Love Like the Movies
Almost Thirty, Flirty and Thriving
WHEN I WAS NINE, I fired my mom. I simply wrote in bright red marker “you are fired.” I also drew a smiling daisy and a frog.
Okay, the flower was firing the frog and the words were in a cartoon speech bubble above its head. But if you looked really close you’d see Mom’s favorite necklace around the frog’s neck.
It was my satirical debut.
Sadly, that still didn’t get her attention. It was tossed into the kitchen drawer with all the others; the penguin I sketched from a photo, the cat I spent days on to get just right, even the butterfly with my art teacher’s handwritten note of “wonderful, such talent!”
Today, however, I don’t have to worry about getting Mom to take notice. The sparkly diamond wrapped around my left ring finger all but guarantees it. Bradley’s a complete catch. Blond, brawny, and refined, and he wants to marry me. I’m going to be Mrs. Kensington Connors. My insides flutter just thinking about it.
So why am I so nervous? Bradley catches me admiring my ring, flashes me a reassuring smile, and takes my hand as he opens the front door. He knows how anxious I get around my family and how excited I am to finally show them the ring and start planning the wedding.
We make our way into the kitchen, where Mom and Ren are cooking away. The aroma of sickly sweet pastries instantly fills my nose. I try to ignore the familiar pang in my gut. Instead of a confident twenty-nine-year-old, I’m thirteen again and desperate to win their approval.
“Hi,” I say with a nervous smile. Bradley gives Mom a kiss on the cheek and waves hello to Ren. He gives a quick wink my way before heading toward the sitting room, where Dad and my brother, Grayson, are discussing health care loudly enough that I can hear pieces of the conversation.
Mom sets the batter bowl down and wipes her hands on her apron. “There she is! We never see her anymore, do we, Ren?” She says this like I’m the visitor instead of the one who grew up here. She reaches to me for a hug.
“Hi, Mom.” It’s a quick squeeze. I notice she’s in one of her casual Jackie O sheath dresses with a shabby-chic apron tied around the front, and Ren is . . . wow, she’s wearing about the same thing. They’re like mother-daughter twins. I’m suddenly a tad envious. I want to yell, Get your own mom! But I know she lost hers when she was young, and I should understand.
“Hi, Kensington, you’re looking well,” says Ren with an abbreviated smile. No hug. She eyes my brand-new Coach bag. The one I saved up for. “I saw those were out. Everyone seems to have them already. I’ve got my eye on the new Burberry satchel.”
I smile and nod my acknowledgment that yes, she still reigns supreme.
“So let’s see. Give us a look,” Mom says, waving to my hand.
I feel the swell of a victory in my chest; a small win on the horizon for Team Kenzi. Yes, sadly I keep track. To date, I’ve never come out ahead. The overall standing looks something like this:
Team Ren: Two hundred and seventy-five.
Team Mom and Dad: I’ve lost count.
Team Grayson: Forty-five exactly. Although, since I’ve been with Bradley, he’s not as critical.
Team Kenzi: Four. And that’s including today.
Four check marks for a lifetime of coming in second. I was on the homecoming court, but not the queen. I graduated in the top ten of my class, but I wasn’t valedictorian like Grayson. I’m creative director at a prominent ad agency, but it’s not a serious profession like medicine. My dad, Grayson, and Ren are all doctors.
My first real win was when I brought Bradley home to meet everyone. They worship him. In fact, he fits into my family of Kennedy wannabes better than I do. The second mark is from staying together past a year. The third, from when Bradley and I got engaged this past week. And now, this mega-ring is a surefire winner to rack in my number four.
I hold my hand out so the light from the kitchen window gleams off it, creating the most perfect sparkle.
Ren pulls my hand up to take a better look. “Oh! It’s stellar, Kensington. Bradley is just too good to you.”
What she really means is Bradley is too good for me. At this exact second I’m proud of Bradley for being able to afford such a quality piece and having such refined taste. It doesn’t matter if it’s not my personal taste. It’s from Tiffany’s, it’s huge, and it hits all the marks.
Ren flinches. “Oh, you should really get those nails done, though. With so much attention on that hand, you don’t want the presentation marred by unkempt cuticles. You owe that to Bradley.”
Ding. Team Ren: Two hundred and seventy-six.
She digs in her bag, pulls out a business card, and hands it to me. “Here, call and ask for Cindy. She’s fab.”
“Yes, we just went for a girls’ day, see?” Mom holds her pink polished nails out to me and wiggles them. I notice Ren’s are the same shade of pale pink.
Girls’ day. Without me.
I admire them and smile. “They look great. I’ll be sure to call. So, what do you think, Mom? Bradley did good, right?” I ask, hopeful to lock in the check mark. I know it’s pathetic.
“Oh, yes, dear. Bradley did wonderfully.” Smiling, Mom directs Ren to grab some blueberries from the fridge and again busies herself with the batter.
“Do you need me to do something?” I ask, feeling a bit out of place. “I could set the table or start bringing dishes out?”
“No, we’ve got this down to a science, don’t we, Mother Shaw?” Ren crinkles her nose at Mom.
For a moment, I just stand and nervously fiddle with my ring. I guess that’s it. Round one of the Shaw Sunday brunch is officially complete. I’m sure we’ll talk about wedding plans over lunch. Of course we will. No way will I let this be shoved in a drawer.
Why didn’t I get my nails done?
I wander up the stairs and head for my old room, which was completely gutted and is now Mom’s scrapbook studio. A huge square project table was constructed to look like the one from Pottery Barn, but this one is on steroids with a million drawers and cubbies, each filled with different sticky letters and embellishments. The only me left in the room now resides on the closet’s top shelf in a fabric zip box marked Kensington.
With a sigh, I fish out my phone and click on the Facebook app. I’m always peeking at my phone to see what people are up to. Then I compare it to what I’m doing, or not doing, and it makes me think of what I should be doing. The thing is . . . I don’t really end up doing anything different. I just lose hours of my life doing it.
Since we only told our families about the engagement over the phone, I’ve been waiting until after today to officially announce it. And it’s killing me.
Two new friend requests. I click the icon and accept the first one, a girl I know from the gym. I freeze over the second. No way. I bring the phone closer, staring at the tiny photo icon. My chest constricts. It can’t be. Oh my God. It is.
The same Shane Bennett who ripped my heart out after four years together. Now he wants to be friends?
A swell of emotion wells up inside. No tears, though. I’ve shed my tears for him, hundreds, maybe thousands of them. What I’m feeling now are only aftershocks of hurt that surface anytime I stumble upon a reminder of him. Little ripples of what once was.
He moved to the Midwest from England to live with his grandparents for high school and stayed on for college. That’s where we met. I don’t remember why, but we started talking and never stopped. We were always together. He was all attitude and messy hair. I loved his hair.
He was my first real love. My first real heartbreak. My first real everything.
I glance at my Kensington box in the closet. It should really be labeled Kensington and Shane. Every card that passed between us and all our little mementos are securely locked inside. I walk over and stand on my toes to jab at it until I have a good grip and pull it down. There’s one photo I’m desperate to see. I used to have it in a frame next to my bed; it’s how I remember him.
Placing the box on the project table, I unzip the top slowly, as if the memories I’ve trapped could somehow escape.
I push through the loose contents, searching. Cards are stacked and tied together with string. A terry wristband is lying loose. I lift it to my nose and inhale. The scent of him is long gone, but the memory of me wearing it while I slept isn’t. I set it down and wade through the photos.
My mouth presses into a hard line when I spot it. Shane’s leaning against the wall with his collar popped and his notebook hanging low in his hand. That’s the face I said good night to, the one that greeted me in the morning, and the one I missed for so long.
Looking between the old photo and his Facebook profile picture, I compare them. Same wavy dark hair. Same honey-brown eyes. Same Shane.
He’s older. But it’s definitely him.
A heavy sigh blows out. Why didn’t he tell me it was all a lie? I would’ve believed him. I wanted things to stay the same. I wanted him. But he didn’t say anything, just that he was sorry. And that it wasn’t something he could explain because—
“Kenzi?” It’s my Aunt Greta.
“I’m in here,” I say, throwing the photo inside the box and replacing the lid. Quickly, I zip it up and toss it back on the shelf.
“Thought I’d find you up here. They’re ready to eat.”
She has on dark jeans and a billowy white tunic. A turquoise necklace brings out the blue in her eyes and pops her newly red locks.
“Like the hair,” I say and smile, quickly clicking my phone off.
Aunt Greta flips her shoulder-length curls. “Your mom hates it. Says it draws too much attention.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Isn’t that the point?”
She laughs a warm, deep laugh. “It’s a bonus.”
I’m not sure if she means that it’s a bonus because it bothers my mom or that it gets attention. Most likely both. Aunt Greta is considered the black sheep, the unconventional one, because she doesn’t care what anyone thinks. She’s one notch below me, the never-get-it-right-but-at-least-she-tries hen in the Shaw family pecking order.
She pulls my hand out to admire the ring and whistles. “Wow. That had to cost a mint. What’d Renson say?”
Aunt Greta’s the only one who knows my nickname for the Ren and Grayson super duo. I grin and stifle a laugh.
She smiles. “Trust me, she’ll have additional stones fitted on her band next time you see her.” Releasing my hand, she nods toward the door. “Come on, might as well get this shindig started.”
Trailing behind, I fish out my phone again. I still don’t know why Shane would contact me now, after all this time. Wait. The friend request is gone.
Where’s the request?
A knot forms in my stomach. I tap on the app so my profile wall pops up. It reads, “Kenzi Shaw is now friends with Shane Bennett and one other person.” What?
AUNT GRETA’S LATEST BOY TOY is called Finley. He seems nice enough, but I don’t bother to get to know him, because he won’t be here for the next brunch go-round. He shows far too much interest in Ren, who is politely ignoring his nonstop questions about her culture.
“Ren’s from Chicago, Fin,” Aunt Greta says with a stern, enough-already look.
“So how’s the hospital been treating you, Grayson? Were you able to use the 3-D video to assist with the thorascopey?” Dad asks as he adds hot sauce to his eggs.
Grayson pauses with his empty glass in the air. “You know, I did get my hands on it last week. It’s an effective tool. I’m suggesting to the board that we invest.”
“Good, good,” Dad says and passes some sausage-rolled pancake things to Ren.
“Anything exciting over in Pediatrics?” he asks her and takes back the serving plate.
“Oh, well, there’s always something of interest when working with children,” Ren says with a smile.
Dad nods his agreement, manages a few more bites, and turns to Finley. “So, Finley, what do you do?”
Bradley piles two more sausages on his plate and waves Mom away when she tries to add a few pancakes.
“Bradley doesn’t eat carbs, Mom,” I remind her.
Finley sits up and clears his throat. “Well, sales. Phones now. I’ve always worked in sales of some sort.”
“Good, good,” Dad says. “Bradley’s the sales manager at Safia downtown, biggest ad agency in Indianapolis. Handles all my media buys.” Dad owns a medical spa here in the Village, where you can have Botox, a lip plump, and a plastic surgeon consultation, all under one roof. It makes no sense to me that he and my mom are so proud of Bradley for his position, but mine as a creative director is considered frivolous. We’re at the same agency and both hold titles.
Bradley nods and waves his fork to make a point. “That reminds me, I have some numbers crunched for the Channel Six afternoon blitz we talked about.”
I wait for Bradley to finish talking about when housewives with 2.3 kids in private school and a disposable income over six figures watch television. I outwardly nod and smile, but inside I’m bubbling with excitement, impatient to discuss our wedding plans.
Aunt Greta winks at me and interrupts Bradley’s long-winded ramble. “Kensington, have you two set a date yet?”
All eyes turn to me. I beam. I’m up. This is it. My stomach turns cartwheels.
Bradley grabs my hand and flashes a warm smile. “No firm plans as of yet, but maybe next spring? What do you think?”
“Maybe,” I say brightly at the thought. “Spring could be really nice—”
“Oh! I can’t stand it anymore. Guess what will be here next spring as well?” Ren blurts out the question with an unusual amount of bubble in her voice. “A baby! We’re pregnant!”
“Oh! Oh my goodness!” Mom squeals and is up running around the table. Her arms wrap both Ren and Grayson in an awkward bear hug. “She’s pregnant! I’m going to be Grandma Shaw!”
Everyone’s yelling and clapping. It’s like Vegas when the slot machine hits.
Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Team Ren: Two hundred and seventy-seven. No, three hundred! Five hundred! It’s too many to count. She’s hit the frickin’ jackpot!
My dad’s going on about being called Grandpa. Grayson explains they couldn’t put off kids forever, what with Ren being twenty-nine and all. I mean, my God, she’s almost thirty. Even Finley is pumping my dad’s hand in congratulations. Mom yells over to me that I have no time to waste, that Bradley and I had better have a quick wedding to get things moving.
Aunt Greta looks at me and gives me an “I know, honey” kind of look. I force a half-smile to show her it’s nothing. I mean, of course I’m happy for them.
It is the jackpot.
I’m not thirty yet, so there’s still time.
Glancing at my engagement ring, I imagine a new you’re fired sign in thick red marker. This time it’s for my sister-in-law. No flowers or frogs for her.
She already has a baby.
WE DIDN’T EVEN TALK ABOUT the wedding.
I toss my bag on my kitchen counter, peel off my coat, and head to the fridge for wine. It’s been a long day. Instead of feeling excited and happy, I’m drained. Thoughts of today’s Shaw family brunch, Shane’s sudden reappearance, and Ren’s big announcement are swirling around in my head making me dizzy.
A bottle of white is opened and chilled, so I pour a glass. Bradley prefers the good stuff, but keeps my apartment well stocked with the less expensive sweet wine because he knows I like it. I take a sip and lean against the counter, letting the fruity blend push down the lump that’s been stuck in my throat.
A baby is big news. It’s the first grandchild. I’m sure after the shock wears off Mom will want to discuss the wedding and help me with all the details. Of course she will. I’m her only daughter and there’s so much to do: find a dress, pick a venue—we don’t even have a date yet.
She did like the ring.
I hold up my hand to admire it. What’s not to like? It sparkles and radiates all the four Cs: clarity, cut, consistency, and carats. Maybe I should include one more. Crazy. Because I don’t like it.
Well, I mean, I like it—it’s just not the ring I would have chosen. It’s traditional and really big. Maybe a little too big. My mouth lifts up in a smile because Bradley says I’m worth it.
The ring doesn’t matter anyway, it’s beautiful and I’m happy. I’m getting married and one step closer to starting a family. Bradley wants lots of kids, a whole football team. I’d be happy with one. Maybe two.
At least one girl.
Staring blankly, I imagine ballet classes and dance recitals. I could be a class mom and help with costumes. I once made my doll a tutu from the petticoat of one of my dresses. I remember Mom screaming because it was from some hoity-toity designer. I wonder if my daughter will be born with hair? Bradley was bald, and I barely had enough to clip a bow in. Mom had to tape it to my head.
Ren will probably have a girl.
It’s fine. I’m next. There’s time.
Finishing my wine, I promptly pour another glass. I do this after every Shaw family brunch, torturing myself with my tally of mental check marks to see how I’ve stacked up to my family’s expectations. I never win. I’m not sure why I thought today would be any different.
One more long drink to fortify myself, and I walk over and sit at my desk, logging in to Facebook.
I held off for a whole fifteen minutes.
My heart beats a little faster as I type “Shane Bennett” in the search box. Small sparks of excitement flutter around inside as his face appears, listed as one of my friends. All grown up. But did he really grow up? Shane had big ideas, but lacked follow-through. He barely made it to class. In fact, I did a lot of his papers.
I take another drink and study his photo. His hair is still in loose, messy waves, although it’s shorter. He has the beginning of scruff across his jaw. There’s a hint of a smile.
God, he’s still gorgeous. It’s frickin’ annoying.
The demon plan I’ve hatched includes posting several photos of my uber-ring, random posts about how wonderfully happy and successful I am, then after a few days—I need to make sure he’s had time to see it all—I’ll delete him.
I blow a wayward strand of hair from my face. Tonya, a girl we hung out with and I now work with, was the one who found out he’d cheated. I didn’t want to believe her, but when I questioned him about it, his face did that thing where the expression doesn’t quite match the words, and inside, I knew. I could feel it.
After that, when he tried to explain, I wouldn’t listen. Then he left for the UK to work with his dad, and I was left here alone. It was done.
We were done.
I sigh. I’m done. I log off and change.
My mind’s reeling with babies and Shane Bennett. I need to settle. We have a big presentation at work tomorrow. Bradley wants us well rested and ready. But I’m not resting, well or otherwise.
I burrow into my pillow and pull my covers up. If Bradley were here, I’d at least be warm. He’s like my own personal furnace and my feet are cold. I should’ve let him stay over, but I told him I wasn’t feeling well. I’m really not. My heart’s sitting in my stomach.
In 13 Going on 30, Jennifer Garner’s character, Jenna, wishes to be thirty and with wishing dust she wakes to find she is, and her life is everything she’d hoped for. Until she digs in deeper and discovers it came with a price. But she gets a do-over.
Where’s my do-over?
I’m almost thirty and my life is . . . what? Everything it’s supposed to be, but still it’s not good enough. I’m not good enough. Fighting back tears, I stare at the ceiling. Today was supposed to be one of those special moments you always remember. The big feel-good scenes like you see in the movies. Where the dad can’t believe his little girl is really getting married and the mom sheds happy tears.
Instead, I’m the only one with tears, and my moment ended up on the cutting room floor.