Jimmy Stewart's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
8. Climb Mt. Katahdin
Sarah Jackson Bennett, aged 25
Witness: Ryan James Corruchi, aged 27
Witness: Olivia Margaret DiMarco (age withheld)
“A purple suede miniskirt?” Livvie grabbed the paper and feigned inspection of the date. “I'm sorry, did you make this list in 1987?”
“Hey, we live in Maine, not Milan. Excuse me if fashion comes a little late to some parts of the world.” I joked, searching for a reason for such a ridiculous goal. “Wait! Don't you remember?
“PATTY KELSNIK!!!” We shouted simultaneously, collapsing into laughter.
“Oh, that terrible purple suede miniskirt she used to wear when we went dancing on Fore Street,” Livvie could see it clearly.
“I thought she was the coolest thing on two legs and wanted to look just like her.”
Livvie rolled her eyes. “Oh, please. Patty wasn't even a real person. She cut a picture out of Vogue magazine and handed it over to her plastic surgeon when she turned eighteen. You forget: Patty was a rich girl from the O.C. who came to Maine Law because the skiing was good.”
Livvie was probably right, but I didn't care. I could still remember the way every head turned when Patty walked into the dance club wearing that miniskirt, and even today I could only imagine how amazing it would feel to cause that reaction.
I glanced down at my size twelve hips, well on their way to a fourteen after the amount of cake I'd eaten. Clearly the sight of me in a purple suede miniskirt would cause quite a reaction, and likely not the one I was looking for. As much as I hated to admit it, short of modifying my kitchen to zap me with an elec
And I hadn't even considered the challenge of finding a decent purple suede skirt.
I hopped down from my stool once more and crossed the kitchen to the refrigerator. Hidden amongst the wedding invitations, baby announcements and coupons for Lean Cuisine stuck to the door, I located the “skinny” picture of myself I kept taped there for inspiration.
“Look at this!” I thrust the photo at Livvie. “This is the thinnest I've ever been and it was still only a size ten! Sixteen years old at the Junior Prom with Mark Llewelyn. God, I'm depressed. I can't believe you showed me that letter.”
“Get a grip, Sarah. I obviously didn't do it to depress you. I thought this would be fun!”
“Are you kidding? Take a look! All this does is show me how far away I am from where I thought I'd be. When I wrote this, I was practically living with Ryan, and was absolutely convinced he was The One. I had it all planned out. We were going to graduate law school, get married, buy a house and be wildly successful attorneys who climbed mountains, went to concerts and travelled the world.”
“And who apparently let each other sleep with celebrities.”
“Shut up, Livvie.”
I had a sudden desire to travel back in time and slap my optimistic, ignorant 25-year old self and report that “The One” was now commonly referred to as “That Rat Bastard”. Worse even, in the four years since Ryan and I had broken up, finding a man with potential had been as rare as finding a Lifetime movie with a plot that didn't revolve around Tori Spelling in peril. Actually, my dating history resembled the synopsis of a bad sitcom or a Cathy cartoon.