excerpt: Mating Rituals of the North American WASP

chapter one

Something wasn't right, and she knew it before opening her eyes.

She'd been having the oddest dream about a man she was sure she'd never met in her waking life, though in the dream he was as familiar as an old friend. A man she would not be able to recall later, beyond that his presence had buoyed her with happiness. A man she only understood wasn't Brock and was in fact someone Brock should never know about. And though she knew the correct thing to do was to go home to Brock at once and apologize for all of it - the argument, the way she'd left things, and, now, this - she couldn't bring herself to break the spell. She and the dream-man were laughing and talking, about what she wouldn't recall either, as bells rang and cheers erupted in bursts, and smiling dream-people stood back to watch them in the manner of wedding guests ringing the floor for the first dance. Then, just as she and the man were about to embrace, Peggy Adams had a moment of clarity. Something isn't right, she thought in her dream, and with that, it all dissolved.

This was one of the many side effects of Peggy's chronic anxiety: Traveling made her jumpy, and she could not get comfortable in a strange bed. Not even in a luxury hotel. She'd try to laugh it off - Hello, housekeeping? There's a pea under my mattress - and go to sleep. But the pillow would be too plump, or the fitted sheet would come untucked, revealing an expanse of bare mattress inches from her face. The rest of the night, she'd alternate between imagining exactly what might be on that mattress, thinking wistfully of her own bed, and chastising herself. When had she become afraid of everything? Why couldn't she snap out of it?

But this particular sense of wrongness went beyond the dream and beyond Peggy's sense that her world was closing in and it was her own fault. It went beyond her concern that her friends were leaving her behind, moving ahead with their lives while she remained in the same place. It certainly went beyond being in not-her-bed. The past two mornings Peggy had awoken not to the distant growl of Manhattan traffic on Ninth Avenue or, depending on the day, the splash of Brock shaving in their apartment bathroom, but to the gusty air conditioner in a room at the New York New York hotel in Las Vegas, with Bex Sabes-Cohen - her best friend, business partner and fellow bachelorette-weekend guest - rustling sleepily in the other double bed, and a view of a reproduction Chrysler building out their window. It had caught her off-guard Friday and Saturday, but it was Sunday, she'd be flying home later today, and with her everyday life within an afternoon's reach, the foreignness of the hotel room, her remaining hours of contrived gaiety in Las Vegas, even her fight with Brock, seemed perfectly manageable.

Still, Peggy wasn't ready to face any of it. She burrowed into the unyielding pillow, sensing she hadn't slept nearly enough. Her eyes seemed glued shut, and she wondered, Makeup? Had she somehow not washed her face? She ran her left index finger across her lashes. They were gummy and stiff. When she moved her other hand under the covers, the clasp of her watch caught on the knit fabric of her cocktail dress.

Watch? Usually Peggy set it on the bathroom counter before brushing and flossing. Why couldn't she remember brushing and flossing? Could she have forgotten to, just as she'd forgotten to remove her makeup, her watch and...this was curious. Was she really wearing her dress?

She opened her eyes. The curtains were open, and blue-white sunlight shrieked in through the window. She shut her eyes, but not before registering that she was still wearing the low-backed, black jersey number she'd chosen for the weekend's climactic evening of dinner and drinks and Blackjack with Bex and their other former college roommates. What in the world was going on?

Peggy did remember having had a wardrobe dilemma. Las Vegas had turned out to be a city of tourists wearing baggy tee-shirts and shorts. Bex had already pointed out that the other bachelorettes weren't much chicer. Jobs, relationships, and circumstance had flung their four New York University friends thousands of miles from the city and out into the wide world of sneakers and sweatpants and logos on everything. For the past two days Andrea, the guest of honor, had lived in a white tracksuit with "Bride-to-Be" appliquéd across her backside.

Peggy had had her dress over her head and been about to shimmy it down over her hips when she'd heard Bex come out of the bathroom.

"Do I look like an alien from Planet Overkill?" Peggy had asked through the layers of fabric. When no response came, she slithered the dress all the way on, letting it brush silkily around her calves.

Bex was wearing a camisole, black pants so snug a thong would have left lines, and one skyscraper-heeled, pointy-toed, patent leather boot. She laughed. "You're asking the wrong girl."

Peggy adored Bex for her brash self-assurance, her unflagging trust in her own choices.

Unfortunately, Peggy did not share these characteristics.

"I'll wear jeans." She started to back out of the dress.

"No you don't. You're going to be festive this weekend if it kills us both..." Bex had gotten a look at Peggy's face. She stopped tussling with her other boot. "I know, sweetie. Fights - they're miserable."

Peggy let the dress fall back around her and dropped onto the bed. "Thirteen months, Bex."

"I know," Bex said.

"Andrea meets Jordan, they go to dinner, they move in together, and poof - engaged." She held her palms up, mimicking a scale. "Andie: thirteen months. Me: seven years."

Bex nodded. "I know."

"And I shouldn't have yelled at Brock. I never yell at him. I don't nag; I don't push; I give him space. How long am I supposed to wait?"

"I don't know. I would have left him already."

"I'm not leaving him."

"I know," said Bex.

Peggy had registered the disapproval in her best friend's posture and slipped on her shoes. Shoes which she now suspected --

Her heart began to pound. She kicked the bedclothes off her feet.

She was still wearing them.

As for Bex, what had become of her? Bex, along with her bed and the Chrysler building outside their window, had disappeared. How was that possible? The only bed in the room now was Peggy's.

But Peggy wasn't the only one in it.

From Mating Rituals of the North American WASP by Lauren Lipton. Reproduced with permission from Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group USA, Inc. Copyright (c) 2008 Lauren Lipton. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.