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The stores are already in full-on Christmas mode as Lila and I hit the mall to find me a dress for Steve and Nadine’s wedding. Lila is so proud of me for “inviting” Paul. She gives me credit even though I’ve explained three times that he pretty much invited himself.
Rifling through the racks of dresses, Lila always seems to find the flimsiest, most inappropriate dress for a forty-something woman. She holds up a slippery, sequined little green number with the shoulders cut out.

“Lila, seriously. I’ll look like a salamander.”

We finally settle on a backless red dress that’s forgiving around the middle, even though I’m looking pretty good these days. I’ve been on my bioidentical hormone replacement pellet therapy for three months now, and I feel fantastic. I’m seeing my body change in ways that make me feel great! With all the energy I have now, I have been getting off the couch more to walk and am conscious about what I eat.

Paul picks us up the day of the wedding, and I find myself more excited than apprehensive. I know Steve and Nadine must have received the reply card, so they know I’m bringing a date. I hope it’s eating the heck out of Steve wondering who it is. Or maybe I don’t care.

Alex is in a suit and Nike tennis shoes. I have never seen Paul in anything fancier than a sport coat, but he’s got a fancy black suit on and looks distinguished and handsome. He hops out to open the door for me.

During the ceremony, Steve does notice me. A couple of times. Alex is the ringbearer and my daughter Camille is a bridesmaid, so Paul and I sit close on the draped white chairs, arms entwined at the elbow, smiling. As the bride and groom have their end-of-ceremony kiss, I find myself clapping for real. I’m happy for Steve. Or I don’t care either way.

It’s hard to tell the difference anymore, I’m so consumed with my own happy.

At the reception, we congratulate the couple, and Steve has a look on his face that I can’t read, but one that makes me feel powerful.

“The woman in red commands the room,” Paul says against my cheek as we are slow dancing. “Everybody is looking at you.”

“No they’re not,” I whisper into his ear. But when I glance at my ex I see that he is, indeed, looking at me. That’s when Paul turns my chin and kisses me deeply, right there on the dance floor. All my muscles seem to liquify. I can almost feel Steve’s eyes boring into my bare back.

It’s a fun evening, but we leave early anyway. I don’t feel like I need to stick around for anybody else’s benefit. As I climb, giggling, into Paul’s car, I am grateful, so grateful, that it’s over. It feels like a door has finally shut behind me. A closet full of unwanted things finally emptied.

The next day at work, I am humming at my desk. I’m on my way to the break room when Lila grabs my hand and gives me a little dance floor spin as she passes the other way. I’ve already told her everything. We laugh.

As I’m making my cinnamon orange tea, Audra, one of the new account reps, comes up beside me and grabs the coffee pot.

“Hi there,” she says, pouring herself a mug. Audra looks about my age, maybe a little older. There’s gray in her hair, which is dry and unruly. Her face has a permanent look of tiredness and annoyance mixed with a dash of don’t-push-me-or-I-might-go-ballistic-on-you.

“Hi yourself,” I say.

“I wanted to ask you. How do you do it?”

“How do I do what?”

She hesitates, but only for a second. Audra’s got a look that shows she isn’t shy. “Listen, at the risk of sounding weird, I gotta tell you, you’ve got something going on, girl. I wanna know how you do it, that’s all. Is it a face cream? Essential oils?” She leans in close. “It’s a face cream, isn’t it? A $100 face cream.”

I smile, remember that long-ago day when I got up the nerve to ask Lila what she had going on. When she told me about SottoPelle?

“No, Audra, it’s not a face cream,” I reply. “Why don’t we go out for coffee after work, and I’ll tell you all about it.”

 

**You can read the previous 11 parts on our blog.