It’s exactly two weeks until the release of Favorite Daughters. To mark the occasion, I’ve posted an excerpt. Read on!
When I enter the party, I don’t see anyone I know, not even Marina. I head to the bar and get a glass of pinot noir, which I instantly regret, because everything here – the carpet, the couches, the shelving – is all white. Her place glistens with a fresh newness, like a crisp, freshly minted $100-dollar bill, and if I was familiar with the scent of new money, I’d swear it smelled like Marina’s apartment.
If you spill, you’re dead, I say to myself, and I take a tentative sip of my wine. Aubrey, Marina, and I take turns hosting dinners once or a month or so, just so the three of us can catch up. Whenever we’re at Marina’s apartment, the place is always newly decorated, but at least one thing stays the same: half the wall space is occupied by huge, floor to ceiling picture windows. Now I stand by one, gazing out. Beside me, a man and woman who seem close to my age mingle. From overhearing snippets of their conversation, I gather that one of them is in publishing and the other is in PR. “You’ve got to get her a book deal,” the publishing guy says to the PR woman. “Marina is a goldmine.”
Their conversation ceases when the woman’s mouth freezes mid-sentence, because apparently, someone shock-worthy has approached. This is a surprise, as I’ve been to enough of Marina’s parties to know that her guests are pretty much above being star-struck. But when I look over my shoulder, I understand. Aubrey approaches with (as usual) a Secret Service guy close by, but there’s also a new addition in the form of a tall, thin, prematurely balding guy who holds her hand.
“Hey there!” Aubrey cheeks are flushed as she leans in and pecks me on the cheek. “Have you been here long?”
“About ten minutes.” I take another sip of my pinot, wondering if it will stain my teeth. I’m pretty sure Marina only ever drinks white wine, to match the rest of her apartment. “I haven’t even seen Marina yet.”
“I think she’s still getting dressed,” Aubrey says. Then her smile grows wide and she gestures toward the guy she’s with. “Elyse, I’d like you to meet Marcus. Marcus, this is Elyse.”
“So nice to meet you, Elyse.” He releases Aubrey’s hand to shake mine, and his Adam’s apple bobs up and down as he speaks. “Aubrey talks about you a lot, says you’re one of the few friends she can actually trust.”
I give Aubrey a puzzled look, and she laughs. “It’s true,” she says. “Most people want something from me, and not just my friendship. You and Marina, and well, now Marcus—you guys are different.”
I look back at Marcus. “It’s nice to meet you, Marcus. But I have to say, this a surprise.” I turn to Aubrey. “How come you didn’t mention you were dating someone new?”
Aubrey shrugs. “You know how it is. Rumors fly, and I didn’t want to jinx anything.” She rolls her eyes. “Things have been so crazy lately. My grandfather is furious with Uncle Ethan, and Aunt Kim is filing for divorce, but everyone is talking damage control and pressuring her to stay. Meanwhile, my mom is about to give in.”
“The Democratic party leader told her she should step aside, and now she’s getting pressure from all sides.”
We talk politics. Marcus stays engaged in our conversation, but soon I feel bad that we’re not including him more, so I ask him what he does. “Investment banking at Brighton Brothers,” he tells me.
“Ah,” I reply. “My boyfriend is an investment banker too. I’m impressed you have time to start a new relationship, what with the crazy hours you must keep.”
He widens his eyes and gives me a puzzled look. “It’s not so bad.”
“Really? Finn is almost never home before midnight. He’s either at work or out schmoozing with the people he works with. Don’t you have to do that too?”
Marcus self-consciously clears his throat. “Well, every place is different. Where did you say he works?”
I tell him the name of the firm, aware of the pitying looks both Marcus and Aubrey are giving me. I should have kept my mouth shut. Of course, it’s occurred to me that Finn could get home earlier, that when he says he must work what he really means is he wants to work, that nothing, including me, is more captivating to him than his job. But when he and I are alone together, even though those moments are rare, they’re still the highlight of my week. There are the walks we take through a dusky Central Park, hand-in-hand, finding momentary peace in the craziness of our lives, and there’s ordering pizza and swigging light-beer tallboys while sitting on our living room couch, watching the final season of Grant’s Lane, the teen soap opera we grew addicted to in college. And then there’s our lovemaking, those sweet, passionate moments, the feel of our skin, our hearts beating in sync, and his mouth pressed to mine.
Aubrey changes the subject, pulling me out of my reverie. “Let’s find Marina,” she says. “I want to see what she’s wearing tonight. She still hadn’t decided when I talked to her a couple of hours ago.”
We wander through Marina’s opulent apartment, and every time someone new approaches Aubrey to say hello, it’s like she’s the best friend they haven’t seen in years. Aubrey always smiles graciously, calls them by name and asks a question about some personal detail of his or her life. “She’s her father’s daughter,” I murmur to Marcus.
He nods but says, “Yes, but I think she’s a lot more like Eleanor.”
Finally, we find Marina standing in the kitchen, splendidly clad in a sage-colored wrap-dress with a plunging neckline that shows off her impressive cleavage. Her hair is up in a bun, with one large wisp down and tucked behind her ear. Her lips are bright red, and large and tasteful diamonds sparkle from her ears. Instantly, my black dress from H&M feels all wrong, like it’s a stiff middle school choir robe when I ought to be wearing a sexy velvet gown.
“There you are!” Marina exclaims when we approach, as if she’d been looking for us the entire time. She’s been talking to someone, standing close to him and nodding her head in what seemed like an intimate conversation. My stomach drops when her companion turns, and I realize it’s Finn. I don’t know which is more unsettling: that he was engaged in such a cozy chat with Marina before bothering to find me at this party, or that I didn’t instantly recognize him from behind. Nevertheless, when we meet eyes, my Finn becomes a paradox; he’s my most familiar friend yet a stranger, someone I will never truly understand.
“Hi,” he says, glancing at me before letting his eyes stray back to Marina. I suppose that when Marina is in the room, everyone’s just compelled to look at her. Maybe I shouldn’t expect Finn to be the exception to this rule.
But I do.