“Yeah,” Gabi mumbled back as Magda did her best to sneak out, all five foot ten of her blond, suited self. This had happened countless times.
“Hey, is she gonna be okay?” Luz, watching the exchange, walked over.
Luz sighed as she kneeled down to Gabi’s side, ready to help if it was needed.
“You know, do you mind . . . I don’t feel so well. I think I gotta go, too,” Gabi said.
“Sure, sure, can I help?” Luz offered.
“No, no, I’m good,” Gabi whispered, just as another award of the evening was announced. She waved a silent good-bye to all, threw smiles, and mouthed thank-you’s to all at the table as she made her way out.
She made her way down the once-crowded red carpet, clutching her shawl about her. The doors to the hallway were wide open and the air made Gabi feel a bit better. It wasn’t all Magda’s fault, why she’d suddenly felt woozy. There was a tug of sadness as her pregnancy progressed. Her husband of only a year was still working on solidifying his rank as a top chef in the city, which meant he wasn’t around much. There was always an event, and then press, and crises. She felt a bit alone. But she knew she’d work it out. She always did.
Trying to pull the shawl in place over her growing-into-aC-cup breasts, Gabi’s eyes caught sight of Magda standing in profile at the valet drop-off point with the beautiful woman she had left the table for. It didn’t look good. She was extending her taut, toned arm, pointing at Magda’s face, accusing. Magda’s body language was a mix of pleading and defending. She’d rock back and forth between the two with what seemed like ease.
Then abruptly, all eyes and ears around, including Magda’s, were shocked as the woman’s meticulously manicured hand shot straight for Magda’s pale pink cheek with a slap. Then silence. Without another word, the slapper then turned and walked into a black car with impeccable timing. Magda stood stock-still for a beat, as slowly her right hand made it to her burning right cheek. The world started moving again as Magda turned her back to Gabi’s gaze, her eyes following the car.
“Well, what hurts more, your cheek or your pride?” Gabi asked.
Magda didn’t turn to Gabi’s voice coming from just behind her right shoulder.
“Ah, fuck it,” Magda murmured as she looked after the departing car.
Normally, Gabi would take Magda’s arm in hers, lead her to a taxi, and take her home, make sure she was all right. But tonight, Gabi had a baby in her belly. Someone else to think about. She just wasn’t up for it this time.
A yellow cab pulled up and Gabi opened the door for herself while her friend, her once lover, stood in the same spot, like taxidermy.
“Take care of yourself, okay?” Gabi asked Magda as she hopped into the cab, not waiting for an answer, as she left Magda with the doorman who had probably witnessed worse in his day. A handsome and still-fit gray-haired man, he walked gently up to Magda.
“Women, huh?” he asked her, as if man-to-man.
“Yeah,” Magda answered, narrowing her eyes.
“There’s a great spot just around the corner for late-night drinks if you need one—seems like you could use one.” He pointed just past the line of waiting cabs and black cars.
“Yeah, thanks,” Magda said as she started walking. Having stood so heavily in one spot for so long, her feet ached a bit going into motion. “I could use a few.”
h, I just love you, guuurl!” came a pleasant squeal from the book-signing line.
One of Gabi’s fervent fans handed her his book to sign. She noted that her queue was satisfyingly long, leading out to the escalator and down to the entrance of the store next door. Lots of frustrated, married moms here in Battery Park City, she noted. Frazzled, spin-class ladies cordoned off from the rest of the world by the West Side Highway, living in sanitized high-rise rentals, rushing from overcrowded schools to unsustainable careers, praying to avoid another Hurricane Sandy. After all, just one more year until they—or their husbands—were getting that raise or that next baby that would move them uptown, or out of Manhattan altogether.
“Can you make it out to Stefano?” The fan pointed at the title page. This was certainly not a BPC housewife, but he was fab. He rolled his eyes as he rambled: “So, the whole reason I got this book is because I was Googling
to look for this specific episode to watch with my girl, Nitika, and this book popped up—
You Are Golden
—as I was typing and I was, like: What. The. Fuck? But then I started reading and I was, like, I love this lady, love!”
He was tall, she’d give him that much, with almond-butter skin and a waist like hers at twelve years old, wrapped in skinny jeans. Gabi chuckled at Stefano’s rambling, noting the impatience of the folks behind him. There were too few moments of amusement in her life, a life where she listened, then fixed, people’s problems, letting their issues fill her head rather than pay attention to her own.
“Ha! That’s too funny—but let’s be clear, I’m years from
club of girls.” She winked. He smiled back, happy she reflected back his reference.
Gabi placed his freshly signed book to her far right, gently leading him to the side. “Now, don’t stop now—read my other books!” she called out, pointing at him like a teasing schoolteacher. Gabi broke her furrowed brow into a bright smile. “Ciao, Estefano! Mmwah, mmwah.” She blew him kisses, which he happily blew back.
The next fan in line was two feet shorter and two feet wider than the previous.
“Oh, hello!” Gabi continued to give everyone in line for her the same genuine smile and wide-eyed attention. She adjusted her Anthropologie on-sale sweater between guests. She did well, financially and professionally—but for this city, well was never enough. And she was now the main breadwinner. No slacking when you have to bring home nearly all the bacon—which means no buying things that aren’t on sale.
Gabi Gomez Gold, Ph.D., continued to greet and sign, greet and sign, doling out snippets of advice each time. Twenty down, how many more to go? She never asked and did not keep track. She greeted each new person like the first person in line. After forty-five minutes, though, Gabi was waning and sensed—hoped—the end was near. She allowed herself to ask the staff person nearest to her, through the side of her mouth, “Rachel. How are we doing?”
“Great!” replied the bookstore staffer rhythmically passing out Gabi’s books. “Do you need water?”
“I’m good. Thanks . . . Oh, hi!” On to the next. She was a machine. “And how do you spell that?”
“Ms. Gold?” the next reader asked. “I mean, Dr. Gold?”
“It’s just Gabi, hon.” The woman was an awkward sort—squat, pale, long unwashed hair, ancient glasses. Physical intake be damned, Gabi spotted a Mensa brain behind those eyes, most likely clouded by Asperger’s. She peered in.
“So . . . um, Gabi . . . I’ve been going through such a hard time, taking care of my mother and all. She’s got Alzheimer’s. And I was laid off. So, money’s tight.”
“Ooh . . . I’m sorry.” Gabi’s face showed genuine concern. She laid her hand closer to her visitor’s, resting on the table.
“Well, so, you really helped me not feel so guilty about not being with my mother twenty-four/seven—like, one time, I snuck out to see a movie. So, like you say, I’m taking care of me. Putting the oxygen mask on myself first so I’m in a position to help others.”
“Mmm hmm. Good. Good.” Gabi patted her hand, smiled, and patiently let her finish.
“So, just wanna say, thank you so much.” She didn’t look Gabi in the eye, instead focusing on the flat, false eyes pictured on the back cover photo on the book.
“Listen—what’s your name, hon?”
“Sara, what you’re doing is sometimes the hardest job of all: becoming a parent to your own parent, okay? Shifting roles in a family is never easy, but for most of us, it’s normal. So, stay with it, and keep taking care of
so you can help her.” Gabi waited for a nod from Sara, that her words had sunk in. “E-mail me if you need a pep talk, okay? Go right through my Web site and click ‘Contact Me.’” Sara—no ‘h’—smiled brightly with only the lower half of her face before shuffling off, hugging her autographed book.
As a psychotherapist, Gabi’s policies were to always use someone’s name, and to say it often to acknowledge that he or she was being heard. Another modus operandi of Dr. Gold’s was to make herself available to any and all people as much as possible. E-mails were answered within twenty-four hours, forty-eight if she was on the road. As her sales climbed and her press mentions accrued, it was becoming hard to keep up. But that’s what interns were for, right?
“Gabi.” Her public relations gal, a demure hipster rocking an obligatory topknot and owl glasses, crouched beside her, whispering. “Your phone. It’s ‘X.’”
“Oh shit—I mean, shoot!” Gabi raised her index finger. “One second . . . Rachel, I’ll be right back.” She started to rise from her chair, eliciting a few panicked looks from those who remained in line. “Don’t worry!” Gabi assured folks. “I’ll be right back—two minutes!” Gabi held up two fingers, patience and peace.
The PR gal stepped in to assure folks that the amazing, lovely “Dr. G” would return promptly. “No worries!” she sang in her Aussie accent. Folks in line buzzed.
Gabi slipped behind the nearest bookcase to the back wall, pulling off a large, glitzy clip-on earring, like Mrs. Robinson taking a call in the hotel lobby before heading up to her rendezvous with the young Benjamin Braddock. Oh, how Gabi missed having time for her movies. At five years old she’d watched weekly movies, old and new, as a way to bond with her sullen, distant father, appropriating mannerisms and styles of the characters she admired. But always careful not to internalize their angst. She had her own. No need for more.
“X”—the latest in a line of her most unstable, needy clients—was a call she was pressed to take. “X” was a suicidal, forty-something, female executive who was bipolar, single, and had just been dumped by another married man full of empty promises.
“Bonnie, I’m here.” One finger went into Gabi’s left ear to block out the bookstore chatter. She heard the telltale snort of a crying jag.
“I just can’t take it, Gabi! He sends me this text and I just can’t take it! It hurts too much. It huuuuurts!” The sound was not unlike that of Gabi’s five-year-old having a tantrum. This woman was eight times as old.
“Okay. Okay. Listen, do you feel like you’re going to do something to hurt yourself or anyone else?”
Gabi heard a snort before the answer. “Um, no. I dunno.”
“Bonnie. I mean it, Bonnie. Are you—” Gabi strained to hear for any other sounds or clues that would signal that Bonnie was doing something else besides talking and crying.
“No, no, I won’t, I won’t . . . I just really need to talk to you right now.” Gabi heard tissues rustling.
“Tell you what. I’m going to have Dr. Wong call you in the next twenty minutes. She’ll ask you a few questions and figure out if we need to change your dosage—that will help you have a clear enough head to implement some more exercises, okay?” Gabi could hear her client’s breathing shallow down and her crying drop from boil to simmer.
“Okay.” Almost a whisper, but of relief, not despair.
“Okay?” Gabi pressed for better affirmation.
“Yes. Yeah. Okay.” There was a sniff. “Thank you, Gabi. Thank you.”
“You got it. Text me if you don’t hear from her in exactly twenty minutes, okay? Watch the clock. And remember, it’s not about him, it’s about you—take care of you!”
Grow a spine.
I’m back!” Gabi waved as she made a grand entrance back to the author’s desk, sitting beside a five-foot-tall mockup of her book cover. She clipped her earring back on, jangling her bracelets along the way. Some people were all about jackets. Gabi had her jewelry, showcasing her love for Caribbean priestesses with their rows of bangles and flouncy white dresses.
The fans were pleasantly surprised at how Gabi returned quickly, as promised; glowing smiles again lit up the line. Gabi resumed grinning herself, followed by asking how to spell each name. She accompanied this by doling out two-sentence advice nuggets and tidbits of en-couragement that she knew could lift people for days. She had some sort of power, she surmised, a gift. It was as if she had an internal generator that could throw off light and warmth. When Gabi looked at you, she saw you. Gabi was convinced she had been born with too much love to give, so releasing it little by little to so many people decreased the pressure inside her, her own pressure. The pressure of a need to give, to help. So if you didn’t need fixing, didn’t need helping, your time in Gabi’s world could be cut short.
She felt the cell phone in her pocket buzz.
“Oh shit . . . Again!” Gabi hissed.
“Everything okay?” asked Ms. Topknot.
Gabi pulled her glowing and buzzing phone out of sight, to just under the table. “Oh no . . .” she said.
“Do you need another break?”
“Nope! Nope. Not going anywhere,” Gabi proclaimed loud enough for all to hear. “Just one sec. A little baby-sitter guidance is needed.” Parents in line chuckled knowingly. Gabi typed both frantically and deliberately, her nerves and big thumbs preventing the even more rapid clip she preferred. It was her husband. She saw that he’d called her already, twice, hung up, and then sent texts.
He’s being hateful. Come home now.
OK, wrapping at store, will skip dinner.
“June, I’m going to have to go right after this,” Gabi got out before her next greeting: “Hi, hon! Who is this for?”
“But . . . what about the dinner?” June had her hand to her chest, just under her buttoned-to-the-throat collar. She had sexy-librarian-living-in-Bushwick down pat.
“Can’t do. Family emergency—gotta head right home.” Gabi kept on greeting, signing, advising. “Can you call JC and fill her in?”
Gabi couldn’t look June in the eye. She, her agent, and her editor had planned to celebrate making the
New York Times
nonfiction top three. But family first, right? Gotta fix family first.