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To Sin With a Stranger
The Beginning of the End
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . ." I played that familiar, bittersweet chestnut over in my mind while anxiety outweighed my exhaustion: one defining area of my life was to be settled shortly; another remained precariously up in the air. In my deconstructed office, amid half-emptied filing cabinets and half-packed boxes of memorabilia, I signed off on my very last media buy and contemplated the twinkling colored lights on the cherry trees outside my window, damp with drizzle and descending dusk. Holiday time here at Gracie Mansion. In ten days' time, the iconic Waterford crystal ball would drop down upon Times Square, signifying the official end of this crazy year. It would also signify the official end of the Giuliani mayoral tenure. My tenure, too; we would remain only to transition in the Bloomberg administration and tie up loose ends.
I rubbed my tired eyes as they traveled along the wall of framed photos and awards I still couldn't bring myself to take down these last days—visual testimony to eight years, two full terms of touchstones and memories in public ser¬vice to the City of New York. The tickertape parades, Marathons, July 4 Fireworks, Mets and Yankees Opening Day, and Thanksgiving balloons sparked such proud, joyful emotions. Remembrances of Ground Zero, firehouse and police memorials sparked profound sadness. The best of times and the worst: I had participated in both from a front row seat.
And it all came down to tonight. One last initiative, one last advertising campaign. My very last press event in this hallowedbuilding. Ever? It hardly seemed real.
I forced my thoughts to the promise of the evening's festivities and pushed aside a stack of spreadsheets in favor of my makeup bag and a brand-new copy of Emily Post's Wedding Planner, delivered today as a parting "gag" gift from the Teamsters Union, along with a bottle of Lillet sherry and elegant crystal goblets. I suppressed a smile, squeezed the last drops from a super-sized Visine bottle and began to layer concealer under my eyes, reciting bits of old-fashioned etiquette aloud to revive my sagging spirits. A quick knock, and my assistant Cathy poked her head around the door. "Leslie just called, Stacey. There was another subway scare and they had to evacuate at 79th Street." I grimaced; it was three months post-September 11, and the city still suffered daily emotional aftershocks: bomb scares, anthrax alerts, tangible civilian fear. "The Mayor—ex-Mayor," she caught herself, "is doing a quickie phoner for Channel 7, and—" I shot up by rote to run to my boss' side. "No, he said not to bother you. You should concentrate on tonight. The ads look amazing, by the way; definitely worth the all-night editing session," she added shyly, acknowledging my obviously useless cover-up attempts. I smiled wanly in return; I would miss Cathy the most.
Spirited voices neared the door: emotional reinforcements had arrived at last. In swept Chanel-scented hugs bearing rain-spackled Gloss garment bags, the entire Revlon product line and endless support and energy: my oldest and best friends, my soon-to-be bridesmaids, Nancy and Leslie. Without pausing they made themselves useful, expertly preparing airline-bottle cocktails on the paper and makeup-strewn desk. "Stace, get Nance to tell you about last night's disaster date," Leslie prodded as she handed me a vodka tonic and a tube of something shiny she was promoting, miming how to apply it. "The chubby blond accountant from our house-share in Quogue, remember? Hung like a bunny, sadly. That has a flawless finish, by the way."
"He seemed so promising," sighed Nancy, eyeing my Emily Post, and then my ring. "Oh well. It's a numbers game. Stacey found her corporate raider in Quogue two summers ago; we'll see what this season's batch brings. Meanwhile, I'll just scrounge from the Superhero Squad—what few hockey players, Navy Seals and firemen you two haven't, ahem, dated. If your father only knew of your bad-boy-in-uniform past, Stace . . ."
My smile widened (the finish really was flawless!), and I unzipped the damp plastic excitedly, unveiling cocktail dresses more fabulous than any I'd ever drooled over in Bendel's window. "My father the police captain and his entire 19th Precinct are actually quite 'pro-Jamey.' Now that they've completed a thorough background check, of course. Jamey meets Dad's 'play clean, work hard' Boy Scout criteria." I held the coveted hangers under my chin, modeling one at a time for general consideration, then frowned. "Why are there giant holes in the back of each dress?"
Nancy waved a roll of duct tape at me. "They're numbered European samples. I snuck them out of the fashion closet—they have to go back. We're shooting Monday," she warned, "so no spillage, Cinderella, or else your father-approved Boy Scout will pay a king's ransom for your evening-wear instead of the wedding."
"Or the new apartment," Leslie added helpfully, chewing an olive.
I wrinkled my nose. "Ah yes: life on a lowly City salary. Thank God for outlet stores and the kindness of high-ranking best pals. I'll behave." I held up the hangers again. "So, which do we like? I wanna project 'sophisticated, polished, eminently hire-able'—you know, like Emma Peel from The Avengers." With my chin, I reverently indicated my most favorite engagement gift, courtesy of my brilliant staff: DVD boxed sets of the iconic sixties' British television series, Emma on the front of each, outstanding in her cheekbones and sleek catsuits.
The snorting chorus didn't hesitate. "The leather one."
Of course. I negotiated the packing mess and tried on the selection behind a tower of crates. Mental note: no solid food 'til the wedding. "Speaking of superheroes, Nance, Rudy was thrilled with your coverage in Gloss." Gloss had the largest circulation in the country, and my maid of honor was the magazine's editor.
"He should be." She unspooled a loud and frighteningly large sheath of tape. "We put him on a par with Churchill and Kissinger." To Sin With a Stranger. Copyright © by Kathryn Caskie. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.