Authors: Jerrilyn Farmer
In memory of Gary Gelt
tall, willowy blonde stood silently in the doorway to my office. She was wrapped, all six feet of her, in one striking color. Bright pink flip-flops with matching toenail polish. Hot pink jeans and jacket over a tiny pink bandeau. Shocking pink sailor’s cap tipped at an angle above her white-blond bangs. How long had this vision of raspberry sherbet been standing there?
“Holly.” My voice sounded calm. Good. I remembered to smile. “Wow. You’re early today.”
“Um,” she said. “I was actually kind of hoping I could maybe talk to you. Just for a minute. You know, if you have time.”
I straightened a few papers absently and in the process scuttled the ocean turquoise travel brochure for Hawaii beneath the pile of chef’s catalogs and order forms on my desk, where it had been sticking out like a Britney Spears fan at a Julie Andrews concert.
“Hey, then,” I said to my assistant, intoning just the right casual, cheerful note. “Sit down.”
“Where’s Wesley?” she asked, arranging her lean legs in a puzzle of twists as she took the chair opposite my desk.
“Kitchen.” I casually swept aside the pile of papers on my desk. “Doing Friday-morning stuff.”
Wesley Westcott and I own an event-planning company in Los Angeles, going on eight years, which we operate out of my house. Holly has been with us almost from the start. Our firm does every kind of way-out party. Every kind. From the killer “Mock” Mitzvah we threw for the thirteen-year-old daughter of a millionaire rapper—never mind that the family is Southern Baptist—to a series of small dinners for a hip mah-jongg club of Hollywood Hills gamblers, we just kind of elevate the celebratory insanity to meet our town’s taste for the lavish. For each event, Wes and Holly and I work out every detail, plan every menu option, and spend a ton of our clients’ cash to achieve, as close as we ever can, a perfect party.
“Look, I know you’re busy,” Holly said, her manner much more subdued than her outfit. “But…”
Holly fiddled with the enormous pink diamond on her third finger. “You know how I am, right?”
I began to pay closer attention. Aside from the standard-for-Holly outrageous wardrobe—the blinding garb and the neon-hued lipstick—I was beginning to perceive that this didn’t look entirely like my usual Holly. My usual Holly was a million smiles, a pedal-to-the-metal talker. But now she was quiet. And I noticed her twisting her ring around and around. “Is something wrong, sweetie? Are you having some”—there had to be a kinder word than
—“some thoughts about your wedding, Holl?”
“Yeah. How’d you…?” She looked up at me. “Well, yeah.”
“Is it Donald?”
“Donald? No, no. Donald is great. He’s fine.”
“Okay, then. Cool.” The way she was acting had me worried there.
“Donald?” she said, laughing. “He’s fantastic. What a guy!”
In only two weeks’ time, Holly Nichols was to have her big dream wedding and become Mrs. Donald Lake. There had been all the usual plans and festivities. I thought they were extremely cute together. But truthfully, as a couple, they’d been through more than their share of ups and downs. On any given month, frankly, it was difficult to remember if they were on or off. But for most of the past six months, they’d been on. Way on. I looked at my watch: 8:34. We had twenty-six minutes, but I really should have been in the kitchen already working with Wes, so…“Okay, talk.”
“Maddie, you know how you help people sometimes? Not just with planning the parties. I mean how you can solve problems for people. Like you look into things and figure them out.”
“I like to get to the bottom of things. Yes.”
“Take a look at this.” Holly unzipped her hot pink purse, a narrow leather roll hardly large enough to hold a tube of lipstick and a pack of mints. She pulled out a piece of white copier paper that had been folded, fanlike, into a tiny slip, and handed it across the desk to me.
I unpleated the paper. It held a printed message and appeared to be a printout from Holly’s e-mail account. Netscape, I noticed right away, and in the subject field, it read:
Ugly Trouble Coming.
The e-mail was from: [email protected], but that meant nothing. Anyone could set up a gotmail account—they were free and untraceable—and hide their true identity. The date field said 5:02 this morning. It was addressed to Holly Dubinsky at [email protected], her company e-mail account. The note read:
Your husband won’t be able to hide forever. And if we can’t find him, we’ll come and do our dirty business with you. Be smart. Give us Marvin and we’ll leave you alone.
It was not signed.
“But,” I said, rereading the note, “it’s a mistake. You’re Holly Nichols. Your husband-to-be is a screenwriter named Donald Lake. This is not you.”
I looked up. Holly repositioned herself, rewrapping, right over left, long thin pink-denim legs.
“There’s this other thing. And I was meaning to get to this other thing, Mad. I was meaning to. But time just sort of slipped away from me.”
Holly tipped her jaunty cap at a slightly different angle and chewed her lip.
I waited as patiently as I could, considering Wes was presently in the kitchen just down the hall at the back of the house, receiving our secret guests all alone, and probably wondering why I was taking so long. Finally I could hold it in no longer. “Holly? This other thing?”
“This other thing,” Holly said, “is kind of a goofy thing. Look, you know me. I have all the best intentions. Right? I want to help my fellow man. Women too.” She stopped and looked up.
“You’re a helper,” I prompted.
“Thanks. And then, sometimes I can get distracted. I mean, I don’t have ADD or anything like that, but you know I’ve never been tested for it either, and—”
“Holly,” I said, with a little snap to my voice. “Please. This century.”
“Okay. I think I got married when I was eighteen to a guy named Marvin. Frankly, I could hardly remember his last name.”
I stared at her.
She continued. “I guess it could have been Dubinsky.”
“You got married?”
“I’m not totally sure about that part. It was Vegas, Maddie. We were kids. It was after the prom.”
“The prom? You got married after your high school prom?”
“Hey.” She looked thoroughly miserable. “I can’t remember everything I ever did, can I? I thought it was a joke.”
Okay. I’m a professional problem solver. I get paid to do this—although usually the problem has to do with how to feed thirty hungry nine-year-olds when the parents told us they were only inviting ten. But still, I guess you could say I know a problem when I come across one. Holly, whose wedding to Donald Lake was only fourteen days away, was already married to another guy. A guy named Marvin. I tried to get my dear young friend to focus. “Holly!”
Under the jaunty hot pink cap, beneath the fringe of blond hair, her bright blue eyes were on me, intense. “This is bad.”
No, no, no. This had to be a joke. I smiled at her. “Are you telling me that all this time we’ve known each other, you have really been Mrs. Marvin Dubinsky?”
Unfortunately, Holly didn’t smile back. “Possibly.”
“Oh, man. So you never got it annulled? Or filed for a divorce? Or talked to an attorney?”
“My bad.” She raised her eyebrows, waiting for me to yell at her or something.
“Holl. You know that motto they have now: ‘What
happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’? You can’t really count on that.”
“I’m an idiot. I know.” Her eyes burned bright with anger, directed inward. “I just didn’t think about it. It didn’t seem for real.”
She was my friend, and she was in pain, the it’s-my-own-damned-fault kind of pain—the pain of consequences slowly and finally catching up.
Holly. Always so wonderfully carefree. No worries. But me, I am the yang to Holly’s yin. I see the potential for danger everywhere. I check things out ahead of time. I research. I plan. I prepare. I wouldn’t go to the corner 7-Eleven without thinking it through, let alone go out on a date with a guy whose last name I couldn’t recall. Or to the prom.
Or to a wedding chapel in the middle of the night with a fresh marriage license in my hot little hand.
Now that, no matter where you stand on the controlfreak scale, was totally flipping nuts.
But my way, the tiptoe-through-life way, was not the right recipe for everyone. And I loved Holly and the way she could charge ahead in life without worrying herself to death over six zillion things that could go wrong.
In the end, I had to laugh. “Honey, who the hell is Marvin Dubinsky?” Holly was twenty-six, and yet, in all the time we’d been buds, I had never heard that name.
“He was just some guy from high school. He was in a band,” Holly said, relaxing back in her seat, smiling back at me. “The Roots. He played bass.”
“Sounds like your type.”
“He was the shortest guy in our senior class.”
“It figures.” I got a great mental picture of teenage Holly, Amazonian-tall wild child that she must have been, attending her senior prom with the most vertically challenged boy in school.
“He was really, really smart. He took all APs and had a freaking enormous brain. He ended up going to some supergeek college, I think. University of the Insanely Gifted, or something.”
Holly has a certain flair for picking men. Always had. “So you married a diminutive, bass-playing genius?”
“He was a sweet guy. I think he was going to go into some agro-techy field—you know, study plants. Like aquaponics, or I don’t know what.”
“He grew orchids and bromeliads and stuff like that.”
“Holly, you are a magnet for weird males.”
“I can’t help it. It’s like a gift.”
“So what happened?”
“Well, he was like my tutor for senior bio. That’s how we met. Without Marvin I’m sure I would have flunked the damned course, but he got me through. At the end of senior year, after all those Tuesdays and Thursdays in the science room after school, he finally told me he was in love with me, which, you know…” Holly became a bit dreamy-eyed at the memory. “Well, he was sorta sweet. So, anyway, one day he admitted to me his darkest secret; that he hadn’t been able to get a date.”
“To the prom?”
She shook her head, awed. “Isn’t that, like, sad?”
I thought about high school. What a minefield of pain it could be for the short, smart guy. I sighed.
“So you know me,” Holly continued. “I’m all heart. I just felt it was my duty to help the poor kid out. He was really a pretty funny guy when he wasn’t getting all giggly. I think I made him nervous.”
I nodded, picturing it all, and bit my lip.
“And I think he was gonna have a nice smile someday, you know, when he got his braces off.”
“The poor boy was still wearing braces in the twelfth grade?”
Holly nodded, grinning. “He had what we might call ‘appearance issues,’ Maddie. And he was shy. So I just got it into my head and asked him to our prom.”
“You have always been very sweet.”
“My friends thought I dated him just because he gave me all the answers to the bio final, but that wasn’t it at all. I mean, I was really grateful for the help with those answers, but I had always kind of liked him. He used to write me poems, Maddie. I used to go home and actually look up some of the words. They were always flattering too. Like he called me
“Okay. You asked him to your prom. This is all fine. Generous even. But then you married him?”
“I honestly don’t know how that happened. One thing led to another. I was pretty wasted, actually. Everyone gets too drunk on prom night; you know how that is. And we were having fun, Marvin and I. And I didn’t have to get home right away because my parents already thought I was going to stay overnight with my girlfriends.”
“So after your prom, you went to Vegas?”
“Right. He told the limo driver to keep driving. He’d been joking with me all night about how I was wearing this white gown and he was in a tux and we looked like we were getting married. When we got to Vegas he told the chauffeur-guy to drive to the marriage bureau over on Third Street and see if they were still open. It was something like four in the morning.”
“And they were open, I’m guessing.”
“Did you know that that city office stays open until
midnight most every night of the week and twenty-four hours on holidays, Maddie?”
“Incredible service,” I said and wondered why my local library couldn’t stay open on Saturdays.
“So I guess we got a marriage license. I wish I could remember that night more clearly, but I do seem to recall I had to find my driver’s license for some reason. I just don’t know! I mean, we were having a great time and I was smashed.”
“Okay, Holly. But think hard. Did it all end in a ceremony at some chapel and then move on to the traditional wedding night…event?”
“I swear. It’s all a hazy blur.” She widened her already wide eyes. “I wish I could remember.”
“My God, Holly.”
“I know,” she said.
“Correction,” I said, in awe of Holly’s entire romantic history, but this chapter taking the prize. “Make that: my God, Mrs. Dubinsky.”
“It’s totally twisted, for sure.” Holly shook her head slowly.
“So how did it end?”
“It was my fault, no doubt,” she said, with a guilty look. “I mean, it had all been a lark. We were just having fun. And then I guess I kind of flaked on poor Marvin.”
“You broke his heart?”
“I never meant to hurt his feelings in a million years, but I think that’s what happened. The next day, I remember I was mega-hungover. We drove back to L.A. in the limo, and I called my mom to kind of update my cover story, and to check for messages. I guess I shouldn’t have squealed so loudly right in front of Marvin, but my mom told me I’d gotten a call from Griffin Potecky.”
I looked at her, not understanding this turn of events.
“Griffin Potecky was a teen god, Maddie. I’d had a crush on Griffin since middle school. I’d been trying to get him to notice me forever. And he was finally calling me! But I probably shouldn’t have squealed in front of Marvin, huh?”