Authors: Janice Kaplan
“It was me, but I shouldn't have called,” I say, embarrassed.
“That's right,” says Berni, not mincing words. But her complaint isn't quite what I would have expected. “You shouldn't have called. You're a TV star now. And if I'm your agent, you clear all media through me.”
FOR THREE DAYS,
I'm depressed about James. I manage to keep myself going, but every evening, I eat my way through a pint (or two) of Rocky Road. On one particularly bad night, I can't sleep at all and check the TV listings at two in the morning for something to watch.
The Sorrow and the Pity
When James tracks me down on the phone, I manage to pull myself together and call on my Dr. Joyâinspired maturity to stay calm. We launch into two days of nonstop negotiations over what I'll tell Dylan, when we'll all get together, and where the big meeting is going to take place. Kate calls almost hourly, falling back into her old role as best friend and marriage counselor. Or in this case, ex-marriage counselor. She's too polite to complain about my endless whining, but by midweek, even I'm getting tired of it. Time to change the subject. So when Kate mentions that she's going to an auction at Sotheby's to buy Owen a birthday present, I offer to tag along and give her some advice. As long as she's not buying soup cans.
I arrive early and stand on the sidewalk outside of Sotheby's, waiting for Kate and watching a steady procession of art patrons going in. The men, carrying expensive T. Anthony briefcases and dressed in conservative pinstripe suits from Louis of Boston, glide confidently to the front door. The women, all outfitted in tasteful St. John summer knits, are well-heeledâliterallyâin their boring but reliable pumps. As they walk by, several glance in my direction and then quickly look down at their Ferragamos. Either they're checking that the buckles are on straight or they recognize that in my twenty-eight-dollar H & M cotton-polyester sundress, I'm not one of the club. Though frankly I think the dress is adorable.
“Your dress is adorable,” says Kate, coming up to me with a kiss a minute later and patting the full skirt admiringly. “You're so lucky that you look good in cheap clothes. I've never been able to wear them. They just don't fit.”
What a compliment. I have hips made for polyester. But how could anything not fit Kate's perfectly slim body? More likely that cheap clothes just don't fit her image. And it's just as well, since her sophisticated John Galliano suit fits like it was made for her, which it probably was.
“I've been poring over the auction catalogue,” Kate says exuberantly, as we enter the elite art emporium and walk through the intimidating granite-and-glass lobby. “I know exactly the right print to buy. Red Grooms has this huge, wild New York picture that I swear has one of Owen's buildings in it. And Grooms is Owen's favorite artist. It's perfect.”
“Sounds great,” I say, wondering where a married man hangs a litho from his lover. The bathroom? The basement? The back of the closet? Or maybe he just gives it to another girlfriend.
We head upstairs to sign in.
“You should get a paddle, just in case you want to bid,” says Kate. And while that's about as likely as George Bush giving the keynote at Planned Parenthood, I give my name and relevant information to a haughty sixtyish-year-old woman with too-pale makeup and a helmet of too-black hair. She types my vital statistics into the computer, makes two whispered phone calls and hits a few more keys on the iMac.
“Apparently your credit was approved,” she says snottily, making it very clear she personally would never give authorization to someone carrying a LeSportsac tote. Reluctantly, she hands me a paddle for bidding.
“I need a paddle, too,” Kate tells the woman. “I should be in your computer already.”
Miss High and Mighty types in Kate's name and breaks into a welcoming smile. “Ah. Dr. Steele, what a pleasure,” she says sycophantically. “Good to have you here again. I'll seat you and your friend right in the front.” And then, lowering her voice, she adds, “Perhaps after the auction, I could have a word with you about liposuction.”
I roll my eyes. Ever since Kate's name has become known, everyone wants to give her things, hoping to get a magic makeover in return. This woman apparently believes a good seat at the auction is worth a pound of fleshâsurgically removed by Kate.
We walk quickly away, stroll down a long hallway and take our second-row seats. Furtively, I practice raising and lowering my paddle. What if I sneeze, go to wipe my nose and accidentally raise the paddle by mistake? I could end up buying a Julian Schnabelâone of his broken plate paintings. I've never liked those. They remind me too much of the summer I was a waitress, which was not a thing of beauty.
Once we're seated, Kate flips through the catalogue and points out a few affordable prints that I might consider. She checks the lot number for the Red Grooms she wants and dog-ears several other pages.
The auctioneer, a debonair older man in a bow tie, ascends the podium, and the buzzing in the room quickly subsides. In cultured English-accented tones, he welcomes the audience and I immediately feel more at ease. Maybe it's because he reminds me of that guy who used to host
Bidding begins on the first few artworks and prices escalate quickly.
“Just another thousand dollars and we'll set a new price record for this,” encourages the auctioneer, peddling a Jasper Johns flag. For some reason, that inspires more spirited bidding.
“A new high!” he announces happily, when he finally bangs down his gavel, and the audience breaks into applause. Apparently, the higher the price, the happier rich people are. They brag about paying outrageous sums for private school tuition, East Side co-ops and hunks of chevre at Zabar's. Personally, I only clap my hands when things are on sale.
The auction continues, and the bidding is fierce. Though when I look around, I realize the big action comes from the nod of a head, the tapping of an index finger, or the polite semi-raising of a paddle. I'm busy trying to decide whether the man at the end of our row rubbing his forehead is making a bid or needs two Advil when there's a slight stir in the room. Miss High and Mighty herselfâor Miss H & M as I've laughingly come to think of herâcomes in a side door with a couple trailing behind her. She gets them settled in reserved seats and effusively fusses over them. Once she steps away, I try to get a good look at the tony twosome who've rated all this attention.
And then I see them.
Stunned, I spin back in my seat and grab Kate's arm. In my panic, my paddle falls to the floor with a loud thud and going to pick it up, I bang my head on the armrest and let out a small yelp.
“You okay?” Kate whispers.
“No,” I hiss, grabbing for my LeSportsac tote. “We have to leave.”
Kate looks surprised. “The Red Grooms litho is next,” she says. “We can go after that, if you want.”
I want to get out right now. And to get Kate out. Because I can't bear her noticing the couple who just walked in arm-and-arm, chattering sweetly. The cozy couple who are now seated just four rows away. Owen and his beautiful blonde wife.
Up on the stage, the large colorful Red Grooms comes out and Kate sits up in her seat. She holds her paddle tightly and gives me a little nudge.
“This is it,” she says, excitedly. “Remember, I'm relying on you. Whatever happens, don't let me go over my budget.”
“Will do,” I say. But as far as I can tell, Kate's already over budget. She's invested way too much in Owen.
The auctioneer announces the floor price and the bidding begins. It advances at hundred-dollar increments, and Kate's paddle moves up and down so quickly it looks like she's competing in the Ping-Pong Olympics. But it soon becomes clear that an equally determined opponent is vying for the Grooms. As the price escalates so does the auctioneer's enthusiasm. He seems to relish the battle, and at every bid his head bobs back and forth from Kate to her adversary, who's sitting a few rows away. Kate keeps her eyes forward, focused on the auctioneer, but I've already figured out that the woman bidding against Kate is Owen's wife. One way or another, the real estate mogul is going to get what he wants for his birthday.
“Getting close to your limit,” I murmur anxiously to Kate. “Probably time to stop.”
“One more bid,” Kate says. But when the bidding keeps creeping up, Kate doesn't quit. Like a gambler at a Las Vegas slot machine, Kate's sure she's going to hit the jackpot on the next round. Her budget be damned, she wants to win.
“You have to stop,” I entreat, as the price keeps climbing. “This is ridiculous.”
“I don't care,” she says. “I want to do this for Owen. He's worth everything to me.”
Whatever Owen's value, the picture seems to be going for a lot more than Kate expected. Her opponent blithely tops every one of Kate's bids, and it soon becomes apparent that she's not going to give in. Kate doesn't get the message until she's gone three hundred percent over her budget. Then she reluctantly puts down the paddle.
“Going once, going twice, gone!” the auctioneer announces gleefully, banging his gavel against the podium. “Sold to Mrs. Owen Hardy!”
Not used to losing, Kate doesn't register the name for a moment. But then it hits her and she turns ashen. She looks at me in shock, then half leaps out of her seat, turning around in disbelief.
“Owen?” she blurts out, catching the eye of the man for whom just a moment ago she was willing to break the bank.
The powerful Owen Hardy, known for his negotiating skills with the toughest unions in New York, has only one response when caught between his wife and his lover. He looks embarrassed and offers Kate a little shrug.
Kate sits down, not looking to make a scene. But there's some murmuring around the audience and a few people crane their necks to try to see the woman who called out Owen's name.
“Come on, let's go,” I say, tugging at her sleeve.
“No,” says Kate resolutely. “If someone's going to leave, it's not going to be me.”
I sit back. I was secretly hoping the sight of Owen and his wife together might bring Kate to her senses. Make her realize that the marriage isn't quite as finished as Owen hinted. Instead, Kate's more determined than ever. She straightens her back, squares her shoulders and flips her hair. The color even returns to her cheeks. “I'm not skulking out of here. We're going to say hello to them.”
We are? What else are we going to say? That side exit's looking pretty good to me right now. But as soon as the auction is finished, Kate tucks her arm firmly around mine and heads us toward her married mogul.
“Hello, Owen,” Kate says calmly, smiling at him.
“Oh hello, Kate,” he says. With his girlfriend standing next to his wife, his voice rises an octave higher than I remember.
Kate doesn't wait to be introduced. She extends her hand to his wife. “Hi, I'm Kate Steele.”
“Tess Hardy,” the elegant blonde replies, shaking Kate's hand. I'm just hoping the eight-carat rock Tess has on her fourth finger doesn't pierce Kate's palm. “So how do you and my husband know each other?”
comes to mind. As does,
In the biblical sense.
Although I seem to remember God had something to say about this subject. He came down against it.
“Kate's my dermatologist,” Owen says, his usually booming voice now approaching high C.
Kate Steele,” Tess says, turning to Kate with new admiration. Then she furrows her brow and frowns disapproving at Owen. “You go to a dermatologist? You never told me that.”
So the woman gets upset if her husband doesn't reveal everything. I can't wait until Tess finds out that not mentioning doctor visits isn't Owen's only sin of omission. Or his only sin.
“I don't go often,” Owen says defensively, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
“What do you do there?” Tess asks him, not letting up.
Good question. I've been curious about the same thing myself.
Now Owen and Kate lock eyes. And I notice an amused little smile dancing on Kate's lips.
“Peel,” Kate says playfully.
Tess hesitates, then comes to her own conclusion.
“Those lunchtime peels are supposed to be wonderful,” she says, stroking Owen's cheek. “You've been glowing lately. Now I know why.”
Yes, the glow does have something to do with Kate. And with peeling. But not in the way Tess imagines.
Just then a young blue-blazered Sotheby assistant taps Tess on the shoulder and asks her to come take care of the paperwork for buying the Grooms.
“Of course,” Tess says. And then turning to Kate, she adds, “You put up quite a fight for that picture. But I had to get it. Owen wanted it for his birthday.”
Tess goes off with the attendant, and as soon as they're out of sight, Owen takes Kate's hand. “I'm sorry. I had no idea you'd be here,” he says.
“Not your fault,” Kate says forgivingly.
Not his fault? As far as I can tell, all of this is his fault. Everything's his fault. Including acid rain.
“You're an incredible woman. I really do love you,” he says, happy to be off the hook. He gives her hand a tight squeeze, then lets go in the name of discretion.
“I love you, too,” Kate says.
“I know,” Owen says, grinning. “You must love me. You wanted to buy that lithograph for me, didn't you?”
“I want to do a lot of things for you,” Kate teases, letting Owen fantasize for himself about what she might have in mind.
Owen gives her a hug, and they rapidly make a date to meet the next afternoon. Kate triumphantly leads me out of Sotheby's and I'm steaming as we stroll down York Avenue.
“Do you finally get it?” I ask Kate, wondering if the day made any impression on her. “Owen has a wife. And you've got a problem.”
But Kate just shrugs. “Only problem I see is what to get him for his birthday now.”
“A card would be too good for him,” I say.
“Don't be like that,” Kate says. “Owen loves me. He's just in a tough situation. He hasn't made his separation official yet, but at this point it's just semantics. Nobody's going to get hurt. He and his wife lead separate lives. They're friends but they haven't had sex in years. They even belong to different country clubs.”