Okay, the idea of more wine makes me gag a little, but I say yes anyway and hang up the phone in a kind of daze. I started the conversation with Angela convinced she was going to deliver the news that Mikey wanted to break his date with me. Instead, she doubled down, and now I have a friend date with her tonight and a real date with him tomorrow. I have no idea how I feel about this beyond slightly queasy.

It’s been years since I’ve had any real female friendships. Not because I didn’t want them—in fact, I thought I had them—but when the divorce happened, I realized quickly that my friends were all part of couples who were our friends. And when push came to shove, business won out and every single one of them chose Karl.

Ten years of friendship, in some cases, gone in a blink. Is it any surprise that I figure jumping back into that boat again will end up with me chin-deep in water and treading until my legs give out?

Except Angela isn’t Karl’s friend. She has no ulterior motive.

I know it’s true. Angela is just a really nice girl I used to know who turned into a really nice woman—one who showed up exactly when I could use her most.

Maybe tonight is exactly what I need—sans the push to buy sparkly things, but whatever. Surely I can find a pair of twenty-dollar earrings at this party that won’t totally blow my budget.

Besides, it’s a small price to pay for the chance to make a friend. Not to mention I could use the time to subtly try to figure out if I should wear my granny panties or not on my date with Mikey tomorrow.

Chapter Fourteen

   A horn honks outside my house at exactly six forty-five—apparently Angela believes in Goldfish crackers always in her purse, laughing loud and proud, and arriving right on the dot for friend dates. I, on the other hand, have been running fifteen minutes late ever since I finally looked up from sorting through piles of my aunt’s old photographs and had an oh-shit moment.

Honestly, though, the mad dash to get the cobwebs out of my hair and slap on my face was worth it to get a look at those photos. My favorite is one of Aunt Maggie walking across a tightrope at a traveling circus. It isn’t a high-wire or anything—just a tightrope the circus put up between two poles, about two feet off the ground, so that audience members could try their hand at doing what the acrobats did, at the bargain-basement price of one dollar per try, if the sign in the picture is to be believed.

My aunt was probably in her late twenties—if her seventies hair and psychedelic bell-bottoms are any indication—and she was about halfway across the tightrope and obviously wobbling. But she had her head tossed back and was laughing at the same time, her eyes and smile so bright that I couldn’t help grinning myself despite the years and distance between me and when the photo was taken.

Looking at that photo was like getting a peek at pure, undistilled happiness—and it rubbed off on me. At least until I realize that what I really want is to be my aunt—sans the hoarding. I want to live my life for me, not for Karl. Not for my parents. And not for some damn HOA who hates periwinkle shutters. They make me happy every time I see them—even if they do hang a bit cockeyed.

I grab my phone and shoot off a quick text to Angie, telling her I’ll be out ASAP—the last thing I want is for her to decide I didn’t hear her and risk life and limb reaching the front door. Killing my first new friend by porch cave-in is definitely not on my agenda tonight.

With that in mind, I yowl a few more times as I pull a brush through my tangled hair and slide my feet into my favorite pair of red Rothy’s. I consider rummaging around in my suitcase for earrings but decide to forget about it. I can buy a pair at the jewelry party and consider my contribution made.

It takes me a minute to find my purse—on a table in the family room behind the pile of worn Time Life commemorative books I promised myself I’d go through tomorrow—and then I’m out the door, kinda-sorta knot-free hair flying behind me.

“Thanks so much for picking me up,” I say as I sit down in the passenger seat of Angela’s bright red minivan.

“Of course! Honestly, you’re doing me a favor. No one likes to go to these parties alone.”

She puts the minivan in gear and shoots away from the curb like she’s practicing for the Indy 500. As she does, I notice Mr. Stare at You Drunk Dancing in Your Living Room walking back from the mailbox. He has a greenish bruise on his forehead still. Not shockingly, he also has a pinched, disapproving look on his face as he watches us speed toward him on the empty street—not that I blame him this time. I’m all for speed and efficiency, but kids play on these streets. I’ve seen them.

“Um, Angela—” She hits the brakes as we approach the stop sign at the end of the block before I can get any more words out.

Thank God we end up behind a car going the speed limit right after we made the turn onto the main drag leading out of the subdivision. Do I let out a relieved breath? You bet your sweet bippy I do.

“So how’s the house fixing-upping going?” she asks right before snapping her gum. “Mikey says there’s a lot for you to do.”

“There is.” I turn toward her, wondering for the first time if I’m a little underdressed for this party. I didn’t think so in my mad dash not to leave the house naked or covered in dusty leggings and an old T-shirt—I went for my dressy-casual night-with-friends-in-NYC look of black pants and black pussy-bow blouse that I always get compliments on.

But Angela is dressed to the nines, complete with huge hair and a full face of makeup, including bright red lipstick that seems better suited for a cocktail party than a casual night at her best friend’s—especially when paired with painted-on black jeans and a top covered in so many silver sequins, it looks like the New Year’s Ball in Times Square.

“Do I look okay?” I try to keep the worry out of my voice, but we’re only a few minutes away from my house, so going back and changing isn’t out of the realm of possibility. “Or should I have gotten more dressed up?”

“What are you talking about? You look great,” she says as she careens around an Escalade and two Mercedes. When one of them honks at her, she just waves the middle finger back and keeps on talking without missing a beat. “I just overdress for these things. I mean, now that I’m staying home with the kids, when do I have a chance to dress up? Especially since Manny’s idea of a date night lately is sending the kids to his sister’s and keeping me naked from the time they walk out the door until five minutes before they walk back in.” She laughs. “Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I’m just saying that I don’t get much of a chance to dress up anymore.”

“Well, you look gorgeous.”

It’s 100 percent the truth, even if I wince at her story. Her life is so different from the life I had with Karl. Not just because we didn’t have any kids to send to my parents’ for a night off but because when we actually had a date night, it was always about going somewhere fancy so he could see and be seen.