Monday night at The Center's new Mixed Martial Arts class. MMA is huge these days because of Rhonda Rousey, whose combination of biceps, badassery, and beauty make her the perfect poster girl for The Center's new brand of woman. Blush is great for adding color to your cheeks, but so is the rosy glow of a mild contact bruise. Brie has this whole new idea for a muscle-toning/conflict resolution regimen called Get in the Ring, where women achieve dramatic reductions in drama and petty distractions by airing their complaints about each other to each other while kicking each other's ass. Once that's done, they embrace and express exactly what they love about each other most. It's all about expelling the negative energy, moving past the pain. And sometimes you just need to hit something.
Gretchen is standing proxy for Dolores while Brie flits around, landing jabs in the kidneys. "You stiff highbrow bitch. You probably haven't been fucked since Ronald Reagan was president!" Brie lands a roundhouse to the chin. "And you," she shouts, launching a Flying Knee.
Gretchen shields Brie's attack with her padded sparring gloves. "Me as in me?"
"No," Brie pounds her gloves together. "You as in Danny." She fakes left and lands a nice undercut. "Grow some fucking balls." She kicks Gretchen in the chest. "Your everlasting Oedipus Complex is WEIRD, okay?" She kicks her again. "Grow up, momma's boy!"
Gretchen goes reeling back against the padded walls, but she rebounds and charges Brie, harboring a furious flame of her own, building speed as she runs with her right arm extended with express intent to clothesline. "I fucking hate you, you asshole! You lied to me! You told me you were nothing like your father, but you're exactly like him! Down to your bald oily head and the way food sticks to that same disgusting corner of your mouth! Ahhh!" Gretchen runs at her, wild-eyed.
Brie dives low for the double leg takedown, slamming Gretchen to the mats, and she seizes on top of her, gearing up for a ground 'n' pound, Brie's fist drawn back like an archer's, wishing Gretchen was Dolores or Danny or Terryn—oooh yeah, Terryn—but Gretchen says, "I think I want to get a divorce."
Brie punches the mat. "A divorce? Really?"
In the next fighting square over, Bernadette has Peyton in submission through armbar.
Brie collapses onto her back beside Gretchen, breathing hard. "I'm sorry, Gretch. I know you've been unhappy. I thought you said you'd never get divorced while the kids were young. What about therapy?"
Gretchen's cheek is raised and red. "Thing is, Briebie, I don't love him anymore. And I don't think he loves me. What kind of mother can I be if I'm miserable? I can't teach them how to be happy if I can't figure it out myself." Gretchen turns onto her side and spits out her mouthpiece. "Last night I asked myself what I would tell my daughter to do if she were in my situation, and it was automatic, no question, I would tell her that she needs to do whatever she needs to be happy, that just because she's a mother doesn't mean her life doesn't matter. It matters even more because she's teaching someone else how to live."
Behind them, Bernadette's face is alive with the thrill of the chokehold. Peyton is red-faced and coughing. "Mercy!" she rasps, and Bernadette throws her arms up in victory and stalks in a circle around her kill. Peyton rubs her neck and glares at Bern. "I'm tired of your arrogance. You think you're better than everyone. You mask your giant ego behind that serene, evolved, my-kids-eat-kale bullshit when really you're hell-bent on making everyone else feel bad about themselves so you can feel good. You don't see it, but you're continuing your mother's cycle of emotional abuse through EQ sleight of hand."
Gretchen looks at Brie. "See, they're doing it right. What you and I are doing is role-play. I don't think it works as well."
"Fuck you, Peyton!" Bern shouts. "It's not my fault that you feel morally and maternally inferior to me. You should! I knock myself out working and cooking and doing every goddamn thing at home while you have servants doing your work for you. It's your problem if you feel ineffective. It doesn't matter if you're intelligent if you're not using your brain."
Peyton scrambles to her feet and executes a gorgeous spinning back kick to Bernadette's ribs. "Shit, you're right," Peyton says. "I think I want to go back to work."
Bernadette limps, forward-bent, to Peyton and hugs her. "I think you should. You went to Cornell for chrissakes and you spend your days shopping online and practicing the Kama Sutra with a recent college graduate. All this nonsense with the espresso machine repairman is just boredom."
Brie covers her heart with her MMA gloves. "Did you see that? Get in the Ring works!"
Peyton smiles. "Actually, I have an announcement. Bruce and I got really drunk on Scotch the other night and told each other everything. I told him all about Wade—he had no idea—and he told me everything about Carly—most of which I already knew—and we had this amazing conversation about our past and our future and we came together in this really lovely, meaningful way, and we've recommitted ourselves to each other. Wade and I are over. I actually introduced him to Carly and they've gone out, like, three times. Bruce says she's totally into anal, which is perfect! We're thinking of renewing our vows this winter in the Bernese Oberland. You guys want to come to Switzerland?"
Gretchen rolls her eyes. "I'm boxing you next time." She turns to Brie. "So what're you going to do about Danny? Seems like you and him need some time in the ring."
Brie is planking. "I'm going to execute Operation Don't Be Crazy. In the past, I would've gotten drunk and coated him with my feelings in hopes he would burst into tears and declare his undying love for me. Now I know that shit ain't real. He hasn't even called me today. For all I know, I'll never hear from him again. And you know what? That's his loss."
The afterglow of a good hard workout is better than the afterglow of sex. The cool evening air in your sweat-drenched hair, the looseness in your muscles once all the lactic acid has burned away. Brie has a big crunchy salad and an evening of Girls in mind when she rounds the corner to her apartment, but there he is, like an evening dream, watchful of her reaction and hugging a large fishbowl filled with river pebbles and greenery and two goldfish swimming laps.
He lifts the bowl a little. "You said your goldfish died. What was his name?"
She walks to him and bends down to tap the glass. "Goldfinger," she lies, standing up. "Which is funny, because fish don't have fingers."
"I'm sorry," he says, his voice serious. "I should have left with you yesterday. I should have stood up for you more." He sets the fishbowl down beside the Thai takeout he has brought and takes her in his arms. "I should have told you sooner that when I think about you, I get this big dumb grin on my face and my heart rate actually increases. Like," he places two fingers on his neck, "I've checked my pulse. The thought of you affects me physically." He moves a piece of hair from her eyes. "And sometimes during my day, I'll be thinking about something you said and I'll just burst out laughing, and I want to call you and tell you but I don't want to bug you at work."
He kisses her ear. "And every time I see a penny, I think about your hair. How soft it is, how good it smells." He presses his nose into her hair and breathes. "Most of the time."
"What I'm saying is, I brought you extra spicy papaya salad and Pad See Ew with tofu and fresh avocado spring rolls with peanut sauce and I'm really hoping you'll let me and the fish come inside and share it with you."
Brie searches deep in his eyes. "Asshole."
Danny's forehead wrinkles.
"My dead goldfish's name was Asshole." She leans down and picks up the fishbowl. "I think I'll call the one with the blob of white on his tail Nice Guy, and this one here is Goldfinger, because I actually really like that name."
She jabs Danny MMA-style with her foot as she unlocks the door, and then Brie, Nice Guy, and the two goldfish go inside.
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Brie Baggio thinks she's ready... for marriage, kids, the whole shebang. She's pushing forty, and even though she's the Senior Anti-Aging Ambassador at Los Angeles's hottest med spa, Botox can't paralyze that nagging feeling that it's now or never...