Authors: Lauren Weisberger
Miriam slowed to a walk, but before she could regain anything resembling composure, two women in equally fabulous workout outfits ran toward Miriam on the opposite side of the street. A golden retriever pulled happily on the leash of the hot pink puffer coat while a panting chocolate Lab yanked along the woman in the army green. The entire entourage looked like a mobile Christmas card and was moving at a brisk pace.
“Happy New Year,” the golden owner said as they sprinted past Miriam.
“You too,” she muttered, relieved it was no one she knew. Not that she'd met many moms in the five months since they'd moved to town just in time for the twins to start kindergarten and Benjamin to start second grade at their new public school. Beyond saying hello to a few moms at school drop-off twice a day, she hadn't had much opportunity to meet a lot of other women. Paul claimed it was the same in wealthy suburbs everywhereâthat people stayed holed up in their big houses with everything they needed either upstairs or downstairs: their gyms, their screening rooms, their wine cellars and tasting tables. Nannies played with children, rendering playdates unnecessary. Housekeepers
did the grocery shopping. Staff, staff, and more staff to do everything from mow the lawn to chlorinate the pool to change the lightbulbs.
The heady smell of burning wood greeted Miriam the moment she stepped into the mudroom, and a quick peek in the family room confirmed that her husband had read her mind about wanting to sit next to a fire. It was one of the things she loved most about suburban living so far: morning fires. Otherwise bleak mornings were instantly cozy; her children's cheeks were even more delicious.
“Mommy's home!” Matthew, five years old and obsessed with weaponry, shouted from the arm of the couch, where he balanced in pajamas, brandishing a realistic-looking sword.
“Mommy! Matthew won't give me a turn with the sword and we're supposed to share!” his twin sister, Maisie, screeched from under the kitchen table, which was her favorite place to sulk.
“Mom, can I have your password to buy
?” Benjamin asked without looking up from Miriam's hijacked iPad.
“No,” she said. “Who said yes to screen time right now? No iPad. It's family time.”
“Your fingerprint, then? Please? Jameson says it's the coolest game he's ever played! Why does he get it and I don't?”
“Because his mommy is nicer than me,” she said, managing to kiss her son on top of his head before he squirmed away.
Paul stood at the stove in flannel pajama pants and a fleece sweatshirt, intently flipping pancakes on the griddle. “I'm so impressed,” he said. “I have no idea how you motivated this morning.” Miriam couldn't help but think how handsome he was despite all the premature gray hair. He was only three years older than she, but he could have been mistaken for being a decade her senior.
Miriam grabbed her midsection, ending up with two handfuls of flesh. “This is how.”
Paul placed the last pancake on a plated pile nearly a dozen high and turned off the stove. He walked over and embraced her. “You're perfect just the way you are,” he said automatically. “Here, have one.”
“No way. I didn't suffer through twenty minutes of sheer hell to kill it all with a pancake.”
“Are they ready, Daddy? Are they? Are they?”
“Can we have whipped cream on them?”
“And ice cream?”
“I don't want the ones with the blueberries!”
In a flash, all three children had gathered at the kitchen table, nearly hyperventilating with excitement. Miriam tried to ignore the epic mess and focus on her children's joy and her husband's kindness, but it was tough with flour covering every inch of countertop, batter splattered on the backsplash, and errant chocolate chips and blueberries spread across the floor.
“Anyone want some fruit salad or yogurt?” she asked, pulling both from the fridge.
“Not me!” they all shouted in unison through mouthfuls of pancake.
Yeah, me neither,
Miriam thought to herself as she scooped some out. She spooned a bite into her mouth and nearly spat it into the sink. The yogurt had clearly gone bad, and not even the sweet strawberries could mask the rancid taste. She scraped the entire bowl's contents into the garbage disposal and considered hard-boiling some eggs. She even nibbled one of those cardboard-like fiber crackers, but two bites in, she just couldn't.
“Live a little,” she murmured to herself, grabbing a chocolate chip pancake from the top of the pile and shoving it into her mouth.
“Aren't they good, Mommy? Do you want to try it with whipped cream?” Benjamin asked, waving the canister like a trophy.
“Yes, please,” she said, holding out her remaining piece for him to squirt. Screw it. She was setting a good example for her daughter that food wasn't the enemy, right? Everything in moderation. No eating disorders in this house. She had just popped a pod into the coffee machine when she heard Paul mutter, “Holy shit.”
“Daddy! Language!” Maisie said, sounding exactly like Miriam.
“Daddy said a bad word! Daddy said âshit'!”
“Sorry, sorry,” he murmured, his face buried in the newspaper Miriam had set on the table. “Miriam, come look at this.”
“I'll be right there. Do you want a cup too?”
“Now. Come here now.”
“What is it, Daddy? What's in the newspaper?”
“Here, have another pancake,” Paul said to Maisie as he handed the paper over to Miriam.
Below the fold but still on the very first page blared the headline:
MADD: MOTHERS ALL-FOR DRUNK DRIVING! SENATOR'S WIFE SLAPPED WITH DUI .Â .Â . WITH KIDS IN THE CAR!
“Mommy! You said âshit'!”
“Daddy, now Mommy said a bad word!”
“Shit, shit, shit!” sang Matthew.
“Who wants to watch a movie?” Paul asked. “Benjamin, why don't you go down to the basement and put on
for everyone.” Again, there was a mad scramble as they bolted toward the stairs, and then, seconds later, blessed silence.
“This can't be right,” Miriam said, studying the mug shot of her old high school friend. They had overlapped senior year of high school in Paris at the American School. Karolina was there modeling and learning English on the side, and Miriam was forced to follow her parents there on a posting. “Karolina would never do that.”
“Well, it's right here in print. Failed roadside sobriety test. Empty bottles of booze in the backseat. Refused to take a Breathalyzer. And five kids in the car, including her own.”
“There is no way that's possible,” Miriam said, scanning the story. “Not the Karolina I know.”
“How long has it been since you've spoken to her? Maybe she changed. I don't imagine things are so easy being in the spotlight, like they both are now.”
“She was the face of L'OrÃ©al for ten years! The mega-model to end all supermodels. I hardly think she has issues with the spotlight.”
“Well, being the wife of a United States senator is something else entirely. Especially one who plans to run for president. It's a different kind of scrutiny.”
“I guess so. I don't know. I'm going to call her. This just can't be right.”
“You guys haven't spoken in months.” Paul sipped his coffee.
“That doesn't matter!” Miriam realized she was nearly shouting and lowered her voice. “We've known each other since we were teenagers.”
Paul held up both hands in surrender. “Send her my love, okay? I'll go check on the monsters.”
Karolina's number rang five times before sending her to voicemail. “Hi! You've reached Karolina. I'm not available to take your call, but leave me a message and I'll get back to you just as soon as I can. Bye, now.”
“Lina? It's me, Miriam. I saw that hideous headline and I want to talk to you. I don't believe it for a single second, and neither does one other person who's ever met you. Call me as soon as you get this, okay? Love you, honey. Bye.”
Miriam clicked “end” and stared at her screen, willing Karolina's name to appear. But then she heard a scream coming from downstairsâa real pain scream, not an I-hate-my-siblings scream or an It's-my-turn scream, and Miriam took a deep breath and stood up to go investigate.
It had barely even begun, and already this year was shaping up to be a loser. She grabbed a now-cold pancake off the plate on her way to the basement: 2018 could take its resolutions and
ey, Siri! Play âYeah' by Usher!” Harry called from the back of the Suburban. A chorus of cheers went up from the boys when Siri chirped, “Okay, playing âYeah' by Usher,” and the bass blasted through the speakers.
Karolina smiled. Never in a million years would she have thought having a car full of twelve-year-old boys could be fun. They were loud and rowdy and even sometimes smelled bad, yes. But Harry's friends were also sweet and quick to laugh and made an attempt at manners, at least when she was around. They were good kids from nice families, and once again she felt grateful for the move that had taken them from New Yorkâthe city of social land minesâto Bethesda, where everyone seemed a little more easygoing.
, Karolina thought for the thousandth time as she sneaked
a look at Harry from the rearview mirror. Every day he was starting to look more and more like a teenager: broadening shoulders, dark fuzz above his lip, a smattering of pimples on his cheeks. But just as often he seemed like a little boy, as likely to spend an hour playing with Legos as texting with his friends. Harry was outgoing and confident, like his father, but he had a softer, more sensitive side too. Right around the time they moved to Bethesda, Harry started asking Graham more about his late mother: where she and Graham had met, what she liked to read, how she'd felt when she was pregnant with him. And always Graham put him off, promising to tell Harry about his mother later. Later, when he was finished with a report he needed to read. Later, that weekend, when they had more free time. Later, during their ski vacation, because his mother had loved to ski. Later, later, later. Karolina wasn't sure if it was laziness or avoidance or genuine pain causing Graham to put off his son, but she knew Harry needed answers. It took her nearly three days while Graham was at work and Harry at school to assemble all the scattered pictures and letters and clippings she could find, but when she presented Harry with the memory box of his mom, his relief and joy made every minute worthwhile. She reassured Harry that his mom would always be his mom, and that it was okay to talk about her and remember her, and Karolina's big, strong tween had collapsed into her arms like a kindergartener returning from his first day away from home.
“Guess what?” Nicholas, a lanky lacrosse player with shaggy blond hair, called from the third row. “My dad got us tickets to the 'Skins/Eagles game next weekend. First playoff game. Who's in?”
The boys hooted.
“Hey, Mom, do you think Dad will take me?” Harry asked.
“My dad said tickets weren't that expensive,” Nicholas said.
Karolina forced herself to smile, though the boys couldn't see her in the driver's seat. “I'm sure he'd love that,” she lied, and sneaked a peek at Harry to see if he could hear it in her voice. Despite the fact that Harry was passionate about professional football in general and the Redskins specificallyâand
Graham, as a sitting U.S. senator, could name his seats anywhere in the stadiumâfather and son had never attended a game together. Every year Graham swore to Karolina and Harry that they'd sit in the owner's box, fly to an important away game, or invite a bunch of Harry's friends and get seats on the fifty-yard line, and every year another season went by without the Hartwell boys in attendance. Harry had been to a game exactly once, two years earlier, when Karolina took pity on him and bought tickets off StubHub. He'd been thrilled and cheered like crazy in his head-to-toe gear, but she knew he would have preferred to go with Graham: Karolina had unknowingly gotten tickets on the visitor side, and she couldn't totally follow who had the ball, and in spite of her best intentions, she kept cheering at the wrong times.
“Mom! Hey, Mom!” Harry interrupted her thoughts. “There are cop cars behind us with their lights on.”
“Hmmm?” Karolina murmured, more to herself. She glanced in the rearview and saw two police cruisers with their lights ablaze, so close to the Suburban that they were nearly pushing up against the bumper. “My goodness, it must be important. Okay, okay, give me a second,” she said aloud. “I'm moving over.”
She was grateful Harry was safely beside her, because she always got nervous when she saw an emergency vehicle in her neighborhood. Their house might be on fire, but so long as Harry was safely in her sight, she could deal with anything. She put on her blinker and eased the unwieldy truck onto the side of the road as gracefully as she could, sending a silent apology to the Crains, who lived five doors down and owned the beautiful lawn her tires were probably digging up. Only the cruisers didn't quickly pass her on the left, as she'd expected; they too pulled to the side and came to a stop directly behind her truck.
“Ohhh, Mrs. Hartwell, you're busted!” Stefan, another of Harry's friends, yelled as all the boys laughed. Karolina did too.
“Yes, you know me,” Karolina said. “Going twenty in a residential neighborhood. Crazy!” She watched in the rearview as the officers
stood next to her license plate and appeared to type it into an iPad-like device.
, she thought. They would see the United States government plates that were on all three of their cars, and this whole silly thing would be over.
But the two officers who approached her window weren't laughing. “Ma'am? Is this your vehicle?” asked the female officer, while the male cop stood behind her and watched.