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Authors: Jackie Rose

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BOOK: Marrying Up
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4. Naples, Florida, currently boasts more millionaires per capita than any other city in the United States.

Millionaire-hunting in a small town probably has its perks—it’s likely much easier to identify the men of means, because odds are almost everyone there is rich, anyway. Plus, the weather is certainly better in Naples than in Seattle.

Seattle definitely isn’t the best spot for a warm winter getaway, but it might be worth our while to head down south for a few weeks and scope out the scene in Naples, just to see what it’s like….

 

“George, we’re taking a trip!”

She glares at me, tapping her watch. “You’re late. The movie started five minutes ago. You know I like to see the previews.”

“Forget about the movie. This is important! Wait till you hear what I found out today!”

“It’s freezing. Can we just go in, please?”

I pull her into the doorway. Teenagers in jean jackets cheerily ignoring the ten-degree chill stream past us through the double doors of the multiplex, stomping out cigarettes with their Skechers. “You’re not going to believe this, G, but Buffalo is so totally the wrong place to meet millionaires! The odds are stacked against us here!”

“God, Holly. Can we please give all that a rest for a bit? Just for tonight? I really
really
wanted to see this movie. Fulvia from my book club said it was the best documentary to hit the big screen since
Fahrenheit 9/11,
only not as cute, obviously, and with more Zapatistas.”

“What? Hold on a sec—I thought we were going to see the one with Johnny Depp.”

George’s puppy-dog eyes grew wide as saucers. “But you said—”

“Fine, fine. Whatever. But we’re going to talk about this later.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” she sniffs as she pays for her ticket. “I can barely afford popcorn, let alone a trip.”

“Well, the price of popcorn here is absolutely ridiculous. I’ll give you that. But it doesn’t mean we can’t take a vacation with our Christmas bonuses,” I tell her. “Somewhere warm.” A blast of frigid air blows in from an opened door and whips George’s hair into a tangled mess. She struggles to smooth it down, dropping one Nepalese woollen mitt and her wallet in the process. “You definitely need it, my friend. We both do.”

“Yeah, I need it,” she snaps. “No shit I need it! But I also need to finish paying my student loans and move out of my mothers’ house before I’m thirty. And let me remind you, my bonus is never quite what yours is.”

I forgot that while most of us Buglers could look forward
to an entire extra paycheck come holiday season, the seven employees of the Book Cauldron had last year been graced with tickets to a free feng shui seminar, and leftover
Lord of the Rings
posters the Christmas before that.

“Word is, we’re getting crystals for our keychains this year,” she adds hopefully.

Of course, she’s right. Spending money she doesn’t have is probably not the best way for George to achieve the financial independence that has eluded her her entire adult life. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and I am determined to make it happen for both of us—even if that means convincing my fiscally challenged best friend to spend a bit of money she doesn’t have now in order to cash in on potentially huge returns later.

“Okay, George, well the popcorn’s on me, tonight! Just promise me you’ll think about it.”

“Whatever.”

 

As soon as I wake up, I call Ms. Chase. Even though it’s Saturday morning, the receptionist informs me she is indeed in the office today, and transfers me immediately.

“Hello, Ms. Chase. This is Holly Hastings and I want to exercise my right to a refund!”

“Let’s not be rash, Ms. Hastings…”

I push down the panic in my chest and remind myself that I could be mean here if I had to. This woman isn’t about to serve me a booger-topped pizza or humiliate me in front of strangers in a dress shop. She isn’t going pee in my tea or announce my bank account balance to the lineup behind me. The only card Violet Chase has to play is my fear of being single. And I’m apparently
already
afraid of that….

“It is no longer up for discussion, Ms. Chase! I expect you
to live up to your end of the Moneyed Mates guarantee in a courteous and timely manner.”

“If you’d just let me—”

“No, I will not! The only thing I will let you do is offer me my refund.”

Silence.

“Well?”

“Well, Ms. Hastings you may have your refund, I suppose. Minus the $250 sitting fee, of course.”

“Of course.”

I am woman, hear me roar!
I never knew asserting myself could be so…so…
thrilling.
Maybe I could even take it a step farther…

“And I also want you to refund George her money, too.”

A snort. “Out of the question. Ms. Perlman-MacNeill is not eligible.”

“Why? She deserves it more than I do. Frankly, the way she was treated by one of
your
clients…”

“What? Who?”

“That Bobby Garrett creep who dumped her in a restaurant without so much as a good-night! His behavior was
so
abominable that you and your outfit over there should consider yourselves very fortunate to get out of this situation without any litigation on her part.”

“Stop right there, Ms. Hastings! I’ll remind you that you both signed waivers should this sort of thing happen, as it very rarely does. Now I’m very sorry, but we’ve never had
any
complaints about Mr. Garrett before. In fact, we’ve sent him out on over a dozen dates…”

“Great—so he’s a serial dater! Is that supposed to make George feel any better? She’s been
extremely
damaged by his callous disregard for her feelings on a variety of different personal levels, and, to make matters worse, publicly humili
ated—and I mean
humiliated!
—by his reprehensible conduct. So I’m asking you again, please, to consider at least a partial refund for her.”

“Listen here! She is
not
entitled to a refund. Especially since…” she pauses.

“Since what?”

“Well, it’s not my intention to betray a confidence, since I’m normally very discreet in these matters, but your friend has turned down three other requests for dates over the past two months.”

“What?”

“She didn’t even come in to view the gentlemen’s profiles. She just said no outright.”

Poor thing. She was so damaged by that hell date that she couldn’t bear the thought of a repeat occurrence.

It was one thing to be dismissed right off the bat for my looks (or was it my personality?) and be quietly rejected by all of Ms. Chase’s so-called gentlemen, as I had been, but I imagine it was probably quite another to have the raised expectations of an actual date and subsequent relationship dashed by an asshole who was too dim to see through George’s excited ramblings and too much of a prick to have the courtesy to finish the evening. And to make matters worse, I had virtually forced her into the whole thing. No wonder she didn’t tell me about the other guys. She was too afraid to go, and too afraid to tell me she was afraid.

I had to make it up to her.

“Just refund my credit card, please,” I say and hang up.

So what if we have no money? So what if we have no mates? So what if we seem no better off than before? At least I know what the next step is.

Three business days later, when the $745 shows up on my Visa statement, I immediately put it toward two last-
minute plane tickets to Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, as close as I could get us to Naples on such short notice.

part two
Naples, Florida
*
chapter 8

Turbulence and Toothlessness

I
t’s the day after Christmas, which was uncharacteristically ugly, and we’re on our way.

“Louise and Larry sure seemed a little, um, tense, didn’t you find?” George asks as she leans her seat back as far as it will go. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him snap at her like that.”

But I’m still in the middle of practicing my deep breathing. “Just because the pilot turns off that damn light doesn’t mean you should undo your seat belt, George! What about air pockets? We’ve all heard the story about the flight attendant who broke her neck when the plane dropped, like, one thousand feet in half a second!”

“Jeez! I’m
sorry,
okay? You don’t have to get all up in my face like that….”

The only thing that makes me more uncomfortable than the thought of my parents fighting is flying, and now I have to contend with both at the same time.

“I’m sorry, G. Don’t be mad at me. I need your support right now.”

She grabs my hand. “If you get scared, just squeeze.”

“Thanks,” I say, grateful for the offer. “I just don’t like being in the last row. It’s so damn loud back here. All the engines and weird noises and as soon as you get used to a sound it cuts out all of a sudden, which is worse than it being noisy in the first place because you’re sure an engine has died and the next thing you know—”

“Stop it! You’re making yourself crazy. And we’re not in the last row. There’s one behind us.”

Bravely, I turn around. Three flight attendants with decidedly unbroken necks glare back at me with icy grins.

After two fear-of-flying courses, you’d think I’d know better than to be afraid, but I can’t help it—it just isn’t right, us being up here, thumbing our noses at the natural order of things. I know all about the physics of lift, about the odds of double-engine failure, the negligible risks of lightning strikes, of terrorist attacks, of electrical problems, of pilot error, but still, the only image that ever comes to mind during my in-flight attempts at positive visualization are of jets plunging into stormy oceans or, variously, turning fiery cartwheels off the ends of slick runways. Sure I’ve flown before and obviously everything worked out fine. But I can never shake the feeling that every time I tempt fate by flying without dying, I’m just one step closer to hitting all the numbers in a lottery I don’t want to win.

George is yammering on and on, presumably trying to distract me from the turbulence. To make matters worse, I haven’t flown in almost two years, when I went to meet Zoe and Asher for a weekend in Atlantic City, and so the anticipated horror of the whole experience has been compounding, with interest, since then. That, and the fact that two planes have recently crashed (plane crashes always hap
pen in threes, in case you didn’t know). And there was also that funny feeling in my gut as we boarded the flight….

“I always wait for that feeling,” I tell George, interrupting her play-by-play of every single thing that had happened at the Book Cauldron that week. “That feeling that says, ‘Don’t get on the plane!’ You know the one…”

“Actually, I don’t.”

“It’s that little voice that tells some people who have seats booked on doomed flights not to get on the plane.”

“What?”

“Something just stops them from boarding the plane, and so they live and then tell the story for the rest of their lives about the miraculous sixth sense that saved them from certain death. Well, I think I might have felt something this time.”

“You really are crazy. What you felt was all that Christmas pudding you ate last night.”

“The reason I ate so much was because I couldn’t take listening to them argue,” I explain, ready to get my mind off the flight for a while.

“Did you see Mike almost choke on his eggnog when your dad said the roast was too dry?”

“Yeah. I think all my brothers were pretty surprised. My dad usually doesn’t say much of anything. Especially not anything nasty.” Aside from birthdays and holidays, my brothers rarely interact with our parents. I, on the other hand, have been fielding increasingly more frequent Just-Wanted-to-See-How-You-Were-Doing calls from my mom of late, and often heard them bitching at each other on the other end. “It’s probably because he’s been around a lot more lately. It’s an adjustment.”

“It might be more than that.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You know, I think you idealize your parents’ marriage. Every couple goes through rough patches. Especially when they’ve been married nearly forty years.”

“Not my parents. They don’t have any rough patches. All they have is the same exact day, which they live over and over again. It’s like Groundhog Day. It doesn’t change. If they’re fighting, then they probably always have. Maybe we just never knew about it. That’s all.”

George stares out at the clouds for a bit. “Didn’t you walk in on them doing it once?”

“Okay, now you’re pushing it… And could you close the window shade? It’s making me nervous.”

“I bet they don’t do it anymore,” she muses.

“It’s taken me fifteen years to get over that,” I snarl, “as well as thousands of dollars in therapy. So I’m telling you to drop it. Now.”

“All I’m saying is, I’m not feeling the love anymore.”

“Drop it. Please just drop it.”

“Why? It’s okay to talk about it, Holly. You have to start seeing your parents as real people, with wants and needs of their own. You’re not a kid anymore.”

“I have an idea. Let’s talk about
your
mothers and
their
sex life for a while.” I’m starting to hope the plane will crash, just to get her to shut up.

“Oh, come on. Don’t be such a prude.”

“Don’t push me, George….”

After an hour-long layover in Atlanta, a particularly bumpy landing in Fort Myers and a forty-five-minute drive to Naples in a tin-can rental car, we are still squabbling. Once we finally turn onto the palm-lined drive leading to our hotel, though, we are stunned into silence.

I hadn’t told George all the details of our trip; I guess I sort of wanted to surprise her. But even though I was the one who’d made all the reservations, I had to admit I wasn’t exactly expecting
this
—an oceanfront ivory palace, fifteen stories high, dressed in climbing bougainvillea, flowering fuchsia and orange and flanked by acres and acres of land-
scaped greenery, complete with stone fountains, ivy-covered gazebos and free-roaming flamingos.

“My God, Holly. How much is this costing us?” George whispers nervously as we pull up to the main entrance.

“One hundred and twelve dollars a night.”

“Each?”

“Uh… No. What are we, made of money? So it’s, like, fifty-six dollars each, I guess. It was a little more than I figured we wanted to spend, but it was all I could get last-minute.”

Two valets in Bermuda shorts pop out from behind the fronds of a potted bird of paradise to open our doors.

“I don’t know, Holly…this seems a little too good to be true,” she insists suspiciously as we get out of the car.

“You think maybe there’s another Naples Ritz-Carlton?” I double-check the receipt I’d printed of our reservation confirmation. “I’m pretty sure this is the right place….”

“Be careful with this, hun.” She winks to the bellhop, passing him her beat-up old backpack. He smiles back broadly, his head cocked to one side in an expression of what could only be described as bemused lust.

“It’s José, ma’am.”

“It’s
miss,
José.”

George mouths “he’s so hot!” as we stagger into the grandest lobby either of us has ever seen.

“We’re not here to fraternize with the help,” I remind her, half-joking. That bellhop
is
hot.

“Would you look at that!”

We crane our necks to take it all in—shiny marble floors and columns in the palest shade of pink; antiques and oil paintings everywhere; a tiered chandelier dripping with crystals; towering palms decorated in thousands of tiny white Christmas lights. Palm trees.
Inside.

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!”

“I don’t think anyone from Kansas has ever even
been
here,” George whispers as a lady with a tanned, stretched face and a poodle under her arm clicks past us over the polished floor and into a waiting limo. I try not to giggle, but George pushes me over the top when she points out our reflection in a large gilt-framed mirror. Bedraggled and travel-weary, we are nearly as pale as the ivory wallpaper behind us. The humidity has made my hair even limper, while George’s frizzy curls are practically standing on end.

“I look like a young Albert Einstein with tits.”

“Hello! Hello!”
something squawks.

Not five feet from us, on a golden stand, a huge white parrot shifts rapidly from foot to foot. George shrieks as quietly as she can and jumps back.

“Next, please!”

A clerk taps her nails impatiently at her post behind the front desk, barely able to contain her contempt. We can already tell she’s far less friendly than José the hunky luggage lugger.

“Uh, we’re here to check in.”

“Name.”

“Hastings, Holly.”

“Perlman-MacNeill, George,” George adds.


You’re
George Perlman-MacNeill?”

“The one and only.”

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you were,” she says with a fuck-you smile. “But I’ll need to see a passport or driver’s license from each of you, please. I assume George is short for something else. Let me guess—Georgette? Georgina?”

“No,” says George, a little miffed. “I’m just George.”

“Is there some sort of problem?” I ask as we slide our IDs across the marble.

“No. But we take security here at the Naples Ritz-Carlton very seriously, especially as we have a number of high-profile guests staying with us this week and—”

George isn’t about to let that go. “Who? Who? Oh my God—imagine we saw someone famous! Would that not be
the
coolest thing ever?!”

“—and we have a responsibility to make sure everyone is…who they say they are. It’s for your own protection as well. I’m sure you understand.”

“We completely understand. Ms. Perlman-MacNeill and I will try and refrain from stalking anyone while we’re here.” Buoyed by my successful negotiations with Violet Chase, my new life attitude is going to be all kick-ass and take-no-crap. “And thank you very much for your concern.”

I’m sure it physically pains the smarmy wench to pass over our keys, especially when she prints up the bill and sees what we paid.

“Tell me again how it is that we’re here?” George asks once we get up to our room, which more than makes up for what it lacks in largeness with over-the-top luxe.

“Priceline. I bid one hundred and twelve dollars for a five-star resort, just to see what would happen, and it was accepted right away!”

“Huh?”

“It’s a Web site. Never mind. Let’s just call it a computer glitch.”

George nods and picks up a small white card on the bedside table. “What are Frette linens?”

“You’ll find out tonight when you get into bed,” I tell her as I throw back the curtains dramatically. The sun is setting over the Gulf of Mexico, and the water glows like gold as it melts into the blazing horizon.

We take one look at each other and burst out laughing.

 

After a seriously caloric breakfast in bed that costs almost as much as our room, we venture out for our first day. According to the brochures we found in the lobby, Fifth Av
enue South is the place to see and be seen, so we jump into our car and head over there ASAP.

To get a feel for the place, we cruise the strip before looking for a place to park. “Wow…this really
is
upscale,” I muse aloud as George deftly maneuvers our little subcompact between luxury cars as big as buses. “Kind of old-ladyish, though…resort wear, that kind of stuff.”

“Ugh. There’s one of those stores that only sells white clothes….”

“Well, I think you’d look lovely in white,
dahling!

“You don’t say! Well, let me just find a place to valet this and we’ll pop in. Heavens to Betsy! I can’t believe I’ve gone this long without a white linen suit!”

“I need something too,” I say, playing along. “The gala’s only a week away and I haven’t a
thing
to wear!”

“You could borrow my pink Versace, if you like, or my silver Roberto Cavalli!”

“Why, George—I didn’t know you knew about Roberto Cavalli,” I say, breaking character.

“Give me
some
credit, Holly. I may shop at Urban Outfitters, but I haven’t been living under a rock my whole life. And I’ve been doing a little research of my own. Ever since you came up with this whole crazy idea.”

“You have?”

“Yeah. I got a subscription to
In Style
and
The Robb Report.
By the way, did you know you can lease a luxury yacht for only $17,000 a month? That’s downright affordable, wouldn’t you say?”

“You’re kidding, right?!”

“Why would I kid about a thing like that,
dahling
? How else do you expect me to get from Palm Beach to the Bahamas when the jet’s in the shop? Carnival Cruise Lines? I don’t
think
so.”

“Okay, Zsa Zsa. Just promise me you won’t forget about the little people.”

“Oh, I plan to forget about nearly everybody back home. I’m looking forward to it,” she says as she checks her gloss in the rearview. “Now let’s get out there and find us some sugar daddies!”

The sea air is apparently getting to her brain, but I like it.

We window-shop till we nearly drop, pop into a gallery or two, then stop for dinner (gazpacho and lobster rolls!) at the cutest little bistro in the heart of all the action. We ask for a table outside on the terrace, just in case any eligible young hotties walking by are tempted to chat us up.

“My feet are killing,” I complain as the waiter brings us our soup. I’m sporting a sexy new pair of strappy sandals I bought on sale at the end of the summer. “Shit. I already have two blisters.”

“What about those guys over there?” George points at two shirtless teenagers getting into a beat-up pickup truck filled with gardening equipment parked across the street.

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