Despite my obsession with the Starz's Spartacus series (RIP Andy Whitfield) and the fact the Colosseum was the first thing on my Rome to-do list, I had never seen the movie Gladiator. I know, I know, it's a classic. Saying you haven't seen Gladiator is like saying you haven't seen Forest Gump or The Sandlot. People gasp. Jaws drop. Eyes bulge. (Don't worry, I've seen both of those.)
I was a Roman princess for one Halloween party last year and 'Freedom in Greece' was one of my favorite classes in college. If you went to OU and know who Dr. Fears is, you'll know why. So you'd think I'd seen the beloved movie that captured that very time and essence. I suppose I never saw it because blood and gore and torture weren't really at the top of my must-haves when it came to movie-watching criteria. But Spartacus made it sexy. Therefore, Gladiator would be sexy. Gore and all.
The first time I told Cayden I hadn't seen Gladiator, you'd think I told him to describe the love of his life.
"Oh, baby! I can't believe you haven't seen that film! It's just...." he was speechless. "It's... Oh my god, it's just an incredible film. The music. Oh, the music! The soundtrack alone will give you goosebumps! You must see it. I'll make you watch it."
So that Saturday morning, Cayden popped my Gladiator cherry. And it was everything I hoped it would be. Before seeing the movie, Russell Crowe wasn't on my list of attractive actors. That list was occupied by Gabriel Macht, Ryan Gosling, and Gerard Butler, to name a few. But throw some leather armor on Russell and give him a sword and I'd drop panties for him any day. There was a reason I wanted Cayden to be a gladiator for Halloween the year before. Gladiators turn me on. If I lived back in those times, I'd be the sluttiest Roman woman in town.
As much as I wanted to stay there curled up with Cayden on the couch when the movie ended, I had to force myself to get up. Shanna's bridal shower started in an hour and it was going to take us at least 30 minutes to get there. I threw on my transformer dress, grabbed the Muddy Buddies I'd made the night before (or Puppy Chow, as some people call them) and my half-assed wedding gift, and Cayden and I hit the road.
"I'm so so so sorry I have to abandon you for a few hours," I said over and over again on the way there.
"It's OK. We almost had a full day together yesterday. And we still have tonight."
"Shanna says there's a shopping center right by her house. Tons of shops and a movie theater. You should go see Bridesmaids!" I said, so excited I nearly drove off the road. I'd seen it four times and I needed to pop Cayden's Bridesmaids cherry. But it wouldn't be as fun if I couldn't laugh along with him. I wanted to watch him watch it. I wanted to see if he thought it was as funny as I did. If he didn't come close to peeing his pants, I wasn't quite sure our relationship would last.
"I'll see if it's playing. But really, don't worry. Go have fun with the girls. Just don't forget to pick me up when you're done."
I dropped him off at the shopping center and drove off feeling like a bad parent who'd just dropped my kid off at daycare on a Saturday to go drink with the girls.
I pulled up to Shanna's parents' house and stepped out of the car. For the first time in a long time, it didn't feel like the Sahara Desert outside. A steady breeze blew the warmth away, which was just as refreshing as it was annoying as I tried to carry the Muddy Buddies and the gift and keep my dress down at the same time.
It wasn't until I walked through the door that I realized I wasn't going to know anyone here aside from the bride and her sister. Shanna and I were BFFs in high school, and we made a point of hanging out every summer and holiday break through college. But when we hung out, it was usually just as and then a group of guy friends from high school. She had her group of post-high school friends and I had mine. We rarely brought them together.
I looked around the living room and kitchen and saw beautiful, tan girls with long legs and hair that looked like it was straight out of a Garnier commercial. They had perfectly sculpted arms and calves people would pay for. You see, Shanna was a dancer (the professional sports team kind, not the pole kind). Therefore, Shanna's friends were dancers. Me, on the other hand? Not a dancer.
The kitchen table was filled with bowls of non-fat artichoke dip, hummus, vegetables, and fruit. Yes, I was the fatty who brought the chocolate-peanut butter-powdered sugar-coated treats. I wasn't sure half the girls in there had ever had sweets in their lives.
"Whitney!" Shanna screamed as she ran up to me and wrapped her arms around me. I instantly felt a wave of relief, familiarity, comfort. She was absolutely glowing. Not in the pregnant way, but in the I'm-about-to-marry-the-man-of-my-dreams kind of way. It was the same glow I had every time I'd spot Cayden at the airport. Well, I guess that glow is more of a I-just-spotted-the-man-of-my-dreams-at-the-airport glow.
"You look beautiful!" I said, trying to hide the wrapped gift behind my back. No matter how I wrapped it, it was obvious that it was a cookbook. I set it down on the floor next to me, right on top of what I could tell were two other cookbooks. How original.
"I'm so glad you could come!" Shanna said, leading me toward the group of girls hovering near the non-fat snacks. "Did you find the shopping center?"
"Sure did," I said. "Cayden is going to watch a movie. He's pretty good at entertaining himself."
Shanna introduced me to the perfectly toned dancers and I gawked at their perfectly white teeth. They were all polite and welcoming. I suddenly realized I was the only one wearing flats.
"Wait, so you're the one who introduced Shanna to Ronnie?" one of the beautiful ones asked. All eyes turned to me.
"Guilty," I said, and took a step closer to the sangria. By the time I got back from pouring a glass of sangria, the beautiful ones had struck up a conversation about people I didn't know doing things I didn't know about in places I'd never heard of. I didn't want to be the awkward girl in the circle who laughed and nodded and pretended to be a part of the conversation, so I bee-lined to Shanna's mom instead.
Shanna's mom was like a second mom to me. She always welcomed me into their family and cooked delicious breakfasts while Shanna's dad kept our glasses full of the sweetest red sangria I'd ever had. She greeted me once again with open arms and an, "Ah! Whitney!"
It had been at least a year since I'd seen her last. Once again, I felt that wave of familiarity and comfort.
"I'm loving the new place!" I said as I pulled away from our hug. Her parents had moved from Keller to Lewisville, which was the main reason it had been so long since I'd seen her.
"Thanks! Have I told you how much I love your hair short? I feel like I can finally see your face. Before, I was always distracted by your hair," she said.
I'd heard it before. But sometimes I missed my long locks.
"Have you met Ronnie's mom yet?" she asked.
"No!" I said. "I haven't! Is she here?"
Shanna's mom pulled me to the other side of the counter and introduced me.
"This is the girl who set your son up with my daughter," she said, and then walked away to tend to the snacks.
"Well, I guess I owe you a thank you!" she said, shaking my hand firmly. We got to chatting.
It was weird, but I felt more comfortable hanging out with Ronnie's mom than I did with the girls my age. I'm not sure when I became so socially awkward, but it was becoming more and more apparent. I used to be able to walk into a room full of strangers and walk out with a whole new set of friends. As my moms says, "it's that damn Twitter and Facebook! No one knows how to have a real conversation anymore!"
"Are you Whitney?" a cute, blonde girl asked. I nodded and shook my hand out for an introduction.
"I'm Kelsey. Shanna's friend from Oklahoma," she said smiling as she shook my hand.
Halleluja! Shanna had another non-dancer friend who didn't know anyone else! I felt like I needed to cling to this girl for dear life. Don't be that girl, I reminded myself. Play it cool.
I refilled my sangria cup before we sat down to start the bridal-shower games portion of the party. My competitive side was pumped. In the first game, one of the girls walked by with a tray full of items from Shanna's room and we had seconds to memorize them and write down everything we could remember. Whoever wrote the most correct items down was the winner.
Lucky for me, I have a photographic memory. After my glance at the tray, I scribbled as fast as I could. "Contact case, DVD, hair brush, pajama pants, chapstick, sunglasses, fake flower" and a few other items.
"Raise your hand if you wrote down more than 7." Half the room raised their hands.
"More than 8." A good chunk of the hands went down.
"More than 9." My hand was the only one up.
"More than 10." Still up.
"More than 11." Still up.
I won a cupcake.
We played one more game and then it was time for presents. I wanted to leave the room. I was ashamed of my cookbook. I hadn't even gotten the apron I wanted to get because I got distracted by Tempur-Pedic beds and Pisco Sours. Who does that?
Unfortunately, my gift was one of the last ones opened. By that time, she'd already seen a lot of much cooler gifts than a brunch cookbook. One of my favorite gifts was a marriage certificate holder that came with a pen. Shanna's reaction to it was the exact reaction I wanted any time I gave a gift. The cookbook wasn't going to cut it. I made a mental note make up for my crappy shower gift with an awesome wedding present.
After the festivities and photo ops, all the girls gathered in the kitchen hang out and talk about who got pregnant and who was moving. My ears perked when they started talking about how one of the bridesmaids had met a British guy in Vegas during the bachelorette party.
It was 5:30. I told Cayden I'd leave there at 5. I was camped out near the Muddy Buddies with Kelsey, unashamed of my handfuls of chocolatey peanut buttery goodness. I felt like a bad girlfriend. I felt like a bad bridesmaid. I was being super emo and I knew it, but I couldn't help it. The long-distance relationship had turned me into an emotional rollercoaster, or what some might call "a girl."