Amid the glamour and galas and parties of Palm Beach, Faith knows that image often counts as much if not more than reality. She glides effortlessly among the highest of the high society so perfectly that you would never suspect she wasn’t born to this. But it wasn’t always so; though she hides it well, Faith has fought hard for the wonderful life she has, for her loving, successful husband, for her daughter’s future.
In this town of secrets and gossip and rumors, Faith has kept a desperate grip on everything she holds so dear, built from so little. And yet even shethe only one who knows just how far she has to fallnever suspects from which direction, or how many directions all at once, betrayal will come.
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About the Author
Susannah's list of books include Tripping the Prom Queen and Toxic Friends.
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The black-tie affair, to benefit animal activism, takes place in the Shelteere Museum. Chandeliers hang from the double-vaulted ceilings, illuminating the work of Hopper, Eakins, O'Keeffe. Coiffed and studied, women wear gowns glimmering in taffeta, satin, and jewel-encrusted silk, while men sport their mandatory tuxes. A sense of promise bounces around the salon. It's the first gala of the 2014/2015 season — anything is possible. No one has yet been excluded, shunned by a seating chart, or bewildered yet again at how clannish Palm Beach can be. Together, Faith and Edward Harrison whisk through the galleries, passages filled with guests — charmers, climbers, and interlopers.
"We should leave by ten," Edward says quietly to Faith.
"We've just gotten here," Faith says. Isn't he the one who likes to stay past midnight?
"Faith, Edward!" Neighbors, friends, and clients are gliding toward them.
Edward lifts his hand in a gallant wave. "By ten at the latest."
"Let's see how it goes." Faith smiles outwardly and waves along with her husband.
His hand is on her elbow in too tight a grip. Faith shakes her arm slightly for him to let go. Gamboling into the ballroom, she focuses on the festivities of the night ahead. What could be more critical than the kickoff Rose Ball for keeping count of exes and present wives, mistresses and lovers, stray friends? Who knows better the intricacies and hypocrisies than Faith, owner of Vintage Tales, the famed resale shop on Worth Avenue? Almost every woman at the Shelteere is a client — treated carefully and discreetly. "I make a living keeping women's secrets. I'm better than a shrink or a psychic," Faith likes to tell Edward.
The band plays "Moondance" by Van Morrison, selected when the charity wants to be less than stodgy, not quite adventurous. Together, Faith and Edward join those on the dance floor, Edward sidestepping as if it's a dance move, Faith slightly swaying to the lyrics, wishing she dared to twirl and dip toward the center. She lip-synchs her favorite lines, "A fantabulous night to make romance" ... Edward puts his mouth to her ear.
"Listen to me." He is edgy, his voice sotto voce.
Couples collide briefly — the Norrics, the Carltons, the Finleys — and pull away deftly. A spinning disco ball lights the room, and Faith notices dark and bright spots across the dancers' shoulders. The band shifts to sing "Bette Davis Eyes," ramps the sound up a few decibels. Suddenly Edward stops and slouches, morphing from tall to muffled, slightly spasmodic.
"Are you all right, Edward? I can't hear you." Faith poses in a wifely, majestic mode.
As he leans nearer, Edward's lips brush her jawline. "I said we have —" "Faith, at last," Mrs. A interrupts, leading her dashing young escort, supposedly Romanian, precariously close to the Harrisons. "You are impressive! How gorgeous you are."
Alicia Ainsworth, known only as Mrs. A, a ripened debutante, favors Faith. She takes in Faith's dress and jewels, upswept hair, and height in heels. Although Mrs. A might overlook one's social register or lack thereof, she is all about women at least five-seven and thin, mostly blondes (such as Faith), those who know paradise is a tricky game. "Perish the year-rounder," Mrs. A likes to say. "Anyone who lives north, west, or south might be in Palm Beach County but isn't in the same league as islanders." Mrs. A plays hard in season and leaves with her pack by May. It is she who taught Faith to divide her summers between Greenwich, Aspen, and the Hamptons. Occasionally Faith imagines what it would be like to have a mother such as Mrs. A, a taskmaster who believes that beauty and money are the criteria for friendship, love, and country club memberships.
To Mrs. A's left is her team of dowagers, women aged sixty or more. Faith calls them "the mighty" and secretly admires their tenacity. Short of a 104-degree fever, these women buy a ticket and fill the chairs.
As Mrs. A drifts off, Edward tugs Faith to his chest. "Faith, listen to me. ... We have no ..."
Faith gazes at him, hearing enough of what Edward is saying to wonder at how concerned he seems. "No" might mean no progress on the Maserati Quattroporte GTS that he is customizing. Or no time for next week's couples' golf tournament at Longreens. Or something more routine — no room left for more bougainvilleas meant to grace the front of the house.
"No what?" Faith speaks up against the cacophony of five hundred guests.
"No need for you to steal a husband," Priscilla, Faith's loyal client and former neighbor, comes close and announces. Priscilla's fiancé, Walter, hangs on to her. Shriveled and short, at the age of eighty-four Walter is a future husband on the wane, except for his great wealth and charity standing. Priscilla is part of a clique Faith labels "the aspirationals." In their mid-thirties to mid-forties, these women might be matriarchal in their own sphere, but rely on the men, husbands and fiancés, to provide "the life."
"Edward is devoted." Priscilla still speaks only to Faith. "And he looks good."
"Usually," Faith says. She admires his thick head of hair, which is neither transplanted nor yet gray, how he moves — toned and fit. At the moment he is squinting his sky-blue eyes. Perhaps looking for someone, perhaps toward the door.
Other women would not have stuck with Edward years ago when he was using, despite his sexiness, his polish, his potential. Only if you're flawed yourself, she thinks, would you sign on for an Edward. Only if you have your own past could you carry him to safety. Faith's commitment to Edward has paid off. Ever since Katherine was born, twenty-three years ago, he's been in recovery. His cocaine use and drinking are a long-ago memory. Today he is an ace tennis player, scratch golfer, lithe swimmer, dedicated to lifting weights. Edward and his partner, Henry Rochester, at their company, High Dune, are known as the boutique fund managers of Palm Beach. They manage bond funds for prospering clientele, risk-averse investors. And while most of the women choose not to work, Faith has spawned Vintage Tales. When Edward bought the building on the Avenue and gave her the shop, twenty years ago, he said, "All of it, Faith, proceeds ... the building ... are yours. The reward for saving me." She too owes him a debt — and loves him in a dedicated, wifely way.
Ten feet past Mrs. A and Priscilla's squadrons, Betina Gilles, consigner of Priscilla's evening clutch (rare turquoise and crystal, circa 1970, bought yesterday at Vintage Tales), stands with her husband, fresh out of prison for tax evasion. Among the hub Faith spots a woman whose Chanel crystal choker, circa 1982, was sold at the shop this morning by Katherine.
At the thought of it Faith scans the room without spotting her daughter, who should have arrived by now.
Paned floor-to-ceiling windows frame a dusky sky — not the usual starry South Florida night. Guests move in a cattle drive toward their assigned tables. Edward stops when he sees Henry Rochester, and together they become ensconced with a handful of men who are neither fit nor paunchy, neither friendly nor chilly. Were they at someone's home, their group activity would be lighting up Cuban cigars. At the Shelteere they drone on about the market, golf scores, cars, and travels. Edward is oddly distracted, not talking but kicking his left heel with his right shoe. Faith realizes how off center he has been, and while the wives chat among themselves, she stands, watching him. The women, too, drone on about similar topics with a female twist — their conversations are more detailed and always include wardrobe. When Faith is adjacent to the women, she mini-smiles, her focus on Edward. If he turns toward her, she will rescue him, lead him toward the anteroom. If he doesn't, she will keep her eye on him anyway.
And ahead of her is Allison Rochester, lotioned and polished with her steely dimples, unaware of Faith's approach. On the wall behind her are portraits of fashionable, sophisticated women, painted by Sargent and Chase.
"Well, who wouldn't be busy, as the single chair. You know Faith's held on to it, solo, for the Arts and Media gig for months," Faith overhears Allison saying.
Margot and Lucas Damon, back in Palm Beach after five years in San Francisco, listen, rapt. Posturing as if on a date rather than fueling a ho-hum marriage, they nod at Allison while looking around. Lucas, whom Faith loved when she was twenty, the boyfriend who brought her to Palm Beach before ditching her, props himself close to his wife. As Faith watches him, the others fall away; only Lucas is in the room. His deliberate posture elongates him to a requisite six feet, and his untamed cowlick is slicked down by some sort of hair product. His limber runner's body is evident even in a tuxedo — as if he could do a steady six-minute-a-mile marathon and land at the finish line with the elite firsts. She hesitates at his eyes, dark eyes. Eyes that know you, that grasp the latitude instinctively. He's not a Palm Beach favorite, although no one is more a native than Lucas. Few would peg him a real estate developer with properties peppered throughout the country. Mostly he seems boyish, sensual — perhaps a creative type. Lucas purses his lips, big-screen style, glances at Faith and back at Allison. Or so she imagines. Margot links her arm in her husband's, and so Faith stands straighter, her cheekbones feel more angular.
"Mom?" Katherine taps her mother on the shoulder.
Faith spins around. "Sweetie — at last!" Faith and Katherine hug, genuinely, cautiously, to avoid makeup smears.
"Look, everyone came!" Katherine points toward her friends, who are off to the right, far from center, fringing the party in couples. "We're about to take a picture and post on Instagram."
Of the young men, Rhys, Katherine's longtime boyfriend, is slimmest, tallest. Still, his mouth is too narrow, and it's sheer luck that he pulls off a disarming grin. Katherine's wide smile, too wide at times, makes up for it, balancing them out. After a painful break during college, the last year in Palm Beach has brought them together. Several days ago Priscilla asked Faith if Katherine and Rhys will live together, then become engaged. Faith feigned disinterest, claiming Katherine is too young. Secretly she can't imagine a better catch, a finer young man.
Katherine's friends, young women of assorted heights, are wearing platform heels that add at least five inches. Another theme of the night is hair, buckets of it in an array of shades, pale blond, chestnut (that would be Katherine), red, mahogany, and raven. Some have it clipped up for the early evening, later to unleash it when the dance floor is packed and the songs a better beat.
"How these girls have evened out." Mrs. A appears. "Remember how some of them were little chubby things? I used to pray they'd improve — for everyone's sake."
Gathered at the Shelteere, the battle-weary daughters, having managed the pressure since fifth grade, signify a job well done. They've finessed a certain look, i.e., pretty. Too pretty as teenagers at the Academy, conjuring up trouble — jealous friends, boys who shied away, mothers who manipulated them off the invitation list. Over the years, the circle grew tighter, not wider, and the stakes were raised. Faith, like the other mothers, encouraged her daughter to be au courant, athletic and popular in lower school, adding beauty and brains by seventh grade. Pushed by their mothers toward the best colleges in the northeast, the caveat was that they would come home, sport a mild tan, marry well, and be on as many committees as time allows — factoring in tennis, golf, shopping, then lunch on the Avenue.
Tonight only the survivors prevail. Despite their hard-earned undergraduate degrees, some young women believe in a starter marriage as next on their agenda. And within three years, a first child, preferably a daughter, will be born. Yet not everyone is a fan, and among Katherine's dearest friends, Darby is getting her Ph.D. in quantum physics at MIT and Samantha is beginning Yale Law School in the fall. "I know you want me to work," Katherine said only this afternoon to Faith, "as long as it's at Vintage Tales. Or as a journalist at a local newspaper. Something within a ten-mile radius."
Faith had laughed it off before adding, "And not too stressful — a relaxed entrepreneur, if there is such a thing."
"Mom?" Katherine rubs her wrist. "Can we have a minute, the two of us, to talk?"
Faith turns to Mrs. A. "Will you excuse us ..."
Passing a wall of Whistler's women, with their slender frames and nimble stances, Katherine leads her mother toward the ladies' room. In the sitting area they both look around carefully to make sure no one is listening. Katherine's frowning, a frown that young women can afford to have before they freeze their foreheads with Botox. Faith waits for her daughter to upset her with whatever it is she's about to announce.
"I'm okay." Katherine is still frowning and pulls out a long o on "okay." Oooookay.
"What does that mean?" Faith asks. If her daughter is about to complain about Rhys, Faith won't hear it. Rhys is a paragon of Palm Beach — with integrity to boot.
The door swings open, and Margot Damon stands before them. In the bright light radiating from the ceiling fixture, Margot is lit, like an aging actress.
"Why, it's the Harrison girls!" Margot speaks like one who has had too much Prosecco. Although her look is impeccable — Faith computes the entire ensemble: black silk pumps, a deep navy three-tiered gown, heavy gold-and-diamond earrings — Margot's breath precedes her.
"Hello, Margot." Faith smoothes the organza of her own gown. If this were a fashion critique she'd call them a tie.
"Am I interrupting something?" Margot asks.
"Oh no, nothing, not really," Katherine says.
"We're taking a powder room break," Faith says. "Primping ..."
"Well, then, let me say what I'm sure you've heard. Lucas and I are moving home, not just visiting this time," Margot says.
Faith has heard.
"That's very nice, Mrs. Damon," Katherine says. "Isn't it, Mom? Mom?"
The weight of it, as if someone is standing on her chest. "Yes, what nice news," Faith says.
"Ah, yes, very exciting." Margot walks to the mirror and looks at them through the reflection. She straightens her diamond collar. "I'll serve on boards, some of your favorites, Faith, the Four Arts, the Book Festival, the Dance Guild, and the film committee at Longreens. Maybe we'll overlap at cards on Fridays and golf on Tuesday afternoons."
Katherine offers a small, gulping laugh. "My mom doesn't do cards or golf. She's at Vintage Tales mostly."
"Definitely, I'll stop by your store. Unload my Frey Wille bangles — they've become a little common." Margot takes a lipstick out and starts to apply it. Too red and heavy a shade. "I know some say they need more shelf space when they come to consign, but I hope, I suspect, the closets in our new house will hold my things. That won't be my excuse. We're looking to buy in the estate district."
"By all means, do consign your Frey Willes. They're very popular ... they fly out of the shop."
"We should go; Dad's waiting for you. Rhys is waiting...." Katherine stands up, and her Herve dress, short with the fit of a second skin, hikes up. She yanks it down. "Mom?"
Guiding Faith out, Katherine turns. "Good night, Mrs. Damon."
"Good night, darlin'. Good night, Faith."
* * *
"A mother-daughter duo that turns heads," Edward tells Faith when she sits beside him. Rhys comes around to Katherine, and they head to the dance floor neatly, succinctly. Katherine dips and twists, while Rhys focuses on getting it right, his dance steps more self-conscious. The crowd is rocking, some with their arms in the air as if cheering, others counting steps forward and back. Let out of their virtual cages to Barry White's "You're the First, the Last, My Everything."
"Shall we dance?" Edward pulls her toward the music, trots her out, twirls her steadily, and brings her in. Handsome husband, Mrs. A likes to say. Builder of the sanctuary, partner, father.
The song slows down, the band switches to Sinatra, "The Way You Look Tonight." Edward tugs her toward him, and she looks into his face. He smells of Lever soap and Tom's toothpaste, his skin too tan in the strobe lights. Again that surge of gratitude, Edward/Katherine/Vintage Tales. But he seems weary, almost collapsible. Leslie and Travis Lestat, longtime favorite neighbors, back away. Faith sees them dance toward the other side of the ballroom.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Palm Beach Wife"
Copyright © 2019 Susan Shapiro Barash.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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