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Miss Understanding: A Novel Excerpt from Miss Understanding: A Novel

by Stephanie Lessing

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Chapter 1

Im not sure if this qualifies as some sort of obsessive compulsion or just a simple fear of children, but Ive just taken my third consecutive home pregnancy test and Im about to reach for my fourth. One can never be too sure, thats why Ive taken to buying these little sticks in bulk.

Of course the results are always negative, because the truth is Ive only gotten my period maybe a handful of times in my entire life -- and Im about to turn thirty. Theres obviously something wrong with me.

Something very unfemale.

And yet, I live in fear.

After twenty-six rings, I pick up the phone and then hang it back up. I like to think this is our little signal but in all likelihood Chloe isnt aware of the fact that Im trying to avoid her, which I can only mange to do for so long -- because she keeps calling back.

Hello?

Hi, its me.

So I imagined.

I was just wondering what youre planning to wear tomorrow.

Shouldnt you be asleep? Its nine-thirty.

I was asleep. I had a nightmare.

About my clothes?

You were wearing a turban.

Dont worry, I wont embarrass you.

Just tell me so I can picture it.

Either shorts or sweats, something nice, Ill see.

Im getting up and coming over to help you.

No youre not. Go back to bed.

Zoe, you have to make them think youre an ally. If you dress yourself, youll show up looking like an angry, confrontational, anti-social freak, who came from left field. Let me help you at least appear to be one of them.

I appreciate your faith in me, but the truth is I refuse to use some sort of wardrobing affectation as a tool to influence people. Either theyll like and accept my ideas for the magazine or they wont. I couldnt care less what they think of my appearance.

So, really what youre saying is you have no idea what to wear.

That too. But Im on the verge of a break-through.

I know thats not true and I know youre pretending not to care. Youre the one who always says, clothes make the man because they can make a woman believe anything.

When did I ever say that?

I dont know, but it got stuck in my head somehow. Even though Im not even sure what it means.

Me neither, but if I did say it, Im sure it was in the context of not giving a shit. Theres no sense in trying to hide what I am. Im sure Dans already explained to the editors that I intend to make changes in the magazine -- changes that reflect my values. I dont think theyre expecting someone to walk in there dressed like a model. But if youre that afraid, come over and do what you have to do. Ill wear whatever you want me to wear. Ive got eight million other more important things to worry about and Id like to get started obsessing on them right away. So lets get this over with.

When Chloe arrives at my apartment, shes wearing a velour sweat outfit with some kind of skirt over her pants, an abnormally long, skinny, knitted scarf around her neck -- and a pair of well-oiled cowboy boots. All this and its about eighty degrees outside.

Is it cold in your apartment? I ask.

Dont worry, I wont pick out anything like this for you. I was half asleep when I got dressed.

Im not worried. I dont have any sort of ranch-wear or anything velour. In fact, Ive got nothing. You were right in suspecting I was exaggerating when I hinted at a breakthrough. All I did was walk into my closet and then walk back out. I cant imagine how youre going to pass me off as a Deputy Editor of anything, least of all a fashion magazine.

I thought Michael finally threw that thing away, she says pointing to the Save the Peregrine Falcon t-shirt Im wearing. Ive had it since middle school and it still fits me. For some reason, I stopped growing in seventh grade.

Nope. I still have it. He tries to hide it from me every now and then but I always find it. I look down at my t-shirt. The picture of the falcon is so hideous and frightening, no one would want to save it, and yet I cant part with it. I have a thing for unlovable birds.

My sister and I make small talk for about thirty seconds and then she heads off to my closet to do her job. I follow her into my room and sit on the bed facing the window, trying to make it clear that Im ignoring her, but she doesnt notice things like being ignored and immediately tries to get me involved.

How is this possible? she calls out.

How is what possible? I call back.

Everything in here is pea green.

Pea green is my favorite color.

Theres a few moments of blissful silence but then she starts in again. You dont even own a belt or one pair of normal looking shoes or any pantyhose with feet and believe it or not, I just found your field hockey skirt from eighth grade. Suddenly the tone of her voice changes and she says, Although we might actually be able to use this somehow.

I walk over and take a quick look at my sister whos sitting on the floor of my grossly oversized closet, looking up. Shes always been the type of person who believes that if you pray very, very hard, things you really want will fall from the ceiling. She looks so hopeful in there despite the fact that the only thing my closet is really good for is hiding cartons of art supplies I have no intention of unpacking. I havent painted anything in months. At this point its healthier if I just forget I ever tried and use the cartons for additional seating -- particularly since Im not really into decorating with furniture in the traditional sense.

Chloe spots a bunch of copies of Michaels latest book hidden in the back of my closet. She digs one out and starts flipping through it.

Is this the one hes traveling around to promote? she asks. She reads the title with the same degree of enthusiasm Michael intended, The New Conservatism: Its All Right!

Im afraid so and how embarrassing is that title?

You should be more supportive of the books he writes. He cant help it if theyre boring.

I am supportive, considering how I feel about them. I take the book out of her hand and glance over the back cover copy.

Its not that I dont appreciate his long-winded, antiquated notions of the importance of American polemic supremacy. On the contrary, I find it very comforting to know that I live under the corpulent wing of the prodigious father of all other nations. I just cant believe anyone would go around bragging about it. The fact that I am knowingly and willingly living and sleeping with a Republican makes me the biggest hypocrite I know.

I wonder if Dans a Republican, Chloe says biting her lip.

Everything about my relationship with Michael reminds me of the time Chloe gave a speech in front of the entire school on how high school students need to get more involved in the animal rights movement. The speech was surprisingly educational; unfortunately, Chloe wore a fur vest to school that day.

The truth is Im in love with Michael for all the wrong reasons. And by reasons, I mean key body parts. I cant help myself. Hes so long and lean and muscular, all of his clothes lie perfectly flat on him. His long body and long straight bangs are a killer combination for someone of my height and hair texture. Sometimes I think our whole relationship hinges on the fact that I admire him for never looking wrinkled. And like most couples whose relationships are based on purely external features, weve learned how to live with our differences simply by fighting.

From the book Miss Understanding by Stephanie Lessing. Copyright 2006 Stephanie Lessing. Published by Avon Trade, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.