Authors: Lauren Weisberger
“Hey,” she said, swinging open the front door. But it was Emily who stood on the porch, looking semi-hysterical and, well, large. Working for Miranda in the autumn off-season had allowed her a bit more “leisure” time, but the baby was due soon.
“Em! Are you okay? Is the baby okay? Here, come in.”
“I'm not so fucking huge that I can't walk by myself,” Emily hissed, pushing her way past Karolina and refusing her hand for help. Emily glanced around. “Is the kid here?”
“No, he's at aâ”
“Why haven't you been answering your phone? My God, it's like the Dark Ages around here! How am I supposed to reach you? By carrier pigeon? No, instead I have to drag my gigantic fat ass into the car and drive here
from New York City.”
“What's going on? Is Harry okay?” Karolina asked, the panic starting to creep in.
“I don't know one damn thing about Harry. What I do know is that the entire world is talking about your ex-husband.”
Karolina looked hard at Emily. She'd heard pregnant women sometimes lost their minds. Got forgetful, absentminded. She would be gentle. “Yes, they are. That article in the
this morning was great, wasn't it?” she said, to show that she knew and she'd read it a hundred times.
“That's old news, you moron. Here, turn this on,” Emily said, thrusting the remote to Karolina and collapsing into the overstuffed club chair. “Christ, this thing is huge.”
“What channel?” Karolina asked, but she didn't have to wait for an answer. It was on every channel.
“If you're just tuning in, we have some breaking news. Multiple sources confirm that Senator Graham Hartwell, junior senator from the state of New York, was responsible for the death of a four-year-old child nearly three decades ago. Cause of death is said to be vehicular manslaughter, although sources do say that Senator Hartwellâa high school student at the time of the accidentâwas not under the influence. Why this story has never been revealed is part of CNN's exclusive investigation. Now we are going to Poppy Harlow, who is in Bethesda with the latest. Poppy?”
“Oh my God. This isn't happening,” Karolina said, walking closer to the television. “Oh my God. That's my house. Emily! You swore you wouldn't say anything!”
“Whoa, hold on there for a minute. First of all, I didn't swear to anything. I have always supported this sordid little story coming out, and I haven't made any apologies for it. But you made it quite clear that you didn't want it out there for Harry's sake, so against my better judgment, I respected yours.”
“So what are you saying? That this wasn't you?”
“Correct. As much as it pains me to say it, this wasn't me.”
“I can't evenÂ .Â .Â .” Karolina's voice trailed off as it hit her. Of course. If the little girl's family hadn't uttered a word in thirty years, and neither had Elaine or Trip or Karolina, then there was only one other person it could be.
“Can't even what?” Emily said, looking newly interested.
“Maybe we should be friends with her?” Karolina said, a smile starting to spread.
“Who? I have no idea what you're talking about.”
“I told her this morning about Graham's vasectomyâdon't ask, I
didn't mean to, it just sort of came outâand then this. It can't be a coincidence.”
“Regan!” Emily laughed. “No, I wouldn't think so. Wow. I'm impressed. The girl has balls.”
“Right? Look at this,” Karolina said, waving toward the throngs of reporters. “There must be a hundred of them. More than even the day I got arrested. I am so glad Harry isn't there right now.”
“I think it's safe to say that Graham and Regan's fairy-tale wedding is likely on hold. Forever. Not to mention his presidential aspirations.” Emily pressed all five fingers together and kissed the tips. “Buh-bye.”
As if on cue, the front door of Karolina's former Bethesda house opened, and a hush fell over the crowd on TV. Out walked Trip and Graham in nearly identical navy suits and blue-and-white-striped ties. Had they coordinated that? Karolina couldn't take her eyes off the screen. What could Trip possibly say to defend Graham now? Would he pretend he never knew? Claim it was all a big misunderstanding?
Trip and Graham approached a podium, and Graham pulled a note card from his pocket. He began to read: “Ladies and gentlemen. I ask that you please give my family and me privacy at this sensitive time. We will try to answer all your questions in due course. Thank you for your understanding.”
Literal shouting commenced immediately. “Senator, is it true that you are responsible for the
of a girl named Molly Wells?”
“Can you confirm that your family paid the Wells family in exchange for their cooperation?”
“Did Harvard University know of your crime when you were accepted? Did anyone else in the Senate?”
“Has your future father-in-law, President Whitney, offered his support?”
“Do you expect the Senate to commence impeachment proceedings in light of this new information?”
“What would you like to say to your constituents now? To the American people?”
On and on it went, while Graham looked increasingly uncomfortable. Trip stepped in and said, “No further comments,” and shooed Graham away.
Karolina's doorbell rang. She and Emily exchanged a look, convinced it was the press looking for a comment, but both their phones vibrated with a text message at the same time.
Open up, it's me
, wrote Miriam.
Karolina pulled open the front door and was relieved to see only Miriam and no cameras. “Come in,” she said, ushering her friend in. “Why are you so dressed up?”
“Who's dressed up?” Emily called from the living room. “Can you people please come in here for this conversation? I'm a beached whale. Don't make me get up!”
Karolina gave Miriam a look and they both smiled. “By âbeached whale' she means she's put on thirty pounds,” Miriam said, following Karolina.
“I heard that!” Emily shrieked. “And I haven't gained anywhere
thirty pounds, so fuck off!”
Miriam gave Emily a cheerful wave. “I can't stay,” she said, pointing toward the television. “But I had to be here for all this. I think it's fair to say this entire nightmare is over.”
Miriam was rightâit was over. Finally and completely over. There would be too many questions from too many reporters and too many cameras pointed in her direction, but this time they wouldn't concern her. Harry was safely under her roof again. The
New York Times
had announced she wasn't guilty of drunk driving. And now, even though Karolina wouldn't necessarily have done it herself, Graham was discredited. His career, over. There was satisfaction there, and happiness, but most of all she felt a deep and calming sense of relief.
“I couldn't have done it without you,” Karolina said, looking first at Emily and then at Miriam, wondering what she'd done to deserve two such real and loyal friends. “Seriously, you guys are the best.”
“I'm just so happy that it's all worked out,” Miriam said, embracing Karolina in a full-body hug. “I love you, honey.”
“Blah, blah,” Emily said, waving her hands. “Enough of the feel-good crap. You love us. We're the best. We know. Now, Miriam, can you tell us something more interesting? Like, who on earth picked out that outfit? Becauseâand I hesitate to say this, trust meâbut you look almost cool. High-waisted jeans that you didn't buy at J. Crew? A heel over an inch and three quarters? Even
? I applaud you.”
Miriam gave Emily the finger and they all laughed.
Karolina ran to the kitchen and came back with a bottle of red wine. “This was the bottle Elaine bought Graham and me on our wedding day. She said we were supposed to drink it on our tenth anniversary, which of course we didn't. Graham said he had to work that night, but he was probably seeing Regan. Anyway, who cares about that now? What I do know is that I Googled it, and this bottle is worth three grand. Anyone want some?”
Karolina poured the wine into plastic cups, since the glasses weren't yet unpacked. She felt guilty handing a pregnant woman a cup of wine, but Emily snatched it from her and said, “Third trimester is fully cooked. Move along,” and together they held their plastic cups toward the ceiling, cackled like witches, and toasted one another.
Later that night, after her friends had left and she'd checked that Harry had turned his lights off at a reasonable hour, Karolina climbed into bed. It didn't feel realâthis gorgeous, good-feeling home, her son once again hers, an impromptu night spent drinking wine and laughing with close girlfriendsâand she wondered if this was the first time in her entire life she'd felt truly happy. There had been moments. She'd never forget those Sundays she spent with her mother, walking through the park or helping her cook or sharing a bath, but they'd always been tinged with the imminent sadness of her mother leaving again. Getting her first magazine cover, being selected to walk in the Victoria's Secret show the first time, being named the face of L'OrÃ©alâall of those career accomplishments had filled her with pride
but left her feeling somehow empty. Even the early days with Graham, when they'd made love frequently and traveled often, were tinged with her own questions and doubts: Had Karolina honestly loved him? Had he loved her? Had either of them even known then what love was? Or had she been so young and naive and desperate to please her mother and her husband that she'd convinced herself it was love when it was really something else?
When Karolina's phone rang beside her, she jumped. The lamp beside her bed was on and the clock on her nightstand said it was 11:48. And a quick glance at the caller ID announced it was Graham.
“Hello?” she said. “Graham?”
“There you are,” he said breathily. “I'm sorry if I woke you. I wanted to wait until morning, but I couldn't. I can't sleep, I can't eat, I can't do anything but think about you.”
Karolina inhaled and held her breath. Why, when she hated him so much, did it still feel good to hear him say that? “GrahamÂ .Â .Â .”
“Please, just listen. I screwed up, Lina. I know I did. The whole thing with Regan was an awful mistake. I never loved her, not like the way I love you. What you and I have is different, Lina. I know you feel it too. We built a family together, a home. A
. And I'm the first to admit that I put it all at risk because of my ambitions. You know it wasn't because I loved her, right? I let my career aspirations be the priority, and in doing so, I jeopardized us. I realize that now, and I can't apologize enough. But I'm going to get help. I've been in touch with a world-renowned psychologist who specializes in high-powered men and infidelity, and I'm certain she's going to fix this. I'll take a leave of absence from the Senate. I want to be a better man. A better father to Harry. And hopefully, a better husband to you.”
“You want to be a better husband to me?” It came out like a squeak. So many thoughts raced through her mindâthe planned DUI, the night in jail, and most of all, the completely wasted days and months and years spent trying to get pregnantâbut those were the only words Karolina could utter.
“Yes. You deserve that, and so does Harry. I'm going to work very hard to prove that to both of you, because you two are all that matter to me in the entire world.”
Her throat tightened. How many times had she imagined this moment? Fantasized about the time he would come groveling back to her, saying all the right things so they could finally put their life back in order? To recognize his shortcomings, to admit his guilt, to announce his willingness to change? And to beg for her forgiveness? Here it was, happening almost exactly the way she'd envisioned it dozens of timesâhundreds?âover the past months, and she wanted only to cry. She would shed tears for babies she had so desperately wanted and for the fear she'd felt about losing Harry and for the old Karolina, the naive and innocent one, who hadn't been able to predict or even imagine that Graham was capable of doing such hideous things. But here it was, and there was no satisfaction, no feeling of victory, nothing but a strong certainty that this chapter of her life was closed forever.
“Graham, I want you to listen closely,” Karolina said, not even trying to disguise her crying. “You and I no longer exist to each other as anything more than co-parents, and we never will. Harry and his well-being are all we'll discuss, ever again. Outside of being the father to our son, you are dead to me. Now and forever.”
She clicked the “end call” button and collapsed against the pillows. The tears felt cathartic, almost cleansing, and Karolina allowed herself to let it all out, as her mother had always encouraged.
“Mom? Are you okay?” Harry's voice, which alternated these days between a little-boy squeak and a manlier baritone, surprised her. He was standing in her doorway.
“Oh, honey, come here. I'm fine,” she said, motioning for him to join her. Karolina felt a surge of love as her beautiful, lanky boyânow nearly taller than she wasâclimbed on the bed. He wore plaid pajama pants and an old camp T-shirt, and his left cheek was bright red and warm with sleep, as it always was when he was a little boy.
“What's wrong? Why are you crying?”
Karolina reached for him, and when he folded his warm body into hers, and she wrapped her arms around him, she believed she could know no greater happiness. “I'm crying because I'm happy, love.” She buried her face in his hair and inhaled his familiar, delicious smell. “Right now everything is exactly as it should be.”
still can't believe this is happening,” Miriam said as she helped line up baby bottles filled with pink jelly beans. “How did she agree to this?”