The Friends We Keep
By Holly Chamberlin
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP. Copyright © 2007 Elise Smith
All rights reserved.
It's vitally important that men continue to keep secrets from women, and that women continue to keep secrets from men. The entire male/female dynamic relies on misrepresentation and misunderstanding. Why tamper with a good thing? —Men, Women, and Secrets: It's All Good
My name is Eva Fitzpatrick. I was born Eve but changed my name to Eva around the time I turned thirty. It seemed to suit me better.
I grew up in a largely nonpracticing Catholic family of Irish and German ancestry and was raised in a very Americanized or culturally neutral way. I know nothing of my family's European roots. My parents didn't speak a word of German. In spite of our last name we never celebrated St. Patrick's Day. We did not go to church unless it was to a relative's wedding or funeral.
Neither of my parents was particularly demonstrative. As the older of two children—my sister, Maura, was born when I was ten—I was expected to be mature almost from the start. I have been working since I was fourteen (I babysat until I could get working papers) and was always a good student. This was partly because I loved learning and partly because it was expected of me. I did not want to disappoint my parents.
My parents died of cancer—first my father, followed a few months later by my mother—when I was just out of college and looking forward to graduate school. My plan was to earn a PhD in English literature and then to teach and write. Because my parents had nothing to leave their children but the house and a small insurance policy, I gave up my graduate career, sold the house for the cash, and went to work to support my younger sister. In spite of my urging—or maybe, because of it—Maura dropped out of college in her junior year.
Two years after that Maura married a man twenty-five years her senior. A few years later, when his cocaine habit had bankrupted them, she divorced him. Now Maura lives in a small town in Michigan with her second, high school-educated husband and their four kids, all girls: Brooke, Britney, Angelina, and Jessica. On occasion Maura hints at needing money. Her husband, Trevor, works at a gas station as a mechanic and she is a night cashier in a local grocery chain. I send a check to a post office box, as Trevor doesn't accept "charity." I don't know how Maura explains the extra cash.
In spite of the years of financial support, my sister and I aren't close. On occasion, Maura, who is a nice enough person, invites me to visit, but I never do. The thought of staying in my sister's cramped and kid-friendly home (I've seen pictures; there are plastic toys everywhere.) isn't at all appealing and there are no decent hotels nearby. So except for solitary trips to the islands once a year I stay on the East Coast. I hardly ever think of my nieces. Sometimes, I realize that I've temporarily forgotten their names.
I am the senior vice president of the most important advertising agency in the Northeast. I say that without a shred of modesty. I worked my way up from secretary; I learned the business the hard way, which is often the best way. I'm successful and I'm proud of my success. I see no sense in hiding my light under a bushel.
I dress the part of an executive in suits and separates. I am fond of heels and not in the least bit uncomfortable being taller than a man, which does happen, given my height of five feet eight inches.
I carry my clothes well, especially the sleek, tailored pieces I favor. I choose neutrals: black, gray, brown, taupe, and white. I haven't owned a pair of jeans since college, when I dressed in whatever was clean and available. These days, I don't do casual; I am always what my mother called "put together." People remember a woman with a signature look; she makes an impression.
My hair is professionally colored ultrablonde. I wear it closely cropped in a face-flattering style. My eyes are brown. The contrast between my bright hair and dark eyes is arresting.
I prefer an oversized leather bag to a more traditional briefcase. Into that bag I stuff any combination of the following: my PDA/cell phone of the moment, an extra pair of stockings (in case of runs), a makeup bag, a potboiler novel of the sort I wouldn't dream of admitting to reading, an iPod, my laptop, the latest issues of W and Vogue, the latest issues of my industry's trade publications, the New York Times (I read the Wall Street Journal and the Boston papers online.), and a bottle of fortified water (You can never be too hydrated.).
I go to the gym five days a week. For years I worked with a trainer but, having learned a thing or two, now I work out on my own. Currently, at the age of forty-two, I'm in the best shape of my life.
I am not married, nor am I involved in a long-term, committed relationship. I don't date. I have a lover, someone with whom I have regular sex. We're not friends; lover is even too intimate a term to describe who Sam is to me or who I am to him. On occasion I have sex with other men. None of them are ever invited to my apartment.
At this point in my life, I have no one to answer to but myself. Everything, I am pleased to report, is in place.
Dear Answer Lady:
I'm seventeen and lied to my boyfriend about being a virgin when we met. The truth is I've been having sex (protected) since I was fourteen. I really like this guy and now I'm wondering if I should tell him about my past. Is our relationship doomed because I lied to him at the start?
Dear Poor Little Thing:
You are under no obligation to tell your boyfriend a thing about your past sex life. Has he told you about his? How do you know he hasn't left something out, like the underage girl he got pregnant? How do you know he isn't lying, for example, about never having had an STD? Everyone lies or withholds information about their sex life. It's normal. So keep your past to yourself and don't give up on the condoms.
My name is John Alfredo Felitti. My parents came to this country from a small town just north of Naples, Italy, when they were still in their teens and unknown to each other. Each joined family already in Windhill, a suburb of Boston. Within a year of their separate arrivals they were married. Five years later I was born. During the interim between the wedding and my birth my father established a decent business as a tailor.
Two years later my sister Theresa was born. We call her Teri. Today she works as manager of a successful clothing store in the Prudential Mall and is married to a guy named Frank. Frank is midlevel management with the electric company. They have three kids: a four-year-old girl named Jean Marie and twin boys, Andrew and Scott, age twelve. Every summer they go to Cape Cod for a week. In the past few years they've offered to take along our parents but Mom and Dad aren't interested in the beach.
A year after Teri came along, my youngest sibling was born, Christina. Chrissy is married to a guy named Mike, who is in construction. Chrissy works part-time as a salesclerk. The rest of her days and nights are spent being a parent to ten-year-old Lucy (after our mother, Lucia) and eight-year-old Paul (after our father, Paolo). Both Teri and Chrissy are active in our parish church, St. Boniface. Much to my parents' dismay, I haven't graced the door of a church since high school graduation, except, of course, when performing a family duty.
Teri and her family, Chrissy and hers, and my parents all still live in Windhill in houses only minutes from one another. Our family is a close one, with few if any smoldering resentments and rare displays of outright anger. Unless, of course, someone "acts up." Then my mother lets fly with dramatic gestures and pleas to God to take her to his side, etc., etc., until the offender apologizes profusely, at which point Mom blesses herself with the sign of the cross and shuts up. Hey, it works for her. We all find our strengths and play to them.
I have been told that I have a commanding presence. I'm six feet two inches. My shoulders are broad. My body is in shape, thanks to almost daily workouts. My face, which still retains something of youth, is made to seem more serious and mature by my glasses—I have several pairs, with stylish designer frames. (I wear contacts only while exercising.) My hair has thinned only slightly. I'm an anomaly in my family. My parents and my sisters are short and have much darker complexions than I do. My father used to joke that I was the milkman's son (My mother would giggle and smack his arm.), but in truth I take after my father's older brother, long dead (I know him only from pictures.), who towered over the rest of the family. (Maybe he was the milkman's son.)
From childhood, I've had a sense of my own importance. I was the firstborn, the only son of very old-fashioned people. It was a struggle at first but over time it became a habit—not to indulge that sense of importance, but to choose to believe that I'm in this world for a purpose, and that purpose is to do good for others. Since as far back as I can remember I've been the go-to guy for just about everybody I've ever known. If I'm going to command attention, then I'm going to use that power for the good. No one likes a self-important asshole. The last thing I want to be considered is stuck-up, full of myself, arrogant. I work hard to be humble. It hasn't always been easy, when other people see you as something special.
Poor me. I'm teetering on the brink of sounding like a self-pitying wretch, and no one likes one of those, either.
Maybe she can't see you this weekend because her mother really is coming to town for an antique doll convention. Maybe he's late coming home every Tuesday because he really is taking lute lessons. The unlikely does occur; the unusual does take place. Don't automatically dismiss an excuse because it sounds "creative." —Recognizing a Lie: It's Not as Easy as You Think
I was born Sophia Jimenez. I am an only child. My mother doesn't like to talk about "such things" but over the years I gathered that though she and my father tried hard (how hard I don't know) to have another baby, it just didn't happen.
Growing up I didn't mind not having a brother or sister. I guess I still don't. You know, they say you don't miss what you've never had.
My paternal grandparents were Cuban. They came to the United States when my father was four years old. They were very Catholic. When my father eventually married, he chose a woman who had been raised in the Episcopal Church. My grandparents were uneasy about this until my mother agreed to raise the children Catholic. They couldn't do anything about my mother's not being Cuban, though. But my mother won them over. She's a very big-hearted person; people take to her right away. Besides, her own family was never a close one. My mother was happy to have in-laws who showed so much interest in her—far more than her parents ever did.
I had a smooth childhood. I did well in school and had plenty of playmates. When I was in college my grandfather died. That was the first really bad thing that happened to me. My grandmother lived another ten years, and though the last three of those years were spent in a nursing home, she never complained.
In my freshman year of college I met Eve Fitzpatrick and John Felitti. Eve became my first real best friend; in high school I was part of a loosely knit group of girls but not one of them had become a real confidante.
John was the first male friend I ever had. In our sophomore year we sort of went out for a few weeks but it was a mistake and due to too much beer at a party. We were both relieved when the "relationship" ran out of steam (not that it had had much steam to begin with) and we could go back to being just friends. We never told Eve about it; she hadn't been to the party—it was a campus thing John and I sort of wandered into. I don't know why but we felt the "relationship" should remain our little secret.
When I was a senior, I met Brad Holmes. He impressed me because he knew exactly what he wanted to do after school: make money. He was a whiz in economics and math, in all the subjects that left me cold even when I could figure out what was going on. He treated me nicely, holding doors and buying me dinner, all that old-fashioned stuff my parents had taught me was important. When at Christmas he asked me to marry him after graduation, I immediately said yes. My parents were pleased. Brad's parents were less so. They wanted him to finish graduate school before settling down with a wife. But I won them over, just like my mother won over her prospective in-laws.
Brad and I were married the summer after graduation. Eve and John weren't at the wedding. It was held on an island in the Caribbean—Brad's parents' choice—and neither of my friends could afford the price of airfare and accommodations. I was disappointed they couldn't be there for my "big day," but at the same time I was so giddy with excitement—the dress, the ring, the reception, the exotic location!—I almost didn't notice their absence once the festivities began.
It wasn't long before I was pregnant. Jacob Michael Holmes was almost nine pounds at birth and delivered by a C-section. Jake was a healthy and a happy baby. I doted on him and so did Brad, to the best of his ability. Brad knew how to do all the right things but he wasn't, still isn't, an affectionate man.
When Jake turned three we relocated to Los Angeles. Brad got an offer he couldn't refuse—for the sake, of course, of his wife and son—from one of the big studios. Brad's career flourished and the three of us lived very comfortably. For the first few years I was lonely for my hometown of Boston, but eventually, I adjusted. Twice a year I traveled back East with Jake, and sometimes Brad came along. His parents, who were fairly well-off, came to see us whenever their busy social life allowed, but they never stayed in our home, preferring instead a luxury hotel. My parents, solidly lower-middle class (at the time there was such a thing), did stay with us when they visited, which was usually in February or March, months that are often dreary and depressing in New England.
Over time our parents traveled less frequently. Age took its inevitable toll on their mobility and their desire to be far from home. When Jake was twelve, his paternal grandfather died. After that, his paternal grandmother went to live with Brad's older brother, Gary, in a suburb of Chicago; her last trip to LA, with Gary, was for Jake's college graduation not more than a year ago. She looked terribly frail and, not to be morbid, but I suspect that the next time I see her will be at her funeral. Gary confided that Mrs. Holmes has cancer and that she'd decided not to undergo a long and painful treatment.
And my parents? Now they divide their time between their modest house in Freeham, Massachusetts, and their modest condo in an over-55 development in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. They seem content and their health is good but for the usual, annoying ailments that come with advancing age.
Anyway, back to my life in LA. When Jake reached high school, I found myself with time on my hands so on a whim I took a real estate course and got my real estate license. Honestly, the job was always more of a hobby than a career. We didn't really need my income, but I enjoyed the social aspects of the job, meeting new people and having someplace to be every day. Everyone wants to feel needed.
And with no close friends, a son who was growing more independent every day, and a husband who spent most of his time with his colleagues, I did need to feel needed. Until, I don't know, I just sort of lost interest—and quit.
So where was Eve all this time? Back East—and out of touch. Over the past twenty years or so my friendship with Eve, once so strong, gradually slipped away. There were no bad feelings, simply two lives diverging. I've often asked myself why. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Friends We Keep by Holly Chamberlin. Copyright © 2007 Elise Smith. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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