The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Hardcover, 352 pages
Expected publication: January 9th 2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

“There are two major theories about how to stop aging…”
“…It sounds like you’re saying we can choose to live. Or we can choose to survive.”

Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists is a thoughtfully executed novel written in simple, yet often poetic, prose that allowed the characters’ voices at their most forceful to shine on their own past the narrative itself. More than that, it is a novel crafted around a question we all ask ourselves more often than we’d care to admit: “Is it more important to truly live or to survive? To dare to dream at our grandest or to play it safe?” And, if you knew the exact day on which you’d die, would you live your life any differently than you would without that hateful knowledge?

In their youth, the Gold siblings follow a rumor to the home of a Gypsy fortune teller who gives them the knowledge they seek: the exact dates of their deaths. These prophecies propel them forward for the rest of their lives, influencing their decisions, changing the courses of their lives and plunging the question into the forefront of their minds forever: Was the fortune teller right, and, if so, can they change the course of their own fates?

It’s an intriguing idea, we must all admit. A scary one. A downright chilling one. And the leitmotif Benjamin poses to her reader manifests itself throughout the novel with compelling force, from the exploration of God and country’s place within our existence, to what the prophecy of one’s own death does to such beliefs. Do we cling to such notions and ingrained dogmas all the way to the end, cowering under them safely like warm, childhood blankets, or using them to fortify us in our resolve and everyday decisions—or, do we slough off and away such religious and secular beliefs and become our own reason for living, our own life force, whether to our own detriment or benefit?

The Immortalists bounds along a timeline spanning five decades, trotting through the start of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco—

“You weren’t terrified?”
“No, not then…When doctors said we should be celibate, it didn’t feel like they were telling us to choose between sex and death. It felt like they were asking us to choose between death and life. And no one who worked that hard to live life authentically, to have sex authentically, was willing to give it up.”

¬–toward Las Vegas in the 80s and into the early years of this century, tackling tough questions, such as the logistics behind increasing the human lifespan—and the politics of attempting such a thing. For readers who enjoy novels of sweeping timelines, they’re sure to find a treat in Benjamin’s latest novel. The period settings weren’t quite as immersive as I’d hoped—the societal and technological differences in backdrop between the decades were noted but not submerging in a way that allowed me to really feel I was moving from decade to decade with true authenticity. However, what I did take from this book were lessons to carry with me, delivered by poignant phrasing that outshone the actual stories of the four siblings’ lives. And that resonated loudly enough to forgive such specifics.

I had an interesting relationship with this novel as I continued my reader’s affair with it. I could not relate specifically to any one of the characters in this book. I would not have been friends with any of them in real life, and I did feel that some of the plotlines were predictable. BUT, I learned a lesson from every single one of the siblings that I took with me until the end, and each of those moments of recognition were special.

What do you want?…and if [she] answered him honestly she would have said this: To go back to the beginning. She would tell her thirteen-year-old self not to visit the woman. To her twenty-five-year old self: Find Simon, forgive him…She’d tell herself she would die, she would die, they all would…She’d tell herself that what she really wanted was not to live forever, but to stop worrying…”

This is a novel with a strong core and a big heart, with a moral and a central theme to tie all the threads together. Chloe Benjamin’s second novel continued her thus-far-established trend of exploring existential questions in our everyday lives, creating a brand for her that is sure to glimmer and shine, attracting new readers from far and wide. 4 stars ****

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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**Exclusive CHLOE BENJAMIN INTERVIEW to come!!!**

Chloe  Benjamin Chloe Benjamin is the author of THE ANATOMY OF DREAMS (Atria, 2014), which received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was longlisted for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. Her second novel, THE IMMORTALISTS, is forthcoming from Putnam. A graduate of Vassar College and the M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Wisconsin, Chloe lives with her husband in Madison, WI.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Paperback, 248 pages
Published October 3rd 2017 by Graywolf Press

In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.

A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella Especially Heinous, Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.

Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.

Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties is a collection I was so excited to read I dragged a friend in to read it with me. We handed off back and forth who got to pick the next story, never going in order, and found ourselves surprisingly disappointed by each one.

In all honesty, I was drawn to what Machado was trying to do here, to what she was trying to say. But, she didn’t say it with enough force. Some of her stories, such as “Real Women Have Bodies” and “Eight Bites” seemed to not amount to much more than a harsh whisper, if that, never fully realizing themselves. I wanted more–MORE from a voice that dared to tackle such bold topics as the female experience and psyche. And by “more” I don’t mean argumentative or domineering in tone; some of my favorite short stories ever crept up on me with a gentle breeze at my neck only to bowl me over in the end with words just as gentle. Machado and Her Body didn’t do that for me. In fact, what I remember most about this collection is my buddy reader’s and my disappointed-mounting-to-annoyed reaction as each story was read and discussed. For such a topic that spoke to us, we both wanted to learn something, to feel something–something.

Here’s what I will say: Carmen Maria Machado clearly has something to say, though I, myself, didn’t hear it loudly enough. I thoroughly enjoyed her use of Gothic elements–vaguely supernatural devices used to convey her thoughts, to tinge her messages in wonder. Yet, some of her works were too referential without adding enough to the conversation to warrant the blatant references (to “The Girl with the Ribbon Around her Neck” and Law & Order: SVU in particular). “The Husband Stitch” was my favorite story, because of the unique and haunting asides inserted into the narrative, but the ending failed to shock or move me, so even that story did not live up to the hype around this collection. Every story I read left me wishing there was more–not length but meat and substance, not words but voice and resonance. As we all know, fabulously original ideas must, too, be supported by the execution of them, and that I did not see impressively done here. 2.5* rounded up to ***

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Carmen Maria MachadoCarmen Maria Machado’s debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2017. She is a fiction writer, critic, and essayist whose work has appeared in The New YorkerGrantaAGNI, NPR, VICEBest American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015Best Horror of the YearYear’s Best Weird Fiction, and Best Women’s Erotica. She has been the recipient of a Millay Colony for the Arts residency, the CINTAS Foundation Fellowship in Creative Writing, the Elizabeth George Foundation Fellowship, and a Michener-Copernicus Fellowship, as well as nominated for a Nebula and Shirley Jackson Awards and longlisted for a Tiptree Award. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, and lives in Philadelphia with her partner.

Palace Council by Stephen L. Carter

Hardcover, 512 pages
Published July 8th 2008 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2008)

In the summer of 1952, twenty prominent men gather at a secret meeting on Martha’s Vineyard and devise a plot to manipulate the President of the United States. Soon after, the body of one of these men is found by Eddie Wesley, Harlem’s rising literary star. When Eddie’s younger sister mysteriously disappears, Eddie and the woman he loves, Aurelia Treene, are pulled into what becomes a twenty-year search for the truth. As Eddie and Aurelia uncover layer upon layer of intrigue, their odyssey takes them from the wealthy drawing rooms of New York through the shady corners of radical politics, all the way to the Oval Office.

Stephen Carter’s novel is as complex as it is suspenseful, and with his unique ability to turn stereotypes inside out, Palace Council is certain to enthrall readers to the very last page.

Whew, this book was a lot! It was a murder mystery and whodunit, an exploration of 20 of the most tumultuous years in American 20th century history and a political thriller, not to mention a foray into Harlem’s Golden Age of influential African Americans with the money and connections most never knew existed for them in those days. There was a lot crammed within these 500+ pages, sometimes for the better and sometimes not.

Stephen L. Carter is my favorite author for his ability to weave historical truth with fiction and for his portrayal of the African American community–both modern-day and historically–so accurate in its incisiveness and so taunt in his analysis of it. I’ve never encountered an author before or since who had such an accurate, compelling and thought-provoking voice about the upper echelons of black culture–the very embodiment of W.E.B. Dubois’ Talented Tenth–the subculture within a culture that so few even know exists with its own rich history, mores and societal rules. Carter displayed all of this and more within the pages of Palace Council, and that I lapped up with the enthusiasm you’d expect from one who’d gone too long without such substance.

I’ve seen Carter’s work described as being Dan Brown-like, and it’s true–they do share the element of mysteries solved through obscure literary references and the thrill of running from killers hellbent on snatching the clues the protagonist has found for themselves. But may I step in here and say that Stephen L. Carter is more wily than Dan Brown, his plots more complex in so many ways? Carter’s novels center around both the present and past of affluent African American culture, which allows his reader a basis on which to start from in every read and the thrill of seeing unexpected recurrences of previous characters in diverse stages of their lives. For example, The Emperor of Ocean Parkrevolves around the Garland family who also play a prominent part in Palace Council, set 50 years before the events in Emperor even happened. Readers who love to follow characters over the spans of their lives–who don’t just want to see them one and done in one novel–will love this as I do. This is Carter’s angle (pun intended for those who’ve read this book), rather than the Bond-like supporting female characters of Brown’s novels.

Stephen L. Carter’s novels are always decadent in setting, but Palace Council took the cake. Sweeping from Harlem to Washington D.C. to Saigon and back again, it’s the details here that filled so many pages of this novel. There are so many minute and intricate details here that make their world more solid and complete–from street names in Hong Kong to delicious elements of historic events of the 50s, 60s and 70s–that this one novel could easily be made into a multi-season TV series–and should! Yet, in the setting of one book, it was a lot to take in at once.

If it’s possible for one to drown in literary details, I must say I certainly struggled to stay afloat at times, keeping characters and their bloodlines straight amidst the historical events surrounding them–from Kent State, to the Tet Offensive, to JFK’s assassination and beyond. At times the narrative moved at too slow a pace, filled with historical filler and unnecessary scenes, both, which slowed the plot (in true literary form) rather than urging it forward. While these historical landmarks (the dates sometimes toyed with for the benefit of the characters at Carter’s admission) helped to center the players within these pages and paint a complete picture of the age they lived in, there were also so many times where historic events seemed just dumped in there. (I hesitate to say haphazardly because I doubt Carter does anything “haphazard” ever.) And, I’ll admit, the plot was sometimes muddled and muddied by Carter’s abundance of clever asides and descriptive tags galore. But Carter’s novels reside in the company between Dan Brown’s thrillers steeped in literary puzzles and Salman Rushdie’s erudition. And for that, he warrants all the praise he has garnered, and remains my favorite author to date. Palace Council earned a solid 4 stars sullied only by the editor’s inability to rein this one in a little more. (Honestly, a good 75 pages at least could have been chopped.) ****

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Stephen L. Carter Stephen L. Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale where he has taught since 1982. He has published seven critically acclaimed nonfiction books on topics ranging from affirmative action to religion and politics. His first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park (2002), was an immediate national best seller. His latest novel is New England White (Knopf, 2007). A recipient of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature-Fiction, he lives near New Haven, Connecticut.

Short Story: Lost and Found

A lot of my readers and followers know that in addition to the book reviews and my full-length novel, Snakes and Ladders, I’m also writing a short story collection that goes by the following description:

A collection of enigmatic and intriguing creative narratives that delves into the female psyche in her quest for sensuality, absolution, revenge and fulfillment. A new literary aesthetic, these are the anti-fairy tale stories for the totally modern woman and the modern age, a veritable celebration of life and what it truly means to be a woman…

In this subjective industry, I value the regards and opinions of my loyal readers who know me and my writing style, so I’ve posted one of the stories in the collection here for you. My ONLY request is that, upon reading this selection, you comment. That’s it — just tell me what you think; the good, the bad and the ugly. I welcome it! Let’s think of this as that peer review creative writing class so many of us took in college. Tell me your thoughts on Lost and Found, your questions, your wishlist. If you don’t have a WordPress account and cannot comment here, please feel free to email me at

As always, HAPPY READING! 🙂

This story is an original work written by Navidad Thélamour. Copyright © 2017  Navidad Thélamour. All rights reserved.


Lost and Found

It’d seemed like a great idea at the time, the trip to Vegas. Caro’s best friend Becca was giddy with adrenaline and a mid-year resolution to get her heart out of her vagina and live life by her own rules when she suggested it. All it’d taken for her to reach this conclusion was twenty-seven years, a couple dozen break-ups and her latest soirée with heartbreak, which ended when she “torched Tony’s shit” with a bottle of lighter fluid and a single match.

Good riddance.

It was over Becca’s rolled ciggie and Caro’s glass of Chardonnay that Becca suggested the trip. Feet flung over the edge of her friend’s couch, grungy laced boots dangling over the edge. She took a drag and exhaled it out, rolled the cig between her fingers and told Caro about the slapper she’d caught Tony shagging in their apartment. Oh well, at least it hadn’t been a total cliché: the girl was blonde, of course—wasn’t that always the case with American boys?—but at least they weren’t rolling round in the sheets. No, he’d at least had the proper decency to have the bloody slag on the floor instead. Where she belonged.

Becca tossed her head back and laughed. Caro, nursing her wine, did the same. It was moments like those when the glaring differences between them really amused Caro, when she remembered why she didn’t hang out with the girls from their Wellesley years or with the ladies from the “club” her parents belonged to, why she preferred the company of the girl who’d dropped out mid-way through semester two, content with just being out of the Commonwealth. She’d never turned back to her parents’ arms in Cambridge but had remained at Caro’s side, content to move with her to Atlanta when the big break at CNN came. Becca always had a story. She always kept it interesting.

And now that Tony was on “The List” of ex-lovers who’d wallowed in her silky accent until they realized that she wasn’t quite the Kate Middleton they’d been expecting, or those who’d simply used her as notch in the ole’ belt with the added perk of gravity-defying C cups, her wounds had been sufficiently licked—a ciggie always helped—and she was ready to move on to the next adventure. Caro shrugged and downed the rest of the glass. Why not? One could always find something to get into in Vegas, couldn’t they?

They checked into the Aria Hotel courtesy of Caro’s credit card, she in Valentino heels and smart slacks, Becca in skinnys and a t-shirt, a blonde and red-headed pair. They laughed together on the way up to their room, passing through the noisy and bustling casino floor and half-empty restaurants that the hotel boasted. At the elevators they showed their key card to the attendant to be permitted use of the steel boxes that would whisk them up to their room. They entered the double-bed room on the twenty-second floor to find a swanky view of the pool to their right and the strip straight ahead, smoldering and hazy with the shimmering that sizzled and rose off of the pavement. They’d traveled light for the occasion, each with only a duffle bag slung over her shoulders. Caro was dying for a spa treatment while Becca was anxious to see the bar scene. She’d heard there was a place on the strip where the bartenders would flash you for tips.

She was game.

They agreed, as usual, to take turns humoring each other. Becca stood at the tall sheets of glass that separated their room from the sweltering heat outside, pulled out the credit card linked to her parents’ account from her back pocket and vowed that the first round of drinks would be on her. “Fancy a nice bender, Caro?” she winked. “We’ll order something dirty. Something Southern. But, bloody hell, do change first, will you? This is vaca not finishing school, love.” Becca grabbed her baccy and flopped on her bed, rolling a cig with it while waiting for Caro to shed her old skin.

Outside, the sun shone bright white on the pavement, half-blinding them as they emerged from the smart shops round the Aria hotel peddling $300 T-shirts and $1000 jeans then walked down the strip toward the flashing PARIS sign. “Christ, Ro,” Becca grumbled, pulling her red hair up into a knotted bun. “Feels like I’m sittin’ on Satan’s lap out here, innit?” Get ready for it. It wasn’t going to let up, Caro told her. Her phone said it’d be 95 degrees even after the sun went down. They ducked into some commercialized barbeque joint off the strip – Caro was ready to get her hands dirty, literally – and Becca was ready to get out of the late-evening sun.

Guinness for one, rum and Coke for the other.

When she saw him, she didn’t recognize him.

Caro was feeling good already and Becca was enjoying her dark splash of Dublin, a basketball playoffs game playing on the screens around them. Half of the crowd was hyped up about the match-up, throwing back drinks and cheering. Most of them would only walk away with a hangover and a lot of liquid courage that was sure to get them in trouble. They sat in a wooden booth in the corner, Becca with her feet in the seat next to her friend, back against the seat, Caro with her head back against the booth, motioning for the waitress to bring her another. Pulled pork and wings were finished and pushed to the side when their eyes glimpsed each other then went on to the next thing, not registering, then floated back, seeing but still not sure of the memory.

When she felt the presence to her right, just behind her so that she only sensed it out of her peripheral, she waved her hand dismissively as she yelled over the noise around them. “Can’t you see we’re having girls’ night? I’m not in the mood to pretend you might be getting my number tonight, fella.”

“Um,” he chuckled. “That’s good to know, I guess,” he leaned in towards her ear so she could hear him. “But I thought I recognized you from somewhere. In fact, I know I did. You’re Carolyn, right? We went to TJ together.”

She stopped. The Zaya and Coke held in her mouth until she remembered to swallow when Becca tossed her a weird look and glanced back up at the guy expectantly. “Alright there, Caro seems to have lost her tongue, but I haven’t.” She extended her hand. “Becca. And you are?”

He wiped his hands awkwardly on his shirt then held out his hand. Hit her with a winning smile. “Jeff. Jefferson Kenley.”

“Jefferson Kenley.” Caro turned and gave him a good once over. Yes, he was the guy she’d noticed by the bar chatting up the stacked blonde in cowboy boots. Blondes were his type. She thought she’d seen him with a beer in his hand earlier, but now he sipped something clear, vodka perhaps. He looked completely different, she thought to herself. Had it really been so many years? But he’d grown into his boyish good looks. Harnessed them like a pro with a full beard trimmed low and dark brown hair pushed back haphazardly, messily but in a good way, she thought to herself. McDreamy style.

Back then his hair hadn’t been as dark and he was built like the baseball player he was, tall and lean. But thirty pounds of muscle had served the man well, and the beard even better. She looked up at him stupidly, dumbfounded by the past tapping her on her shoulder the way it had, until Becca waved her hand in front of her face to pull her from her daze.

“Blimey, Caro, you going to offer the man a seat or what?” Then looking back up at him, “Fancy a seat with us?”

“Um, yeah, sure.” Caro scooted over to allow him room, taking in this new face of his and trying to match it to the old one.

“So, you said something about a TJ, did you?”

“Yeah, high school. Back in Virginia. College prep kinda school. Carolyn was all into theater and all that. You know, Our Town, stuff like that. I think we met at a party or something.”

“Homecoming,” she reminded him. “Yeah, I remember. Sophomore year.” Turning to Becca, “He was on the baseball team. Sat behind me in trig.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Man, trig kicked my ass back then,” he laughed, finishing off his drink and sliding the glass across the table to signal he was done with it. “Dude, that was so freaking long ago.” She liked the way he said that. Casually, off-handedly. Not like a Texas stereotype.

“So, did you guys go out or something?”

Carolyn blushed a little at the memory. A thumb jerked his way. “Go out? This guy and I dated until graduation.”



They grabbed his friend Gary from the bar away from the blondes and polished off another round together before leaving. Night had fallen outside, but true to word, it was well over ninety degrees outside still. Becca pulled out a rolled ciggie and lit up; Gary bummed a light from her and they headed down the strip, a quartet of adventure-seekers, one couple walking behind the other. Jeff remarked on how good Caro looked then, embarrassed, back-pedaled that he hadn’t meant she didn’t look good before, too. Caro laughed and shrugged it off. Shoved her hands in her painted on jeans, kitten heels clicking on the pavement though the sound was drowned out by The Strip.

“You’re not too shabby yourself. Time has served you well.”

Jeff laughed back. “Time has served me a divorce and a shitload of student loan debt, dude. How about you? What’s it put on your plate?”

She told him about Wellesley –“Oh yeah, I remember you were headed there.” – then moving to Atlanta when the big break at CNN called her up on the phone. Reporter, waiting on a bigger break so she could get closer to being an anchor.

Jeff nodded to himself, the laughter and playful shoving from Becca and Gary peppering the air behind them, blending with all the other shapes, sounds and smells in the air. Break dancers breaking for tips on the corners, large crowds gathered round bobbing their heads to the beats. Women in stilettos and cabaret getups, large, feathered headdresses included, posed with tourists while lifting their heeled feet over their heads, grinning hugely. Countless restaurant patios spilled over with patrons, the music blending with that of the restaurant next to it as they walked, accents from around the world joining in to make a hum of clamor that one could get used to.

“You were always going to make it big. I always knew that. I have no doubt you’ll get there.” They continued down South Las Vegas Boulevard, lights flashing, voices shouting.

“Hey, where are we headed anyways?” Gary wanted to know. He snapped them out of that haze they’d fallen into, but Caro didn’t mind.

“Yeah, let’s decide. It’s hot out here, innit. I mean, this is completely unnatural! It’s night time for Christ’s sake!” Becca complained.

“Do you guys have anything planned for tonight, Jeff?”

“Naw, not really. Blue Man Group tomorrow but, tonight, nada.”

“Wanna just go back to our room then?” Becca threw in. “The mini-bar is weight-rigged so we won’t be touchin’ that, but we can grab some drinks at the mart and take them back if you fancy it.”

“Sounds good to me.” Gary exhaled the last of the smoke in his lungs and flicked his cigarette away. Didn’t bother to stomp it out.

“Me too,” Jeff added.

Caro shrugged. So it was a date.



Upstairs, spirited chatter was helped along and intensified by Jagerbombs and rolled tobacco. Gary pulled out a little baggie of weed from his back pocket and the party really started.

“Oh my God, Gary, you’re just walking around Vegas with that in your pocket?” Caro balked, a little scandalized. “What if someone had stopped you?”

“Uh, case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a white American. I don’t get stopped for random ID checks and pocket searches.”

“Calm down, Ro. Nothing dodgy about a little hash.” Nudging Gary, “Spark it up.”

“Shh, not in the hotel room,” Caro scolded in a hushed tone, as if her mom were down the hall like back in the old days.

“Aww, loosen up. It’s just a little harmless Mary J. I’m sure they’ve had much worse inside these walls. This is the Aria.”

So she relaxed, with visible effort, and watched as they all laughed and rolled up. Becca had it done in under a minute, a real pro, the European pastime she’d never left behind. Caro reached for the bottle of Chardonnay in the in the mini bar—her staple go-to. Jeff stopped her saying, “If you’re gonna run up a tab, at least make it worth it.” So out came the mini shot bottles, the contents of which disappeared into a juice mixer that she chugged, then fell back into his arms. Becca leaned into Gary, both propping themselves up against the bed with their legs out in front of them, the whole foursome on the floor.

“So what’s this I hear about high school?” Gary wanted to know. “He thought he recognized you at the bar and said something about prom king and queen?” He nudged Jeff and Jeff shoved him.

“Aw, don’t bring that up! God, that was so long ago.”

“Prom king and queen? Are you serious?” Becca took the spliff from Gary and took a pull on it. “You mean I’m sittin’ with real-life American prom sovereigns and no one ever said! Oh, now I must hear it. Do tell, Caro. What’s this about now?”

And so the story goes. Jeff had been a shoo-in for prom king, that much had been a given. And by the time senior year came around, the two of them had been parading about together to football games and community service events for so long that she became queen by default. It just seemed right, seemed fitting, in that high school story book sort of way. Caro cringed a little as he told the story, shrugging it off as a short and unimportant chapter in his past and nothing more. Caro, though, was a little horrified looking back on it. Really, prom queen with the baseball star? And she a blonde at that? Could she really have been more of a cliché? From prom court to CNN in beige slacks and high buns. This Caro she liked a lot more. The old Caro could be left back in those long-ago days for all she cared. He handed her another mixed drink and poured another shot in. She took it.

That night ended with Becca and Gary in bed trying unsavory acrobatics, smoke on their breath and Becca’s heart finally disconnected from the V between her legs. Caro and Jeff ended up at an all-night chapel, making out like teenagers again and ready to say, ‘I do.’



The move to Atlanta was surprisingly smooth. He still lived in the D.C. area, but the gaming company he worked for had another major office in Atlanta. Surely, he’d have to be the one to move if it was going to work. CNN wasn’t going anywhere. But he didn’t mind, and she was excited about this new Caro, the adventure seeker, the risk taker. Sin City had left its mark on her and now she too had a story to tell from there. She didn’t regret it. What were the odds? So she thrust her clothes to one side of the closet in preparation for Jeff’s next-day arrival and move-in.

“Well, I guess that’s it then; you’ve proved it, Ro. There’s someone out there for each of us after all, innit?”

Caro smiled it off. “Don’t be such a romantic, Becca. It was just a classic case of right place right time,” but she didn’t buy that any more than Becca did. Of course it was meant to be. Of course it had to be him. How else could the story have played out, and why should they have met up like that, randomly, over a thousand miles from home, if it wasn’t meant to be? She didn’t believe in ‘the one’ until she did, and that was it. She wasn’t going to let him slip away from her again. The rest could be figured out later.



That first night in bed was anti-climactic to say the least. There was no liquid courage to fuel their desires and turn their thoughts to fire. There was sobriety. Too much sobriety. When he came to bed that first night after moving in his suitcases full of jeans and t-shirts, Old Spice products and hair gels, she was attempting some seductive position she’d seen on an old episode of Sex in the City – hair pinned up in that naughty school teacher sort of way, wispy strands loose, and a $300 red negligée on. Jeff smiled and pulled his shirt off, shadows from the candles she’d lit around the room flickering across his body still impressively chiseled even ten years after high school. He crawled on top of her, jeans still on, and kissed her in that messy pubescent sort of way she now remembered used to make her stomach turn just a little. She pulled her head back and smiled up at him, pulling in a huge breath to prepare for the next kiss he’d come in for. Instead he groped her breast, squeezing it like he was testing a melon.

Caro laid there for a minute as his attention switched to the next breast. He was like a chimp just figuring out the concept of opposable thumbs. She burst into laughter at this thought, candles flickering over his face above her.

“What’s that about?”

“Nothing. Just kiss me.”

She giggled through the kiss. It reminded her of prom night under the bleachers – God, was I really such a cliché? –  her in a white-sequin number and he in a smartly fitting tuxedo. He’d pushed her against the wall in a way that turned her on only to push his tongue in her mouth in a way that made her gag and stumble back. Ten years of practice had not served him any favors in that department. Had he kissed that way at the Aria, at the chapel? Hell, she couldn’t even remember the chapel – God, how friggin’ tacky was that? I’m lucky my mom didn’t have a coronary – and even the Aria was hazy after all the drinks. All she remembered was hard rum and pineapple on her breath and marijuana in the air. Come to think of it, there had been a sloppy kiss in the elevator that’d needed both hands to wipe away. That memory faded as she unbuckled his pants and pulled them off.

“Ha, now we’re getting down to it!” He grinned down at her. “Roll over.”

“Wait, what?”

“Come on, roll over. Let me see that fine ass you’ve got on you.”

A gaped- mouth look of disbelief and a gulp were all she could muster for a moment. “My ass?”

“Yeah, let’s get this party started, babe.” He stroked himself in a way that made her skin crawl, appalled. “You know reverse cowgirl?”

“Reverse – what the hell, Jeff; just come here!” She pulled him to her and draped her arms around his neck. This was how the wedding night was supposed to go: sensually. Not with some sexual position she’d never heard of but that she suspected would end her up with scraped knees in some way. “Do it like this. There, don’t you like that?” An uncomfortable smile up at him.

“Yeah, I guess.” He continued pumping. That part was pleasurable at least. Until he paused for clarification, “But you do know reverse cowgirl, right?”

“Jesus, Jeff, shut up and make love to me! I’m not some fucking trapeze artist at the fucking Cirque du Soleil!”

And so the night ended fifteen minutes later with Caro disgustedly wiping her stomach with a wet cloth and Jeff rolling away unsatisfied with the lack of adventure the night had held.



While she’d had high hopes for even the mundane aspects of marriage, Caro soon found that even those wouldn’t stand up against real life. If she’d dreamed as a little girl that she’d be able to share literary classics with her one-day husband, those hopes were certainly dashed when Jefferson came home one day to find her curled up with a throw blanket and a Poe anthology. And not just any anthology, no. It was a first edition, leather-bound copy. The pages were gold-trimmed and it was annotated with hand-drawn artwork. It had been her grandmother’s. She eagerly patted the space next to her told him to come sit beside her, only for him to say before she’d even finished her sentence, “You actually read that dusty old thing? Come on, Ro,” he’d added with an annoying tussle of her hair, as if she were some Pee Wee baseball player who’d struck out or a dog who’d just got its first haircut. “Nobody reads those old, dead guys anymore.”

Yet, as it turns out, he was still full of clever indignities just waiting for her to stumble upon, such as the stubbed toe she’d gotten from the bowling ball—go figure, still neatly in its carrying case—that was left inconveniently on the living room floor near his gym bag and crusty gym shoes. Or, the following week, when she searched high and low for her car keys, only to find that he’d, for some reason, moved them to another room—right next to her Poe anthology, which he’d used as an ashtray for his half-rolled spliff. That, unfortunately, was the day right after she’d come home to pizza crusts and empty Bud Light bottles on the usually pristine granite kitchen counters. But it was the proximity that really made her blood boil, because he hadn’t at least had the dignity—or hell, consideration—to walk the five feet and drop them in the damned trash can.

The idea of balancing checkbooks with him gave Caro a mild case of hives. She couldn’t even bring herself to think of it once she’d found the wad of old receipts dating back two years in the backpack he carried his work laptop around in. Arlington, Dallas, Denver, San Diego—wait, was that Toronto from three years ago? That backpack was like an endless Petri dish of possible viral plagues and germs, a roadmap of his past travels and overall indicator of his personality in general. And so, she never again approached either the topic or the backpack again. Even that mundane action she’d pictured doing together, discussing bills and making notes on their communal to-do lists—wrapped in terry cloth robes with the sun shining down on the faces through the one-day bay windows she knew she’d own—had been tainted. She’d pictured a mug of cocoa in one hand—well, maybe lemonade. It was approaching summer, after all—and they’d laugh with each other about who spent the most frivolously and what they needed on their next trip to the market. Only, she knew the question would be in vain to even broach as she washed her hands for the second time, having tossed out his wad of makeshift accounting between her thumb and forefinger. The man had probably never even held a checkbook, let alone balanced one.

So, she did it alone, and he did not complain.

When Becca asked, she was tempted to spill her guts but, no, it was still the honeymoon phase, and she couldn’t disappoint her friend like that. Hell, maybe she was reading too much into it anyway. It was the honeymoon phase, and wasn’t she the only person she knew not banking with her cell phone anyway? So she focused on brushing up on the Braves’ stats and learning to cook his mom’s tuna casserole, burnt at the edges just like he liked it. She considered with the brevity of a Southern spring trying to figure out what that reverse cowgirl was all about, but in the end, decided missionary had always been surefire.



When the flings began a few months later, she turned the other cheek.

He didn’t flaunt it and she, a WASP of several generations, was content to pick her battles. So he wanted a little more zest in his taco than she was used to. According to her mom’s years of experience, it was half-way to be expected and should die down once the kids entered the picture, she’d explained, mixing the Bloody Marys with a celery stick and sliding the drink across the counter to her. Until that inevitable mid-life crisis of Corvettes and Viagra hit anyway—Lordy, did your father go through that phase!

“And you did rush into it a bit, didn’t you, dear?”

“Oh, Ma! It’s too late for that now. And besides, it’s not like I don’t know him—like you don’t know him. He’s…Jeff. I mean, I know him. He knows me. We’re fine.”

Just to be on the safe side, she did her part. Her Victoria’s Secret credit card was put to good use and Jeff seemed to notice, so life went on.


Becca was back to waitressing at a downtown pub, and sometimes the Kenleys went there to hang out on her shift. She was usually busy laughing it up when they came, slapping shoulders and playing up the little English girl bit because the yuppies loved it and proffered big tips (along with the occasional phone number scribbled hastily on a napkin or receipt). After a few drinks—never wine; that was forbidden when they were at the pub, Jeff always joked—Caro was ready to hoot and holler with the rest of them at the latest Falcons loss or MMA bloodbath. Well, the hollering took quite a bit of Tequila or Crown, depending on how quickly she needed to get loose, but hooting was typically manageable after only a couple. This time, Becca plopped down on her lap, head to head, ignoring the fact that she was on the clock because professionalism wasn’t really “her thing.” So, the food was delivered by another waiter.

“Here, babe, try this on for size,” Jeff nudged her, grinning sheepishly. She turned to find a penis-shaped breadstick being pressed towards her face. She turned away from it on reflex, before she realized that it was just hardened dough, and that made Becca shriek with laughter even over the raucousness around them.

“Ro, chill, it’s just bread, love!”

“Aw, leave ‘er be. She doesn’t like anything too hard around her face.”

Jeff and Becca erupted in laughter all over again, shoving each other and playing with the bread. When he kept trying to thrust the bread in her face, she angrily shoved him away with an assertive, “Grow the fuck up, will you?” just for good measure.

Becca died down just enough to come to her friend’s rescue. “Alright, alright. Enough with that, there, Jeff. She doesn’t fancy that’at all.”

But that just made him start again, louder this time, completely amused with himself like a toddler rediscovering his own toes. “Don’t you get it, babe? A cock for a cockfight? Shit’s fuckin’ genius!” He gobbled the thing down and hardly noticed Ro’s disgust.

“Jesus, and they say only fools rush in.”

But he didn’t get the old Elvis reference, and she didn’t have the stomach to explain it to him either. This hadn’t been him in high school, right? Surely, he’d been at least proximal to her own mindset, goals, temperament? He’d amused her, but he’d stimulated her too, right? Or had he? Had this been what she’d thought she was getting when she signed that piece of paper?

In retrospect, she couldn’t be sure.


When he walked out the door that final time, less than a full sixty days later, Caro was neither shocked nor offended. In fact, she realized after he’d gone, that she’d secretly been plotting what she could do with all of that extra closet space back in hand. She could pull her winter suits from the storage bins and have them dry cleaned and back in her closet in plastic suit protectors before the end of the week. She could lie in bed without that horrific freight train of noise barreling through the apartment from somewhere deep in Jeff’s throat. She could—

She didn’t even see the actual act of walking out or hear his mumbled explanation as he fiddled with his keys, for she was sitting in her arm chair, just her and Poe, Chardonnay in hand and an upward twitch at her lips. There was, indeed, sun hitting her face though the windows were picture not bay. And that, she decided, was fine.

Later, she’d call Becca over, uncork another bottle and gossip on whatever latest mishap Becca had found herself embroiled in—there was bound to be something. Becca would unlace her boots and let down her hair and Caro would be regaled. Lady Antebellum would play and they would croon and plan the next Las Vegas.