Authors: Janice Kaplan
“The hunk I discovered working in a Santa Monica car wash. He had his shirt on but I could still recognize his talent. Now he plays Dr. Lance Lovett on that medical soap opera. You know the oneâ
Days of Our Knives.
“Then let's go,” I say, jumping up. Even a sweaty car on Metro North would be more appealing than this Arctic igloo. The place feels like the set for
The Day After Tomorrow.
Now that I know global warming makes the world colder, I might stop using hair spray.
Consuela comes in with the hood on her parka pulled up tightly now, carrying a silver tray. “Hot chocolate?” she offers, holding out steaming mugs.
“Thanks, Consuela, but we're going out,” I say, trying to stifle a laugh.
“Right,” says Berni. She gets up and looks longingly one more time at the Victoria's Secret catalogue before tossing it into the wastebasket.
Berni and I hop on the train and arrive at Grand Central Station in the advertised thirty-eight minutes. We head down to a huge studio loft by the Hudson River, where dozens of photo assistants, lighting assistants, and cappuccino-fetching assistants are all busily scurrying around. At the center of the activity is a beautiful dark-skinned girl with multicolored hair wearing a tight white sparkly dress.
“That's Eve,” Berni whispers to me. “Very happening rap star.”
But what's happening with Berni right now is that she's already exhausted and goes across the studio to sit down. I stay mesmerized where I am, watching in fascination as Eve poses in the light box, three feet from the photographer. Her skin glistens and a makeup artist rushes to dust her face with powder and polish her arms and shoulders.
“Is this the place for the Sexy Stars?” someone behind me asks in a deep, masculine voice.
I turn around, and find myself looking into a chiseled face framed by blond, spiky hair. “Apparently,” I say. The hunky guy in front of me is broad shouldered and muscular. When he gives a little smile, his liquid-blue eyes twinkle.
“Are you one of the stars in the photo shoot, too?” he asks, flashing a bright grin.
“I'm . . . I'm . . .” apparently I'm stuttering. “I'm just a friend,” I say, collecting myself.
“Sorry, I thought you were one of the sexy stars,” he says.
The man must have a PhD. from the George Clooney Charm School. But I find myself smiling.
Just then he spots Berni, who's sprawled in a canvas-backed director's chair.
“You're here!” he says, rushing over and throwing his arms around her. “And you look fabulous!”
Berni waves her arm dismissively but still looks pleased. What is it about a handsome guy slinging a compliment? Even fake flattery is a better mood enhancer than two Zolofts and an Entenmann's coffee cake.
I come over to join Berni and she quickly introduces me to Kirk.
“We've already met,” Kirk says, smiling and turning to me. “Sorry if I'm a little sweaty. I didn't get to the gym today so I power-walked over from the set of
Power walking usually means going fastâbut with a soap star, it could mean he got to walk with the director.
Kirk's supposed to be next up with the photographer. The frazzled wardrobe mistressâdressed in a silver Mylar micromini layered over tutti-frutti tightsâcomes over and, completely ignoring Berni and me, grabs him by the arm.
“We have to get you into some clothes,” she says hurriedly, pointing across the studio to the five wardrobe racks she has ready for him.
“Aren't these clothes?” Kirk asks, holding out his faded black T-shirt. “My favorite jeans. I'll just wear these.”
Seems like he's a regular guy with no posse and no pretentions. I like that. But the wardrobe mistress doesn't.
“No jeans. No T-shirts. No black,” she says, ruling out just about everything that Kirk probably owns. “We have to make you look sexy.”
That shouldn't be hard. Is the woman blind? Nature already took care of it. Still, Kirk amiably agrees to follow the wardrobe mistress to her racks across the room. Though given the way she's dressed, I wouldn't let her outfit a Barbie.
“You go, too,” Berni tells me, sighing. “I can't move. Make sure he looks good.”
Since there's no dressing room, Kirk strips down to his gray spandex Calvin Kleins and begins flicking through the clothes. While he's checking out Armani, Versace and some pretty cool Hugo Boss, I'm checking out his well-cut abs. Much better than Patrolman Pete's. I sure have seen a lot of nearly naked men lately. And I don't even watch Bravo.
Kirk holds up a buttery-soft brown leather jacket. “Do you like this one?” he asks, slipping it on over his bare chest and skivvies.
“It's great!” I say, thinking it looks particularly good without pants. Kirk could single-handedly destroy Seventh Avenue since the less he wears, the better he looks.
Berni suddenly appears behind me and clutches my arm.
“Water,” she says in a hoarse whisper.
I turn around and notice beads of perspiration dripping down her forehead. “Let me get you some,” I say. “There's some Pellegrino over there.”
“Not that kind of water,” Berni says, looking like she might pass out.
“I don't like Pellegrino either. Too many bubbles,” Kirk says, digging into his backpack for his private stash. “Hereâtry my Vitamin Water.”
“I don't need vitamins. I need an ambulance,” Berni moans. “Water. My water broke.”
“Oh my god!” I scream. I look around wildly, trying to remember what I'm supposed to do. Call the doctor? Call her husband? Call Pratesi to see if the damn layette ever came in? But the nearly naked Kirk is quickly at her side.
“Let me help. I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV,” he says calmly, putting his arm around Berni and ushering us all toward the exit.
“Are you going to deliver her right here?” I ask, ever more panicked.
“No, I'm going to deliver her to the hospital,” Kirk says with a smile. He pulls on a pair of pants, exchanges a few quick words with one of the photo assistants and by the time we get downstairs, a cab is waiting. We all pile into the backseat.
“Let's time those contractions,” Kirk says as the driver speeds off, diving through a few potholes and scoring a near miss with a pedestrian. “How far apart are they?”
That mellifluous voice in a doctorâor in this case, an actorâis a real plus. With one of Kirk's big, strong arms around her Berni seems to relax. When the contractions come, he talks her through the breathe-in breathe-out that everyone forgets in the crunch. In between, he has her laughing and licking a lollipop that he has with him. “Part of the actor's emergency kit,” he explains. “Keeps your lips moist at auditions.”
By the time we get to the hospital, Berni's forgotten that Kirk's medical license came with his SAG card, and she's more than a little disappointed when the nurse wants to call in a certified MD.
“Kirk's doing fine,” Berni argues. “Six months on that soap and he can deal with anything. Can the obstetricians around here do a heart transplant? Separate Siamese twins? Has any one of them ever brought a cadaver in the morgue back to life? Because Kirk has.”
Berni's so passionate, she's even got me convinced that Kirk's the man for the job. But the nurse decides otherwise. She gives Kirk a lascivious glance, but in the end professionalism gets the better of her. Either that, or his bare chest under the leather jacket is undercutting Kirk's authority.
“It's okay, Berni,” Kirk says, giving her a kiss on the cheek as the nurse prepares to wheel her to the maternity floor. “Delivering twins is easy. So easy, we never do less than triplets on the show.”
“The show,” calls out Berni, suddenly remembering that she has at least five minutes left as an agent before she turns into a full-time mom. “As soon as I'm finished here, I'll call the producer. From now on, you don't deliver anything less than quints.”
I STAY WITH BERNI
for close to an hour until her husband Aidan rushes in, holding a bedraggled bunch of daisies he obviously picked up at a Korean market on his way, and the Kate Spade overnight bag that Berni had packed for the hospital weeks ago.
“How are you?” Aidan asks, kissing Berni and stroking his hand across her brow. “Sorry it took me so long. I left the edit studio as soon as you called. But I was way downtown and the guy at the garage had jammed ten other cars in front of mine.” He pauses, flustered, trying to figure out what he's supposed to say now. Unlike Kirk, he's not working from a script. “Anyway, wish I got here faster.”
“Maybe you can get these babies moving a little faster,” Berni wails, shifting from one side to the other, unable to find a comfortable position. “When the hell am I getting the epidural?”
“Soon,” Aidan says patronizingly, stroking her forehead again and trying to distract her from the clicking monitors, the clucking nurses and the contractions that are coming closer and closer together. “Very soon.”
“How do you know?” Berni asks, agitated. “You just got here.”
Aidan looks at me, and I can see he's at a loss. So I chime in.
“Good news,” I say cheerfully. “The doctor says the labor's going well. Right now it looks like it'll be a natural delivery. No C-section.”
“How's that good news?” Berni roars. “I'm forty-two already. I don't have much time. The least they could do is get these babies out of me. Isn't anybody going to do any work around here but me?”
“I've been working on the movie,” Aidan says defensively, trying to elevate cutting a film to the same league as cutting the umbilical cord. “And guess what? The set designer offered to come by the hospital and feng shui the room. He said not to deliver before he gets here.”
“I'll just hang on until he can rearrange the furniture and paint the door red,” Berni says irritably.
“He said he wouldn't charge us,” Aidan says, as if the bargain will ease the pain. “Volunteered his services.”
“Well I didn't mean to volunteer mine,” Berni screams at her husband. “I don't want to do this anymore. In fact, I'm not sure why I agreed in the first place. If you ever want more babies you can do the whole thing in a test tube. Or find somebody else. Preferably somebody with wider hips.”
Aidan resists making the obvious point that at the moment, when it comes to size, Berni's hips are unsurpassed. Instead, he squeezes her hand and gives her another kiss. Thank goodness for Lamaze class. It teaches women how to count their breaths during labor and teaches men how to count to ten during their wives' predictable rants.
“I'm here for you, honey,” Aidan says. “Fifteen hours, twenty hours, however long it takes. I'm yours.”
I worry that Berni's reaction to the time line will blow the roof off the place, but instead, she sighs and puts both hands into Aidan's. “I'm glad you're with me,” she concedes. “This could be a long night. How many years have we been married? Twelve? I hope you have a few stories left I haven't heard.”
He laughs. “It's not going to be so bad. The whole thing's like directing a movie. Long hours and a lot of junk food, but it doesn't matter because you create something great.”
I'm hoping Berni's delivery doesn't end up at the Loew's Cineplex or in reruns on TNT. But Berni seems happy to think of herself as Orson Welles in a maternity gown. She looks into Aidan's eyes and lies back peacefully. Given the way the contractions have been going, I'm figuring her bliss could last another four minutes and twenty-seven seconds.
Before time runs out, I blow Berni a kiss and tell her I'm heading out. There's not much more I can do around here unless the feng shui guy arrives and needs help hanging crystals and spreading his good chi.
“You've been great, Sara,” Berni says, giving me a feeble smile. “You're a terrific friend. Thanks for getting me here.”
“Actually, I'm the one who got you here.” Aidan laughs, rubbing her belly. “But Sara, you really are great. Once the babies are born, you'll be our first call.”
“Second call,” Berni says. “Right after the admissions office at Yale.”
Outside in the fresh air, happy to be alive and not in labor, I turn my cell phone back on. The signs in the hospital had warned that making calls would interfere with vital equipment. Oh, please. Millions of dollars' worth of monitors and EKG machines are going to be screwed up by my twenty-buck Nokia? Just how much faith can you have in a hi-tech ICU if it doesn't know the difference between a call coming in and a patient on his way out?
Three text messages are waiting for me, all from Kate. One insists I call immediately. The second gives an address where I should meet her. The third sounds an alarm. “Emergency! Get here right away!” and gives a few words of explanation. As a doctor, Kate is trained to recognize a traumatic situationâand she's certainly in the midst of one right now. No woman should have to face buying a tankini on her own.
I walk briskly over to meet her at Sunshine Beach, the famous bathing suit boutique where you can get less fabric for more money than anywhere else in New York. I push through the fingerprint-free glass doorâsomebody must be on Windex duty 24/7âand gingerly step inside. The store is so chic that I've heard Winona Ryder has given up Saks to shoplift here exclusively. The music is blaring, the lights are white-hot, and so many mirrors are scattered at different angles in the room you'd think someone was trying to solar-power a rocket to Mars. Preening in front of those mirrors is a gaggle of model-beautiful customers, all long-haired, long-legged, and short on flaws.
I sigh and turn away. These are not my people. The whole scene is enough to convince me that the only reasonable place to try on a bathing suit is in a dark cave far, far away from the other villagers. Or to buy one online late at night while eating Mallomars. Sure, you can use the Internet for research, communication, and creating a global community. But it's made an even bigger contribution to humanity. I can digitally try on a Lands' End bikini without ever having to look at my thighs.
Kate is nowhere to be seen, so I call her on my cell phone to tell her that I'm at the store.
“You are? Thank God. I'm just in the fitting room.” I catch a glimpse of her face peeking out briefly from behind one of the satin curtains. Then she disappears. “Owen's taking me for a romantic weekend and I need something sexier than last year's La Blanca. I'll be out in a sec.”
While I'm waiting, I saunter over to peruse the limited edition bathing suits, each hanging importantly on its own individual rack. Most of the gossamer mesh and gold-grommet confections look like they'd dissolve in a swimming pool faster than a Listerine breath strip. There's not a swim-friendly Speedo or a black one-piece Anne Cole in sight. And nothing with Lycra panels to hold in extra flab. Sunshine Beach patrons must do all their tummy tucking at the plastic surgeon.
Kate emerges from her dressing room wearing her trademark spike heels and a lace eyelet side-tied bikini.
“Looks good,” I say, truly impressed with Kate's forty-year-old body.
“You're right. Not bad,” Kate agrees, pivoting in front of the mirror. But she pauses midspin and pinches the back of her perfect thigh. “Is the cellulite too disgusting? Like cottage cheese?”
I look for some evidence of lumps, bumps or even a grain of sand that might be stuck to Kate's thigh. Nothing. “Smoothest thing I've ever seen. More like pasteurized Velveeta than cottage cheese. Owen will eat it up,” I add.
“Maybe Owen would like a halter top better,” she says. Then giving me a little wink, she adds, “I figure if I look good enough, I can get him to give me a full-service massage. Like yours.”
It definitely won't be as good as mine. But I'm glad to have given Kate some ideas. That's what best friends are for. No secrets. We tell each other everything.
Kate disappears into her dressing room, and I continue looking through the racks for a bathing suit that's compatible with chlorine. Or even salt water. I stop at one hanger that has two identical strings, each sporting three very small black crocheted squares. I hold the pieces in front of my body and start turning them as if they're a Rubik's cube. But I can't line up the squares to cover the requisite body parts. I wouldn't even know how to wear this thing to a nude beach.
Giving up, I wander to the seating area in the back of the store. Half a dozen men are comfortably lolling on deep-cushioned leather couches, having generously decided that just this once, they can skip the baseball game to come shopping with their girlfriends or wives. What a sacrifice. I figure a guy deserves points if he's at your side buying the shower curtain at Ikea. Not when he's waiting in front of the bikini-modeling mirror.
I rifle through a
New York Times
on the table, and since the front page is too depressing and the Home section has already been stolenânow I'll never know what happened at the Milan Furniture ExpoâI reach for the Metro section. And there above the fold is a familiar face. I look again, suddenly excited. It's Owen Hardy, beaming and looking handsome in a tux. He's standing in a floral-filled tent at some glamorous affair, surrounded by equally glamorous admirers.
I smile smugly. Pretty neat. My best friend's boyfriend, right there in
The New York Times.
I'm just two degrees of separation from a celebrity. I grab the section and start to walk toward Kate's dressing room. “Kate,” I call as I get closer. “Did you see this? Owen's in the paper and . . .”
My voice trails off as I read the caption and stop dead in my tracks.
I go back to the couch and read the caption again. Maybe the paper got the ID wrong. Could be they'll print a retraction tomorrow. But no, this is
The New York Times.
Ever since the Jayson Blair scandal they don't declare that the world is round unless they can fact-check it with Christopher Columbus. Still, I read the article, hoping that the attractive woman with the diamond necklace and her arm snaked around Owen's waist is really his sister. Or, given today's plastic surgery miracles, his mother. Anything but what the paper claims. That the sophisticated blonde standing next to Owen is his wife.
I keep reading and it's even worse than I think. Owen and his wife weren't just attending the party, they were hosting it. A little charity benefit at their upstate retreat. Twenty acres including a team of racehorses, a pond stocked with exotic fish and a brood of champion golden retrievers. Everything but a dancing bear.
I put the paper down. So where does Kate fit into this pretty picture? It doesn't sound like there's a lot of room. Does she even know about this? She must.
Across the store I see her flouncing out of the dressing room wearing the same bikini bottom but a striped halter top. I rush over to her.
“Kate,” I blurt, the moment she's in earshot. “Owen's married. Did you know? Did he ever tell you?”
In the mirror, I see Kate's pale face redden.
“Of course he told me,” she says carefully.
“When were you going to mention it to me?” I ask, thinking how pleased I was a few minutes ago that we never keep secrets from each other.
Kate fiddles with the halter top. “Sorry, Sara,” she says apologetically. “I wanted you to have a chance to get to know him. Because it's not the way it sounds.”
“It sounds bad. Bad like a fourth-grade cello concert. But this one probably won't improve.”
“It might,” Kate says, turning around to look at me with her big saucer eyes. “The situation with Owen's more complicated than you think.”
Complicated? Seems pretty simple to me. Married men are right up there with carbs, Easy Stride shoes, and blind dates arranged by your pastorâor with your pastorâas things every single woman should avoid.
“All right, tell me all about it,” I say, trying not to be judgmental. First I'll listen to my best friend's story. Then I'll tell her why she's ruining her life.
“Owen and his wife aren't getting along all that well,” Kate says, launching into her defense. “They've talked about a separation. Or he's thinking about talking about it. Something like that.”
“What do you expect him to tell you? That they're building their dream house in Tahiti?”
“Owen tells me the truth,” Kate says.
“The truth is he's not leaving her,” I say firmly. “They never leave. You should know that. Don't you watch
? âMarried Men Talk But Never Walk.' ”
“Make it into a bumper sticker and I'll put it on my car.” Kate sighs. “Look, it doesn't matter to me. Owen and I care about each other and we have fun. That's all that counts. What we have is excitingâand pretty damn sexy.”
I'm sure it is. An affair with a married man has so much intrigue. All those whispered conversations. All those clandestine meetings. All those chocolates the hotel maid leaves when she turns down your bed midday. But that's not the point.
“Married men are lethal,” I say. “I'm worried about you.”
“Don't be,” Kate says. “Owen's definitely non-toxic.”
“Also non-single, non-marriageable and non-available for Christmas dinners or family events,” I say, trying to make my point. Though I have to admit there's an upside to missing Christmas dinner with in-laws.
Kate picks up a pair of Persol sunglasses and a sparkly hair clip that the salesgirl has discreetly left in front of the mirror, right next to the flowery sarong, jeweled mules, Louis Vuitton beach bag, and matching Christian Dior towel. All de rigueur accessories when buying a swimsuit. These days you need more equipment to lie out in the sun than to climb the Himalayas.
“I don't care about non-marriageable,” Kate says, looking me squarely in the eye. “I really don't. I've finally given up looking for Mr. Perfect. I've been around long enough to know there's more than one way to live your life. I have a great practice, great friends and now I have a great guy. How many women can say that? I'm happy.”