Here I Go Again
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Twenty years after ruling the halls of her suburban Chicago high school, Lissy Ryder doesn’t understand why her glory days ended. Back then, she was worshipped...beloved...feared. Present day, not so much. She’s been pink-slipped from her high-paying job, dumped by her husband and kicked out of her condo. Now, at thirty-seven, she’s struggling to start a business out of her parents’ garage and sleeping under the hair-band posters in her old bedroom.
Lissy finally realizes karma is the only bitch bigger than she was. Her present is miserable because of her past. But it’s not like she can go back in time and change who she was...or can she?
Every high school has a Lissy Ryder—you know, the girl who’s absolutely untouchable. She goes by many names, but you might have known her as the Prom Queen.
The Head Cheerleader.
The Mean Girl.
She was the richest and the prettiest, with the blondest hair, the thinnest thighs, and the hottest car, and she never let you forget it. Nothing made her happier than stealing your boyfriend, just to see if she could.
And she could.
Of course she could.
She was Lissy Ryder.
Lissy Ryder spent her teen years making yours miserable. She’s the one who “accidentally” tripped you on the bus, mocked the sweater your sweet old Nana knitted, and told the boys you stuffed socks in your bra, despite being the one who taught you how to do it. (Ankle socks. The trick is using ankle socks.)
Every time she looked at you, sighed, and rolled her eyes, a little piece of you died inside.
You hated her.
You wanted to destroy her.
But you were satisfied just to graduate and get away from her.
So you went to college, grew up, and now live a successful, fulfilling life, vaguely wondering if that thing called “karma” ever comes for the Lissy Ryders of the world.
Hmm . . . let’s find out.
Perfection Is Overrated
Oh, honey, no.
I scan the woman’s outfit up and down. A thong-bottom leotard worn over neon tights? With high-top Reeboks? Seriously? I’m sorry, were you possessed by the ghost of 1983?
I sigh into my Bluetooth. “What are people thinking when they come here dressed as extras in an Olivia Newton-John video? This is the West End Club, not some nineteen-dollar-a-month Boys Town storefront, full of old StairMasters and HPV germs. So shameful. So inappropriate.”
glance at my properly clad self in the mirror across from where I’m paused on the elliptical machine. Lululemon Wunder Groove cropped capris paired with a Back on Track tank in Heathered Pig Pink?
Long blond layers of honey and ash (never platinum—I mean, who am I? Holly Madison?) pulled into a messy, yet attractive high pony?
Smashbox O-Glow blush and a swipe of MAC Lipglass in Early Bloomer?
I continue. “The West End Club is a sophisticated place and you’re pretty much nobody in Chicago if you don’t belong. I mean, Oprah’s a member, for God’s sake. I wish the Big O were here right now, because she’d be all, ‘My friend Jane Fonda called and she wants her leg warmers back.’”
Nicole is my go-to person for phoning when I’m working out, because she’s always home. I’d urge her to get a life, but frankly it’s kind of nice being able to chat with her whenever I want. She hesitates on the other end of the line, finally saying, “Um . . . Lissy, I thought you weren’t allowed to come within five hundred feet of Oprah.”
I slowly begin to pedal. “That was a suggestion, Nicole, not a law. Like it’s my fault she thought I was too aggressive for sneaking into her massage room. I mean, the world of PR is all about differentiating yourself. You’d think she’d want to work with the publicist who tried something different to catch her attention.” I begin to pedal harder. “Whatevs. Doesn’t matter anyway, because she’s totally passé now that her show’s over. Enjoy your obscurity!”
Okay, the truth is that unpleasantness with Oprah still stings even though it was years ago. I know I’d have done an outstanding job for Harpo, Inc., but she wouldn’t even hear me out, which is rude, considering I forked over ten thousand dollars I didn’t have back then (thanks, Daddy!) to join this place to get close to her.
To be fair, she didn’t have my club membership revoked. I grudgingly give her credit for that.
I blot my face with a thick Turkish towel and pat the area around my Bluetooth so I don’t, like, accidentally electrocute myself. Theoretically I’m not supposed to use a cell phone in here, but I think that’s because the management wants patrons to keep both hands on the machines. Liability and all. A couple of the regulars are shooting me dirty looks, but if they can’t multitask while getting their cardio on, that’s not my prob.
“Who else is there today?” Nicole asks gamely.
“Um . . .” I scan the room. “There’s the Chris Colfer doppelgänger who lip-synchs to the Glee sound track and is always talking about his ‘girlfriend.’ You’re not fooling anyone, sweetie! The closet’s wiiiiiide open! Come out already!” I take a swig of filtered water from my skull-print SIGG bottle. “Let’s see . . . Hey, there’s Cougar Town who takes Pilates with me. She told me she can wrap both her ankles around her neck. I’m all, ‘Really? Did you do porno back in the sixties or something?’ And there are the two fake-titted twenty-somethings who date Bulls players. They’re totally fat.”
This, of course, means they’re totally thin.
I don’t tell Nicole that, though. Don’t want to shatter her illusions about me. But how could they not be in perfect shape? These bitches have no responsibilities save for workouts and waxing. I mean, SOME of us aren’t a size two anymore because SOME of us have day jobs.
“Uh-huh . . .” Nicole sounds distracted. She’s got three rug rats under the age of six and they’re always screaming in the background when we’re on the phone. Not cool. Plus her husband brought a stepdaughter into the marriage, and I swear I want to slap the smug right out of that brat. Last time I was over, Charlotte was all, “Wait, you guys were alive before the Internet? How old are you?!” I told Nicole to go all Snow White’s wicked stepmother on her, yet for some reason she’s got a soft spot for the kid. I don’t understand it.
Actually, I’m less than thrilled with a lot of Nicole’s decisions. For example, she traded her adorable Audi coupe for some hideous, multirowed family truckster with automatic sliding doors and built-in video monitors. I was like, “What’s next, mom jeans?” I won’t ride in it on principle. I wait for her to say something else, but she’s quiet, possibly because of all the banging and shuffling in the background.
“Nicole! Are you even listening?”
“Oh, gosh, I’m sorry! Bobby Junior just poured his own milk for the first time. He’s so independent lately!” Her voice goes up a couple of octaves. “My little man, I’m so proud of you; yes, I am! Lissy, you won’t believe it—he pulled up a chair and got the fridge open all by himself, and almost every drop made it into his sippy cup! Every time he accomplishes something on his own, I feel this incredible surge of—”
I’ve found that if you give a mother an opening, she’ll yammer on about her boring offspring all damn day. Like I care that little Madison or Isabella can wipe her own ass. I feel it’s my job as a friend to keep Nicole from spiraling into the Mom Zone, where it’s nothing but sensible haircuts, soapbox derbies, and organic carrot sticks. “That’s just super, Nic. But let’s talk about tonight instead.”
That shut her down right quick.
Nicole exhales a little loudly on the other end of the line. “Okay, Liss, so what are you doing later?”
“Tonight’s our anniversary dinner!” I gasp. It’s not that I’m all pumped about the evening. Rather, I’m slightly winded from having ratcheted up the resistance on my machine after watching the stunning red-haired Bulls consort sprint on the elliptical like a goddamned gazelle.
“Where’s he taking you?”
“We’re going to MK on Franklin Street. I made Duke book us in the private room. I don’t really want the Great Unwashed in the regular dining area honing in on my joy.”
If you want to be all nitpicky, Duke and I have been together off and on since our junior year of high school, but we’ve been married for only three. Yes, before you say it, we’re that “breakup” couple. We know. We’ve had more splits than Real Housewives’ Taylor has had lip injections, but we always find our way back to each other. I mean, yes, I dated all kinds of people when we were on a break—and even when we weren’t, like when I hooked up with my neighbor Brian for a few weeks—but ultimately we were fated to be a couple. Our not being together is like a manicure without a pedicure—sick and wrong and not of the Lord.
Also, his real name is Martin Connor, but everyone started calling him the Duke of Hurl back when we were seniors at Lyons Township High School in La Grange, Illinois. His clueless family still believes it’s because he was a quarterback with a golden arm, and not due to the night he mixed Jack Daniel’s, Jolt cola, and Jägermeister. Seriously, do you know long it took my dad to get the smell of vomit out of my car? I had to drive with the top down for a solid month!
While I mentally cycle through my wardrobe for the perfect dress, the timer dings on my machine. “Woo, one point five hours! Yay, me! I just burned one thousand and eighty-three calories!”
Which should make up for the three lattes I had this morning.
“Listen, I want to catch a little peak tanning time, so I’ve gotta bounce.”
“Shouldn’t you get back to the office soon?” Nicole sounds characteristically worried. If fretting were a sport, she’d be a gold medalist.
“Um, thanks for your concern, Mom, but it’s fine. I told my boss I was going to a meeting, and that’s not really a lie. This place is filled with potential clients.” I glance over at the Bulls girls. “I mean, escort services need publicists, too, right?”
“Still, maybe you should make an appearance.”
I blot the thin sheen of sweat from my unlined brow . . . TGFB! (Thank God for Botox.) “Please, I can do whatever I want in that place. They love me there. I’m kind of a legend.” After all, I brought in so much new business during the dot-com era that they hired me an assistant.
Of course, that assistant eventually became my boss, but that’s only because I refuse to be an ass kisser. “Later!”
I hang up and step down from the elliptical, staggering for a second before I get my legs back. One of the Bulls sluts smirks and I may or may not make an obscene gesture back at her. I head to the locker room to change into my bathing suit (a tasteful tankini, natch) covered with the sheer floral sarong I bought in Bora Bora on my honeymoon, and I run up the stairs to the rooftop pool.
This is my favorite spot in all of Chicago. I love being here during the workday because it’s practically deserted. The deck’s all done up in just-bloomed hibiscus bushes and prairie grass and there’s nothing but empty loungers as far as the eye can see. The pool is placid, with wisps of steam rising from it, making it warm enough to use even though it’s still early summer. The sky’s an impossible shade of blue today, and because the club’s next to the river, none of those pesky office buildings casts shadows and blocks my sun. It’s heaven . . . if heaven served cocktails. (Of course there’s a bar in this gym. You think Oprah would join a place that didn’t boast every amenity?)
I arrive at the check-in area and present my club ID to the buff teenager working the desk. “Hey, James, I’ll be in my regular seat. Bring me extra towels, a piña colada, and an order of fries.” He taps in my information and an odd look crosses his face. “Oh, please, I’m not going to eat them all. I just want a few.” (“Moderation” is so the new “binge and purge.”)
James gets all flushed and flustered, and he keeps a king fu grip on my card when I try to grab it back. “Um, Mrs. Ryder—”
“Ms.,” I correct him. “It’s Ms. Ryder.” I’ve always been hesitant to let go of the name I had in high school. Otherwise how would anyone even know who I was? Were I to call myself “Melissa Connor” on Facebook, everyone would be all, “Who?” But Lissy Ryder? Queen of the Belles, the best clique in school? No one forgets her.
James clenches his jaw. “Ohhhh-kay, Ms. Ryder. There seems to be a problem with your membership.”
I nod. “Um, yeah, the problem is I’m standing here without a cocktail.” He continues to tap in information for so long that I attempt—and fail—to wrestle my card back. Listen, we’re burning daylight, and if I don’t get color on my shoulders I can’t wear my new Akris goddess-sleeve dress tonight. So I may or may not lunge at him to speed the process.
“Ms. Ryder! Please! Stop that!” he exclaims, launching into bitch panic mode.
A steroid-addled trainer waddles over to us. His legs are so muscular he moves in tiny, mincing steps. “What is going on over here?”
“What’s going on is that I’m losing my tan by the minute! And he won’t let me have my French fries!” James turns the computer monitor toward the side of beef in gym shorts standing next to him. I bet this guy hasn’t seen a carb since the Clinton administration. Or his nut sac.
Then, in a manner far less gentle than merited, Captain ’Roid Rage takes me by the arm and escorts me to the membership service desk three floors down. I suspect the manhandling might be due to my inquiry on exactly how small his marble bag is. (Hey, I watched the MTV True Life: I’m a Juicehead Gorilla special, and I’m well versed in exactly what anabolic steroids do to your junk. I can’t be blamed for merely stating what everyone’s thinking.)
When we get to the membership office, some minimum-wage desk monkey tells me my membership hasn’t been paid in three months.
Oh, I know someone’s accountant who’s about to be fired.
(Do I have an accountant? I should check with Duke.)
I slap my well-worn Visa on the desk. “Put whatever I owe on here. But make sure my fries are ready when we’re done with this nonsense.”
The desk girl runs my card. “It’s been declined.”
Um, that’s an awful lot of smug coming from someone who makes six dollars an hour. “Run it again,” I demand.
“I already did,” she replies.
Is a shit-eating grin appropriate at this time, really?
In the next ten minutes, I’m a lot less haughty as each of my cards is systematically rejected. And when she takes out an enormous pair of scissors and snips my prize gold AmEx, I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Um, what’s happening? Duke makes plenty of money, despite the current economy, and we’re always on top of our finances.
I mean, aren’t we?
I kind of can’t be bothered with all that stuff. Numbers. Ick. My mom always said I was too pretty for math. But this has to be a mistake. I keep dialing Duke’s office number, but each time the phone goes straight to voice mail.
I’m summarily escorted out of the club without even being allowed to change from my bathing suit. When I get down to the parking garage, my Infiniti is missing. The parking attendant blathers something in Mexican about a tow truck.
What the hell?
I immediately dial Nicole and tell her to come get me. I give her explicit instructions not to drive the van, but when she arrives twenty minutes later the family truckster is full of little bastards watching a show about a big gay dinosaur.
The side door swings open and I’m suddenly overwhelmed by the stench of Cheerios. I point at her demon spawn. “Why are they here?”
“Because I’ll end up on Dateline if I leave them home alone,” Nicole cheerily replies. “Hop in!”
I attempt to climb in the front, but Charlotte’s already stationed herself in the shotgun position and makes no indication that she plans to move. She pretends I’m not standing there while she busies herself sending texts about important shit like Justin Bieber’s most recent haircut. When I try to nudge her out of my seat, she plants herself and rolls her eyes while Nicole grins at me like there’s nothing wrong with this scenario.
Really? We’re letting the fourteen-year-old stepchild run the show now?
Fine. I’ll just get in the backseat like some snot-nosed little asshole on her way to T-ball practice.
I attempt to launch myself into the back of the hateful van, which is almost impossible with this slim-cut sarong. I hike it up and try again. Ugh. This place smells like juice box and desperation. As I attempt to clamber into the far back row in order to avoid the sticky hands coming at me from car seats on all sides, I catch a glimpse of an enormous blob in the side-view mirror.
Upon closer inspection, I realize the big, fleshy moon eclipsing the mirror is actually how my ass looks while I’m bent over.