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Like many couples married for decades, the Worths had created little vignettes which they brought out on occasion to demonstrate exactly who they were. This evening the Worths were attending a large party introducing potential new members to the Hancock Field Club. Scott Worth, posed with one elbow resting on an ornate marble mantel, a glass of Scotch in hand, was repeating a favorite anecdote to an attentive audience.
"The license plate on the BMW I gave her last Christmas says it all. sheshops. Get it? She shops. And, boy, does she. My wife is the original shopaholic. Clothes, jewelry, furniture, imported appliances, art knickknacks, you name it. And she can tell you the most expensive place to buy one--hell, buy a dozen--of anything. The only thing Amanda hasn't bought yet is a cemetery plot."
There were some appreciative chuckles. Amanda Worth spent a fair amount of money to look younger than her fifty-odd years. It was hard for anyone to imagine her buying--or needing--land in a cemetery.
"These days she's shopping for some sort of Oriental temple to go in the backyard. Since I make sure she has everything she wants, I don't know what she's going to pray for--unless she wants to ask God to keep me making the big bucks!"
"Then your wife must be happy about that new outlet mall opening tomorrow," a young man, who had apparently never heard this story before, suggested.
"Are you kidding? Amanda doesn't know what an outlet is. The wastebaskets are stuffed with sale circulars from Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus. But does she go out in search of a bargain? No way! My wife, bless her, pays full price.That's right. Full price!" He repeated the words in case anyone had missed his point.
Susan Henshaw and Kathleen Gordon were sitting on the outskirts of the group gathered around Scott and, by mutual consent, they got up and drifted toward the bar in the corner.
"An Oriental temple? Could Amanda be thinking of practicing Buddhism?" Kathleen, a gorgeous blonde in her early forties asked, obviously amazed.
"Who knows? I'm sure we'll hear about it in time. We always hear about Amanda's latest outrageous purchase. You know, whenever Scott starts telling that story, I get an urge to dash out and buy a cemetery plot," Susan said. She was older than her friend, and she was pushing her shoulder-length brown hair off her face.
"Why? Because you're so bored you want to kill yourself?"
"That's a thought, but the reason is that it would be the first time I ever owned anything before Amanda did," Susan explained, reaching for a handful of salted nuts.
"Put those down," Kathleen ordered. "You're trying on swimsuits tomorrow, remember."
"How much difference could six peanuts and a filbert possibly make?" Susan asked, glancing down at the nuts lying in her palm.
"You won't stop there. No one stops with one handful. And there's temptation everywhere. Look around."
They were in the large reception room of the Hancock Field Club's clubhouse. Like many private clubs on the East Coast, the founding fathers (two bankers, two lawyers, and a manufacturer of a popular brand of health tonic made mostly from grain alcohol and sugar--and anything but healthy) had insisted the architects emulate the large Tudor manor houses of England--or, to be more accurate, had insisted the architects create the ambience they imagined would be found in the large Tudor manor houses of England. Walnut paneling, gray slate floors, and two massive marble fireplaces flanked the room where dozens of little tables had been set up. Club members and their guests were drinking cocktails as they waited for the doors to the ballroom to open indicating that dinner was served. Each of the little tables was draped with a snowy linen tablecloth. A silver porringer filled with nuts was centered on each table.
"I did ask for the salmon entrée," Susan said, tightening her fingers around her snack. "It probably has less calories than the beef, so I deserve these."
"Fabulous Food is catering. They don't specialize in low calorie."
"Fabulous Food? Fantastic!" Susan tossed the nuts into the nearest ashtray.
"You're sticking to your diet?"
"Probably not. But I'm not going to spoil my appetite with junk when Fabulous Food is doing the cooking. Why don't we get another glass of wine and figure out a game plan for tomorrow? The new mall will be jammed, so we should prioritize our stops if we're going to find what we need. If only we knew which stores are there."
"We do! Wait until you see what I have!" Kathleen pulled a packet of papers from her purse and began to scrounge through it.
But Susan was still thinking about her shopping. "I need a new swimsuit, but I understand there's a Gucci outlet . . ."
"Are you going to the opening of the mall?"
"Wouldn't miss it." Susan looked up at the women who had joined them. "What about you two?"
"We can't. We were both on the committee that tried to keep that mall from being built. We think it would be . . . well, unseemly . . . if we were seen there on opening day."
"Yeah," her companion agreed. "My husband said this would happen and, much as I hate to admit it, I should have listened to him."
"But don't empty the stores. We figure in a few weeks everyone will have forgotten all about that damn petition and those town hearings, and we'll be there with the rest of Hancock!" one woman said.
"We sure will be," her friend agreed. "I'm going to get new everyday china and a travel raincoat and some suitcases. We're going to Lake Como for a few weeks in the fall and, if I save enough money on luggage, we'll be able to stay an extra day or two."
"You just got back from a week in Paris. Do you need new luggage?"
"Not really, but I'm tired of arriving at five star hotels looking like a couple of bums. My husband is still using the duffel bags he went off to college with--someone in the family has to add some class to our act."
"I remember hearing about a luggage outlet, but I don't know if it's Tumi or Hartmann," one of the women in the group said, emptying a cup of nuts into her hand and beginning to pick out the cashews and almonds.
"Vuitton!" Another woman spoke the word with awe. "I heard there was going to be a place that sells Vuitton at a discount."
That got everyone's attention. "Vuitton!" The name was repeated over and over.
"I don't give a damn what anyone says. If they're selling Vuitton at a discount, I'll be first in line!"
Susan responded to Kathleen's tug on her sleeve, and followed her friend toward the large French doors that led to a balcony overlooking the tennis courts. "What do you want?"
"Look what I have!" Kathleen flashed a sheet of light blue paper she had finally extracted from the mess in her purse.
"What is it?"
"It's some sort of . . ." Susan read the words across the top of the page. "It's a map of Once in a Blue Moon! How did you get it? Where did you get it? Those things have been the best kept secret in the entire state of Connecticut!"
"My cleaning lady's daughter works at the print shop where they were made. She grabbed this one for her mother and she duplicated it and passed it along to me."
"You could make a fortune selling this," Susan said, her eyes not leaving the sheet of paper for a minute.
"Right. You know, when Jerry heard that the stores at the mall were going to be kept a secret until opening day, he told me he thought the owners of the place were nuts. But even he's been admitting he was wrong."
"I know what you mean. Jed was the same way. It goes against everything they were taught in college, and everything they've been doing down at the agency for years. Of course, it sure seems to be working. Everyone is curious." Susan was still examining the sheet of paper.
"There's a Calvin Klein store right between Ann Taylor and Anne Klein. He does some great swimsuits," Kathleen said.
"Yeah. I was just wondering . . ."
"Did you look at this map?"
"Are you kidding? I wrote those little numbers all over it! See?" Kathleen pointed at the page. "That's the order I thought we could shop in. Unless, of course, you have different ideas."
"I have Calvin Klein at number one," Kathleen added when Susan didn't answer. "You know, for your swimsuit."
Susan had started to mutter, "Eddberg . . . lonex . . . liscla . . ."
"Look." Susan pushed the map closer to Kathleen. "Eddie Bauer. Lennox. Liz Claiborne. Mikasa. Dansk. Joan and David. Nike."
"They're all there. So what?"
"They're also all in Maine and New Hampshire. And New Jersey. And Florida. And Pennsylvania. And Maryland. And most of the other large discount malls."
"I thought Once in a Blue Moon was going to be different. The most deluxe of all the outlet malls."
"Sure. That's why they wanted it to be in this part of Connecticut, near a population with lots of disposable income and a taste for the finer things in life. At least that's what all the propaganda said."
"So where is it?"
"Where's Vuitton? Tiffany's? Armani? Or Prada?"
"Well, I think a Vuitton outlet would be in France. The company is French, isn't it?" Kathleen responded reasonably.
"I don't mean Vuitton specifically. I mean the luxury stores. Where are the luxury stores? I thought we were going to be able to buy from Madison Avenue boutiques at discount prices."
"I don't remember any mention of Madison Avenue," Kathleen said.
"Not specifically, of course. But the point of the name is that a 'blue moon' is rare--unusual--and the goods and stores at this mall are supposed to be rare and unusual. There's nothing less rare than a Liz Claiborne outfit. Not that I don't wear them myself, but, well, you have to admit it's not what we were led to expect."
"I guess not," Kathleen admitted.
"And you're not surprised?"
"Susan, what field are Jed and Jerry in?"
"Advertising, of course. Why do you ask?"
"And how many years have you and Jed been married?"
"Almost twenty-nine." Susan found this topic momentarily diverting. "Do you think we should go someplace special to celebrate our thirtieth or should we give a big party?"
"Both. But, Susan, pay attention. More attention to me than you've been paying to Jed all these years."
"I pay a lot of attention to Jed!" Her voice squeaked in protest.
"Then how did you miss the point that advertising exists to cause people to buy things they don't know they want, and to believe those things are different than they are."
"I didn't miss the point. I just didn't think of Once in a Blue Moon in those terms. Naive of me, I suppose."
Kathleen didn't say anything.
"There is a Barneys' outlet," Susan muttered.
"And a Gucci and a Ferragamo shoe store," Kathleen added. "You can't say there aren't luxury stores here."
"But still . . ."
"It's a lot like a lot of other malls. Yes. I noticed that right away."
"But still . . ." Susan continued to study the map.
"Still. There's nothing like a bargain." Kathleen smiled.
Susan smiled back. "Nope, nothing at all."
"What are you two chuckling about? I hope you have some good gossip or something. I am so bored by these damn club parties. But when your husband's on the board . . ." Lauren Crone appeared by their side. "Is that a map of the new mall? Oh, my God, it is! Where did you get it? Where can I get one?"
"It's Kathleen's," Susan said, passing the buck.
"It was given to me," Kathleen said. "I don't believe there are any more available."
"But you will share it with the woman who may be going on the third-grade class trip with you next week, won't you?"
"Is it the trip to the nature center?" Susan interrupted to ask.
"Yes, and I'm looking forward to it," Kathleen said, hanging on to the map.
"Would you take Kathleen's place on the trip for a look at this map?" Susan asked.
"Susan! I just told you . . ."
"Sure," Lauren held out her hand.
"Trust me and give it to her," Susan ordered her friend.
Kathleen paused for only a moment before, obviously reluctant, she gave it away.
"Oh, oh! Look at this! I can't believe it! I've got to show Amanda. You don't mind, do you?"
"No. Enjoy." Kathleen waited until Lauren was out of sight before continuing. "Why did you do that? Alex is expecting me to be on that class trip with him."
"Kathleen, the third grade class trip to the nature center is the worst. The bus trip is long. The nature center is heated by an inadequate wood stove. Part of the joy of the experience is the class mothers cook lunch on that stove--a lunch made up of natural ingredients found in the wild that half of the kids won't even consider tasting and will give the boys an excuse to make barfing noises for the rest of the day. And the highlight of the trip is an hour sitting silently in a bird blind waiting for migrating waterfowl to drift by--which they don't."
"But the kids . . ."
"The kids learn a lot. They should go. But other mothers should go with them--preferably someone you hate."
"Oh, well. I guess that was worth losing the map for."
"Believe me, it was." Susan leaned closer to her friend. "So, did you catch that?"
"Lauren was anxious to show the map to Amanda."
"She's the only Amanda at the Club," Susan answered, nodding.
Kathleen got it. "So Amanda is going to shop at a discount mall."
"That's what it sounds like," Susan said.
"I wonder if we'll see her at the opening tomorrow."
"Maybe," Susan said, and started to giggle. "She'll be the one wearing a wig and dark glasses."