Chapter Ninety-Nine: “He’s just some white dude with dreadlocks in a kimono who breathes too loudly”

Jemima had told herself, quite firmly, that she was moving on from Noel. Now that she knew he was romantically interested in Sybil, she figured it was time. It was for the best. Their relationship had been confusing at best. She still couldn’t work out why he had invited her to a spa. A couple’s massage seemed an odd thing to partake in with a work colleague. She wouldn’t even do that with Jacklyn and she considered them significantly more than coworkers. She said as much to Jacklyn one Monday morning. Jacklyn had gone to her friend’s wedding the weekend directly before. Jemima had seen photos and Jacklyn had looked almost better than the bride.

“While you were at your friend’s wedding, looking glamorous by the way, I did some soul-searching,” she informed Jacklyn over lunch. “And I’ve decided to move on from Noel.”

She had borrowed a book on self-improvement and learning to love oneself from the library. Thus far, she’d only read one chapter, but it had been packed with very useful information. Although, a couple of the pages had been stuck together so it was possible she was missing crucial pieces of information.

“Well good,” Jacklyn replied, nodding firmly. “I really think it’s for the best anyway. I can’t even imagine what kind of hell it would be to coordinate outfits with him for any special occasion.”

It was a good point. Noel had shown up to work in a fully tartan suit that morning. His wingtips had been coated completely in silver glitter. Some of it fell off with every step he took so he was leaving a trail of silver glitter everywhere he went, like a snail or Jemima’s parents’ golden retriever Sam, whose drool left silvery lines on the furniture and people’s pants.

“I’m going to work on myself instead,” Jemima continued. “I think I’m going to sign up for a meditation class.”

Jacklyn looked skeptical, but politely kept her thoughts to herself. Jemima wouldn’t have listened anyway. She had already decided meditation would be the thing for her. It would provide a brilliant avenue for her to soul-search and cleanse her mind of toxic and unhelpful thoughts. That, at least, was what her book said.

As it turned out, meditation was not in fact for Jemima. The class was lead by a man named Darrel who had waist-length dreadlocks. He breathed very heavily and said “alright, my wondrous herd” far too many times. Honestly, even once was too many times. It was uncomfortably close to what Jemima imagined joining a cult would be like. He made them sit down on straw mats and also breathe heavily. The woman sitting cross-legged beside Jemima breathed like she was struggling for air. It was alarming in many different ways. Large portions of the class involved Darrel instructing them to hum in different ways, which was an interesting experience in the sense that Jemima had previously thought there was only one way to hum. Darrel had a portable CD player that played what Jemima assumed was a mixed CD he had made himself. It was comprised of nature sounds and Enya. It was not nearly as soothing as he seemed to think it was. Jemima didn’t come anywhere close to finding herself as she sat on a bumpy mat humming in various registers, listening to the ragged breathing of the woman next to her and “Orinoco Flow”.

“Meditation is the worst,” she announced to Priscilla, Tallulah, and Chad, bursting into their apartment after her class. “I didn’t learn anything about myself except that I don’t like Enya.”

“Does anyone like Enya?” Chad interjected skeptically.

“Hey, that woman is a treasure,” Priscilla told him firmly, which Jemima thought was a bizarrely strong statement to make about Enya. “She lives in a castle and gives zero fucks.”

“Darrel made us practice breathing and the woman next to me sounded like she was trying to eat pudding with a straw,” Jemima continued to complain.

“Who the fuck is Darrel?” Tallulah cut in.

“My meditation leader,” Jemima answered. “He called us his wondrous herd, like he was Jesus or something. Well, he isn’t Jesus. He’s just some white dude with dreadlocks in a kimono who breathes too loudly.”

“It sounds like there are a lot of different facets to Darrel and none of them are good,” Priscilla observed.

“Ugh, he’s garbage,” Jemima agreed. “Human garbage.”

“Bad day for Darrel,” Chad remarked. “He lost one of his herd and now someone has compared him to trash.”

“If you’re not going to support Enya, you can’t defend Darrel,” Priscilla told him firmly, pointing at him with her eyes narrowed. Chad looked quite taken aback. These were the kinds of things he’d have to get used to though if he was hoping to spend his life with Tallulah. The Cherry sisters were a package deal and also slightly bonkers.

Four days later, Jemima ran into her ex-boyfriend Steve at the coffee shop where Iggy worked. According to Iggy, he came in often.

“I see him at least once a week, but pretend I haven’t and he ignores me as God intended,” Iggy told her. Jemima didn’t respond, sipping on the tea she hadn’t actually ordered. There was no sign of his tiny girlfriend Amber or the trail of body glitter she always left behind, also like a snail or Jemima’s parents’ golden retriever. She wondered if that meant they had broken up. She hoped Amber had dumped him, taken her bandage dresses and pranced off to someone more deserving of her time. Although, that having been said, Jemima had actually been to a party at Amber’s once, back before she knew that Steve had been sleeping with her as well, and had offered to bring some food. Amber had told her that she had it covered, but when Jemima had shown up, all Amber had was one plastic bowl of Doritos. She had almost been more angry about that than she had been when she’d discovered Steve was cheating on her.

Steve came up to her when she was just finishing the last of her tea. She was doing a crossword because she her library book on self-improvement had a whole chapter on mental stimulation. She hadn’t actually read it yet, so she wasn’t sure crosswords actually fell under the prescribed umbrella. She was finding some of the clues a little too difficult. For instance, she’d had to google the capital of Yemen as she had had no idea that it was Sana’a.

“Hey, girl,” Steve greeted her, smiling widely like he was genuinely pleased to see her. He very well may have been; she hadn’t done anything to him.

“Hi,” was all she said in response. She was being cool and detached. She was mastering her own will, taking charge of her emotions. “Take charge of your emotions” was the only thing Darrel said even more frequently than “alright, my wondrous herd”.

“How’ve you been?” Steve asked and Jemima thought, “oh, wouldn’t you like to know?”

“Fine, you?” Was what she actually said.

“Not bad, not bad,” he answered casually, sitting down in the chair across from her. “I miss you, though.”

He flashed her a sheepish smile. It was ludicrously charming. Jemima felt her resolve crumbling. She had always been a pushover where Steve was concerned. They had dated off and on for two years. Her mother loathed him, originally because he had a snake tattoo, latterly because he had cheated on her daughter with a very petite woman who sparkled in the sunlight like a majestic unicorn.

“Oh, well,” Jemima replied vaguely. She had meant to say something snarky. Priscilla and Tallulah would’ve said something snarky. Priscilla fiercely defended Enya; the way she defended herself would obviously be scathing and soul-withering.

“I’m really glad I ran into you,” Steve continued, still smiling in that knowing way of his. “I’ve wanted to reach out for a while now. I miss you a lot. You were my first love and you don’t get over that. Can we get together and have dinner or something? I want to catch up.”

Jemima decided to say no. She was working on bettering herself, becoming the best version of herself possible.

“Okay,” she said instead. Darrel would’ve been so disappointed in her.

Steve called her later that evening and they made plans for the following evening. She didn’t tell her friends. There was no way that conversation would go well. Besides, it was only one dinner. That didn’t mean that she was going to marry him. They weren’t even going to get back together. Jemima had made a promise to herself.

Jemima learned two things about herself that night, which went nicely with the second chapter of her borrowed book. The chapter was all about self-discovery. Jemima discovered that she was terrible at keeping promises to herself and that she had approximately zero will power. Steve asked her to get back together, citing that they were better together than they were apart, and she said yes. Darrel really would be disappointed now. Even Enya would be disappointed.

She broke the news to her friends the following morning over brunch. She had gone over to Bernie and Lawrence’s place with Tallulah and Priscilla. They were met by Iggy and Sybil, but not Jacklyn, who had been suckered into babysitting for Melly and David because they wanted to go antiquing.

“So she’s spending a couple hours staring at their baby with the weird hair?” Sybil summarized, smirking slightly.

“She doesn’t have weird hair per se,” Priscilla said. “She just has a lot of hair for a one year old. She’s, like, forty per cent hair.”

“She has the exact same hair as Kim Jong-Il,” Iggy interjected dryly. Lawrence snorted orange juice from his nose out of laughter. While Bernie was wiping that up with some paper napkins, Jemima broke her news.

“I’m back together with Steve again,” she announced. No one said anything for a long moment. She knew none of them were pleased. She wasn’t even sure she was pleased. She was having trouble sorting out her emotions, despite what her book said about compartmentalizing. She tried to imagine what Darrel would tell her to do in this situation. Hum an octave lower than her normal register probably. Darrel wasn’t what she’d call a particularly useful man. It was a wonder he could afford to support himself. He must’ve had another job aside from his one telling people to breathe obnoxiously loudly.

“Butt chin?” Tallulah eventually broke the silence. Priscilla elbowed her in the ribs not at all subtly.

“Oh,” Iggy said, which pretty well summed up Jemima’s life at the moment.

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