The sound of tree leaves rustling in the wind isn’t like it was a month ago. The leaves aren’t summer moist and slippery anymore. They sound tired of being up there: dry, loud, restless.
This is what I notice when I walk over to Jenna’s for the women’s group meeting. There’s not enough traffic noise to hide such sounds from us survivors anymore.
The evening at Jenna’s turns out fine. To eat, there’s fish dip, zucchini skewers, and brownies with dried cherries in them. The women chat, and organizational details are attended to. We watch a video podcast from an inspirational speaker on powerful women. Then it’s over.
“I’m not one of the Late Night Girls,” a woman named Emily tells me as we make motions toward exiting. She slips her shoes on and wraps herself in a colorful shawl.
“Oh, what?” I say. “Does there tend to be a group that stays longer? Do they hang around and finish off the lemon cake or what?”
“Stay and see for yourself. It’s nothing bad. It’s not that I disapprove, really, it’s just not my style. I’m an early girl.”
I think of Dr. Cohen waiting for me, and how seductive a pair of warm arms will feel on this autumnal flavored night. Maybe he’s even put a fire in the fireplace in his cozy bedroom.
“I guess I’ll be more of an early girl, too.” I reach for my jacket.
“No, no—I don’t want to deter you. Try it out, decide for yourself.” She gives me a kiss on the cheek and slips out the front door.
When I walk into the other parlor to say good-bye to my hostess, the remaining women are sitting around a table, all except for Jenna who is at a cupboard in the corner, filling ice-filled tumblers with brown liquid that looks for all the world like bourbon.
A deck of cards is being shuffled by a well-endowed blond. She’s good at card handling, I can tell, and I’m no slouch at such things myself, having spent my life working in a magic shop. There are two empty seats—one that must be Jenna’s and the other of which is intended for me. In front of each place are three tidy stacks of poker chips.
Jenna’s ever-brilliant smile has a special gleam to it this time. “So, Jane. You know the risk-taking exercises? The ones I mentioned to you the other day?”
“I’m not much of a card player, Jenna. I think I’ll push off now—tomorrow’s a work day.”
“Don’t think of it as cards, Jane. Think of it as winning practice. Remember it’s okay every once in a while for a woman to be the one who forces someone else to lose at something.”
That smile is still playing around her lips and her eyes have that puzzling expression I can’t quite figure out. She reminds me, quite suddenly, of the amber-eyed coyotes in my yard. It occurs to me that Jenna knew I was supposed to see Dr. Cohen tonight; instead, by inviting me here, she prevents me from sleeping with him. And now, to add an even greater level of deliciousness to her victory, she intends to clean my clock at cards.
“Okay.” I shrug off my jacket. “I’m afraid in my case, though, it will just be more failure practice. Hope I won’t embarrass you in front of your friends.”
Jenna murmurs reassurance as she leads me to the table.
Jill Riddell is a writer in Chicago. She teaches at the School of the Art Institute and has a weakness for nature, magic, and pennies abandoned in sidewalk cracks.