Over the course of a month, I’m posting a short novella titled We Almost Had It which traces the friendships and romances of a group of thirty-something social media managers in Seattle as they try to figure out what a fulfilling life looks like in the digital age. The story was inspired by Shopping Is a Feeling, an album released by former Gastbys American Dream guitarist Bobby Darling under the moniker What What What. Click here to go back to the fourth chapter, “Fucks With You”, or here to start the story over at the beginning.
Kelli laid an array of vegetables and herbs on the wide counterspace of the island. Seeing that her fingerprints had left smudges on the shimmering stainless steel of the refrigerator door, she instinctively reached out to wipe away the stain but then, with a jerking motion she pulled her hand back. Chad had told her to leave that kind of thing for the housekeeper who came on Mondays and Thursdays.
“I’ll give you this,” said Rachel, red wine swirling in her overfilled glass as she leaned against the island’s pristinely-cut slate countertop. “Chad may be a bit of an idiot,” Kelli shot her a familiar, glowering stare but Rachel continued unimpeded, “but goddamn if he didn’t put together a gorgeous house.”
“Ignoring the first part of that comment,” said Kelli, “thank you.”
“Honestly,” continued Rachel, looking around at the double oven, the deep basin of the farmhouse sink and the soft glow of the inlaid cabinet lighting that emanated warmly from behind glass-paned cabinet doors, “For this kind of place, I’d fuck him, too.”
“What? Oh, come on, you know I’m fucking with you.” She took a healthy gulp of wine. “It’d take more than a nice kitchen for me to get on that dick. He’s like nazi Jean-Ralphio.”
Rachel, her dark hair cascading over her shoulders, raised a glass in salute. Kelli, knowing the wildness of her best friend for far too long to actually take offense to such proclamations, couldn’t help but return the cheers. She lifted her highball glass to Rachel’s stemless wine variety and in the clinking echo they drank.
“What is that putrid shit you’re always drinking?” asked Rachel.
“Manhattan, extra bitters. I don’t know. I started drinking it in college to feel sophisticated but then I really started to like it.” She handed her glass to Rachel who sniffed at it before taking a tiny sip and subsequently pretending to gag.
“It tastes like the jizz of a stray dog that fucked a rotting ham in a condemned outhouse.”
“How, exactly,” Kelli asked, “did you convince someone to let you teach children?”
“Despite your aspersions, I’m a refined woman,” Rachel said, adopting an air of sophistication. “And I fuck like peak Jenna Jameson.”
As Kelli laughed she chopped and skinned and measured, taking extra care not to cut her fingers. All the while Rachel drank and plied Kelli with questions. They had been close for a time that bordered on immemorial and Kelli’s five-year sojourn in Los Angeles hadn’t so much as dented their affection for one another. If anything, they had grown even closer—if such a thing were possible—in those years as Rachel made frequent visits to L.A. to, as she said, “escape this rainy hellscape.” Though Kelli rarely returned to Seattle during those years, it remained the home to which she would always be bound and she always imagined that she would move back at some indeterminate point in the future. That point had come at last.
She had gone to Los Angeles to write screenplays but her dreams of seeing her words made into a film began to fall apart almost immediately after she arrived. Living in a cramped loft apartment with three roommates, Kelli had no functional privacy and quickly found that she couldn’t write with anyone else in the room. It seemed to her too intimate, an almost indecent thing to do in line of sight of another person. In her few moments alone, Kelli struggled to find suitable subject matter. Write what you know, they say, but Kelli couldn’t quite figure out what it was that she knew, least of all what she might have known that others didn’t.
To make ends meet she worked a series of odd jobs, waitressing and temping at ad agencies, but nothing ever seemed to stick and she soon found herself listless and foregoing the volatile process of creativity in favor of the pursuit of stability.
Then, only a few months before her lease expired, she met Chad. For two weeks she had been doing temp work as a receptionist at software firm and, on her last day, the company’s vice president had asked her if she wanted to get a drink which she, in her naivety, initially thought was strictly business-related. It wasn’t.
To her surprise, Chad turned out to be everything that she had recently come to want. He was grounded and stable. Like his father and grandfather before him, had gone to USC to study business, taking a six-figure job in the nascent field of digital media after graduation. He had wasted no time in establishing a reputation as someone who got results and, by the time he met Kelli, he had opportunistically grown his career by jumping from position to position, following the best titles and highest salaries that the tech explosion could provide.
Four years older than Kelli, his career had already made him wealthy when they met but his money had no allure for her. It was his self-possessed, self-confident nature that drew her in. He understood his place in the world and had no illusions about his role in it. To wit, he and his business school friends liked to joke that capitalism was the only real religion and therefore the b-school of their graduation had not been business school at all but rather bible school. Though it was grating sometimes, that kind of confidence had completely abandoned Kelli and to find it in someone else, someone who was both attractive and attracted to her, was appealing. They’d only been dating exclusively for two months when her lease expired and she moved in with him.
Life unfolded quickly from there and even now it felt like a challenge for Kelli to remember what exactly had occurred and how she had ended up here. One day she and Chad had gone to meet some friends for dinner and then he was kneeling in the midst of all of them and there was a glittering ring in his hand and if she had never wanted such a large engagement ring, well, there it was on her finger and damn if it wasn’t gorgeous. All the other girlfriends were jealous, at any rate.
If the stability and consistency that Chad offered were important to Kelli, they weren’t without interruption. Only two months before their wedding, Kelli came home early from her Thursday night spin class to find an unknown car parked in the driveway. The young woman who drove it seemed barely old enough to drink and she certainly had no idea that Chad was engaged given her reaction to Kelli’s arrival.
More than anything, more even than her own anger towards Chad, Kelli felt sorry for that young woman who had so clearly been made into an object and used. Chad’s apology was thorough and seemingly genuine and the sordid mess didn’t bother Kelli nearly as much as everyone else seemed to think it would and should. Once the initial spike of rage had subsided and once Rachel finally accepted that Kelli wasn’t going to keep rehashing the subject, the whole affair died down and life, for the most part, returned to what it had been. The wedding was coming up and, after so much planning and preparation, it seemed a waste to cancel it over one indiscretion, didn’t it?
“So I heard you ran into some old friends last night,” Rachel said, raising an eyebrow.
“Is there anyone in this world who doesn’t gossip constantly?”
“No one I’d want to know. And who are we without gossip, anyway? If you have to hide what you’re doing from your friends, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
“That’s an awfully moralist response for someone who swears like she’s trying to make George Carlin blush,” said Kelli, trying to keep a measured tone. She knew that Rachel had never forgiven Chad his infidelity. But Kelli had forgiven her husband even as she began to feel a creeping sense of apathy, as she became increasingly numb to her own life, like she was watching it unfold on TV rather than living it herself. That sense of detachment had started to wear off since the move back to Seattle, though, and she was grateful for the change. Did she need to be connected to her ancestral grounds to feel alive? Who could tell. These things were too complicated to clearly quantify.
“Sticks and stones, Kel,” said Rachel. She took another long pull of wine. “So how was Paul? And, more importantly, how was Alex?”
Kelli opened her mouth to speak then closed it. She set her Manhattan (extra bitters) onto the counter and once again opened her mouth only for no sound to emerge.
“That good, eh?”
Kelli laughed and found that her tongue was loosed. “It was good to see him—them. That’s all.”
“Uh huh,” said Rachel, “Them.” She finished her wine and then refilled the glass.
“It was good to see them, okay? Both of them. And that was it. We talked and it was nice to catch up with old friends.” It was Kelli’s turn to take a hearty draught from her glass. “I didn’t realize how much I missed them,” she said. And before Rachel could add any repartee she continued, “Both of them.”
And it was true. She had loved Alex, yes, but she had only known him through Paul. As a high school freshman she had dated one of Paul’s temporary friends for a few weeks and while that romance was short-lived Kelli and Paul hit it off and remained close—in a strictly platonic way, as Kelli had to remind Alex on more than one occasion. The reminder should have been needless as Paul was clearly gay, but at the time Kelli wasn’t sure that Alex knew and wasn’t going to out Paul to his own brother if he hadn’t yet done it himself.
“He looks good,” Rachel said as her fingers swept over her phone’s screen. “To be clear, I’m not going to pretend that Paul figures into the story. I’m talking about Alex.”
“You love to stir shit up, don’t you? Why can’t you just let things be?”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
They both laughed. Kelli had missed having Rachel close. There was something about having your friends close at hand that all the phone calls and texts in the world couldn’t hope to replicate. Over her years in California, even with Chad, Kelli had come to feel very alone, like there was some part of her that she couldn’t share even though she wanted to. Being here, back in her city, with her oldest friend in her kitchen—seeing Paul and Alex again—made something feel right. She was home. And now that she was back home, she was starting to wonder what she’d done with her life while she was away, how she’d managed to become so unexpectedly average, the kind of person that she would have once described as “nothing more than a housewife.” For the first time in a long time she felt a thrill of electricity and nerves cutting through her. She knew that feeling well, though she hadn’t felt it since shortly after she arrived in California. It was panic.
Click here for the sixth chapter of We Almost Had It, “Jean-Ralphio.”