“The best way to get over a man,” Mara says, lifting her margarita, “is—”
Sage interrupts her. “To go to the rodeo and get your ho down with a cowboy.”
My best friend proudly grins at her new solution for heartbreak. Breakup solidarity blue streaks the tips of her blond hair, a new color from her typical pink.
“That’s not what I was going to say, but I like it if ho down means you’ll ride a cowboy.” Mara lifts her glass higher and her gold curls bounce with her enthusiasm. “To big belt buckles!”
“Aren’t all cowboys bowlegged and reek of horses?” I wrinkle my nose. “Unwashed, missing teeth. Chewing tobacco. Sleeping outdoors on the ground. Eating cold canned beans. Out of the can. With a knife or a twig.”
Three sets of eyes stare unblinking at me.
“What?” I pull on my braid. “I’ve seen a few Western movies.”
Mae is the first to speak. “Zoe, you’re kidding, right?”
“I’m from Chicago. We don’t really do the whole Wild West, big belt buckle thing. Or cowboy boots. Or the hats.”
Sage speaks and I’m hoping she’s going to back me up. “We’re not in Illinois anymore, best friend of mine. This is the American West.”
“Exactly my point.” I agree with her on the geography lesson.
“Cowboys are hot. How have you never been to the rodeo in Snowmass? What’s wrong with us that this isn’t our weekly thing? Pink Taco Tuesdays and Rodeo Wednesdays.” Margarita sloshes over the edge of Mae’s glass as she lifts it in a toast to our foursome. The four of us have become a tight squad over the past six months.
“Wild Women Wednesdays has a better ring to it.” Mara sets down her drink with a loud clunk on the wood table. She only does this when she has something important to say or she has to go to the ladies’ room. “I have a confession. I’ve never been to a rodeo either.”
“You’re from New England. You’re forgiven,” Mae says.
“Horses make me nervous.” Mara stares at the table, twisting a blond curl nervously around her finger.
“We need to change this. As soon as possible.” Mae’s dark eyes blaze with mischief as she raises her glass again. “To getting back on the horse. And by horse, I mean man.”
“Cheers,” Mara says. “Let me tell you from experience … the man you think you should end up with isn’t always the man you need. See, the problem is you’re thinking with your brain. Checking off lists and putting things in boxes. Silly human. The heart, not the brain, is where love lives. Sure, we can convince ourselves we’re in love. But not for long. My ex, Geoffrey, was smart, nice, kind, and great on paper. Zero zings. Jesse and I don’t line up on paper, yet we work.”
“Zings?” I ask.
“All of them.” She stares into space with a soft, dreamy expression on her face. “And those laser noises. Pew pew pew. In my pants.”
“Thanks for sharing. If the burning laser sensation lasts for more than a few hours, you might need a special cream,” Mae says, frowning while the rest of us laugh. She holds the scowl for about ten seconds before cracking up.
“Not sure I’ve had zings.” I finish my drink and think about ordering another one. We’re sitting on the deck of Agave, under the heat lamps. Another margarita and I might curl up on this couch and go to sleep. Not sure how management feels about napping patrons.
If they don’t want to encourage us, they shouldn’t make the seats so comfortable. I lose the fight against yawning.
“Wake up!” Sage jabs her finger between my ribs.
“Let me sleep. Maybe I’ll wake up and this will all be a dream … a horrible, depressing, sad sack of a dream.” I squirm away from her and snuggle a pillow.
“This is a good thing.” Sage removes my cuddly cushion. “Neil’s an iceberg. Innocent looking on the surface, but a whole other story down below. Icebergs are best admired from afar.”
I don’t think she’s ever been a big fan of my ex-boyfriend. Too safe, too boring. Too predictable. Easy for her to say given she’s with Lee, a South African rugby god with a heart as big and kind as his … feet.
“Without Neil’s share of the bills, I can’t live on my own based on my massage income from the spa. Even with the crazy tips, Aspen’s real estate is out of reach. I’m looking at rentals with multiple roommates down valley. One place had bunk beds. Like camp.” I groan and try to suck the last drops of tequila from the ice cubes in my glass.
“Do you want to be a massage therapist forever?” Mara asks.
“No,” I answer without a second’s hesitation. “I’m good with my hands and when you move to paradise, you do whatever it takes to stay.”
Unless you’re Neil. My ex, who bailed on me and our five-year relationship at the end of the ski season. His “it’s over speech” made him sound like the boring, number-crunching, middle-aged asshole he’s probably going to grow up to be.
Mae and Sage both snort. Mara, who moved here earlier this year and doesn’t really get our humor, blinks her wide eyes at me.
I shake my head. “Don’t make that dirty. I’m not that desperate. My massages don’t have happy endings.”
“I think a lack of orgasms in your life might be part of your problem.” Smirking, Mae rolls her long, dark hair into a loose twist down her back. “There’s plenty of men around here who would volunteer. A whole squad of eager and overly sexed, testosterone filled rugby players.”
Sure, I could hook up with one of the local rugby players, but diving into the shallow end of the dating pool has disaster written all over it. I’d need a head injury to agree to have sex with one of those guys. Landon’s like a ski parka with old lift passes still attached. Yes, we all know where he’s been. He’s dated half the women at this table. No, thanks.
“Easley’s had a crush on you for a while,” Sage volunteers.
Tall and flirty, Easley is nice enough, but in a big brother kind of way. “I’m sure some women out there love hairy men.”
“The only fur I like is on animals.” Mara laughs and waves over the waiter. “I’ve shaved enough cat balls, I never want to have to do it for a man.”
“That’s way more information about Jesse’s sack than I ever needed.” Mae finishes the last of the pitcher. “I could never be a veterinarian. Or a waxer.”
I sigh. “I’ve seen way too many hairy backs during massages. Sometimes it’s a complete surprise based on how a guy looks with his clothes on.”
Simultaneously, we all shudder.
I continue. “Reality is Aspen’s a small town. Not a lot of prospects for settling down.”
Mae’s mouth purses like she’s sucked on a lime. “That’s a horrible expression. Settle. Down. Nothing positive about those two words.”
Sage gives me a sympathetic smile. “Maybe a summer fling could be good. There’s enough influx of seasonal employees in the restaurants, tours, and outdoor sports outfitters to provide temporary options.” I love Sage’s optimism. “No reason you need to find Mr. Right.”
Mae agrees. “Mr. Right Now should be your goal. And we can start tomorrow night at the rodeo.”
“Yee haw!” Maybe someday I’ll be able to believe Neil did me a favor.
Nursing my post margarita headache the next morning, I drag my sorry self and a tumbler of iced coffee out to my soon-to-be former condo’s small balcony. My hat and oversized sunnies shade my eyes from the glare of the summer sun. With a sigh, I troll the rental listings on my phone. I have another month to find a place before my lease is up and I’m homeless. This afternoon I have three massage clients. Tomorrow two. It’s June and the summer season is off to a slow start. At this rate, I’ll have blown through my small savings by ski season. If I last that long.
This is not how I planned my year. Or my life.
Three things I knew for certain six months ago:
I was pretty sure my college boyfriend was going to become my husband someday.
We’d spend our lives together living in the mountains of Colorado.
I was definitely living the life I’d dreamed about as a teenager in the suburbs of Chicago.
Too bad it all fell apart.
Boyfriend decided to move back to “the real world” as he put it and be a “real adult” in Chicago. The air quotes and implied middle fingers are mine.
A few ski seasons and summers bumming around Aspen were enough for him. As if location and job, not age, define us as adults. Pretty sure Colorado still counts as being part of the real world, even if we have legalized pot. It’s not like there are dragons and fairies flying around.
All Neil’s “realness” kind of ruins the second and third things on my dream life list. The we is now an I. As in single, alone, and facing down thirty in four years.
Oh no. Now I’m having a quarter life crisis.
Add cliché to my list of what my life is now.
I’m probably going to end up a cautionary tale. Younger generations of idealistic women will whisper the name Zoe with a sad nod and downcast eyes.
At least Neil paid his share for the last two months. Out of the goodness of his bank account. Because the man wants his security deposit back. He’ll do anything to avoid a financial penalty or heaven forbid, negative credit.