Authors: Janice Kaplan
“Great,” I say, happily twirling the car keys around my finger.
Then Kate suddenly remembers. “Wait. You hate to drive. You only get into that armored Volvo to go half a block to the train station.”
“I know,” I say, tossing the keys in the air and catching them with a flourish. “It'll be really cool. What's life without a few risks.”
Amazingly, I get both myself and the Z-4 back to Hadley Farms intact. Not a scratch on either of us. My first time driving on a major highway and boy was it fun. Hair blowing in the wind. A truck driver giving me a honk and a thumbs up. CD player blaring Outkast's “Hey Ya!” Good song, bad English. I don't let the kids in my art classes say either “hey” or “ya.” But strung together, the title hit the charts and rocketed to number one. Listening to it, I hit the gas pedal and broke the speed limit. Rocketed to fifty-six.
I fling open the door to the house, eager to tell Bradford about my highway adventure, but as I rush into the living room, I come to a dead halt. Bradford, my beloved Bradford, is holding a stepladder. And his grinning face is two inches away from a shapely red-skirted buttâwhich is attached to an equally shapely pair of bare, long legs. The woman is giggling and hammering a nail into our ecru wall.
“Hi, honey,” Bradford says ebulliently to me. “Isn't it great? Mimi brought back my Campbell's soup. Hot Dog Bean. And Tomato Beef Noodle O's.”
What is the man talking about? I look from Bradford to the blonde on the ladder. So it's Mimi who's invaded the living room. At least she's not making another guest appearance in the bedroom.
All of a sudden, Mimi squeals as her kitten mule slips off the top rung.
“Whoops!” she cries, leaning into Bradford to steady herself. She giggles some more, holding onto his broad shoulders. “We shouldn't have had that glass of wine.”
“Let's get you down from there,” Bradford says, wrapping his arms around her waist and lifting her down from the ladder.
I stand there speechless, trying to figure out what's going on. And how to close my mouth, which seems to be locked open in surprise.
But Mimi, ever the gracious hostess, takes over. “It's Sally, isn't it?” she asks, walking toward me and extending her hand, as if welcoming me into my own home.
I wait for Bradford to correct her, but this time he doesn't seem indignant that his ex-wife can't remember the name of his soon-to-be new wife.
“Mimi, try to get it right,” he says with a laugh. “It's Sara.”
“Oh that's right. Sara. I'll remember next time. Sara, plain and simple. Bradford dear, wasn't that gorgeous redhead you dated before this one named Sally?”
“No, that was Stephanie,” Bradford corrects, laughing again.
What, was he working his way through the S's? Good thing I met him before he got to the T's. But I have more pressing concerns.
“Why is Mimi here?” I ask. “And why is she standing on a ladder in the living room to bring us soup?”
Mimi and Bradford exchange a knowing glance.
“Andy Warhol's soup cans,” Mimi says condescendingly.
Oh, of course. I knew that. I'm an art teacher. Though a slightly upset and distracted one.
“Warhol's soup cans were always my favorites,” Bradford explains. “But in the divorce settlement . . .”
“. . . I selfishly took them,” Mimi says. “Which I shouldn't have, because I always liked . . .”
“. . . the de Kooning lithograph better,” Bradford says. “And Mimi's been feeling so bad about it that tonight . . .”
“. . . I just took the Warhols off my wall and came right over here to put them back where they belong.”
I'd like to tell Mimi where she belongs. Which isn't here, looking adoringly at Bradford and coquettishly finishing his sentences. And it gets even worse. She tucks her arm into Bradford's. “I'm just trying to do the right thing,” she says.
I take a deep breath. Any second, the woman's going to lift her leg and leave her scent. But this is my territory now. And it needs protecting.
“The right thing for you to do right now is leave,” I say, trying to keep a nasty tone out of my voice. And failing.
“Tsk, tsk, Sara,” Mimi says in a suspiciously honeyed tone. “We're all one family, after all.”
One family? I'm pretty sure the law in this state allows only one wife per household. And I didn't hear anything about our joining the Mormon Church anytime soon. Still, I'm the one coming off badly here. How did Mimi the bitch suddenly become Mimi the benevolent? I think I liked her better in the bedroom a couple of nights ago. At least then Bradford seemed annoyed to see her.
“Nyam hey renga calm,”
I hear myself blurt out.
Darn, I didn't mean to say that out loud. I was just trying to relax myself with a mantra. But I think the instructions in
Ladies' Home Journal
were to say it to yourself.
Still, the mantra worksâthough not as advertised. Mimi's so startled that she steps away from Bradford. And Bradford comes over and solicitously puts his arm around me.
“Are you okay?” he asks, concerned that I'm suddenly speaking in tongues.
“I'm fine,” I say. In English. I even make myself smile. “I'm glad you got the painting back. It looks great on that wall.”
“It does,” Mimi says smugly. “As Bradford can tell you, I'm good at decorating. And other things. I have a nice touch.”
I let that one go since Mimi is collecting her pink toolbox and seems to be heading toward the door. She throws Bradford a kiss.
“So we'll rendezvous tomorrow to pick out Skylar's birthday present? I still can't decide between the Links charm bracelet and the Tiffany pavÃ© pendant.”
Nice choice for a soon-to-be-fourteen-year-old. Maybe they can buy both and give one to me.
“I'm sure I'll like whatever you pick,” Bradford says. “But of course I'll come. Four o'clock?”
“Perfect,” Mimi says, sailing past me and out of the house. I slam the door, but I can't get rid of her. The mandarin overtones of Mimi's J'adore perfume linger. And I pause for a moment, wondering who j'adores who.
When I turn back to Bradford, he has a smile on his faceâbut I'm determined to believe it's because of the returned Warhols, not Mimi. As if to prove me right, he comes over and gives me a big hug.
“So how was your evening with Kate, honey? You two do anything interesting?”
“It was fine,” I say with a shrug. I put down the car keys, which I'd been holding in my hand all this time. Somehow, I've lost the impetus to tell Bradford about Kate's new house and my escapade in the Z-4. My road trip no longer ranks as the big risk of the day. Frankly, Mimi's cozying up to Bradford seems a lot more dangerous.
Late Friday afternoon, I'm standing in the kitchen of Olivia's luxe Manhattan apartment, sweating. How did I let Berni railroad me into this? Sure I can pull off a little lunch for a baby shower. But catering a fancy buffet dinner for forty where the guest of honor is Harrison Ford? When I'm stressed, I usually start gorging, but today I can't even do that. What if I don't have enough food for the party? Is fifty pounds of Ghirardelli chocolate enough for forty people?
Fortunately my new assistant Kirk is unflappable, and it looks like he'll be as good a sous-chef as he is a doctor. As a little joke, he got the wardrobe mistress from
to provide matching aprons for us. So what if they're splattered with fake blood.
I'm scurrying around the kitchen, fussing with my hors d'oeuvres, appetizers, salads and three main courses. Not to mention my one spectacular can-always-count-on-it chocolate soufflÃ©. Meanwhile, Kirk is unhurriedly unpacking the eight boxes of produce that we carefully culled from the shelves at Whole Foods. And he's giving loving attention to each piece.
“Is this the most beautiful tomato you've ever seen?” he asks, holding it aloft and rapturously turning it full circle.
Since this is the fourth tomato he's admired, I'm getting a little suspicious. “They can't all be the most beautiful,” I say, busily trying to separate egg whites for the soufflÃ©.
“You're right. I just want each tomato to feel special,” he says. “That way they'll be at their juiciest best.”
“We're talking beefsteak tomatoes here,” I say with a laugh. “Not those cute little tomatoes you date.” Though I bet any variety of tomato is at its juiciest around Kirk.
“Many tomatoes around.” Kirk grins, looking at me. “But you're the most beautiful of the crop.”
“Cut it out,” I say, wiping my brow with the back of my hand. “I'm feeling a little overripe.”
“Not at all,” Kirk says thoughtfully. “Unlike tomatoes, women get better as they age.”
“Very profound,” I say, rolling my eyes but enjoying his banter. And not wanting to tell him that the reason we get better is that winning combination of insight, experience and alpha-hydroxy.
“I majored in philosophy in college,” Kirk explains proudly. “It's been really important to my career as an actor. Helps me understand the motivation of my characters.”
Right. Because everything you need to know about why Dr. Lance Lovett dumped the young nurse to sleep with the evil twin of the cardiac-transplant patient is right there in Plato's
“Philosophy's also good for picking up girls,” Kirk adds with a smile. “I'll show you how it works.” He pauses and then regales me with his best come-ons. “Want to talk some Nietzsche? Or are you too busy making the gnocchi?”
“Definitely too busy,” I say, kneading the pasta dough and looking for a rolling pin.
“Sorry. I don't want to distract you. We'll get to Spinoza after you cook the spaghetti.” He stands up very straight and pretends to be serious. “And no Kierkegaard until you've cut the cantaloupe.”
Now I put down the rolling pin and just laugh. “Okay. And let's save the Rawls until I've baked the rolls.”
“Good one,” Kirk says, and he raises his hand to slap me five.
I meet his hand and grin. Somehow, he's managing to make cooking this dinner fun.
“Back to work,” I tell him, trying to remember how many eggs I've already separated. Must have been six. Or maybe it was seven. How much difference could a yolk or two make anyway? This recipe is foolproof.
Kirk's slicing his way through a hunk of sashimi-quality tuna when Olivia bustles into the kitchen, dressed in a sleeveless black satin shell, hot pink capri pants, and jeweled sandals with four-inch spike heels. She glances at me just as I'm digging a shard of eggshell out of the bowl with my pinky.
“Fingers out of the food,” she says imperiously, treating me like the help. Which I guess I am. Given what Olivia's paying for my services, I'm not going to complain.
Having thrown her weight around with me, she now changes direction and throws herself at Kirk.
“Oooh, I've never seen such gorgeous tuna,” she says, leaning over his shoulder and hugging him from behind. Is she trying to seduce him or give him the Heimlich maneuver?
“Wait until you see the tomatoes,” Kirk says proudly. “Talk about gorgeous.”
Yes, Olivia would like to talk about gorgeous. But the foodstuffs aren't the only objects of her affection.
“I'm so lucky to have you here,” she says, stroking his arm. And his ego. “Kirk Hudson, soap star extraordinaire, right here in my kitchen. Darling, you're just too wonderful to be doing this for me.”
“I'm not doing it for you,” he says, wielding the chef's knife like a pro. “I'm here for Sara. I'm hers for the night.”
Olivia spins around to look at me.
“What he means is he's staying for the whole party,” I explain.
Olivia looks relieved. “Then he's really mine for the night. My party. I'm paying.”
Three hours later, the payoff begins. The guests are arriving, the waiters are circulating with hors d'oeuvres, and Kirk is helping me get forty filleted quail legs into the oven. He carefully studies the broiler pan.
“Pretty small legs,” he says.
“But they're firm and perfectly shaped,” I say, having personally stuffed each one with my spinach and cheese mixture.
Kirk winks. “You're right. And as they always say. Size doesn't matter.”
“One of the great lies of all time,” I say flippantly.
Olivia bursts into the kitchen, her face flushed in excitement. This time she ignores me completely.
“You're done in the kitchen,” she tells Kirk, untying his apron. “No reason to keep a treasure like you hidden away. Come be my escort. A lot of important people are out there that I want to introduce you to.”
Kirk, torn between catering and his chance for connections, throws me an apologetic glance. “Why don't we get Sara out front, too?” he suggests.
“That's okay,” I say. “I've got to keep an eye on things here.”
“And nobody wants to meet her, anyway,” Olivia says brusquely.
For once I know the perfect thing to say. And I know it on the spot, rather than coming up with it six hours from now when I'm lying in bed.
“Don't worry, Kirk,” I say as Olivia hustles him out of the kitchen. “We can finish talking about my shapely legs later.”
A few minutes later, I peek out through the swinging door. Either I haven't been watching enough
or Olivia hasn't pulled in quite the crowd she was hoping. Harrison Ford is invisibleâor he hasn't shown up yetâand soap stud Kirk seems to be the main attraction. Women are hanging on his every word and a sexy brunette is hanging on his bicep. Any doubt that daytime hunks are now the Masters of the Universe is erased by an investment banker across the room who's shooting Kirk menacing glances.
I undo the top two buttons on my white cotton blouse. The party scene is steamy, but that doesn't explain why the kitchen's so hot. Could be the vent on the Garland range isn't working very well. Or maybe I'm having a hot flash. I could be in perimenopauseâthough who has any idea what that means. Is it when you start losing estrogen? Or collagen? Or men? Maybe all three. Best I can tell, it's something doctors dreamed up so you spend your forties panicking about going into menopause in your fifties. And buying any beauty product that promises to make you look like you're in your thirties.