Never Have I Ever - Joshilyn Jackson Page 0,1

eight o’clock. We usually spent an hour chatting, an hour on the book, and by nine-fifteen, nine-thirty everyone was walking home feeling a little buzzed, a little smarter, a little more bonded with the other moms in our neighborhood.

“You’re in the green-and-yellow house?” I asked, to be sure I had her right. Charlotte had told me Cher Hair was a single mom with a son who was old enough to drive. Inside, under the lights, she looked to be in her mid-thirties. Awfully young to have a high-school kid.

“That’s me,” she said.

I led her back through the house to the basement stairs. “I’m glad you came. That place is such a short-term rental, we don’t usually get the residents at book club.”

“I’m here on business, and I’m not sure how long it’s going to take. I could be here quite a while. Might as well meet some people,” she said.

We were on the stairs now. “Oh, what do you do?”

She was looking down the stairs and didn’t answer. “What’s up with . . . what’s her name? My neighbor?”

Charlotte was hand-wringing at the foot, giving me emergency eyebrows.

“Charlotte,” I reminded her. “I don’t know. Let me find someone to introduce you around.”

“No need,” Roux said. She sailed past me, directly into the crowd, off to introduce herself.

As soon as she was out of earshot, Char said, “Cher Hair came? Now there’s twenty-one people here, not counting us, and no one seems to realize we do not have enough chairs. I should not move chairs!” She kept tucking her hair back. She looked like a nervous brown mousey, cleaning its ears.

“Her name is Roux, and of course you can’t move chairs, preggo. Relax! I’ll get them,” I told her.

She still looked worried, because she was Charlotte. Plus, this was her book club. She’d started it when Ruby began crawling and she realized she hadn’t read a book since giving birth.

“It’s like the baby ate my brain!” she’d said. “Forget reading. I can’t remember the last time I washed my hair.”

It looked like it had been a good while, but I’d kept that to myself. Instead I’d babysat while Char designed some flyers, and then we’d tucked them into every neighborhood mailbox. She’d called it the Brain-Dead Mommies Book Club, which I thought was bad, but at least I’d talked her out of Zombie-Mombies. It turned out her AA in marketing was wiser than I was. The flyer, the name, attracted the crowd she wanted. Almost everyone here was around her age, all with babies and preschoolers and littlies still in elementary. I was the oldest mommy in the room, in most cases by a good decade.

Before Oliver was born, I’d been on the fringes of this group, knowing them mostly via gossip I got from Charlotte on our daily power walk. Back then I’d played bunco with the middle-aged mothers who had retired from caring about diapers and breast-feeding. That set rolled dice, drank hard liquor, and talked serious about puberty and pot, birth control and college applications. As the stepmom of an adolescent, I’d needed them. These days I fit in better here, and my rare Florida basement space and my chair-moving muscles were forever at Char’s service.

“Get three chairs. Get four. Get at least three,” Char told me, and started counting the women again.

I handed her the stack of printed-out discussion questions and went back up. Every time I came down with another dining-room chair, I checked on our drop-in. Roux seemed fine, easy in her skin, moving group to group. Everyone I saw her speaking with seemed to smile a little wider, laugh a little louder. They were trying to impress her, and I couldn’t blame them. Roux looked so interesting, like a woman with a passport full of stamps, who would know how to make pâté from scratch, who’d probably had sex in a moving vehicle. Maybe on the way here.

I came down with the last chair just in time to see Roux holding out a hand to shake with Tate Bonasco. I paused to watch. I couldn’t help it. Tate had never recovered from being pretty in high school, and she brought an eau-de-tenth-grade-lunchroom to neighborhood politics. She called me “the pit bull” behind my back, partly because I had short, sandy hair and an athletic build, but also because I’d thwarted her book-club coup. When we outgrew Char’s little house, she’d cited her big den as an excuse to jack the whole thing.

“It’ll give Charlotte