by A. M. Townsend
I was waiting for Janice in our favorite restaurant, sipping water from a sweating glass and tapping my fingers on the table. As the moments passed, I rehearsed what I would say to her and how I would say it. It is true that I worried too much about impressing her and name-dropped shamelessly when I was with her.
For the longest time, I was concerned that Janice’s marriage to Dave would cause our friendship to languish. A husband who is a physician, no less, can make weighty demands on a wife’s time. Their move to the Upper East Side couldn’t have made her happier.
After Dartmouth, we lived together in an apartment on Fifth Avenue and took advantage of all that the city had to offer. There was the gala event at the IAC building in New York one year. It was attended by Sir Nicholas Williams, and the artist, Julian Hockney, whose art was being shown at the Met. A very drunk Janice and I sat in “The Dawn,” a midnight blue Rolls-Royce which had been provided by Motor Car magazine, the sponsor of the dinner.
Of course, that was just as memorable as when we went to the performance of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps performed by the Paris Opera Ballet at the Palais Garnier. Our dates had been New York’s most eligible bachelors, the Whitman twins, both of whom played with the New York Mets.
I glanced over to see her sashaying through the door in a light blue dress with the poise and elegance of a runway model and the face that belonged on the cover of Vanity Fair.
Janice glided to the table with her arms stretched out. “Meredith, you look wonderful!” She bent over as I stood up. “Look at those rosy cheeks.”
I kissed each side of her face; a cosmopolitan greeting. “You look very fit and trim.” I looked down at her thighs. “Have you been swimming laps again?”
“David installed a lap pool in our basement. Mind you, it’s not enough to have a pool out back.” Janice flipped her hair over her shoulder. “It’s the best exercise.” She slipped the wrap off her shoulders as she sat down.
The waiter arrived shortly after. “Drinks for you ladies?”
I spoke up. “I’ll take a mimosa.”
“Look at you. Drinking at lunch. My mother used to have the three-martini lunch with my father.” She glanced at the waiter. “I’ll take a chai tea.”
“Good choice,” I said nervously.
“I want to hear everything. You told me you have a new boyfriend,” she said in a sing-song tone as if the juiciest gossip was forthcoming. “I can’t wait to hear all about him.”
Janice interrupted. “First things, first. How’s the job? You did get the promotion, and how about the new duties?” she asked me. I was now the Assistant Editor of Madam G magazine.
I took a breath. “Not bad, now that our marketing forecast predicts the highest upward trend in four years, with subscriptions going over the top.”
“That’s wonderful. You’ll be the senior editor one day.” She leaned back. “Okay, now tell me about your new Romeo.”
“Farley and I—”
“Farley?” she said. “Is that his name?”
“Don’t look so disappointed. His name is a wonderful tribute—”
“It sounds like he should be from Nashville, or he’s one of those Appalachian mountain people with no teeth.” She turned away from me to watch a handsome waiter walk by.
“His mother loved Farley Granger,” I said apologetically. “A movie star from the 40s. I was trying to say that his name is a tribute to that actor.”
“Never heard of him.” She glanced over to a woman who passed by in an elegant red dress. “Go on.”
The waiter delivered our drinks.
“We first met at Le Bernardin. Do you remember Kyle and Cindy from our last year at Dartmouth? They introduced me.”
“That restaurant is to die for. The absolute best!” Her eyes lit up. “That’s my Meredith. I remember Kyle and Cindy. Didn’t he get a job with the Sierra Club? I never would have predicted he would have gone that direction.”
“Farley is just finishing law school. He has the most adorable blond hair and green eyes. His parents live in upstate New York, and his father was a veterinarian.”
“Sounds wonderful,” Janice said. “Say, did I tell you about David? He’s getting some sort of award from the American College of Physicians. I’m so proud of him.”
“That’s fabulous news,” I said. “Farley and I have been dating for close to six months. Naturally, he wants me to meet his family.”
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner about your mystery man? You’re not supposed to keep secrets from me. You needn’t be worried about having another catastrophe like with that Warren you dated.”
“I know marriage can be hell if the parents don’t like you,” I murmured.
“I knew it!” She reached for my hand and patted it. “Meredith is getting married. That’s so exciting. Who have you told?”
“No one but you.” I gulped my mimosa, thankful that the waiter had brought it.
“Settling down will be good for you. I mean, it’s about time,” she said. “Has he picked out a ring? I hope it’s a big one.”
I put down my glass. “I ran into Adela Manzo a couple of weeks ago. She just got back from a trip to China. She showed me a picture of her twins. You know she’s now a judge in Albany, and her husband is going to run for Congress in two years.”
“Yes, well, we’ll have to see about that. I doubt that he really has a chance.” Janice gave a slight sneer. “He’s one of those Social Democrats.”
Janice and her husband had been featured in New York’s Social Diary a couple of times when they sponsored a charity event for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. A husband who was putting himself through Columbia Law School wouldn’t meet her expectations. Seeing her again brought back some of the frustration I occasionally felt in our friendship.
After lunch, Janice insisted that we do some shopping at Prada and Fendi. I was beginning to have my doubts that I should be spending so much money on a jacket or bag. I came to the realization some time ago that I had plenty of exceptional quality clothes. I didn’t need more and more. It didn’t matter to me anymore that I didn’t have the latest or hottest item.
“That jacket would be perfect for your visit to Cold Springs. You’ll make a fabulous impression. Fendi is the absolute best. You know my motto, to be is to be perceived — well.”
She picked out some blouses and a very chic handbag for herself. She wouldn’t hesitate to spend thousands of dollars on a Birkin or Gucci handbag. I didn’t quite have that kind of spending money. However, she did give me a couple of her hand-me-downs. We finished a short round of shopping, I headed back to work. Janice headed home after we both promised to see each other more often.
* * *
That evening, Farley brought dinner over to my condo.
“It’s Chinese tonight, darling. After my labor law class, I dashed out and by the time I got to your house, I had realized that I didn’t get any groceries. So, I went to Wong’s.”
“Wong’s sounds fantastic. I am working on an article about the daguerreotype photographer, Jeremiah Gurney. Can you believe that he used to charge five dollars for a portrait? There is a showing next weekend. We can go together.”
Farley emptied the containers of Chinese food onto plates as I finished the article.
“Next weekend,” Farley said, “we are set to go to Cold Springs. My mom and dad are thrilled to meet you.”
“Oh, that’s right,” I said. I had tried to put it out of my mind.
“We can move it to another time,” said Farley, who seemed worried.
“No. It’s fine. I have that trip on my calendar. I just forgot for a moment.”
“The drive to Cold Springs will be wonderful this time of year,” he said as he emptied out the last container.
“My aunt and uncle live in Hewlett Bay Park, and they love Cold Springs. My uncle. the manager of the Premier Growth Equity Fund flies his Learjet 85 to the Hudson Valley every summer where their cottage is.” It occurred to me at that moment how much I sounded like Janice, and I silently rebuked myself for it.
Meeting Farley’s parents worried me. I didn’t know much about them, only that his father was a retired veterinarian and that his mother was a stay-at-home matronly type. Farley did not talk much about them. When I probed deeper about what they liked to do, he always changed the subject. Often, he was anxious and insistent that we not talk about them. I sensed that something was profoundly embarrassing him that he didn’t want me to know. I wondered what secrets lay before me.
“My sister goes by ‘Henri’,” Farley said. “That’s ‘Henri’ for ‘Henrietta’, ‘Henri’ with an ‘i’ not a ‘y.’ She’s a precocious little thing who’s always inventing things. When she was eight, she tried to invent a bubble machine that made glass bubbles. Of course, every single one burst into crystal shards all over the floor.”
“She sounds remarkable. I can’t wait to meet her.”
“In high school, I’ll bet you were beautiful and the most desirable girl.”
“How did you know?” I laughed.
“My family will love you. But please don’t judge them until after we leave. Promise me? Promise you’ll go along with them? If it turns out you don’t like them, we don’t have to see them very much. Really.”
“Why do you say that?”
“My friends sometimes can’t deal with my dad’s peccadillos. In high school he drove me up a wall with all of this and that about Uncle Gus and the ‘sky research’; that’s the best way to put it. You come from kind of an elite background. My parents aren’t wealthy.”
“Farley, I love you because you are caring and real. I’m trying to get away from all that status nonsense. And anyway, we can wait to meet them if you really want.”
“I suppose that now is the same as some time in the future,” Farley relented.
A week later, we left for Cold Springs. The drive took over an hour and, when we arrived, we stopped at a gas station. While Farley filled up the tank, I went inside to get some breath mints and go to the bathroom. I nearly ran into a woman standing at the sink.
“Hello, excuse me.” I passed behind her.
“Don’t mind me, just trying to get a coffee stain off this sweater,” she said.
“Make sure the water is really hot,” I replied.
She turned on the water.
I went into a stall.
“Hey, thanks, the hot water is working. I haven’t seen you around here,” she said.
“Yes, I am up here with my fiancé to meet his family,” I said as I flushed the toilet.
“Who is the family? I know everyone in these parts. Most everyone is wonderful. I mean you couldn’t pick a better place to live. It’s such a nice community.”
“My fiancé is Farley Mudito.” I exited the stall.
When I mentioned his name, her face went from a pleasant smile to a blank. “Let me see, Mudito. Mudito...Dr. Mudito, the veterinarian?”
Her mouth bent downward to a frown. “He lives up north on that mountain.” She threw a paper towel in the trash. “I had friends who took their animals to him. He was a good doctor, I heard. One thing is true, Cold Springs has people of all sorts. You must be a brave girl!”
I washed my hands and left the restroom a bit disturbed by the woman’s comment. What did that mean, “You must be a brave girl”?
Farley was leaning against the Toyota. He took my hand and helped me in.
“I had an intriguing conversation with a lady in the bathroom. She said she knew your family and that your dad was a great vet.”
“Dad was an awesome vet.”
I didn’t tell him the details of the conversation, because he was already nervous enough. We drove north on the curving road decorated with Northern Blueflag. The mountain in the background was green-covered and a light mist swept around it. White and yellow flowers speckled the front of the mountain.
The house was a red brick Queen Anne style with vines growing up the sides. Sculptures of demure forest creatures and egghead-shaped figures gazed curiously into the sky. The overgrown yard displayed arrangements of native grasses, flowers, and bushes.
We pulled up next to a green Prius. Farley looked over at me with raised eyebrows. “Here we are.”
“I’m cool with everything. I love you,” I reassured him. “It’ll be fun.”
We got out of the car, went up the stairs to the veranda, and rang the doorbell. There was no answer. Farley knocked and pushed the door open. A tall man with Farley’s green eyes and a gray beard came down the staircase.
“Farley, it’s so good to see you! I didn’t hear you ring.” He glanced at my face. “Meredith, it’s a pleasure. Nicki is upstairs getting your room ready. We didn’t expect you so soon.”
“Meredith, this is Frisco, my dad, of course.”
“So glad to meet you,” I replied. “I’ve heard so much about you.” That was a lie, but a friendly one. Farley had been tight-lipped about his family except for the most general information.
“I hope he didn’t tell you too much!” Frisco chuckled.
A girl with dark blue cream layered all over her face and hair pinned back walked toward us through the living room. She passed right by without so much as a glance.
“Henri, aren’t you going to say hello to your brother?”
“Nope. I see it’s him,” she said blankly.
“What about his girlfriend?” asked Frisco.
“Hi, girlfriend, whoever you are.” Without a pause, Henri continued up the stairs.
Frisco watched his daughter pass in front of him. “Henri, that’s rude.”
“I know it is. But I have to get back upstairs to my experiment.”
Farley sighed and cupped my hand in both of his. “I’m sorry, Meredith.” He winced. “Henri is kind of a brat.”
“I heard that, Barley!” Henri yelled from upstairs.
“No worries. I was once in high school too,” I replied.
Copyright © 2019 by A. M. Townsend