Author's Note: This manuscript is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of my imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events, products, or locales is entirely coincidental.

This manuscript may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, by any means without permission.


Chapter 1: The Maneater in the City

As I clean up my operatory after treating a patient in the school clinic, I feel the knot of dread in my stomach worsen. It gets tighter and tighter as the night wears on, and I glance at the clock overhead. 7:05 p.m. Crap.

Tonight. I have to do it tonight, from the safety of my studio apartment in Boston. That way, when he begins to freak out and have his nervous breakdown in Connecticut, I'll be safe. Safe from his tirade of insults and four-letter words, safe from the spit that naturally comes flying out of his mouth when he's upset, pissed off, nervous or all of the above.

I've been with Stephen for six years. That's six years, people. That equals all four years of college and my first two years of dental school. That means my life between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four.

I'm not quite twenty-five yet, and I have two years of dental school left. I intend to make the most of them. Without Stephen.

To be nice, I could use the whole "we grew apart" line, but that's not exactly true. The painful truth is that I've opened my eyes to what he is: a user. Since I started dental school, he's done nothing but count down the days until graduation (worse than I have), but not because he's looking forward to me coming home for good. He's looking forward to the day when I start making money as a dentist so he can stop working and have a free ride. It's obvious that he's stopped looking at me as a girlfriend and starting thinking about me as his meal ticket.

Even worse, he sees the influences that my classmates and this city have on me, and he's been hell-bent on trying to keep me under his control. He gets angry if I tell him I'm going out with new friends to celebrate the end of an exam block; I don't even tell him anymore. He swears at me over the phone if I purchase something small and frivolous, like maybe a teeny little Coach wallet on sale at Macy's, hoping I would stop spending what little free money I do have and start directing it his way. And once, during my first semester, I went out with my girl Stephanie and a few other guys (yes, guys) in my class to celebrate a birthday, and he was so upset that he took the bus to Boston without telling me the following day, just to make sure that I wasn't spending any more time with guys other than him. Oh, and he made me pay for his bus ticket, too.

Stephen was never like that when I was in college. True, he wasn't perfect back then, and maybe I accepted a lot of crap from him that I never should have put up with, but it seems as though he's been looking at me with dollar signs in his eyes ever since I've arrived in Boston. I know he doesn't trust me in the city without him, and because there's no trust, that's the final reason I need to leave.

I return the operative cassette full of instruments to the dispensary and rip off my slate-blue clinical smock, being careful to unclip my student ID as I do so. You'd be surprised at how often the students dump their IDs along with their smocks; if you don't retrieve it, there's a fee of $75 to get a new one. Yeah, as if dental school doesn't cost enough. So I've made sure not to dispose of my smock at the top of the six-foot-high collection bin before I collect my ID.

But back to the real dilemma: breaking up with Stephen. And if I have to do it over the phone, well, so be it. It's not exactly my first choice, but I don't have any other good option for breaking up with him in person. The next time I go back to CT will be the afternoon before Thanksgiving, and really, that's not a time to break up with somebody. That's just horrible. So dumping him over the phone is actually nicer than saying, "Hey, Stephen, I don't want to see you anymore. Pass the turkey leg?"

Not only that, I'm scared of what he might do or say. He's very manipulative, and he's also a big guy. Not big in the tall or buff sense, but big as in super-solid. He's easily got eighty pounds on me. If I break up with him in person, there's no telling what he might say or do to me, including physically hurting me. And I'd like to get through the holidays - and the rest of dental school - in more or less one piece.

Quickly drawing my breath, I gather up my messenger bag and red peacoat. Being the beginning of November, it's cold and dark outside, with the street lamps giving off just enough light to find my way back to my apartment building. Stephen's waiting for me to call him at 7:30. I shuffle through the lobby and, waiting for the elevator to take me up to the third floor, wonder how in hell I'm going to pull off this feat over the phone.


I did it. I'm still in shock over it, kind of. I mean, I never thought I'd have the cojones to do it. But I did. I just broke up with Stephen. Over the phone.

I am officially the shittiest person on the face of the planet.

Who does that, anyway? Who breaks up with her boyfriend of six years in a phone call? Like I said, I'm the shittiest person on the face of the planet.

The worst part about all of this is that there's no one around for me to talk to. My dental school friends are either home or doing lab work. My best girl Jayne, my partner in crime, is working late tonight. I'm alone in my studio, sitting on the edge of my full-sized bed. I'm shaking. My hands are tingling, my throat is dry, and my whole body is shaking.

I'm free.

I broke up with Stephen for a lot of reasons, too many to list off the top of my head. But the biggest reason is that I'm in love with someone else. Michael is the one who does it for me. He is so handsome. He's Mediterranean, he's strong and muscular (the class rumor mill says he can bench press more weight than the biggest guy in our class), he has a great sense of humor. And he was the one who helped me realize that I deserve so much better than what I had been settling for.

When I first met Michael two years ago during freshman orientation week, I never thought he would come between Stephen and me. Yeah, well, apparently I was wrong about a lot of things in the romance department.

So back to my problem. Who am I going to hash this out with? I need some sage advice, and I need it fast. There's only one person impartial and unbiased enough right now: Beth.

Beth was the first friend I made when I was in college. We actually met before we were even accepted at the college, waiting together on the same plush couch outside the counselors' doors before we went in for our respective interviews. Beth, with her neatly trimmed light brown hair and her sympathetic grey-green eyes, tends to be my voice of reason whenever I need it most. And if I've ever needed a voice of reason, it's right now. Frantically, I dial her number from memory and breathe a huge sigh of relief when she picks up after the first ring.

"Hello?"

"Beth, I don't know if I can do this." I spit out the words frantically.

"Elle, is that you? Slow down. Tell me what happened."

"I broke up with Stephen. Just now. Over the phone."

She gasps. "You did not."

"Yeah, I did."

"Oh my God, I can't believe it."

"Yeah, I know." I'm on the verge of becoming despondent.

"Oh, thank God!" She breathes out a sigh of relief that sounds like she's been waiting for years to exhale. Which she probably has.

"Huh?" My eyebrows furrow. "What are you talking about?"

"Elle, I have to tell you this story. I have been waiting since our first semester of college to tell you this story, and there never seemed to be a good time to tell you, so tonight is perfect."

Now I'm confused. "Um...OK. Shoot."

"Oh, just shut up and listen to me. When you and Stephen first started dating, I didn't like him, I didn't trust him, and I thought he was no good for you. I thought he was gonna keep you from becoming a dentist. So one night, after you guys had been dating for maybe a month, I got drunk with a few of the seniors on our floor and decided to call up your parents and tell them exactly how I felt. Just after midnight, I called up their house and left them a message on their answering machine, telling them that Stephen was a horrible person who smoked pot and drank too much and was a huge loser. And then I told them that you were too good for him and that they had to keep you away from him!" She pauses for a moment, out of breath after speed-talking her way through the story. "It's funny. I always thought that your parents would've brought that story up to you at some point, but I guess they never did."

Despite my lousy mood, I smile. "Um, Beth?"

"Yeah?"

"My parents have never owned an answering machine. Ever."

"Oh." A long pause follows. "So then, I wonder who got the message?"

Then we both begin to laugh hysterically.

Sorry to sound cliché here, but laughter really is the best medicine. This is such a low night in my life, but after laughing with Beth, I feel a little better. I'm not used to being single, especially since I haven't been single in six years, but I'm going to make the best of it. Besides, I'm living in Boston, where there are more cute single guys per capita than any other city in the United States. So I'm going to live it up. I'll dress up in sexy clothes. I'll wear high heels, the highest heels I can find. I'll do my hair and make-up like I've never done before. I'll hang out with my closest friends and explore this glorious city that I'm so lucky to be living in. And I will definitely taste every kind of man out there and love every last second of it.

And that, friends, is how my nickname, the Maneater, was born.