The first two bars of “Ode to Joy” floated through Grace’s suite. Lifting her head slowly from the pillow, she responded with a rote, “Yes?”
“Hello, Mrs. Meadowcroft,” shouted Annie through the door. “I’m just reminding you of your 6:00 P.M. appointment with our staff psychologist, Dr. Snyder. Shall I wait for you to show you the way?”
“I don’t really think I’m up for a meeting tonight. I just want to rest, Annie. But thank you.”
Annie knocked again and then opened the door without waiting for an invitation. “Forgive me. Everyone else in your section arrived at the beginning of the week, so we don’t want you to miss another day of classes. Dr. Snyder was brought back in tonight specifically to meet with you. We can better tailor a program to your needs so you can jump in first thing in the morning. If you would, please hurry. I’ll wait for you outside your door.”
Annie handed Grace a bundle of seafoam green, tied with ivory satin ribbon. Grace unfolded the lululemon hooded jacket and yoga pants, which were the same varietal as the pink ones Annie wore and, from what Grace recalled, the same as the other women’s outfits in the grand hall.
“How thoughtful,” said Grace, noticing that the hoodie lapel bore her name embroidered in white. How quick.
In minutes, Annie was hurrying Grace back up the cobblestone paths, turning left at one intersection, right at another. Except for a few puddles, the paths were completely dry, so it was easy for Grace to maneuver in a pair of Finedale-sanctioned size-nine Tod flats.
Reaching an arched door at the far side of one of the larger buildings marked Administration, they entered a long empty hallway. Even though there was a broad patterned area rug that covered the majority of the hardwood floor, Grace felt the need to tiptoe in response to the resonating silence, as if she were back in grade school and returning to class after using the bathroom hall pass. Photo after sterling-framed photo captured women, all smiling broadly and all holding what appeared to be a large golden chalice. Instinctively, Grace stopped and backed up a few steps. Sure enough, there was a photo of Brett, vibrant and youthful, before she’d grown her hair back out.
“What does it mean that my friend, Brett, and all the other women in the photos are holding those trophies?”
“I wasn’t here back then, but your friend must have been one of our founder’s favorites, to have been honored with the golden chalice.” Annie waved her hand at Grace to hurry up. About three-quarters of the way down the hall from the photo gallery, she knocked lightly on a carved wooden door. “Dr. Snyder?” She turned to Grace. “I hope we haven’t kept her waiting too long.”
Grace straightened her hoodie jacket. Having attended parochial school as a child had branded her for life.
Dr. Snyder’s door opened slowly, and a shudder passed through Grace. Fashion disaster were the only words to surface to her thoughts, but Grace forced her lips to shape themselves into “Good evening, Dr. Snyder.” There stood a woman no older than thirty, with wire-framed glasses, long frizzed hair thirsting for a hydrator, and potato sack clothing that even a Bohemian would have parked curbside for the homeless. In less than a milli-moment, Grace analyzed the woman’s appearance, deploying her I. Magnin training and decades of retail therapy. Deciding that Dr. Snyder actually had the potential to appear rather attractive, Grace’s heart opened. Wide. Yet, had there been a dictionary with a photo defining Psychologist of the Nuevo-Freudian genre, this woman’s picture surely would have appeared.
“I’ll be back in an hour.” Annie turned to leave the two women alone in the olive drab office.
Shoulders back and down, Grace sat on a battle-ax gray faux-suede couch. Dr. Snyder had surely brought in her own choices for the space, given the starkly more luxurious furnishings at Finedale. If Finedale had been public enough to be rated, it would surely be a five-star resort.
Grace waited … and waited for Dr. Snyder to say something. Anything. How can Dr. Snyder help me at all? She can’t have more than a few years of therapy under her belt since graduating, and she isn’t wearing a ring, so she surely doesn’t have any personal ‘in-the-field’ experience. How will I survive this interview that is required by Finedale as part of my intake?
Dr. Snyder swiveled her oakwood chair to face Grace, indulging her client with nothing more than a deeply concerned smile. Grace politely mirrored Dr. Snyder.
Silence sucked the oxygen out of the room, so Grace nervously pried away the chipped lacquer gel nail from her thumb, remembering Brett had assured her Finedale’s manicurist did room service 24/7. As her eyes wandered anywhere but in Dr. Snyder’s direction, Grace noticed the brimming bookshelves. They lined two of Dr. Snyder’s walls, and Grace reviewed titles like Divorce: You’re Getting Older and He’s Going Younger by Samuel Victor and Life Expectancy of First Versus Second Marriages by Keri dos Lagos. She then noticed copies of Your Amazing Brain by Deepak Chopra and Rudi Tanzi and How to Avoid the Divorce from Hell: And Dance Together at Your Daughter’s Wedding by M. Sue Talia. On the wall behind Dr. Snyder’s desk hung numerous framed and foiled certifications from Yale University, touting her undergrad through post-doc pedigree.
“I see you’ve written a nice book that matches your outfit, Dr. Snyder,” said Grace, pointing to a thick beige spine on the psychiatrist’s desk: Marxism, Manners, Brain-Potential and Divorce by Dr. Annette Snyder, Ph.D.
“We’re not here to discuss my best-seller, Mrs. Meadowcroft. Why don’t you tell me why you’re here?”
Grace jumped as a crack of lightning struck near the eucalyptus tree outside Dr. Snyder’s window. A shape dressed in black seemed to dart past the tree as the light faded. Dr. Snyder didn’t even flinch, but kept her keenly intelligent eyes trained on her subject as the thunderhead bled full-force, streaking the high lead-paned windows of her office with a seasonal deluge. The smell of ozone drifted through the open window.
“What was that?” said Grace.
“Lightning.” Dr. Snyder latched the window shut.
“No, there was a… I’m not sure. I thought I saw someone run past that tree.” Grace pointed out the window, and Dr. Snyder turned around to look.
“Stress has a way of triggering one’s imagination.” Dr. Snyder held Grace’s gaze. “Now—you were saying… Your reason for being here at Finedale?”
“My … my husband was having an affair. I was there. I saw it. I needed to get away. I’m here.” Grace put her hands up in mock surrender.
“Interesting….” Dr. Snyder pondered for a long moment until she noticed the look of utter incomprehension on Grace’s face. “Objectification. Common buffer. Depersonalizes. As with other tragedies in your life, like your sister Nicole’s death, you’ll need to address the various stages of mourning. Finedale professionals can fast-track your process.”
All the color drained from Grace’s face. “How the hell do you know about Nicky?”
Lightning struck again. Grace saw only the tree this time.
* * *
Sixty minutes later, the door to Dr. Snyder’s office creaked open, and swollen-eyed Grace untangled herself from her therapist’s embrace in a flurry of limp Puffs tissues.
“Annette.” Grace released a final sob.
“Grace.” Dr. Snyder daubed tears off her wire-rims and gave her another hug.
“You’re like the niece I never had … and always wanted to fix.”
“It was a really good start. For both of us. But during tomorrow’s session, we’ll focus less on me and more on you, and how you deal with loss. I want to help you with that.”
“Coiffeur first, then hot rocks shiatsu.” Grace smoothed Dr. Snyder’s split ends.
Outside the open office door, Annie’s smile turned south as she took in the exchange between Grace and Dr. Snyder, neither of whom could see a short, stocky man standing in the hallway that led off from where Annie was waiting. Annie nodded to him, and he scampered off in the other direction, while Annie held out a full goblet containing a deep buttery-gold elixir for Grace.
“Chardonnay? For me?”
“Your favorite, Mrs. Meadowcroft. Columbia Crest from the Columbia Valley where you grew up.”
“Who told you?” Grace raised her glass to salute Dr. Snyder before the professor retreated to her lair.
Annie beamed knowingly. “Let’s head over to the grand hall so I can introduce you to some of the other women in your section.”
“Not tonight, thank you. I’m turning in. But I’ll take this glass of wine with me!”
Annie nodded goodnight to Grace out under the stars. The thunderstorm had passed, but puddling hadn’t yet been squeegeed away by groundskeepers. Grace stepped around an expanse of inch-deep rainfall, making a right turn where she should have bent a left. Lost in paradise under a full moon, Grace set down her wine glass on a teak bench next to a pond in order to consult her iPad map. Eucalyptus and burned ozone still permeated the night air. Distracted by the rippling water, she peered deep, hunting for the bright mottled orange of koi. Realizing she’d forgotten to feed the fish at home, Grace worried that there was a good chance Ozzie and Harriet might not make it through the weekend without some sort of intervention. Nick was at her parents’, and Peter had never contributed to house, pet, or parenting duties. I’ll call Mom in the morning to set up a schedule. My life has been reduced to the care and feeding of goldfish. Damn, Daisy needs to be fed and walked, too!
A tap on Grace’s shoulder caused her to leap off the bench and let out an audible “Aack!” Her wine glass catapulted into the pond. Behind her stood a tall, slender woman in an emerald sweat suit like the one Grace herself was wearing.
“I didn’t mean to scare you.” The lanky brunette’s eyes twinkled with mischief.
A petite woman who was at least four inches shorter than Grace, with medium brown hair that rested on her shoulders, appeared out of nowhere. Freckles dotted her upper cheeks and pug nose.
“Debbie, where have you been and why aren’t you in your Kermit the Frog sweats?” asked Gigi as she whisked her long bangs away from her hazel eyes.
Ignoring Gigi, Debbie stuck out her right hand to greet Grace. “Hi, I’m Debbie.”
Grace noticed that Debbie was wearing the color of a ninja rather than the Sesame Street icon.
“Bon soir.” Gigi gave a congratulatory princess wave with her left hand. Her jade sweat suit looked remarkably spiffier than Grace’s, Gigi’s seemingly having been ironed with starch. “If I’m not mistaken, we owe you a glass of wine.”
“That’s not necessary,” said Grace.
“We wouldn’t want one of those poor critters to get caught in this.” Debbie bent over the pond and fished out Grace’s glass.
“Well, I’m more concerned those little fishies are going to get drunk on perfectly good wine.” Gigi turned her attention to Grace. “We’re in a fracas over the world’s best wine regions, and I desperately need someone to side with me. And I would like to believe that that would be you.”
“Yes, join us for a nightcap,” said Debbie.
“I was actually going to turn in for the night. But I guess I have time for a replacement glass,” said Grace with what could have been interpreted as a slight laugh.
“Jolly good, Grace. Let’s go up to my room—it’s right over there,” said Gigi, pointing to the cluster of suites on the other side of the croquet lawn.
“Gigi and I live across the hall from each other, so we can have a little hen party,” said Debbie.
“Ooh la la, my first cocktail party here,” said Gigi. “I brought my own stash of wine for our extended stay.” She put her arm under Grace’s and stepped off the path, making a straight trajectory to their building, ignoring the sign that stated ‘Do Not Walk On Grass When Wet.’
Outside their hacienda, Casa Legoretta, Debbie punched in a four-digit code on the keypad. On the landing at the top of the stairs, she opened one of the two doors while Gigi entered the other. Noticing that neither used keys, Grace rummaged through her jacket pocket. “I’m not sure Annie gave me a key to Casa Something-or-Other.”
“You just type in the month and day of your birthday, and the front door will open,” said Gigi. “Not the year you were born, though. All those women who lie about their age! They’d never get back in their rooms.”
“They don’t give us keys to our individual rooms, but we do have deadbolts,” said Debbie.
“For naughty nights.” Gigi gave a sultry wink.
“I’ll be right over. Just changing into my uniform, and then I’ll grab the jug of wine I brought. I know you’ll appreciate the delicate balance between price and volume, Gigi,” said Debbie.
Rolling her eyes, Gigi directed Grace into her own suite, which was, not surprisingly, almost exactly the same as Grace’s, with a few minor exceptions, the most glaring being two French bulldogs—one brindle and the other fawn-colored—yipping their way toward their mistress and followed by a young Asian woman who bowed to Gigi.
“Madam La Tour, is there anything else I can do for you this evening?”
“No, Yoko, you are relieved of duty until the morning. I assume you walked Yves and Coco, oui?”
“Yes, madam, they are ready for bed. I will be at your service in the morning.” Yoko bowed again and backed out of Gigi’s room.
Grace wondered if she was given her own ‘Yoko’ in her room. She finally asked, “Is Yoko employed by Finedale, or did you bring her with you?”
Debbie raised the magnum of white table wine in self-congratulation as she marched in. “Suffice it to say that Madam La Tour brought her own help. There’s a whole building a few hundred yards from here that houses certain guests’ maids, ladies-in-waiting, personal assistants, whatever … sort of an upstairs-downstairs arrangement, except it’s a this-suite, that-shack version.” She looked down at the two dogs. “Looks like Yoko finished sewing their matching shamrock doggie sweat suits.”
“They’re so ready for St. Patrick’s Day.” Gigi shrugged her shoulders with pride.
“That’s a good four months away,” said Debbie.
“Early dog catches the bone, so to speak,” replied Gigi. “And forget it, Debs—we’re not drinking your sorry two-buck chuck.” Leaning down to a small refrigerator tucked under the wet bar in her living room, Gigi pulled out a bottle of Morgeot Chassagne Montrachet—one of the finest examples of Chardonnay in the world.
“Nice. You collect, Gigi?” asked Grace.
“Actually, my wines are on loan, as it were, from my soon-to-be-ex-husband’s collection, but I am drinking to his health. May it decline rapidly and painfully. Perhaps we could toast yours, as well.” Gigi pulled the cork out of the wine bottle.
“Good taste you have in wines,” said Grace.
“Merci, but bad taste in men. What about you?” asked Gigi.
“My parents were some of the first wine growers up in the Columbia Valley. I guess you can say I know my way around a wine cellar,” said Grace.
“That’s nice, I need a fellow connoisseur, but I meant your taste in men. What’s your story?”
“Gigi, it’s her first day,” said Debbie. “She’s probably pretty raw. Leave her alone.”
With a shrug, Gigi placed three Riedel wine glasses on the table, pouring the Premier Cru white Burgundy into each until the bottle was completely empty. She raised her glass in a toast to Grace. “Welcome, and may you reap all the rewards Finedale has to offer.”
“I thought they didn’t allow anyone else to come in after the first day. That they had to wait until the next section. You must be a very special case,” said Debbie.
Grace was reminded of her monumental goldfish duties and gave a weak shake of her head. “Not really.”
“Well, we can help catch you up on what you’ve missed,” said Gigi. “And by the way, when you have a massage at the spa, ask for Andre. He’s fabulous and will definitely take care of your needs. Lucille has thought of everything.” Gigi batted her eyelashes with a shimmy of her shoulders.
“Who’s Lucille?” asked Grace.
“Loose-EEEL BARE-it. All her closest friends call her Lucy for short, of course.” Gigi saluted Debbie and Grace.
“Barrett? I didn’t realize that surname was so common.”
“Why do you say that?” asked Debbie.
“Oh, no big deal, I know someone else with the same last name.”
Gigi continued with a faux British accent. “Lucille Barrett started this fine establishment to treat those who have been afflicted with the same disease as she. Whereas Betty Ford has helped thousands of people addicted to alcohol, Lucille has helped thousands of women addicted to that institution we fondly refer to as marriage.”
“You are too much,” said Debbie, turning her attention to Grace. “Lucille has been surprisingly effective in helping wives move on with their lives. I’ve learned she has close to a 100 percent success rate of getting them divorced—rather amazing.”
“I don’t even know if I want a divorce,” said Grace.
Gigi leaned back on the chaise lounge, taking a big gulp of wine. “This place is boot camp, that’s what it is. I’m going to bankrupt my ex so his mistress sees how small he really is when he’s not standing on that wallet of his. Then I’ll change the locks to the apartment in London and the townhouse in New York. As Lucille so aptly put it in our finance class today, ‘Hit the son of a bitch before he’s able to move his assets offshore or into a nondescript trust.’ It’s still Stage A, and the battle has just begun.”
“Stage A?” asked Grace.
“Let me explain.” Gigi jumped off the chaise, grabbed a large green binder from her desk, and opened it to the Healing the Soul tab. There, right after the Executive Summary, were the three stages: A, B and C. “Stage A is when the weasel’s infidelity is discovered. Let me give you an example: my husband’s mistress was booked into the villa next to ours this last August in St. Tropez—the one Yoko and my Frenchies were supposed to occupy, but his secretary accidentally switched the rooms, and Yoko was sent to the secret love nest down the road. I wouldn’t have figured it out if Yoko hadn’t mistaken the sex toys for dog costumes. You should have seen poor little Coco prancing proudly down the path with nipple tassels taped to her ears. Glad there weren’t any Great Danes around—she would have been a goner. Yowser!”
Debbie shook her head and gave a faint laugh. “Stage A lasts for no more than three months, because according to Lucille’s methodology, a husband typically falls out of the infatuation, hot-sex phase by then, and either he remains with the mistress after those three months or he gets bored and finds an even hotter, younger replacement, and does the cycle all over again.”
“Now is the time to pounce rather than naively tell everyone, ‘Oh, mine is different—it’s amicable.’ Like being nice is a point of pride. Bullshit! Bwa ha ha!” Gigi’s conspiratorial tone animated to a high pitch. “Here at Finedale, we’re being prepped for war. Watch out, comrades, Stage B is right around the corner! By the way, how do you like the wine?”
“Excellent, thank you. Have you ever been to the Côte d’Or and the village of Chassagne-Montrachet?” asked Grace.
“No, but I’ve ironed my way through the vodka distilleries in Russia,” said Gigi, tapping Grace’s glass with her own. Grace squinted, trying to make out the correlation.
“So Stage B’s for bullshit.” Debbie turned the binder around to show Grace the three-stage diagram, with Stage B lasting another three months. “Stage B’s when he gets his equilibrium back and becomes less pliable to negotiation. Similar to the stages of grief after a loved one has died, Stage B is full of anger and denial. You’d be hard-pressed to get anything extra.”
“And then comes gloom and doom, Stage C,” said Gigi, her husky voice one octave lower. “He’s definitely moved on, probably living with the floozy instead of meeting her at hotels for those undercover trysts he claimed were business trips. Paris?” Her accent turned to French. “I thought you hated Paris? Then how’d you manage to spend sixty grand over one damn weekend, triggering American Express to call me for fraud prevention? Get it back in your pants, connard.” Gigi cupped her left hand next to her mouth and, with a knowing nod, she added, “It means asshole in French.”
“According to Lucille,” said Debbie, “a mistress’s influence is high, and she doesn’t want to lose out on a dime. He’ll fight for every nickel.”
“You’ll run up lawyer bills over the smallest of items: time split for the personal chef; Swarovski-encrusted dog collars. It’s war. Not just cold war, Grace…” A tear trickled down Gigi’s nose. “…nuclear war.”
“There, there,” said Debbie, gently caressing Gigi’s back. “As Dr. Snyder said, you need to get it out of your system. You’re going to be okay, Gigi. You’re strong, resourceful...”
Grace was unsure of what to do; she had already had three crying fits of her own that day and she was completely drained. “I’m sorry. Maybe I should go. I’m not feeling all that great myself.”
“No, please stay.” Gigi wiped the rogue tear away. “We have more to go over with you. We haven’t even told you about Finedale’s secret weapon.”
“Secret weapon?” asked Grace.
“Yup, Mr. Albert La Penis, Esq.” said Gigi.
“It’s La Pedis, Gigi. You know that,” said Debbie. “And when you called him ‘La Penis’ today in class, he was definitely not amused.” She turned back to Grace. “He’s a divorce lawyer who conducts classes here at Finedale.”
“I already hired him, so I can call him anything I want. Just don’t call him late for court,” said Gigi after another swig of wine. “He said my pre-nup may be void since it was executed in the U.K. and not in the U.S., where we’ve spent more than 50 percent of our time since we got married five years ago. But Yves and Coco are U.S.-born. They may be my anchor babies!”
“I didn’t realize dogs had an effect on citizenship.” Grace checked her watch.
“They don’t,” said Debbie. “Trust me.”
“My, it’s late.” Grace yawned.
“It’s only 10:00.”
“It’s her first day! Grace must be spent,” said Debbie.
“Well, Flirting Fundamentals is at 8:00 A.M. tomorrow, so get some beauty rest,” said Gigi.
“Flirting? Yikes, not sure I’m ready for that.” Grace got up to leave. “I came here with very little clothing, just enough for the weekend. And it seems like I may need to stay a few days longer—if I can get someone to feed my goldfish and dog, that is. What did you guys do for clothes?”
“Everyone wears these uniforms.” Debbie pointed to her own yoga pants and jacket.
Gigi waved her hand toward her walk-in closet. “Or, you can shop here. Happy to share. What are you –a size four? You’ll easily fit into my clothes, right?”
“Ha - four? On my wedding day, maybe. I am a solid six, and an eight after vacation, but thanks for the compliment … and the wine.” And with that, Grace gave each of them a quick hug. Before departing Gigi’s suite, she turned back and asked, “Hey, did you guys notice they knew a lot about you when you arrived?”
“Google?” suggested Debbie.