Authors: Lauren Weisberger
Karolina checked the picture window facing the lawn once again. She'd been in Greenwich a few days, not enough time to get lonely, but there she was, desperately waiting for Miriam. Usually an elderly couple lived in the house as a kind of caretaker-and-housekeeper team, but Karolina had asked if they'd like to take some vacation time, and they'd been all too happy to go visit their daughter. She didn't feel like making polite conversation. Or, honestly, showering. And the solitude had been healing. It was a relief to look out on one's front lawn and see only empty stretches of space after the paparazzi crush in Bethesda.
A text came in from Harry.
what do i wear to a school dance????
She smiled and typed back.
Your navy Brooks Brothers suit with your white dress shirt.
Yes. Winter Party! Your first dance!
He replied with a
Is Daddy going? He knows that parents are invited, right?
This time the three dots popped up, disappeared, returned. Then:
No, he's dropping me off. Your sure about the tie???
Karolina felt her throat tighten. Wasn't it obvious? This boy needed her. To advise on outfits, yes, but also to accompany him on his first time being a guest at Sidwell's Winter Party. Who was going to help him choose shoes or cheer for him beside the dance floor when he competed in Coke & Pepsi, or chat with all his friends and their parents? She knew Harry was growing up, that soon he would start to negotiate these things on his own, but good Godâthe boy was only twelve! And twelve-year-olds needed their mothers.
Finally the doorbell rang, sounding like a Buddhist monk hitting a giant gong. Karolina yanked the front door open and found Miriam smiling, looking very suburban in jeans and Uggs and a massive puffer coat, holding her arms outstretched. It was strange to see Miriam in something besides a suit. The women embraced, and as Karolina inhaled the vanilla-scented moisturizer Miriam had been wearing for twenty years, she thought how wonderful it was to be with someone who didn't hate her. Miriam motioned toward the Highlander, where Karolina saw a woman in the passenger seat smoking a cigarette and screaming into her cell phone. Karolina raised her eyebrows.
“Sorry. It's Emily Charlton. She's staying with me now forÂ .Â .Â . I don't know how long. She's an old camp friend. Anyway, she overheard me on the phone with you and insisted she come too. She says she knows you from
? I feel terrible bringing her by unannounced, which is why I told her to wait in the car while Iâ”
Karolina held her hand to her forehead, shielding her eyes, and squinted. “Emily?” she said. “Hey! Come on in. And bring those cigarettes!” She turned to Miriam. “I totally remember her from
. Miranda Priestly's senior assistant. She was such a bitch!”
“Oh, I know it. Emily has told me all the storiesÂ .Â .Â .”
“No, I meant Emily! She was a first-rate ball-buster and funny as hell. I could use funny right now.”
Both women watched as Emily jammed her finger into the phone screen to end the call and opened the door in a cloud of smoke. “Am I cleared to enter? Did I pass?” she called as she walked toward the house.
Karolina and Emily exchanged double cheek kisses. “It's so good to see you! How long has it been? Years,” Karolina said as she escorted them to a sitting room. She pointed a remote toward the fireplace and flames leapt to life. “Here, sit. I made some tea, I'll bring it in.”
When she returned holding an enamel tray with a glass teapot and three glass mugs, both women assessed the room. “Welcoming, isn't it?” Karolina asked, acutely aware of how it looked to outsiders: the couches low and stiff and uninviting; the surfaces devoid of books or knickknacks; the walls bare except for a few fine-art black and whites.
“I fucking love it,” Emily breathed, looking around. “It's like no one lives here.”
“No one does live here,” Karolina said. “Although I guess I might soon.”
Miriam's face crumpled. “I'm so sorry about everything that's happening.”
“Yeah, quite the drama,” Emily said. “That headline this morning: âMost Hated Celeb: Rizzo Benz or Karolina Hartwell?' My God. I haven't seen the press this excited since Harvey Weinstein.”
Karolina opened her mouth to talk, but she felt the now-familiar knot in her throat. “It's beenÂ .Â .Â . hard. And confusing. I just didn't expect it to be so vicious in Washington. ReportersÂ .Â .Â . areÂ .Â .Â .”
“Staking out the house, I imagine?” Emily asked.
“Oh my God. They're everywhere. I've never seen anything like
this. Not when they thought I was having an affair with George Clooney pre-Amal. Not even when Graham was elected to the senate. They were three deep at our home in Bethesda.” She motioned to the front door. “Thank God for that hideous fence Graham had installed here.”
“How is Harry?” Miriam asked, sipping her tea.
Karolina shook her head. “I don't know. Graham insisted we take an Uber from my mother-in-law's house, and literally, a mob of people descended on us as soon as we pulled in. And you know what the first question was? âAre you drunk right now, Mrs. Hartwell?'â”
“They're animals,” Emily said knowingly.
“Thank God we could pull directly into the garage, because I don't know what would have happened if we had to walk through it. They literally mobbed the car. Harry was crying.”
“Where was Graham?”
Karolina took a deep breath. “He couldn't risk being seen with me.”
She told Miriam and Emily how she had tried Beth, her best mommy friend. The phone had rung and rung until finally going to voicemail, which wasn't particularly strange: no one answered the phone these days. Karolina had felt self-conscious even calling. But when her first text had gone unanswered, and then two more, she'd started to feel a little queasy.
wasn't like Beth, who joked that her phone was practically welded to her palm. Nearly two hours later, Karolina finally received a reply text:
Cole may no longer play with Harry. Please don't contact either of us again.
Karolina had gasped as though she'd been punched. For nearly a full minute, she'd struggled to catch her breath, wondering if she was having a heart attack. When her breathing had finally slowed to something resembling a normal rate, she'd fired off a group text to the mothers of the boys from the night before:
Hi all. I'll call each of you individually, but I just wanted to let you know that I was NOT drunk and last night was a huge misunderstanding. Your children were never in danger. Love, K.
The responses came back fast and furious:
We trusted you with our son!
How can you even look at yourself after what you did?
And the worst one of all, although it was the only message that didn't include any angry exclamations:
Please, please, please: get some help. I've been there too. You can't do this without the professionals and you're deluding yourself if you think you can.
These four simply worded text messages had broken Karolina in a way that being pushed into the back of a squad car, feeling the rage of her husband, and spending an entire night in a county jail had not. Her phone slipped from her hands, and she succumbed to the sobs. These were her
. Not the catty frenemies she'd made in her twenties. Not the New York society women who were alternately intimidated by her appearance and put off by her lack of pedigree. The group of women she'd met after they had moved to Bethesda had been easy from the start. Some of them worked, some of them didn't; there was a big variety of education levels and backgrounds and income; most of all, they were all trying to raise their kids as well as they could manage and have some laughs along the way. No one cared that she used to be a famous model. No one cared that her husband was a senator. And certainly no one cared that she wasn't Harry's biological mother. They got together for birthdays and took the kids trick-or-treating and carpooled to softball practice. Their husbands shared beers during weekend barbecues. Their kids all mostly got along and treated one another's houses as their own. It was easy. It was natural. And it was over. She felt ill.
Miriam's hand on her arm brought Karolina back to the charmless living room where she sat with two women who didn't despise her. “How long are you staying?”
Tears sprang to her eyes. “Graham says it's better with me here in Greenwich, so that Harry doesn't have all the stress of the media attention, but I don't know.”
“When was the last time you spoke to Graham?” Emily asked.
“Last night. I'm so confused. Do you know I actually asked Harry about that night?”
“What about it?” Miriam asked.
Karolina dabbed her eye with a tissue. “I couldn't help myself. I asked if he remembered what I had to drink. He said he saw me having one glass of wineâI called it âmommy juice,' which he found totally humiliating in front of his friends. He even remembered I poured it for myself right after I gave the boys their Sprite, and he was worried that Graham would be upset because I'd opened a new bottle. What he could not answer was why there were two empty champagne bottles floating around the back of the Suburban when the police pulled me over.”
“You don't think it's possible he and his friends got into it?” Miriam asked. “I'm sure he's a good kid, but he
twelve, and he wouldn't be the first.”
“Those boys weren't drinking champagne. None of us were. And I begged for a Breathalyzer once the boys were out of the car, but the police are saying I refused. It's a nightmare.”
With this, Emily slapped her hands in her lap. “I can't stay quiet another second. Why are we all freaking out right now? DUIs are totally recoverable! If you just get in front of this, you can make it go away.”
“Go away?” Karolina asked. “Have you turned on a television or opened a newspaper in the last three days?”
“Yes, I get it. The former face of L'OrÃ©al and current wife of New York senator Graham Hartwell gets busted for driving drunk. Big fucking deal! You didn't kill anyone. That would be
harder. The kid factor complicates things a little, I admit, but let's keep the focus on what's important: no one got hurt; no one died; no one even crashed. This is all a lot of hysteria for nothing.”
Karolina saw Miriam give Emily a look telling her to shut up. She remembered enough about Emily to know that was unlikely. And besides, when Emily phrased it like that, it didn't sound quite so horrific.
“Go on,” Karolina said.
Emily shrugged. “I'll tell you what I would tell a client. No one cares if you were drunk or not. You need to apologize for having a problem and putting children at risk. You'll definitely need to do thirty days inpatient somewhereâthe optics
for that are just unbeatable, especially when we tip the press off ahead of timeâbut there's one in Montana that's downright fabulous. Like an Aman.”
“Thirty days inpatient? Like
? But I don't have a drinking problem!”
“That's totally irrelevant,” Emily said, glancing at her buzzing phone. “There's a protocol people follow, and this is it: everyone loves to forgive a repentant sinner. Look at Mel Gibson. Reese Witherspoon. John Mayer. Graham's affair complicates things a tad, but it's nothing that can't be dealt with. They'll forgive you too.”
“HisÂ .Â .Â . affair?” Karolina whispered.
“I'm just assuming. Am I wrong?”
Karolina sat quietly for a minute and then said, “If he is, it's with Regan Whitney.” Karolina could see Miriam's face register shock before she tried for a more neutral expression. Was she surprised that Graham might be cheating on Karolina or just surprised that it might be with the young, beautiful, and polished daughter of former president Whitney? Karolina's suspicions were based solely on a handful of texts she'd seen that were more suggestive than actually incriminating. That and the fact that he'd lost all interest in sex over the past six months.
“She's not nearly as pretty as you,” Emily said authoritatively. “Not even close.”
“She's nearly a decade younger than me,” Karolina said. “Does she really even need to be pretty?”
“No,” Miriam and Emily agreed simultaneously.
“Being connected is more appealing to Graham than being pretty,” Karolina said flatly. “Anyway, right now Trip advised us to keep quiet. Supposedly he's working the phones on my behalf, and he thinks we have a shot at getting the charges dropped.”
The sound of a buzzer broke the silence.
“That's the gate,” Karolina said. Her mind flashed back to the hordes of camera crews and reporters camped outside their Bethesda home. “You don't think the police have let them through, do you?”
Thankfully, the neighbors on either side of the Hartwells' house had complained about the disruption from the paparazzi, and the Greenwich Police Department had very thoughtfully closed the road to all traffic except those who could prove their residence and their invited guests. It was the only thing saving her sanity.
Miriam jumped up from the couch. “Where can you see the gate camera? The kitchen?”
Karolina merely nodded. It was starting to feel like she would never escape this nightmare.
“It's just two Girl Scouts!” Miriam called. “Can I buzz them in?”
“No cookies at a time like this!” Emily called back. “The last thing she needs is an endless stream of empty calories!”
Karolina took a sip of water. “I guess not even the cops can say no to Girl Scouts.”
Miriam walked back in and shot Emily a disgusted look. “I buzzed them in. You can't refuse a cookie solicitation, it brings seven years of bad luck.”