Brenda’s desk was near the copying machine and JB had a lot of copying to do. He flirted with Brenda. He was sleeping with as many women as would let him and he asked Brenda out. She accepted. They hit it off and began dating regularly.
JB went to Brenda’s apartment after dates and there were frequently flowers, bottles of wine, and one of two theater tickets from Gene at her door. Brenda appeared all the more desirable. JB jacked up his smartest-guy-in-the-room routine. He invited Brenda to have dinner with his mother, whom he lived with. His parents had divorced years ago and his father, Bob, died of alcoholism when JB was twenty.
Brenda instantly liked Therese. She liked JB’s brother and sisters, too. She enjoyed bantering with them about politics and art. Therese and Brenda bonded over stiff martinis and Brenda felt smart, posh, worldly.
JB told Brenda he loved her and, after a while, Brenda said, “I love you,” back, even though she knew she didn’t mean it the way JB did.
“Never say ‘I love you’ first,’” Cherise had told Brenda. “If a boy tells you he loves you, he wants one thing: to get in your pants. And never tell him how you feel deep down because he’ll throw it back in your face one day.” There was evidence her mother was right. Brenda’s friends were getting their hearts broken repeatedly but hers never was. Her heart was petrified.
Brenda hoped to find true love not realizing it was impossible with an inaccessible heart. She looked for love while dating JB and on a cruise with her parents, Brenda had a romance with the ship’s doctor. Bjorn wanted to fly Brenda to Sweden and try living together. They corresponded for months and Brenda considered it. But Bjorn lived with his mother and middle-aged mentally handicapped brother and she opted out.
One year later, Brenda placed an ad in a Montana newspaper stating that she wanted an adventurous life with the right cowboy. She got lots of letters and began writing to a lean, chiseled, handsome cowboy who sent her pictures of cattle carcasses curing on hooks, a pink T-shirt from a local bar, and a rattlesnake’s tail. They began talking on the phone. The cowboy mentioned a steer crushed his hip in a roping accident and he had trouble walking. Brenda let the crippled cowboy down.
Brenda felt guilty looking for someone while dating JB so she broke up with him. JB was hurt. He began getting laid as much as possible and Brenda dated a string of men but found she wasn’t attracted to any of them. JB was the best man to show up, Brenda concluded. She called him and he took her back.
Bartenders, cab drivers, and people Brenda interviewed for stories routinely asked why she wasn’t married. Brenda hated that question. She never came up a good comeback. Trish, who was almost two years younger, got married and at her wedding Aunt Edie pulled Brenda aside and said, “You’re not getting any younger you know. And if you want kids . . .” Brenda looked around Trish’s reception and observed couples. True love was bullshit, she decided. People settled.