Authors: Teresa Toten
“At first blush it seems a rather
decision, and we must always be alert for that. You’ve been exceedingly careful in your actions over the past few months.” Dr. Tamblyn paused and tented his fingers, classic old-school shrink. “I do concede, however, that it may also be an indicator of growing confidence. Perhaps a positive signal.”
What an old lady he was. But she’d been going to Tamblyn since forever, and he was so pleasingly pliable. So Olivia kept the dial-downs to herself. He would have rained on that party too. “Party,” she sighed. The Wonders had agreed to go to Claudette Zimmerman’s tomorrow. Claudette was a mouth-breather, as was her older sister before her, but the Zimmermans knew how to throw a party. The Wonders had made a group decision to attend in head-to-toe knockoffs for a laugh. At least that part would be amusing.
Kate said that she had them covered. “Leave it to me, kemosabe. Tell Anka no dinner tonight. We’re heading to Chinatown.”
That evening, Olivia and Kate scoured the stalls like pros, which meant that Kate whipped Olivia in and out of vendors at lightning speed. She grabbed Olivia’s hand at the very first stall. “Never the stuff in the front,” she insisted, pulling her straight to the owner in the back. “Greetings, Kumar!” Then Kate drew him in and whispered, “We need two Rodartes, size 4.”
Kumar looked stricken. “Party frocks, right? I have fabulous Cavallis.”
“Ooooooh!” said Olivia.
“Wrong vibe.” And with that, Kate dragged her out of that store and into a dozen others.
“Is, uh, are these things legal?” Olivia was stroking a Hermès bag.
Kate shrugged. “Not so much. Some of it falls off the back of a truck, but most of these are knockoffs. People gotta get by however they get by. Let it go, Olivia.”
And she did. Her friend was a pit bull. Olivia had sensed that about Kate from the start, admired it, was intrigued by it. The girl was a class A survivor. Olivia needed to be around such fierce will. She would listen, learn, observe. And one day, the pupil would surpass the master.
Chinatown was total chaos on Friday night. The streets would have done Hong Kong proud. They were rendered nearly immobile with swarming shoppers, hawkers, mothers with babies, old men with bundle buggies and shady-looking sharp guys. Everybody smoked. Music blared and pulsed out of the stalls and stores. All the screeching, cackling and guttural noises scraped Olivia’s ears. Twinkle lights, bare lightbulbs, lanterns and neon store signs assaulted her eyes, while the competing aromas of Peking duck, dried fish and rotting fruit threatened her nostrils.
She loved it!
Olivia loved the buzz gathering deep inside her, and she remembered just how much she had loved
that way, before. It was Kate’s doing.
“Hey, roomie,” she called. “I’m going to fall over unless we eat soon. We’ve got the dresses. Me hungry now!”
Her friend was deep into the vendor’s stall, heading toward the back door. “Cho has the best fake Jimmy Choos in Chinatown.” Kate beckoned to her. “Shoes, then food. Promise.”
In keeping with the illogic of the neighborhood, they ended up in the “Very Best Chinese Restaurant in the City,” which you had to be a secret agent to find. There was no signage whatsoever. They entered through a deserted little mall and took an elevator to the third floor. The elevator doors opened directly onto a massive banquet hall that was swathed in gold drapery and red braiding à la 1986. The place was teeming with locals—kids, babies, grandparents and all manner of extended families. Kate seemed to be on friendly terms with a maître d’ who did not speak a word of English. The girls ate like emperors for $11.99. It was the best meal of Olivia’s life. Her father would have loved it. But where were they? If Kate left her in this rabbit’s warren, she’d never find her way back. She couldn’t remember seeing any taxis.
“So”—Kate raised her green tea—“brilliant?” It had become their code for “Did I nail it?”
Olivia raised her cup too. “Mega brilliant, and our secret, right?”
“To the first of many.”
They clinked teacups.
“Come on.” Kate started gathering up their considerable stash of bags and boxes. “One more place. We should bring Anka some mangoes.”
It seemed like Kate was scanning the street on the way.
“What are you looking for?”
“Nothing.” Kate shook her head. “There used to be this guy from a bakery…nothing.”
Olivia frowned at the store that Kate was pulling her toward.
The signage proudly declared that it was Chen’s Chinese Market and Apothecary in both English and Chinese script. Even though it was after ten p.m., it was still crammed with shoppers. Clearly oblivious to her friend’s hesitation, Kate threaded them deep into the store.
“Mrs. Chen? Mrs. Chen?” Kate waved at someone. “There she is!” A wretched-looking little woman in a blindingly white apron started toward them. A near smile shifted into hostile suspicion as soon as she spied Olivia. She examined her as if trying to place her. Kate then surprised Olivia by hugging the creature. “Mrs. Chen, this is my best friend in the world, Olivia Sumner. Olivia, this was my…uh, my boss. I worked here. This is the place!”
The best Olivia could manage was a “Wow, hey.”
“Olivia is like a sister to me, Mrs. Chen.”
“I’m pleased to meet you, Mrs. Chen.”
“Ha.” The old woman grimaced. Olivia took an instant dislike to her.
It seemed to be mutual.
“I’m living with Olivia uptown, near the school. It’s wonderful. I’m very happy now. Very.”
Kate seemed to be looking for applause that she clearly was not going to get from this dried-up twig. Olivia was tired. The whirl of the night had caught up to her. The bags were heavy and her arms ached. It was time to go.
“We need to buy some mangoes, Mrs. Chen, for Olivia’s housekeeper.”
“Ha.” The woman barked something, and in the midst of that throng, a box of Alphonso mangoes appeared out of nowhere and was thrust into Kate’s already-too-full arms. “Present.” Then she narrowed her eyes at Olivia.
Not dislike, Olivia hated this woman.
“Kate”—Mrs. Chen leaned into her—“that girl…”
The din from the crowd was so loud that Olivia didn’t hear the rest, but she did hear Kate’s sunny reply: “She’s a very, very good friend to me, Mrs. Chen.”
Mrs. Chen grunted. “You still got number?”
Kate frowned and then nodded. The old woman turned and left without so much as a good-bye.
Kate flashed Olivia a “what are ya gonna do?” smile. “Don’t mind her,” she said. “For months I thought she hated my guts. It’s just her way.”
Olivia thought she was smiling, but she couldn’t be sure. She got sloppy when she was tired. She’d sometimes think she had her “outside” expression on and then she’d catch a glimpse of herself, stunned to see a lovely blond girl looking like she was dead inside. She put down her parcels and rummaged through her purse.
“Okay, partner,” said Kate. “Time to move up and out. I’ll get us to the main drag and we’ll hail a cab. I’m wiped.”
“Me too!” agreed Olivia.
Kate started heading for the street, and Olivia turned back in time to catch Mrs. Chen watching her.
“Brilliant night, roomie?” Kate called back to her.
Olivia nodded. “Beyond brilliant!” And then she dry-swallowed an Ativan.
Claudette had all the personality of a bag of hair, but she knew how to stage a party, I’ll give her that. It was like an anti-Halloween party. Pretty much everyone was dressed to the nines. She’d also built a nice two-to-one ratio of private to public boys. This pissed off the Rigby and St. Joseph guys hugely, but it made them work harder. Genius, really.
We Wonders arrived together in Olivia’s car service. Everyone squealed as soon as we opened the door, mainly because no one had seen Olivia at a party in almost a year, but also because the sharp-eyed but dull-witted Claudette immediately screamed, “Superb knockoffs!” We posed hard, working our polyester like Lagerfeld was in the house.
What can I say? We made an entrance.
Before we scattered to conquer various parts of the scene, Olivia grabbed my arm. “Two things. First, note that Claudette is wearing brand-new Louboutins. It’s her downfall. She tries
too hard. Second, don’t leave me hanging, okay? I’m rusty.”
I squeezed her hand in a promise before I started wandering and hugging and exclaiming over everyone’s party couture.
As soon as Olivia departed, Claudette glommed on to me. “You look adorable, Kate.”
“Thanks, you too,” I gushed. “Fabulous shoes, Claudette. Really.” She was sucking back a green apple martini that was not her first, by the looks of her. The festivities were being held in her father’s limestone on Ninety-Fifth in Carnegie Hill. Completely unbidden, Claudette launched into a review of the party prep. Suffice to say that everything had been meticulously seen to, including the two bartenders, her sister’s best dope connection, her dad’s caterer, a hot DJ, and a security man stationed in her dad’s bedroom and waiting to pounce if things went south.
“Smart. An off-duty cop?” I asked.
“No,” she sighed. “It’s Chris, my dad’s personal guy.”
Wow. Aside from surviving multiple marriages, I couldn’t imagine what her old man had done to deserve
security. Rich people were another species.
“Cool,” I said.
Claudette warmed to me more with every sip of her drink. “Well, all sorts of crap happens at these things, and not just because of the mix.” She eyed some of the public boys through her monster mink lashes. “My sister, Rachel, said that some weird stuff went down at a few parties last year. You take your chances with public-private.”
“Yeah, places get trashed everywhere no matter what the mix, though. It’s a timeless rite of passage for the brain-dead.” I surveyed the town house. Claudette and I were with a few dozen kids on the open-concept first floor; the second bar and DJ were on the level below. Unlike Olivia’s father, Claudette’s dad came from the “more is more” school of decorating. Every single item called attention to itself.
Look at me—I am crazy expensive!
“Some kids just run wild out of the blue.” She waved her hand around for emphasis. “Like our dear Olivia. My sister said that she was on quite a tear for a while.”
“Yeah, we’ve laughed about that,” I lied.
“Wish I could have seen it.” She sighed into her drink. “Then a few weeks later the party queen disappears and reappears this year as the ice queen. No rumors with any decent traction either, although Rachel did say that ice queen was more her MO as a junior and sophomore.”
You could tell that Claudette would give her left arm to be considered an ice queen. Meanwhile, I was wondering if that was when Olivia had met the bad boy. Did he goad her on at parties? “Yeah, strange stuff happens. Hormones. Whaddya gonna do?” I was glad for the info but felt I had to put her back in her place. “I hear your sister is doing really well in rehab.”
“Yeah, for sure.” Claudette blinked at me happily. I swear, the girl’s most distinguishing feature was her benign stupidity. “Hey, I really appreciate you girls making an appearance. I know it’s the first party you’ve come to. I’m, like, so totally flattered.”
I bathed Claudette in a few more compliments before extricating myself. Where was my ice queen?
Serena and Morgan were by the bar. It looked as if they were trying to explain some nuclear drink recipe to the bartender. Three Rigby boys were cheering them on. Olivia must have gone downstairs. When I turned to find the stairs or the elevator, or whatever they had in this place, I was accosted by a guy in a black T-shirt and black jeans.
Jesus. It was the bakery boy.
He was carrying a Michelob Ultra, which he promptly thrust into my hand.
“I’ve been scoping you out for almost an hour. You don’t look like the green apple martini type.”
How dare he? How dare he think that—especially since he was right. I hated pretending that I loved Chablis and fancy cocktails. I was so furious, I could taste the fillings in my mouth. “What are
“Same as you, I’m guessing.” Wicked smile. “Except I’m here as local color, and to make the private school boys nervous.”
So he wasn’t stupid.
At least three girls were tracking him. Bakery boy was a wow, and way worse, he so knew it. I tried to center myself. It was all so heart-thumpingly bizarre. How much did he know? How much could he blow? I didn’t get any threatening vibes off him, but you could never be sure. “So I look like the light beer type?”
He ignored that. “I’ve missed you at the Chens’. Just as I was calling up the balls to ask you out for a coffee, you disappeared.” He looked around the room. “You’ve moved up and on, I take it.”
I ignored that. “Yes, I’ve been at Waverly since September. Olivia Sumner is my best friend, and I live with her.” I was smiling but I said it through clenched teeth.
He shook his head. “Okay, if that’s how you want it. Let me introduce myself—I’m Johnny.”
He extended his hand and I put the beer bottle right back in it. “Johnny? No one names their kid Johnny anymore.”