28-year-old Cassie Moore has always played it safe, living life according to a meticulously organized Master Plan. But when she loses her Perfect Job and finds her fiancé in bed with his ex on the same day, it's clear that The Plan has failed her. She awakens the next day from a drunken stupor to discover that she's booked herself on a six-month trip to Buenos Aires. She speaks not a word of Spanish, but she's already emailed the news to everyone she knows, so there's no turning back. Once in Buenos Aires, Cassie is reluctantly seduced by this glorious city. Her exuberant landlady introduces her to the handsome but haughty Mateo, a man Cassie clashes with right from the start. She soon befriends other lovelorn travelers and together, they start a "Brokenhearts Club" at a local bar, attracting a cast of characters that includes Dan, a sweet handsome man who lives as carefully and predictably as Cassie. Before long, Cassie's making a new plan: 1. Learn Spanish. 2. Stop obsessing about impossible Mateo and fall for perfect-on-paper Dan. But staying on track isn't so simple anymore and Cassie finally realizes that sometimes life--and love--defies her best-laid plans.
Release date: December 21, 2008
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Print pages: 320
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The Buenos Aires Broken Hearts Club
I feel light-headed, like all the blood is draining from my face, arms, legs, baby toes. This might have something to do with the fact that my hands are pressing against the armrests so tightly my fingertips are turning purple. My entire body is ready to pounce. If that flight attendant would just get out of my way, I could head back up the aisle, through that maze of a connecting ramp, past the gate personnel, and into the safety of Sea-Tac Airport. But she’s struggling with someone’s stupid oversize blue carry-on that’s clearly too big to fit in that tiny wire frame at the check-in counter that tells you when your stupid oversize blue carry-on is way too big to fit in a plane’s overhead compartment. I could try one of those exits conveniently located at midcabin: two near the front and two near the back. We haven’t actually started moving, so how far down could it be to the tarmac anyway?
I peer out the window—it looks pretty far down—and the lunacy of this plan hits me. Am I actually plotting my escape from an airplane just minutes from takeoff? If this moment were happening to someone else, a character in a movie, say, I’d probably be laughing. It is funny, isn’t it? I attempt a laugh, but all that comes out is a sad little wheeze. No, not funny. Definitely not funny.
The tanned and taut older woman in the seat next to me glances in my direction. “Afraid to fly, dear?” she asks in a buttery Spanish accent.
“No,” I reply. “Afraid to land.”
She looks at me quizzically and, I think, a bit amused. She wouldn’t give me that look if she knew what I’ve gotten myself into. If she knew my pathetic state, she’d be offering me one of those little purple pills she chased with a miniature bottle of vodka a few minutes ago when she thought no one was looking.
Two weeks ago, life was so so so perfect. Flawless. On track. Nobody had it more together than I did. I watched in pity as Gen Xers wandered the streets of Seattle disillusioned and disassociated in their post-grunge, pre-Prada uniforms, desperately grasping their Motorolas and Starbucks as though instant messaging and a smooth Ethiopian roast could fill the gaping holes in their lives. They didn’t have a clue where they were going or how they were getting there. My life, on the other hand, was going exactly according to plan, due in no small part to the fact that I had one.
When I was seventeen, I planned my life. The whole thing. Being someone who’s particularly good at organizing things, I have to say it was a rather spectacular plan. I didn’t just scribble a hopeful list of things to do in the back of a diary or one of those fancy leather-bound journals that cost so much I never understood how people brought themselves to spoil them with Bic scribblings. No, my plan was serious business, and I treated it accordingly. Everything I wanted to accomplish over the course of my life was carefully, deliberately contained in one handy color-coded spreadsheet completed in my grade-twelve word-processing class.
I had always been an orderly child—the kind who has different crayon boxes for each season (use burnt umber in the spring? as if) and took her days-of-the-week underwear very seriously—so it never occurred to me that perhaps planning one’s entire life before one can even vote or buy alcohol might be a tad on the ambitious side. I approached the process systematically, as I did all things, drafting version after version until I had it exactly right. My plan was broken into eight manageable ten-year stages. Those ten-year stages were further broken down by major five-year goals, with a list of detailed tasks that would lead to each goal. I’d considered drilling down even deeper, but I didn’t want to be neurotic about it. The point was to simply clarify what I wanted and when. It was all there—nothing unrealistic, like be a rock star or discover the cure for cancer, just your typical how-to-be-sure-you’ve-got-it-all-covered-and-are-blissfully-happy-forever-and-ever life plan kind of stuff. You know, job, apartment, man, kids, house, dog, summer home, volunteer work, crafts, grandkids, another dog, etc.
For years I kept a copy of the plan on my fridge the way other women tack up photos of anorexic models for inspiration. There was one tucked into the back of my day planner, naturally, and another folded into my wallet, in case I lost my day planner. Once I discovered the World Wide Web, I ramped things up a notch and took my plan online. That way I could look at it from home, work, on vacation even, check things off on the go, and quickly print updated hard copies.
I know I can get a little obsessive about it—I know each step in the plan as well as I know every Sex and the City plot twist—but if you want to stay on track with your life, you’ve got to know where the track is, right?
Okay, so not everyone agrees. My friend Trish calls it The Plan, as in “Want to try snowboarding next weekend—or is it not in The Plan?” and “I’m not sure if red’s your color. Better check The Plan.” Last year one of my hilarious coworkers with far too much time on his hands posted his own version on the bulletin board in the lunchroom: Become president of the Daughters of the American Revolution, get sex-change operation, take over Canada, knit scarves for the cast of Cats, etc. My initially pro-Plan mother thought it was brilliant until she realized that my plan was not exactly like the one she had for me. She found my decision not to have children until my early thirties particularly distressing.
But I knew something they didn’t. I had figured out the secret to happily ever after.
Last month, on the eve of my twenty-eighth birthday, instead of wallowing in self-pity or indulging in a quarter-life crisis—on her twenty-eighth, my old roommate Sarah quit her job and moved to Alaska to work as a cook at a logging camp (a logging camp—I mean, who does that?)—I sat back with a glass of wine and the plan (version 12.4) and admired all those happy little checkmarks I’d earned in the past decade:
• Get accepted to any—ANY—college out of state. Check. University of Wisconsin. Solid academic program, good social scene, and hundreds of miles from my parents’ house. Go Badgers.
• Eschew snotty college sorority experience and embrace dorm life à la Felicity. Check. Okay, so my RA didn’t look like Noel, but I did make some amazing friends who still liked me when I cut my hair into a pixie senior year.
• Lose virginity freshman year to a cute, popular sophomore or junior. Check. Cam Bowers after a kegger. Painful, clumsy, and thank God, fast. I heard Cam got fat and works at his dad’s tire company. Still counts.
• Try one illicit drug. Check. Pot, acid, X, pot, X, X, X . . . What can I say? It was college. Of course, all that came to an abrupt halt when I woke up one morning wearing someone else’s bra.
• Get a degree in something non-flaky that might actually lead to a good job. Check. Business admin. So what if my college friends enjoyed their English lit/political science/modern dance classes. They might as well have majored in upselling appetizers for all the good their degrees did them. I, on the other hand, was upwardly mobile.
• Get previously mentioned good job. Check. Assistant producer at Idealmatch.com, the fourth largest dating website in the U.S. Worked my way up from researcher. All those dull statistics courses finally came in handy.
• Have a one-night stand. Check. Starbucks barista with a Kurt Cobain thing going on. Bonus: still get free Macchiatos.
• Buy a pair of shoes over three hundred dollars. Check. Check. Check.
• Find adorable apartment in University district, Capitol Hill, or somewhere else really cool. Check. One-bedroom Bridget Fonda-in-Singles-esque walk-up with hardwood floors, a fountain in the courtyard, and rent so cheap I felt like I was stealing. (Three-hundred-dollar shoes helped ease the guilt.) Of course, I eventually gave it up to move into a downtown loft with floor-to-ceiling windows and a concierge. So what if the building was kind of impersonal and I never looked at the view. My new roomie trumped Matt Dillon any day.
• Meet perfect man. Check. Gorgeous, smart, ambitious Jeff with fabulous downtown loft.
• Get engaged. Check. Jeff proposed on Valentine’s Day after a decadent meal at the top of the Space Needle, where he gave me a stunning two-carat diamond ring hidden in a piece of cheesecake. My friends would swoon when they heard the story. Like everything else in our one-year relationship, it was pure fairy tale. Could anything but bliss follow?
• Have dream wedding. Almost check. Jeff was too stressed working full-time and studying for the bar, but once he was done with that, we’d set a date and start planning (or rather, start putting my wedding-day plans in motion). As long as it happened before I turned thirty, I was fine.
How could I not be? I was twenty-eight and everything in my life was precisely the way it should be. To top it off, Jeff was taking me away for the weekend, I wasn’t currently arguing with my mother, and work was great. Being an assistant producer suited me. I spent my days making and enforcing schedules, drafting and checking off lists—it doesn’t get much better than that. They liked me, too. There’d been a recent round of layoffs, but I was still there. Better yet, word around the office was that they were going to fill the empty producer spot from inside the company.
I put down my glass of wine and started packing for the trip, trying to focus on all the activities Jeff had planned, but my mind kept wandering back to that job opening. They won’t pick you, I told myself. Definitely not. It’s too soon. They’ll promote someone who’s been there longer. According to my plan, I wasn’t even scheduled for a serious promotion until thirty. But what if? Or, better question, why the heck not? The big boss loved me. I worked twice as hard as the other assistant producers, rarely ate lunch (except for a fat-free yogurt consumed at my desk between noon and 12:15), and, unlike most of my coworkers, I never, ever showed up to work looking like I was about to start in a triathlon. And I had a plan! When my boss asked me where I saw myself in six months or a year, I had an answer (and an accompanying pie chart). Why not me? A promotion would mean more responsibility (goodbye, yogurt—maybe I could acquire a taste for protein bars?) and more money, but that wasn’t what excited me. All I could think about was the plan. Two weeks into stage two, and I’d already be checking off an item! Maybe it was the wine, but it suddenly seemed that things couldn’t possibly go any other way. I was going to get that promotion, and twenty-eight was going to be my best year ever.
I didn’t even care that Jeff was taking me to the same resort where he’d once taken his ex, Lauren. At first I’d been surprised that he wanted to go back there. Lauren had done a number on him, and I figured the place would be full of bad memories. But I guess guys aren’t as sentimental as women are. She was the past, he said. I dug through my underwear drawer and found the white teddy Jeff had brought home a few months before. I tucked it into a side pocket along with the black bra and panties he loved. This was our weekend, and everything was going to be perfect.
Perfect it was, from the beautiful room overlooking the ocean to the bottle of champagne Jeff hid on the beach for our moonlit walk to the pearl earrings he gave me over dinner. When I walked into work the following Monday morning, I was still floating on the memory of it all. As usual, the office was dark and quiet. I liked to start early so I could go over the day’s schedule (meetings, industry research, paperwork, bonding with coworkers in the kitchen over espresso drinks, cleaning my desk, scheduling the next day, etc.) before the crowds filed in, the latest garage band cranked out of the office stereo putting its cheap speakers to the test, and the Frisbees started flying. Ah, the Web industry. Never before has so much been accomplished by so many dedicated underachievers. If not for me, nothing would have gotten done in that office, with the exception, naturally, of espresso drinks and spontaneous indoor Ultimate matches. But on this particular morning, I couldn’t focus on my e-mail in-box or the list of tasks I’d left for myself the Friday before. I opened Word, intending to compose a letter, but ended up creating a mock business card complete with a new title and new last name.
I could barely hide my excitement when I returned from the printer, a sheet of pretend business cards in hand, to see the big boss waiting at my desk, admiring my wall chart that mapped all current, past, and future projects (color-coded, naturally). She was wearing her gray Armani knockoff, an appropriate suit for a serious occasion, promoting someone, for example. A huge smile broke across my face. I wanted to play it cool, but I couldn’t help it. I was already dreaming about getting online and pulling up the plan. Check!
“Good morning,” I said quickly, trying to hide the tremor in my voice. My hands were shaking so bad I had to shove them in my pockets.
The big boss turned to face me. “Good morning, Cassie. Glad you’re here early. There’s something I need to—”
“Talk to me about?” Check!
“Yes. Well. Why don’t we go to my office?” She was stammering a bit. What did she have to be nervous about? But then she smiled warmly. I’m just projecting my own nervous energy, I assured myself. And so what if she doesn’t look as ecstatic as I feel? She’s promoting someone into middle management. Do I really expect the woman to kick off her Prada loafers and do cartwheels? Surely it was enough that she came all the way downstairs to give me the good news herself.
“You bet,” I answered, trying not to sound too eager and failing miserably. “Just let me get my notebook.”
“You won’t need it,” she said and started down the hall to the elevator.
I shook my head and smiled to myself. Duh. Star Web producers don’t write things down. Star Web producers have people to write things down for them. And make them color-coded charts. And espresso drinks. No, that’s pushing it, I decided. No matter how powerful I became, I resolved, I would always make my own coffee. In this state of complete and absolute exhilaration, I followed her down the hallway, rode the elevator, and entered her office. I was so giddy—chattering about the weather while mentally constructing the perfect producer wardrobe—that I didn’t notice she hadn’t said anything for several minutes, until she spoke again and the sound of something other than my own ramblings made me jump.
“Cassie,” she began seriously. I put on my most serious face to match. I am a serious Web producer. This is the face that serious Web producers wear. “As you are well aware, this is a competitive marketplace.” She frowned. I frowned back, adding a contemplative nod. “We’re slipping into fifth place, and there are a dozen new dating sites coming online every month—”
“None as good as Idealmatch.com,” I said.
“Yes, well. If only it were that simple.” She took a deep breath and let it out with a whoosh, her cheeks puffing and deflating with cartoonlike perfection. I shifted from foot to foot. All this lead-up was killing me. “Let me say first of all that everyone here has been consistently impressed with your hard work.” God, I thought, here it comes. I tried not to smile, but it was nearly impossible, so I settled on a straining grin. “We’ve seen the long hours you’ve put in without being asked. You’ve delivered everything you’ve been asked to deliver, on time and on budget. Honestly, you’re the most organized person I know. You’re a perfect associate producer.” My grin burst into a full-blown, dopey, big-toothed smile.
“But times are tough.”
Wait a second, I thought, did she just say “but”? My brain came to a screeching halt and then started racing backward, sideways, every direction to figure out where this “but” had come from.
“Right now we need visionaries who can help us lead this company. We need people who can make things happen, people who aren’t afraid to take risks. And . . .” And? And? “And we don’t feel that’s your area of strength right now.”
My mouth fell open. I couldn’t believe it. There would be no raise, no assistant. Some slacker in spandex was going to get the promotion that I had earned. I would be stuck in this stupid job I was perfect at forever. The day couldn’t get any worse.
“Unfortunately, with the economy the way it is,” she continued, “we can’t afford to keep people on just because they’re good at their job.”
And there it was. Worse. Much, much worse.
My ears started to buzz. The tastefully decorated room began to spin. The big boss stopped talking, reached into her top drawer, and pulled out a manila envelope. It had my name on it in big block letters. This was real. This was really happening. I wasn’t only being passed over, I was being fired. “I think you’ll find that we’ve been more than generous, because we like you, Cassie, and we really do appreciate everything you’ve done here. And, of course, we’ll be happy to provide you with glowing references.”
I somehow managed to take the envelope, but I couldn’t make my mouth move or push air through my lips to form actual words. I wouldn’t have known what to say, anyway. I was not going to be a star Web producer. I wasn’t even a star associate producer. I wasn’t a star anything. Not only would I not be able to check another item off my list, I’d have to uncheck something. This was the worst thing that had happened to me. Ever.
That it had happened early in the morning so I could go downstairs and pack up my desk in solitude was at least some consolation. Pitying looks from a bunch of thirty-year-olds in bike shorts would have pushed me right over the edge. As it was, each thing I picked up and put in my sad little cardboard box made me wince. Half-used notebooks. A purple mechanical pencil tagged by a piece of tape with my name on it. Magazine articles I had cut out and organized in a three-ring binder. Hair elastics. Each was a checkmark being erased. I sniffed back tears.
Then I caught sight of something that made me see how ridiculous I was being: my beautiful two-carat diamond ring. I stood still for a moment and looked at that ring as it played with the light breaking in through the blinds. I am something, I thought. I am engaged. That’s more than something. That’s the most important something. I sent a quick goodbye e-mail to my best office friend, Deb, dropped the manila envelope in my box, and walked out of the office with my head high.
Thank God I have Jeff, I repeated in my head over and over on the cab ride home. Thank God. Thank God. The more I thought it, the stronger I felt. My box of notebooks and hair elastics resting in my lap was no longer a symbol of failure—it was merely a box of things. So Jeff wasn’t exactly the most sensitive guy sometimes. He was a busy lawyer, overworked and under tremendous pressure to perform. All I needed was to have him put his arms around me, and everything would be fine. Better than fine. Perfect. Everything was going to be perfect. This was a minor setback. A temporary glitch. A learning experience. A window opening to another turning into a door, or however that saying went.
I certainly didn’t need that stupid job, I told myself. Jeff never thought much of it, and clearly, he was right. I’d find something better in no time. It wasn’t like I was some hard-nosed career gal, anyway. I’d use the extra time to plan the wedding, get a good jump on things. Item 1: Delete boss from guest list.
The more I thought about the wedding and Jeff, the more I realized nothing had changed at all. Everything that mattered was still on track. I was engaged, in love. Not the kind of all-encompassing love I’d imagined as a child, but a real, steady love. The kind of love a girl can rely on. Jeff, Jeff, Jeff. His very name grounded me. What did girls without fiancés do in times of crisis? I wondered. I didn’t even want to think about it. Jeff was the most important thing in my plan—in my life. My mother was right. That one thing was worth all other checkmarks combined.
I tried to keep this thought with me as I pulled an eviction notice off the door of my apartment. It said that Jeff and I had thirty days to vacate. I shook my head in disbelief that things had gotten this far over one neighbor’s complaints of imaginary music coming from our apartment in the middle of the day. Sure, Jeff loved his Brahms and Mozart, especially when he was feeling frisky after a shared bottle of wine, but we always kept the volume to a reasonable level. And we both had day jobs, so unless the stereo was possessed, none of it made sense. Several times we’d explained this to the building manager, who said we seemed like a responsible couple and apologized—he was only doing his job. When two more warning letters followed, Jeff had called the management company and straightened it out. We’d laughed it off before, but this formal eviction notice didn’t seem funny at all.
I was halfway through the document—what was this nonsense about the complainant having recorded evidence?—when I was practically knocked backward by a thunderous clanging from the other side of our apartment door. It stopped, and the hall was quiet again. Then clanging again, though softer this time.
I put my key in the lock and turned, but the tumblers didn’t catch. It was already unlocked. I froze. My heart started to race; adrenaline was flowing. Someone was inside. Robbed on the same day we were being evicted? The odds had to be astronomical. I scanned the eviction notice again. Didn’t it say something about the building manager accessing the apartment only with the current tenants’ prior permission? There it was, third paragraph, clear as day. Mr. Davidson was a nice man, but how dare he enter our apartment without our okay. It was bad enough that he had let this ridiculous charge escalate into an eviction. I fumed, dialing Jeff’s office on my cell phone. Wait till he hears about this, I thought with smug satisfaction. By the time he gets through with the management company, we’ll own the building.
No answer at Jeff’s office. I’d have to handle this myself.
As I turned the doorknob and opened the door, I was greeted with a third clang. It sounded like it was coming from the living room, or the bedroom, maybe. Sheesh. What was the guy doing in there, anyway? Renovating? I was past the bathroom before I realized that it wasn’t random clanging I was hearing. It was symbols crashing together toward the crescendo of Jeff’s favorite aria. I followed the sound to the living room, and sure enough, his overpriced, state-of-the-art, wall-mounted CD player was on, with the speakers set to full volume. “Jeff,” I called out, feeling guilty about blaming poor Mr. Davidson. If there was an answer, I couldn’t hear it over the rising whine of violins. I reached out to turn the CD off, but something stopped me. My stomach tightened. A tingle shot up my spine. “Jeff?” I whispered.
I walked slowly, so slowly, toward the bedroom.
The music was so loud in the bedroom—Jeff had installed the tiny ceiling-mounted speakers himself—that they didn’t realize I was there. But I saw them.
Jeff and Lauren in our bed, pale gray three-hundred-thread-count Egyptian cotton twisting around their naked bodies, their legs wrapped around each other, arms flailing with the music as though they were conducting their own personal symphony. Lauren the anorexic cellist. Lauren who’d dumped him three years ago for her bisexual psychoanalyst. Lauren who’d left him with a full set of emotional baggage, from trust issues to the occasional bout of performance anxiety. Lauren whose name he couldn’t mention without a disgusted snarl forming in the corner of his mouth. Lauren and Jeff. Lauren and Jeff.
The box slipped from under my arm, suddenly so heavy with all those tiny uncheckmarks, and smacked against the hardwood floor. Despite the music, I swear I heard the box sigh, its contents shifting into a more comfortable state.
“Oh, God,” said Lauren, eyes wide and mouth open.
“Oh, shit,” said Jeff, much more appropriately, I thought, given the context.
The music paused for a breath before reaching its climax. I didn’t say anything. No one moved. The climax came. Boom, boom, boom. (In retrospect, I had to admit that it was impressive the man upstairs had tolerated us this long.) The sound shook Jeff and Lauren into action, as though it would provide cover as they searched for clothing that had been tossed around the floor. The room became a blizzard of naked flesh. I stood perfectly still, the eye of the storm, though I was anything but calm. My entire body trembled. My chest hurt. My mind was simultaneously full of every thought possible and completely blank. Wood instruments, strings, horns, cymbals—the orchestra carried the weight of the moment up into the air and smashed it against the walls. The dresser shook. Jeff’s beloved Japanese knickknacks rattled on the shelf above the bed. It was the perfect soundtrack to a life falling to pieces.
While they scrambled to get dressed (with Jeff chanting “shit, shit, shit” almost in time with the music), I ran through my options. At that moment I was livid—would have stormed out without a word if I could have gotten my feet to move—but what about tomorrow or a week from now? How would I feel then? If this had been part of my plan, I might have had some idea of how to react properly. In the absence of a plan, I reasoned, best not to do anything rash.
A strange sense of calm settled over me. Maybe this isn’t as bad as it seems, I ventured. I can get past this. We can get past this. People who love each other can get past this. Maybe getting through this horrible thing will make our relationship better than ever. Maybe surviving an affair is something everyone needs to go through. Maybe I should have added it to my plan from the beginning. I never said I couldn’t revise the plan, did I? No, I didn’t. Revisions are good. Every good plan involves some degree of flexibility. What great document hasn’t been amended? The Constitution, the Bill of Rights. Yes, surviving an affair is definitely checkmark-worthy, I decided. As I considered the ramifications of this alteration on Phases Two, Three, and so on (you must always consider the ramifications of alterations on future plan items), Lauren streaked past me, apparently having given up on finding her bra and left shoe.
Then everything went quiet. The CD was over. The front door clicked shut behind Lauren, and we were alone—me, Jeff, and the box. He looked frantically from bed to walls to window to floor to bed again, as though searching for words. I looked at him but didn’t speak. If I was going to forgive him, he was going to have to do all the work.
“Oh, God, Cass, I am so sorry.” His voice cracked. He stared at the floorboards, but I sensed that tears were coming, that the groveling was about to begin. I straightened my ba. . .
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