Home > The Breakaway

The Breakaway
Author: Jennifer Weiner




Are you ready?”

She wasn’t. But her sister and her brother had both learned how to ride their bikes before they turned six, and Abby was a few weeks away from her seventh birthday, and her dad had already spent twenty minutes taking the training wheels off her bike. She knew she had to try.

“Okay, I’m going to hold the seat until you get your balance, and then I’m going to let go.”

She nodded without turning from her perch on her bike’s seat. If she took her feet off the pedals she’d be able to touch the ground with her tiptoes. Still, she felt like she was in outer space, that the ground was a million miles away; that if she lost her balance she’d go plummeting to her doom.

“Okay. Here we go.”

She felt her daddy’s hand on the back of her seat, steadying the bike. She made herself push with her right foot. The pedals turned. The wheels spun.

“Here you go! Pedal, pedal, pedal! You’ve got it!” her daddy shouted.

And then he wasn’t there. It was just Abby, alone on her bike… and she wasn’t falling. She clutched the handlebars, not paying any attention to where the bike was headed, and she pedaled, pedaled, keeping her balance, and the wind was cool on her cheeks, brushing back her hair, and she was picking up speed, only wobbling a little, and she wasn’t falling. She was riding.

It felt like floating. It felt like flying. It felt like she was far away from everything that hurt her. The icy silences that stretched between her parents. The way her mom would always put a plate of cut-up carrots or bell peppers by her plate, and no one else’s, at dinnertime. How Dylan McVay at school had started calling her Flabby Abby, and now all the boys called her that.

“Abby! Stop! Turn around! Don’t go on the busy street!” Her daddy was yelling, chasing after her, his voice getting farther away with every rotation of the pedals. And Abby wasn’t falling. She was riding, on a bike that could take her anywhere. She was free.




New York City April 2021


I’m getting married!” Kara hollered into Abby’s ear. The words came borne on a gust of tequila-scented breath as Kara grabbed Abby’s hand and squeezed. “I’m so happy! Are you happy for me?”

“Of course I am,” Abby said, guiding her friend over a crack in the sidewalk. “If you’re happy, I’m happy.”

“I AM!” Kara shouted into the Brooklyn night. “I AM happy!”

“Maybe let’s be happy a little more quietly,” Abby suggested as Marissa, another member of the bridal party, came teetering toward them and slung her arm around Abby’s neck. At the beginning of the night, Marissa had given each of the women a pink feather boa, and they had started to shed. Abby saw pink feathers floating in the air, drifting gently down onto the pavement.

“You’re next,” Marissa said, poking her finger against Abby’s chest. “You and Mark.”

“Mark and I have been on exactly two dates,” Abby said, bemused.

“Doesn’t matter,” Marissa said, and looked Abby in the eye. “He loves you. He’s been in love with you since he was thirteen! That’s…” Marissa wobbled to a halt, her cute nose wrinkled, incapable of walking drunk in high heels and doing math at the same time.

“Eighteen years,” said Abby, who was not precisely sober but who was also not anywhere near as tipsy as her friends. “But we’ve only been back in each other’s lives for fifteen minutes.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Marissa gave a dismissive wave of her hand. “He loooves you.”

Abby surveyed the rest of the party. There were Kara’s college friends: a trust and estates lawyer, a crisis communication expert, a banker who lived in San Francisco. There were a few other summer camp friends—Marissa, who lived in a suburb of Chicago with her husband and two little girls; Hannah, a physician’s assistant; and Chelsea, who worked as a public radio producer in Portland, Oregon. Then there was Abby, an employee of a doggie daycare called Pup Jawn, a freelance dog-walker and sometime Uber driver, who’d started and dropped out of two different master’s degree programs, one in early childhood education, the other in library sciences. Abby had gotten used to being the biggest girl in a group, but now she’d arrived at a point where she was both the biggest and the least accomplished. This development did not fill her heart with joy.

As Kara wobbled and Marissa giggled, Abby realized that she had two choices: either she was going to have to stop drinking until she felt less maudlin, or keep drinking until her brain turned off. She adjusted her own boa, arranging it to lie against the V-neck of her tee shirt, which was black, with the word BRIDESMAID spelled out in crystals on the chest, and followed the group into a bodega, past the cash register and the indifferent clerk behind it, down an aisle stocked with ramen and crackers and candy bars, boxes of steel wool scrubbing pads, and bottles of Fabuloso, then out its back door. Their night had started six hours ago with dinner and cocktails at Nobu. There’d been more cocktails at a dueling piano bar, a club in Manhattan, and a dive bar in Park Slope. Abby prayed this would be their final stop of the night. I’m too old for this, she thought as Marissa led them down a trash can–lined alley, pausing once or twice to peer at her phone.

“Are you sure this is right?” someone asked as Marissa stopped in front of a dingy metal door and knocked three times. When a slot in the door’s center opened, Marissa gave a password and collected everyone’s IDs and vaccination cards. When the documents had been inspected, the door swung open, and Abby followed her friends into the thumping, crowded darkness. The music was deafening, the bass so loud that Abby could feel it vibrating through her fillings. Girls in bodysuits and booty shorts with trays of shots around their necks threaded their way through the crowd, twisting like contortionists to serve customers lounging on the couches. The dance floor was packed with people, dancing and hollering along to the music.

Abby was throwing her arms in the air with the rest of the bridesmaids, gyrating happily and singing along to a remix of Cher’s “Believe,” when she noticed a guy standing in the corner, staring at her. He wore dark jeans and a short-sleeved tee shirt. His thick brown hair fell over his forehead just so, and his pale skin looked almost luminous in the club lights.

Abby turned away. She kept dancing, but her gaze kept landing on him, taking in a new detail each time—his full lips, his thick, straight eyebrows. She knew she was staring, but she gave herself permission. Looking at this guy was like looking at a two-thousand-dollar gown on the Nieman-Marcus website: a gorgeous thing she could appreciate, while knowing she would never take it home. And home was a hundred miles away, which made the likelihood of bumping into this handsome stranger at a dog park or a coffee shop unlikely. Abby could stare to her heart’s content.

Except, strange but true, it seemed like the guy was looking right back at her. Looking at her and smiling.

Abby watched as he detached himself from the wall and moved through the mass of dancers, until he’d arrived to stand right in front of her.

Bridesmaid? he mouthed, pointing at her chest. Abby nodded, and he leaned in close, saying something she assumed was his name. She felt the warmth of his breath on her neck, and he smelled delicious, musky and spicy and sweet.

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