I sobbed into my napkin and laughed, “Jesus Christ. She is the queen of manipulation. She’s doing that from a wheelchair with a blinking letter.”

He put the letter down, “Wow, that was bad. She is good. Don’t you agree?”

I shrugged, “I need to worry about me. I can’t fall into that trap again.”

He sipped his coffee and wiped his eyes again, “Oh I don’t know, I think you might, if given the right opportunity.”

I sneered at him, “Worry about your own backyard. You forget your boyfriend is hanging with Satan’s gay twin.”

He shrugged and played with the smile crossing his lips, “I trust Gerry.” His eyes narrowed, “Stop being such a bitch. Besides, Alex is dating someone.”

I leaned forward, “What?” I snatched the letter, skipping the rest of the part that was Judith’s diction, and went to the mushy shit intended for Dean. I gasped, “He’s dating a dental hygienist?”

He smiled, “I won’t lie, that makes me feel better.”

I laughed, “It should. Alex got all the good things in the womb. He is the perfect version of you-know-who.”

He swatted me, “Stop.”

I laughed and began to finish my coffee. I swallowed, seeing how badly my hand was shaking. I put it down.

He nodded, “Going back to the letter, Judith’s right. Love is love. I used to think love could be found anywhere. I see now though, I was wrong. If Gerry didn’t love me anymore, I would die inside.”

My tears started again. I knew that death.

He gripped my hands, “There is no letting go, once you find it and it’s real. There is no set amount of time it takes to see it either.” He pulled a ring from his jacket.

I gasped, putting my hands to my mouth.

“I’m sorry if this is bad timing on your broken heart, but mine is so full I can’t contain it. I’m going to ask him to be mine.”

I smiled, “Oh my God, Dean. I’m so sorry about joking about Alex.” I gripped his hands and cried the first good tears, I’d cried in ages.

He laughed, “It was perfect timing for some delicious irony.” His eyes twinkled, “Do you think he’ll say yes?”

I shook my head, “I think he’ll say I do.”

He blushed, “I am very excited they’re home this week. I’m going to ask tomorrow night. Will you go to the show with me?”

I gulped, “Thin Ice is playing this week?” Of course, I knew that.

He nodded, “Yes.”

I shook my head, “No.”

He pulled two backstage passes, “Yes, you are. Danny, Gerry, and Mike want to see you. I will need moral support for my huge life-altering decision. You will come and be my bestie. Stop acting like you lost Gerry and Mike in the kids in the divorce. They’re as devastated as you are.”

I shook my head, “I’m not devastated. I’m happy.”

“You feel strong and healed then?”

I sighed, “I feel as good as I can. My heart was broken, I can’t deny that. But I chose to move on and so has he, so there you have it.”

He nodded, “Then you should be strong enough to be near him, I mean if you’re healed enough.”

I sighed, “Not even funny. Don’t you think one manipulation a day is enough?”

He shook his head, “No, and I feel like the second one is always the more effective one.”

I stuck my tongue out at him, “Fine, pick me up.”

He smiled, “You’re sort of bad at the whole hag thing. I’m proposing in a country where gay marriage is not entirely legal. You need to be more fun and supportive. You need to be more into shopping and having fun. You’re all about the school work and the deadlines now.”

“Well, you should be into checking out hot, young men and going to gay bars with me, and instead, you are marrying the best man I know.”

He snorted, “Thanks, I’ve had my share of Y.M.C.A.”

I laughed and sighed.

Chapter Twenty-One

Full Circle

He got there early, the day of the show. I was miserable, trying to stuff my considerably-bigger breasts into my push-up bra. He leaned on the door of the bathroom and sighed, “I thought women lost weight when they were stressed.”

I scowled, “It’s my winter weight. I gain it every winter and lose it every spring. It’s from the lack of running.”

“It’s from the whole coconut-cream pie you bought at that scary-ass restaurant, you made me take you to last week. Did you, or did you not, eat the entire pie?”

I moaned, “I’m not going. I don’t fit anything.”

He rolled his eyes, “It’s ten pounds, and it’s all tits and ass. Put on a dress. It’ll hide the weight.”

“You find something; I have to powder my face again. I’m blotchy.” I looked like a stressed-out mess. I sat on the toilet, trying to find my Zen. I’d started taking hot yoga when the depressive blanket of fog landed on Boston and rained snow and sleet down on us for months. The heat made me feel better.

He came back with a gleam in his eye. “This is perfect. It’ll show off the new tattoo.”

I looked at it and drummed my fingers against the counter. I pulled off my push-up bra and slid the backless halter dress on. I turned to see my new tattoo. It was a harmony flower, the petals were made from hearts. I’d seen it at the yoga studio. It was to draw harmony into my life. I didn’t want anyone thinking it was for him. It wasn’t. It was for me. The tattoo sat on my left ribs, close to my heart. No one would ever see it unless, I wore a backless dress like the one I was wearing. I looked in the mirror. The brown dress sat a bit short compared to before. My larger butt lifted it a bit. “Is it obscene?”

He smiled, “It’s perfect. You look stunning. I would molest you if tits and ass were my thing.” I smacked his arm, “Stop saying that.”

The front hung in baggy ripples, preventing anyone from being able to see my nipples, but the side-boob made it obvious I was not wearing even a cup. The dress sat just below my butt cheeks. I shook my head, “I can’t do it.” My entire back was exposed. I would never make it.

He grabbed my hand and dragged me from the house. He grabbed my purse on the way and locked the door. I stood there, “Seriously, I can’t do it.”

“See him or the dress?”

I shook my head, “Both, neither.”

He laughed and flipped me over his shoulder, “Let’s go. You’ll make him pay in this. Trust me, he’ll suffer. He deserves that, at least a bit.”

I wiggled, “Put me down. My underwear is showing.”

“You’re wearing cotton jockeys, no one is going to look.”

I laughed and suffered through the ride down the stairs. He stopped part way, “Whew, that ten pounds is feeling more like forty.”

I smacked him, “I weighed this morning. It was only ten. This dress is a six, that’s only fat if you’re making the mistake of shopping at Abercrombie and Fitch.”

He laughed, “Imagine the legal damage control after that.”

I chuckled as he placed me on the floor. He pulled me to his car. I was instantly freezing, “I need a coat.”

He rolled his eyes, “It’s going to be a thousand degrees in there, stop being such a whiny bitch.”

I snarled as he drove off.

He was giddy, Gerry had been in town for a day so far. That always meant Dean was excitable.

“Lise is going to be in the front row,” he mentioned.

I nodded, “Good. I might need to go hang with her.”

He nudged me, “Backstage is going to be incredible. You’ll have fun, if you let your hair down.”

I shook my head, “I don’t think that’s going to help.”

I took a deep breath and remembered I was strong and confident, and Asshole Barlow didn’t stand a chance at making me doubt that. I was fabulous.

He parked in the restricted spot and put something in his window. He got out and came and dragged me from the car. He held my hand. I tried to ignore that my hands were sweating all over his. He walked up to a bouncer and handed him the tickets and a paper. He opened the door and handed us both a pass. I wrapped mine around my wrist and walked in.

It was dark and everything was black. People were bustling and going crazy. It was their first show at The Bank of America Pavilion. It was a huge deal. I was excited for them and hating that I cared.

Danny came running up. He looked so different I hardly knew him. He was dressed in business casual and looking respectable. It brought an instant smile to my lips. He ran and scooped me into his arms.

“Who’s the hottie, Danny boy?”

Danny spun me around, “This is my little sister, Erin.”

When he set me down, I noticed the dimply smile of a dark-haired, tall drink of water. He put a hand out and flashed me the I’m with the band smile, “I’m Leon.” My heart beat a mile a minute. Status checks were revealing I was still a groupie, and now I was even dressed like one. He glanced at Danny, “She doesn’t look so little.”

I scowled as Dean nudged. Danny stepped in front of me, “She’s off-limits to the band.”

I waved at him as Dean dragged me off, “Bye, Leon.” Gerry mauled me when I got to where he was talking to someone. He shrieked and attacked me and Dean. “My two favorite people in the whole world.” He pulled back, “What, Danny has to dress nice, so you decide to take his place as the family whore?”

I clenched my jaw. Dean looked hurt, “Hey, I picked that out.”

Gerry gave him a knowing look, “We want Lo…” Dean slapped his hand over Gerry’s mouth, “We say his, or him, or sometimes Satan. Never the name.”

I swallowed and looked at Dean, “I want to go home.”

He gripped my hand, “Who is the strong woman I know, who is literally wearing some very big-girl panties and kicking some butt at law school?”

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