"Another mimosa, miss?" the waiter asked, distracting me from the piece of art in the corner of the dining room.
"No, I'm fine. Thank you," I replied, shifting my attention back to the modern abstract painting. I hated the country club, but I had to admit that the decorator had great taste.
"Are you having a good time?"
I turned to face Ryan, my boyfriend of eight months. I smiled weakly at him. I wasn’t having a good time, but I would never admit it. This was my part. To play the happy, successful, put-together daughter who doted on her parents. Being here with our families made me miss the peace of my college dorm. Only four more hours before we had to leave and head back to NYU. Still, it seemed four hours too long.
"Yes, the food is delicious," I said, pulling my muffin apart and popping a piece in my mouth. Honestly, I had barely touched anything. My mother always watched what I put in my mouth and I would rather go hungry than listen to her rattle off how many calories I ate. Though she wouldn’t say anything here, of course.
"So, Alexandra, have you decided which field you're going to practice medicine in?" Thomas, Ryan's father, asked.
I cleared my throat and glanced around the table, realizing all eyes were on me. "I'm thinking about pediatrics, but I'm still undecided," I finally replied. The truth was that I hadn't been thinking about it at all. I noticed my father's eyes were locked on me. This was a rare occurrence, but also one that terrified me. His attention rarely came with good intentions.
"As in surgery?" my father asked, his eyes still glued on mine.
I looked down to calm my racing nerves. "No, just general pediatrics. I don't think surgery is for me." Medicine in general wasn't for me.
My eyes met his again and I said a silent prayer, thankful that we were in the club and that the conversation wouldn’t continue. He gave me a look that said it wasn't over, but returned his attention to his prime rib. I took a deep breath as I began to move the fruit around on my plate.
Ryan placed his hand on my thigh. "Are you all right? You seem tense."
"I'm fine," I said, leaning in to kiss his cheek.
"Aren't they adorable, Catherine?" Jillian, Ryan's mom, beamed from across the table, leaning in on her elbows.
I glanced over at my mother who sat with her signature fake smile. She looked happy and had a polite demeanor; she always did when we were around her friends. "Yes, they are. How can they not be though? Look at us," my mother said, bringing her third glass of wine to her perfect red lips.
"I see some planning in our future," Jillian smiled. I almost choked on a piece of pineapple. I could just imagine all the time the two of them had spent together, discussing our future. They would like nothing more than for the two of us to make little country club babies.
"Gwen, how are the wedding plans coming along?" I asked to try and move the attention away from myself.
"Great! We have the menu all worked out and the tuxes have been ordered. Just a few little things left and then we are all set," my sister said, smiling up at her fiancé. They looked perfect together, but that was where the connection seemed to end. So many times I'd wanted to ask her if this was what she truly wanted because I thought the line between her wants and my parent’s wants had been blurred.
"When will the bridesmaid dresses be in?" I asked.
"Next week. I'll give you a call when it comes in and you can pick it up at Kleinfeld."
"I hope it still fits with all the bread you've been eating over break," my mother sneered from across the table. I waited for someone at the table to correct her, to tell her she was being ridiculous, but no one said a word.
I needed fresh air. I needed to get out of here for a few minutes to regain my equilibrium. "Ryan, do you want to go take a walk outside for a few minutes?"
"Sure, let me go grab our coats," he said, walking away from the table. Gwen grabbed my hand. "Alex, don't worry. You'll look gorgeous in your dress." She smiled and I squeezed her hand, then turned toward the lobby to meet Ryan.
Ryan helped me with my coat and we stepped outside to take in the cool January air. It was unbearably cold this time of year, but I would rather be anywhere but at that table. Our families had come to the Hamptons for winter break and it had been the longest three weeks of my life. Okay, maybe not the longest, but now that I knew what it was like to be on my own after finishing one semester of college, this was torture. I was constantly trapped under a microscope and couldn't get out from under it, though it wasn't like I ever really tried. This was my life; I was used to it and up until recently, I thought I was happy with it.
"Do you want to go sit in the car? I'm freezing," Ryan asked, entwining his fingers with mine.
I nodded as we walked toward his shiny black BMW. Being alone with him has been awkward during these last few weeks. Things would be so much easier if we had just remained friends. He opened the door for me before moving to the driver’s side. As soon as he climbed in, he cranked up the heat, rubbing his hands together as we sat in silence.
"I can't believe classes start again in two days," he said, breaking the silence.
"I know. I'm ready to get back in a routine though. You?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I won't get to see you again until Gwen's wedding." He grabbed my hand and rubbed his lips over my knuckles. He was a sweet guy, but maybe not the one for me. I had gone back and forth, trying to decide what I should do. I needed to make a decision soon.
"I can't believe she is getting married in two months. It seems like just yesterday we were riding our bikes through the neighborhood." I smiled at the memory. Things were simple then.
"Yeah. Do you remember when we were racing and you fell and tore your new tights?"
I laughed. "Yeah, we buried them in your sand box and tried to convince my mother that I hadn't worn any that day."
"That didn't work though, did it?" he asked. I stopped laughing as I remembered how my mother cornered me until I told her the truth. She always picked up on my lies. Always. I didn't get to ride my bike the rest of that summer as a punishment.
"No, it didn't," I whispered. Ryan and I created an album of memories between us. Some were good and some were bad, but we experienced it all together. He knew the parts of me that I let him see well. He just didn't hold the key to everything.
He cupped my face in his hands, bringing my eyes to his. I didn't see electric sparks. I didn't see rainbows. I saw my best friend. As he leaned in to kiss me, I closed my eyes and tried to pretend that this was where I wanted to be. That this was what I wanted to be doing, but still no electricity. He pulled away. "I love you, Alexandra."
"I love you, too," I whispered. And I did. I loved him, but I needed to consider what that meant to me. Was he my forever?
"We should probably get back inside before someone comes looking for us," Ryan said, turning the car off.
I followed him inside, reassuring myself that there was only three hours and six minutes before I could leave again. Before I could return to my new normal.
Dancing for me was a form of expression, a way to release pent up stress and energy. I could go to a club where I knew no one and just let go. It felt good to let the music take my body where it wanted to go. I could forget about all my thoughts and worries and just be myself.
My roommate Jade and I had been dancing for over an hour when my favorite Nelly Furtado song started pumping through the club. It instantly renewed my energy as Jade turned her back to mine and we started to move together. We’re very different, but when we went dancing it was like we were one in the same.
I met Jade last semester at the start of our freshman year at New York University. Our first few weeks as roommates were difficult to say the least. She came to college to party and meet guys and I came to study and escape the chaos that was my family. Jade and I both grew up in upper class homes, but Jade's parents were famous photographers who had showered her with love, convincing her that she could be whatever she wanted to be and she really wanted to be a photographer.
My parents, on the other hand, applied pressure on me throughout my life and wouldn’t settle for anything less than me becoming Dr. Alexandra Mirabelle Riley. My father was a doctor and my older sister Gwen had just finished her medical residency, landing a position as a pediatric surgeon at one of the most prestigious hospitals on the East Coast. Thankfully, I had three and a half years before I needed to address my post college life and, at least for tonight, I wasn’t going to think about anything but letting loose in the middle of the packed club.
Jade took my hand and pulled me off the dance floor. “Let’s get something to drink. It’s getting really warm in here.”
“Yeah, that sounds good. I should probably check on Ryan anyway,” I said, following her toward the bar area.
New York City had no shortage of clubs, but Club Max was one of the more popular haunts for NYU students. The cover charge was affordable and you didn’t have to be a celebrity to get in. The club was decked out in black décor; floors, tables and ceiling, but the glowing purple lights and chrome accents pulled it all together, giving it a hip, modern look. The bar itself was completely illuminated in purple lighting with a stainless steel top. The whole club was lined with small, high top tables and white leather furniture accented the VIP area. The place was loud and packed with people, but it maintained a certain sense of comfort and relaxation.
We found Ryan standing next to one of the small high top tables. He had one hand shoved in the front pocket of his designer blue jeans and the other wrapped around the beer he had been nursing for the last hour. His expression was blank, but when he saw us approaching the corners of his lips turned up. He was boyishly handsome with blonde curly hair, dark blue eyes and perfect white teeth; most girls would be happy to call him their boyfriend.
“Are you having a good time?” he asked before kissing my cheek. He refused to dance, saying he had to save his moves for the lacrosse field, but he didn’t hesitate for a second when I asked him to come here tonight. Ryan was always more concerned that those around him were happy than he was about his own happiness. I used to think it was a good quality, but lately I wondered if he was sacrificing too much of himself. We both lived our lives worrying about others feelings more than our own and I knew I wasn’t happy.