WHEN SHE GETS HOT
Her phone rang before the sun came up and startled Tootsie Goldberg into dropping her tights on the floor.
“Happy half century, Toots,” Arlo said in a voice that was too bright for the dawn’s early light. “Oh, and Raquel sends her best wishes too.”
Awesome. Birthday greetings from her ex-husband, the Prince of Fools, and his 22 year-old Princess Bride. What a way to start the first day of the rest of her life.
“Thanks. Both of you,” she muttered. Sitting down on the bed, she snatched her tights from the floor.
“Raquel said I should buy you a gift.”
“What a generous woman.” Tootsie put her cell in speaker mode and dropped it on her bed so she had two hands to straighten out her tights.
“She’s a very special girl.”
“Mmm.” She held the elastic waist wide, stuck her right foot in, and promptly put a nail through a seam.
“Every day I ask myself how I got so lucky.”
She threw the ruined tights on the floor.
“She’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” Arlo went on. “What a girl, huh?”
Tootsie gritted her teeth. “Raquel is the real deal.”
“She could have had anyone she wanted. I don’t know why she chose me.”
Tootsie stared at the phone like maybe it would tell her she hadn’t heard what she’d heard. Did Arlo think Raquel couldn’t count, that she didn’t know, to the penny what he was worth, courtesy of lightening striking and him being the sole winner of a $110 million mega lottery?
No doubt Raquel had measured all that green against his 57-year-old ass, the major flab around his gravitationally challenged belly, and his disappearing genitalia, and like the smart second wife she was, kept her eyes closed when in a prone position. “Yes, Arlo. You are so, so lucky.”
“About your birthday…” He cleared his throat. “The thing is, Toots, Raquel had no idea what to get for a woman your age.”
Again, she stared at the phone. Should she check her thesaurus to see if ‘woman of your age’ was a synonym for fifty?
“And you know me,” he continued. “I’m no good when it comes to getting gifts. So I decided what mattered was the phone call and the sentiment.”
“Well then, you did good. And be sure to tell Raquel I’ll send her a suggestion list for next year.”
“Yeah, next year when you’re 51 and—”
Tootsie hit END before Arlo said one more thing that would get her hot under the collar she wasn’t wearing, since she was sitting on her bed in her bra and panties. No one knew better than Arlo how much she’d been dreading this birthday. She shouldn’t have cared, right? He was out of her life. For three years since his little announcement at Ruth’s Chris Steak House over her Petite Filet and his Cowboy Sirloin that he needed to move on without her, she’d sealed him in a box in her mind where she kept things that no longer had any value.
But then eight months ago he’d married the beauteous Raquel and, for reasons unknown, started calling her. Like clockwork.
She stood, slid open the top drawer of her dresser in search of another pair of tights or even leggings. No such luck finding any, which meant today, her legs were going commando.
Once dressed, the coffee perking, she ate a quick bite of the only thing left in her refrigerator: American cheese food and white toast with calcium propionate. After, she grabbed her winter coat and hustled into her much-loved XC60 red Volvo SUV that she’d named Margarete…what then, she was Swedish…that was parked in the driveway.
Minutes later, Margarete was idling, nose first, on the yellow stripes in one of Glen Allyn’s too many No Parking zones, this one in front of the cleaners. It was a quick drop off—three sweaters, not even that dirty—two minutes, no big deal. But two minutes was all it took for him to be there, doing his thing.
She rushed outside to confront the man in blue. “Oh, c’mon, Brian! Another one?”
He didn’t bother to look up, just kept writing. “No parking means no parking, Toots. That’s the law.”
A gust of arctic air tore straight from the North Pole and spiraled around Tootsie’s tight-less, bare legs, raising goose bumps from her ankles to her knees. “But today is my birthday.”
“I’m a cop, Toots, and part of my job is to write tickets for people who park in No Parking zones. Even if it happens to be their birthday.”
She shifted from one foot to the other, not just cold, now. Freezing. “You can’t cut me a little slack?”
“I might. If you weren’t always parking in No Parking zones. Besides which, I’m already writing. You know what that means.”
Brian was short enough she didn’t have to reach too far up to poke his shoulder. “Oh yeah. There’s no question about that one.”
“You’re breaking the no-touching-the-cop rule, Tootsie.” He stopped writing. “And what do you mean there’s no question about that one?”
“It’s the end of the month.”
Giving her a look out of a pair of pale blue eyes framed by wire rims, he raised his sandy-blond eyebrows. “Which means?”
“You haven’t written enough tickets. You haven’t filled your quota yet.”
“That’s low even for you.” He began to write again.
“You’re going to deny there’s a quota?”
He sighed, shook his head, and kept writing. “Yes I am. Because there isn’t one. Except in your fevered brain.”
Again the wind whooshed in and reached under her skirt all the way to her tush. Last month, as if in anticipation of the birthday barreling toward her, her biological furnace decided it was time to flare to life. She’d been counting on that same furnace warming her poor, bare legs on this cold January day. Which would have made menopause worthwhile.
Tootsie fidgeted. “Can’t you write faster? I have to get to work. I have a premonition.”
“You said you had a premonition the last time I wrote you a ticket.” He looked up. “Which was last Monday. Or was it Tuesday?” He shrugged. “I can’t remember.”
“Maybe you can’t, but I can.” She held up a hand, fingers spread. “Five, Brian. Five. That’s how many tickets you’ve written me, just this month.”
“Every single one of which you deserved.”
Yes, she did, not that she’d ever tell anybody what all those tickets were about. Nobody would understand. “Okay, got it. Now, how about hurrying?”
“Patience, Toots. I’m getting there.” He paused. “And about your work at that radio station. Let me tell you what too many people won’t in this little town of ours.”
“Really? Too many people? Are you speaking of Glen Allyn, where not only does everyone know your name but what you had for lunch on Saturday?”
“Don’t distract me. It’s a nice station. If you like classical music. But from what you’ve told me? They don’t appreciate you there.”
She made a scoffing sound. “Some do. Although, you’re right. My boss doesn’t.”
Brian made his own scoffing sound. “Just walk away from him and the job. It’s not like you need the money.”
“Money has nothing to do with it.” It didn’t. Not since Arlo won the lottery. Pride, on the other hand, did. And having the sense she was doing something good with her life. Or at least it had. Until Stan died and left the radio station to his useless son, Robert.
“Meanwhile…” Brian smiled and handed her the ticket. “Add this to your collection. This time, try to pay it so we don’t have to issue an arrest warrant for you.”
Tootsie yanked it out of Brian’s hand. “Thank you so very much.” She stuck it in her purse.
Brian stowed the ticket book in his back pocket. “Oh, listen. Tim’s Boy Scout troop is raising money for St. Brigid’s Fund for Indigent Seniors. Can you help out?”
Tootsie pulled her car door open and slid into the seat. “If I wasn’t so crazy about your family and especially Tim, I’d have no problem telling you to stuff it. But we both know that’s not going to happen.”
His fair skin chapped red with the cold, he placed a big palm on the top of the door and leaned in. “That’s a yes, then?”
“Of course it’s a yes.” She pressed the ignition button and the engine came to life. “Tell Tim to come by the house this evening with whatever form I need to fill out. And next time, do me a favor. Give someone else a ticket.”
Brian stood away from the door and grinned outright. “You know there’d be no fun in that.”
Tootsie gave Brian a grudging smile in return. Closing the door she began to pull away from the curb, but stopped when he knocked on the roof.
She powered the window down. “What, you’re impounding my car, now?”
Brian leaned in the opened window and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Happy birthday, Toots.”