The phone rang. Early. Early enough that I wondered whether it was the phone or the alarm clock, and I knocked over whatever else was on my nightstand fumbling for the handset.
"H, hello...?" I muttered, trying to get my eyes to focus enough to see the clock.
"Did I wake you?" my sister said innocently.
The clock came into focus.
"It's 4:26, Beth," I said through a cottony mouth. "Were you expecting me to be awake?"
"Oh," she said, crisply. "I'm at work. I've been waiting to call you for an hour."
I sat up. Beth responded to emotional turmoil by throwing herself into work (more than she already was, which seemed somewhat impossible to me). If she had been at work before 6, something was seriously awry.
"What's wrong?" I said, alarmed.
"Why do you assume something is wrong?"
"Beth, what's wrong?"
I could tell she was trying to keep her composure.
"Well..." I heard her inhale. She continued, "Jeff called me last night..."
"Jeff? Jeff Limmer?" Jeff is a guy Beth has dated on and off since law school, the one we had thought was The One. But their relationship always burst into flames over one thing or another and they'd break up. Six months later, they'd run into each other in court or at some event and get back together until the next blowout. I figured they'd had some tangled encounter and she needed to be consoled. "Did you get back together?"
"No," she said, far too calmly.
"No?" I asked.
"Noooooooooo," she said, bursting into tears. "He's getting maaaaaaaaarried."
I looked at the receiver in my hand. Even I was alarmed by that -- I really thought they'd end up together. Despite the endless parade of men in Beth's life, Jeff was the touchstone, a constant background presence we'd all come to depend on.
I wondered if it was too late to break up the wedding.
"Oh, Beth," I said, at a loss for words, "I am so sorry!"
I wondered if it was too late to break up the wedding.
"Are you sure it's really happening?" I continued, visions of hijacked brides dancing in my head. "Why would he call you? Maybe he wants to get back together?"
"That's pretty sick, Jessica. They've already booked the caterer. He said he wanted me to hear it from him, not someone else."
"But maybe he was reaching out to you?"
"She was in the room with him, Jess. He made sure that I knew that," she sniffled.
I could imagine my sis Beth, sitting at her stately cherry wood desk, in one of her perfect-for-court outfits, her ankles crossed, her auburn waves in harmonious concert with nature -- and her heretofore impeccable makeup now part of a streaky, tear-stained mess.
"Thank God I don't have to be in court today," she gulped. "I can't keep it together, I swear. I know I am supposed to be tough, and he's just an... ex. Why am I so devastated?"
"Well..." I started.
"You know why?" she interrupted, "Because she's some 26-year-old and he's 36 and she's everything I'm not and he's everything I want, and I'm going to be 35 in eight months and before I know it I'll be 40 and I'd better find a guy soon or my chance for eternal bliss is about the same as getting struck by a falling satellite!"
My chance for eternal bliss is about the same as getting struck by a falling satellite.
In a way I felt glad that it didn't work out with Jeff. They had already proven over time that they didn't have the tools to work out the relationship in any long-term basis. If they had gotten married, it probably would've only lasted anyway until the next blow-up.
But as I listened to her sniffling rant, my heart broke.
Beth has always been my hero. Brilliant, beautiful, funny, adventurous. She is the sort of sister everyone wishes they could have -- always there to lend advice, a shoulder, or the perfect necklace. True, her track record with guys was dismal. But I always passed it off as bad luck.
Beth is brave, perhaps even too brave. She's usually so busy efficiently running her life and that of everyone around her that she can't fall apart in front of too many people. I am one of the few to whom she'll expose her foibles. Being so far away was horrible, and I ached with the desire to wrap her in my arms and let her cry.
"Beth, come here!" I cried.
"What?" she said, her soliloquy interrupted.
"You must have at least two or three weeks comp time coming from your last trial, and I doubt you've used your vacation time or your personal days," I said. "Just come here. Come here to cry for a week. I'll even buy the plane ticket."
Now that was funny. Beth, the brilliant and overpaid corporate litigator, did not need her little sister to sponsor any last-minute jaunts.
I could tell she was thinking about it. There was silence on her end, and I knew exactly what she was doing: looking through her alligator day-planner and crossing and uncrossing her legs as she debated it.
"My apartment has a gorgeous view," I said. I thought that might clinch it. "We can go to the Grand Canyon... just like 'Thelma and Louise.' Except we won't die in the end."
It'll be just like 'Thelma and Louise,' except we won't die in the end.
I heard a sharp intake of breath and I knew she was sold. "Okay, okay," she said, laughing nervously. "Okay, Jessie, I'm yours. I'll click onto Priceline now and call you later with my flight info!"
We chattered excitedly for a few more minutes, and then hung up. I looked at the clock -- 5:19 a.m. I thought briefly about bounding out of bed and grabbing Billy Blanks to start the day off with a roar...
...and then rolled over and went right back to bed.
Jessica Shaeffer (not her real name, sorry) lives in the sunny Southwest and is the producer of a TV fashion program.