Vanity fare, p.1

Vanity Fare, page 1

 

Vanity Fare
 



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Vanity Fare


  Vanity Fare

  A Novel of Lattes, Literature, and Love

  MEGAN CALDWELL

  Dedication

  To Scott,

  who loves me even though he never says it

  Contents

  Dedication

  Chapter 1: Vanity Fare

  Chapter 2: Green Eggs and Ham Croissant

  Chapter 3: A Room of One’s Scone

  Chapter 4: Middlestarch

  Chapter 5: The Bun Also Rises

  Chapter 6: Dorothy Parker House Rolls

  Chapter 7: Tom Jonesing for Cookies

  Chapter 8: A Raisin in the Bun

  Chapter 9: Tart of Darkness

  Chapter 10: Catcher in the Rye Bread

  Chapter 11: Tender Is the Bite

  Chapter 12: Gravity’s Rainbow Cookies

  Chapter 13: Portrait of a Ladyfinger

  Chapter 14: A Clockwork Orange Chiffon Cake

  Chapter 15: Lord of the Tea Rings

  Chapter 16: Bite in August

  Chapter 17: Yeast of Eden

  Chapter 18: Much Ado About Muffins

  Chapter 19: You Pecan’t Go Home Again

  Chapter 20: The Adventures of Huckleberry Pie

  Chapter 21: Far from the Fattening Crowd

  Chapter 22: Pies-Fed Revisited

  Chapter 23: Remembrance of Things Yeast

  Chapter 24: Of Mousse and Men

  Chapter 25: The Ice Cream Man Cometh

  Chapter 26: Lord of the Pies

  Chapter 27: Prunes and Prejudice

  Recipes from Vanity Fare

  Much Ado About Muffins

  Tart of Darkness

  Gravity’s Rainbow Cookies

  Lord of the Tea Rings

  Dorothy Parker House Rolls

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Back Ad

  Credits

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Vanity Fare

  Delicious. Inviting. You can’t wait to savor every bite.

  Are we talking about a book or a bakery item? At Vanity Fare, you don’t have to make the choice. Our baked goods—Tart of Darkness, for example—are classics in their own right. Never stale, never half baked, our offerings are as fulfilling and worthwhile an indulgence as the best in fiction.

  Pull up a comfy chair, grab a book from the shelves, and revel in the experience.

  1

  AIDAN WAS ESPECIALLY MUSHY THAT MORNING, CLINGING to me as I dropped him off at school.

  “But, Mom, why can’t I stay home with you?”

  I sighed and patted his shoulder as we walked. “Because you have to go to school, honey, it’s part of knowledge, and knowledge—”

  “—is power, I know,” he finished. “It’s just so boring!”

  I waved at another parent who was shepherding an equally sad child—a classmate of Aidan’s—into the school building. “So is moving boxes, and that’s all you’d be able to do if you quit school now. Besides, if you stayed home with me, all we’d do is drink coffee and read. That’s no fun, right?”

  He wrinkled his nose. “No, that’s boring.” He heaved a six-year-old’s sigh. “Okay, but can we do something fun after?”

  “Yeah, fun after school,” I repeated. “I love you.” I leaned down and kissed him, and he wrapped his arms around me in a tight squeeze.

  He released me, and swung the door open—all by himself!—and headed into the school, turning so I could blow him one last kiss. He returned it, the sweetheart, and my chest felt tight with emotion.

  I wore one of those goofy mom smiles on the way home. That was worth it all. He was worth it all. And he was why I had to get over myself. He thought I was pretty great, and I trusted his opinion.

  I went up the stairs to the apartment, determined to figure out just what the hell I was doing with my life. Besides planning postschool activities.

  It sure didn’t help when his father threw spokes in my wheels, a wrench in my works, and some third thing I was just too upset to recall at the moment.

  I picked the phone up on the third ring, my hands shaking from what I’d just seen on the news feed scrolling across the bottom of the TV.

  The caller ID told me who it was before I even answered, so he didn’t get a chance to even say hello.

  “So, were you going to tell me about Blumenthal Jackson or did you just think I’d miss it because Aidan was watching the Yu-Gi-Oh marathon or something?”

  The bastard didn’t reply. I heard him breathing, though.

  “I saw it on CNN.” I had to keep myself from shrieking into the phone. “Your company? Collapsed? Ring a bell, Hugh?”

  “I didn’t know myself.” Wait. He actually sounded like he didn’t. But he was a lawyer, he was used to lying well. “Until today.” His voice was worn out. Shredded.

  I felt a momentary pang of sympathy, the way I used to when he had a tough day at the office. And then I remembered what he’d done, and how he’d left.

  “What, you had no idea? Come on, Hugh.” I walked to the window and looked out on the street below: nannies hustling their charges to the local Tot Time at the library, a few delivery trucks double-parked, and a group of Catholic girls in their short, pleated skirts walking slowly up the street.

  Normal life in Brooklyn. Which I loved, but would have to leave if I didn’t do something about it. Because Hugh sure as hell wasn’t going to be able to. Which his next words proved.

  “I won’t be able to send money next month.” His next few sentences sounded as if they were shot out of a cannon. I could barely keep up. “For the rent. Aidan’s health insurance is okay for a while, but you’ll be dropped from the policy in thirty days. I’ll try to get situated as soon as possible. I’m sorry, Molly.”

  There was a silence, and I heard Hugh swallow.

  “What about COBRA? And there must be something that’s being done for the employees, right?” Hugh had always left the bookkeeping details to me, since he was too busy. Maybe he’d forgotten.

  “Um, well, I didn’t tell you, but about four months ago I went freelance for the firm. It was either that or they were going to let me go entirely, and I needed the job.”

  Oh. He hadn’t forgotten. In fact, he’d managed to do some of his own bookkeeping. That was newsworthy in itself.

  He continued, “So my benefits were cut, then. I’ve been paying for your insurance myself.”

  I swallowed as it hit me.

  “So what you’re saying is”—I closed my eyes and felt my jaw clamp—“that not only is your company going belly-up, but it’s not even your company?”

  I didn’t think it could get worse than it had six months ago when he’d left.

  “Yeah, well, I didn’t want to make things any tougher for you than they were”—he paused, and I heard him take another deep breath—“and I thought the firm would be okay in a few months, but . . .”

  “Where the hell does that leave us, Hugh? You know, me and more importantly, your son?”

  “I’m sorry.” He hung up. Running away from the problem, as usual.

  I put the phone down. “Yeah, I’m sorry, too.” Sorrier than you’d ever know.

  CNN was still on, detailing the fallout: Top story tonight is the collapse of venerated Wall Street investment group Blumenthal Jackson. According to the New York district attorney’s office, the company’s chief executives will be charged with violating the RICO Act. Investors stand to lose up to fifty billion dollars. More as the story dev—

  I flipped the channel, not wanting to hear any more of the details.

  VH1. Safe choice. I just needed a minute to process it. Then I could figure out what the hell I was going to do.

  A commercial. How come my life wasn’t like the
movies, where an appropriately themed song would just be starting as I turned the channel on? I’d sit down and my expression would soften, and I’d nod my head.

  Oh, geez. Be careful what you wish for: “I will survive.”

  Yeah, thanks for spelling it all out for me.

  I’m afraid and petrified right now, Gloria.

  If this moment were any more ironic, it’d be a hipster movement, replete with coy T-shirts and rainbowed unicorns. Gaynor herself was wearing more glitter than a drag queen, while a tiny spandexclad girl spun on roller skates.

  I plopped down on the couch. Six months ago, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to notice how so many songs—scratch that, all of them—were about love or falling in love or losing a love.

  Hugh had never said he loved me.

  I was an idiot not to realize that meant something. I sure as hell knew it now.

  I had to get a job. Fast. Now. Yesterday.

  After Aidan went to sleep that night clutching his stuffed Pikachu, I changed into my sweatpants and padded out to the living room in my bare feet. Damn, I needed to give myself a pedicure. I hadn’t had one since the fancy wedding Hugh and I had attended the previous summer. Hugh had told a story about his administrative assistant and some Wite-Out that had made everyone howl, me included.

  That night, we’d slow-danced under the stars to “Always and Forever,” like we were in high school.

  It galled me that he had already been cheating on me, even then, and I was too naïve to recognize the signs. At one point, he got a call on his cell phone and dashed to the parking lot to take it. He’d come back about ten minutes later, shrugging apologetically.

  I sat down at the dining room table with a notebook and the classified section. I tried very hard to ignore the cover of the latest romance novel I was devouring, a world where husbands didn’t leave and insurance didn’t run out. I picked up an animal cracker, a humpless camel, from the leftovers in Aidan’s lunch and munched on it to buy some time while I thought.

  I was going to make a list of what I could do. And would do, I reminded myself sternly. After all, lists were only good if one actually was able to check off the items on the list. I had plenty of unchecked lists in my life. First one, of course, was the list where I had written “marry someone and stay with them until one or both of you keeled over.”

  Unchecked.

  How about the one that said “establish a career in your thirties so you can be comfortably ensconced in it in your forties and never have to worry about paying the bills again?”

  Unchecked.

  Mm, how about “have the possibility of ever having sex again?”

  Definitely unchecked.

  I glared at the notebook as if it were its fault I was so . . . unchecked. This whole finding-a-job thing was a pain in the ass. I thought I had more time. A month. Two. I had poked around and sent some résumés out, but between cursing Hugh’s name and taking care of Aidan, I honestly hadn’t done enough.

  I’d never thought I’d have to.

  Six years ago when Aidan was born, Hugh had supported my decision to stay home. The prospect of entering the work-force again was terrifying, maybe even more than being a divorced mom. But if we were to recover from Hugh’s latest mess, I’d have to.

  I wrote at the top of the page: Find a job. I leaned back and stared at the paper.

  What kind of job could I get?

  Before Aidan, I’d done marketing for an online start-up. There were so many problems with having that as your prime résumé skill: First of all, marketing is the most nebulous term imaginable. A guy prancing around the block in a sandwich board could say he did marketing. Second, having worked at an online start-up was practically as bad as admitting you wore culottes back in the 1970s. Which I also did.

  And third, I hadn’t worked full-time in six years.

  And I was forty years old.

  Not to mention cranky, tired, stubborn, and mad as hell.

  But they would only discover that if they hired me.

  Which they wouldn’t, because my résumé read like crap.

  Okay, Molly, I told myself, focus.

  I had a degree in English literature. That and experience doing marketing for an online start-up would get me an interview at Starbucks.

  Heck, at least I’d never run out of coffee again.

  Focus. Caffeine should not be the center of the universe.

  I rose and went down the hall to peek on Aidan, whose head was smothered underneath his blue Power Rangers bed-spread. I uncovered him, kissed his smooth, sweet-smelling cheek, and padded back to where my doom, er, list lay waiting for me. Was it wrong I wished I could set it on fire?

  Thank goodness the phone rang.

  “Hello?”

  “Hi, sweetie.” Suddenly it felt like a couple of weights had been lifted off my shoulders.

  “Hi, hon.”

  At least I had chosen my friends wisely. Keisha had moved from Brooklyn a little over a year ago to California, but we still talked as much as we had when we first met in college. Maybe even more.

  I tucked the phone up to my ear and grabbed the throw from the floor. “Hold on, I’m tucking in,” I said.

  I lay down on the couch, feeling the groove where my body had imprinted itself. Apparently, I had lain in this position a lot. I pulled the blanket up to my chin, relishing the cozy warmth of it against my skin.

  “Okay. Settled.”

  “You all right?” Keisha asked, a soft tone to her voice. She always knew. I sighed. “No, not really. Hugh’s company collapsed.” I stared up at the ceiling. Funny how widening one’s eyes and staring at one spot was what people always did when trying not to cry, and it never worked. I gulped. “Which means he can’t send money anymore.”

  “What about Sylvia?” Her tone dripped with disdain.

  I laughed. “I don’t think she’s going to send me money, either.”

  “Ha, ha. No, I mean, I wonder if she’s going to walk if he’s not pulling down the big bucks anymore.”

  Keisha and I had speculated more times than I cared to remember about just what kind of person Hugh’s new girlfriend was. Morbid speculation on my part, and rampant curiosity, I guess, on hers. Anyway, we’d decided she was smart enough to suss out Hugh was vulnerable, but not smart enough to realize he usually had to rely on others to help him through the rough spots. I’d had a lawyer friend do a Lexis-Nexis search on her and discovered her age (younger), her address (tonier), and her profession (more professional). Now we were taking bets on when she’d wise up and dump him.

  “I dunno,” I said. “Hugh can be pretty sweet when he’s needy.”

  Keisha’s moment of silence spoke of her derision more than her words would have.

  “All right,” I admitted, raising my hands in a gesture of defeat. Not that she could see me. “I fell for his ‘find my keys’ puppy look. Anyway, enough about him. What am I going to do?” I tried to keep my voice steady.

  “Is Starbucks hiring?” Keisha replied in a matter-of-fact voice.

  “Fuck you,” I said in my most outraged tone. I didn’t think it would fool her for a moment.

  It didn’t. She laughed. “Well, you do have that English degree. You could teach.”

  “Don’t you need more than a B.A.?”

  “Not to substitute teach, I don’t think. It could help you out for a little while. Maybe some tutoring?”

  “In what, romance novels?”

  “You could finally put that English literature degree to good use.”

  “Like the way you’re using your film degree?”

  “Ouch, that’s cold.” Keisha had moved back to Cottonwood, California, to take over managing her father’s art cinema when he had gotten too old and tired to do it all by himself. She loved her job, even if it was as much about Goobers as Godard, so my teasing her wasn’t nearly as mean as it sounded.

  The idea took hold in my brain. “I was pretty good at figuring out the leitmotifs and recurrent imager
y and all that mumbo. Although teaching probably pays about as much as Starbucks.” I began to feel a ribbon of excitement thread through my body.

  “You’d probably like the clientele a little more. And the hours would be good for Aidan.”

  “It’s an idea. A damn good idea, actually. Glad I thought of it.”

  She snorted. “Why do you have to pay that Dr. Lowell anyway? Just send me a wad of cash each week and I’ll hear all your problems.”

  “You already hear them for free.”

  She gave an exaggerated sigh. “You’re right. Good thing I like you so much.”

  “Bye, hon. Love you.”

  I hung up and found my latest book—Love’s Scoundrel, or something like that, and headed to bed, stopping in to check on my son one last time.

  And I swore, as I kissed Aidan’s fragrant cheek, I would not let anything I wanted go unchecked again.

  Green Eggs and Ham Croissant

  Food is a fancy a coogle may coggle,

  And this snack’s no match for the zeep-wearing schmoggle,

  But if you want taste in,

  And a bit of green egg paste in,

  This one’s the one you’ll want to partake in.

  2

  THE NEXT MORNING, I WAS STANDING IN MY BEDROOM IN MY underwear, contemplating the future.

  Which right now meant pants. But not jeans. My therapist, Dr. Lowell, was always urging me to take a step forward, and for me that meant no jeans.

  Jeans were the go-to pant of the Brooklyn Moms generation. Brooklyn Moms were usually formerly fabulous women who’d given up any semblance of fabulousness to stay at home with their little darlings. Brooklyn Moms read literary fiction, didn’t care how bad their asses looked in high-waisted Levi’s, and thought putting on makeup was bowing to the cosmetics proletariat.

  I was a Brooklyn mom, but I wouldn’t be a Brooklyn Mom. My ass would thank me later.

  If today was the first day of the rest of my life, I wasn’t going to do it wearing jeans. Not that I blamed the jeans.

  I could have tried a little harder to keep Hugh, not accept the role as boring wife and mom. I could have surprised him at the door wearing only Saran Wrap, like I read in that forbidden book at the library back in the 1970s. But I was usually too cold to wear so little, and Saran Wrap was not a good look for my thighs.

 
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