Today's Reading

As James backed out of the garage, Erin cleared her throat the way she did before any new agenda item she was uncertain of, the cue that they were about to begin.

Zanne dove right in. "We're up to one hundred fifty RSVPs—with the VIP favors list, close to two hundred. Another two hundred on the backup list."

"Four hundred people!" Holly said. "I don't want four hundred people in my home. Last year there were fifty of us at Kathy Jahan's, tops."

Kathy Jahan's husband was at Sony. They lived in Bel Air in an Italianate villa that used to belong to Sophia Loren.

Kathy was very elegant and her parties were very elegant and very boring, no matter what people said about the canapés. And that cheesy pianist she always hired! He reminded Holly of the music teacher who used to play at the food court at Christmastime. Holly was determined to prove to the board that if they wanted to bring in more money, then their fundraisers had to be unforgettable. Everyone knew that happy people dug deeper and gave more. Already the list of sponsors, all looking for a little of that Stabler shine in a difficult year publicity-wise, was longer than they could fit on the invitation. But Holly couldn't turn the estate into Grand Central Terminal. Ted would never forgive her.

"We can cap attendance at two hundred, that's no problem," Zanne said. "The party planners will be here at ten, the caterers at noon. The gate opens at four thirty, and guests arrive at five."

"And the animals?" Holly asked. "When do they get here?"

Erin and Zanne exchanged a quick look.

"The giraffe?" she pressed, as if they could've forgotten.

Honestly, sometimes the staff were more evasive than the children were.

"We decided the giraffe would be overkill, remember?" Erin said.

"That's not what I said. I said, if we're going to do a nursery theme, we have to really sell it. Maybe not the elephants—I do not want their poop all over the lawn—but, you know, a couple of monkeys would be fun. And a giraffe. I distinctly remember saying we need Sophie the giraffe."

It couldn't be that hard to make a jungle nursery come to life. This was LA. Telegenic animals-for-hire abounded. Whatever the problem was, the staff would deal with it if Holly just stuck to her guns.

"Actually, maybe we do need an elephant, too. Just one. A baby. A baby elephant would be 'adorable'. And we'll station somebody next to it. They'll have to clean up any poop right away."

"No problem," Erin said. "We'll circle back with the animal handlers."

They got on the 405 and headed north to the Valley. The drive to Burbank was anything but convenient. It was no wonder Ted hardly went into the office anymore. Part of the reason Holly wanted to host the party at home this year was so she wouldn't have to leave the West side.

She'd never wanted to live in LA. Even as a child, this city couldn't seem to deliver on its promise. A two-hour drive from Frazier Park and when you got there, to the tar pits or the concert hall, you could have been anywhere. The drive to Disneyland was almost twice that, and it wasn't even Disney World. New York was the city that captured Holly's imagination. Day or night, twinkly or gritty, there was no mistaking the place, no matter how often location scouts tried to pass off the streets of Toronto or Chicago for the Financial District. She'd been sure when she left home for art school that it would only be a matter of time before she had her own live/work space in Williamsburg or Bushwick. And yet here she was in 2019, almost forty years old, and she'd never lived anywhere but Southern California. Whenever they visited New York, she felt different, as if there were hundreds of decisions she could still make with her life—ride the subway, shave her hair off, move to Berlin, take a lover, wheatpaste her drawings on all the sidewalk sheds. She should have pressed Ted harder when Flynn was a baby. They could have bought a town house in Brooklyn Heights or maybe London. He could've directed plays while she worked in her studio. She'd take the kids with her to check out the galleries in Chelsea, and they wouldn't complain. They'd understand something about their mother that they never got the chance to here in LA, something that eluded her too, what actually made her tick. But Ted was adamant. He was born and raised in Manhattan, and he was done with it. Fine to visit, but he didn't want to make a life there.

On the Sepulveda Pass, traffic came to a standstill.

"Let's run through the rest," Holly said. She was still responsible for putting on a successful party tonight, and the business with the giraffe was worrying. Themes were tricky. If you didn't push them all the way, almost to the point of madness, they fell apart under their own weight. Bump to Pump served low-income mothers—providing them with prenatal care, financial literacy workshops, donated breast pumps and gently used strollers and cribs—so a children's nursery theme was the obvious choice. Holly couldn't believe no one had done it yet. But it could go very wrong, very quickly.


This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.

Monday, July 11th, we begin the book Twice a Quinceañera by Yamile Saied Méndez.
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