We have two more drinks and spin tales about ourselves. He has jet-setters for parents. I have distant relations to royals. I say I committed a few stealthy murders in my youth. Patrick says he was once shot off into space and spent days in orbit before NASA figured out he was missing. Midway into drink number three, we turn somber. Patrick tells me he has never fallen in love and isn't sure love is real. I tell him that I have, when I was young, but then I discovered it's a fallacy. This is actually my truth, which I know isn't the rules, but I'm tipsy, and Patrick is inching closer to me with every word he breathes, and something is happening, something I can't quite understand.
Naughty, the cautious part of my brain reminds me again and again. I'm married to a handsome, successful man. I have two smart, successful teenage daughters. From an outsider's perspective, I have it all. But here in the darkness of this strange bar, it all feels so far away. When I look back at that life, the one I'd been steeped in only twelve hours before, it's that Kit who seems false, not this one.
Patrick's chili-infused breath could ignite a forest fire. He looks at me as though he's known me forever. I'm so dazzled, and I wonder if he somehow has. "And what, royal murderess keeper-of-truth, do you want to do right now?" he asks.
The world is my oyster. I could tell him anything: that I want to cliff-dive off the moon, buy out a Chanel boutique, time-travel to Benjamin Franklin times, crawl into a cocoon and transform into a butterfly. But I know in those acorn-brown eyes what he's really asking, and it's what I want, too.
I let him take my hand and lead me out of the bar. Our lips touch as soon as the elevator doors close, and quickly, the kissing goes from tentative to full-on passionate. His fingers fumble for the tiny, delicate buttons at the neckline of my blouse. My hands are on his waist.
"Oh God," Patrick moans into my ear.
But then, coming to my senses, I push away. "Wait," I whisper. "No. I can't."
His eyes are two tragic pools. "Okay..."
I look down, panting. Adjust my blouse. Pull down my skirt. I fumble for my key card, deliberately not inviting him back to my room. I want to—believe me. I'm dying to.
"I'm sorry." I shake my head and give him a sad, regretful smile. "This just isn't me."
TUESDAY, APRIL 25, 2017
After being Mystery Reader in my son's class, after a workout at Flywheel, after a blow-dry touch-up and makeup reapplication, after strutting out of the gym and getting double takes from nearly every man on the street—something I've become used to—and after popping into the gourmet grocery next door to my office, I get a lovely compliment. I pass a bottle of wine for tonight's dinner across the scanner at the checkout counter, and the shopgirl asks me for ID.
"Me?" I blink hard, grinning. "Goodness, I'm almost forty! I have two kids!"
"Oh." The girl—she can't be much older than twenty-two—squints at my face, then my ID, then back at me again. "Well, whatever you're doing, it's working."
This makes everyone else in the line inspect me just as thoroughly— including an almost-as-skinny, hawk-nosed mom who was a row behind me at Flywheel. Good. I swish to the office in a cloud of smugness, wondering if this moment is Facebook-worthy. It certainly reaffirms that all of my renewed efforts in my appearance and fitness, which I've redoubled since moving here, are paying off.
But as soon as I reach my office floor, my mood dampens. Kit Manning-Strasser's office, the first room I pass on the way to mine, is still dark. She isn't back from Philly yet? Late night with the Hawsers, maybe? That seems unlikely—in the pictures I've seen of the extremely wealthy couple, they look like the type who have already picked out their funeral plots. I wonder if my name ever came up over the course of their lovely evening out together—oh, you know, just the woman who groomed the Hawsers in the first place? The woman who nurtured a relationship, listening for hours as Lucy Hawser talked about her sick corgi and her girlhood years of riding dressage, practically falling asleep as Robert Hawser told her, time and time again, about the round of golf he'd had with Warren Buffett? That lady—remember her, people? Because guess what: She's not the same woman who took you out to dinner. We are very, very different.
Kit is more senior than you are, and that's why she gets to go on this trip, my boss, George, explained to me last week. And while it's true I've only been working in Aldrich's giving department for six months—my husband, kids, and I moved to Pennsylvania from Maryland about a year ago because my husband's company was offered great tax breaks here—I don't like coming in second.
I sit down at my desk, open my e-mail, and scour my messages for updates on the Hawsers. There's nothing—not from Kit, not from George. There are plenty of last-minute details about the Aldrich University Giving Gala, which is happening tomorrow at the Natural History Museum. Is the guest list finalized? Are the speeches ready? Has the planner updated me on the final details? Yes, yes, yes—I've always been excellent at throwing a party.
All that done, I open Facebook and sign into my account. The post of me, my daughter, Amelia, and my son, Connor, standing at the overlook of Mount Washington, the city of Pittsburgh glittering beneath us, has garnered quite a response: Beautiful, says my high school boyfriend, Brock, who married a woman who got a big ass after having three kids. Your kids could be models! writes an old friend from Maryland; poor thing went through a nasty divorce last year. I consider writing a response saying that I couldn't care less if my children grow up to be classically beautiful—it's their accomplishments, hopes, and dreams that fuel my fire. I also wish a few more of the moms from school had weighed in. Perhaps they think the post is too boastful? Or they find it inappropriate that I've let my nine-year-old daughter wear lip gloss and just a touch of mascara? Or I'm being paranoid. They're busy. That's all.
I click around to see if there's any dirt on anyone I know—a girl's night out that got messy; an inflammatory political argument between family members, all played out in comments. I see pictures of someone's new house (smaller than mine), someone's new baby (uglier than mine were), and a vacation photo of one of my sorority sisters and her husband (I've been on bigger yachts, and I have a better body). All is right with the world.