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Luckiest Girl Alive
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Jessica Knoll has been a senior editor at Cosmopolitan. Now the articles editor at SELF, her writing and editing covers relationships, sex, and psychological well-being. Jessica grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and graduated from The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. She lives in New York City with her husband. Luckiest Girl Alive is her first novel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Luckiest Girl Alive
I inspected the knife in my hand.
“That’s the Shun. Feel how light it is compared to the Wüsthof?”
I pricked a finger on the blade’s witchy chin, testing. The handle was supposed to be moisture resistant, but it was quickly going humid in my grip.
“I think that design is better suited for someone of your stature.” I looked up at the sales associate, bracing for the word people always use to describe short girls hungry to hear “thin.” “Petite.” He smiled like I should be flattered. Slender, elegant, graceful—now there’s a compliment that might actually defang me.
Another hand, the skin several shades lighter than my own, appeared in the frame and made a grab for the handle. “Can I feel?” I looked up at him too: my fiancé. That word didn’t bother me so much as the one that came after it. Husband. That Word laced the corset tighter, crushing organs, sending panic into my throat with the bright beat of a distress signal. I could decide not to let go. Slip the forged nickel and stainless steel blade (the Shun, decided I liked it better) soundlessly into his stomach. The salesman would probably emit a simple dignified “Oh!” It was the mother carrying her crusty-nosed baby behind him who was the screamer. You could just tell she was that dangerous combination of bored and dramatic, that she would gleefully, tearfully recount the attack to the news reporters who would later swarm the scene. I turned the knife over before I could tense, before I could lunge, before every muscle in my body, forever on high alert, contracted as if on autopilot.
“I’m excited,” Luke said, as we stepped out of Williams-Sonoma and onto Fifty-ninth Street, a gasp of icy AC curdling in our wake. “Are you?”
“I love those red wine glasses.” I threaded my fingers with his to show him how much I meant it. It was the thought of the “sets” that I couldn’t bear. Inevitably, we were going to end up with six bread plates, four salad plates, and eight dinner plates, and I would never get around to completing their little china family. They’d sulk on the kitchen table, Luke always offering to put them away and me snapping, “Not yet,” until one day, long after the wedding, I’d get a sudden, manic inspiration to take the 4/5 uptown, storm into Williams-Sonoma like a warrior Martha Stewart, only to discover that they’d discontinued the Louvre pattern we’d chosen all those years ago. “Can we get pizza?”
Luke laughed and squeezed my side. “Where does it all go?”
My hand went rigid in his. “It’s all the working out, I think. I’m starving.” That was a lie. I was still nauseous from the thick Reuben sandwich, pink and overstuffed as a wedding invitation, that I’d eaten for lunch.
“Patsy’s?” I tried to make it sound like I’d just come up with this idea, when in reality I’d been fantasizing about extracting a slice from a Patsy’s pie, strings of white cheese stretching, but not snapping, forcing me to pinch it between my fingers and pull, a bonus glob of mozzarella sliding off someone else’s slice. This wet dream had been playing on a loop since last Thursday, when we decided Sunday would be the day we finally took care of the registry. (“People are asking, Tif.” “I know, Mom, we’re getting to it.” “The wedding is five months away!”)
“I’m not hungry”—Luke’s shoulders rose—“but if you really want to.” What a sport.
We continued to hold hands as we crossed Lexington Ave, dodging packs of strong-legged women in white walking shorts and supportive shoes, toting whatever treasures the Victoria’s Secret on Fifth Avenue contained that the one in Minnesota did not; a cavalry of Long Island girls, the straps of their gladiator sandals twisting up their honeyed calves like leather vines on a tree. They looked at Luke. They looked at me. They didn’t question it. I’d worked tirelessly to assemble a worthy rival, a Carolyn to his JFK Jr. We made a left, walking to Sixtieth Street before making another right. It was only 5:00 P.M. when we crossed Third Avenue, found the restaurant’s tables set and lonely. The fun New Yorkers were still brunching. I used to be one of them.
“Outside?” the hostess asked. We nodded and she plucked two menus from an empty table, motioning for us to follow her.
“Can I have a glass of Montepulciano?” The hostess raised her eyebrows indignantly and I could imagine what she was thinking—that’s the waiter’s job—but I just smiled sweetly at her: See how nice I am? How unreasonable you’re being? You should be ashamed of yourself.
She turned her sigh on Luke. “You?”
“Just water.” When she walked away, “I don’t know how you can drink red when it’s so hot out.”
I shrugged. “White just doesn’t go with pizza.” White was reserved for those nights when I felt light, pretty. When I had it in me to ignore the pasta portion of the menu. I once wrote some tip in The Women’s Magazine, “A study found that the act of physically closing your menu once you’ve decided what to order can make you feel more satisfied with your choice. So go with the pan-seared sole and snap that menu shut before you start eye-sexing the penne alla vodka.” LoLo, my boss, had underlined the words “eye-sexing” and written, “Hilarious.” God, I hate pan-seared sole.
“So what else do we have left to do?” Luke leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head like he was about to do a sit-up, entirely innocent that those were fighting words. Venom pooled in my brown eyes and I hurried to bat it away.
“A lot.” I counted on my fingers. “All the stationery—so that’s the invitations, the menus, the programs, the place cards, all of that. I have to find a hair and makeup person, and figure out a bridesmaid dress for Nell and the girls. We also have to get back to the travel agent—I really don’t want to do Dubai. I know”—I held up my hands before Luke could say anything—“we can’t do the whole time in the Maldives. There’s only so much lying around on a beach you can do before you lose it. But can’t we do a few days in London or Paris after?”
Luke’s face was intent as he nodded. He had freckles on his nose year round, but by mid-May they spread to his temples, where they would remain until Thanksgiving. This was my fourth summer with Luke, and every year I watched as all that good, healthy outdoor activity—running, surfing, golfing, kite boarding—multiplied the golden flecks on his nose like cancer cells. He had me going for a while too, this obnoxious dedication to movement, to endorphins, to seizing the day. Not even a hangover could bleed this wholesome vigor. I used to set my alarm for 1:00 P.M. on Saturdays, which Luke thought was adorable. “You’re so small and you need so much sleep,” he would say as he nuzzled me awake in the afternoon. “Small,” another description of my body I detest. What do I have to do to get someone to call me “skinny”?
I came clean eventually. It’s not that I require an inordinate amount of sleep, it’s that I haven’t been sleeping when you think I’ve been sleeping. I could never imagine submitting myself to a state of unconsciousness at the same time everyone else goes under. I can only sleep—really sleep, not the thin-lipped rest I’ve learned to live on during the week—when sunlight explodes off the Freedom Tower and forces me to the other side of the bed, when I can hear Luke puttering around the kitchen, making egg-white omelettes, the neighbors next door arguing over who took the trash out last. Banal, everyday reminders that life is so boring it can’t possibly terrorize anyone. That dull fuzz in my ears, that’s when I sleep.
“We should aim to do one thing every day,” Luke concluded.
“Luke, I do three things every day.” There was a snap in my voice that I meant to remove. I also didn’t have a right to it. I should do three things every day, but instead I sit, paralyzed in front of my computer, beating myself up for not doing three things every day like I promised myself I would. I’ve determined this is more time-consuming and stressful than actually doing the three goddamn things a day, and, therefore, I’m entitled to my fury.
I thought of the one thing I was actually on top of. “Do you even know how many back-and-forths I’ve had with the invitations person?” I’d burdened the stationer—a wisp of an Asian woman whose nervous disposition infuriated me—with so many questions: Does it look cheap to do letterpress for the invitation but not for the RSVP cards? Will anyone notice if we use a calligrapher for the addresses on the envelope but script for the invitation? I was terrified of making a decision that would expose me. I’ve been in New York for six years and it’s been like an extended master’s program in how to appear effortlessly moneyed—only now with that downtown edge. First semester, I learned that Jack Rogers sandals, so revered in college, screamed, “My small liberal arts school will always be the center of the universe!” I’d found a new axis, so into the trash went my gold, silver, and white pairs. Same with the mini Coach baguette (gross). Then it was on to the realization that Kleinfeld, which seemed so glamorous, a classic New York institution, was actually a tacky wedding gown factory frequented only by bridge and tunnelers (B & Ts—also learned what that meant). I opted for a small boutique in Meatpacking, the racks carefully curated with Marchesa, Reem Acra, and Carolina Herrera. And all those dim, crowded clubs, manned by beefy doormen and red ropes, throbbing furiously with Tiësto and hips? That’s not how self-respecting urbanites spend their Friday nights. No, instead we pay sixteen dollars for a plate of frisée, wash it down with vodka sodas at a dive bar in the East Village, all while wearing cheap-looking $495 Rag & Bone booties.
I had six leisurely years to get to where I am now: fiancé in finance, first-name basis with the hostess at Locanda Verde, the latest Chloé hooked over my wrist (not Céline, but at least I knew better than to parade around a monstrous Louis Vuitton like it was the eighth wonder of the world). Plenty of time to hone my craft. But wedding planning, now that has a much steeper learning curve. You get engaged in November, and then you have one month to study your materials, to discover that the barn at Blue Hill—where you thought you would get married—has been done, and retooled old banks that charge a twenty-thousand-dollar location fee are now the tits. You have two months to pore over wedding magazines and blogs, to consult with your gay co-workers at The Women’s Magazine, to discover that strapless wedding gowns are offensively middlebrow. Now you’re three months into the whole thing, and you still have to find a photographer with nary a duck-face bride in his portfolio (harder than it sounds), bridesmaids’ dresses that don’t look anything like bridesmaids’ dresses, plus a florist who can secure you anemones out of season because, peonies? What is this, amateur hour? One wrong move and everyone will see right through your tastefully tan spray tan to the trashy guidette who doesn’t know to pass the salt and pepper together. I thought that by twenty-eight I could stop trying to prove myself and relax already. But this fight just gets bloodier with age.
“And you still haven’t gotten me your addresses for the calligrapher,” I said, even though secretly, I was relieved to have more time to torture the skittish stationer.
“I’m working on them,” Luke sighed.
“They won’t go out when we want them to go out if you don’t get them to me this week. I’ve been asking for a month.”
“I’ve been busy!”
“And you think I haven’t?”
Bickering. It’s so much uglier than a heated, dish-smashing fight, isn’t it? At least after that you have sex on the floor of the kitchen, shards bearing the braid of the Louvre pattern weaving an imprint on your back. No man feels very much compelled to rip your clothes off after you inform him, bitchily, that he left one lone turd floating in the toilet.
I clenched my fists, flexed my fingers wide as though I could expel the rage like Spider-Man’s web. Just say it. “I’m sorry.” I offered up my most pathetic sigh as collateral. “I’m just really tired.”
An invisible hand passed over Luke’s face, wiped away his frustration with me. “Why don’t you just go to the doctor? You really should be on Ambien or something.”
I nodded, pretending to consider the idea, but sleeping pills are just button-shaped vulnerability. What I really needed were the first two years of my relationship back, that brief reprieve when, as I lay laced into Luke’s limbs, the night slipped away from me and I didn’t feel the need to chase after it. The few times I’d start awake I’d see that even as he slept, Luke’s mouth twisted up at the corners. Luke’s good-naturedness was like the bug spray we applied at his parents’ summer home in Nantucket, so powerful it warded off the dread, that feeling, an alarmingly calm omnipresence, that something bad was about to happen. But somewhere along the way—well, around the time we got engaged eight months ago if I’m really being honest—the sleeplessness returned. I started shoving Luke off me when he tried to wake me up to run over the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday morning, something we’d been doing almost every Saturday for the last three years. Luke isn’t some pathetic puppy in love—he sees the regression, but amazingly, it’s only committed him deeper to me. Like he’s up for the challenge of changing me back.
I’m no plucky heroine, claiming ignorance of her quiet beauty and quirky charm, but there was a time when I did wonder what Luke could see in me. I’m pretty—I have to work at it, but the raw materials are there. I’m four years Luke’s junior, which isn’t as good as eight, but still, something. I also like to do “weird” things in bed. Even though Luke and I have very different definitions of “weird” (him: doggy style and hair pulling, me: electric shocks to my pussy with a ball gag in my mouth to stifle my screams), by his standards, we have a freaky, fulfilling sex life. So yes, I’m self-aware enough to recognize the things Luke sees in me, but there are midtown bars full of girls just like me, sweet natural blond Kates, who would get on all fours and swing their ponytails at Luke in a heartbeat. Kate probably grew up in a red-brick, white-shuttered home, a home that doesn’t deceive with tacky siding in the back, like mine did. But a Kate could never give Luke what I give him, and that’s the edge. Rusted and bacteria ridden, I’m the blade that nicks at the perfectly hemmed seams of Luke’s star quarterback life, threatening to shred it apart. And he likes that threat, the possibility of my danger. But he doesn’t really want to see what I can do, the ragged holes I can open. I’ve spent most of our relationship scratching the surface, experimenting with the pressure, how much is too much before I draw blood? I’m getting tired.
The darling hostess plunked a wineglass in front of me with sloppy purpose. Ruby liquid heaved over the edge, pooling around the base of the glass like it was a gunshot wound.
“Here you go!” she chirped, giving me what I’m sure was her nastiest smile, which wouldn’t even rate on my scale.
And like that, the curtain went up, the spotlights roasting: showtime. “Oh, no,” I gasped. I tapped my finger on the line between my two front teeth. “Big piece of spinach. Right here.”
The hostess slapped her hand over her mouth, her face heating from the neck up. “Thanks,” she mumbled and slunk away.
Luke’s eyes were confused blue orbs in the lazy eveni...
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Book Description Macmillan, 2012. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1509814809