Summer in the city? Way overrated. Everybody who's anybody in New York City summers in the Hamptons. Mara, Eliza, and Jacqui all want a piece of the action, all for different reasons.
So the girls answer a classified ad to become au pairs. How bad can it be, watching a couple of kids on the beach all day? They've got the swank address, the sweet ride, and an all-access pass to the hottest social scene on the East Coast. It's shaping up to be the summer of their lives.
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Chapter Once: Port Authority, Take One: Eliza Experiences Public Transportation
Eliza Thompson had never been so uncomfortable in her entire life. She was sitting in the back of a Greyhound bus, sandwiched between the particularly fragrant bathroom and an overfriendly seatmate who was using Eliza's shoulder as a headrest. The old bag in the Stars and Stripes T-shirt had little bubbles of spit forming on her lips. Eliza took a moment to pity herself. Seriously, how hard could it have been for her parents to spring for a ticket on Jet Blue?
The nightmare had begun a year ago, when some people started looking into her dad's "accounting practices" at the bank and dug up some "misdirected funds." Several details had been leaked -- the papers had a field day with the thousand-dollar umbrella stand on his expense reports. The lawyer's bills added up quickly, and soon even the maintenance on their five-bedroom, five-bath co-op was just too much.
The Thompsons sold their "cottage" in Amagansett -- which was actually the size of an airplane hangar -- to pay their mounting legal expenses. Next they sold their beachfront condo in Palm Beach. And then one afternoon Eliza came home from Spence, her elite all-girls private school (which counted none other than Gwynnie Paltrow as an alum), to find her maid packing her bedroom into boxes. The next thing she knew, she was living in a crappy two-bedroom in Buffalo and enrolled at Herbert Hoover High, while her parents shared a ten-year-old Honda Civic. Forget AP classes. Forget early admission to Princeton. Forget that year abroad in Paris.
Her parents had told everyone they were simply going to go recover from it all "upstate in the country," though no one had any idea how far upstate they had really gone. To Manhattanites, there's as big a difference between the Catskills and Buffalo as there is between Chanel Couture and Old Navy.
But thank God for rich brats. The call from Kevin Perry had come just yesterday -- he was looking for a summer au pair and could Eliza make it to the Hamptons by sunset? Kevin Perry's law firm had been instrumental in keeping her dad out of the Big House, so he was one of the only people who really knew about their situation. The au pair job was her one-way ticket out of godforsaken Buffalo; so what if she had to work for old friends of her family? At least she wouldn't have to show up for work at the Buffalo Galleria on Monday. The girl who used to have personal shoppers at Bergdorf's had come this close to waiting on pimply classmates determined to squeeze themselves into two-sizes-too-small, cheap-ass polyester spandex. She shuddered at the thought.
The woman next to her grunted and exhaled. Eliza discreetly spritzed the air with her signature tuberose perfume to camouflage the offensive stink. She fiddled with her right earring, a diamond that was part of the pair Charlie Borshok had given her for her sixteenth birthday. Eliza wasn't sentimental, but she still wore them despite breaking up with him more than six months ago. She'd done it in self-defense, really: how do you explain Buffalo and bankruptcy to the sole heir of a multi-million-dollar pharmaceutical fortune? She'd loved Charlie as much as she knew how, but she couldn't bring herself to tell him or anyone else about exactly how much they'd lost. It was almost like if she said it out loud, it would make it true. So Eliza was determined to make sure no one ever found out. She didn't know how she was going to cover it up exactly, but she was sure she'd come up with something. She always did, after all.
Take today, for example. So, fine, she was on the Manhattan-bound Greyhound, but she'd already found a way to get out of taking the Jitney to the Hamptons. She was relying on Kit to take her, just like he'd always done before. Sure, she could spend four hours in a glorified bus (and hello, the Jitney was a bus even with its exclusive name) -- but why should she, when Kit drove his sweet little Mercedes CLK convertible out of the city every summer Friday just like clockwork? All she needed to do was hitch a ride. She and Kit had grown up across the hall from each other -- they were practically siblings. Good old Kit. She was looking forward to seeing him again -- she was looking forward to seeing everyone who was anyone again.
The bus pulled into the yawning chasm of the Port Authority and discharged its passengers under a grimy concrete slab. Eliza shouldered her Vuitton carryall (the only one her mom let her keep from her formerly extensive collection) and walked as fast as she could to get away from the awful place.
She looked around at the sprawling bus station, wrinkling her nose at the blinding fluorescent lights, the holiday rush of the crowd on their way to the 34th Street piers for the fireworks, the pockets of pasty-faced tourists holding American flags and scanning LIRR timetables. Was this how the other half lived? Pushing and pulling and running and catching trains? Ugh. She'd never had to take public transportation in her life. She'd almost missed the bus that morning before she realized it might actually have the temerity to leave without her.
Life had always waited for and waited on Eliza. She never even wore a wristwatch. Why bother? The party never started till she arrived. Eliza was dimpled, gorgeous, and blond, blessed with the kind of cover girl looks that paradise resort brochures were made of. All she needed to complete the picture was a dark tan and a gold lavaliere necklace. The tan would happen -- she'd hit Flying Point and slather on the Ombrelle, and, well, the lavaliere was tacky anyway.
She wandered for a while in a bit of a daze, looking for exit signs, annoyed at all the plebian commotion. A harried soccer mom with a fully loaded stroller elbowed her aside, throwing her onto a brunette girl who was standing in the middle of the station, holding a map.
"Oh, gee, I'm so sorry," the girl said, helping Eliza back to her feet.
Eliza scowled but mumbled a reluctant, "It's okay," even though it hadn't been the girl's fault that she had fallen.
"Excuse me -- do you know where the...?" the girl asked, but Eliza had already dashed off to the nearest exit.
On 42nd Street, horns honked in futile protest at the usual gridlock. A long, serpentine line for the few yellow cabs snaked down the block, but Eliza felt exultant. She was back in New York! Her city! She savored the smog-filled air. She hoped idly that she would make it in time. She didn't really have a back-up plan in mind. But one of the things she loved about Kit was how predictable he was.
She walked a block away from the taxi line and put two fingers in her mouth to blow an earsplitting whistle.
A cab materialized in front of her turquoise Jack Rogers flip-flops. Eliza smiled and stowed her bags in the trunk.
"Park Avenue and Sixty-third, please," she told the driver. God, it was good to be home.
Copyright © 2004 by 17th Street Productions, an Alloy Company, and Melissa de la Cruz.
Table of Contents
Speaking with Melissa de la Cruz about The Au Pairs
Did you spend a lot of time in the Hamptons as "research" in order to write your book?
MC: Yes. My husband and I shared a house on Shelter Island for a couple of years with several friends. We spent every weekend of the past several summers there. It was an amazing retreat from the city -- and we loved the slower pace, the country, and of course, the beach. When I wrote the book, I wanted to capture all the wonderful places we loved, like the Snowflake ice-cream shop, the secluded Two Mile Hollow beach, and the lobster rolls at "Lunch." Also, I wanted to capture the crazy New York social-climbing world that was out there -- the huge palatial homes, the jockeying for the best beach spot with your Hermes towel, the scene at Citarella, and the beautiful people with their gorgeous vintage cars. It's another world out there; the Great Gatsby come to life. Also, P. Diddy's white parties -- which are insane. Pretty girls, sexy clothes, good cars...it's a summer playland.
Are any of the characters in the book based on real people?
MC: I think each of the characters have a little bit of me in them. Eliza's background is closest to mine, as my family lost our fortune when we moved to America from the Philippines. (My dad didn't embezzle though!) So I know what it's like to go from the Queen Bee popular girl to someone who has to work and count her pennies. Eliza's compulsive shopping is also a lot like mine! I definitely had a problem with credit cards when I was a teenager. I also find her so likable and funny. I always like characters with a bit of an edge to them. Mara is also a lot like me. She is me when we moved to the States: this self-conscious, small-town girl who doesn't feel she deserves good things. She has a big heart, and she doesn't know how great she is. I loved it in Skinny-Dipping when she has a little fun and gets caught up in the celebrity lifestyle. As a lifestyle and fashion journalist in New York, I've covered that scene and I've seen that happen to so many people. Jacqui is based on my best friend in high school, who was this gorgeous Italian girl who had the body to die for and who was always trying to prove she was more than just her great looks. Several of my friends have actually told me they were a little like Jacqui when they were in high school -- very precocious and knew their way around men. Jacqui is also really fun to write, she gets in the most scandalous scrapes! I love that about her.
What does working as an au pair really entail?
MC: I worked at a day care center at my really exclusive high school, so I know about rich kids and their parents. A friend of mine in college worked as an au pair in Westchester, and she basically was a full-time babysitter; you do whatever the family asks, but you're treated as a "friend of the family" and not like the help, which is what Anna tells them in the first book -- they want the girls to have fun too. The term "au pair" technically only means the foreign girls who work as nannies for a year in the States. You get the "au pair" visa. I'm using the term loosely in the book, but then "The Babysitters" doesn't quite have such a fab ring to it, right? On a funny side note, my friend the au pair, actually did date the rich, cute older brother of her charge, and they ended up getting married! They have a kid now. But that's not what I was thinking about when I was writing about Mara. But it goes to show, it definitely happens!
Do you have any advice for people who would like to get an au pair job?
MC: I know there's a website, www.au-pair.com, where you can sign up. I met some au pairs while I was on book tour in the Hamptons, and they were telling me that they got their jobs so easily-they just sent their resumes to the family, and without even an interview, they got the gig. (I don't think it pays as much as we say in the book though.) One of the au pairs was a girl from Utah, who said she had five younger brothers, and that's what got her the job. She mostly liked the work, she said the family was really nice, and really, it's just watching the kids and making sure they are entertained. Her employers heard about my book and they told her to go to the reading since "it's about people like you." Which is SO Hamptons!! I can just imagine it!
What is your favorite and least favorite thing about the Hamptons?
MC: My favorite thing about the Hamptons is how beautiful it is out there -- it's really this stark, New England landscape, and the beaches aren't even that nice (I live in LA now, and the beaches here put the Hamptons to shame). But there's something really cool about the Atlantic Ocean, and I really like the New York-on-the-beach vibe. I love New Yorkers; I love how neurotic they are, and how everything has to be just-so, like the BEST sushi, the BEST clambake, the BEST flip-flops. There's nothing casual about New Yorkers. And I love that -- I love people who picnic with champagne and caviar. I think life should be more like Absolutely Fabulous all the time! Now that I live in the suburbs (which is what I call LA -- NY's suburb), I really miss it. I think my least favorite thing is the traffic. Sometimes it takes five hours to get there. Terrible. And part of what is making New York not so fun anymore is also seeping into the Hamptons: the whole attitude-y, PR-blitz, where there's always a list, always some VIP bull. That's all fun but sometimes it gets out of hand. When I moved to New York in 1989, you got in the nightclub door because you looked cool -- it was all about how you put your clubbing "outfit" together. You could be nobody but there you would be dancing next to Madonna at a club. It's just not that easy anymore. Because now New York is all about those damn velvet ropes, and $500 vodka bottles for a table. Ridiculous. But then maybe I'm just getting old. I used to be the girl dancing on the table, out until 10 a.m., going to the diner for breakfast with glitter in my hair but now I'm in my thirties and I'm home by midnight.
What's up next for Eliza, Mara, and Jacqui? Is there a sequel?
MC: I just did the deal for the sequel, so yes, their story will continue! I'm so excited to see what happens next. Right now, I can't tell you more details, but I know there will be more romantic entanglements, more cute boys, more girl-bonding and lots and lots of shopping!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loved this series! Once I read the first book I couldmt put the series down. Never wanted these books to end! Read the series in about a month. Awesome series!!!!