Authors: Janice Kaplan
Berni smiles and gives me a thumbs up. “Decent” in Olivia's lingo probably ranks three stars in the Michelin guide.
“My chef is pretty in demand,” Berni says, “but I think I can get her. She'd only do it as a favor to me, though.”
I start shaking my head wildly and mouthing “No,” but Berni pays no attention.
“Here are the terms. No negotiation,” Berni says, pleased to be cutting a deal fourteen hours after giving birth. “Whatever you were paying the gazpacho guy, she gets double. She charges a full day for shopping and another full day for menu preparation. You pay for hair and makeup. And she doesn't do cleanup.”
Olivia knows when she's over a barrel and hesitates only briefly before muttering, “Fine.” Still, she needs to make at least one demand of her own. “No tofu,” she decrees. “In anything.”
Figuring this will have no effect on soybean futures, Berni concedes on the tofu and they make final arrangements.
“Hey, Sara, not bad, right?” Berni hoots triumphantly when they've signed off. “Who's the better agent, huh? Even breast-feeding I can one-up Olivia any day of the week.”
I'm so stunned by the whole transaction that I barely know where to begin.
“Hair and makeup?” I ask in a weak voice.
“You're right. I should have demanded Frederic Fekkai,” Berni says. “Want me to call back?”
“Yes, I want you to call back. And tell her I won't do it,” I say. “I'm not a caterer.”
“You are now,” Berni says, as if my protests are just an annoying detail. “Besides, I never go back on my word.”
“You have to listen to Berni,” Kirk says. “She's the best agent in the world. She's always right.”
“I can't do all this alone by Friday night,” I gripe, thinking about the shopping, the chopping, and the whopping mess I'll probably make out of the whole production.
“I'll help,” Kirk volunteers. “I'm a pretty decent chef. The first role Berni ever got me was in a Red Lobster commercial.”
“Then I guess we'll serve seafood,” I say. “And we'll put up little âAll You Can Eat' signs.”
“That settles it,” Berni says. She leans back against the pillows and closes her eyes, still holding the twins who are now peacefully asleep in her arms. “One more thing,” she adds before drifting off to sleep herself. “Just don't make those awful cheese puffs.”
AM I CRAZY
to be getting a house?” Kate asks exuberantly when I stop by her office late Monday afternoon. She swoops down in her white lab coat to give me a kiss on the cheek. “You're wonderful to come look at it with me on such short notice. I'm not quite ready yet. Can you wait a couple of minutes?”
“Sure,” I say. I look dubiously around the busy waiting room, where I spot five patients, and I instantly recognize three of them from television shows. The new route to stardomâfirst you get an agent, then you see Kate, then you date Colin Farrell.
I figure that for Kate to finish with all her clients has to take at least an hour, but I don't mind. Her coffee table is stacked with women's magazines whose cover lines promise advice on “4 Ways to Have a Better Orgasm,” “5 Ways to Give a Better Orgasm,” and “6 Ways to Have 7 Simultaneous Orgasms.” What they don't say is how many men all this will require.
Kate disappears back into her office and I start to make my way through a copy of
that heralds “587 New Looks For Fall.” I figure they're offering more bang for the buck. By the time I look up again, the waiting room has emptied and the last patients of the dayâa mother and her teenage daughterâare emerging from Kate's inner sanctum. For a moment, I wonder which one is the patient, and then I realize it's probably both. The mother is furrow-free and the daughter has zero zits. And I bet it costs a small fortune for each to get what the other has naturally. Kate follows behind them, jingling her car keys on their Cartier chain.
“We'll both see you next week,” the mother says. “Same time, as usual.”
They come in every week? How much Retin-A does one family need? And where does a dermatologist fit in with the usual New York City kid's lineup of after-school consultants? Tennis coach, self-esteem guru, SAT I and SAT II tutors, college essay expertâalso known as the ghostwriter, therapist, herbalist and the ever-important orthodontist. Because whether or not your children have crooked teeth, giving them braces shows that you care.
“One more thing,” says the mother, pausing at the door. “My other daughter Kimberly's turning four next week. I'm thinking of bringing her in. I want to make sure we don't wait too long.”
“Don't need to see her yet,” Kate replies. “Wait until she's six.”
Ah yes. Odds are little Kimberly's skin will still be peaches and cream pure at that point. But the stress of first grade and all her mother's expectations will probably make her break out in hives.
Once the derm-addicted duo leave, we head out to the sidewalk where Kate's zippy new Z-4 convertible is parked. Top down, and not even so much as a fire-engine red Club on the steering wheel to protect against thieves. It would never occur to Kate that anything could go wrong in her life. And somehow it hasn't.
We pull away from the curb and Kate revs the engine as she weaves her way through heavy traffic.
“Zero to sixty in five-point-nine seconds,” she says proudly. Even though we haven't broken twenty. “Mapquest says we'll be in Bedford in sixty-eight minutes. A quick commute.”
Since we haven't moved an inch, I wonder if Mapquest allowed time for the traffic-stopping pothole repair crew that's blocking all of 88th Street. And I also wonder why my city-loving Kate suddenly wants to commute in the first place. Maybe my moving to Hadley Farms has started a trend.
“When did you decide to buy a house?” I ask Kate. “Last I heard, you were buying the Birkin bag. Nobody should be able to afford both.”
“I'm still on the waiting list for the Birkin,” Kate says. “The house is instant gratification.”
When I need instant gratification, I buy a Mars bar or a Milky Way. Kate buys a mansion. If this is what she does on the spur of the moment, I'm afraid to ask about her long-range plans.
But when we finally arrive in Bedford and cruise up the driveway past rolling lawns and a thick hedge of perfect trees, I see the hidden white-gabled house with hunter green shuttersâand I understand the appeal.
“Come on in,” Kate says eagerly, hopping out of the car and sprinting up the stone path in her stilettos without ever missing a beat. I try to follow and immediately catch my flat Cole Haan loafers on the edge of a rock. But even a stubbed toe can't distract me as I step inside and take in the charming Georgian rooms with wainscoting and cozy crown moldings. Through the bay window I spot what appears to be a black-watered pond surrounded by boulders. It takes me a minute to realize that it's really a man-made swimming pool, decked out with jagged rocks and a small waterfall.
“Don't you love the pool?” Kate asks eagerly, following my gaze. “The designers put wildly expensive onyx stone on the bottom to make the water look murky.”
Great ideaâpay extra to muddy up crystal blue water. Does the Sierra Club know that the swampy look is now soignÃ©?
I turn back from the window and walk around slowly. I stop to take in the living room fireplace. Pretty, but what exactly is she going to do with it? I can't picture Kate getting a fire going even if she had a butane torch and a Duraflame log. On the other hand, it's a darn good place to store books or beauty potions.
“What a great spread,” I say finally. “You're really going to buy this?”
Kate hesitates. “I'm not actually buying per se.”
“That's smart. Rent for a season. See if you like it.”
Kate turns around and sighs. “Okay, I'll give you the whole story. Owen wants to buy it as an investment and I'll stay here so we can spend more time together. He felt really bad about having to run out on Tortola.”
“Generous apology,” I say. “Couldn't he have just sent Godiva chocolate?”
Kate puts her hands on her tiny waist. Oh, that's right. She doesn't eat Godiva chocolate.
“Owen thought this house would be perfect for us. I mean, for me. I came up last night to look and I wanted you to see it right away. Isn't it amazing? Owen just stumbled on it yesterday when he was out jogging.”
Suddenly a light dawns. Owen was out jogging around here because it's close to his country mansionâwhere he lives with his wife. And it would be convenient to install Kate nearby.
“You're going to give up your whole life to move here and be at Owen's beck and call?” I ask incredulously.
“Don't be ridiculous,” Kate says. “This is a little weekend place. I'll come up when I want. If I want. Besides, I'm dying to learn how to garden.”
“Come on, Kate, I can't picture you hoeing. You don't even like potted plants. You have silk geraniums in your waiting room.”
“At least I'll have a lawn. And open space. And a little peace and quiet.”
“A lot of peace and quiet,” I say disapprovingly. “You'll be sitting around all by yourself waiting for Owen to call. Don't you see what's going on? You're talking about gardening. What's really happening is you're trying to put down roots. And face it, in a situation like this, nothing's going to grow.”
Kate ponders this for a moment. Maybe she's impressed with my metaphor. Got to admit that I am.
“You don't understand,” Kate says in a small voice. “I'll take Owen however I can. However much I can. I've found my soul mate.”
Her soul mate? This relationship with Owenâthe married Owenâis ratcheting up faster than the national obesity crisis. I'm about to launch into my list of fifty reasons why she needs to rethink it when I'm distracted by a noise in the driveway. Through the window we both spy an oversized silver Hummer pulling up, the wide car trampling a bed of late-blooming hibiscus roses.
“Be nice,” Kate implores, a look of panic crossing her face. “It's Owen.”
“Am I ever
nice?” I ask, with an edge in my voice, thinking “not nice” is exactly what Owen deserves. Still, I'm Kate's best friend. I'm not going to embarrass her. I'll save embarrassing people for back-to-school night with Skylar.
Owen bursts through the door, cradling a magnum of champagne and two glasses.
“So what do you think, babe?” he asks, putting down the champagne and grabbing Kate for an endlessly long kiss. I keep myself busy counting by threes to three hundred. Smart kid, that Dylan. I'll have to thank him for the tip.
Finally, Kate pulls back. “You remember Sara,” she says, her arm still wrapped tightly around Owen's waist. “I wanted her to see the house with me.”
“It's great, isn't it?” Owen asks, patting the wainscoting as if it's man's best friend.
“I love it,” Kate says. “What do you think, Sara?”
“Great house. Lousy situation,” I blurt out bluntly. Oh damn. I said I'd be nice.
Kate whispers pleadingly, sounding like an eight-year-old. “You promised.”
“What did she promise?” Owen asks.
“Not to bring up any problems,” Kate says with a sigh. She settles into the white damask sofa and pats the cushion next to her, inviting Owen to sit down.
“Problems?” Owen asks. He looks sharply around the room as if the only trouble he can imagine is with the chandelier, which we've all just noticed needs three new lightbulbs.
“I'm not thrilled with this whole situation,” I say frostily, standing with my arms crossed firmly in front of my chest. “You're married.”
“That's not your business,” Owen says, crossing his own arms and matching my icy tone.
“Sure it's her businessâshe's my best friend,” Kate says. She plays with the fringe on a throw pillow next to her and looks anxiously at Owen. He glances at his watchâthis is a bigger commitment than he'd plannedâbut then sits down next to Kate.
“Okay, let's talk,” he says briskly to me. “I care about Kate so I don't want you unhappy. What do you need to know?”
I uncross my arms and sit down. If he's willing to be straight-forward, I will be, too.
“You're married, so why are you sleeping with my friend Kate?” I ask. There. Straightforward.
Owen pauses, puts his arm around Kate's shoulder, and then turns back to me. “Because I'm in love with her,” he says.
I wasn't expecting that. And from the look on her face, Kate wasn't either.
“Then you're leaving your wife?” I ask. My bluntness knows no bounds. But it doesn't seem to upset Owen. He strokes Kate's cheek gently.
“I don't know,” he says carefully. “This is new territory for me. I wasn't planning to get emotionally involved. But Kate's special. I feel like a lovestruck kid.”
Kate leans forward and fixes her gaze on Owen. “But we're not kids, and that's why this means so much,” she says, turning from Owen to me. “We're both old enough to know life doesn't go on forever. You have to make your own happiness. Be open to new adventures. Take a risk or two. If not now, when? After all, I'm thirty-eight.”
That's interesting. Kate and I were the same age in seventh grade and I thought I'd already passed forty. I'm glad to hear I'm younger than I think.
“It's so very nice to have adventures, but where does all this leave you?” I ask.
“With somebody who cares for her very much,” Owen says, taking Kate's hand and kissing her fingertips. “Other than that, I'm not making predictions for the future. I can tell you that my wife and I don't have much of a relationship anymore. We've drifted apart.”
That's original. Where do married men come up with these lines? Are they written on a TelePrompTer in the sky, visible only to the Y chromosome? I'm not sure why men think “drifting apart” gives them permission to stray, anyway. What they really need is a map home.
Owen brushes back Kate's hair and looks soulfully into her eyes. “Being with you has brought me back to life,” he says.
I can guess which part of him she's brought back to life. But right now, Kate and Owen both look so content that I want to believe against my better instinctsâand all warnings from Oprahâthat there'll be a happy ending.
“You're the most amazing man I know,” Kate says, kissing him.
“I hear that a lot,” Owen admits. “But back to the real issue. The deal. Do we have one? I told the owners if you liked the house, I'd sign the papers tomorrow.”
“I like it,” Kate says decisively.
“Then it's done,” Owen says. “Now where should we go for dinner?”
That was fast. I guess when you're used to dealing in skyscrapers, buying a little houseâor even a big oneâisn't any more important than whether you're eating Japanese or Italian.
“How about that champagne first?” Kate says.
Owen reaches over for the magnum of 1975 vintage Dom Perignon that he'd brought along for the occasion and pops the cork.
“Here we are,” he says, pouring the bubbly champagne into the two Baccarat flutes and handing one to each of us. Then he goes to the kitchen and comes back holding a flowered Dixie cup. He pours his own champagne into the paper container and swirls it around.
“To the new house, and many happy times here,” Owen toasts, raising his paper cup and clickingâor trying toâKate's crystal goblet.
“And to good friends,” Kate adds, graciously lifting her glass to mine.
I take a little sip. Good stuff. I guess vintage really is better, at least when it comes to champagne. I still won't wear vintage clothes, though. No matter how many times you send that original 1960s Pucci to the dry cleaner, it still smells like mothballs.
Owen starts affectionately nuzzling Kate's neck and I go for another gulp of champagne, then think better of it. I put down the glass, spot Kate's Fendi bag on the floor and grab it to rifle around for her car keys.
“Time for you two to christen the house, and I should be getting back now,” I say to Kate. “Can Owen get you home in the Hummer?”
Kate nods distractedly and for a moment seems to like the plan. “Sure, take the Z-4,” she says.