I peer into the mirror in Kate’s office, trying to convince myself that the never-before-seen spot on my cheek is a crumb of chocolate cake left over from lunch. Though come to think of it, I didn’t have chocolate cake for lunch. I poke at it several times, wondering if it’s an age spot. But I’m much too young for that, aren’t I?
“What are you doing?” asks Kate, as I lean in closer and start rubbing the blotch with my finger.
“Trying to get this off my face,” I tell her. “Come here and figure out what it is. You’re a skin doctor.” Not just any skin doctor. My best friend Dr. Kate Steele is New York’s “Derm Darling” of the moment, if you believe the New York Post. And who doesn’t?
“What am I looking at?” Kate asks, walking toward me, her four-inch stilettos clicking decisively on the highly polished wooden floor. For a moment I worry that she might slip, but no, this is Kate, the woman who could climb Kilimanjaro in Manolos and make it back to base camp without a wrinkle in her impeccable Escada suit. I love her anyway. Maybe because I’ve known her since seventh grade when she had braces on her teeth–the last time she was anything less than perfect.
“The spot on my face. It’s the size of Texas,” I say.
“Don’t exaggerate, Sara. It’s no bigger than Houston,” Kate says, as if that should make me feel better. “Here, let me fix it.”
That’s my Kate. Can always solve everything. What they didn’t teach her at Harvard Medical School, she learned at the Clinique counter. And there’s real science behind her beauty tricks–not just smoke and mirrors.
Well, most of the time. Now she simply adjusts a digital read-out on the mirror, and suddenly the offending spot practically disappears.
“I use this for surgery,” Kate explains. “It magnifies everything forty times.”
“Then let’s try to aim it at my bank account,” I quip.
Kate laughs, and clears away our empty salad containers and iced-tea cups. We were supposed to have lunch at Nobu but couldn’t bring ourselves to move from Kate’s cool, comfy office–especially after hearing that the heat-humidity index hit 110. Apparently, New York weather-men figure the actual temperature won’t make you feel hot enough, so they invented this new calculation. Personally, I can sweat just fine at ninety-six.
While Kate organizes some files, I surreptitiously flick the mirror back up to forty times magnification, this time to make myself miserable by studying more of my frighteningly flagrant flaws. Crow’s feet deeper than Barry White’s voice. Laugh lines that aren’t very funny. Damn Marx Brothers have aged me by five years. And another five for admitting I watch them.
Kate notices that I’m staring at myself, hypnotized by my reflection. She strides over and with one quick motion unplugs the mirror, swiftly disconnecting me from my source of discontent.
“What’s with you?” she asks, looking at me and shaking her head. “You’re as insecure as Kennedy airport.”
“True,” I admit. I had a fair amount of confidence at twenty, but now that I’m twice as old, I seem to have half as much. Despite the fact that the two men in my life think I’m beautiful. Dylan, the most wonderful seven-year-old son in the world. And Bradford, the best–gulp–fiancé in–well, let’s say America. After my divorce, I vowed that I’d never get married again. But handsome, Park-Avenue-born Bradford finally convinced me that I was his one and only–the funny, sexy, down-to-earth fifth-grade art teacher he loved. And he threw in a five-carat diamond ring to prove it.
Kate pulls out a gold compact mirror and as she runs a brush through her hair, I notice her licking her lips and smiling. And why not? She could be the only woman I know who doesn’t find something wrong with herself every time she looks. Nobody else does either. Glowing porcelain skin, clear blue eyes and a heart-shaped face framed by cascading waves of auburn hair. Not to mention her curvy slim body and her perfectly sculpted arms. And the tiniest waist since Vivien Leigh.
Still, maybe there’s something. “Is there anything about yourself you wish you could change?” I ask curiously.
“My address,” says Kate, snapping shut the compact and slipping it into the top drawer of her Mies van der Rohe desk. “I love my office, but I wish I were right on Fifth Avenue instead of half a block away. I could charge fifty dollars more a visit.”
“I meant anything about your face or body,” I say, wondering how Kate could possibly charge any more for a visit than she already does.
“Are you trying to tell me something, darling?” Kate asks. “I know you liked me as a blonde, but I’m not doing that again. I was getting way too much attention. I couldn’t walk down the street without tripping over guys.” She grins, so I think she’s joking. But I’m not sure.
“There are a few changes I’d make,” I say.
“In me?” Kate asks, surprised.
“No, in me. Beginning with my boring button nose and going down to my baggy knees.”
“So you have no complaints between your knees and your toes,” Kate points out optimistically.
“Thanks for reminding me about my toes,” I say. “I turned forty and they turned crooked.”
I study my feet in the Miu Miu sandals that I bought last week. Why pay full price when they go on sale in July and you still have a whole month and a half to wear them? Of course the only color they had left was purple, but I can compromise. They don’t look half-bad with my yellow skirt. Especially if you like Easter eggs.
“There’s surgery for that,” says Kate as nonchalantly as if she’s recommending a new brand of no-chip nail polish. “One of my celebrity patients had it. Jimmy Choo refused to send over any more free sandals unless she straightened out her toes.”
“I don’t even want to think about what she’d have to do to get a free dress,” I say, bending over to play with the little bump on my big toe.
“Nothing wrong with people trying to make themselves look better,” Kate says. “I help them do it every day. Collagen, Restylane, a blast of oxygen. When are you going to let me work my wonders on you, darling? You can’t be an Ivory girl forever.”
“Yes I can. Somebody besides Barbara Bush has to look her age. It’s my final stand as a woman of integrity.” Kate and I have this conversation at least once a month. Despite my protests, my deepest, darkest secret is that I’m comforted knowing my best friend Doctor Kate is never more than a Botox shot away. And considering how I look this afternoon, I might have to give in and get my first facial. Or my first face-lift.
I sigh and slump down in my chair. “Anyway, your beauty boosters can’t cure me today. Those new lines on my face didn’t just pop out on their own. I earned them. Worrying.”
Kate looks at me quizzically. “Worrying about what?”
“I don’t know,” I say, wishing I hadn’t brought the whole thing up.
“Everything okay with you and Bradford?”
“I guess so,” I say, fidgeting with my engagement ring. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Let’s see,” Kate says, ticking off the reasons on her fingers. “You have a new man. New house. New stepdaughter. A lot of changes. Puts you at about ninety-nine on the stress meter.”
“Maybe the adjustment’s harder than I thought it would be,” I say slowly. “It’s been just Dylan and me for so long that I know how to do life as a single mom. Suburban wife-to-be seems more complicated.”
“Yeah, those Lilly Pulitzer outfits you people wear out in the ’burbs are hard to coordinate,” Kate teases. “Pink shoes or green? Headband, no headband? Much simpler in the city–just black, black, black.”
“Okay, my life’s not that tough,” I say with a laugh. “And I feel like an idiot complaining. But Bradford’s under so much pressure at work and he gets home from Wall Street ridiculously late. He comes in the door, and I find myself griping about every little thing. I wish I could keep my mouth shut and be grateful just to have him.”
“He’s the one who should be grateful,” Kate says. She goes back and leans on the edge of her desk. “Bradford’s terrific but so are you. You two are perfect together. You’re just figuring out how to be with each other.”
“Sure.” I look down and play with the edge of my skirt. Which is black. The Stepford transformation isn’t quite complete. “But you know what? Starting relationships is easy. It’s keeping them that’s hard.”
Kate eyes me sharply. “Bradford has nothing in common with James.”
“I didn’t say he did,” I snap defensively.
“But that’s what you were thinking,” Kate says. “You’re about to get remarried. How could you not be thinking about your first husband?”
I sigh. “You’ve known me too long. But you’ve got to admit not everybody has her first husband run off to Patagonia. He claimed he had to go five thousand miles away to find himself. Six weeks of solitary soul-searching I could live with. But when I told him I was pregnant and he still didn’t come back, I figured out that finding himself meant losing me.”
“I know, sweetie,” Kate says kindly. And boy does she know. How many times have I been over this with her? “But it’s been long enough that you can look at the bright side. Most couples who divorce say, ‘Oh, we just grew apart.’ Your story is so much more interesting.”
“Maybe I’ll send it in to Chicken Soup for the Divorced Soul,” I say grumpily.
Kate shakes her head. “Hey, it was tough for you. No way around it. And you know how much I sympathized. Still do.”
I manage a smile. “You spent so much time listening to me you could have charged an hourly rate.”
“And the support continues,” Kate says. “I haven’t bought a Patagonia parka ever since. Small gesture on my part, but I switched to
“Good thing James didn’t run off to Kashmir. That would have been too much of a sacrifice. I can’t imagine you trading your cashmere sweaters for Shetland.”
Kate comes over and hugs me comfortingly. “It’s going to be okay. Really. Bradford’s not going to Patagonia. Why would he? The International Monetary Fund never has meetings there. Anyway, he’s head over heels in love with you.”
“I know, I know,” I say. But do I really? Most days, yes. And for me, after all that’s happened, that’s not bad. “I swear, Kate, we’ll never have to talk about James again.”
“Yes we will, and that’s okay. But what can I do to cheer you up now?” She grins, trying one more time to offer me her own special brand of comfort. “A shot of vitamin C serum? Want to try one of my new lasers?”
“Ooh, yes. Searing off the top layer of my skin sounds like a real pick-me-up. How about lending me your credit card for half an hour instead?”
“If you promise not to go anywhere but Kmart.” Kate shakes her head. “Listen, here’s something even better. Want to see what my personal trainer has me do every morning to make myself feel good?”
“Whistle a happy tune?” I suggest. “Pop a Paxil?”
“Better,” says Kate. She strides over and opens a closet door behind her desk, revealing a full-length mirror. Standing in front of it, she pulls herself up to her full Manolo-enhanced height and takes a deep breath. “First Marco has me stand very straight and tuck in my tummy,” she says.
“You don’t have a tummy to tuck in,” I complain.
Kate ignores me and throws back her shoulders. “Marco says the secret is to tell yourself something enough times that you start to believe it’s true.”
“I’m rich, I’m rich, I’m rich,” I say.