Wendy Katz is determined to make her family's new life in South Florida fabulous. But when she becomes inundated with the activities of her overachieving daughter and running interference for her brilliant but socially awkward son, she finds herself hungry for her husband's affection, hungry for new friends, and lately—hungry.
As if her husband's attractive assistant and desperation diets aren't disconcerting enough, Wendy discovers there's a strange man following her. Once he reveals the shocking reason, Wendy learns her biggest problem might not be her reckless spending or battling her "food baby" after all.
Wendy must decide if she can trust her husband—or is history repeating itself and their last chance is a disaster all over again?
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|Publisher:||The Wild Rose Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.74(d)|
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I obsessed over the menu for tonight's special dinner all week, but now I'm cooking, and the kitchen is way too hot.
An herb-infused vapor rises from the roast in the oven while the Florida sun bears down on my head through a window above the counter. The diminutive countertop, where I mix an extra scoop of cocoa into a cake batter, is so close to the stove the steam opens my pores. The fresh parsley and rosemary facial I'm getting makes the sweat run down my neck and pool in my cleavage. Also, my thighs are sticky. Whoever designed our rented townhouse kitchen apparently didn't take into consideration that the sun hits this window hardest at dinnertime, transforming the cooking area into a greenhouse. I blot my damp hairline with a dish towel and think about the gourmet kitchen in the new house we're building. Which will definitely not have any poorly placed windows.
I crack another egg, drop it in the mixing bowl, and the lovely wall unit from the home goods store appears in my mind like a hologram, with its glossy veneer and antique retrofitted hardware. I'm not supposed to do any more shopping this month for the house we're building. I'm supposed to be on a budget.
Willpower is overrated, Bad Wendy whispers.
The trouble with Bad Wendy is she's so much fun. Of course you need the distressed Italian leather sofa and the matching chair, she said. They're discontinuing the gorgeous whiskey color. Then I found an expensive rug that matched the sofa perfectly. So I bought the rug, which joined the sofa, loveseat, and all the other fantastic bargains and unique pieces in the storage unit. It's all there, waiting for Steven, me, and the kids to move into our dream house. Where we'll cuddle under blankets on the sofa and watch movies together. After the kids retreat to their rooms, Steven and I will drink cocktails in the bubbly hot tub under the stars. My body goes warm and mushy, imagining post-hot-tub frolicking in the king-size bed I've yet to order. Then — damn it — the bed gets me thinking about the knotted pine wall unit again.
One more turn with the spatula and voila! I tweaked the recipe and altered the proportion of bittersweet chocolate and cocoa. The batter glistens with extra egg yolks. What's another taste anyway? I barely had anything to eat today. And when I go in for a lick, it's so insane my plan for measuring the wall unit to see if it fits in the bedroom — and the storage unit in the meantime — momentarily evaporates. I switch on the hand mixer and go to work on an improvised frosting, whipping heavy cream, pulsing in little squares of cream cheese, cocoa powder, and confectioner's sugar.
The last thing. You're done after the wall unit, Good Wendy nags, or Steven's going to kill you. As soon as it goes on ...
The levered kitchen door bangs open and yanks me so abruptly out of my meditative state, "Sale," jets out of my mouth. The mixer gets away, spattering chocolate on the walls like spin art.
I whip around.
My daughter and the pretty girls flanking her are mad giggling, a montage of long legs, headbands, lip gloss, braces. Her friends' heads barely reach her shoulders upon which they're collapsing with laughter.
"Oh my God, Mom," Tiffany says. "You have chocolate in your hair."
I grab the foaming cleaner. "Hilarious," I say, and the twelve-year-olds crack up even harder.
Tiffany finally stops laughing. "Mom, you made a cake, too?"
"The cake isn't for school," I tell her while I sponge the tile backsplash. "It's for our special dinner."
The friend with the freckles sniffs deeply. "It smells fantastic in here."
"I'm Ruthie. That's Summer."
Tiffany rolls her eyes. "She mixed up my friends back home, too."
Memo to self — Summer wears glasses and Ruthie has freckles. Ruthie's mom, power-suited Alice Powers, hustling late into open school night when everyone was signing up for committees. Turns out "committee" is code for "mom clique." Bake Sale, Book Sale, Community Service, and Carnival Night were all filled up before I got there.
"Oh, right. Ruthie. Your mom and I are going to start planning the class trip. We're meeting tomorrow for coffee." Who is tutoring PSATs, Alice Powers wanted to know, and I thought, wow,I'd like to be friends with a serious person like that.
Ruthie furrows her eyebrows. "Really? My mom's at a conference in Tampa. Anyway, she usually gives those kinds of jobs to Keisha."
"Is Keisha another attorney?"
Ruthie laughs. "No, she's my mom's personal assistant."
"I wish my mom had a personal assistant," Summer says. "She's on deadline. I'm lucky if she remembers to pick up my granola bars for lunch."
Deadline? Granola bars for lunch? The oven timer goes off.
"Look at that," Summer says when I pull a pan, heavy with rib roast and potatoes, out of the oven.
"Wow, it looks so professional," Ruthie says.
The meat rests while I check on the appetizers in the refrigerator, poking the crust to make sure they're chilled enough so they won't fall apart in the fryer. When I close the door, there's Ruthie and Summer, staring at the roast like hungry orphans with their noses pressed against a restaurant window.
"You girls are welcome to stay for dinner."
"Great, thanks!" Both girls instantly pull out their cell phones.
"Oh, hey, Keisha. I'm not coming home for dinner," Ruthie says.
This reminds me I'm apparently meeting a substitute for Alice. I've been having imaginary coffee conversations with Alice Powers for a week, bonding over twelve-year-old daughters and the stuffy staff at their school.
"If that's not for school" — Tiffany points at the mixer — "are you sure we have enough cupcakes?"
"I'm pretty sure we're good." I nod my head for emphasis, but Tiffany frowns and bites her lip. I don't believe you, these gestures say.
I trail behind my daughter and the girls to the tiny dining room beyond the kitchen. The only place to store the bake sale payload is the dining room table, where the cupcakes and muffins remain in their tin foil baking pans, all stacked in shallow cardboard cartons the produce manager gave me. There are so many cartons the dining room looks like a reality show featuring hoarders. Except neater.
"I never saw so many cupcakes in my life," Ruthie says.
"Some of them are muffins," Tiffany says.
I got a little carried away with my baking assignment for the school. One batch led to another, and before long I was chopping cherries, toasting coconut, slivering almonds, grating carrots. I made endless forays to the grocery store, Tiffany egging me on the whole time. "Yes, make chocolate mocha," she said, "and we definitely need the ones you were talking about with the lemon pudding and the other kind with zucchini and walnuts."
Tiffany eyes the cartons. "Lame or amazing?"
"I think it's amazing," Summer says.
"Amazing," Ruthie agrees.
"It's like I have a personal assistant, too," Tiffany says, and her friends laugh.
Ruthie points to the laminated paper on the refrigerator when we're all back in the kitchen. "Wow. Is that an actual menu?"
"She worked on it for a week. I wouldn't let her use my glitter glue."
The girls giggle. Tiffany lifts the magnet holding my typed and color- coded menu.
"Don't mess it up."
"You know it by heart anyway."
"Yeah, but I'm saving it for the scrapbook. I made up a menu for our very first anniversary dinner, and now it's tradition." No wonder I got Tiffany's friends mixed up. They're both blonde, but Ruthie wears glasses. Or is that Summer? Where is that scrapbook, anyway? Probably under the dining room table in one of the tubs with the china, or back in a box in the storage unit. "Fifteen years, can you believe it?"
"Fifteen years" conjures up a memory. I'm between my parents, about to walk down the aisle, veiled, in a heavily beaded dress borrowed from Cousin Beth. On one side of me, Mom fumes at the bill for the band Steven's mother agreed to pay then reneged, while on the other side Dad sniffles, a little soppy from nipping at the kosher wine. Thinking about my dad makes me even more nostalgic.
"I know, Mom. You said fifteen years about a thousand times."
"Fifteen. Oh, wow." Ruthie seems impressed. "My mom says the average marriage only lasts eight years."
"She should know," Tiffany says. "She's a divorce lawyer. And Summer's mom is a food critic for a big newspaper."
"Yeah, she writes for the South Florida Herald. What do you do, Mrs. Katz?"
"I develop recipes." This answer pops out of my mouth while I fish onion and garlic bits out of the roast drippings. My face goes warm.
"Oh, a food blogger," Summer says, approvingly. "My mom reads them all the time."
"Since when?" Tiffany eyes me suspiciously.
"Oh, yes. Recipe developer. Developing lots of recipes for the blog."
I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that Summer's mom is a professional writer and Ruthie's power attorney mom has her very own personal assistant. And I just lied to my daughter and her twelve- year-old friends. I'm not even sure what a blog is.
"When's dinner?" Jordan appears, cheeks flushed, hair damp. He clutches a piece of paper in one hand, a thick comic book tucked in the opposite armpit. He skims the menu clinging to the refrigerator under the magnet. "Oh, good. I love those potatoes."
"You can't have cupcakes. Mom made them for my bake sale," Tiffany says to Jordan.
"Like you're going to miss one of the thousand cupcakes on the dining room table. Are you serious? Mom?"
"Yes, Jordan, you can have a cupcake."
"Mom!" Tiffany glares at Jordan. "If you were really my personal assistant, I'd have to fire you." She marches out of the kitchen, and her friends follow, laughing.
Jordan comes back with a cupcake and finishes it before Tiffany slams her bedroom door. "Can I have another one? Can I take one to Mrs. Rogers tomorrow?"
Mrs. Rogers. I have a vague memory from Jordan's open school night of a youngish teacher with long, wavy hair. Then I remember what Tiffany said about firing me. Fire me? Really? Tiffany gets gourmet lunches compared to poor Summer's granola bars.
"Sure, but don't tell your sister. What's that?" I nod toward the paper in his hand.
"From my teacher. She said you didn't answer the email and our phone number wasn't working."
Crap, I forgot to notify the school of our new phone number. I'm already overheated from working in the small, badly designed kitchen, and now the thought of missing an email from Jordan's teacher starts the stress sweat going on my neck. I peck at the laptop, open and running the cake recipe I've been tweaking.
"Jor, what's a blog?" I type in the page for my email, and a green pinwheel starts spinning. I haven't checked my email in a few weeks because my laptop is frustratingly slow.
"It's a personal website where people write all kinds of stuff. I'm on the Tenjido Torture blog all the time for clues to break the levels."
"Huh. All this time I thought you were doing your homework." The pinwheel is still going, but my email page doesn't come up.
"Homework takes about five seconds."
And now my laptop freezes. I read the crumpled, sticky paper instead which says, Dear Mrs. Katz, I have not received a reply to the email I sent you last week with regards to Jordan. A reply is now urgent, as we have scheduled Mrs. Lesser and Ms. Turner for a meeting tomorrow, Tuesday morning at eight a.m. Please acknowledge the email. Sincerely, Mrs. Pickner.
A surge of adrenaline makes my heart stutter because Mrs. Lesser is the principal of Jordan's elementary school.
"Jordan, go get me your laptop right now and sign into my email."
"But Mom, I told you I'd clean out your laptop so it will work better. I'm in the middle ..."
This can't be good. I scroll through my emails on Jordan's computer while he bounces next to me breathing impatient huffs, when there it is, the message from Jordan's teacher. The email echoes the note, requesting my attendance at a meeting in the school conference room. I check the box that says I agree to attend.
"Is that about me?"
I'm about to prod for information after the email sends, but at the sight of my Jordan, his round, red cheeks, the worried look on his face, I go melted-butter soft. A blister of guilt gets thrown in, too. Since we relocated to South Florida from New York two months ago, Jordan hasn't made a single friend.
"You can definitely have another cupcake."
"You're the best." He hugs me. "I'll totally help you set up a blog. Are you going to write about food?"
"Sure." Why not? A blog would definitely be a better hobby than shopping. I snip strings from the meat, which has roasted to the color of chestnut. Drippings steep with fresh herbs from the farm stand. The cake bakes in layer pans while I finish whipping the frosting, taste, add another pinch of confectioner's sugar.
I'm so fluttery. Is it the meeting at Jordan's school or anticipation of a romantic night with my husband? What could Mrs. Lesser want to talk to me about? What am I going to wear?
Well, I'm going to forget about all of it for tonight, I decide as I head upstairs. We were teenagers when we started going out twenty years ago, mad for each other, our biggest worry finding someone with an ID willing to buy us beer, and here it is, our fifteenth wedding anniversary.
I don't have as much time as I thought to get ready. Instead of a long, soapy soak in the tub, I take a fast shower, scraping the razor up and down my legs. I lather up while hot water pulses on my back, and this makes me think about sex. When was the last time we had sex? Huh. Well, Steven has been working long hours since we moved. I've been distracted with Tiffany's campaign for eighth grade president, and so worried about Jordan fitting in. Well, no better time than our anniversary to get back on track. I finish the shower and towel off.
My feet sink into the soft carpet of the walk-in closet — an unheard-of luxury in our New York apartment — as I sift through clothes and get frustrated. A long, stretchy skirt seemed perfect for tonight, but it feels too clingy, and I don't like what's going on in the hips. Also, I'm not going to feel romantic if the underwear I somehow shrank digs into my side and rides up my ass. I decide to go commando and pull on some leggings. I flick through the tops and discover a roomy silk one I bought a while ago and forgot about. Perfect. I clip off the tags. But the serene mental picture of me in my fluttery top doesn't jive with sweat from the hot water and dismay at the button strain across my boobs. Maybe I should have waited to cut the tags off, but I'm sure this top fit when I tried it on a month ago.
I hear the front door, so I rush the eye shadow and lipstick. Instead of blow drying and straightening, I settle for gel and non-frizz spray. I add diamond stud earrings Steven gave me a few anniversaries ago. I'm admiring my sparkly earlobes when I notice the fabric across my chest is so tight the first button is about to pop. I open the next one down, but now there's too much cleavage with the kids around. I swap the top for one with no buttons. It's riding up in the back, but now I'm super impatient. Don't worry about it, I tell myself. I'm only going to need clothes until we get to the real celebration. My eyes travel to the bed, beautifully made up with clean sheets and plumped pillows.
I glide down the stairs, pause halfway, and wait for Steven to notice me, but he doesn't. Tiffany and her friends crowd around him.
"You're so lucky," Ruthie says while Tiffany unwinds a huge bow on a large box.
Tiffany extracts a bejeweled skating dress to a chorus of "oooohs" from her friends. "Oh my God, Dad, I love it!" She side hugs him and allows him to peck her cheek.
"My assistant picked it out. She used to figure skate," he says and calls out for Jordan.
Gina used to figure skate? Picturing plump, middle-aged Gina in a skating costume gets me smiling. He's got a gift for Jordan, too, and while my son is thrilled, I'm not. It's the new video game, Tenjido Torture Two, which Jordan has been nagging me about since it came out a week ago. I'm worried Jordan is digging deeper into games. All he wants to do since we moved is play video games, watch movies, and eat. He's ten; it doesn't seem healthy.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Food Baby"
Copyright © 2019 Deborah Lehner Rosenberg.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
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