Heart pounding, Grace careened around the corner and skidded to a stop. Backing up two car lengths, she squeezed her size twelve Range Rover into a size eight parking space, leaving the car teetering on the curb across the street from Renata.
Through the large plate-glass window of the restaurant, a few of the birthday luncheon guests could still be seen. Brett was whipping her long blue-black hair about with animation as she laughed at what must have been another wicked Raymond joke. Jane noticed Grace outside and gave her a sneer, which she quickly modified into a smile. Raymond turned to see who Jane was motioning to just as Grace tumbled out of her car with only one shoe on. He squinted at Grace in disbelief that she had returned and then he waved at her to hurry to rejoin them for the last fumes of their indulgent respite.
A horn blared.
“Hey, nice tits, Cinderella!” yelled a swarthy cabbie as he swerved to miss her door. “Keep your clothes on and stay the hell outta my way.” The taxi then slowed down markedly as a police car turned onto Fillmore Street.
Distraught and oblivious, Grace stared blankly. The mink had slid off her shoulders, revealing her black lacy bustier. She looked nothing like the femme fatale who had, at the encouragement of Brett and her guests, embarked on what seemed like a no-fail mission to reinvigorate her marriage. Crossing the street toward Renata, Grace ignored the blue flashing lights behind her. A car door slammed. Before she reached the revolving doors of the restaurant, Grace tripped on the hem of the dragging mink and lost control. Falling forward toward the spinning glass, she accepted her fate. To be maimed by a revolving door, perhaps even killed, would at least provide a twisted—albeit histrionic—revenge against Peter.
Within inches of the glass door, she imagined a crushed skull and envisioned Peter telling their son of her death. Son, have you heard of the Darwin Awards…?
Suddenly weightless, Grace waited for the searing pain to start as her body was buoyed up. Am I already dead?
A muscular arm in a uniform had intercepted her fall.
“Ma’am?” The officer held her firmly. His adorable grin with the left side of his mouth lifting higher than the right stopped Grace’s death fantasy in its tracks. “Do you need help, Mrs.…?”
“Meadowcroft. Mrs. Peter Meadowcroft.” Grace’s aching heart overlooked the tall, handsome olive-skinned official with the dreamy eyes. Gently, the officer pulled the mink up around Grace’s shoulders and closed it over her breasts, exposed during the fall. “Thank you, Officer.” Grace pointed at the revolving entrance. “Ladies’ lunch.”
“Don’t hesitate to call 911, Mrs. Meadowcroft.” His smile penetrated her pain. Then he nodded and turned toward his squad car.
“Oh no, were you in some sort of an accident?” asked Brett as Grace staggered through the revolving doors.
“The … he … she. I can’t believe it… Dead, it’s really dead...” she sobbed on Brett’s shoulder, falling into the same chair she had left only an hour ago. Raymond grabbed an empty water glass, filled it with the last of the Dom Pérignon champagne, and held it out for Grace.
“Who’s dead? Where’s Peter? Did his plane crash? Was it the turbulence from the storm?” Brett prattled on, her fear of flying consuming her thoughts as she sat next to Grace. “I knew it. Wind shear while they were trying to land!”
“She kissed him… Her shape was like, I was … I … ran…” whispered Grace.
“What?!” said Brett. “That jerk!”
“Drink this, now!” said Raymond as he all but poured the Dom into Grace’s mouth.
Taking a big gulp, she nodded slowly and then choked on the champagne.
“This was my fault, Grace,” said Brett.
“And mine!” said Raymond, fawning over Grace as he stood behind her, rearranging her mussed-up hair.
“The whole fur-coat-lingerie airport shtick worked for me that one time. I’d just met the guy. But a husband? I’m so sorry, Grace. Mea culpa,” said Brett.
Grace dropped her head onto the white linen.
Raymond started to madly rub Grace’s shoulders.
“It’s not your fault, Brett,” said Grace, barely audible, suddenly hyper-focused on a lipstick smudge on her ring finger. “She was beautiful … young … sexy.” Raymond traced Grace’s gaze and lovingly wiped off the lipstick smudge, sullying the tablecloth.
“Hey, at least it was a woman,” said Brett.
“Eye-roll!” said Raymond. “Giant eye-roll!”
“Can we please keep your ex-husband out of this, Brett?”
“I didn’t seduce him!” said Raymond. “I would have, though, if he was into anything other than transgender Asian men.”
“Keep it in your pants, Ray,” said Brett before softly responding to Grace. “Come on, you’ve been miserable for years. Maybe it’s all for the best.”
Grace narrowed her eyes at the one person to whom she’d entrusted all the secrets of her sixteen-year marriage. “Please, not in front of Jane,” whispered Grace, not acknowledging the fact that Jane—the wife of Michael, Peter’s boss—was, in fact, sitting across the table from Brett and Grace.
“Sorry, but you know it’s true,” said Brett, trying to appease Grace by keeping her voice low. “I know you must be crushed right now, but perhaps it wasn’t what you thought it was.”
Listening to Brett try to comfort her, Grace couldn’t help but think about how the two of them were always there to pick one another up from moments like this, even as this one seemed beyond retrieval. Grace thought back to how their friendship had started right out of college when they’d both entered the I. Magnin fashion merchandising training program. Within the first year of the two-year program, Brett had fallen in love with the great-great-grandson of the founder, Cecil IV—in love, essentially, with his family. Not only with the cold hard cash, but with their similar interests: food, fashion, design and decorating. When Brett and Cecil eventually married—in what was referred to as the social wedding of the decade—Grace was a proud bridesmaid. At the back of Grace’s cedar closet still hung the black-zippered cloth bag with I. Magnin’s pink logo embossed discreetly on the outside and the chartreuse Oscar de la Renta bridesmaid gown preserved safely inside, this having lasted longer than Brett’s marriage.
“Who else could that kissing bandit have been other than his mistress? Something tells me her name wasn’t Sancho.” Grace smeared her mascara beyond repair while drying her eyes. “I don’t know what to do. I can’t face Peter.”
“Come with me—spend the night, Grace. Give yourself time to process,” said Brett. “I’m happy to pick up Nick from school for you. He can sleep in Camille’s room.”
“No, it’s Friday. Nick’s at my mom and dad’s tonight.”
“Easier for you to stay with me, then,” Brett threw up her hands in a mock ta-da. “My kids are all doing their own thing this evening, so it’ll be nice and quiet after dinner.”
Three chimes rang from Renata’s grandfather clock.
“How many of you ladies intend to drive yourselves home?”
Grace looked up. There stood the handsome police officer from the revolving door.
“I’ll get the girls home safely, Officer.” Raymond clapped his hands. “Chop chop!”
As Grace got up to leave the restaurant with her friends, she cupped her hand over Jane’s ear. “Please, please don’t say anything to Michael about this,” she asked, not wanting Peter’s boss to hear about what had happened through his wife.
“You have my word. I’m even better at keeping secrets from Michael than he thinks he is at keeping them from me,” said Jane.