Monday evening, June 2:
I will not damage the rude patrons or the annoying heterosexual coworker.
Trombone continues to throw up in my shoes. Professor Hill has chewed up the crotch of yet another pair of panties. It’s been so long since anyone was down there I’ve probably turned to liverwurst.
I'm never going to move up if I don’t get my M.L.S., so I'm going to get my M.L.S. It’s not like it'll cut much into my social life.
HER is still the only woman I want. As usual, I feel stupid and pathetic for wanting HER.
Someone will die if my period doesn’t start tomorrow.
* * *
“We have to have lunch. Today.” Marian knew that cement tone in Ellie’s voice.
“But I don’t know more than what I said,” Marian protested. She took her mug of hot tea out of the microwave and set it down on the table in the break room.
“You may not realize what you know.”
“You sound like an interrogator. I don’t have time for lunch today. Bill’s out sick.” Marian wanted to kick herself. She ought to have known that Ellie would go into hyper-hunt mode the moment she found out.
“I thought Bill the Boor’s being out would make you happy. So celebrate by having lunch with me.”
Marian steadied herself with a deep breath. “When Jersey stopped in this morning, she said that Amy said the woman was getting a stack pass at the Psych Library. So she'll be here for a while.”
“Yeah, but I want first shot at her. C'mon, Marian. Fresh meat in the summer? That never happens! You and I have a chance for once. You know that Jersey left the library and told at least five student dykes. Amy told five faculty dykes after she told Jersey, you know she did. And all of them told five dykes. By tonight every dyke in Iowa City is going to know.”
Though she spoke through gritted teeth, Marian thought she managed to sound almost normal. “Dinner. I can meet you for dinner.”
Clearly surprised, Ellie replied, "Well, okay. That'll do, I guess. Where?”
“You decide. I can’t make decisions today.”
“Oh.” Ellie clicked her tongue against her teeth, a sound Marian found as annoying on the phone as she did in person. “I see. Amani’s?”
Amani’s chocolate cake was exactly what Marian needed. “At seven,” she confirmed. Eric wandered into the staff room and looked hopefully at the phone. “Break’s over. Gotta go.”
Back at the reference desk, Marian surreptitiously unwrapped a Dove dark chocolate bite. On a day like today it was medicinal. Besides, it was heart healthy and she had a link to the research study to prove it.
She had just finished savoring the last bitter aftertaste when a patron paused at the desk. She pushed the chocolate’s wrapper into the back pocket of her tailored khaki shorts and smiled pleasantly. “May I help you locate a resource?”
The youth’s slouch and greasy hair was at odds with a shy smile. “Could you help me, I guess, I want to please know how would I address a letter to the Queen. Of England. Please.”
Books and covers, Marian thought. “We have several texts on etiquette, but a simple Web search might be fastest. Did you want just that question answered or are you interested in the topic of social etiquette with monarchs?”
“It’s for a school sociology project. My final.”
Given the date, Marian thought he’d left his research a little late. High schools were nearly out. “Then for thorough research I think you'll want the text.”
Marian led the boy to an open terminal. “Have you used the public library system before?”
The boy cleared his throat but Marian didn’t know quite what to make of the noise that came out. Now she recognized him. He worked afternoons at the Java House.
“No? Here’s the catalog browser and you can use the Internet browser as well. It’s of course free and there’s no enforced time limit. Starting tomorrow, new software will limit you to two hours of Internet access per day. Try a catalog search for etiquette and I think we'll see some useful guides. Sorry about the mouse. Just click three times.” Tech Services was taking its time getting a new one.
Even though the day was not going well, the orderly precision of the Dewey Decimal System was comforting as always to Marian. She patiently explained how the cataloging system worked and led him to the nonfiction shelves.
“So all these books in this area could be helpful because they’re numbered the same?” The boy looked a bit like he’d found the Mother Lode. Marian was gratified to have been the one to have shown him the Dewey magic, but she was simultaneously peeved that he hadn’t been taught in school. As pleasant as teaching the system could be, it was not the be-all and end-all of her career choice.
“Precisely, and related subjects, like cultural standards, are adjacent. The very last Dewey entry, by the way, is the nine hundred ninety-nine series – extraterrestrial.”
She was very pleased he hadn’t grabbed the book she’d pointed out initially and bolted. “If you find your question hasn’t been completely answered, feel free to return to the reference desk. Good luck with your paper,” she concluded cheerily.
Safely back at the desk, Marian congratulated herself for not killing anyone so far .
“I can’t find the phone book I need.”
It was an effort, but Marian plastered a smile on her face. Over the patron’s shoulder she saw Eric, travel mug in hand, veer abruptly toward the magazines, leaving her to deal with the woman she privately thought of as the Lead Bitch from the Seventh Dimension of Bitch Universe. “How pleasant to see you again. What area were you looking for?”
Seventh Dimension Bitch tossed her fluffy blonde hair over her shoulder. There was something in the way she did it that made Marian absolutely certain that she should feel inadequate about her own short, dark, unremarkable hair. The woman had all the attitude of Trombone, but likely none of the purring. “Dallas, of course.”
“Of course,” Marian echoed. “I'm sorry, but the Iowa City Public Library no longer carries phone books for areas outside of the state. But you can use several different sources on the Internet. I'd be happy —"
“Never mind! You people never have what I want.” The departing flounce ruffled several papers onto the floor.
After tidying, Marian reached surreptitiously for another square of chocolate. Eric, the chickenshit, was back. Under her breath she said, "How long do you think it would take for someone to die from being repeatedly stapled?”
“It’s not worth it. I don’t want to visit you in jail.”
“But I look good in orange.”
“You look like a cadaver in orange.”
Marian became aware of the tinny treble from a pair of headphones, but no one in sight had a pair on. She'd have to hunt for the culprit.
A cell phone shrilled from the direction of adult nonfiction, sending razors up her spine. “I'm at the library, so I can’t talk long,” a man’s voice boomed.
“I'll go,” Eric said.
“No, I got it. Days like today these cards save lives.”
She slipped the cell-phone user the first card, which politely asked the patron to end the call or to step outside, and nodded pleasantly at the man’s annoyed face. Had he no clue at all that everyone in the vicinity could hear his opinion of last night’s date? She waited until he shuffled slowly toward the exit, then let her ears guide her toward the still audible static and bass of headphones.
The young woman read the card in surprise but mouthed an apology and turned the volume down sufficiently so that Marian could no longer hear anything.
Fair enough, Marian thought. She gave the patron a thumbs-up and went back to the desk. She had another hour of desk time before she could retire to the shared workspace in the back to review new acquisitions. No one had had to be gutted and grilled. It was a relief.
Eric wasn’t there, but Seventh Dimension Bitch was.
It took a very deep breath to find even a businesslike smile. She dealt with the next series of statements about the library system’s inadequacies without losing her cool, though she felt like a cartoon character with steam coming out of her ears.
Please, she thought, let my period start now. Or someone is going to die.
Eric had moved all the staplers to his end of the desk.
* * *
“I want to know absolutely everything Jersey said.” Ellie wasted no time taking a long sip from the Manhattan she’d ordered.
Marian squinted at the menu, looking for something light as preparation to diving face first into the Chocolate Thunder cake. “Why can’t you call Jersey yourself? It’s not like you don’t have her number.”
“Jersey isn’t reliable on the details, you know that.”
“I think she is. It’s Sandy who said Jersey couldn’t remember the right name during, but I don’t see how that affects her recall when she’s out of bed.”
“When it comes to fresh meat in the dating market, I need accuracy, that’s all. I tried Amy, but she wasn’t home. Besides… ” Ellie sighed. “Jersey has been looking too good to me lately, and she’s with Terry. I shouldn’t flirt with her as much as I do.”
Marian looked over the menu in alarm. “You wouldn’t, would you?”
“What? Sleep with Jersey?”
“Yeah. That would be just…weird.”
“Frankly, my dear, it can be kind of kinky to think about. It’s not like Sandy spilled the whole Jersey story, but I do know a bit about what she’s like.”
“You could really be with an ex’s ex?”
Ellie stirred her Manhattan. “In this town how can you avoid it? Well, you avoid it by not dating at all.”
“Next thing you know you’ll tell me you’ve slept with both women in a couple.”
Ellie got her you-have-no-idea-the-things-I’ve-done smirk. “I have the sense at least not to tell.”
“Not saying. But believe me, about now I’m desperate enough to do it again.”
“Forget I said that.” Ellie did not look in the least bit remorseful.
“You’ll get a reputation.”
“Your inner prude is showing. I already have a reputation.” Marian wasn’t fooled by Ellie’s nonchalant air. “You and I are the only single women over thirty-five in this town. That is, besides Sandy, and she’s my ex now even if we’re still living together. So why should I forego the willing but perhaps entangled ones?”
It’s not right, Marian wanted to say. Yes, Inner Prude was clear about that. Inner Historian, keeper of the Iowa City dance card, wanted to know who. Inner Slut wanted to know if it had been good. “Maybe I’m not meant to live in the modern era.”
“Maybe you need to put sex into perspective. It doesn’t have to be the ultimate exercise of love. Love doesn’t even have to enter into the picture.”
“But shouldn’t it?”
“Only in a Hallmark card. What has a desire for monogamy done for either of us? I date too much and you don’t date at all.” Ellie yanked at the front of her blouse. “I think I’ve gained weight. Great. Just great.”
Marian knew her cue. She said heartily, “You look tasty, as always. Femme on a Triscuit, positively edible.” They’d been best friends for more than half their lives, and such reassurance was second nature to Marian. Ellie had the looks and figure that were universally described as attractive by men and women alike. She had a flashy style and brash confidence about her looks that had always eluded Marian. Regardless, she needed to be reminded of her assets, just as Marian occasionally needed to be told she had a brain.
Maybe, Marian thought, I could just have chocolate cake for dinner. And another slice for dessert.
“Sorry. Sharing the house with Sandy is starting to get to me. Celibacy is starting to get to me. I’ve even been thinking about Sandy again, and that would so give her the wrong idea.”
“Well, I'm not sleeping with you.” Damn, with her period so close it was actually tempting. Useless hormones.
“All the more reason for you and me to find out who this new woman is and get busy. You know Carrie will sniff her out in less than three days with that voodoo thing she does.”
“It’s not voodoo, it’s Wicca, and you can’t use Wicca that way.”
“How would you know?”
“I'm a librarian. Besides, Carrie doesn’t go after just anybody. It’s just that when she does she usually succeeds. ” Marian closed the menu. “Chicken medallions sound good. Light.”
“One of these days I am not going to let you win an argument with that chintzy librarian credential.”
Marian allowed herself a small smile. “Hey, you can disdain my master’s in history all you like, but I must inform you that you’re talking to a future Master of Library and Information Science.”
“Since when I sign the check and fill out the paperwork. And get a reference from Mary Jane.”
“Girlfriend!” Ellie lifted her drink and clinked it to Marian’s water glass. “Congrats.”
Grinning, Marian thought it wise to admonish Ellie further. “So you’ll have to be careful when you call my bluff. If I'm right, you'll never hear the end —"
“Shut up.” Ellie frowned at the menu. “I love this place but I can’t afford it. Neither of my careers is paying well enough right now. I’m behind in billing insurance companies for the physical therapy work. So I took on Jenny’s guest bathroom plumbing for the cash. End result is I have no time to bill insurance. Would you be willing to split dinner?”
“Can we get a salad, too?”
“I will not share my cake.”
“I'm not sharing my drink, so we're even.” Ellie studied her manicure for a moment, frowning. “Frankly, sleeping with both women in a couple is damned appealing right now. Preferably at the same time, on a great big bed with every imaginable assistive device, thank you.”
“Don’t dangle images like that in front of me today.” Inner Slut pouted at Marian’s refusal to consider the fantasy. Not here, she soothed. You know we can’t have that particular fantasy here.
The restaurant door opened, letting in a brief whiff of early evening humidity. Marian blinked. “Amy and Hemma just walked in.”
Ellie turned around to wave. “Speaking of couples I'd sleep with, as if that would ever happen. Monogamy is such a bore. At least Amy can tell me about the new babe. You're no help.”
Inadequate yet again, Marian thought. While Ellie was twisted around to wave at Amy, Marian snagged Ellie’s cocktail and managed several swallows before she returned it to its place atop the petite napkin.
Hemma was wearing an aqua linen blouse Marian hadn’t seen before. “That’s a great color on you,” Marian told her after their hello.
“You are so good for my ego, thank you. Tell me they have chocolate cake tonight.” Hemma’s deep black eyes sparkled in the low light.
Horrified, Marian said, "I haven’t asked. You don’t suppose —"
“They have cake, I can see a slice on the tray.” Amy slipped a bracing arm around Hemma’s waist. “Cake is essential tonight.”
Ellie grinned. “Tell me about it. Marian’s got PMS so bad she can’t even scam with me about that new woman.”
Marian felt a blush start under her hairline. She prayed it didn’t show in the low light. “I'm not in the mood to scam.”
Hemma smiled in her understanding way. “You're coming to dinner Thursday as usual?”
“I'm there unless you’ve finally decided to change the locks after all these years.”
Hemma patted Marian’s shoulder. “You could get in anyway. You know which windows don’t latch.”
After searching her friends' faces for any sign that she wasn’t welcome, Marian made her hypersensitive PMS self relax. Their almost weekly ritual of Thursday night dinner was of such long standing that it had survived Robyn Vaughn’s arrival in Marian’s life and Robyn Vaughn’s departure. But there was always a chance that they had tired of her company, or that they’d figured out how much the ritual meant to Marian.
Amy was finishing her detailed description of the woman she'd seen getting a stack pass. “Not quite your height. Closer to Marian’s than yours.”
“That short?” Ellie glanced at Marian as if she'd never considered Marian’s height before.
“I am not short,” Marian protested. “I am exactly average and I've got the link —"
“To the research study that proves it, I know.” She shot Marian a suspicious look as she peered into her nearly empty cocktail glass.
Marian gave Amy her full attention. “Sorry, I wasn’t listening. Is this new woman going to upset the entire dating pool?”
“Well, I noticed her and I generally don’t,” Amy admitted.
“Better not,” Hemma warned.
“Nobody compares to you, my love.” Amy’s hand slipped downward to cup Hemma’s hip. “Let’s go get our table, because I'm starved.”
With a throaty laugh Hemma pressed her hip into Amy’s hand. Her hand lovingly covered Amy’s. “I know.”
Marian blushed furiously. Ellie gave her a startled look.
Anything was better than the truth, Marian thought desperately. “Okay, I swiped some of your drink.”
Ellie’s indignation was sufficient to divert to safe topics, even if it was a recitation of the many burdens Ellie suffered being Marian’s best friend. Marian let the various accustomed criticisms wash over her. Ellie had been her friend too long for it to have any sting, even when PMS made Marian certain the world could read her mind and every last secret. When dessert finally arrived, she lost herself in the chocolate cake. It was, after all, cheaper than therapy.