Read an Excerpt
champagne corks are popping and it’s only five a.m.
“Darling,” Lucy trills as I groggily cradle the phone between my ear and my goose down pillow. “I didn’t wake you, did I?”
Of course not. Why would I be asleep at this hour when I could be up repotting the azaleas?
“Where are you?” I ask, fumbling for the Brite-Lite clock on the night table to confirm that, yes, it’s still two hours until my alarm goes off. “Traveling?”
“L.A., darling,” Lucy says. “Working.”
I knew that. When she’s in New York, Lucy lives around the corner in a big Tudor house, but she regularly packs off to Burbank to produce glamorous TV shows. Being on the opposite coast causes her to sink into saying “darling” too much.
“Everything okay?” I ask, awake enough now for my worry genes to have kicked in.
“Absolutely, yes,” Lucy says as I hear what I swear is another champagne cork popping in the background. She bursts into giggles, covers the phone, and calls out, “Watch it, darling!”
“What’s going on there?” I ask.
“It’s not what you think. We’re rehearsing for a show and there’s a scene with Dom Perignon. We’re using real French champagne, even for the sound check.”
French champagne. I sit up abruptly realizing that when the phone rang, I had been dreaming about Jacques, my very own Frenchman. We were lying naked, with our arms wrapped around each other at the edge of a warm, sunny beach. He was kissing me passionately as the waves lapped over us. Wait a minute. Didn’t I see that same scene in some old movie? I put the phone down and notice the TV across the room is still flickering. I must have fallen asleep watching From Here to Eternity. Again.
“Yoo-hoo, ” Lucy calls impatiently. “Earth to Jess. You still with me?”
I clear my throat. “Jacques,” I say. “We were making love.”
“Jacques? Jacques is there?” Lucy screams so loudly across the country that she doesn’t even need her brand-new cherry red Nokia 120000RICH cell phone.
“No, Jacques isn’t here. Of course not. We were on the beach.” That’s not what I meant to say. “I mean I was dreaming about him on the beach. Nude.” I manage to stop myself before I get to the climax. Of the story. Next topic. I realize it’s two a.m. on her coast so I say, “But anyway, you’re working late.”
“I know. All night. Everyone thinks my life is all poolside meetings with Ben Affleck, but all I do out here is work, work, work.” Lucy sounds awfully cheerful for a poor working girl. But then again, she’s downing champagne while I’m cozying up to a blue plastic tumbler of tepid bathroom water.
“So what’s going on?” I ask, wondering why this call couldn’t have waited for daybreak—on either coast.
“I’m so sorry to bother you, ” Lucy says, taking a deep breath, “but it’s about the bake sale.”
Ah, right. The fifth-grade bake sale. Now that’s certainly worth a call at five a.m. In fact, I bet she’s halted shooting on her million-dollar production in order to get this handled.
“I need a favor, darling,” Lucy says. “Dan said he’d pick up something for Lily to bring, but that means it will be store-bought. Uck. I’ll look like a bad mother. So two questions. What are you making for Jen to take, and would you mind very much making double?”
Double what? I haven’t even given it a thought. I’ve just barely recovered from making nachos to send to school last week for International Lunch Day. The week before it was homemade yogurt for the Dairy-Tasting Project. Did I miss the PTA meeting when they installed Martha Stewart as the new principal? Jen’s homework tonight will no doubt include long division, current events, and . . .
“Cupcakes!” I say brightly. “Jen and I are going to make cupcakes.”
“I knew it!” Lucy says gleefully. “You make the best cupcakes! And you could make Jen’s with pink frosting and Lily’s with blue frosting, so they’d each feel special.”
I groan. That’s just what I need, cooking instructions from three thousand miles away. “Lucy, stick to producing your show and I’ll produce the cupcakes, okay?”
“I’m sorry,” Lucy says, sounding genuinely contrite. “I don’t mean to be so controlling. It’s hard being out of town and I just want everything to go right. And I’m only calling at this crazy hour because once we start shooting for real, I won’t have a second.”
Now I feel bad for jumping at her. So I try to compensate. Or overcompensate, as usual. “Listen, why doesn’t Lily come over tonight and the girls can make the cupcakes together. Then they can decorate them any way they want.”
And so what that after the girls are asleep I’ll probably gorge on gobs of leftover frosting—both pink and blue? I eat when I’m tired, and without a real-life Jacques around to notice, who really cares if a single mom has a little extra frosting on the hips?
“Oh, that’s so sweet of you,” Lucy says. “Lily will love that. I’ll call Dan and let him know.”
Dan, the husband of the year.
“Tell Dan that Lily should come for dinner, too. It’ll be easier for him.”
I have to stop. In another minute, I’ll be offering to run over and scrub her bathrooms and sleep with her husband so that her being away doesn’t inconvenience anybody too much. Anybody except me.
“Are you sure it’s not too much trouble?” Lucy asks.
“Of course not,” I say. “I love having girls’ night.”
“Well, we need one of those girls’ nights for just you and me as soon as I get back,” Lucy says. Then lowering her voice, she whispers into the cell phone, “You won’t believe what’s happened on this trip. I can’t wait to tell you. You’re the only friend I have who’d understand.”
Another champagne cork pops in the background, and Lucy dissolves into giggles. This time she covers the phone, but I can still hear her say, “Enough already! I’ll be right there.”
When we hang up, I pull the comforter up around my shoulders. I should try to fall asleep, but the minute I close my eyes I see Jacques again on that beach. I open them. This will never do. Jacques is my ex. In fact he happened so long ago that he’s an ex-ex-ex.
Alas, it’s the Triple-X elements of him that I seem to miss the most.
I make myself sit up and flick on the Itty Bitty reading lamp by my bed. As long as I’m awake I might as well get something done since my to-do list is longer than the newly revised tax code. I desperately need to deep-condition my hair, order a new bath mat, reorganize the closets, reupholster the sofa, recaulk the counters and renew Jen’s library books. And while I’m at it I should find a faster printer, a faster Internet provider, and a faster exercise program. I’m still spending thirty minutes twice a week on the treadmill, when everyone else is building Better Abs in Five Minutes a Day. With all the time I’d save, I’m sure I could do something about world peace.
But world peace is going to have to wait, because I end up spending the next hour flicking through the Lands’ End catalog and por- ing over pictures of the “Kindest Cut” bathing suits. All modeled by women more-or-less my age, apparently grateful for the extra bra support and the no-ride backside. The one-piece suits are cut high on top, low on bottom and loose all around. How did I get this catalog anyway? Do the fashion police know I’m over forty? I reflexively glance down at my breasts. Still firm, but less than perky. Maybe I just need my morning coffee. I was reading just yesterday that caffeine is a great pick-me-up—for your breasts. No wonder Starbucks stock is on the rise.
I sigh and toss aside the catalog. From the next bedroom, I hear my daughter Jen moving around, humming happily to herself. Why would I worry about long-gone bikini-wearing days when the present is blessed by a loving daughter with a crooked smile who gets up in the morning singing? Sure enough, a minute later she comes bounding into my room.
“Hey, Mom. Wanna hear my new song?” she asks, bursting with more energy than Britney Spears in a Pepsi commercial.
“Sure,” I say, sitting back with a smile. My little girl—well, not as little as I think she is—has on a teeny-tiny pink nightgown that makes her look more Baby Doll than baby. Even straight from bed, her skin is dewy and her big brown eyes are clear and bright. I’d need alpha hydroxy, two moisturizers, and Visine just to look half that good.
Jen grins and poses dramatically at the foot of the bed, arms flung out wide and hips bouncing from side to side as she starts to sing. It takes me a minute to register the tune. But then I get it, that Madonna song, “Like a Virgin.” Like a virgin? She’s eleven years old, for heaven’s sake. As far as I’m concerned, the only time she should use the “V” word is in an ode to the Virgin Mary. It makes me long for the days when she warbled that unbearable Barney song.
“Love your singing,” I venture, trying to be supportive. But I’ve got to know. “Where the heck did you learn that song?”
“They play it on the oldies station,” she says, jumping onto my bed.
Madonna on the oldies station. I shudder to think where that puts the Rolling Stones—or me.
“I’m going to sing it for Ethan,” Jen says excitedly.
Ethan, her boyfriend. One of us has to have one. Although hers is twelve.
“You are not going to sing that for him,” I say just a little too prissily. I look around the room to see if my mother just came in, because that was definitely her voice. I soften my position. “I mean, the whole act might be a little much.” Touched for the very first time? I don’t think so. No use giving the boy pointers.
“Well, I’ll sing it but I won’t wear a belly shirt, okay?” she asks with a mischievous twinkle. Then suddenly she leans over and looks at me wide-eyed. “Mom, your hair. What happened? It’s all gray!”
“What do you mean?” My hand flies up to my head.
“It’s all gray,” Jen repeats. “Ooh. Eck!”
Horrified, I tug at my roots. Is it possible? I’ve avoided the L’Oréal aisle at the drugstore for all these years and now it’s suddenly an emergency. Who knew this would happen overnight?
“How bad does it look?” I ask anxiously.
“Pretty bad,” Jen says. But then she breaks into giggles.
“April Fool’s!” she crows triumphantly.
“Got me,” I say, laughing and throwing the pillow at her as she ducks, doubled over in laughter. Scary that she knew I’d buy into anything about looking old.
Jen runs back to her room to catch up on more oldies—yup, Britney should be hitting that category any day now—and suddenly it occurs to me what my dream this morning was all about.
It’s April first.
My subconscious knew the date, even if I didn’t. Sixteen years ago today, over a breakfast of crepes and champagne, Jacques, my passionate French lover, handed me a sapphire-and-diamond ring and asked if I’d marry him. I gasped and said, “This isn’t an April Fool’s joke, is it?”
To which he said, “What mean, ‘April Fool’s’?”
Perhaps I should have taken our cultural chasm as a sign that the marriage wasn’t going to last any longer than the delicate Chanel sandals he’d bought me. Kisses in cafés, long luxurious lovemaking and out-of-body orgasms—okay, even many of them—don’t necessarily a solid marriage make. Although it does take you a while to notice. And I didn’t really have anyone to blame but myself when six years later the marriage crashed.
But enough. I haven’t even showered yet and already I’ve dreamed about sex with my ex, been April-fooled into feeling like Barbara Bush, and gotten vicariously giddy on Dom Perignon. But today’s a workday and I have a great idea for the charity where I’m gainfully employed—at least part-time. Of course if I don’t get moving I’ll be presenting the plan in my p.j.’s.