It wasn't just because Nicki Heller was a Sagittarius, although Sagittarians were known to love the pursuit of love more than the actual act. They were also well known for being incorrigible flirts; their selfimage had them believing absolutely everyone found them attractive. But let's face it, everyone she ever went out with did want to marry her.Hey, the truth was the truth.
The list had even included Davey Horowitz, who had sat behind her in the third grade. Since 1974 was not a time when boys dipped girls'pigtails into ink wells when they had a crush, Davey had twisted the head of her firstnightofHanukkah gift, a brand new Mod Barbie, until it completely disconnected from the body. The proportions of that body would have been 361832 on a real girl — and, despite her infatuation with Barbie, the eightyearold Nicki already knew they were proportions she'd never have and, believe it or not, would never even aspire to, thank you very much.
Davey had detached the doll's head from its ridiculous body so he could throw it across the room to Tony Morelli, who said he would give it back to her after school. But instead, Tony had thrown it down the sewer outside P.S.276, their public school in Canarsie. He'd given Nicki a Hanukkah aynhoreh — the Hanukkah evil eye — by never, ever giving her back her doll.
So it wasn't just the mad memories of Mod Barbie that made her think twice after she said yes to Mark last week, when he brought up "the dinner date." And it wasn't just because a true Sagittarian would always put off till tomorrow what could be done today. No, it was not just for those reasons that Nicki Heller did not want to meet Mark Baum on this first night of Hanukkah for dinner at that quaint little Italian bistro down on Carmine Street where they'd had their first date fourteen months ago.
It was that tonight Nicki knew for sure Mark would want to right the Hanukkah wrongs of yesteryear by placing a diamond ring on Nicki's butter plate and proposing.
Nicki already knew she would say no because she was as finished with marriage as she was with her first husband, and to tell you the truth, she just wasn't in the mood for another one.
To this day, Nicki wasn't quite sure why she had gotten married in the first place. Especially so young. It wasn't just because Jay was cute. And it wasn't just because he really liked Nicki, though he did like her, instantly in fact, when he met her at college that December,the middle of their sophomore year. They were the only two that had gone back for seconds of the godawful totally goyishe macaroniandcheese casserole with the big, brown pieces of sausage baked inside.
"My grandma Ida would have a coronary if she saw me eating this," Nicki had said, putting her plate on top of the industrialsteel counter, watching as the woman behind it with the hairnet dipped a big industrialsteel spoon into the orangecolored mass and plopped a chunk of it on Nicki's plate."My grandparents live downstairs from us,one of those twofamily houses,talk about reach out and touch someone. And they used to bring their own dishes up to my mother to try to stay kosher, but it became such a hassle that now they just try to forget about it."
Grandma Ida also had to give in to having two granddaughters who were not named after a deceased family member, the traditional way of naming a Jewish child. Nicki, a derivative of Nicole,got her name because Nicki's mom had always loved it. Three years later when Nicki's younger sister was born,she was named Cyd after the dancer Cyd Charisse. Gants gut meshuggeh, Grandma Ida would say. Craziness. But over time she had come to accept her daughter's modern ways.
"Kosher shmosher," Nicki told Jay, jabbing her fork right past the noodles and straight into the sausage.
"I agree. Hey — I like your boots," said Jay, indicating with his head that they should mosey out of the kitchen.
"Thanks.My mother sent them to me.For Hanukkah. Tonight's the first night," she said, following him into the dining hall, past the table with the girls from her dorm. Past the one with her current roommate and her newest current boyfriend. Past just about everyone, until they found a spot where they could be alone.
"Happy Hanukkah," Jay said, making a space for them to put down their trays. "I wish my mother would send me a Hanukkah present."
"I'll give you some of mine. My mother will send me one for every night."
"Wow, that's great. What does she do for your birthday?"
"It's tomorrow. Be here. Same time. Same place. And I'll let you know!"
The next night Jay showed up at the dining hall with a menorah, Hanukkah candles, birthday candles, a package of Ding Dongs, a dreidel — just in case Nicki liked to play the holiday's gambling game — and a poster of the pokerplaying dogs sitting on a commuter train. And that's how simple it was with Nicki and Jay. They fell into something. Maybe there was a little trouble, but nothing so terrible — so they stayed.
They dated throughout their sophomore year and then moved off campus together,where they remained until graduation. After that they moved down to New York, and a few years after they married they moved out of the city and into a house.
Nicki disliked the suburbs. Nicki liked the city and that's where Nicki wanted to stay, but Jay kept pushing and Jay wanted to leave and Jay felt he was entitled because Jay felt the move was going to move their life forward and besides, wasn't he the one who was always waiting for Nicki?
But Nicki loved Jay. He was the first, he was good, and he was crazy about her. She knew she added color and spice to his life, and while, quite frankly, it often felt like Jay was holding her back, somehow everything would always fall back into place. It always did, and everything would have been fine if only.If only Jay hadn't practically demanded they move out of the city, and if only it hadn't been to Westchester,back to his roots just a few blocks from his mother.If only Jay hadn't insisted Nicki meet him every night at Grand Central so they could make the 6:23 — a train Nicki told him over and over again was impossible to make when you ran your own eventsplanning business and you had to show up at the events that were mostly scheduled at night...if they weren't on weekends. If only Jay had understood, and if only Jay had not forced her with the baby ultimatum.
Nicki wanted a kid. She did. Really. And she was going to try to have one. When she was ready. Which she wasn't yet. Her business was doing so well, she barely had time to make dinner, let alone a baby. It would be when it would be.
She was only twentythree when they married, and she still had plenty of time. Plenty! If Jay had had a couple more interests, something a little more social going on in his life than waiting for Nicki at home and collecting comics, well, maybe then Jay could have given Nicki more space to do her thing. Jay might have understood better if he, too, ran his own business, instead of working for the government. So, okay, he was a lawyer. A city attorney. But mainly he was a ninetofiver — he practically punched a clock for God's sake.
Excerpted from Scenes From A Holiday by Graff, Laurie/Lissner, Caren/Murray, Melanie Copyright © 2005 by Graff, Laurie/Lissner, Caren/Murray, Melanie. Excerpted by permission.
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