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Authors: Jane L. Rosen

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BOOK: Nine Women, One Dress
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The Hundredth Client of the Ostrich Detective Agency
By Andie Rand, Private Detective

Caroline Westmont entered my office at three o'clock sharp, dressed impeccably in Chanel from sunglasses to shoes. She looked completely together until she lowered her shades to reveal puffy, tear-stained eyes. I remembered those days of constant crying. Having to hide it from my children, as she may be trying to hide it from hers. My poor dog, Franny, saw a lot of tears that first year. I was sometimes surprised that she didn't take a piece out of Derek when she saw him. Aside from suggesting that they get a dog, I always wanted to tell clients, “You'll be fine. Look at me—I was once where you are and I'm doing great!” But that's not my place. I'm not a shrink, and in this job I learned quickly that similar situations often yield different outcomes. Not everyone feels the same way about infidelity that I did. For me there was no turning back. But there are many couples who come out the other end and stay till death do them part—that death, hopefully, not by the hand of the scorned spouse.

As always, I asked for the entire story of John and Caroline Westmont. She relayed the brutal tale in its entirety, and as usual in cases like this, it struck a chord. They always did when it came to one spouse cheating on another. It was hard work for me not always to assume the worst, especially when it comes to men. I don't want to become one of those bitter, untrusting women. And as a professional I certainly don't want to come across that way. I work hard to keep an open mind and to pass judgment only on evidence and facts. But in this case the facts were simple.

Caroline was positive that her husband was cheating on her with his masseuse but had no evidence to back it up. When they had married, nearly twelve years earlier, she had signed an ironclad prenuptial agreement with only one stipulation: if either party cheated, the prenup became invalid. At the time she had been insulted that his family was making her sign a prenup, and they had fought about it a lot. John came from a very wealthy, old-money family that was dead set on it. After much back-and-forth, one compromise was agreed upon: the infidelity clause. They agreed that if John were to have an extramarital affair, he would have to pay Caroline an additional $5 million in the divorce. She signed the papers a week before the wedding.

It was a beautiful wedding at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the newlyweds moved into an apartment just down the block on 116th Street. It was small compared to the sixteen-room apartment on Fifth Avenue where John had grown up, but it was close to his job, and they felt very bohemian. As she told the story I wondered what had caused her transformation, as
was the last word I would use to describe her.

John was a professor of film at Columbia University. About five years into the marriage, when their daughter Chloë was two, John's parents died together in a horrible car accident on the Amalfi Coast. (If you've ever driven on that road, you have most likely pictured a similar fate befalling you.) When the dust settled, John, Caroline, and Chloë moved into his parents' Fifth Avenue apartment. From then on things quickly changed. The money had always been there, but they had never needed or spent it; now it infiltrated their lives. John's parents' staff waited like puppies at a pound to see if they were to keep their jobs. Of course they kept them; John and Caroline felt it was their duty. The moldings needed dusting and the twenty-four-seat dining room table screamed out to be set and sat at. “So,” Caroline said, “I rose to the occasion. At first it was a big adjustment for me to be that social. John is really the more social of the two of us. But I loved John, and I did my best to embrace my new role.”

Fast-forward through seven years of smiling while hosting cocktail parties for the parents of Chloë's classmates at Spence, faculty dinners for John's Columbia colleagues, and luncheons for the Junior League, and Caroline seemed happy and settled in her inherited role. Until the day when a hard-bodied masseuse named Anna entered the picture and misaligned the stars.

I had to interrupt. “Hold on, Caroline—you're telling me John is a professor at Columbia and you think he's been faithful all this time? I mean, coeds and professors—it's a cliché for a reason.”

She thought about it before responding. “That's too obvious for John. He likes to come across as so good. He wouldn't want anyone to think otherwise, especially at Columbia.”

“He sounds like a hypocrite,” I said.

She smiled. “Exactly.” She hugged me when she left and said warmly, “At first I thought I would just leave him—the money really doesn't mean all that much to me. But then I thought,
He should pay

We agreed that she would give me access to their apartment and his schedule and we would speak as soon as I had something. Luckily, she had just purchased new cell phones, with her name on all three contracts, so tracking them was her right. I was confident that with all those resources it wouldn't take long for me to expose John for the degenerate that he was.

Dinner at the Four Seasons
By Felicia (aka Arthur Winters's Executive Assistant)
Age: 52

The Four Seasons is one of those celebrated restaurants in Manhattan that rises to the status of cultural icon. As revered as beloved New Yorkers like Walt Frazier and Fiorello La Guardia, and hailed alongside establishments from the Rainbow Room to the Carnegie Deli. Like the chicken and the egg, it's hard to determine whether New York created these legends or these are the legends that created New York.

I had never stepped inside the Four Seasons before. Well, that's not entirely true. Long ago I stepped into the coatroom, where a hatcheck girl assured me she would get a forgotten file to my boss, Mr. Winters, who was there having a power lunch. I believe the term
power lunch
was actually coined at the Four Seasons. Sadly, there's talk that it may be closing, losing its lease. If that happens, I imagine Fortune 500 execs will be wandering the streets in search of the new place to see and be seen. Seems that someone should stand up and fight for such a legend.

Back then I still called him Mr. Winters. It wasn't long after that power lunch before I started calling him Arthur. Not much longer than that before I had fallen in love with him. Tonight we would be dining at the Four Seasons together, I hoped in the famed Pool Room. But it didn't really matter to me very much where we dined. I was going on a date with Arthur Winters, the man I had loved for seventeen years. I honestly never thought this day would come. I looked at my watch. I was five minutes early. That wouldn't do. I headed inside to the ladies' room to check my face in the mirror.

Though this was my first date with Arthur Winters, in truth I had been having an affair with him for seventeen years. Unlike other, more torrid affairs, when the wife has no clue, in this case the husband himself had no clue. I sometimes think that maybe Marilyn did know that I was in love with her husband. I was pretty sure half the office knew. But Arthur? Arthur had no idea. When it came to love, he had tunnel vision. His wife and daughters were everything to him. Marilyn was very confident about their bond and never treated me with anything but gratitude for looking after the man she loved from nine to five, Monday through Friday. Arthur simply loved his wife and didn't have eyes for anyone else. It was one of the things I loved about him. In all the time that I've worked for him I've never made an inappropriate move.

I don't want you to think I'm pathetic. I haven't remained stagnant on the dating front. At times I've dated a lot, attending singles functions and putting it out there to friends that I would like to be fixed up. At other times I've become tired of it and been content just to hang out with girlfriends and join movie and theater clubs and whatnot. But I did try to find a man of my own. When your heart is already spoken for, though, it's hard to give it to someone else. I would have had to be knocked over the head with a bat to see past Arthur, and truth be told, no one came out swinging.

Even on the handful of occasions that I had sex over the years, I pictured Arthur the entire time. When the man my cousin Stacey had fixed me up with came up to my apartment after a few too many margaritas at Rosa Mexicano, it was Arthur's hand that gently unzipped my dress and caressed my back. It was Arthur who was the real object of every moment of desire I have had over the past seventeen years. Not once did I open my eyes to look at who I was actually with. Not once did I picture anyone else. At this point I think if I were ever to be alone with him, one real-life touch from him in the right place and I might just explode right there on the spot!

You may think I'm crazy, but I believe you can't help who you fall in love with. Maybe you're in love with the correct person, the one who's right around your age, your same religion, someone your parents were thrilled to meet when you took him or her home. If you are, well, then you probably don't believe me. But you might just as easily have fallen for your lab partner in college, who came to your northeastern liberal arts school from some rural town in the Appalachians, and the minute her hand brushed against yours while reaching for a beaker you knew you were a goner. And you wouldn't have cared if she was a he or he was a she or if he or she was already with someone else. That's what happened to my freshman roommate in college. There she was, dating the star of the football team, when some girl from Kentucky came in and made off with her heart. Done. You can't help who you fall in love with. That kind of love just swoops in and grabs hold of you, and even if you were to drop chemistry—or switch jobs, which god knows I should have done a long time ago—it's still taken hold of your desire, and that's a damn hard thing to free yourself of.

I am in love with Arthur Winters and have been for a very long time. And until yesterday, when I received this beautiful dress and an invitation to the Four Seasons for dinner, I never thought it possible that the feeling could ever become mutual. I can't lose sight of the fact that it's only possible because a beautiful woman is no longer with us. But I'm also incredibly excited to think that there could be something between us, to think that I might have the chance to bring him true happiness again.

When I started at the firm nearly eighteen years ago, at thirty-four I knew it was time to start looking for someone to spend my life with. It was a little late, actually, but I wasn't willing to settle, like some of my friends had. I didn't feel any clock ticking and was confident that it would happen when it happened. I wasn't very ambitious workwise either. I didn't necessarily have my sights set on moving up the corporate ladder. It was more that I thought I would work there for a few years, maybe fall in love, get married, have a child, work somewhere else. It was not my intention to become the longest-serving executive assistant at the firm (an award bestowed on me three years ago), and it was certainly not my intention to become an old maid. But at fifty-two years old, it seemed I was approaching just that. I had been having a one-sided affair with a married man for nearly two decades. Tonight it would either begin for real or it would end once and for all.

Dinner at the Four Seasons
By Arthur Winters, Attorney-at-Law
Age: 60

I was running late. Sherri hated it when I ran late. My plan was to be seated at the table and have her escorted in by Julian, the maître d'. The reason I was late is truly embarrassing—it's because I changed five times. Sherri had been slowly trying to make me look a little hipper, and for the most part I had been letting her try. I drew the line the week before at a pair of glasses from a place called Warby Parker. She said my current glasses made me look like Warren Buffett and I should be going for Warren Beatty. I was happy that for once I understood her points of reference but still did not succumb. I like my glasses; my wife picked them out.

You don't have to tell me how ridiculous this all sounds. I'm fully aware that I'm dating someone young enough to be my daughter and that we have very little in common. I mean, take tonight, for example. This reservation at the Four Seasons for our anniversary was not selected for any of the wonderful reasons one would select the Four Seasons to celebrate a special occasion. It was selected because Sherri told me she's always wanted to go there, which made me happy until she added the reason why: “Because my favorite
Real Housewives of New York
star had her wedding there on TV!” This made me laugh, more at myself than her, as I pictured the future negotiations that would have to take place every time the two of us ever watched television together.

I'm not a fool, although I know I must look like one. I don't much care. I lost the love of my life, and this girl Sherri is about as far from Marilyn as I could have gone—not one thing about her reminds me of my Marilyn. And that's fine with me.

I didn't set out to meet a girl as young as Sherri. I met her on a double blind date, when my recently divorced college roommate asked, “This girl I'm seeing has a sister—want to double?”

I wasn't really ready to date, but I was beginning to fear that I might never be, so I agreed. I figured it was a good opportunity to get my feet wet—starting with a table for four would prove infinitely less intimidating than starting with a table for two. When I arrived, lo and behold, my friend's date was twenty years his junior, and her younger sister, Sherri, looked around the age of my daughters. I was a bit mortified, but I tried not to show it. Sherri didn't seem to notice or care. The wine flowed and the conversation was light and easy. I laughed out loud, and for the first time since Marilyn's death I was not awash in guilt about it. When the sister mentioned wanting to see Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga at Radio City and my friend offered to get us four tickets, I agreed. Sherri seemed so excited about it, and I liked them both, actually. Two dates led to a string of dinners and eventually overnights and brunches, and suddenly, without any plan or agenda, here I was, celebrating the four-month anniversary of that first date.

I arrived excited to show Sherri the Four Seasons, even if she wanted to see it for reasons I couldn't relate to. Julian greeted me with a regular's welcome and escorted me to my date, who was sitting at the bar with her back toward us. From behind I saw the little black dress that I'd had sent from Bloomingdale's—but the back wasn't Sherri's. The woman in the dress stood and turned to face me. She smiled a warm smile. She was stunning. She was Felicia.

I was speechless and doubly confused. Not only was this not who I was expecting, but she looked so different from what I was used to. She greeted me with a kiss on the cheek.

“Hi, Arthur. You look so stunned to see me!” I was silent. “I know, I look different than I do at the office.” Silent still. “It's just a little makeup and—”

I got myself together and interrupted her. “No, you look beautiful, Felicia. It's so nice to see you out…at night. I'm just not used to it.” I gave a quick look around the room, making sure Sherri wasn't sitting anywhere.

“Well, you're the one who invited me!” She laughed. “You even sent me the dress—I assumed I should wear it!”

“Of course!” I took her arm, totally perplexed but, inexplicably, not at all unhappy about the turn of events. “Let's go to our table.”

She grabbed her purse. “Thank you. I've always wanted to come to the Four Seasons. You know, Jack Kennedy ate here the night Marilyn Monroe sang ‘Happy Birthday' to him.”

“Really? I didn't know that.” I laughed at myself again. It was nice to get the reference this time.

“Don't worry,” she said, “I don't expect you to sing like that to me.”

—it was her birthday. I pieced the whole mix-up together. Sherri would be furious.

Dinner was lovely, the food and wine superb, the conversation delightful, and eventually I began to ignore the constant vibrating of my phone in my pocket, which I knew must be Sherri getting angrier and angrier. We talked about anything and everything, but the thing that touched me most was the way she talked about Marilyn. “Remember when Marilyn threw you that surprise party and I couldn't get you to leave the office?” Or, “Remember how Marilyn always called Stanley-from-accounting's home-wrecking girlfriend by his ex-wife's name just to irritate her?” We laughed and laughed, and I realized that everyone around me had been scared to even mention Marilyn's name, let alone reminisce about her. Even my daughters avoided saying “Mom.” It was as if everyone thought by bringing her up they would be reminding me of her, as if I forgot about her until someone said her name. It seemed that Felicia was the only one who knew that I was always thinking about her, that her name spoken out loud was a kind of comfort. Besides the meal and the wine and the conversation, I could not get over how pretty she was. This woman whom I had seen nearly every weekday for more than seventeen years was really very beautiful. I had just never stopped to sit across the table from her and look into her lovely blue eyes. I never even knew she had lovely blue eyes.

My phone was now vibrating on an almost continuous basis. I excused myself and called Sherri from the men's room. She was, as I expected, furious: furious over the “old lady” cashmere shawl and the “meaningless” card, furious over missing our anniversary, completely furious that I hadn't straightened out the situation the minute I saw Felicia, and over-the-top furious that Felicia had on
little black dress. I calmed her down as much as I could and promised to make the night a short one and come right over afterward. I said that we would reschedule and that I would make it twice as special. Just when I thought I was out of the woods she said, “Make sure you tell her that I want that dress back.” Oh, boy. I could never do that.

I walked back to the table and a strange thing happened. I saw Felicia and I felt a little flutter in my stomach. I couldn't possibly have feelings for a woman I had worked beside for years. I chalked it up to my sweet tooth—the longing I always feel after a good meal for a little sugar. Hopefully the restaurant's signature cotton candy and the Black Forest cake we had ordered for dessert would satiate me.

“So, besides dinner at the Four Seasons, what else is on your New York bucket list?” I asked.

“I've never seen a show at the Carlyle,” she said.

There was a pause—one I probably should have filled with an invitation to the Carlyle, but I didn't want to lead her on. She didn't seem to notice the lack of a forthcoming invitation and came right back with “How about you?”

“Hmm…” I thought. “I've never walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.”

“Really?” she said. “Well, that's an easy one. I know the best pizza place right on the other side—my treat!”

I smiled and agreed to her implicit suggestion. “Sounds good.”

“How's Sunday?” she asked, her eyes sparkling. “It's supposed to be beautiful out on Sunday.”

I should have said I had plans, but something stopped me.

BOOK: Nine Women, One Dress
12.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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