Authors: Zoey Dean
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #9780446197236 044619722X
―That‘s not what I meant, James. I meant no, I‘m not writing it.‖ I swear, I almost turned around to see who was talking. Yet with the words out of my mouth, I knew it was the right thing to do.
He actually snorted a laugh. ―No. Seriously, Megan—‖
―I am serious.‖
―Well.‖ He folded his hands together and placed them on the table. ―Can I ask you something?‖
―Sure.‖ I leaned forward.
Have you lost your mind?
―I like them,‖ I said lamely. ―The twins, I mean.‖
―You like them.‖ He stared at me as if I had grown a third eye on my cheek. ―You‘re not going to write about them because you
―Something like that.‖
He shook his head, crossed his arms, and regarded me as if I were a stranger. ―Jeez, Megan, you‘re a journalist. At least I thought you were.‖
―I am a journalist,‖ I defended myself. ―You should see my notes. You should see what I went through to get what I got. When I first got here and was pumping the cook about the twins, he told me—no lie, direct quote—‗They‘re damaged.‘‖
―Great stuff,‖ James acknowledged.
―No! Don‘t you get it? How can I take advantage of two teenagers who lost their parents and never recovered? What kind of a person would that make me?‖
The waitress came back and asked if we wanted anything else. I waved her off as James put his head in his hands.
―If your brilliant insight is that the Baker twins are scarred by the death of their parents—which isn‘t exactly a shocker, by the by—find a way to write it and make it interesting. But don‘t kill the biggest opportunity of your life because you feel sorry for the poor little rich girls.‖
I looked into his eyes. Really looked. ―I can‘t teach them and write about them at the same time, James. It isn‘t right.‖
He drummed his fingers on the table. ―I know exactly what‘s going on here.‖
―I wish you‘d fill me in.‖
―Look at you.‖ He gestured at me.
I looked down, then back at him.
―The hair, the makeup, the clothes,‖ he listed. ―Megan, you‘ve become their
―No, it makes perfect sense when you think about it,‖ he said confidently. ―It‘s Stockholm syndrome, where a hostage identifies with his captors. In your case, it‘s Palm Beach syndrome, where the writer identifies with her subjects.‖
―Just because I look different—‖
―You‘ve changed.‖ James gripped the edge of the table and leaned in, his expression intense. ―The girl I knew was a
writer. She didn‘t give a shit about fucking designer whatever. And she
would have let her feelings get in the way of her story.‖
―I‘m not, I—‖
That sentence went on permanent hold, because that was when I saw Will walking down the other side of Worth Avenue.
I‘m not big on the power of prayer, but I prayed for him not to see us.
But then Will stopped walking, and I saw him shield his eyes to peer across the street.
Then James shielded
eyes to figure out whom I was staring at.
It didn‘t take long for either of them. Will started purposefully down the sidewalk again, his body stiff and angry-looking, and James spun back to me. ―You fuck him?‖ he practically spat.
Does mentally count?
―No.‖ That was the truth. I hadn‘t even kissed him.
―Nothing happened, James,‖ I insisted. ―Nothing.‖
He stood up. ―You better get your shit together, Megan. You‘re coming home soon.
This fantasy will be over. Then what? You think
on your résumé is going to wow the New York publishing world?‖
We both knew the answer to that.
I reached for his hand. ―I know you‘re mad. And maybe I am crazy. But . . .‖
―You‘re not changing your mind,‖ he filled in for me.
―No. I don‘t think I am.‖
―Honestly, Megan? I don‘t think you‘ve been doing a whole hell of a lot of thinking about anything. Work. Us.‖ He tossed a few bills on the table. ―Maybe we need to take a break until you‘re back in New York. It‘s kind of weird having a hostage for a girlfriend.‖
I wanted to apologize, to say that he was right, that I was wrong, and that of course I would be writing my story. But I couldn‘t. I didn‘t.
I just watched James climb into his Volvo and drive away.
I stood watching the space where James‘s car had been for several minutes, wishing I had someone to talk to. Someone to be a real friend. And then my feet started moving toward the Phillips Gallery almost without my realizing it.
Inside, Giselle was talking to a young woman wearing a tiny orange tartan skirt and to a man twice her age whose hair transplant had not fully taken.
―Hi, Megan,‖ Giselle greeted me after the mismatched couple had departed. ―Will‘s in the back. Just knock.‖
I did. He called, ―Come in,‖ without even asking who was there.
―Hi,‖ I said as I opened the door.
His office was windowless and small, with art books open on every available surface. I peeked at the Excel document open on his computer. It meant nothing to me. The quick glance he made in my direction before he turned his attention back to his work said I meant nothing to him, either.
―Hi,‖ I repeated. ―Could we talk?‖
He regarded me coolly. ―I‘m kind of busy.‖
―You‘re the closest thing I‘ve got to a friend in this town,‖ I told him, meaning it. ―So please, just five minutes . . .‖
He closed his laptop and motioned to a folding chair. Then he folded his arms. ―So?‖
―So . . . I saw you before,‖ I acknowledged. ―I mean, I know
―With the guy you only knew
from Yale. Blossoming friendship?‖
―It‘s . . . complicated.‖ Part of me wanted to just explain everything, but how could I?
He‘d hate me. The twins would hate me. Everyone would hate me. I‘d be totally and utterly fucked.
Will frowned and shook his head. ―What is it with you, Megan? I‘d really like to know.
I mean, every time I feel like I‘m getting to know the real you—‖
―What about you?‖ I shot back because, okay, I was feeling defensive and more than a little battered and bruised. ―One minute you‘re the playboy of the Western world, the next you‘re mister sensitive art guy.‖
A muscle jumped in his cheek. I figured I‘d hit a nerve.
―You done?‖ he asked.
―I don‘t want to fight with you, Will.‖ I could hear the exasperation in my voice.
―There‘s nothing to fight
―You‘re right. There is nothing to fight about.‖ He stood and opened his door in one swift motion. ―See you, Megan.‖
Celebrities at a gala fund-raiser fill space at a rate of 0.2 per square foot. How many famous men and women would attend a soiree at a 4,000-square-foot mansion?
You know it, I know it, you don‘t even need to go to Yale to know it—F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s most famous line from
The Great Gatsby:
―The rich are very different from you and me.‖
Ernest Hemingway is reputed to have responded, ―Yes. They have more money.‖
Please. Here‘s what he should have said: ―Yes. They have bigger and better parties.‖
I thought I‘d seen extravagance at the Red and White ball and the Norton Museum of Art Christmas Eve event. But compared to what was about to unfold at Les Anges, they were pin the tail on the donkey. I was fast discovering that no one outdoes Laurel Limoges.
My first clue should have been the arrival of Secret Service agents on the property two days beforehand to set up a command post and a security perimeter. I had lunch with Marco and Keith, who had just returned home from New Jersey. Marco made us white-truffle risotto—words can describe neither the dee-lish factor nor the calorie factor—
and I joked, ―Who are they expecting, the president?‖
―Former, darling.‖ He refilled my wineglass. ―Two of them.‖
Also, he told me, the CEOs of several Fortune 100 companies, a handful of heads of state, and a dizzying array of movie, fashion, and sports stars. ―So, are you quite ready for your coming-out party?‖
―He means the fashion show,‖ Keith explained. ―Every beautiful woman should get to model in a fabulous fashion show at least once in her life.‖
I pictured the risotto applied in lumpy layers to both of my hips. ―I‘m so much bigger than the other models.‖
―Just a trend, darling,‖ Keith assured me. ―A few years back it was heroin chic—
remember?‖ He shuddered. ―Palm Beach matrons trying to look like strung-out teenagers. It was quite the horror show.‖
Marco clinked his wineglass to mine. ―Chin chin, darling. You are gorgeous and fabulous and perfect exactly as you are.‖
―But . . . I have no idea how to model,‖ I protested.
―Shoulders back, neck long, head high,‖ Keith instructed me.
―And, of course, there‘s the strut,‖ Marco added. ―But everyone knows the strut.‖
I blanched. ―I . . . don‘t know the strut.‖
“America’s Next Top Model?”
Marco asked. ―I know a dozen drag queens who wear clothes and walk the catwalk a zillion times better.‖ He stood, put a hand on his hip, and proceeded to do a perfect model walk. ―It‘s a straight-line thing, darling,‖ he explained as he walked the length of the kitchen, then spun to us. ―As if you‘re on a tightrope.
Like so.‖ He flounced back to us. He gestured with a flourish, meaning I should give it a try.
I tried. Felt like an idiot. Lost my balance. ―Oh,
attractive,‖ I groused.
―Well, for one thing, you can‘t look at your feet. Head up. Shoulders back. You own the world! Try again.‖
Head up. Shoulders back. I own the world. I walked the length of the kitchen again. It was only a marginal improvement.
―The sexiest part of your body, darling, is right here.‖ Marco pointed to his head.
―Remember that, and all else follows.‖
Over the next couple of days, as the decorating and setup kicked into high gear, I practiced walking across my room like a model. I felt like a grace-free donkey each and every time.
The second clue that Laurel Limoges was not to be outdone was the not-so-small army of workers who descended on the property in the days before the event. Several tents were erected around the property. One for the catering service, one as a changing area for the fashion show, one that was air-conditioned and mosquito-netted in the event of a hot and humid night, and one to house the blind auction for charity.
I wandered through the blind-auction tent soon after it was set up. The array of merchandise could have stocked a Neiman Marcus. There were cases of wine, fur coats, world cruises, perfect Tiffany diamond earrings, a walk-on role on
Grey’s Anatomy . . .
and that was just one aisle. As for the auction of the gowns we‘d be wearing in the fashion show, there were mannequins at the ready with poster-sized framed photographs of the gowns propped against them. The minimum bid for each gown was five thousand dollars.
Every contingency for the party had been covered. Temporary moorings had been sunk in the ocean so guests might arrive by boat. In an effort to deflect traffic, only a limited number of parking passes had been issued to the crème de la crème of Palm Beach society, plus the majority stockholder of a company that Laurel was considering acquiring. Otherwise, limousine shuttles would run from the Breakers, Mar-a-Lago, Bath & Tennis, the Colony Hotel, and the Ritz-Carlton. There was a helipad, and a LifeFlight chopper was on duty in case any octogenarian Palm Beacher found the flesh around the twins‘ pool too much for his or her heart.
The third clue that Laurel‘s New Year‘s Eve bash was
event of The Season was seeing it before my very eyes.
I came downstairs at nine-fifteen, and things were already rocking. The property was crowded with beautiful and famous and beautiful and not-so-famous revelers. I made my way down the pathways crowded with partyers, keeping a lookout for Will. We hadn‘t spoken since I‘d left him at the gallery. Maybe he wouldn‘t even come. I did move aside for one person who stopped me in my tracks—the guy I thought of as
president walked past me with his daughter, preceded and trailed by Secret Service agents.
And they say Democrats don‘t come to Palm Beach.
The fashion tent was already fairly crowded, though it was forty-five minutes before the models were due for hair and makeup.
had covered the New York fashion scene extensively, so some of what I was seeing was familiar. There were steps leading up to the runway, its entrance masked by pink velvet curtains. To the left were the racks of gowns; a beefy woman in a security uniform stood over them. There were sixteen models in all—the twins and I were in group three. I noticed Faith Hill having false eyelashes glued on, Kate Bosworth under a hair dryer, and Julie Delpy talking away in soft French on her cell phone.
I was modeling with them. Me. Megan Smith. Oh
I sidled over to the clothes rack, smiled at the security guard—she didn‘t smile back—
and found my gowns. They were bigger than the others; I could tell even with them on their pink velvet hangers.
Was I insane? Why had I been eating Marco‘s risotto? What if the gowns didn‘t fit anymore? I took the hanger from the rack and held the first of the two dresses up to myself as if I could somehow tell whether I could get into it and zip it by just looking at it.
―If you‘re wearing that, it‘s going to look great on you.‖
I whirled at the sound of the voice. I knew that—
Lily. She wore a shoulder-baring charcoal-silk column with her hair tied back in a simple and elegant ponytail. ―Anna Sui.‖ She twirled for me. ―Isn‘t it to die for?‖
I flung myself into her arms. It was so good to see her. ―Oh my God, why didn‘t you tell me you were coming?‖
―One of the models got the flu this morning, and they had to find someone with her exact measurements. They found me! I wanted to surprise you.‖ When she pulled out of my embrace, she took a good look at me. ―God, Megan. You‘re