Authors: Lynn Schnurnberger,Janice Kaplan
Lucy’s cell phone rings and she looks embarrassed. “It’s okay. Answer it,” I say.
I hang out for a minute while she says hello, and when she realizes who it is, she turns to me and mouths, “Sorry. I have to take this.”
Her business call gives me an excuse to make my way to the pastry table in time to snag a croissant. I chat with a few of the other mothers about birthday parties and dancing lessons. One of them asks me if I can chaperone a class trip and another enlists me to work the book fair. I make my escape before someone can sign me up to sew saris for Diversity Day.
When I wander back to Lucy, she’s still on that business call. Or maybe it’s not strictly business, I suddenly realize. Lucy has her hand cupped around the phone and her face is flushed. A few strands of hair are sticking to her slightly damp forehead. Every few seconds Lucy, the serious professional, lets out a hoot of laughter. I try not to listen.
Okay, that’s a lie. I get as close as I can without grabbing the phone from her.
“I’d love to tell you, but I can’t right now. I’m in a school gym,” I hear her whisper.
I should probably disappear and give her some privacy, but I can’t bear to leave. Something makes her giggle again.
“Then ask me questions,” she coos.
I’d give anything to know what the Mystery Caller asks now, because the next thing she says is:
“Pink silk.” And then she giggles again.
Another pause. And then, “Just the kind you like.”
My face gets red, even though I’m not the one on the phone.
Lucy looks up and sees me, but I might as well not be there. “Yes, you looked great on the show this morning,” she gushes into the phone. “I liked the Hermès tie. Is that the one you were telling me about?”
He—because I’m pretty sure by now it’s a “he”—must have a self-esteem problem because she quickly says, “Yes, you were wonderful. You always are.”
Lucy rolls her eyes at me, pretending she can’t wait to hang up, but the guy at the other end won’t let go that easily. “You were great, sweetheart, trust me. But I have to get off. Yes, I’ll call back in an hour. Promise. Okay. Me too.”
Lucy hangs up, stuffs the phone back into her beige Dior hobo bag and says brightly, “So. I’m sorry about that. Now you never told me about Dr. Paulo.”
“Not so fast,” I say. “Who was that?”
“Just someone I work with.”
“The guy who flirted with you in L.A.?” I ask, sensing a plotline.
Before she has a chance to answer, Cynthia—goddamn Cynthia—rings a bell. A real bell. I swear. She’s standing in the middle of the gym holding a cowbell. We all look at her, which is what she really seems to want in life, and for a moment it appears that she’s going to take a bow. Instead, she chirps, “Ladies, it’s time! The children are waiting for us in the classrooms!”
I hope Cynthia hasn’t planned the class activities, too. Following the Nancy Drew read-aloud, she’ll probably have us playing hopscotch.
After my morning in Jen’s classroom, I spend three hours at my computer working on my presentation for the Arts Council for Kids. Great group, bad acronym. Unlike the rest of the staff, I refuse to say “ACK” out loud, unless of course I’m choking on a hot dog. But be that as it may, it’s a worthy cause. Since I became their fund-raiser five years ago, I’ve raised four million dollars for the Council, which sounds like a lot, but in Manhattan terms, it’s what certain people drop in an afternoon at Harry Winston. But I have a plan this year to blow it out of the water.
I manage to return a few phone calls although none of my conversations are as intriguing as Lucy’s. Maybe I’m in the wrong business. Or not. I like the kids we help, I like the cause, and I especially like that I can work part-time, mostly from home. I get to earn a living without changing out of my sweatpants.
Just before Jen gets home, marking the usual end of my workday, I catch myself staring in the mirror, counting my crow’s-feet. Then the phone rings again, but this time it’s not business. As soon as I pick it up and say, “Hello,” Lucy blurts, “So why did you hate Dr. Paulo?”
I laugh. “ ‘Hello, how are you’ is usually a better way to start a conversation.”
“Hello, how are you. Why did you hate him? You never answered me this morning.”
“I didn’t hate him. He’s just not my type. Sorry. Wasn’t a great night.”
Lucy groans. “I don’t know how it could have gone wrong. He’s so good with Botox.”
Well, that’s a quality that never made my list of what-to-look-for-in-a-husband. Kind and caring. Sense of humor. And—who knew?—good with Botox.
“Maybe he sees too many beautiful women all day,” I suggest generously. “He’s gotten kind of spoiled.”
“Okay, I’ve got to ask this. What kind of underwear were you wearing?”
Am I missing another connection here or … Oh, for goodness’ sake! Does Lucy think I dropped anything more than my dignity? “Trust me, Lucy. Underwear wasn’t the issue. He didn’t get to see it, believe me.”
“No, no. I’m just thinking that we should go shopping for lingerie. I know a great little place on Madison. Are you free on Monday morning?”
“Shopping, sure,” I say. “But why lingerie?”
“Because lingerie always makes you feel better,” Lucy says preachily, sounding as if she’s quoting from the Bible. The Very New Testament. “I need a lift. You need a lift. My mother used to say you can’t hold your head up high in an old bra.”
I never heard of a bra holding up your head, but I’m in. “Monday,” I agree.
Lucy’s Madison Avenue lingerie store looks intimidating even from the outside. A delicate lemony camisole is floating in the window next to a midnight blue lace garter belt. At least I think it’s a garter belt. Hard to tell. It’s hung so artfully from a thin wire, it might be part of a Calder mobile rather than something to wear. On an awning above a feng-shui red lacquered door, the pseudo-French name of the store is inscribed in intricate curlicues.
“This place is expensive,” Lucy admits as we get out of the cab, “but worth it. It’s even French.”
“La Lovelette,” I say, reading the name on the awning. “Not really French, I don’t think. Just meant to sound foreign and impress you. Sort of like Häagen-Dazs—made up to sound Danish and sell more ice cream.”
“Like Ben and Jerry’s,” Lucy says distractedly, as she heads toward the store.
“Not at all like Ben and Jerry,” I insist, following her. “Ben and Jerry are real guys who live in Vermont, while Häagen-Dazs is …”
Lucy stops and looks me straight in the eye. “Jess, I don’t really care about ice cream right now, okay? I want to focus on lingerie.”
Got it. I pull myself together to enter this temple of temptation.
The store is all polished surfaces—a brilliantly buffed wood floor, gleaming chrome fixtures, and smooth-as-glass marble walls. It’s not immediately clear to me that anything’s for sale since it feels more like a museum with just a few choice items on display, lit like Picassos. Finally, past the Mies van der Rohe chairs, I notice some high racks where bits of lingerie are hanging on heavily padded hangers, each a foot apart from the next.
“Not very much merchandise,” I whisper to Lucy. Whispering seems the way to go in here.
“That’s because each piece is spectacular,” she says. “All one-of-a-kind.”
I walk over to examine a one-piece peach silk garment that’s floating in the air, backlit by hidden spotlights, and just as I’m fiddling around, trying to find the price tag, a saleswoman approaches. She’s one of those women of indeterminate age who looks like she was born on Madison Avenue. Her blond hair is pulled back in a sleek knot, her makeup is impeccable—that almost impossible to achieve not too matte, not too shiny look that
’s declared essential—and her St. John knit suit has to cost a lot more than she makes in a week, even here.
“Beautiful piece, isn’t it?” she asks in an excessively cultured voice. “Perfect for any occasion, but if you’re getting married, it’s what I call a must-have.”
“Not getting married yet,” I say. “I’m just looking.” When she smiles slightly, I add quickly, “Just looking at the—um, lingerie, I mean.”
Her smile turns to ice as she notices me hunting for the price tag, and once I hit on it, I almost faint. This little number would have to be a wedding gift from the Sultan of Brunei before I could slip into it. Am I buying underwear here or does it come with a house in the Hamptons?
“Anything that’s less ‘dear’?” I ask her, rising to the occasion.
“That’s hand-rolled silk and the pearls were cultivated from a new breed of oysters in the China seas and individually applied with thousands of gold-thread stitches,” she says with just a
Frankly, my Fruit of the Looms seem to be working just fine. And just how comfortable do pearls feel in your crotch, anyway? I guess that’s not the point.
“I’m sure it’s worth the price,” I assure her. “I just can’t afford it.”
She looks disappointed in me. Very disappointed. I am clearly no longer worth her time and she can barely bring herself to point her chin toward the back of the store in a vague indication that I might find something there.
Heading back, I spy a single rack of lacy bits, hung slightly closer together so I actually have to move the hangers to see them. I go through each one carefully, finally finding a bra that looks as much like my $18 Maidenform as possible, only it costs $185 and has a fancy French label. Now that’s an idea. Maybe they’ll just sell me a label.
Since this is obviously the lowest-priced bra in the store, I go to the front, prepared to admit defeat. Lucy has her back to me and is holding up something I can’t yet see while the saleswoman—who wisely abandoned me for Lucy ages ago—nods approvingly.
“Do you think it’s too much for the first time?” Lucy asks.
“I think it’s perfect,” the saleswoman says. “For the first time or anytime.”
I stop. The first time? Hasn’t Lucy shopped here before?
And then I get it.
The first time.
Okay, I’m an idiot. We’re not in this store to shop for me. Lucy has a
to be here. She’s been sending signals for days that something’s up, and I’ve been ignoring them. The popping champagne corks in L.A. The whispered call on the cell phone. The need for a girls’ night so she could tell me something private. Now she’s going to spend a small fortune on sexy lingerie because a man … well, because a man is going to see her in it. And it hits me over the head like a ton of bricks that the man isn’t Dan.
Lucy turns around and holds out the skimpy black undergarment for my approval. Her face is glowing. “Like it?” she asks.
I feel light-headed. Woozy. Like I’ve swallowed a glass of champagne too fast. I sway very slightly on my heels.
“Are you all right?” asks the saleswoman, who is rapidly getting on my nerves. When I don’t answer, she says, “Why don’t you sit down while your friend tries this on?”
I obediently follow Lucy into her fitting room, which looks like a small, jewel-box bedroom with muted lighting, flattering antique mirrors, and a soft pale pink love seat. I can’t help thinking that it’s the perfect spot for
his mistress while she models lingerie for him.
I think I’m going to be sick.
“Let’s get out of here,” I whisper urgently to Lucy.
She holds up the black whatever-it-is. “Don’t you like it?” she asks.
“I don’t like why you’re buying it.”
“What do you mean?”
I’m too flustered to be subtle and the words just come tumbling out. “For heaven’s sake, Lucy. You’re having an affair. Or planning to have an affair. I finally got it. I’m so stupid, I didn’t put it together before. And now you’re trying to get me to say it’s okay by pretending this ridiculous lingerie is worth it.”
Lucy plops down on the love seat and drops her head into the six hundred dollars’ worth of lace that she’s holding in her hands.
“Oh, Jess, it’s not like that,” she says softly. “There is someone … a guy I work with. I’m sorry. You’re right, I’ve been wanting to tell you.”
“Who is he?” I ask stoically. I’m usually pretty good at knowing what’s expected of me, but this is uncharted territory. Best friend of a woman who’s thinking of having an affair. Do I nod my head and listen supportively? Do I express outrage and dredge up Dan and the children? Or do I just admit that I’m completely confused? Somehow, the only words I hear coming out of my mouth are, “Who is he?”
“That doesn’t really matter, does it? He’s someone you probably
know. I mean, not know, know. But you’ve heard of him. You could guess who it is. He’s kind of semi-famous.”
Swell. This is like being back in Dr. Paulo’s apartment. What’s with these people? I’ll never guess who Mr. Semi-Famous is, and when I eventually get Lucy to tell me, I still won’t know who the heck he is anyway. Oh, forget it. This is all beside the point.
I stand up. “Lucy, what are you thinking? And why in god’s name would you do this?”
She turns to me with a look I can only describe as teenage angst. That glassy-eyed gaze of having found the person, the only person in the world who makes you feel tingly, alive, and whole—and who you also know is going to cause you endless, delicious pain. And it’s more than a little disconcerting to see this look on the face of my friend. My married friend. Who, in my opinion, should grow up and let her own teens have the angst.
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” Lucy babbles. “It’s all just kind of happened. I mean ‘it’ hasn’t happened. Not yet. But we started with a few dinners out in L.A. and there were some good-night kisses. And then one time I couldn’t sleep so he came to my hotel room and we shared a cognac and we talked until five in the morning.”
Maybe I should suggest pay-per-view. That’s what puts me to sleep when I’m in a strange hotel room.
Lucy looks up at me, pleadingly. “I really like him, Jess. He’s all I can think about lately. Is that so awful?”
It’s too soon for a position paper here. On the one hand I’m appalled. On the other hand, she’s my best friend. I want to understand. My practical side kicks in. “When are you going to see him again?” I ask.