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It was one of those smiles.
It was secretive, mischievous, almost happily naughty.
It was not the sort of smile Andrew would have expected of Elaine. Especially on the day she should have been married. Especially as she wore the gown of a bridesmaid, not a bride, and stood on the top of a grassy slope, overlooking the magnificent grounds of a magnificent estate, watching a wedding reception that should have been hers.
He crossed the lawn and moved next to her. She stood apart from her friendsLily, Sarah, and Joyet was dressed like them in Vera Wang gowns of oyster and pearl. On Lily the dress looked like sassy haute couture; on Sarah, mysteriously earthy and sensuous; on Jo, heart-thumpingly gorgeous. On Elaine, it simply looked like a nice dress, more palatable than the clash of colors she often wore, more fashionable than the stretch pants and big shirts of the carpooling, PTO-president mom.
Elaine turned to Andrew, her smile unflinching. He knew that the past weeks had been tough, that she'd risked her future security, her children's happiness, and the success of her best friends' new business when she'd broken her engagement to Martin because "I just have to," she'd said.
"Lainey," he asked, "how are you doing?"
She tipped her head toward the crowd, her lacquered brown hair rigid in its French twist, as she'd called it ("An updo," Lily had corrected). "Fine," Elaine said, "or at least I will be."
"When this wedding is over?" It was the celebration of Jo's mother's marriage to Ted, the West Hope, Massachusetts, town butcher. It was also the debut event for Lily, Sarah, Jo, and Elaine, once college roommates, now partners in Second Chances, second-wedding planners for second-time brides.
Elaine looped her arm through Andrew's and stood a bit taller. "I'm tired of being ordinary, Andrew. I'm tired of having a predictable life."
He kept his eyes on her. She didn't waver. "There's nothing wrong with being predictable, Lainey," Andrew said, because so many times he'd longed for just that.
"But my kids are practically grown and I'm unattached. I'm forty-three years old and I want excitement. I want pizzazz."
"Pizzazz," was an old-fashioned, Elaine kind of term, like "French twist," Andrew supposed. "Well," he replied, because, despite months of working to untangle the puzzle, he remained quite clueless about how a woman's mind worked.
Elaine paid no attention to his hesitation. She merely nodded with seeming resolve. "What I want is a makeover. Inside and out."
"A makeover?" His laugh seemed too quick, even to him. "You're going on TV? A reality show?"
But Elaine didn't laugh in return. She took a deep breath, touched her hand to her heart and said, "The only reality is going to happen right here. Elaine McNulty Thomas is finally going to be like everyone else."
Andrew fell silent. Then his eyes followed hers toward Lily, Sarah, and Jo, who stood twenty feet, yet light-years, away. "You want to be like one of them?"
Elaine shook her head. "I want to be like them all."
Andrew slowly smiled. He felt new material building on the gossip horizon, juicy new fodder for the magazine column he secretly wrote. "That would be a tall order for anyone."
Elaine nodded. "But I'm going to do it," she said. "What's more, I'll do it in time for the Benson wedding on New Year's Eve."
Andrew's right eyebrow cocked. "In less than twelve weeks?"
Her gaze still didn't waver. "I can do it. I will."
He patted her hand. "I'll tell you what, Lainey. If you succeed in your quest, I'll give you the first dance at the Bensons' reception."
"And if I don't?"
He smiled and looked back toward Lily, Sarah, and Jo. "Something tells me you will." There was no need to add that he had a goal of his own set for New Year's Eve, if he could just hold out that long.
It was odd to stand there on the grassy slope, while Vivaldi danced through the golden leaves of the linden trees that shimmered in the autumn air, while chatter rose between long puffs of laughter from gaggles of wedding guests gathered on the lawn, a small plate of pate in one hand, a crystal champagne flute in the other.
It was odd to stand there in a pearl satin gown and realize that this was her mother's wedding, that after years of being single, Marion Lyons was now Marion Cappelinni, that she was once again someone's wife.
It was, Jo suspected, all about trust.
Shifting from one foot to the other, Jo wondered if, like her mother, it would take her decades to trust a man that much again.
Women call it a makeover.
I call it an act of not-so-divine desperation, a misguided adventure destined for chaos.
Andrew stared at the screen of his laptop later that night after he'd returned to his cottage from the wedding, said good night to Cassie, and hung up the rented tuxedo that he'd worn all day.
When Elaine made her announcement, he hadn't been sure if he should say, "You go, girl," or notify the others that she had lost her mind.
Guys, after all, don't do makeovers, he typed. When a guy wants to change his life, he buys a new car or a Harley, or changes from beer to vodka martinis, extra dry.
He sat back in his chair, clasped his hands behind his head, and wondered if he should add, "Or he leaves a high-profile job as a television journalist and escapes to the Berkshires and switches to an ambiguous career as a college professor where, if anyone thinks they recognize him, they surely can't justify their suspicions by his faded denim, his modest home, or his eleven-year-old daughter, an unspoiled (well, sort of) kid."
He couldn't, of course, reveal that information, not to his growing throng of readers.
As far as anyone in West Hope knew, Andrew Kennedy was a college professor on sabbatical from Winston College, who wrote his doctoral dissertation before and after hours at Second Chances, where he worked as the receptionistand was supposedly gay.
He was not the anonymous A.K. of Buzz magazine, the man who had committed to write six months' worth of the now-famous "Real Women" column, a delightful task for which he'd gone under cover, so to speak, in order to get four women to trust him with their secrets, to spill the gender beans about the ways real women thought and acted and actually were, to share the riddles of their lives in ways they never would if they knew he was straight.
He was not Andrew David, whose face and whose voice Americans might (or might not) remember from TV news programs. He was not the same man (was he?) who had used his middle name as his last because the network had deemed "Kennedy" too overexposed.
He was not those men now. He was merely sensitive, regular-guy Andrew Kennedy by day; savvy, suave columnist by night. Clark Kent versus Superman. Two roles he adored.
"Oh, crap," Andrew said, standing up and diving one large hand into his sandy-colored, often unkempt hair. "Adored" was such a girlie word, such a gay word. He laughed. "The trouble with being Superman," he said into the screen, "is that you sometimes forget which one of you is in the room."
He shut off the laptop that sat on the old oak table in the alcove off the living room"A cozy study," the real-estate woman had hyped it five years ago. He liked it because it was nestled behind the natty but oh-so-comfortable overstuffed living-room furniture, and afforded two special views: one of his backyard garden, which now lingered admirably with a few bright pumpkins and burnished butternut squash; the other of the living-room stone fireplace that he'd soon crank up again for another New England winter. They were peaceful views, comfort views. He'd not had them in the Manhattan high-rise.
"Dad?" Cassie's voice beckoned from the doorway. "Are you talking to yourself again?"
His smile broadened as he turned to face his daughter, who had inherited her father's wit (well, most folks referred to it as "wit") and her mother's (God help him) international-cover-girl, breathtaking beauty. "I was just celebrating life," he said.
Cassie rolled her large turquoise, Patty-look-alike eyes. His daughter loved to do that. It was her teasing way of throwing up her hands at her father's errant ways. She'd been rolling them a lot since he'd joined the staff at Second Chances, since he'd trusted her with the knowledge of his undercover task. "Sometimes you are so lame," she said.
"I know." He walked to where she stood and gave her a bear hug. Her dark hair was damp, her scent was powdery and babylike; she must have showered after the wedding. "I thought you went to bed"
"Too much wedding cake. I couldn't decide if I should throw up."
A flash of panic sent his palm to her forehead. "Are you okay?" He hated this part of single parenthood. Call me sexist, Andrew thought, but women know when a kid is sick or well with an instinct that God forgot to give men.
Cassie laughed. "I'm okay, Dad. I just wanted attention."
He swatted her shoulder and crossed the hall to the kitchen. "It was fun today, wasn't it?"
"My first wedding," she said.
"So what did you think?"
"Mrs. Lyons was pretty for such an older woman."
The bride, Jo's mother, was seventy or so, Andrew had figured. "Ted is a nice guy. I guess there had been some kind of town scandal about them all these years, even though they didn't know it." He stopped himself. He often wasn't sure how much he should tell his daughter or what she was too young to be a part of. He went to the refrigerator and poured a glass of milk.
"Jo is pretty, too," Cassie said. "I wish you would tell her."
"That she's pretty?" Andrew said with a thin smile.
"Dad," she whined. "You need a girlfriend."
He swallowed the milk fast. Too fast. It lunged from his throat and shot out of his nostrils.
Cassie erupted. "Dad! Nasty!"
He laughed with her, then wiped his mouth, his nose. He secretly loved the way his daughter could catch him like that, her impetuous comments always a surprise. "You think I need a girlfriend?"
She shrugged. "You could do worse than Jo Lyons."
"You seem to forget that Jo thinks I am gay."
"Give it up, Dad. You need a life more than you need a stupid magazine column. Besides, if you wait too long, she might fall in love with someone else. She's already met a new guy, hasn't she?"
He digested Cassie's words, because, though she was a kid, she was wise. "It must be the wedding," he said. "I've never met a woman who didn't get all gushy over a wedding." He reminded himself to use that in his column. It was a good line, and it was probably true.
"It's more than that, Dad. I worry about you. What's going to happen to you when I'm out of school? When I'm out in the world on my own?" She swept her arms in a big arc around the kitchen, as if this were the universe and not a ten-by-twelve space with knotty-pine cabinets and an enamel sink and an awkward but bountiful collection of herbs in the kitchen greenhouse window. Cassie had started the herb "garden" as a school project their first year in the Berkshires, the first year on their own. Father and daughter had nurtured it to vibrancyparsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. "Like the song," Andrew had said, and Cassie had pretended to know what he had meant.
After another swig of cold milk, Andrew set down the glass. "You're only in sixth grade, Cassie. I think we have time to plan old Dad's destiny." It occurred to Andrew that maybe what she really wanted was a mother. It was something he thought about from time to time, then discarded the notion because he and Cassie were fine. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. "Besides," he added, "you know I plan to tell the truth about everything at John and Irene's bash on New Year's Eve. After that, who knows what will happen." He winked.
Cassie half grinned. "Right," she finally said, and his insides relaxed. "Still, it was a nice wedding. I liked the food and the band, even though they played OPM."
OPM was Cassie's acronym for Old People's Music: Andrew's kind of music; any kind of music that didn't involve artists preening the stage nearly naked, covered in sequins and small tattoos, and wearing one of those ridiculous microphones as if they were telephone operators instead of rock stars.
"You danced three dances with Burch," Andrew said, referring to Sarah's son, who was a year older than Cassie. "Shall I have the women start planning your wedding next?"
"They do second weddings, Dad," she said, planting her hands on her small hips and tossing back her long, damp hair in an exaggerated flirt. "Give me a little time, okay?"
Andrew laughed and hoped his daughter would never want a makeover, because she was perfect just as she was.
She was born in Saratoga Springs, New York, where the elite once went for mineral baths and the horses still ran in August. Elaine's father owned a restaurantthe restaurantMcNulty's, where reservations were required in season unless you were a Blakely or a Swanson, in which case your table was available any night at any time.
Elaine had been happy to wait on all of them, to remember their names and take their fussy orders and practically curtsy, because that was her job and her fat tips ultimately sent her to Winston College, where she'd been the first in her family to earn a degree.
It hadn't been a bad life.
When she'd been fifteen or sixteen she'd tried to emulate the ladies who wore subtle, chic dresses and stately, wide-brimmed hats, not plain, unimportant clothes like her mother's had been. But once racing season ended, Elaine's mother convinced her she looked out of place. It had been Elaine's last girlhood attempt to spiff, her father called it, to buff, her kids would have said.
"To look ele-ghhhant," would have been Lily's term.
Lily, of course, could have been any of the thoroughbred ladies. She'd always known what to wear and what to do to look perfect all the time.
But the truth was, Elaine had always felt more comfortable, more Elaine, in the bright colors and splash that her mother said were too gaudy but Elaine thought were simply cheerful. Once out of the house, once she was an "adult," Elaine had dressed as she had pleased.
So, maybe she'd been wrong.
She stared at her bedroom ceiling now, eyes wide open, despite the fact that it was two a.m. She thought about Lily: Elaine would ask her to serve as her fashion and beauty coordinator. Because no matter what Elaine wanted to believe, no matter what the magazine articles touted or what the PhD's said on Oprah, Elaine suspected that a makeover must begin on the outside, not on the in.