6 months before
(adj.) close-fitting, especially uncomfortably so.
I didn’t belong here—not in a loud casino, smoke curling up the walls, disappearing into discreet vents. Flip-flops shared space with sequins and diamonds, the crowd a mix of sandy tourists and high rollers, eighteen-year-old spring breakers polka-dotting the mix with their wide eyes and slurred steps, the alcohol hitting their virgin systems hard. We were at a craps table, a game that none of us understood, yet the Asians to our right were grinning and gesturing like we were hitting the mother lode, so we blew on dice and moved markers, and our chip stack continued to grow.
Chelsea. She’s the reason we were all there. Six of us split between three rooms, the four hundred dollar nightly rate generously taken care of by Mr. McCrory, Chelsea’s father and the king of the Atlanta carwash market. Chelsea’s big day was two weeks away, so there we were, in Nassau, bachelorette-partying our country asses off.
I didn’t belong there. I belonged on my front porch, sunning my toes on the railing, a sweet tea next to me, a magazine on my lap, Sugarland on the radio. That was how I’d spend a week off. Not in that loud place, with Tammy’s hand digging into my shoulders, her fresh manicure biting imprints into my sunburned skin. There was a bump of bodies behind me, and the curve of the table cut into my still-gorged-on-seafood stomach. Ouch. I gazed longingly at the stool holding up the cigarette-smoking female to my right. My feet were on fire, four hours in a-size-too-small-but-they-were-on-sale heels taking their toll in the most painful way possible.
I gathered my chips and turned to Megan, the bit of a girl to my left, her platinum curls bouncing excitedly at some aspect of this gamble that we didn’t understand. “I’m gonna head upstairs,” I yelled, my mouth as close to her ear as I could manage without swallowing her chandelier earrings.
“What?” She glanced down at her wrist, the fake Rolex we all—with the exception of Chelsea—had gobbled up from the first roadside stand where the taxi driver had stopped. It glittered impressively at me, and I fought a glimpse downward to see if my own looked as good. “It’s only ten.”
“My feet are killing me.”
She looked down. “You got a long way to walk to the room.”
She wasn’t kidding. My brain groaned at the thought of the trek before me. Through the casino, through the shops, down a flight of stairs, through a second lobby, up twelve floors via elevator, and then down a thousand feet of hallway. “I know. That’s why I’m leaving while my soles still have a little bit of life left in them.”
She leaned in, lowering her voice. “Chelsea will be pissed.”
I shrugged, craning my neck till I saw the future bride’s over-highlighted head. I leaned in, gave Megan a quick peck on the cheek, then hobbled over to Chelsea. “I’m heading up to the room,” I called out.
She waved her hand dismissively, her eyes glued to the table, the movement of our Asian coaching staff leaping in the air dominated her attention, her own voice whooped at an ear-splitting crescendo.
Great. I moved before my words registered and her attention changed to me, weaving through crowds of people as fast as my raw feet would take me, opening my purse and dumping my handful of chips into it.
Past blackjack. I could do this. It wasn’t really that bad if I didn’t pause long enough for my feet to bitch.
Past poker. Damn, there were a lot of tables. I kept my eyes focused forward, like I did when I felt like I would faint. Step, hobble. Step, hobble. I could do this, as long as I was going the right way.
Past more blackjack. Crap. Were these the same tables I passed before? Or different ones? Maybe the others were in a high-roller portion of the casino. These must be different. They had to be different. I looked for a sign, an arrow, a member of the casino staff. The blister on the back of my right heel was now competing with my left pinky toe, which I’d be willing to bet was bleeding.
Past slots. This had to be right. I was jostled out of place by an overweight white woman who shot me a dirty look. Almost turned my ankle and busted my ass. Great. Just what I needed. An injury to accompany my pansy-ass feet.
There was an exit before me, and I craned to see over the heads blocking my view. Please lead out of the casino. Please lead into the lobby by the shops, please ... Oh, thank God. I almost cried with relief when the crowd parted, and I entered the smoke-free arena that was the rest of the hotel. Bathrooms to my left, a seating area on my right. I walked like my ninety-year-old grandma and collapsed into the closest chair, working off my heels with trembling fingers, and moaned when the heavy stilettos dropped to the tiled floor. Sweet Jesus. I flexed my feet and leaned back in the chair, closed my eyes and covered my face for a moment, rubbing gentle patterns into my hairline as I tried to massage away the headache that had built over the last two hours. Aspirin. I’d get to the room, take aspirin, and draw a bath. Soak my feet and create enough bubbles to make Mr. Clean jealous. The prospect brought a smile to my face, and I let my hands drop. Took a moment to breathe, to relax.
Finally, it was quieter, away from the madness of the casino.
I couldn’t believe it was only Friday. I got off early, our bank manager unhappy with the request, yet unable to bitch too loudly, seeing as I was the only FA at our small town chain. FA is fancy country talk for Financial Advisor. In a big city I’d manage large portfolios, dispense stock advice, buy and sell quotients like Ben Affleck in Boiler Room. But in our small town? An hour from Atlanta, where Sunday sermons focus on rain prayers, and where the average household income lay right on the forty-five thousand dollar mark? My days were spent selling mutual funds, life insurance, and doing the I’m-not-qualified-for-this job of will creation and estate planning. Nothing that couldn’t wait till Monday morning, when my raw feet and hung over self would crack open the doors of Smith Bank & Trust at the ungodly hour of 7:30 AM.
I picked up my right foot and examined the damage done by my stilettos. Stilettos that were uglier by the minute, trotting their pretty selves straight into my trashcan at their current rate of travel. Too bad I didn’t pack many other options. Fancy shoes took up a very small corner of my closet. Sensible black grandma heels dominated the rest of said closet floor. Paired with my tan nylons, they helped to complete the too-sexy-for-a-date vibe that I rocked ninety percent of the year. Maybe I couldn’t pull off the cute strappy heels, sexpot in a minidress look. Maybe that ability set sail at age thirty. Maybe, at thirty-two, I should invest in some ballet flats and sundresses. I saw a lot of the minivan moms with that look. And they looked comfortable. They certainly didn’t have the fire engine red feet that were currently screaming a slow death beneath my fingertips. I gingerly pushed on the bubble on my back heel. Uck. I could almost hear liquid squishing in it.