Erin’s house reminded me of something out of the midcentury. There was a little stone path leading up to her front door, and green space that I imagined would be filled with a beautiful garden in the summer. When Laura first gave me the address, I had a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach, since the street where she lived was widely known as where all the wealthy people lived. It wasn’t a bad feeling, of course, but when I was younger, and occasionally still, I’d walk or drive down these streets, look at all the nice houses and imagine what it would be like to live in one of them.
I’d been to one once, at a party held by one of my high school classmates, but the thing I remembered from that night was my classmate’s private section of the lake. Laura had told me that Erin was a producer for our local news channel, and her husband worked in tech, so between the two of them they did pretty well for themselves. Laura told me she was really nice and I trusted her judgment, but I was nonetheless anxious to meet her. I was also anxious to see who else was there. She’d only been going for a few weeks, and told me there was always a decent turnout but didn’t mention anyone save a girl named Madison.
She said we had to meet because she felt as though we would naturally get along. She liked classic movies and old music, just like I did. And we read the same kinds of books, too. I supposed that would make sense, since she’d been called to join the same book club.
It was an extremely sunny day, just before three o’clock in the afternoon, which gave the illusion of it being nicer than it actually was. When I’d checked the weather before I left home I’d seen that the high was supposed to get up to forty-eight degrees. I could feel it wanting to get warmer in the air, but it appeared that we’d still have a while to wait.
I got out of my car, confirming I had the right address. It was a white house with pink shutters on the windows. The welcome mat had one of those old school smiley faces on it, and it said “Good Vibrations” in a 1970s looking font. I smiled to myself, appreciating it. There was a part of me that wanted to hate Erin before I even met her, if only because she had money and even if I didn’t want to admit it I still felt a pang of jealousy whenever I met someone who did. I thought to myself that she probably didn’t even know the Beach Boys song and had probably just picked it because she thought it looked cool.
I sighed, thinking that was probably not the healthiest thought to have and that I should give her a chance as I knocked on the door. A moment later I was greeted by a tall and skinny man who kind of reminded me of Macaulay Culkin. He wore a gray t-shirt which had the logo of our local country club, which didn’t help my intent to be open minded.
“Book club?” The man asked me.
“Come on in,” he said. He led me inside and told me to take off my shoes, and showed me where to hang my coat. I recognized Laura’s blue converse beside a few other pairs of shoes, and took mine off. The whole house was bright and airy.
He gestured to the living room. “They’re just down there.” He extended his hand. “I’m Tanner, by the way. Erin’s husband.”
I extended my hand and we shook. “Charlotte,” I said quietly.
Then, I went to join the others in the living room, which was as nice as the rest of the house. Vintage art hung on the walls and a white shag rug covered the floor. It was almost a little too perfect, like the house was made for a magazine spread and not for people to live in. Two midcentury couches and a few chairs faced a glass coffee table.
Five people were there, in all. Laura was chatting with a woman who I’d later learn was Madison. She was twenty-one and had just graduated college but could have easily passed for a freshman in high school. She was brown skinned and her dark hair fell in a cascade over shoulders. Laura saw me and she turned to wave. Madison merely stopped and stared at me for a moment just as a woman with shoulder length blonde hair and a sky blue cashmere sweater introduced herself as Erin. As she walked up and shook my hand, I could smell the deep floral scent of her perfume.
I really wanted to hate her, but only because I was jealous. I was jealous of the house, the husband, and how she could fit right in with one of those god awful modern tv shows about beautiful, rich people complaining about how hard their lives were. And yet, I told myself again that I was being unfair.
“You’re Laura’s friend, right?” Erin asked.
I nodded. “I’m Charlotte.”
“Welcome,” she said, flashing a perfect smile. “Can I get you anything? Tea?”
“I’d love a cup, actually,” I said. It was just the kind of thing that I hoped would make me feel better.
“I’ll show you our selection,” Erin said, and led me into the kitchen. “I love your whole outfit, by the way. It’s very cute.”
I looked down at white turtleneck, hot pink blazer, jeans, and the old frayed purse strung over my shoulder. It was that period in the spring where I was feeling very constrained by covering myself from head to toe, day in and day out, and I could hardly wait to break out my collection of dresses and sandals. In other words, I hardly felt pretty in my outfit. “Thank you,” I said.
The kitchen, of course, was just as nice as the rest of the house, keeping with the vintage vibe.
“How long have you known Laura?” Erin asked as she got out what appeared to be a box of teabags from a drawer.
“Oh, we go way back,” I said. “Freshman year of high school.”
I then explained to her that I was an actress, and Erin said she thought Laura had mentioned that at some point. “What have you been in?”
“I was just in Richard III,” I said. Then came the inevitable “who were you?” question, and I had to somberly tell her that I had been cast as a thirteen year old prince.
“Why do you say that like it’s a bad thing?” Erin asked me as she started to make my tea.
I didn’t have a response. She wasn’t wrong, but I hadn’t been expecting that question. “It’s not,” I finally said. “It’s just not what I expected when I tried out.”
“But you got a part,” Erin continued. “You’re out living your dream. That’s more than a lot of people can say. And next time, you’ll get an even better part.”
I nodded, not having anything to say that would refute her.
“So,” Erin said as the tea boiled. “What did you think of the book?”
“Oh, well, I love Fitzgerald,” I told her. “I have a hard time with the older language of the classics, but I always found him really accessible for whatever reason.”
“I’m glad,” Erin said with a smile. “Gatsby’s one of my all time favorites.”
“If there’s a play version, it’s kind of a dream to play Daisy,” I said. I felt a bit of redness creep into my cheeks. I hadn’t said this to many people, but something trusted me enough to tell her.
“I can totally see that,” Erin said. Then, she looked at me for a moment. “Look how much you’re smiling. It’ll happen for you.”
I realized I was smiling and I bit my lip. Erin had just put a lot of faith in me for someone she had just met, and never seen act. But it felt nice, to have someone tell me that I could when it was usually the opposite.
“Tea’s ready,” Erin said. She picked out a mug with the logo of our local news station, poured me a cup, and handed it over. “Let’s get started.”
I nodded as I took the mug of tea and followed her back into the living room. “You have a lovely home, by the way,” I said.
“Thank you,” Erin replied with a smile.
As she led us back into the room, I took my seat next to Laura, between her and Madison. As I’d just told Erin, Laura and I went way back.
She always thought I was the pretty one in the friendship, and I didn’t see why. I envied her naturally wavy auburn hair, freckles, and hazel eyes. Her nails were always perfectly painted and manicured, and it was never just a plain color. That day, they were black and glittery, meaning her nails glittered like a perfect night sky. I looked down at my own, plain uneven stubs. For me, getting my nails done professionally was something I could indulge in once in a great while. Laura would never call herself rich but her parents made the kind of money that my mother could only dream of. She lived with her parents too, but she didn’t have to work. Nonetheless, she had a great job, working as her favorite princess, Anna from Frozen, to visit sick kids in hospitals. It was the kind of job that she truly loved, and said on multiple occasions didn’t feel like work.
“Hey,” I said to her. Our schedules had both been busy, and even though we talked every day, it had been about a week since I’d seen her in person. In spite of everything, Laura’s friendship was something I was truly grateful for, as she’d been there for me in a way few other people had in my life.
“Heyyy,” said Laura. “Glad you’re here.”
“Of course,” I said, turning to the other two I hadn’t noticed before. Erin had taken her seat by now, and introduced me to Kayla, who was black but light skinned, and I wondered if she was biracial. She dressed simply and had a similar haircut as me, sans bangs. She looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place her. She explained she worked for the postal service and delivered my mail. I’d never met anyone that did that, and thought that was interesting.
There was Louise, who was Asian and dressed very elegantly in a white lace turtleneck shirt, mint green skirt, black tights, and heeled boots. She didn’t seem much older than me, and yet I noticed a wedding ring on her finger. Then, she mentioned something to the group about it being her daughter’s birthday tomorrow. After the book club, she and her husband were going to spend the rest of the weekend at the waterpark an hour’s north of town.
Husband and a kid. I didn’t want to know how old she was.
“How old is your daughter?” I asked.
“She’s turning two.”
“Cute,” I said quietly, trying as best as I could to hide my jealousy, knowing it was unfair.
“Do you have any kids?” Louise asked.
“Me?” I couldn’t help but laugh. “God no. One day, maybe.” I did this sometimes. Over the last year this question had become more common. Am I married? Do I have a boyfriend? Do I have kids? Laughing it off like so many of my generation didn’t make it so obvious that it was something I deeply wanted.
I took a sip of my tea. It was a wonder how one beverage could always make me feel so much calmer.
Then, Madison, who hadn’t I hadn’t acknowledged yet, turned to me. “I just have to tell you that you’re really beautiful.”
“Thank you,” I said. I didn’t realize yet that she was twenty-one and had just graduated college. For all I knew I could have been talking to a shy high schooler. One who wanted to feel important by hanging out with adults. I only knew because that had been me.
“You could belong in Old Hollywood or something,” Madison continued.
“Thank you,” I said again.
“I’m Madison, by the way.”
“Yeah, Laura mentioned you. I’m Charlotte.”
“She’s said good things, I hope?” Madison said with a shy, tired smile.
Laura turned and addressed us. “Nah, I told her that you’re crazy.” She had a smile on her face and was obviously joking. That was just her sense of humor.
The look on Madison’s face told me she didn’t think it was very funny, but I didn’t think much of it at the time.