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She shot him a look over her shoulder as she put the coffee mugs in the sink, and I suddenly felt sick. Had anyone ever looked at me like that? No, probably not. George spent most of our marriage looking at the television. I was ripe with jealousy.

“I better go,” I said, tugging on Mercy’s little foot. She smiled at me before yanking it away. “Thanks so much for having me.”

“Fig, you should come to our girls’ night next time we have one,” Bad Mommy said, drying her hands on a dishtowel and walking around the island to stand in front of me. “Some of the girls in the neighborhood, every other Friday night. That way you can meet some new people. Get out of the house.”

Darius was nodding his head even as Mercy tried to stick her fingers up his nose.

“That would be lovely,” I said. “What time?”

“We meet over here at six o’ clock,” she said, shooting Darius a look. “Six,” she emphasized again. He bobbed his head guiltily.

“Sometimes things run late at the office,” he said. “Jolene gets really upset if I’m late every other Friday at six o’clock.” She threw her dishtowel at him and he caught it with a smile. When he winked at her I got butterflies.

Yup, I felt sick. More and more by the minute. I edged my way to the door and the Averys followed me.

“Goodnight then. I’ll see you on Friday.”

They stood waving at me all the way back to my house. What a perfect fucking family. Tonight, I decided, I would have two shortbreads.

I watched them arrive from my bay window. Hens, six of them, though Bad Mommy told me the number always varied depending on who was free to come. Three of them were skinny, and the other three were skinnier than the skinny ones. I tugged on the floral top I’d chosen. It was the only going-out shirt I had, unless you counted my Christmas sweater collection, but you couldn’t wear sequined Christmas trees in July, could you? At the last minute I changed into a light sweater with blue snowflakes on it. They were all wearing skinny jeans or tight dresses that showed off their rumps. The only thing I had that remotely resembled skinny jeans were the workout pants I bought to steal the Averys’ mail. I pulled them out of the wash, giving them a sniff before I put them on. Looking at myself in my full-length mirror, I smiled. All I needed now was something for height since I was on the short side. I settled on black sandals I’d bought a year ago and never worn. I ran a brush through my hair one last time and put on some lipstick. I wished I hadn’t been binge-eating shortbreads all week, promising myself I’d work it off later. Fuck them. I was beautiful just the way I was. George had put me down for years. I wasn’t going to let a bunch of skinny bitches do the same. I marched out of my house, almost forgetting to lock the front door in my determination.

Their door opened before I could knock. Bad Mommy stood in the doorway, a cocktail already in hand, her cheeks rosy, and her eyes shining.

“Hey Fig,” she said, breathlessly. Her eyes traveled the length of me, in what I regarded as outfit approval, then she said, “Ready to have some fun?”

She stood aside to let me in and suddenly I felt choked by anxiety. I didn’t so much like people. Why was I doing this again? No, I told myself. Those were things George wanted me to believe. George hated going out, so he’d tell me that no one liked us anyway, and what was the point of being social when no one liked you? It’s just you and me, Figgy, he’d say.

“So ready,” I said.

She led me into the kitchen where all the hens were gathered around a martini shaker on the counter. There were three things that drew women into a hungry-eyed cluster: liquor, men, and gossip. Gossip was the strongest draw, but put all three together and you had a sort of desperate, heated frenzy on your hands. I pictured women from the Stone Age gyrating naked around a fire; one of their husbands had discovered fire, the others were jealous. Good God. Tonight, I was going to be part of an age-long tradition. It was exhilarating.

“Girls, this is my new neighbor, Fig,” Bad Mommy said. They all looked up at the same time; some of them were quicker to disguise the looks on their faces than others. A blonde wearing a strapless pink top and snakeskin heels stepped up first. She hugged me, while saying with too much enthusiasm, “Welcome to our club, Fig! Is that your real name? I always wanted a cute name like that, but all I got was Michelle. And everyone is named Michelle, so I just go by Chelle, but you can call me either. Are those workout pants? Wow, you’re dedicated. I haven’t worked out since my youngest was born and he’s four.”

My head was still spinning from her tirade when Bad Mommy started introducing me around the room.

There was Yolanda, a physical therapist with a broad, gummy smile and huge tits, and Casey, who within the first two minutes of knowing me proudly announced she was a homemaker, and asked if I had children.

“No,” I said.

“Oh, well mine are three months and six, and they’re wonderful. Lily is practically a genius, and Thomas is a great sleeper when he’s not insisting on being nursed, that is.” She laughed and adjusted her bra. Bad Mommy rolled her eyes. I hid my smile. Her husband, I decided, was the one who discovered fire.

Amanda, the hipster, wore red-framed glasses and studied me without a smile. Her dark hair was piled on the crown of her head in a messy bun, and she was wearing the least slutty outfit of the group. I made a mental note to steer clear of her. I didn’t like the way she was looking at me. People who took themselves that seriously were dangerous. She was the territorial type, I could tell. Probably considered herself Bad Mommy’s best friend. Charlotte and Natalie were sisters. Their eyes briefly bounced over to where I was standing, and they offered a halfhearted wave as Bad Mommy told me their names then went back to their conversation, which seemed to be about one of their husbands.

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