Katie McDaniel was running late. She hated being late, but this was pretty unavoidable. Alyssa’s friends wanted to throw her a going away party, and seeing as how Alyssa was upset enough about this move, there was no way that Katie was going to take this away from her. Katie dropped her off at Kathryn’s house, made sure things were ok, and left as soon as she could. Of course, Kathryn’s parents had to be social and make small talk, which these days mostly consisted of talking Katie out of moving. Everywhere she went now, people were trying to get her to stay in Manhattan. Like it was the center of the universe or something. Anyway, she had to do the obligatory social thing at the beginning of any kid’s party and talk to all of the other parents. The support group would just have to wait.
Not that the support group was much of a group anymore. In the five years since the Event, as Katie liked to call it, there had been so many changes. The three male members of the group all got remarried pretty fast. Too fast, in Katie’s opinion. But no one asked her opinion and Katie, having grown up in Texas, felt it was better to just keep her mouth shut. Most of the time anyway.
The real problems in the group happened when the settlements came in. Katie was one of the lucky ones. Mike had worked for an investment banking firm, so, in addition to the life insurance policy he had, and the more than generous settlement that the commission gave her, she and Alyssa were pretty well set. Three other widows in the group weren’t so lucky. As firefighters widows, they didn’t get nearly as much as Katie did. The disparity in the payments turned Katie’s stomach. For a while, she considered not accepting her settlement as a protest, but her mother convinced her that doing so was bad for Alyssa. And she was probably right. After she got the money, she made a sizable donation to a widow’s fund, but that wasn’t enough for some of these ladies. But it wasn’t Katie’s fault that commissioners were total idiots. Things got pretty fractious at the meetings, and people started dropping out.
Now, it was only four who met. They met, formally anyway, only once a month, usually at a restaurant. Outside of that, there were tons of shopping trips, museum excursions, spontaneous lunches, and all manner of seemingly normal activities. Anything to keep them active and moving, mostly for the sake of their kids. Anything to forget the tragedy that brought them together in the first place.
Tonight’s meeting would be at Amanda’s place. Amanda had sent her kids to her mother’s house and this would be a going away party for Katie. A good old fashioned sleep-over. John Hughes movies, pizza, ice cream, manicures, and hair styling. My God, thought Katie. I haven’t done one of these in about twenty years.
Amanda, Amy, and Jennifer had been her lifeline these past five years. They would be the only thing Katie would miss about living in Manhattan, she thought. But, on the other hand, it would be nice to make new friends that she didn’t have such a terrible thing in common with. She wondered how much longer the group would keep meeting once she left.
She was looking forward to getting together with them tonight. The last few months had been really rough on Katie, probably the roughest since the Event. Mike’s mother, Evelyn, had moved in with her and Alyssa about six weeks after. Things were ok for a while, but starting in 2003, Evelyn just seemed to give up. Her husband was dead, her son was dead, and her daughter had run off to marry someone in some wacko religious cult and had not been heard from since. All she had left was Alyssa. After a while, even that wasn’t enough for her. She just seemed to give up, and when she caught a bad case of the flu late last year, there wasn’t enough fight in her.
After Evelyn died, there was even more legal crap to deal with that just drained Katie. Evelyn had never changed her will after her husband died, so dealing with the missing sister was legally difficult. Not that there was much of an estate, but there was a little property and some stock and just enough assets to make probate a bitch. When it finally settled, Katie could finally take a deep breath and figure out what to do next.
Evelyn had only been dead a few days when Katie’s mother started in on her again. Nothing holding you there now, she’d say. Move back to Austin. It would be great for Alyssa, to grow up with space and a backyard. And surely Katie could sell the condo in Manhattan and live like a relative queen in Austin, with the disparities in home prices being what they were.
But it wasn’t that easy. After the Event, Katie had gone back to work. Not because she had to, the settlement had seen to that, but because she needed to. She needed something to fill those days that just ran one into the other. She needed to forget that Mike was never coming back, and that the life they had meticulously planned together was just as gone as the World Trade Center.
She had a degree in Marketing from a well respected university and this got her foot back in the door. Before getting pregnant with Alyssa, she had worked as a buyer for Macy’s, and she was able to use those connections to get hired on there again after the Event. It also didn’t hurt that people had a soft spot for the 9/11 widows.
So she couldn’t just go back to Austin. She had a career. Alyssa had school and all the other things that go with being a nine year old girl. Any move would have to be carefully thought out.
All in all, this move was about a year in the making. Finding the right neighborhood, the right schools, and the right job took time. As luck would have it, Katie stumbled across a boutique that was up for sale not too far away from the neighborhood she wanted to live in. Between the sale of the Manhattan condo and the settlement, she could more than afford it. It was a successful boutique; the owner simply wanted to retire. Because of the success of the boutique, Katie had no intention of changing anything. The old owner even wanted to come in about ten hours a week. This didn’t bother Katie at all, in fact, it would probably help her retain those all important loyal customers.
So with all the pieces finally in place, it was time to return to Austin where she had grown up. It was a very different place from the one she left almost twenty years ago. She had visited many times over the years and had seen some of those changes. So even though she had grown up there, it would be like moving to a completely different city.
She finally got to Amanda’s building. Wow, she thought, looking at her watch. I really am late. I hope they won’t be too pissed off.
She rang the buzzer for Amanda’s apartment.
“Hey Amamda, it’s me.”
“Katie. Who else?”
“Hmmm….the Katie I know would call if she was running late. I don’t know this Katie.”
“Ok. Mea cupla. Mea Maxima Culpa. I’m finally here. Can I come up now? I brought wine.’”
“It depends. Is it good wine, or merlot?”
“You are such a snob. It’s a nice cab. Can I come up?”
When she got to Amanda’s apartment, Jennifer opened the door and gave her a big hug.
“You know the penalty for being the last one to come is that we freeze your bra, right?” she said.
“Ha, ha. Where should I put this?”
“Over there. Then get into your pj’s. It’s time to get started!”
Katie’s stomach growled. “Is there food yet? It was a long day and I didn’t eat any lunch.”
Amy answered from the kitchen. “Yeah, the pizza is here and I’m making some artichoke dip. You want?”
“You know that’s my favorite.” Amy made the best artichoke dip ever. Another thing I’ll miss about Manhattan, Katie thought.
Amanda came into the room wearing pink silk pajamas, bunny slippers, and rollers in her hair. Leave it to her to take things way over the top.
They all burst into fits of terrible giggles.
“What?” Amanda said with mock surprise. “Do the slippers not match or something? I tried so hard!”
Amy was wiping up soda from her shirt she laughed so hard. “At least you waited until AFTER the pizza guy came to put that get up on,” she quipped.
“What? You don’t think that I would inspire a letter to Penthouse with this look? I can see it now: As I was approaching the door for my last delivery of the night, who knew that inside was the answer to all my dreams? How was I to know that the woman inside knew of my bunny slipper and roller fetish and that she had asked specifically for me?”
They all laughed again and got settled on the floor with the pizza boxes in the middle.
Jennifer pulled out the movies. “Ok. I’ve got all the classics here. “Ferris Bueller”, “Sixteen Candles”, “Breakfast Club”, and “Pretty in Pink”. What’s first?”
“I think Katie needs to pick,” suggested Amanda. “Choose wisely, or we’ll stick your hand in warm water when you go to sleep.”
“Geez, if I knew you guys had such a wicked streak, I’d have left town years ago. Ok, you have to figure out which one I want to watch by guessing the movie I’m paraphrasing: This party is social. Demented and sad, but social, right?”
A fusillade of pillows came Katie’s way. “Ok, then” Jennifer announced. “Breakfast Club it is.”
Amy rolled her eyes. “Gawd, you’re such a neomaxizoomdweebie! I wanted to see some Ferris.”
“Don’t worry, he’s next. He’s a righteous dude.”
Jennifer popped the DVD in the player and turned down the lights. “All right, pipe down. Here it comes!”
Four hours, three bottles of wine, and two pizzas later, the foursome was ready to settle down for the night.
“So Katie,” Jennifer began, “Tell us more about this boutique you bought. You’ve been kind of short on the details.”
“Well, not too much to say actually. It’s called ‘The Closet’ and it’s been there for years. Very established clientele. It’s mostly what you would consider casual wear, but actually what most people wear in Austin. You’d hate it; the clothes come in colors other than black.”
Everyone laughed. Jennifer did dress the part of the stereotypical New Yorker with her mostly black wardrobe.
“What about the house?”
“Now that’s something else. It’s really great. It’s a three bedroom two bath with a separate study. The kitchen is completely updated with stainless and granite, and the bathrooms are fabulous. The backyard is huge and has a great deck that I plan on putting an outdoor kitchen in. Amanda, if your computer is up, I can show you some pictures.”
Amanda went to get her laptop. She handed it to Katie, who worked quickly to pull up the pictures. There was much oooing and aaaahing over Katie’s new home.
“Ok, that is fabulous! But I have a question: where are the cows?” Jennifer teased.
“Ha ha. You’re just jealous. Go on, ask me how much I paid.”
“No, let me guess. $500K.”
“No way, I’m too drunk to go home. But are you starting to see why I’m moving back?” Katie said.
Amy sighed. “Yeah, I can see the appeal. It seems a lot less complicated there. At least you won’t have the Event hanging over your head everyday like you do here.”
“True, but I will have my mother, and that’s almost as bad.”
They all laughed. Katie’s issues with her mother were a frequent topic of discussion.
Katie settled down in her pillow. “Well, just ’cause I’m moving to the ‘burbs, doesn’t mean my life isn’t going to be less complicated. Single moms don’t exactly fit the mold out there, ya know? And I don’t think I’m going to get the same sympathy I get here for the whole 9/11 Widow thing. I really will be starting all over. It’ll be exciting, that’s for sure, but I’m going to miss all the support that you guys have given me. I wish I could take you with me. It’s just not going to be the same without you.” She looked across the room. “Oh no you aren’t. You are NOT going to cry!”
“Of course not,” sniffed Amanda. “I’m a hardened bitch. I’d never cry for you.”
“Good. You guys are welcome to visit anytime. Seriously. You need to come in March when it’s not cold like it is here. You’ll love it.”
“Don’t worry. We will,” said Amy. “I really would like to visit you. Maybe we could come up on summer break.”
Katie laughed. “No way. I like you too much. Austin’s great and all, but it turns into the fifth circle of hell in the summer. Come and visit me at Spring Break. It’ll be great!”
“All of us at once?”
“Well, all of you that can make it. I’ll figure something out. So, it’s a date?”
“Plan on it.” Jennifer yawned. “So. Sleepytime?”
“I guess so. God, we’re getting old. It’s only 12:30 and I’m totally ready to drop. When did that happen?”
“I dunno,” said Amy. “But I guess it happens to everyone, right Amanda? Amanda?”
Amanda was snoring very softly on her couch across the room. The three awake friends had a soft laugh at that.
“Good night, Katie.”
“Good night, Amy.”
“Good night, Jennifer.”
“Good night, Jon Boy,” said Amanda.