New York City, 2016
She’d forgotten the onions.
After all the preparation, the lists, the running out of work early to finish shopping and buy everything she needed for their special dinner, Rose had forgotten a key risotto ingredient. She checked the pantry, but the basket was empty save for a few remnants of the papery outer layers.
Griff had raved about her risotto soon after they’d started dating, and she remembered how proud she’d been listing off the more surprising ingredients.
“The coconut milk is the secret to it,” she’d confided.
“Why coconut milk?” He sat back in the rickety chair she’d bought at the thrift store on Bleecker, his long arms and legs far too unwieldy for her small studio apartment.
“I find it makes the texture especially creamy.” She said it lightly, as she collected their plates, as if cooking was easy for her, just another thing she did well, rather than a panic-inducing race to the finish line. “I slowly add the chicken stock and coconut milk to the rice and spices until all the flavors have melded.”
“I like the way you say that. Melded. Say it again.”
She did so, the way she would on camera, her pitch slightly lower than her conversational voice, clear and sure.
Then he’d swept her up and made love to her on her bed with its tasteful handmade quilt. She’d stifled the impulse to sweep it to the side, so as not to have to send it to the dry cleaners tomorrow, and had instead surrendered to the enormity of him, all muscles and sinew, an athlete’s body even at forty-five.
She missed the simplicity and the heat of their life back then, before the angry ex-wife and the surly children punctured their cocoon of happiness. Before she’d given up her apartment and they’d moved into the Barbizon condo on the Upper East Side.
Of course, his ex-wife and children wouldn’t share her perspective. To them she was the interloper, taking up Griff’s attention and love. She checked the clock on the oven. Almost six. If she was fast, she could run out to Gourmet Garage and pick up white onions before Griff got home from City Hall.
Her cell phone rang. Maddy again. The fourth call this hour.
“What, Maddy?” She tried to sound irritated, but laughed before Maddy could reply.
“I know, I know. You don’t have any time to talk to your best friend right now. You’re far too busy doing the dutiful housewife thing, right?”
“Yup. And you’re off to the Soapies?”
“Daytime Emmys, if you please. I wish you were coming, Ro. What shoes go with the Michael Kors? Nude or gold?” Maddy’s career as an actress had taken off since they’d met in college. Maddy had landed a contract role out of school on a daytime soap opera, and this was her first nomination.
Rose swallowed her guilt at not being by her friend’s side. “The nude, definitely. Text me a pic, okay?”
“Any idea what Griff’s big news is yet?”
Rose smiled and leaned back on the kitchen counter. “Probably nothing so big, in the end,” she lied. “Maybe he’s been promoted again? Such an overachiever.”
“I don’t think so. Do the math: It’s been a year since his divorce was finalized, you’ve been living together for three months, and it’s time to set a date.”
“He has been acting weird lately. But what if I’m getting way ahead of myself?”
“Trust your gut.”
“My gut says something’s up. Even though sometimes it still feels like it’s early stages. I mean, we haven’t even furnished the apartment yet.”
The apartment she both loved and hated. Loved for its tall French casement windows, for its Wolf range and spacious closets. Loved for the air of promise it held in its baseboards and crown moldings and Bolivian rosewood floors.
But hated for its emptiness. She and Griff both worked too many hours during the week to take a real stab at furniture shopping, and weekends he went to his house in Litchfield with his kids, his wife off gallivanting with her other divorced friends. Ex-wife, she corrected.
So much work needed to be done to make it homey. The wallpaper in the smallest bedroom was covered in tiny climbing monkeys. Delightful as nursery wallpaper but not at all right for Griff’s teenaged daughters. The floorboards in the dining room were bare except for the ghost outline of the prior owner’s Oriental rug.
Rose often felt like a ghost herself on weekends, sitting in the window seat off the library, staring down at the traffic and pedestrians wandering in pairs below. The sounds of honking and laughter easily permeated their fifth-floor apartment, even when the windows were shut. The neighborhood, Sixty-Third Street just off of Lexington, lacked the character of her old West Village stomping ground, where the trees formed a canopy over the cobblestones. Up here the sidewalks were bare, the avenue crammed with gilded little shops selling white linen toddler dresses and antique maps of Paris.
Rose waited while Maddy grunted into her dress. “Jesus, this zipper is literally unreachable. I need another pair of hands.”
“Where’s Billy again?”
“Parent-teacher night. He and his ex are having dinner afterward to discuss school options for next year. And if I haven’t already mentioned it, I’m quite happy to have a Get Out of Jail Free card for that one.”
“I’d be there to dress you properly if I could, you know that.”
“Oh, don’t worry, honey, I know. I’ll text you a pic and you do the same once you get the ring.”
Rose hung up, laughing, and padded down the long hall to the master bedroom, where she slipped out of the sheath she’d worn that day. As usual, she’d overdressed. The rest of her barely legal colleagues at the media start-up, all younger by at least ten years, gravitated toward jeans and hoodies. She pulled on a pair of leggings and a soft cashmere V-neck, then touched up her lips in the mirror.
Griff liked to call her his pinup girl, an image she encouraged when they went out together with a shade of crimson lipstick that worked with her pale skin and dark, sleek bob. But lately she’d begun wondering if the color was garish for a woman in her mid-thirties. Like she was trying too hard.
Did a man wonder whether his face was too shiny, his hair curling unreasonably, or if his crow’s-feet had possibly deepened overnight? She couldn’t imagine Griff giving any of these things a second thought. He entered a room as an agent of change, a man who made the news. Not as the pleasant-featured girl who simply reported it. When she’d worked at the network, Rose wanted to be taken seriously and dressed the part even though her producer wanted plunging necklines. Quiet wardrobe choices aside, Rose was dismissed as eye candy by a big chunk of her core audience—some of whom also liked to tweet nasty comments about her breasts and legs. At least her new job kept her out of the limelight.