Authors: Nancy Martin
“The blizzard’s getting worse,” Grace Vanderbine said into her cell phone. “And my hotel is throwing me out into the snow. Suddenly I’m a Dickens character, Nora. I have nowhere to go.”
“Except onto a plane,” said the calm voice in her ear. “Grace, you’re scheduled for three events here in Philadelphia tomorrow, and you can’t miss them. Not if your book is going to be a hit. So pull on your big girl panties, darling, and get yourself to the airport by dog sled if necessary. You have a plane to catch.”
Grace groaned at the prospect of flying on such a stormy night. Her courage was hanging by a thread. “I’ve lost my confidence. Why did I ever agree to update Mama’s book? I loved the writing, but now that I have to
Dear Miss Vanderbine on the book tour, I can’t do it. I’m just not cut out to be a public figure. Mama’s going to kill me. And I hate airplanes more than anything.”
“I recall, last week you hated gyms more than anything.” There was laughter in Nora’s voice. “But you’re right. Your mother’s going to kill you if you quit this tour. And I was her daughter-in-law long enough to know she can be a complete dragon when she chooses—a very nice dragon, let me add, but still a fire-breather. So how are we going to restore your confidence? In a day, please, because tomorrow you have to act like a star.”
Grace perched herself on a chair in the lobby of the Pittsburgh Renaissance hotel, fully aware she was letting the pressure and a little weather turn her into a drama queen. Clutching her smart phone to her ear, she shot a nervous glance out the hotel’s front window at the natural disaster growing outside. City buses were at a standstill. Snow was piling up faster than the doorman could shovel it off the sidewalk. There were no cabs to be found, and the limousine the hotel had called for her hours ago was probably floating down the Ohio River on an ice floe with polar bears perched on its hood.
Around her in the lobby, frantic guests were either checking out to beat the storm or despondently trying to check in for the duration of the predicted snowfall. If the blasted limousine didn’t hurry, Grace was going to be stranded, too, and then the publicity department at the publishing house would be furious. Well, not
exactly, but Grace knew rescheduling these television appearances and press interviews while coordinating the local release of books was like asking Hannibal to please hold the elephants halfway up the Alps.
All Grace wanted to do was go home, climb into bed and pull the covers up over her head for as long as it took to forget she had taken on something far, far beyond her comfort zone. But home was a plane ride away, and if she gave up the book tour this early there would be financial disaster to face and worse--Mama’s disappointment.
“I’m whining,” Grace said. “Who said whining is middle class?”
“The scary grandmother in Downton Abbey. But she might have stolen the line from your mom.” Voice softening, Nora said, “I know this is all new to you, Grace. It must be very difficult. You’re allowed to whine a little.”
“Whining is boring. I’m officially a bore.”
On the phone, Grace’s sister-in-law, Nora Blackbird, tried to change the subject. “How did the TV thing go today?”
Grace made an effort to calm herself. “That’s my problem. They didn’t throw me off the set, but that might have ended the torture. I did the tea party table manners routine, but my hands were shaking. I dropped a finger sandwich into the interviewer’s lap, and she thought it was a giant bug and had a screaming on-air meltdown. I didn’t know what she was screaming about, so I jumped up onto my chair, and the cameraman got a great shot of my underwear. There were calls to the station. Not good calls, Nora. Men who live with their mothers called to breathe heavily with the station switchboard person, who said it was the most excitement she’d had in years.”
Nora was laughing too hard to respond.
“I’m not cut out to be a polite, good-manners lady on television. And, honestly,
? Nora, does anybody have tea parties anymore? I feel like a dinosaur.”
“I attend tea parties regularly,” Nora said. “Mostly when my aunts want to lecture me about upholding the family name. I bet you handled it just fine---got down off the chair and finished the interview? And you looked perfect, too, didn’t you?”
A book tour was all about being famously selfish, Grace had been assured by her mother, who flogged books for years on the rugged publicity trail. A bestselling author was treated like royalty, Mama said. She spent afternoons in spas, evenings at lavish dinners, and slept in luxurious hotel beds so she could be dewy fresh for a boisterous morning tangle with the ladies of The View. A celebrity whose every whim was swiftly granted by an eager staff—that’s what Mama promised Grace could become.
But those days were long gone, Grace quickly discovered. Nowadays, authors dragged their own luggage until they were sweaty and disheveled, and they were lucky if they could find a bathroom to touch up their own makeup before a sixty-second television appearance squeezed between a weather report and a trained monkey. Radio interviews with jokey shock jocks who hadn’t read the book made Grace feel uncomfortable, and when ditsy booksellers admitted to forgetting to order copies for her signings, Grace was the one who felt like apologizing. Mama had made selling books sound like the most fun in the world, but Grace was only a few days into her first campaign and already she wanted to slink home in surrender.
Grace hadn’t really believed Mama about being selfish. Not until that very moment—hearing the strain in Nora’s voice for the first time—did Grace realize she’d been not just whining but talking about herself non-stop for three days. She felt a blush coming on.
“I looked perfect thanks to you,” she said to Nora, summoning her first genuinely gracious remark since the tour started. “I appreciate you lending me the clothes for this trip, Nora. I just wish the clothes made the woman.”
“Today was one little setback. You’ve had your confidence shaken, that’s all. But you have just as much personality as your mother, and I bet you’ll learn to have fun with the etiquette stuff very soon. You’re going to sell tons of books and make the new Dear Miss Vanderbine all your own.”
Funny how it was Nora doing the consoling these days. Months back when the re-launch of Mama’s book was little more than a glimmer in the eye of her publisher, Grace had decided to ask Nora Blackbird for help in the hopes of pulling Nora out from under the cloud of grief she’d been living under for the past year. Nora’s husband Todd had been killed last winter, and she was still suffering the loss.
Of course, Todd had been Grace’s own ne’er-do-well brother, and Grace was also frequently overcome by storms of her own sorrow for the loss of the boy who used to throw her sneakers in the lake. But Grace had work and family to haul her out of the doldrums. She had thrown herself into revising Mama’s bestseller for the modern age, and a year after Todd’s death, she was feeling almost normal. Everybody was worried that Nora might not recover, though. She was still looking pale and thin and prone to uncharacteristic moods. Giving Nora something constructive to do with her time and talents had sounded like a win-win proposition to everyone. Nora was busy again, and Grace benefitted from Nora’s impeccable fashion sense, not to mention her Old School contacts among the kind of movers and shakers who could help a new author get a foothold.
But sometimes Grace thought Nora might have been the better choice to take over the popular and still lucrative franchise of
Miss Vanderbine’s Modern Manners
. But Grace didn’t think she could become the Dear Miss Vanderbine people seemed to expect. Nora would have handled this part with more grace.
Grace said, “You’re better suited to this role than I am, Nora.”
Ever supportive, Nora said, “Nonsense. Listen, yesterday’s Wall Street Journal featured an article about successful businessmen and how they need good manners as much as an MBA. I’ve been thinking. When your mother was Dear Miss Vanderbine, she wore white gloves and handled tea pots. But the corporate angle might suit you better.”
“There is a chapter in the book about business etiquette,” Grace murmured.
“And it’s a good one. Let’s talk more about it when you get here. Tonight, though, hustle yourself to the airport, do you hear me? Even if you have to fly the plane yourself, you need to keep going on this tour.”
“Okay, okay. Thanks for the pep talk.”
“Call any time you need a kick in the tushie,” Nora said.
With a rush of affection, Grace laughed and said good-bye. Dear Nora.
“Miss Vanderbine?” The hotel’s assistant manager approached with the sideways scuttle of an anxious crab. He was a perspiring young man who had been assigned to keeping the visiting author happy, and although Grace didn’t really pay attention to how people behaved, this poor fellow tried very hard to mind his p’s and q’s for Miss Vanderbine.
He was looking relieved at last, Grace saw, which was a good sign. She tucked her phone into her oversized handbag---an expensive classic on loan from Nora--and rose from the chair with all the Dear Miss Vanderbine poise she could muster. “You’re about to get rid of me, aren’t you, Mr. Sansone?”
The young man smiled nervously and reached for her luggage. “Yes, miss. I mean—yes, ma’am. Er—”
“Call me Grace. After all, you’ve seen my underwear, so we know each other well enough.”
The assistant manager had accidentally confessed to seeing Grace’s morning interview, and now he laughed, relieved that she could joke about it. “Yes, ma’am. This way. We’re terribly sorry for the delay. We’ve paid your fare already, compliments of the hotel. If you’ll allow me….”
He carried her luggage through the heavy plate glass door, and Grace pulled on her white fur hat as she followed him to the limousine. Instantly, however, the whipping wind made her big hat slip down over one eye, and she was temporarily blinded. With one hand going to rescue the hat, her precariously high heels slipped on the ice, and Grace lurched to grab Mr. Sansone’s arm. She steadied herself, feeling almost as ridiculous as when she’d flashed her undies to the television audience.
Through a fresh blast of snow, the driver bounded around the hood of the black limousine. He was pounding something between his tattered sheepskin gloves. His large hands were the first thing Grace saw as she arrived at the curbside. The rest of him was enormous, too. He positively loomed over her. Grace pushed her hat back, craned her head up and tried to guess how tall he was.
“Hey,” he said, giving her the grin of a boy delighted to be playing in the snow. “Cold enough for you?”
“Ms. Vanderbine is in quite a hurry,” said the assistant manager. “You’re hours late already—”
“There’s a storm going on, pal,” the driver said cheerily, “in case you didn’t notice.”
Then he threw a snowball and hit the hotel employee squarely in the chest. He’d been packing the snow as he came around the car.
Instead of bursting into outrage, Mr. Sansone dropped Grace’s suitcases and crowed. “Hey, Laser! I didn’t recognize you, man. How you doing?”
“I’m freezing my ass off, as a matter of fact. What’s the hold-up?”
He was six feet three or more, Grace guessed, with the powerful build of a longshoreman and the quickness of a teenager. He wore a gigantic sheepskin parka, huge boots that left waffle prints in the snow, and a black and gold knit cap pulled tightly down around his ears against the cold. Towering over the inadequately dressed Mr. Sansone, he exuded not only the threat of sheer size, but also an embarrassing amount of common sense.
Tartly, Grace said, “The hold-up is you. We can get going as soon as you stop clowning around.”
He spun on her, good humor evident. “Clowning, huh? Who died and made you a stick in the mud? Hey, nice hat. You headed to Siberia later?”
Grace backed up a step, sure he was going to throw a snowball her way.
But her shoe slipped on the ice again. In another second, she would have been upside down with her legs in the air, and the few people in the city who hadn’t already seen the color of her panties would have gotten quite the close-up. Definitely not the right kind of position for Dear Miss Vanderbine.