Dec 7 2012 12:00pm
Molly Hagan is overwhelmed.
Her husband left her for a younger, blonder woman; her six-year-old son is questioning her authority, and now so is she. In order to pay her Brooklyn rent and keep her son supplied with Pokémon and Legos, not to mention food and clothing, she has to get a job—fast.
So when an old friend offers Molly a freelance position copywriting for a new bakery, finding romance is just about the last thing on her mind. But the sexy British pastry chef who's heading up the bakery has other thoughts. And then so does Molly, when she meets the chef's intimidating business partner—who also happens to have a secret that might prevent Molly from getting her own happily ever after.
Get a sneak peek at Megan Caldwell's Vanity Fare (available December 26, 2012) with an excerpt of Chapter 1.
Aidan was especially mushy that morning, clinging to me as I dropped him off at school.
“But Mom, why can’t I stay home with you?”
I sighed and patted his shoulder as we walked. “Because you have to go to school, honey, it’s part of knowledge, and knowledge—”
“—is power, I know,” he finished. “It’s just so boring!”
I waved at another parent who was shepherding an equally sad child—a classmate of Aidan’s—into the school building. “So is moving boxes, and that’s all you’d be able to do if you quit school now. Besides, if you stayed home with me, all we’d do is drink coffee and read. That’s no fun, right?”
He wrinkled his nose. “No, that’s boring.” He heaved a six-year-old’s sigh. “Okay, but can we do something fun after?”
“Yeah, fun after school,” I repeated. “I love you.” I leaned down and kissed him, and he wrapped his arms around me in a tight squeeze.
He released me, and swung the door open—all by himself!—and headed into the school, turning so I could blow him one last kiss. He returned it, the sweetheart, and my chest felt tight with emotion.
I wore one of those goofy mom smiles on the way home. That was worth it all. He was worth it all. And he was why I had to get over myself. He thought I was pretty great, and I trusted his opinion.
I went up the stairs to the apartment, determined to figure out just what the hell I was doing with my life. Besides planning post-school activities.
It sure didn’t help when his father threw spokes in my wheels, a wrench in my works, and some third thing I was just too upset to recall at the moment.
I picked the phone up on the third ring, my hands shaking from what I’d just seen on the news feed scrolling across the bottom of the TV.
The caller ID told me who it was before I even answered, so he didn’t get a chance to even say hello.
“So, were you going to tell me about Blumenthal-Jackson or did you just think I’d miss it because Aidan was watching the Yu-Gi-Oh marathon or something?”
The bastard didn’t reply. I heard him breathing, though.
“I saw it on CNN.” I had to keep myself from shrieking into the phone. “Your company? Collapsed? Ring a bell, Hugh?”
“I didn’t know myself.” Wait. He actually sounded like he didn’t. But he was a lawyer, he was used to lying well. “Until today.” His voice was worn out. Shredded.
I felt a momentary pang of sympathy, the way I used to when he had a tough day at the office. And then I remembered what he’d done, and how he’d left.
“What, you had no idea? Come on, Hugh.” I walked to the window and looked out on the street below: Nannies hustling their charges to the local Tot Time at the library, a few delivery trucks double-parked, and a group of Catholic girls in their short, pleated skirts walking slowly up the street.
Normal life in Brooklyn. Which I loved, but would have to leave if I didn’t do something about it. Because Hugh sure as hell wasn’t going to be able to. Which his next words proved.
“I won’t be able to send money next month.” His next few sentences sounded as if they were shot out of a cannon. I could barely keep up. “For the rent. Aidan’s health insurance is okay for awhile, but you’ll be dropped from the policy in 30 days. I’ll try to get situated as soon as possible. I’m sorry, Molly.”
There was a silence, and I heard Hugh swallow.
“What about COBRA? And there must be something that’s being done for the employees, right?” Hugh had always left the bookkeeping details to me, since he was too busy. Maybe he’d forgotten.
“Um, well, I didn’t tell you, but about four months ago I went freelance for the firm. It was either that or they were going to let me go entirely, and I needed the job.”
Oh. He hadn’t forgotten. In fact, he’d managed to do some bookkeeping for himself. That was newsworthy in itself.
He continued, “So my benefits were cut, then. I’ve been paying for your insurance myself.”
I swallowed as it hit me.
“So what you’re saying is—” I closed my eyes and felt my jaw clamp—“that not only is your company going belly-up, but it’s not even your company?”
I didn’t think it could get worse than it had six months ago when he’d left.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t want to make things any tougher for you than they were—” he paused, and I heard take another deep breath, “—and I thought the firm would be okay in a few months, but . . .”
“Where the hell does that leave us, Hugh? You know, me and more importantly, your son?”
“I’m sorry.” He hung up. Running away from the problem, as usual.
I put the phone down. “Yeah, I’m sorry, too.” Sorrier than you’d ever know.
CNN was still on, detailing the fallout: Top story tonight is the collapse of venerated Wall Street investment group Blumenthal Jackson. According to the New York District Attorney’s office, the company’s chief executives will be charged with violating the RICO Act. Investors stand to lose up to 50 billion dollars. More as the story dev—I flipped the channel, not wanting to hear any more of the details.
VH-1. Safe choice. I just needed a minute to process it. Then I could figure out what the hell I was going to do.
A commercial. How come my life wasn’t like the movies, where an appropriately-themed song would just be starting as I turned the channel on? I’d sit down and my expression would soften, and I’d nod my head.
Oh, geez. Be careful what you wish for: “Once I was afraid, I was petrified.”
Yeah, thanks for spelling it all out for me, Gloria.
“I will survive/yeah yeah.”
If this moment were any more ironic, it’d be a hipster movement, replete with coy t-shirts and rainbowed unicorns. Gaynor herself was wearing more glitter than a drag queen, while a tiny spandex-clad girl spun on roller skates.
I plopped down on the couch. Six months ago, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to notice how so many songs—scratch that, all of them—were about love or falling in love or losing a love.
Hugh never said he loved me.
I was an idiot not to realize that meant something. I sure as hell knew it now.
I had to get a job. Fast. Now. Yesterday.
After Aidan went to sleep that night clutching his stuffed Pikachu, I changed into my sweatpants and padded out to the living room in my bare feet. Damn, I needed to give myself a pedicure. I hadn’t had one since the fancy wedding Hugh and I had attended the previous summer. Hugh had told a story about his administrative assistant and some white-out that had made everyone howl, me included.
That night, we’d slow-danced under the stars to “Always And Forever,” like we were in high school.
It galled me that he had already been cheating on me, even then, and I was too naïve to recognize the signs. At one point, he got a call on his cell phone and dashed to the parking lot to take it. He’d come back about 10 minutes later, shrugging apologetically.
I sat down at the dining room table with a notebook and the classified section. I tried very hard to ignore the cover of the latest romance novel I was devouring, a world where husbands didn’t leave and insurance didn’t run out. I picked up an animal cracker, a humpless camel, from the leftovers in Aidan’s lunch and munched on it to buy some time while I thought.
I was going to make a list of what I could do. And would do, I reminded myself sternly. After all, lists were only good if one actually was able to check off the items on the list. I had plenty of unchecked lists in my life. First one, of course, was the list where I had written ‘marry someone and stay with them until one or both of you keeled over.’
How about that one that said ‘establish a career in your thirties so you can be comfortably ensconced in it in your forties and never have to worry about paying the bills again?’
Mm, how about ‘have the possibility of ever having sex again?’
I glared at the notebook as if it were its fault I was so . . . unchecked. This whole finding a job thing was a pain in the ass. I thought I had more time. A month. Two. I had poked around and sent some resumes out, but between cursing Hugh’s name and taking care of Aidan, I honestly hadn’t done enough.
I’d never thought I’d have to.
Six years ago when Aidan was born, Hugh had supported my decision to stay home. The prospect of entering the workforce again was terrifying, maybe even more than being a divorced mom. But if we were to recover from Hugh’s latest mess, I’d have to.
I wrote at the top of the page: Find a job. I leaned back and stared at the paper.
What kind of job could I get?
Before Aidan, I’d done marketing for an online startup. There were so many problems with having that as your prime resume skill: first of all, marketing is the most nebulous term imaginable. A guy prancing around the block in a sandwich board could say he did marketing. Second, having worked at an online startup was practically as bad as admitting you wore culottes back in the '70s. Which I also did.
And third, I hadn’t worked full-time in six years.
And I was forty years old.
Not to mention cranky, tired, stubborn, and mad as hell.
But they would only discover that if they hired me.
Which they wouldn’t, because my resume read like crap.
Okay, Molly, I told myself, focus.
I had a degree in English literature. That and experience doing marketing for an online startup would get me an interview at Starbuck’s.
Heck, at least I’d never run out of coffee again.
Focus. Caffeine should not be the center of the universe.
I rose and went down the hall to peek on Aidan, whose head was smothered underneath his blue Power Rangers bedspread. I uncovered him, kissed his smooth, sweet-smelling cheek and padded back to where my doom, er, list lay waiting for me. Was it wrong I wished I could set it on fire?
Thank goodness the phone rang.
“Hi, sweetie.” Suddenly it felt like a couple of weights had been lifted off my shoulders.
At least I had chosen my friends wisely. Keisha had moved from Brooklyn a little over a year ago to California, but we still talked as much as we did when we first met in college. Maybe even more.
I tucked the phone up to my ear and grabbed the throw from the floor. “Hold on, I’m tucking in,” I said.
I lay down on the couch, feeling the groove where my body had imprinted itself. Apparently, I had lain in this position a lot. I pulled the blanket up to my chin, relishing the cozy warmth of it against my skin.
“You all right?” Keisha asked, a soft tone to her voice.
She always knew. I sighed. “No, not really. Hugh’s company collapsed.” I stared up at the ceiling. Funny how widening one’s eyes and staring at one spot was what people always did when trying not to cry, and it never worked. I gulped. “Which means he can’t send money anymore.”
“What about Sylvia?” Her tone dripped with disdain.
I laughed. “I don’t think she’s going to send me money, either.”
“Ha, ha. No, I mean, I wonder if she’s going to walk if he’s not pulling down the big bucks anymore.”
Keisha and I had speculated more times than I cared to remember just what kind of person Hugh's new girlfriend was. Morbid speculation on my part, and rampant curiosity, I guess, on hers. Anyway, we’d decided she was smart enough to suss out Hugh was vulnerable, but not smart enough to realize he usually had to rely on others to help him through the rough spots. I’d had a lawyer friend do a Lexis-Nexis search on her, and discovered her age (younger), her address (tonier) and her profession (more professional). Now we were taking bets on when she’d wise up and dump him.
“I dunno,” I said, “Hugh can be pretty sweet when he’s needy.”
Keisha’s moment of silence spoke of her derision more than her words would have.
“All right,” I admitted, raising my hands in a gesture of defeat. Not that she could see me. “I fell for his ‘find my keys’ puppy look. Anyway, enough about him. What am I going to do?” I tried to keep my voice steady.
“Is Starbuck’s hiring?” Keisha replied in a matter-of-fact voice.
“Fuck you,” I said in my most outraged tone. I didn’t think it would fool her for a moment.
It didn’t. She laughed. “Well, you do have that English degree. You could teach.”
“Don’t you need more than a B.A.?”
“Not to substitute teach, I don’t think. It could help you out for a little while. Maybe some tutoring?”
“In what, romance novels?”
“You could finally put that English literature degree to good use.”
“Like the way you’re using your film degree?”
“Ouch, that’s cold.” Keisha had moved back to Cottonwood, California, to take over managing her father’s art cinema when he had gotten too old and tired to do it all by himself. She loved her job, even if it was as much about Goobers as Godard, so my teasing her wasn’t nearly as mean as it sounded.
The idea took hold in my brain. “I was pretty good at figuring out the leit motifs and recurrent imagery and all that mumbo. Although teaching probably pays about as much as Starbuck’s.” I began to feel a ribbon of excitement thread through my body.
“You’d probably like the clientele a little more. And the hours would be good for Aidan.”
“It’s an idea. A damn good idea, actually. Glad I thought of it.”
She snorted. “Why do you have to pay that Dr. Lowell anyway? Just send me a wad of cash each week and I’ll hear all your problems.”
“You already hear them for free.”
She gave an exaggerated sigh. “You’re right. Good thing I like you so much.”
“Bye, hon. Love you.”
I hung up and found my latest book—Love’s Scoundrel, or something like that, and headed to bed, stopping in to check on my son one last time.
And I swore, as I kissed Aidan’s fragrant cheek, I would not let anything I wanted go unchecked again.
Copyright © 2012 by Megan Frampton
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Megan Caldwell grew up in a remote town in New Hampshire where she devoured every book of fiction in her well-read parents' library. An English literature major at Barnard College with double minors in political science and religion, Megan wrote and edited reviews for a music industry magazine for fifteen years. Eventually, she became editor-in-chief and went on to develop conference programs for the industry. Now she is the community manager for Heroes and Heartbreakers, a romance novel website, where she blogs daily as Megan Frampton about the fiction she reads. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son.