Read an Excerpt
By Holly Chamberlin
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2005 Elise Smith
All rights reserved.
Think about a trauma, like a car crash, sudden and unexpected. Or think about having your purse snatched. You're walking down the block, minding your own business, when out of the blue some creep grabs your purse and makes off with it while you stand there gaping and gesturing wildly. People stare, some might even stop to ask what happened, but no one can really help. The deed has been done. The car crashed; the creep stole your purse.
Nothing will ever be the same. Your perspective has been radically changed. You have been radically changed. And suddenly, life is wrought with consequences you never imagined because you never imagined the inciting incident.
You ask yourself: Why didn't I ever imagine that I could be in a car crash? Why didn't I ever imagine that my purse could be snatched? Why didn't I ever imagine that I could get pregnant even though I was on the pill?
I was thirty-seven and a half years old the morning I discovered I was pregnant. Going to have a baby. Knocked up. In the family way. The morning I learned I had a bun in the oven.
Thirty-seven and a half years old the morning I found out that I was expecting a blessed event — in other words, the end of my life as I knew it.
My name is Anna Traulsen, and this is my story. At least, the part of my story during which everything just exploded.
Back to that auspicious morning.
My first thought after dropping the pink plastic stick into the white porcelain sink was:
Oh, my God, this can't be happening.
My second thought, after retrieving the stick to give it one more hard look, was:
Of course this can be happening. I had sex. I missed my period. So of course I'm pregnant. This is what happens.
My third thought, after tossing the offending stick into the brushed-aluminum trash can was:
What will Ross say!
Ross Davis was my fiancé. From the day I met him he'd declared pretty strongly that he did not want children. And when we got engaged, Ross reminded me that a family of two — Ross and me — was all the family he wanted.
And I'd gone along with that.
Except for maybe a dog, I'd suggested. A small dog, one with short hair so the shedding problem would be minimal.
Ross had agreed. Maybe a dog. A small, nondestructive dog. The kind you can train to pee on newspaper.
Well, I thought that awful morning in April, a baby most certainly isn't a dog, and although it is small, it most certainly is destructive. It spits up on your best silk blouse; siphons your bank account in an alarming way; and puts a firm, wailing, pooping end to your sex life.
The thing that had gotten you into trouble in the first place.
Sex with a man.
I remember thinking that I should call Ross right away. I assumed he hadn't left the condo for his office yet; Ross is never his best in the morning. I belted my robe more tightly around my middle and hurried from the bathroom. With a practiced motion I snatched my cell phone from the kitchen counter where it had been recharging for the past eight hours.
The number was loaded; I hit the proper button.
A woman's voice answered on the first ring.
"Alexandra," I said. "I need to talk to you."CHAPTER 2
All Eyes Upon Her
I checked my watch for the third time and wondered why I was bothering. Alexandra was always twelve minutes late. Never eleven or thirteen, always exactly twelve minutes late. Alexandra claimed this was just a bizarre coincidence, and she teased me for even noting it.
"I'd say you're the one with the problem, honey, not me. Sure that watch isn't bolted to your wrist?"
Well, it's no secret that I'm a bit anal. That would be Alexandra's term. I call myself disciplined. Orderly. Focused. I'm certainly not obsessive in any way. I do not suffer from OCD.
Anyway, I don't know how I made it through the day without spilling my dread secret. I swear I came close to grabbing the server behind the counter at Bon Marche, where I stopped for a cup of coffee, decaf of course, and shouting the news in his face.
Being a highly disciplined person, I refrained from attacking the poor server and even avoided telling Ross when he called at eleven to see if I could have lunch with him. I begged off, claiming a disgruntled client, and though I hated to lie to the man I was to marry in a few months, at the time it seemed the right thing to do.
How could I not have seen the signs? How could I have been so blind to the truth?
"Another soda water?"
I forced a smile for the too-pretty male bartender. Bartenders used to look like normal people, like your favorite grizzled sweetheart of an uncle, or your bland-faced third-grade science teacher who somehow made the task of memorizing the names of the planets come alive. Now, too many bartenders look like models. I have a hard time sharing news of my pedestrian life with a person too pretty to have a care that can't be alleviated by batting an eyelash.
"Thanks, no," I said. "Not yet. I'll wait for my —"
"Anna! What on earth is the matter?"
I swiveled on the bar stool to see my friend striding toward me. Alexandra can't help but stride; her legs are quite long.
"Nothing's the matter," I whispered as Alexandra slipped onto the bar stool next to mine. "I mean, everything is the matter. But we don't have to announce it to the world."
"Honey," she replied, "look around. The collective ego in here, apart from yours and mine, of course, is so over inflated it could sail us to Portugal. Relax. No one cares about you."
Alexandra had chosen the bar at Bodacious. It isn't one of my favorite places — the clientele is tragically hip — but Alexandra loves it. She enjoys, as she puts it, "mocking the ignorant."
I couldn't help but smile. "Well, that's comforting. I guess. Look, go ahead and order. I've waited all day to talk to you, I can wait another few minutes."
"If you say so." Alexandra hailed the bartender; he came dashing over and gave her a gorgeously flirtatious smile. She returned it mockingly; as she knew he would, the bartender clearly misinterpreted and began to fawn.
Alexandra is my closest friend although I've known her for only about four years. She's one of those people who seem completely comfortable with herself. It's as if she looked in the mirror one day long ago and said, "Okay. I got it." And from that point on, she's been unapologetically and wholeheartedly Alexandra Ryan Boyd.
The Ryan came from her father. Disappointed to learn his firstborn child was a girl, he insisted on staking at least some claim by branding her with the name of his favorite uncle, long since deceased.
Good thing, too, as Alexandra turned out to be his only child and, therefore, his last chance at immortality, of a sort. It's Alexandra's opinion that her declaration of remaining forever child-free — that is, that there would be no grandchildren forthcoming — led to the massive heart attack that killed Mr. Boyd on the spot.
"Literally," she told me not long after we met. "I was on the phone with him, and the second the words were out of my mouth I heard this terrific thud, and then my mother was screaming, and the next thing I knew I was on a plane for Cincinnati. It was a very nice funeral, by the way. My aunts put together a very respectable party afterward. I always thought they should have opened a catering business."
Alexandra Ryan Boyd — she uses her full name professionally — is an interior designer. Her business — Alexandra Ryan Boyd, Inc. — is primarily focused on private homes, although on a rare occasion she accepts a corporate gig. And once in a while, for certain large budget, high-profile events I'm coordinating, I invite Alexandra to team up with Anna's Occasions. We do it partly for the big money and partly for the fun of working together. Clients want satisfaction, and that's what they get from us. Satisfaction and an inevitable photo in the Boston Globe; once, we even got a mention in a popular home-decorating magazine.
Not bad for two girls from families who reared us with all the attention usually reserved for an afterthought.
The bartender was still fawning over my friend. I rolled my eyes to the painted tin ceiling. It was almost always the same. Nine out of ten times, men greedily zeroed in on Alexandra and ignored every other woman in the room, even those at least as attractive. Like me. Although since I'd become engaged to Ross, being ignored didn't bother me. Much.
Alexandra isn't a conventional beauty, but I think she's the most attractive woman I've ever met. Clearly, I'm not alone in that assessment. Her face is challenging, planes and angles rather than round and welcoming. Her skin is super-pale, very evenly white, like alabaster or marble. I swear not even a freckle mars her face. Her eyes are a very deep blue, almost the famous violet of Elizabeth Taylor's eyes.
Alexandra wears her thick, super-dark-brown hair slicked into a chignon, which serves to emphasize the angularity of her face. It's a conscious design decision, of course, as is the unusual shade of lipstick she wears. She mixes it herself and applies it from a 1950s gold and mother-of-pearl compact with a skinny-handled brush. The shade is a little like crystal with a touch of lilac, like a Cape amethyst.
Unlike me, a self-proclaimed jewelry addict, Alexandra owns only a few pieces and wears each piece consistently. On her left wrist she wears an antique watch she bought at an auction somewhere in France. Diamond studs sparkle fantastically on her earlobes; the earrings are a college graduation gift from her grandmother. And on the fourth finger of her right hand she wears a slim silver band with the inscription "vous et nul autre," an early version of French meaning "you and no other."
I often wondered who gave the ring to Alexandra; it isn't the sort of thing a person buys for herself. But something kept me from asking. I figured that if Alexandra wanted to tell me about the giver someday, she would.
I watched as the bartender slid the largest martini I've ever seen across the bar to Alexandra, all the while not so subtly trying to peer down her crisp-collared blouse. Alexandra doesn't need to dress like Adriana from The Sopranos. I swear she could wear a nun's habit and still be a knockout. In reality, her wardrobe is based on a few simple, signature pieces. A white tailored, long-sleeve shirt; black slacks; a few bright, silk scarves; a few fitted jackets in leather, suede, and lightweight wool; and sleek black pumps my mother would call "smart." On the coldest days of the year, Alexandra appears in a vintage fox fur inherited from the same grandmother who gave her the diamond earrings. (That grandmother, Alexandra told me, was the family's infamous wild child; no wonder she and Alexandra were so close.) On the hottest days of the year, the black slacks are replaced by a pencil skirt in Schiaparelli's hot pink; the pumps give way to stiletto-heeled slides.
Alexandra says she was born with her signature style, and while I know she's exaggerating for the sake of a good story, I want to believe her. Stylish, fiercely independent Alexandra sprung, fully formed, from the forehead of a tyrannical, pale-blue-polyester-wearing father. Why not?
That same polyester-clad man had told his daughter that he thought what she did for a living was frivolous; he suggested she get a real job, like "a secretary or something."
Alexandra had commented, "I think my father's notion of a 'working girl' was cribbed from a 1950s Technicolor movie, you know, dozens of wasp-waisted women wearing cat-eye glasses, corralled in a typing pool, longing only for a handsome husband and a kitchen full of shiny appliances. Not," she'd added, "that there's anything wrong with the handsome husband part."
Mr. Boyd, wherever he is, might be interested to know that Alexandra's professional reputation has been well established for a long time now. Her reputation is due partly to hard work, partly to an uncanny ability for knowing what the client needs even if the client doesn't know he needs it. I've seen her create a lush, opulent apartment, something completely the antithesis of her own sleek, art deco-ish home, for a fifty-year-old corporate lawyer, newly divorced, who practically burst into tears of joy when it was finally revealed to him.
"Did he ask for something so Oriental?" I remember asking Alexandra when she'd triumphantly finished the job.
"Of course not," she'd told me. "He had no idea what he wanted. So I had to tell him."
Alexandra, I have to admit, can be frightening.
"So?" she said now, fixing me with her violet, appraising gaze.
I took a deep breath. It was the first time I'd speak the words to anyone other than my reflection in the bathroom mirror.
"I'm pregnant," I said. "I bought a pregnancy kit, and it says I'm pregnant."
Alexandra calmly took a sip of her massive martini, set the glass down on the bar, and then looked right at me.
"Who's the father?" she said.
"My God, Alexandra," I cried, "Ross is the father!" I glanced around to see who was staring at me. No one.
Alexandra nodded. "Good. Just checking. I don't like to make assumptions. No one is perfect, my dear."
I needed a moment to get past whatever it was I was feeling right then.
"I wouldn't cheat on my fiancé," I said finally. "I'm not a cheater."
Alexandra sighed. "Honey, I know you're not a cheater. By nature you're a good, moral person. You're ethical, upstanding, all of that. You're a downright Girl Scout. But sometimes passion takes a person by surprise and —"
"Not me," I insisted. And then I wondered if that was something to brag about. Never having been swept away by overwhelming feelings. Never having committed a crime, not even a misstep, of passion.
"I don't understand why you're so surprised," Alexandra said, matter-of-factly. "I mean, you bought the pregnancy kit, right?"
"So you must have had an inkling that something was wrong."
"But I've never been pregnant before," I said. How could I explain my puzzlement? "I've always been so careful. How could this have happened? I'm almost thirty-eight years old, I've been on the pill for years, and every gynecologist I've ever been to has told me I'm a perfect candidate for intensive drug therapies and artificial insemination and all that other awful stuff. God."
"They say He works in mysterious ways."
"Meaning that maybe He wants you to be a mommy. I don't know. I don't believe in God. Your hands and feet are going to swell, you know. You probably won't be able to wear your engagement ring."
I shot a glance at the three-carat emerald-cut diamond on my left hand. Not be able to wear that gorgeous piece of jewelry? It was unthinkable.
"Who says I'm still going to be engaged once Ross finds out that I'm pregnant," I said plaintively.
Alexandra opened her mouth and closed it again almost immediately. She frowned. She folded her arms across her chest. She unfolded them. She leaned forward.
"Oh, come on," she said, "you don't really think ..."
"See? Even you think he's going to be mad and walk out on me."
"Or suggest that you have an abortion."
I didn't know what to say. I'd been avoiding using the a word even to myself. It isn't that I'm against the idea of abortion. I've always been staunchly pro-choice; there are certain circumstances where an abortion is simply the wisest path.
It's just that the word is so ugly.
It sounds like war. It sounds like a man's word. More accurately, it sounds like an aggressive man's word. Abort the mission. The enemy has found us out. Abort, abort, abort! It makes me think of characters played by actors like James Coburn and Steve McQueen and Arnold Schwarzenegger — faces I personally don't care to associate with the image of a cooing bundle of joy.
"How can I get an abortion?" I said, lowering my voice, though I, too, was convinced nobody in Bodacious cared at all about two women over thirty-five talking about babies. "I'm financially stable, I'm certainly old enough to be a parent, and I'm engaged. At least for the moment. What's my excuse for not going through with the pregnancy?"
"You don't want children?"
"There is that," I admitted.
Alexandra took another delicate sip of her martini and swallowed.
"Perfection. And by the way," she added, "if Ross has the nerve to be mad at you for something he helped make happen, kick him. Hard. In the ass."
Excerpted from Babyland by Holly Chamberlin. Copyright © 2005 Elise Smith. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.