Poignant and passionate, this is Judith Gould's richest novel yet-the tale of a woman who finds the courage to heal, to forgive, and to love again.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.38(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Judith Gould is the New York Times bestselling author of The Best Is Yet to Come, A Moment in Time, Time to Say Good-bye, Rhapsody, Till the End of Time, Second Love, and Too Damn Rich, among other titles. She lives in the historic Hudson River Valley and New York City.
The shrill buzzing of the alarm clock was an unrelenting and joyless sound to Carolina's ears this morning. She groaned aloud as she slid one arm from under the sheet and reached over, slapping in the general direction of the harsh, unwelcome intrusion. Her fingers grazed glass and, too late, she jerked her hand back.
The sound of her water glass crashing against the floor brought her struggling up and out from under the covers into a sitting position.
"Damn," she said aloud, her voice barely audible. Her throat was dry and scratchy. With a decisive push of her thumb, she hit the button that turned off the offensive instrument.
The instant it was quieted, the raucous early morning sounds of Chelsea replaced it. It wasn't even daylight yet, but delivery trucks rumbled loudly on the streets, shaking the windows in their frames. A workman was yelling at the top of his lungs. In the distance, the sound of an ambulance siren wailed frenetically.
Carolina smiled slightly at the reassuring cacophony and pushed her bangs away from her face. She eyed the clock as if it were an enemy: five a.m. Yawning loudly, she stretched her arms and legs, trying to fully awaken her leaden body. She fell back against the pillows again, but only momentarily.
"Oh," she groaned as she finally slid her feet off the side of the bed, "this is torture. Why did I stay up watching that DVD with Richie last night?"
But she knew why. She had been working long, hard hours, and Lyon was out of town for a couple of weeks, and she didn't feel as if either of them had been paying enough attention to their sixteen-year-old son. That is, when he could free himself from his friends to pay attention to her.
She stood up, careful to avoid the broken glass, and padded into the bathroom on bare feet. My mouth! she thought, grimacing with distaste. Why on earth-? Then she remembered. Last night she and Richie had eaten a mountain of popcorn, which they'd buttered and salted lavishly. Ugh! Never again! she told herself, knowing full well that she couldn't wait until next time with her son.
She quickly performed her morning ablutions in the shiny marble and glass bathroom, and then dashed to the loft's big open-plan kitchen. She smiled wryly, remembering how the cost of renovating this one room had given her such a shock. Sub-Zero refrigerator, Garland stove and ovens, all the stainless steel and black granite surfaces. Lyon had insisted on the best, and she hadn't argued with him. Now it was practically as new as the day it had been finished, it was so unused. The coffeemaker was a different matter, however, and she headed straight for it. All she had to do was push the button. She'd filled it with water and ground the beans last night before turning in.
She rushed back to the bathroom and quickly brushed her wildly tinted red hair, not a difficult job, considering her severe Louise Brooks do with its razor-straight bangs and razor-straight cut all the way around her head, the length just to the bottom of her earlobes. She quickly and expertly applied eyeliner, mascara, lipstick, and blusher, and then looked at her reflection in the mirror.
Not half bad, she thought, knowing that she looked quite snazzy for a sleep-deprived thirty-five-year-old. She tried a bright smile. A face to meet faces, she told herself. Much better. Smoky eyes. Bright crimson lips.
Most of Carolina's friends chuckled at her careful grooming, no matter the hour of day or night or the occasion. But Carolina had always reasoned that you never knew who might be around the next corner, and she always wanted to look her best-in case. Even she had to admit that the likelihood of running into anyone she'd want to impress at the wholesale flower market in the early morning hours was highly unlikely, but she'd long ago discovered that the vendors working in the market-the Georges, she called them, because they all seemed to be Greek and named George-loved to see her coming and often commented on her early morning outfits and cheerfulness.
So maybe none of them were Rockefellers or dot-com billionaires. So what? Impressing them and gradually developing a rapport with them had translated into countless favors and sweet deals for Carolina over the years. One George might hide away an unusual bunch of lilies until Carolina was able to see them, giving her the first chance at them before a competitor had the chance to come in and sweep them up and away. If a certain type of greenery was in critically short supply, it might be found stashed away in the back of another George's cooler, just waiting for Carolina's use. If she needed a last-minute delivery, one George or another was sure to make the short rumble down to her shop in Chelsea with whatever it was she had to have, only too glad to accommodate one of their steadiest, friendliest, and best-looking customers.
She hurried back to the bedroom and shrugged out of her nightie-one of Lyon's old, worn cotton tee shirts-and tossed it on the bed. She went to the spacious dressing room they shared-all built-in cabinets and closets-and quickly grabbed a navy blue linen tee with long sleeves and cream nylon clam diggers, and then snatched a bra and panties from a lingerie drawer. Finally, she picked up her tiger-striped high-heeled Gucci mules. In five minutes or less, she was dressed. Almost. She put big gold hoops in her ears and slipped enormous matching ivory cuffs on each wrist; then she hung a gold chain around her neck. Hanging from it was the catch of the day, a group of different size fish, some gold, a few silver. Quickly dabbing Caron perfume that had been especially formulated for her, then slipping on her watch and rings-engagement, wedding, and three pinkie rings, one set with a ruby, one an emerald, and the other a blue sapphire-and she was set to go.
Back to the kitchen she went, moving like a cyclone now. She quickly filled an insulated plastic container with coffee, stirred in the usual, and then snapped on the lid. She loathed the look of the insulated container-it had been a freebie from Amazon.com for all of her book and CD ordering on-line-but she had to admit it had come in very handy. She would finish her coffee in the taxi, and then hide the ugly container in her carryall.
She gathered up her keys and canvas-and-leather bag. All set, she thought. Except for one very important thing. She set her things back down and went down the hallway.
She crept to Richie's bedroom door, opened it a crack, and saw that he was sleeping soundly. Skateboards, his bicycle, in-line skates, and tennis rackets were strewn about the room helter-skelter. The light from his computer's screen saver seemed to preside over the scene like a watchful protector. Richie changed it periodically, and she glanced over to see what it was today. Her lips spread into a wry smile when she saw the picture of a little girl-the little sister Richie had always said he wanted. He still talked about it sometimes, but only jokingly these days. He'd finally come to terms with the fact that his mom and dad wanted only him.
She tiptoed over to the side of his bed, where she stood staring down at her son. Her heart surged with pride and joy and a love that threatened to overwhelm her as she looked at his handsome, still boyish face. It was blissfully peaceful and innocent and sunburned from his outdoor activities. He's so untroubled and unspoiled, she thought gratefully, her eyes still lingering on her son's features. And I'm the luckiest woman in the world.
Finally, she reached down and brushed a lock of shiny chocolate hair-identical to his father's, as were his blue eyes-off his forehead, and then brushed her lips across that very spot. I love you, she whispered. He didn't stir.
She straightened up, turned, and tiptoed back out of his room, leaving him to sleep. His alarm wouldn't go off for another couple of hours. She retrieved her carryall and keys, and as she walked to the elevator, she thought about last night and all the wonderful, silly laughs they'd shared.
In the vestibule, she checked her makeup once more in the huge elegant mirror over the Art Deco console. The Georges are going to like it, she thought.
"Carolina!" one of the wholesale flower vendors called. "You look beautiful this morning!"
"And you're a handsome devil yourself, George," she called back cheerfully, blowing him a kiss. Heels click-clacking loudly on the sidewalk, she continued up Avenue of the Americas.
It wasn't yet six o'clock, and the wholesale flower district was thronged with shoppers, as it had been since before daybreak. These days Roxie or Antonio, her right-hand helpers, did the marketing most of the time because Carolina was too busy with planning and designing the flowers for parties. Today, she'd decided to come up herself to find something really special for the important dinner party she was doing tonight. Roxie and Antonio would soon be at the shop, if they weren't there already, putting together some of the arrangements she'd designed. They would be taken uptown for the party later in the day.
Carolina felt exhilarated making her way among the bustle of the early morning crowds. She was reminded of the days when she'd first worked in a little Greenwich Village shop that Jonathan Muller, a newfound friend, had owned. She and Jonathan would sometimes go straight to the flower market from the clubs after they closed at four a.m., still dressed in all of their fancy regalia. Those had been heady days, full of very hard work and equally hard play.
"Carolina! What are you, deaf?"
One of the many Georges finally penetrated the veil of memories that had preoccupied her, and she snapped out of her reverie. "What?" she asked, fixing him with a gaze. "Sorry, George, I was on another planet. Daydreaming."
"I told you," George said, exasperated, "I've got something really special stashed away. They're yours if you want them."
"Oh, what?" she asked excitedly, her eyes gleaming with curiosity. "What is it you've got that's so special?"
He gestured her toward the back of his shop with his head, a conniving expression on his face. "Back here," he said, his voice a highly dramatic whisper. "Follow me."
Carolina trailed along behind him toward the rear of the shop, turning sideways in the narrow pathway between plants and flowers. She drew to a halt at a big cooler in the back, where George was opening the door.
He rummaged inside it, shoving around tall metal buckets filled with various types of flowers and greens, some still completely covered by their paper wrappers, until he found what he was looking for. He pulled the bucket out, set it down on the foliage-strewn floor, and then tore a portion of the brown paper wrapper from around the flowers.
"Look, Carolina!" he said, his big salt-and-pepper mustache spreading wide in a proud smile, a hand gesturing to the flowers.
Carolina peered closely at the flowers revealed by the tear in the paper. "Sterling Silver roses," she said in a matter-of-fact voice.
George's face fell when he heard her lack of interest. He hurriedly ripped the paper sleeve completely away from the roses. "Look again," he said, thumping the paper. "Not just Sterling Silver roses, Carolina. Irish Sterling Silver roses. The biggest and the most beautifully colored roses you'll ever see. I guarantee it."
"Oooooh, George," she cried with delight. "They are gorgeous!" While size did not always matter-and these were huge-color nearly always did, and these were a spectacularly beautiful lavender gray mauve.
What luck! she thought. They would be perfect for Lydia Carstairs's dinner party tonight. Her dining room walls were covered in a beautiful grisaille paper with a neoclassical motif-various gods, goddesses, urns-and Sterling Silver roses would look quietly splashy in the room. And quiet splash was exactly what was called for. It was a mood that would please Lydia-no easy task.
Lydia Carstairs had recently become one of Carolina's best customers. Immensely rich and well connected socially, she was always being written about in society columns and was considered an icon of style. Her homes were often photographed for magazines. She was also extremely difficult to please, and had the sort of eagle eye that could differentiate between fifteen shades of pink where most people merely saw two or three. She also frequently alluded to the colors in Old Master paintings to describe what she wanted: "The red in Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes," she might say. "You know, the blood spouting from his severed neck." Carolina often knew exactly what the older woman was alluding to or would quickly find out, and she had the same color sense that Lydia had-one of several reasons that Lydia had come to rely on her services. Lydia would swoon over these roses, she realized. They would replace the arrangements she'd had in mind for the dining room.
"You want me to send them down with everything else?" George asked, his hurt feelings now mollified by her genuine show of enthusiasm.
Carolina shook her head. "No, George," she replied, "I'm taking these babies with me. I'm using them tonight."
"You got it," he said. He scooped the huge bundle of roses out of the bucket and took it up front to a worktable, where he quickly wrapped it in another layer of paper, sealed it, and looked up at Carolina, his bushy salt-and-pepper eyebrows raised in a question. "What else, beautiful?" he asked.
"That's it today, George," she said. "And thanks a million for letting me see these beauties."
George nodded. "I knew they were for you," he said, smiling. "Glad you came up yourself today."
"I am, too," she replied. "I don't get up here enough these days."
"You send Roxie or Antonio all the time. You're getting rich and famous so you got no time for us."
"Rich and famous!" Carolina cried. "I wish. What a joker you are, George. Maybe I work for some people who are, but I'm sure not. And you know very well that the reason Roxie and Antonio come up is because I'm so damned busy."
George grinned. "Yeah, I know, Carolina," he said. "You know I'm only kidding. But you were a go-getter from day one. That I know."
"Have to be in this town," Carolina replied.
"You can say that again," George responded. "It's do or die."
"Well, I'm going to go do," Carolina said with a laugh. She headed toward the door with her giant bundle and then turned and blew George a kiss. "See you soon, George, and thanks again."
He waved a hand, indicating it was nothing. "See you later, beautiful. And don't be such a stranger."
Carolina headed down the sidewalk, immensely pleased with this last-minute alteration for Lydia's party. It was just the sort of find that made all the difference. She stopped to eye some promising-looking lilies, but decided against them, as they were a trifle ordinary, something her shop, though small, most definitely was not. She made several stops, purchasing flowers and greens and placing orders for various arrangement supplies she knew the shop was running low on, all the while chatting with the various vendors, catching up on their lives and sharing bits and pieces of her own.
When at last she was finished, she grabbed a taxi and headed the short distance down and across town. She felt a fleeting moment of sadness overcome her. Here in this marketplace was a part of her past that could never be retrieved. She was not the tall, skinny kid who'd forced herself to fearlessly flirt with all the Georges, cajoling them into making her better deals or giving her dibs on their prize flowers. Nor were they the same. All that handsome olive-skinned muscle had gone soft. Jet-black hair was now gone gray. Most of them had sons, but they'd gone into other businesses, leaving only a remnant of the new generation to take over the reins. And it was no wonder. The future looked bleak for the flower wholesalers. A lot of them had already shut down, and more were abandoning the ranks, their businesses ruined by the cheap flowers being imported from South American countries, particularly Colombia. These flowers were flooding the city, skipping the wholesalers and going directly to the retailers, whether full-fledged flower shops or the Korean greengrocers that were sprinkled about every neighborhood.
As the taxi crawled through the bumper-to-bumper traffic, she realized for the first time that an era had drawn to a close. She felt a profound sense of loss-for a time gone by, for her own lost youth. Then the sadness suddenly felt more like loneliness.
What's wrong with me? she wondered. I should be the happiest woman in the world. I am the happiest woman in the world most of the time. I have a loving, wonderful husband, even if he is out of town half the time, and a wonderful, well-adjusted son. I have a business that's going great guns, a great loft in the city, and a charming house in the country. So why do I feel sad and lonely?
She shook her head as if to clear it of sticky cobwebs. Perhaps, she thought, it's just that I miss Lyon and that we've seen so little of each other lately. She wondered anew at his distant, inattentive behavior. Had it grown more removed lately? Yes, she decided, there was little doubt about it. Lyon had been spending longer and longer periods of time away. Worse, he wasn't as interested in her when he could finally get home. There'd been too many nights in the last couple of years when he'd wanted to go straight to sleep, ignoring her obvious advances.
Is it because of his age? she wondered. Or is it mine? She worked very hard to keep herself slim and fit, and she knew that she certainly still attracted men. But she also knew that she wasn't eighteen anymore. She sighed again, unhappily perplexed by this change in her husband.
Looking out the taxi window at the crowded streets, she asked herself, Where's the magic gone?
-From The Best Is Yet to Come by Judith Gould (c) August 2002, Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc., used by permission.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A very trashy novel. If the author was trying for giving us a look at the rich, I was left feeling no empathy with the very rich or the working class. The discriptions of the flowers and the flower shop we]re beautiful and describing the way showy arrangements were made was interesting. I wish I had cared for the characters that much.
It was readable and the story line could have worked but it was very vulgar. I like a steamy novel but this used trashy terms and the characters had no character-they had no depth so that we sympathized with any of their poor life choices. To all of these characters, using terms I believe the author would use, "It sucks to be you." I'll take classier reading thank you.