Copyright is held by the author.
FIONA RETURNS from the ladies’ room to catch a snippet of her friends’ conversation above the chatter of the restaurant.
“What did I miss?” she asks.
“Danielle has a fascinating new theory,” says Hannah.
“I was just saying that love is like a malignant tumour,” says Danielle, as Fiona takes her seat and leans in to hear better. The restaurant is packed to the gills. On the table, elbows compete for space with discarded linen napkins and plates of half-eaten entrees.
“Why? Because it’s hopeless and incurable?” asks Hannah with a dry laugh. The waiter eases himself into their conversation, refilling their glasses and smiling in response to their enthusiastic oh-yes-pleases. He catches Fiona’s eye and winks. She smiles back, knowing that he is counting on a generous tip from this troika of tipsy women.
“No . . . more like it’s this putrid, invasive, disgusting mass that I have to carry around with me every day. Something that festers. I didn’t ask for it. I don’t want it. If I could have it surgically removed, I totally would.” Danielle takes the last bite of her salmon, and chews glumly.
“Gross! Some of us are still eating, Danielle,” says Hannah.
Fiona watches Danielle’s face and thinks of the word morose. She also thinks of the words drama queen.
“Interesting theory. But maybe it’s more like having a cold,” says Fiona with a shrug. “There’s no cure, but you get over it eventually.”
“I say a broken leg. Traumatic. Painful. Fixable.” This from Hannah, with a definitive thunk of her fist on the table.
“But with Danielle, love’s more like a chronic condition,” says Fiona. “Something she lives with that flares up every once in a while. Something that she’s susceptible to.” But who really knows anything about love, Fiona thinks but doesn’t say.
“Like a migraine? Or maybe a hangover.” Hannah looks suspiciously at her glass of wine, drawing laughs.
“I think it sounds more like herpes,” Danielle says, triggering another Ew, gross! from Hannah. “No — allergies!”
Fiona doesn’t laugh. She rummages through her purse, trying to find her lactose pills. Her phone sits barely visible in an inside pocket. It’s blinking; new messages await. She takes a sip of wine, her mouth suddenly dry.
“‘I’m sorry, I can’t fuck you — I’m love intolerant,’” says Hannah. Hilarity. More wine. Their laughter ricochets off the wine glasses like ice chips. The waiter comes by with the dessert menu, and tells them that the cheesecake is to die for.
“Don’t mock the afflicted,” murmurs Fiona. She reads the menu. White Chocolate Cheesecake. Butter Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream. Coconut Cream Pie. Crème Brûlée. All so tempting. All so bad for her sensitive stomach.
“But what should I do?” Danielle is back to her latest heartbreak. This happens every time: Love-lives are analyzed. Theories are debated. Remedies are suggested. They all get drunk; and they always order dessert.
Fiona picks up her phone while her friends consider dessert options. She has three new messages.
<hows book club, lol>
The other girls don’t notice. Hannah is telling Danielle that the best way to get over a man is to get under a new one. The waiter is assuring them both that the cheesecake is gluten-free.
<I have wine at my place too>
<come over after>
Fiona fiddles with her phone. Flashbacks of rumpled sheets, illicit cigarettes, a bite mark somewhere secret. She has to work tomorrow. And she knows he’s no good for her.
Blink, blink. A new message.
She looks back at the menu. Fiona loves crème brûlée. She wants to eat it, but knows she’ll pay for it later.