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Out to Lunch

Stacey Ballis - Author

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ISBN 9781101612545 | 432 pages | 03 Dec 2013 | Berkley | 18 - AND UP
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A touching and hilarious novel from the fabulous Stacey Ballis about best friends, true love, and the joy of food—for fans of Jen Lancaster, Jennifer Weiner, and Emily Giffin...
Jenna has lost her best friend.
With Aimee gone so tragically young, Jenna barely knows where to turn. Aimee was the one who always knew what to do—not to mention what to wear. The two built a catering company together and had so much in common—well, except their taste in men. Jenna never understood what the successful, sophisticated Aimee saw in Wayne, with his Star Wars obsession and harebrained business schemes.
And gained her best friend’s husband…
But Aimee has left a shocking last request: Jenna now has financial custody of the not-so-merry widower. True, Wayne needs someone sensible around to keep him under control, but what was her dear departed friend thinking?
The thing is, as she gets to know Wayne better, his latest moneymaking idea actually starts to intrigue her. Her attractive new lawyer boyfriend doesn’t approve of it—but then, Wayne doesn’t approve of her attractive new lawyer boyfriend. Now Jenna has to figure out what direction her life is going to take next. And she can’t help asking herself: What would Aimee do?


1

I take a deep breath and look out at the sea of faces. Friends, family, colleagues, clients. I’m weirdly calm, in spite of the fact that when it comes to the public speaking part of our business, Aimee has always been the voice of our company. Today is my turn, since Aimee can’t exactly come up here and talk about herself. Even if it were possible, it would be “very bad form,” and Aimee is nothing if not a stickler for good manners.

Over the years as we built first our own separate businesses, and then the company we founded together, Aimee was always better at the investor meetings, the panels we were asked to sit on for Women in Business conferences, the guest lectures at local colleges and high schools. I’m a behind-the-scenes girl from way back. Aimee was always the hostess, I was always the cook. Didn’t matter if it was one of our early dinner parties in our first little crappy apartment off campus in Hyde Park, or one of the seven-figure weddings or galas we produce for the rich and famous. Aimee is the front-and-center mover and shaker, and I’m the kitchen workhorse.

But this space is full of love and kindness, and I can feel Aimee’s faith in me, and I face the room to say what needs saying. There is stillness in my chest, the tightness that has been lurking there all day unfurls, and I take a deep breath and begin.

“Thank you all for being here today to honor the extraordinary Aimee Brand, my best friend, my soul sister, my business partner, and in many ways the one true love of my life.” Everyone laughs a little at this, and that warm sound bolsters my resolve.

“My name is Jenna Stewart. Aimee and I met when the wise team at Student Affairs at the University of Chicago placed us together as freshman roommates. From the moment we first talked on the phone the summer before classes started, it was clear that we were a perfect pair. We couldn’t have been more different, me an only child, Jewish, who grew up in downtown Chicago, and Aimee heading to the big city from her boisterous Lutheran family on their Indiana farm, with too many brothers to count!” There is a chortle from the front row, where five of Aimee’s six brothers are shaking their heads and smiling. Jordan, the youngest, is staring off into space. He was an oops baby, born after Aimee was already off at college, and now, at twenty-three, he’s clearly uncomfortable about his lack of connection to the older sister who was always more like a distant aunt, around in a whirlwind for occasional holidays.

“Aimee had been a Young Republican, I had organized my high school’s field trip to the Democratic Convention. She had the Amazonian height, the blond curls, the legs for days, and I . . .” I trail off and gesture impotently at my short, round self, my dark wall of straight hair. Supportive chuckles and smiles. “But none of this mattered. We shared deep passions. John Hughes movies, the New Romantics, the Chicago Bears. We both loved chicken- flavor Ramen and hated the shrimp flavor. We liked thin-crust pizza over deep dish, and wine over beer, and gin over vodka. From the moment we met, Aimee and I dreamed all our dreams together. Our company is the result of years of conversations over bowls of Sunday cereal, and bottles of cheap sauvignon blanc, and late-night whispers in the dark. We started our first businesses separately, but as soon as we were established independently, we merged them into one entity. Yes, it was a smart thing to do from a business perspective, a catering company and an event-planning company becoming one-stop party shopping. But the truth is, if Aimee and I were going to work so many long hours, we wanted to do it together.

“Aimee has always been the source of my best and deepest laughter. She has been my secret-keeper for more than half my life. The sister I never had, my conscience, my sounding board. We have traveled the world together, literally and figuratively. She is my hero.”

I look up and catch Wayne’s eye. He’s nodding constantly, his big square head strangely fluid on his thick neck, like some odd bobblehead doll on a dashboard. My heart sinks. Because the one thing I’ve never been able to understand about Aimee is why she married this loaf. But today is not the day to question her sanity or motivations, and lord knows I’m the last person to be able to pass judgment on anyone’s romantic choices. At least Aimee has a husband who’s crazy about her, sitting here in support today. He might not be the guy I would have chosen for her, but as odd as he is, as annoying as I find him, I don’t ever question his love for her or hers for him. But I can’t think about that now.

“No one I have ever known personally or professionally can come close to Aimee’s passion or perseverance. It doesn’t matter if it was doing the Chicago Scavenger Hunt and Urban Race, in record-breaking time I might add, to raise money for cancer research in memory of her Mom, Jean; and her Dad, Thom; or negotiating the buyout of our company, or teaching her nieces one of the cheers from her days on the high school squad. Aimee is a one hundred percent effort, one hundred percent of the time woman.

“Aimee taught me how to tip a maître d’ for the best table, and how to tip cows. She gave me the best birthday presents, and the best life-coaching. Her unflagging honesty and fearlessness in every area of life meant things as simple as I never went out in public in unflattering pants on her watch, and as complex as our taking some calculated risks with our business that ended up ensuring our futures.

“Aimee always believed in hard work and harder play, and in generosity of spirit and pocketbook. She is the one who made sure that our company had established significantly reduced not-for-profit rates for our services, and a commitment to both pro bono work for smaller charities and a profit percentage devoted to charitable donations. Aimee told me once that you couldn’t be completely proud of your work unless it was benefitting others and not just yourself.

“Aimee taught me patience; she taught me that every person, even the most hateful, has something to teach us, and there is always something about them to like. She taught me that you should face the day with more hopefulness than despair, and more mascara than lipstick.”

And good underwear. I can hear what Aimee would add, as loudly as if she had actually said it.

Everyone laughs, and the sound almost drowns out Aimee’s voice in my head, but I know she’s behind me, approving.

The laughter around me swells.

“Nothing in my life has ever made me prouder, happier, or more full of joy than to have the honor and privilege of being Aimee’s best friend, sister by choice, and business partner.”

Everyone in the room is nodding, and I know it’s time for me to wrap this up. Aimee always said that you could feel in a room when your audience was at a good place to stop listening, plus my knees are suddenly a bit weak. So I know it’s time to say the words.

“And nothing in my life will ever be harder than facing every day without her.”

I turn behind me and face the simple mahogany coffin, place a hand on its shiny smoothness and let the tears come.


2

I have no idea what to wear. What on earth do you wear to your first ever therapy session followed immediately by your best friend’s will reading? Conservative, obviously. Nonitchy, nonpinchy, since you’re going to be uncomfortable anyway. Aimee would know what to wear. She’d know in a heartbeat. I stand in my closet in my underwear, sensible black cotton briefs on my ever-expanding tush and simple bra locking and loading the girls, for whom gravity is an endless enemy; hair in a towel turban on my head. Volnay, my twelve- year-old long-haired dachshund, sighs deeply, her elegant head resting on her stumpy crossed front paws.

“I know, girl, I’m figuring it out.”

Aimee loved this closet. To be clear, Aimee designed this closet. She specifically had me buy a four-bedroom house, despite my lack of either romantic partner or offspring, because, and I quote, “You need an office and a walk-in ubercloset and a room for me when I sleep over.” I always did what Aimee said, and called my Realtor back and said to stop looking at the two-bedroom condos, and start looking at four-bedroom houses.

“You have the money, indulge,” Aimee had said when my Realtor, Deborah, showed us the gorgeous house on Maplewood three years ago. A two-story Arts and Crafts gray brick place on a lot and a half, wraparound yard, two-car garage with deck on top, huge master bedroom suite, and three decent-sized bedrooms on the second floor. It was more than I had thought of paying, but Aimee had a point. We had recently sold our company, StewartBrand Events, to a New York–based company, Peerless. Peerless is THE full-service event planning company on both coasts and had wanted a Chicago office, but decided that they wouldn’t be able to compete with the company Aimee and I had built together, so they made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. It wasn’t Gates money, but it was eight figures cash plus stock and salary for a five-year commitment as consulting partners. Enough eight figures that it was still eight figures for each of us even after taxes.

I’m forty-two years old, wealthy by almost anyone’s standards, and semiretired. I could be fully retired, but Aimee and I had kept one piece of our business separate from the sale altogether. The Larder Library was our gift to ourselves almost seven years ago, a sweet little store in a large converted Victorian house where we sell cookbooks, nonfiction food books, and foodie fiction; as well as a small selection of well-chosen kitchen gadgets, some vintage and some new; and a few impeccable ingredients. It has a demo kitchen on the first floor and event spaces on the second, with offices and storage on the third, so when cookbook authors are on book tour, they have a place really designed to highlight and test the recipes from their books. Local chefs do special classes, we do private parties; it is, or was, our clubhouse.

My face gets hot, and I sit down on the chaise that is in the middle of my closet. Volnay gets up, stretches her squat little body and schlumps over, licking my shin and collapsing back down on my foot. I reach down to scratch between her silky ears.

“I’m okay, girl. Just a little sad.”

“Well snap out of it.” I can hear Aimee’s voice in my head. “Wear the damn Eileen Fisher dress with the black boots and use some blush for a change; you look like a zombie. And then eat something.”

I look across the closet and spy the dress. A burgundy wrap dress that hides a multitude of physical flaws. I grab the dress and put it on, tying it in a simple knot at my hip. I slip on my tall black flat riding-style boots with leather in the front, but ankle-to-knee elastic in the back, the only kind I can fit over my wide calves. Years of standing on my feet behind a stove or prep table, added to thick legs predisposed to a Polish-peasant roundness, makes any other kind of boots enviable, covetable, and sadly, impossible.

I wander out of the closet and across the hall to the bathroom, Volnay clicking on the hardwood behind me. The pup, named for the wine that had been our favorite, was my thirtieth birthday gift from Aimee. I’d never had a pet, not so much as a goldfish, growing up. The Stewarts are an allergic people, or so they claim. I’ve secretly always believed that my mom just didn’t want hair on the furniture and my dad was resistant to anything that might disrupt his work. So I was pet free, and not unhappily so, until Aimee showed up the morning of my last day of being twenty-nine with a teacup-sized, deep red, wriggling puppy. It was love at first sight, and I’m grateful for her serene and placid presence. Not to mention the fact that she is the perfect dog. Never naughty, never sick a day in her life, never has an accident in the house or chews anything she oughtn’t. She is essentially the nondog dog, practically a person, and I can take her anywhere.

Volnay jumps up gingerly on the closed toilet seat to watch me do my hair. She loves perching there, and we have many of our most important conversations here in the bathroom.

“Okay, girly girl. I’m going to go meet the nice lady doctor to see if I can’t maybe score us some excellent pharmacology, and then to see the lawyer with the chin, and hope upon hope that Aimee did not leave us that enormous ghastly sculpture she bought in Miami.”

Volnay tilts her head to the other side as I finish blowing out my hair, which has only two states, wet and dry. My hair is thick, very dark brown, and stick straight. Women are forever asking me if I have had a Japanese or Brazilian straightening treatment. They always seem sort of pissed off when I tell them it’s just my hair. Aimee, who had a corona of frizzy blond ringlets she was forever struggling with, was always jealous of my hair. I told her I would trade for her legs anytime she wanted.

The Aimee Voice in My Head, or the Voix as I have come to think of it, since Aimee always said everything sounds elegant in French, is right. I do look a little bit like a zombie. My usually cream-pale skin has taken on sort of a greenish-gray pallor of late, the result of weeks of bedsitting with Aimee. I swipe on some blush and waterproof mascara; since my ex, Jack, once told me that most therapy is either crying therapy or whining therapy, and I’ve never been much of a whiner. I believe very strongly in chocolate therapy. Champagne therapy. Massage therapy for sure. But therapy therapy? Of either the crying or whining variety? Keep it.

My kitchen is the only room in the house that is a departure from the Arts and Crafts style, essentially a large home version of a restaurant kitchen designed for pure functionality. I open the fridge, still filled with well-meaning sympathy casseroles going dry and or fuzzy, and reach for the half tub of fried rice from last night’s takeout Chinese from Orange Garden, eating it in cold, slightly greasy chunks standing over the sink. Volnay huffs at me, I haven’t cooked properly for myself in weeks, and she misses her little bits and nibbles.

I throw some kibble in her bowl, put on a long charcoal gray trench coat, grab my purse and head out to the garage.

Dr. Nancy Schmidke is a psychiatrist specializing in grief counseling. The head nurse at the hospice where Aimee spent her last few weeks slipped me her card as Wayne and I were taking Aimee home for her final nights. “She’s the best, and it will help.”

I kept the card, and the day after the funeral, after weeks of never being able to sleep more than a few fitful hours full of nightmares, and enduring occasional mini– anxiety attacks during the day, I called, figuring that the therapy part might at least get me a scrip for Ambien and maybe some Xanax.

Dr. Schmidke isn’t at all what I was expecting. She is a statuesque, light-skinned African American woman with striking hazel eyes, and a mass of shiny, light-brown skinny dreadlocks shot with gray that go halfway down her back. She’s wearing a sort of deep orange caftan with a mandarin collar, and a large necklace of chunky amber beads and silver nuggets lying with ponderous weight on a bosom of epic proportions. Tiny gold- rimmed oval Ben Franklin glasses perch on the tip of her nose, and her hands are warm and strong when she clasps my hand in both of hers and welcomes me into an office that is all warm dark wood and plush rug and leather and tribal art. I sit in one of the two deep chocolate brown velvet chairs in the bay window. Chicago is bright and sunny today, one of those wonderful early October days where the sun seems to glitter off of every yellow leaf.

“So, I’m Nancy, if that’s okay for you,” she starts. I nod. “Good. I’ve been a therapist for twenty years. I tend to begin work with people who have been through a recent trauma, but I don’t like to think of this process as a Band-Aid for some new wound. The way we grieve or deal with an unexpected tragedy or difficulty is informed always by who we are, where we came from, and what other unfortunate things we have experienced.”

Uh-oh. I want the Band-Aid. I need the Band-Aid. The minute I hear “where we came from,” I can sense that this is about to get much more involved than just a quick meeting and some magic from the prescription pad.

“So just like beginning any therapeutic process, there’s no timeline, no restrictions. We can meet as often as you need, for as long as you need. We may start with what is most current or present, but I hope you will also be willing to explore some things from your past so that it will help us best figure out how to manage what you are going through today. How does that sound?”

Crap. That is what I was afraid of. How does it sound? It sounds annoying, frankly. I’m mostly here to talk just enough to get myself a little chemical assistance. I mean, of course I’m sad, I just lost my best friend. But it doesn’t mean I need to go all Woody Allen for the rest of my life. But I figure I’d better play along for now. After all, I’m a grown-up. This isn’t court mandated. I can stop coming whenever I want.

“Okay,” I say.

Nancy smiles, a broad smile, with even, white teeth. “Good. Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself, Jenna.”

“You mean why I’m here?”

“I mean who you are. Let me get to know you a little bit. You can bullet point it for me if you would prefer.”

I think about that. “Okay, I guess. I’m Jenna Stewart. I’m forty-two. I’m a chef, or I was, but I’m sort of retired now. I co-own . . .” I stop myself. The Larder Library is all mine, Aimee signed it over to me the week before we went in for our surgery, when I gave her part of my liver. Just in case. I’d asked her what if I was the one who died on the table? She said she knew that she was already my primary beneficiary. And she was right, of course. I didn’t really have anyone else. This reminds me that now I have to change all of my estate stuff. I guess the University of Chicago and the Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation are going to really love me when I am dead. Good thing I’m going to the lawyer next. “I mean, I own a small bookstore and event space in Logan Square, but I don’t run it day to day, and I sit on the board and consult with an events company.”

Nancy nods, makes some notes, looks up to me to continue.

“Um, I’m an only child, my folks are retired and live in California. They’re older, in their early eighties, so that’s starting to be a challenge. I mean, they’re good and very independent, but starting to show their age. I’ve never been married, so no kids. I mean, I suppose I could’ve had kids and still never been married, but, um, you know, neither. No boyfriend right now. I was engaged a few years ago, but it didn’t, I mean I couldn’t . . . we called it off. No one special since then. Um, I guess, that is the big stuff?”

“Okay. And what brings you here?”

I take a deep breath.

“My best friend and business partner passed away two weeks ago. She was like my sister, we’ve been inseparable since we were eighteen, and she got sick about three years ago, autoimmune hepatitis. It was pretty fast and very debilitating. I gave her part of my liver two years ago, and her husband and I really thought she would get better, and for over a year she did, but then she had complications and then she just got sicker and sicker and then she died. So that has been hard. I haven’t been sleeping very well, and sometimes for no reason I get all hot and sweaty and nauseated and dizzy and my heart races, and so I thought maybe I might need some sleeping pills and possibly something to calm my nerves, you know, just for a few weeks while I get over this . . .” I drift off, not sure what else I could possibly say.

“Do you think this is something you get over, this kind of loss?” Nancy asks.

“Well, of course, I mean, you always miss people when they are gone, but you have your memories and you move on.”

“I spoke with Carla, who referred you to me, a little bit about your friend, it was Aimee? She filled me in on what your friend went through, and how much time you were with her. And from what I can gather, Jenna, this isn’t just losing a best friend. The closest thing I can compare it to is the loss of a spouse. Not that you and Aimee were in any way romantic, but in terms of history and connection and emotional intimacy and dependence, not to mention that you were intertwined in your business as well, the magnitude of this loss is no less than if you had been widowed. So to a certain extent, that is I think the best way for us to proceed, to treat this loss for you as that significant. That life changing.”

Suddenly my dress seems too bright and cheery. Like this woman thinks I should be shrouded in black, rending my clothing, shaving my head. But that’s a little extreme. I had three years to face Aimee’s health issues, and almost six months to prepare for the inevitable end. Of course it sucks, but I knew it was coming. My best friend is dead. So are a lot of people. And since throwing oneself on the funeral pyre isn’t really done anymore, you pick yourself up and go on. Besides, I don’t have time to be all broken about this. I have a business to run, and another that requires I at least check in now and again. I have employees and people counting on me. I can’t let myself be all wallow-y and woe is me-y.

Nancy seems to take my silence for concern about my meds. “I’m not averse to prescribing some things to help get you through this time, but only in small amounts and only connected to talk therapy. I’ll give you enough medication to get you through to our next session, but no more, not until we determine how the drugs work or don’t work for you, and making sure they are a tool and not a crutch. For starters, I want to see if just getting you more restful sleep might not eliminate the other events before we try any anti-anxiety medication. Because to a certain extent, at this part of the process, you need to feel your feelings. Numb is not going to help long term. And since, as you said, you do not have pressing business or family obligations, let’s get your sleep regulated first and then work on the other stuff.”

Great. If I were a mom or had a real job, I’d get the good drugs. But being semiretired and childless means I get to “feel my feelings.” Fuck my feelings. My feelings suck. I’d like to be able to sleep for more than three contiguous hours, and not worry that I might pass out or crap my pants in the middle of the grocery store for no reason. But I don’t say that. I say “Okay.”

“Okay, good. And what about Aimee’s husband? It must be important for you two to lean on each other right now; how are you handling this together?”

Wayne. Half-Brain Wayne I always secretly think of him. Wayne of the epic Star Wars collection, the massive library of comic books, the laundry list of failed get-rich schemes. Wayne who has had an endless series of two-year corporate employments that read like Middle Management 101, all of which end in either amicable layoffs or quitting to pursue his next “surefire” opportunity. Wayne says “surefire” a lot. Wayne also says “you betcha” and “that’s the truth, Ruth.” Wayne. Wayne said he wished it were him and not Aimee at least once a week for the last three years. I never contradicted him.

“Wayne and I . . . how can I even explain this? Wayne is the only thing about Aimee I never understood.” That seems fair. And I should stop there. But I don’t. “Wayne always felt like the only time Aimee ever betrayed me. It was bad enough when she started dating the guy, but when she called from their trip to Mexico to tell me she married him on the beach, without asking me, without even talking it over, it was the only time in our life together things ever got strained. And Aimee thought I was just hurt that I wasn’t there, that there wasn’t some big wedding to plan and showers and parties and I didn’t get to be maid of honor and all that, but that wasn’t it. “

And it really wasn’t. When I was engaged to Jack, we were planning a tiny, private ceremony. Aimee and I spent enough time dealing with other people’s parties and celebrations. I didn’t resent not being a part of her wedding, I resented not being a part of her decision to marry Wayne.

I take a deep breath. “Wayne wasn’t good enough for Aimee. He wasn’t smart enough or handsome enough or elegant enough or ENOUGH enough. He didn’t deserve her, and she deserved so much better, and I just never got it, and now she’s gone and he’s here and it makes me hate him. I know it isn’t his fault that she got sick, and he was actually amazing with her every step of the way, a really good caregiver, and I was grateful for that. And I know that he truly loved her and she loved him, but I just never got it and now Aimee is gone and I feel like she wasted all these years on this guy who I. Cannot. Stand.” I have never, ever, said this aloud to anyone except Volnay, and it feels horribly, deliciously, wonderful. And it just keeps coming, eight years of built-up resentments and snark and choked-back commentary flooding out of me.

“Wayne is a geek with no chic. He is weird and odd and socially awkward. He can’t hold his liquor. He only eats eleven things. ELEVEN. Total. And he’s proud of it, like it makes him some special cool guy to sit at a dinner party with a shitty take-out burger that he brought with him while the hostess cringes. Wayne can’t keep a job, but he can keep all his strange Dungeons & Dragons friends from high school, with their nonironic, crusty Rush concert shirts and huge 1980s wire-rimmed glasses. Wayne can spot a stupid investment from eighty paces and hand over his life savings, but Wayne can’t ever see that his pants are always an inch too short. Wayne was supposed to be the blind date Aimee and I laughed about and made fun of, he wasn’t supposed to be the one she married, and now she’s gone and he’s here and I sort of hate that he is alive when she is not.” I deflate back into the chair like a morning-after party balloon.

Nancy looks up at me. “Did you and Aimee talk about how you felt?”

I shake my head. “She didn’t know.”

Nancy looks at me over the tops of her glasses, one perfectly groomed eyebrow raised in disbelief. Her tone is that of a gently chiding parent. “Jenna, of course she knew. Friends know these things, and you and Aimee were more than just friends. She knew. And next time, I think we should talk about what it means that she knew and you never spoke of it. Okay?”

Aimee knew. I guess I probably knew that deep down, but it sounds sort of awful coming out of Nancy’s lips. Like an admonition.

Nancy hands me a prescription for a week’s worth of Ambien, and we schedule our next appointment.

I leave through the second door to Nancy’s office, and duck into the small powder room to pee. This requires struggling out of and then back into my Spanx, because I do not care that there is that little split-crotch thing going on, I have never been able to go commando under my girdle. And the one time I tried, I both peed on my hands trying to keep the split open, AND ended up with my skirt stuck in my junk when I stood up from my chair. There is just no classy way to pull your clothes out of your kitten as you leave a restaurant. I’m an all-underwear-all-the-time girl. By the time I am done wedging my butt back into its spandex prison, I am flushed and a little sweaty. But the pink actually takes some of the green tinge from my face, and once I pat the little sweat-bead Hitler mustache off with a paper towel, I don’t look terrible.

Which is good, because in precisely forty-seven minutes I have to be at the lawyer’s office.

Handsome Lawyer Brian, Aimee always called him. I always call him the Lawyer with the Chin. He is Central Casting chiseled attorney guy. Tall, dark hair, square chin, broad shoulders. He’s been handling our business and personal legal stuff for the past five years. I find him annoyingly attractive. Aimee always said he was all face and no heart. He’s not overly warm, very businesslike, the consummate professional. We always liked that he wasn’t a schmoozer, no fakey cheek kissing or outfit praising like some lawyers we’ve met. Just straightforward, clear legal advice and support. For an exorbitant hourly wage. In five years I don’t think I’ve met with him more than once or twice without Aimee, and I know we’ve never had a conversation about anything but business.

But apparently there are things about Aimee’s estate that I have to deal with; I know she made me the executor, but luckily according to Brian, she was very specific about bequests . . . educational trusts for all her nieces and nephews, lump sums for her brothers, jewelry to her sisters-in-law, local charities that get their share. I’m assuming that this meeting is about whatever she might have left me, and after everything I have been through, and the emotional drain of my meeting with Nancy, I just want to find out if I have to find a place for that horrible sculpture or not.

Brian’s office is in one of those monolithic downtown marble and glass monstrosities, and I always get lost trying to find it. Luckily for me, Brian’s assistant, Dawn, happens to be coming in from a Starbucks run just as I arrive, and she ushers me right to his door.

“Jenna.” He reaches out a hand, warm and strong, which envelopes mine briefly, and then retreats. “How are you doing?”

“I’m fine, thanks for asking.”

He looks a little puzzled, but what does he expect? Should I burst into tears?

“It was a lovely service, and your eulogy was very moving.” There seems to be very genuine concern in his voice and manner, and it disconcerts me more than a little.

“It was so nice of you to come.” Like he wouldn’t attend a six-figures-a-year client’s funeral.

“Of course. And you’re hanging in there?” And then, it happens. The fucking head tilt. At once patronizing and paternal. I’ve had THREE YEARS of fucking head tilting and it makes my ass twitch. If one more person head tilts at me, I’m going to start making everyone strap on a neck brace before they can speak to me.

Good grief. Literally! Can’t I just be okay? “Of course. You know, it’s hard, but it is what it is, and I’m just glad she’s out of pain.” Which is the truest thing I know. The last couple of months were ugly and horrible and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone who had not committed genocide.

“Well, that must be a comfort.”

“Yep.”

There is a weird pause. I find myself staring at his hair. He has politician hair. That hair that is so perfect it is almost creepy. Stepford hair. I must really be staring because he suddenly runs his hands over it, as if worried that it’s somehow out of place. Like that could happen.

“But you seem to be hanging in there,” he says.

“Yeah, you know, it’s been weird, but you just do what you do.”

“Well, if you need anything . . .”

Um? Emergency legal advice?

“I’m good, really, thanks.”

“Good. Staying busy?”

“Not so busy, things are pretty quiet.” Not really sure what he is aiming at here.

“Well, maybe we can have dinner or something sometime soon.”

Oy. He must really want to be sure he keeps all the business. I guess I can’t blame him. In this economy, keep the clients happy. Maybe there is a new mandate from the other partners to wine and dine more.

“Yeah, sure.” What else can I say. We pause again, and I wait for him to move things along.

“So, Jenna, I think you know that you’re the executor of Aimee’s estate.”

“She told me she was going to set that up.”

“She did. And the good news is that mostly, it is very uncomplicated and straightforward. I know you already know about her bequests for her family. Her remaining shares in Peerless SBE revert to you, so you now vote those shares in combination with your own as a larger partner. She has also left you her handbags, jewelry, and other personal effects to keep what you want, and distribute the rest to her sisters-in-law and nieces. She has made small cash gifts for all of the employees of The Larder Library, and has bequeathed ownership of the Lincoln Square apartment she rented to your employee Benjamin to him outright. The house, and its contents, as well as the rest of the money, the life insurance payout, all go to Wayne.”

Hallelujah. No sculpture abomination for me! Dodged a bullet on that one. And I get both of her Birkin bags, the big chocolate brown one and the smaller taupe one, which I have to admit I’ve always coveted. Of course I don’t really have anywhere to carry them, but that is beside the point. They are so much better than neon artwork.

“But . . .”

Oh crap on a cracker. There’s a but.

“The way she set up Wayne’s portion of the estate is a little bit unusual.”

And suddenly, looking at his uber-Grant (Cary meets Hugh) face, with its furrowed brow, and such kindness in his impossibly teal blue eyes, something tells me that unusual is code for you’re utterly fucked.


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