A shiver sprints down my spine as I lean sideways in my white, leather, high backed office chair. To some, it may be thanks to the sudden burst of fall on this second Tuesday in September. To others, it may be the intimidating yet charming, flat-ironed blond—who I can imagine vacuuming in pearls in twenty years—sitting on the other side of my desk. But to me, it's more than the Canadian cold front or the typical Manhattan female competition in my office. It's how she holds my silver-plated, Tiffany desk frame, rubbing her thumb around the chiseled edges, and the manner in which she gazes at the picture it houses in sheer wonder.
"I didn't know Ethan had a girlfriend," she mumbles, scrunching her perfectly arched eyebrows.
I look down at her loopy font resume, scanning the bulleted points about her NYU coursework, while my mind focuses on my BlackBerry as I frantically thumb a text beneath my desk to my best friend, Emily—a red haired mirror image of me—who I've known for twenty-four years. She gets my typos, my abbreviations and, at this moment, will instantly absorb my heart pounding shock via a punctuation-free text. I know that I can count on her for a snappy reply, so I take a deep breath and wait, focusing on my task at hand, or for this matter, at face—interviewing Kara for a position at my Upper East Side preschool. I remain calm from the outside, unknowingly employing Emily's yoga-breathing techniques that she teaches at her incense-filled studio just a few blocks from here. But inside is a complete different story: a blaring twelve-alarm hysteria panic. How does another woman, a pretty one with the noteworthy curves, recognize my boyfriend? And more important, how does she know him and not know of me?
You should've seen it coming…remember the Hamptons this summer, texts Emily. Instantly, my mind rewinds to the beginning of my Hamptons chapter: the day when I rented my summer house. Even though Emily refers to specific events during the vacation, I like to examine situations from start to finish, ensuring that I haven't overlooked a detail. It's one of those odd habits, like getting to the movie theater even before the previews so I could answer the corny cinema trivia questions, that I haven't been able to break.
So, it began one spring morning, after a brutal Nor'easter-filled winter. I walked to work, comfortably free of the paralyzing winter accessories, to an upbeat Louboutin-clack. It was at that moment when I got my annual cue to commence vacation planning; one that I'd been eagerly awaiting. I could hardly wait to discuss the details with Emily during our daily afternoon diner date. Just hours later, I sat in the glittery scarlet vinyl booth anxiously waiting for her to appear from her studio above. Having planned the wait-time into my malleable schedule, I ordered our afternoon norm: coffee with a taste reminiscent of tar complemented with the best almond croissants north of Seventy-sixth and Park.
Emily is notorious for being tardy, a secret that she made public thanks to her unfashionably late wedding arrival. In fact, it's the only flaw, one that she dismisses as a trademark, behind her pinstriped personality. While waiting, I stared at my BlackBerry aimlessly, feeling busy—another habit that I yearned to break yet managed to hone daily. As I scrolled the calendar, I couldn't believe that there were only eleven weeks left until I'd be able to comfortably kick off the Louboutin's, let the hair down and retire the Chanel No. 5 for a light green-tea spritz, in the Hamptons.
I looked up at the sound of a familiar barefoot trot down the wooden steps, as Emily entered in cropped black yoga pants complemented by a dull peach Om shirt. "Hey, what's up?" she asked, approaching her side of the booth while gathering her long, burnt copper hair into a makeshift bun. I couldn't resist emitting a vibe of excitement—flashing a bright, ear-to-ear smile. "Okay tramp, what's cooking?" she asked, sliding into the booth.
"Well," I began, exhaling, "I just reserved my Hamptons house! So, make sure you clear your karma schedule... especially for the Fourth!" I added, since she managed to attend every yoga retreat in the tri-state area. Especially since I always threw a big Fourth of July bash; my repayment for the summer invites.
And since I wasn't a trust-fund baby—which would have been if my parents set one up—or a rich Wall Street wife,—which Emily became when she scored Max—I was the lone captain of my tight-budget-vacation ship; I did the planning, inviting, shopping. So, I needed Emily by my side, especially at the party, since Ethan didn't have vacation days until the end of the summer. And for the most part, she needed me too, since Max's indestructible investment banking career had taken flight during a crashing economy. So much so, he rented her a yoga studio "to pursue her passion," as he claimed in typical banker speak. I was convinced it was merely an avenue to keep her occupied, and more importantly, out of his prematurely balding head. But at the end of the day, her need for me lessened. She had an ornately crown molded, crystal chandeliered Upper East Side penthouse to call home and a husband to cuddle beside whenever he came home. And it was during these moments that I wondered about my life. When would I be comfortably married?
Though it was atypical to my personality, I remained calm, constantly strengthening my relationship with Ethan. But in the meantime, I still had to put on the boots—classic red soled—just to keep with my passion for the finer things. "Oh, so you got the signal?" she asked in her scratchy, non yoga-ujjayi voice.
"Loud and clear," I responded joyously, thrilled that my best friend, though married and consumed with the Upper East Side social scene, still got the nuances of our code speak: a dialect that we created during the even keeled, innocent play dates in simple Mary Janes. A language that allows us to uncontrollably complete one another's sentences and show love by calling each other "tramp."
But the signal that Emily referenced was the official cue—to commence vacation planning—that I witnessed earlier that morning, on my walk to work, when the women who were normally draped in designer black, belted, fur-collared, wool coats showed a little blouse below their Burberry scarves and even clutched their soy lattes, glove-less! A clear indication to get my vacation ducks in line, before they fly solo!
"So… then what's on the big summer agenda in the Hamptons?" she asked, taking a massive bite of her almond croissant, knowing my vacation was anything but haphazard Hamptons beach days.
"The usual," I muttered as if I was ordering our famously bad coffee. But Emily knew that I was referring to the repeated invites to the barbeques at Amagansett, the clambakes and, of course the Mercedes-Benz Polo Challenge—my Super Bowl marketing event—where potential client-prey roam: rich, exuberant, wealthy parents and of course, a two week Ethan-only hiatus. My primary summer job description was to advertise my preschool, branding exclusivity among clients who gladly fork a full year tuition check upfront to secure another trust-fund worthy generation; truly a working vacation, minus my two blackout Ethan weeks.
Emily also knew how I eagerly awaited for my "Ethan weeks," as we referred to them. Though I secretly longed for the surprise tropical romantic getaways—complete with coconut cups as seen on Emily's Facebook albums—I couldn't risk losing business and Ethan understood that. So, we made do. And the key to ensuring lush emerald lawns combined with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the pool was to rent as soon as I got my signal. This way, I would not only get my choice of estates, but could also confirm my Ethan-time well in advance.
That afternoon at the diner, exactly eleven weeks before summer vacation, life seemed perfect—a secured Hamptons estate, a growing business and, of course, Ethan by my side, though he was conveniently away on business that day. Fast forward six months and two days to the afternoon of Kara's interview when I begin to question everything in a matter of seconds, especially Ethan's last-minute Hamptons cancellation this summer that Emily reminds me about. As Kara gently sets the frame in the exact diagonal that my OCD-personality constantly readjusts, she offers, "Oh Ethan, sure I know him…"
My heart sinks. An uncomfortable, oddly shaped lump lodges in my throat. Approaching our third anniversary, I feel like a betrayed housewife, without the ring or the token wedding gown. Staring my enemy in the eyes, I bite my lip in a final attempt to avert an unprofessional meltdown.
"He's the concierge in my building," she says casually. On auto-pilot, my eyes swerve to the italicized address at the top of her resume. Brooklyn? I question. Concierge? Ethan? I continue questioning everything in a mad, heart-aching rage. So much so that I don't even have the energy to text Emily back.
New York City
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