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Authors: Laura Caldwell

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BOOK: A Clean Slate
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She started tapping the pen. “I don't know. You wouldn't tell me. But you went from an I-need-to-sit-around-in-my-pajamas-for-a-few-weeks kind of mood to an I'm-taking-drugs-and-seeing-a-therapist-and-stalking-Ben kind of mood.”

I jumped down from the counter. “I was

“Well, that's his word. I'd just say that you were trying a little too hard to get him back. You would often wait for him
outside work and, a couple of times, you went inside his apartment and waited there.”

“Jesus, that's humiliating.”

“It was so unlike you. You sold the town house next, which I couldn't believe, and then you rented this place. There's nothing much to tell after that. You've pretty much been holed up here for months. I can't believe you don't remember this.”

“None of it. But you know what?” I started to clean up the kitchen, using a sponge to scrub a sticky, chocolatey-looking circle off the countertop. “I don't want to remember. I feel like my old self, and why would I want to go back to that nastiness you're telling me about?”

Laney stood up and started helping me. “I don't want you to go back, either, but you should visit Ellen or Dr. Markup or

“Dr. Markup? C'mon.” Dr. Markup is good for the basics like flu shots and such, but otherwise he's a human prescription and referral machine. “You've got jaw pain? Here's some codeine and the number of an oral surgeon. Something in your eye? Use these drops and go see my optometrist friend. Sore throat? Let me give you the name of an ear, nose and throat guy.”

“Well, it can't be good for you not to remember,” Laney said.

“Maybe it is good, though. Maybe it's my mind not wanting to be in that place anymore, wanting to get on with it.”

“Maybe,” Laney said, although she didn't sound convinced.

“Look, I don't remember what you're talking about, being depressed and moping around this place, but I don't want to. I'm hurt and pissed off as hell about Ben.” I took a deep breath and tried to shake him out of my mind. “And I miss my town house. Other than that, I feel okay—great even.” I was relieved to find that I was speaking the truth.

As I was talking, I opened what looked to be a hall
closet just outside the kitchen to see what lurked in there, but before I could concentrate on the contents I noticed a full-length mirror hanging inside one of the doors. I turned to face the mirror, and I could feel my mouth dropping open.

“What is it?” Laney said from the kitchen.

I couldn't talk. I was too busy looking at myself—a drawn, unhealthy-looking, unfashionably dressed self that I barely recognized. My light brown hair, which I normally wore straight to my shoulders, was dingy and frizzy, with enough split ends to conduct electricity. My face was pale, almost gray, my cheeks sunken in, my mossy-green eyes red around the rims. I had on the leather jacket I'd bought last winter, which was a still-cute blazer style, but the jeans I wore were baggy and at least ten years old. My sweater was olive-green and shapeless—one of Ben's. And the pièce de résistance were the shoes. Lumpy, brown suede walking shoes that I'd bought for a hiking trip Ben and I took years ago. Comfy, sure, but I'd never worn them around town.

Laney had moved behind me and was looking over my shoulder in the mirror.

“When was the last time I went shopping?” I asked her.

“Fucking ages.”

I kept staring at the ugly shoes, the hideous sweater, the god-awful jeans. “I wouldn't even know what to shop for anymore. I wouldn't know where to start.”

“We might need a professional,” Laney said.

“What do you mean?”

“Do you remember the personal shopper at Saks? The one who helped me on the Herpes Project?”

A year ago, Laney had been in charge of a statewide herpes campaign targeted at the twenty-something bar crowd. They'd turned to a personal shopper at Saks to outfit the people featured in the ads, and, as a result, the men and women who were supposedly plagued with genital sores looked
gorgeous and hip. It was enough to make you think herpes wasn't so bad, after all.

I nodded, unable to take my eyes away from my image in the mirror.

“She was pretty damn good,” Laney said. “She'll size you up and then bring in a million things, and you just keep trying them on until you find what you need.”

I took another long look at myself in the mirror before I slammed the door shut and turned to Laney. “Let's get her on the phone. Now.”


n hour later, Laney and I were sitting on yellow silk couches, sipping tea in a huge dressing room of the personal shopping department of Saks on Michigan Avenue. The person that Laney knew wasn't working, but another woman, named Melanie, had proclaimed it a slow weekend and told us to come in immediately.

Melanie was a willowy frosted-blonde who could have been anywhere from thirty to fifty. She exuded calm and elegance as she sat across from Laney and me, handing us photos and opening pages of fashion magazines, pointing to styles she thought might look good on me. We'd already established that I wanted mostly casual clothes, since I didn't have a job, but Laney thought I should also get a few dressy things in case something came up. Since I'd been a hermit for the past five months, I couldn't imagine what
would “come up” to cause me to need a beaded silver gown, yet I told Melanie I'd try it on.

“All right, ladies,” she said, standing up and tucking a lock of her perfect blond hair behind her ear, “I have an idea of what you're looking for, so now I need to measure Kelly.”

I stood on a pedestal, while Melanie's arms flew around me with a cloth tape measure, hugging my hips, slipping around my breasts, my waist. “All right,” she said, “we'll get you mostly fours and sixes.”

four and six?”

“Definitely,” Melanie said, rolling up her tape measure.

This should have been a cause for celebration, since I'd always been an eight or a ten. Always. My whole life, no matter how hard I tried to lose a few pounds for bathing suit season, I always hovered around the same weight, the same sizes. Laney and I glanced at each other briefly, neither of us acknowledging exactly how or why I'd lost that weight. I reached down and felt my hipbones through the baggy jeans and sweater. They were prominent for the first time in my life. I must have been either eating like crap or barely eating at all.

“You ladies relax,” Melanie said with a calm smile, making notes on a small leather-covered notepad. “I'll be back shortly.” Before she left, she poured us more tea, replenishing the biscuits she'd laid out on a silver tray.

“I could get used to being waited on like this,” I told Laney, making my voice light, trying to instill some levity back into the situation. I made a point of breaking a biscuit in half and popping it into my mouth.

“No shit.” She sipped her tea, holding her pinky out for effect, and we both laughed, relieved.

“I love you, you know.” I was suddenly struck with how amazing Laney must have been to me over the past months.

“I know.” She gave me a little smile over her teacup.

It scared me to think about what could have happened if Laney hadn't been there for me, but if I thought too much
about the last few months, they might come back. I might remember. And as odd as it felt to have this gap in my brain, it was better than the alternative.

“So tell me,” I said. “Are you still dating Archer?”

“Archer? Archer was eons ago!”

I imagined Archer in my head—a tall, skinny bass player in a jazz band, with stringy blond hair—but I couldn't remember learning they weren't dating anymore. Not that Laney and he had dated very long—not that she dated anyone for very long—but he was the last boyfriend I could recall.

“Is there someone new?”

She nodded.

“Name, please.”

“Well, his real name is Gary.”

“And what's his not-so-real name?”

She smiled and did that whistle of hers. “Gear.”

“Excuse me?”

“Gear, okay? He calls himself Gear.”

“And what band is Gear in?” This wasn't a hard question for me to come up with. Laney nearly always dated musicians. I think she'd done it initially to piss off her four older sisters and her parents, but after a few years of music men, Laney had begun to take guitar lessons, and now she was hooked on the whole scene. Her dream was to be in a band herself.

“High Gear.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me. High Gear. They're very talented, actually.”

“I'm sure. And how did you meet Mr. High Gear?”

“Well…” She nearly sighed. “I was taking a lesson.”

She looked at me for confirmation that I remembered the guitar lessons she took at the Old Town School of Music, and I nodded.

“So I was taking a lesson, working on this song I'd written.”

“You're writing songs now? That's amazing!”

“Lyrics, too. So anyway, the door was slightly open and I played this damn song for probably the whole hour, and when I opened the door, he was just sitting there in the hallway.”

“Gear?” I asked, trying not to giggle at the name, although Laney probably wouldn't have noticed. She looked positively dreamy.

“He told me I was talented. He told me he thought my song was beautiful, and that was about three months ago. Three great months.”

“Wow.” I was struck by how romantic their meeting was. There was something so Shakespearean about him being drawn by her song.

It was completely different from the way I'd met Ben—a handshake at work when he started two years after me, and then an awkward, sloppy kiss a few weeks later following a Bartley Brothers happy hour.

I was about to ask Laney what kind of music High Gear played when Melanie sailed into the room holding aloft an armload of hangered clothes. “There's more coming,” she said, “but this should get us started.”

For the next hour and a half, I tried on more outfits than I knew existed—black pants and jeans of every style, silk sweaters, wool pantsuits (“Good for job interviews, if you decide you want one,” Laney said), trendy skirts with splashy prints, clingy tops, leather boots, suede boots, short boots, high boots and every other shoe under the sun.

Ben used to like me in pastels—pink, powder-blue, lilac. “Soft and sweet,” he'd said. Although I didn't despise those colors, I didn't love them, either, and yet little by little my closet had become full of them. I wasn't one of those women who would just change everything about herself in order to keep her man happy, but I
changed minutely, piece by piece. It was enough to eventually alter most of my
wardrobe, to leave me feeling as if I didn't know what colors I liked anymore.

I noticed now that I was gravitating more toward the basics, sturdy, elegant colors like black, tan, cream and gray. Colors you could build a whole wardrobe around.

Meanwhile, Laney sat on the couch, offering a running commentary on each piece. The problem was that she liked nearly everything.

“Lane,” I said, spinning around to face her. “I can't buy every single thing.”

“I don't know why not. You've got money to spare from your severance package, and you look amazing in everything.”

I turned back to the mirror and looked at the soft camel pants I had on with an ivory turtleneck and a pair of high-heeled camel boots. Okay, Laney had a point. It wasn't that I thought I looked so fantastic, but the clothes were fitting me better than ever before. Where I'd been curvy in the past, I was more angular from the weight I'd lost—
being an adjective I'd only dreamed of applying to myself in the past.

“The trousers look fabulous on you,” Melanie said. By this time, she had realized that I was definitely in a buying mood, and champagne had replaced the tea. She stood now with two other assistants, all of them studying me, nodding along with her.

I shrugged. “Okay, I'll take the pants.”

“And now,” Melanie said, floating toward me with a garment bag hanging gingerly over her arms, “let's try this.”

It was the gown from the photo, and it was stunning. I slipped it on, stepping into the high sandals they'd given me. The lining was silky and smooth. When I zipped the dress up, it felt like a second skin.

I came around the curtain, and as I stepped onto the pedestal I heard a gasp—Laney's. I looked into the mirror and saw what she meant. It was spectacular. The dress was
sleeveless and formfitting. It was cut so well, with its high neck and equally high slit, that it could have made anyone look good. The silver bugle beads glimmered with each movement as I turned this way and that. It was the most beautiful dress I'd ever seen.

I looked down at the price tag and tried not to swear. It was half a mortgage payment—if I'd still had a mortgage to pay off.

to get it,” Laney said, a hand on her chest. “You look fabulous.”

“But it's crazy money.”

“Don't care.” Laney raised her champagne flute.

“Where would I wear it? I mean, what are the chances of me going to a gala or something if I've been needing antidepressants just to get out of the house?”

Melanie and her assistants sent each other questioning looks, probably wondering if they were dealing with an escapee from a mental hospital.

Laney shook her head and gave them a smile as if to say
She's kidding.
“Kelly, it's perfect on you. You
to have it. And who knows what will happen? Maybe there'll be a black tie wedding.”

“Yeah, maybe Ben and Therese's.” The thought almost made me fall off the heels.

Laney must have seen my stricken face because she jumped up, putting her arms around me from behind. “Look, this is a special dress. You probably won't ever again find something this amazing. Think of it as a treat to yourself after everything you've gone through. And I'll make you a deal. If after a year you haven't found someplace to wear it, I'll buy something fabulous, too, and we'll take each other out for an outrageous night in our dresses.”

I looked at myself in the mirror again. I'd been so frugal for years, saving up to buy my town house, the one where Ben and I would start our lives together, and what did I have
to show for it? Not a goddamn thing. I smoothed the dress over my stomach, although it hung perfectly. I watched the light glinting off the beads.

“Deal,” I said to Laney. I turned and hugged her back.

Fifteen minutes later, I was ready to go and wearing a new outfit—a silky, bronze sweater, a pair of dark jeans and tall, black leather boots. As I bent over to sign the credit card slip, I flipped my hair over my shoulder and got a rush of that damn-I-look-good feeling. It'd been a while. But then I got another rush, this one much more panicky, and my hand froze over the slip. What if Laney was wrong about how much money I had? What if I'd just rendered myself penniless?

“Everything all right?” Melanie said.

“Uh…” I tried not to focus on the grand total at the bottom. If Laney was wrong, if I was broke, I'd just have to return everything. “It's fine,” I said, and I scrawled my signature with a flourish. “Thanks for everything.”

“Oh, it was a pleasure,” Melanie said. “A real pleasure.”

I'm sure it had been a
pleasure, since my whopping purchases had probably provided Melanie with her sales quota for the month, but I kept my mouth closed. Despite the moment of panic, I was entirely too pleased. I knew that this frivolous shopping spree couldn't provide answers about my memory loss or stem the depression I feared might return; yet it had made me feel a hell of a lot better.

“May I make one more suggestion?” Melanie said.

She turned me around to the mirror and fingered my dull hair. “Can I send you to a friend of mine at Trevé?”

I knew what she was trying to say. My hair was hell. Something needed to be done. But Trevé was the hottest salon in the city.

“I'm sure I wouldn't be able to get in there anytime soon,” I said.

“Let me try.”

She whipped out a cell phone the size of a Tic Tac box
and raised it to her ear. “Tommy,” she said. “It's Melanie from Saks. Tell Lino I'm calling in my favor. I need an appointment today.”

She paused, listening.

“No, it's not for me. A client. Kelly McGraw.” Another pause. “Perfect,” she said with a smile. “Kisses to Lino.”

She clicked her phone off and looked at her watch. “You'll have to get a cab. Lino is expecting you at Trevé in twenty minutes.”


We could hear the music pumping even before we walked in the door. A huge doorman with a bald head held the glass door for us. “Welcome to Trevé, ladies.”

“You'd think they'd have somebody with hair,” I said as we muscled my Saks bags through the doorway.

Laney laughed, or at least I could see her laughing, although it was hard to hear her above the thumping music. The front desk was at least six feet tall and spray-painted with gold graffiti. I stood on my tiptoes and screamed my name to the collagen-lipped receptionist, who led us upstairs to the stylists' stations, where the music was, thank God, being played at a much lower volume.

BOOK: A Clean Slate
4.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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