I don't know why I got that squirmy-stomach feeling when Scott knocked on the door. It was just Scott after all --- the one person who couldn't possibly surprise me any more than he already had. I took a few deep breaths to center myself, and, once I felt sufficiently calm, opened the door.
"Hi, Paige," he said.
I stared at him. Since we'd divorced, Scott had apparently stumbled onto someone else's fashion taste. Gone were the plain-front khakis, the slightly too-long floppy brown hair, the preppy tortoiseshell glasses, the quintessential boy-next-door whom most women --- like me --- don't notice until they hit their late twenties and start looking around for husband-type material. Now his clothes looked expensively hip, and his hair was cropped short. The tortoiseshell glasses had been replaced with sleek silver metal frames. The once soft body was now lean and muscular. He looked amazing, far better than he ever had when we were together . . . but his new look was also unmistakably gay.
Okay, I was wrong. He was still capable of surprising me.
"Hey. Come on in," I said, stepping out of his way.
I wasn't sure what the greeting protocol was supposed to be, and I could tell by the way Scott was clasping his hands together that he didn't know either. Were we supposed to hug? To exchange cheek kisses --- mwah, mwah --- like a pair of socialites? Maybe I should have written Miss Manners for the etiquette guidelines on greeting your gay ex-husband.
Dear Gentle Reader, I imagined she would reply. What a trying situation! But now, more than ever, Miss Manners would stress the importance of conducting yourself gracefully. To wit: it is always socially acceptable to clasp hands in a firm and congenial handshake. Do not feel it necessary to engage in gratuitous kissing and grappling.
I stuck my hand out awkwardly, and Scott stared at it just long enough to make me feel like an ass. But just as I was withdrawing my hand --- stupid Miss Manners --- Scott grabbed it and swung our arms between us.
Is there anything weirder than shaking hands with the man who once promised to love, honor, and cherish you for the rest of his life?
"Thanks for letting me visit our apartment," Scott joked, pulling his hand back and pocketing it. "I suppose this counts as a supervised visit by the noncustodial parent?"
"You agreed to the settlement," I reminded him.
"Hey, I was just kidding. And don't worry, I've learned my lesson --- never divorce a divorce attorney."
Scott looked at the apartment, his expression wistful. We'd bought it together four years earlier, just after our wedding. It's located in a converted downtown warehouse, and is roomy and airy and has a fabulous view of Town Lake out of the floor-to-ceiling windows on the far side of the living room. We'd snapped it up just before the real estate prices exploded in Austin, and there was no way either one of us would be able to afford it now. But Scott's landscape architecture firm --- which he'd started up after we got married, with a loan from me --- had been successful. So as part of our divorce, I gave up my interest in his business, and he gave up his claim to our condo. Simple. Neat.
"You redecorated," he said, taking in the new tufted white armless sofa and matching love seat, the glass-topped coffee table, and the groovy dining table and chairs I'd gotten from Crate & Barrel. I'd really thrown myself into decorating after Scott had moved out, probably --- if I were interested in psychoanalyzing myself --- in an effort to stamp out any lingering presence of him in the apartment. It was easier to get rid of the memories than learn to live with them.
"Mm-hmm. I did this ages ago. You haven't been here in a while." I smiled. "Do you still have that awful sofa?"
"Of course. Admit it --- you miss that sofa."
I'd hated his leather sofa. Hated it. It was an enormous brown monstrosity covered with nail-head trim, and it looked like it belonged in the office of an eccentric old man who spent his days pinning a bug collection into shadow boxes. I'd begged, pleaded, and cajoled with Scott to get rid of it when we'd moved in together, but he'd stubbornly insisted that he couldn't live without it.
"I have two things in my life that I love more than anything else," he'd dramatically declared when I'd delicately suggested it was the ugliest couch I'd ever seen and there was no way in hell I could possibly live with it. "You and this couch."
Apparently his love for the couch was more enduring than whatever it was he'd felt for me.
"So, how've you been?" Scott now asked.
"Fine. Great. I made partner at my firm," I said brightly.
"Really? Wow, that's fantastic. Good for you, it's what you always wanted," Scott said. "And how's everything else? Seeing anyone?"
"Um. No. I'm not. And I don't want to talk about it."
"Paige . . . maybe we should talk. We never really did. It might help both of us if we, you know, sat down and discussed what happened between us."
"Nothing happened. You decided --- sorry, discovered --- you were gay, and so we got a divorce. I think it was pretty cut and dried."
"There's more to it than that."
"And I don't want to talk about it. Really, Scott, I'm fine. I've moved on, and my life is going great. I have no complaints."
Scott looked at me, and I met his gaze straight on, keeping my face smoothed of emotion. After nine years of being a litigator, I'm well practiced at it.
"Okay," he finally said. "But if you ever want to talk, I'd be happy to. Just say the word."
"I appreciate that. But I'm fine."
"Okay. Well. Do you have that stuff for me?"
I gestured toward the cardboard document box sitting by the door. It contained the last odds and ends he had left behind when he moved out. A few CDs, his Blade Runner video, the collection of ugly ties my mother had given him as Christmas presents over the years.
"It's all there. I can't believe you've gone two years without seeing Blade Runner."
"I haven't. My . . . friend has a copy of it."
I had the distinct feeling that Scott wanted me to follow up and ask him about his new friend, but I just couldn't do it. Instead I smiled pleasantly at him and silently willed him to leave.
"Well. Uh. I suppose I should get going," Scott said.
"It was nice to see you," I said.
"You, too. Bye, Paige." Scott smiled, ducking his head the way he always did, and left.
Once the door latched behind him, I turned and stared out the window, trying to decide if the low, dark sky hanging over Town Lake meant it was about to storm. I decided I had time to get a run in before it rained. I went into my bedroom --- I'd changed it, too, installing a Murano glass chandelier, a French armchair upholstered in gray-green silk, and the pure white bedding and walls I'd always wanted but Scott had detested, insisting that an all-white room made him feel like he was an inmate at an insane asylum --- and stripped out of my suit. I pulled on a running bra, shorts, and a blue T-shirt with "University of Texas School of Law" emblazoned across the front.
I was all too aware of the potential psychological fallout of divorce --- hell, it was my business --- and I know for some people, women especially, it has the poisonous power to warp the rest of their lives. So when Scott and I split up, I'd been determined not to wallow. Instead I ran. It was cheaper than therapy, less numbing than medication, and had the added benefit of keeping my ass higher and firmer than that of your average thirty-four-year-old.
While I stretched my hamstrings, the phone rang. The Caller ID reported that it was my mother, and I considered not answering. But then I wondered if maybe, possibly, my mother had somehow intuited my run-in with my ex-husband and was calling to make sure that I was all right.
I decided to take my chances, and hit the talk button.
"I'm worried about Sophie. I think she's losing it," my mother said.
I thunked the heel of my hand against my forehead. I should have known --- she was worried about my younger sister. As the oldest, I'm expected to be completely self- sufficient at all times. And Sophie, my middle sister --- Mickey's the youngest, the surprise baby who came along when I was twelve and Sophie was ten --- was now pregnant, which made her ripe and round and bitchy as hell. The whole family was cosseting her like she was a powerful yet unstable queen who might start shrieking "Off with their heads!" at the slightest provocation.
"Hi, Mom, how are you? Me? I'm fine, thanks for asking."
"Don't be a smart-ass. I'm serious. I'm worried about your sister. I just called her, and she was sobbing hysterically. I finally got her to tell me what was wrong, and she was all upset over nothing."
"What was it?"
"The grocery store has stopped carrying those chocolate croissants she's been so obsessed with lately. She had a meltdown about it in the middle of the bakery. Don't laugh, she scared me to death, I thought something was wrong with the baby."
"Sophie's fine, Mom. She's just very pregnant, and very hormonal right now," I said, smiling at the image of Sophie screaming at the bakery clerk, demanding pastry while bang- ing her clenched fists on the glass counter.
"Will you go over and check on her after work tomorrow? I'd do it myself, but the garden club is coming over, and I still have to make brownies. Do you think brownies are enough, or should I make a sheet cake, too?"
"Mom . . ."
"Maybe I should make both. It's just the last time I hosted, there was too much food left over," she nattered on.
"I'm on my way out to go running. I don't have time to talk about baked goods right now," I said.
"Well, I didn't mean to bother you."
"Don't be mad. It's just . . . Scott just stopped by. For the last of his things," I explained.
My mother went silent at the mention of my ex-husband.
"Hello? Are you still there?" I asked.
"I don't know what to say. How did that go?"
"Quickly. I'd already put everything in a box, he just had to pick it up," I said. "He seemed more upset about losing the apartment than anything else. But I guess that makes sense. He actually loved the apartment."
"You know, I never liked Scott. I thought it was a mistake when you married him," Mom announced for the eight hundredth time.
This was an outright lie. My mother loved Scott, and had been thrilled when we announced our engagement. Despite her own failed marriage, she'd been stereotypically desperate to see me wedded, to the extent that I sometimes felt like the older spinster sister in a Jane Austen novel. And I'm sure Scott had seemed like the perfect prospective son-in-law --- he was kind, successful, ambitious, polished --- and there was no reason to think that he was anything other than who he appeared to be.
"That's not helpful," I said.
"I don't know what else to say. Whenever I do say anything about your divorce, or Scott, you get angry at me," she said.
"I do not," I said, and I could hear the tone of my voice rising in pitch. I took a deep breath, before continuing in a calmer tone of voice. "I just wish you'd be a little more supportive. Please?"
"I am supportive. And I think the best thing to do is to just put this entire mess behind you. You should start getting out, meeting men, dating. I'm sure it will just be a matter of time until you meet someone new, get married again, and you'll forget this ever happened," Mom said.
God, I can't stand it when she gets like this. I love my mother, and at her best, she's all the things I'm not --- she's vivacious, personable, a born hostess. And she has an innate ability to make everyone --- well, everyone but me --- feel better about themselves. But when it comes to relationship advice, she always sounds like she's quoting from a 1950s dating manual for teens.
"I seriously doubt that I will ever forget that my husband left me because I have a vagina instead of a penis," I said dryly.
"Well, it's true, isn't it? And I have no plans to start dating, so please don't start trying to set me up with anyone," I said.
"I wasn't going to," my mother said, in a tone of voice that made it clear that was exactly what she was planning to do. "But, when you're ready, I do know a few nice available men --- "
"No. I'm not interested," I said, cutting her off.
"Well, maybe not now . . ."
"Not ever. I'm serious. I'm too damn old to go through this again. From now on, it's just going to be me and my work, and that's enough," I said.
"You don't really mean that. You're just upset, and understandably so. Just give it some time, honey. You'll meet the right man, and then you'll start feeling better, you'll see," she said.
"Don't you have it the wrong way? Aren't I supposed to feel better first, before I get involved with someone else?" I asked, knowing that I was baiting her. I couldn't help myself. I was so sick of everyone presuming that the two-by-two lifestyle was necessary for personal happiness. It certainly hadn't made me or my mother or any of my countless clients happy.
"No," Mom said firmly. "I don't think that you're going to get over this until you move on and meet someone new."
"Well, that's just not going to happen," I said. "Besides, talk about the pot and the kettle. You never remarried, and I can't remember the last time you went on a date."
"I don't tell you everything, you know. And for your information, I have been seeing someone," Mom said.
"Really? Who? And since when?"
"Don't cross-examine me. I'll tell you when I'm ready. I have to run, I need to get the brownies started. So you'll go by your sister's tomorrow?"
I considered this. Sophie and her husband, Aidan, lived on the north side of town, so it was hardly on my way home from the office. I'd have to fight my way through grinding commuter traffic to get up there, which would take at least forty-five minutes, maybe longer. But I felt a little guilty for snapping at my mom, and I knew she wouldn't let me off the phone until I agreed. And if I had to continue the conversation about my nonexistent love life or about her apparently thriving one, I'd lose my mind.
"Fine. I'll go. Bye," I said, and then hung up and went for a nice, long, anesthetizing run.
Excerpted from SHE, MYSELF & I © Copyright 2005 by Whitney Gaskell. Reprinted with permission by Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.