The Lake Forester’s headline called her marriage to Tim Atherton “A Fairy Tale Match”. For a time, she believed it. She got pregnant on their honeymoon so her first year of marriage was eclipsed by acquiring and renovating their new ranch style home while enduring bouts of nausea. She was unsure what made her queasy; the prospect of another month residing with her in-laws in their pillared mansion, her flooding hormones, or pending motherhood.
Despite the Athertons’ veneer of propriety, she knew they wished their youngest son, Tim, had married someone more socially upscale. They weren’t impressed that Connie’s mother was a former Broadway star, her father, a handsome entrepreneurial British gentleman.
To win them over, she sipped ginger ale listening attentively to her father-in-law Charles’s daily monologues during the 6 p.m. cocktail hour. She accompanied Diane, her mother-in-law, to the Chicago Lyric Opera listening to her opinionated gossip. She joined Diane’s bridge group whenever needed. All the while Connie listened. It was second nature to her. She had been her mother’s audience since she was old enough to understand language.
Due to his sales manager job for the family piping business, Tim was frequently gone most of the week. Sunday evenings when they cuddled in the narrow twin bed in Tim’s childhood bedroom, Connie repeatedly had to prevent herself saying out loud, “don’t leave me here.” Tim’s blue Pontiac exiting the long driveway on Mondays elicited waves of dread and despondency.
Day after day, after checking on the progress at the ranch house, she dragged herself to the country club pool to avoid the Athertons. Sitting by the club pool, she tried initiating conversation with women who looked to be around her age, but they tended to cluster together. Dozing on a chaise lounge one oppressively humid day, a nearby screech of metal on concrete and a loud “God damnit!” startled her. She opened one eye to see a woman’s purse spew its contents all over the terrace. Connie immediately attempted to prevent any items she could from rolling into the pool. Winded from chasing several lipsticks and coins, she straightened up.
“Getting hard to bend over, right?” asked a beautiful brunette in a cherry red sarong and large straw hat with a matching red band, took off her large sunglasses offering her hand. “Thank you for your efforts. I’m Margot.”
Though she and Margot were the same height, Margot seemed larger. Like a dancer, she placed each foot as if claiming the ground. “You mind if I sit here?” Margot pointed to the empty chaise to Connie’s right. Before Connie could reply, she spread a towel over the chair and waved to a waiter who immediately scuttled over. “Now, I think it’s time for lunch. Two Bloody Marys with celery. I am famished, aren’t you?”
Connie sputtered “Yes…but…I haven’t been drinking.”
“Too nauseous?” Margot removed her sarong. Her two-piece purple, gold flecked suit revealed her slender form and her midriff. “Believe me, a Bloody will taste good especially on a day like this. Anything salty or slightly spicy helped me when I was pregnant.”
When was that? Connie thought eying Margot’s svelte figure.
“You should be rounding the corner soon.” Margot said; “The nausea usually decreases after the third or fourth month. That’s what the doc told me at the time.”
“And how long ago were you?”
“Pregnant? Had the baby in April.” The waiter arrived with their drinks. “Put these on my account, okay?” She said then shooed him away.
“Thank you, I could have…”
“I know. You could order your own, but I wanted to thank you for helping with my mess.”
Connie fidgeted with the straw before sipping. It had been a rough four months without alcohol or cigarettes, but she had managed. Her first few swallows soothed her entire system. Margot stretched out in her lounge chair like a content lioness.
“So, is your husband a golfer or a tennis player?” Margot asked.
“He plays them both when he can.”
“When he can? What does that mean?”
“His job doesn’t give him much free time. He’s on the road most weeks. I hardly see him.”
Margot yawned; “I wish that were my situation. I could use a little private time. Stuart avoids leaving the house as much as possible. When he is home, he wants me there.”
“Doesn’t he work?”
“I guess you could call what he does work.”
Connie waited for Margot to continue. The vodka combined with the humidity and sunlight induced a hazy languor. Although they conversed, it felt like they spoke unnaturally slowly. Margot disclosed that she was the new second wife to one of Lake Forest’s wealthiest men and an ambivalent stepmother to Stuart’s two teenage sons from his first marriage.
“I haven’t met Tim. Stuart has mentioned him once or twice. They went to Princeton together.” Now where is that waiter? I need more lunch, do you?” Margot said, winking at Connie.
Connie gestured no. As nice as the warmth in her stomach felt, she was slightly dizzy. Besides it was Friday and she liked to pretty up early in case Tim made it home before cocktail hour. She was conflicted, hunger for a friend almost as keen as her desire for Tim. Connie discreetly checked the time on her watch but Margot noticed; “You leaving?”
“I guess.” Connie shrugged. “Not that I enjoy returning to my in-laws, but sometimes Tim comes home early on Fridays. It’s been a real pleasure meeting you. I mean…I hope …” She trailed off as Margot chimed in loud enough for the four women at the nearby table to hear.
“Yes, indeed! We could make a habit of this though I prefer to add other activities to our repertoire, a Chicago outing for example. This place gets tedious. We should treat ourselves to a day in the city before it gets too hot. My driver can drive us in and wait for us.” Margot went on as Connie gathered her belongings. “Next week? What do you say?”
“I suppose I can leave the contractor alone for one day. I’ll phone you as to which day works.”
“Sure, here’s my number.” Margot handed her a gilt-edged business card with contact information italicized in stylized gold print. “Let me know. I’ll set everything up.” She waved then resumed reclining.
Once behind the wheel of the Ford station wagon, Connie rolled down a few windows and fanned herself with a magazine. Despite the heat, white garbed tennis players dotted the red clay courts. Manicured lawns, impossibly green, stretched as far as she could see. She hadn’t realized the extent of her loneliness until she experienced the possibility of a new friendship. Most of her childhood friends from Chicago had married and moved away because of their husband’s careers. Phone contact was just not the same as a cup of coffee or a drink in a favorite urban haunt, talking freely with a long-time friend or two.
Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Don’t you realize how lucky you are? She harangued herself all the way home along Greenbay Road’s stately homes with their immaculate plantings. By the time she arrived, she felt teary so she tried to slip in unseen. “Good afternoon, Junior Mrs.” Helen, the portly, cheery housemaid, said, opening the large carved front door. “I saw you coming. Just brought tea up to the mistress.”
Connie, glad her sunglasses were on, choked out, “I’m a little faint from the heat. Think I’ll lie down for a few minutes.” She fled upstairs and curled up on one of the twin beds. For once, the dark bedroom was appealing. Her hands strayed to her abdomen as they often did these days. She was astounded and a little dismayed by the loss of her previously flat stomach and slim hips. Today, the child felt like an insistent intruder rather than an amulet. She was thickly cocooned in sleep when Tim entered. He said her name aloud several times before she could rouse herself. He sat on the bed and rubbed her shoulder. “Rough day?”
“I guess the heat got to me.” She lay there relishing his presence and touch. “What time is it?”
“Fourish. There wasn’t anything more to be done so I came home to see my girl.”
“Mmmm, that’s nice.” She turned on her back, put both arms around his neck pulling him toward her.
He gingerly laid his chest against hers, nuzzled her hair then abruptly sat up. “Did you have a drink at the club? Didn’t the doctor advise you not to drink alcohol during the pregnancy?”
“He said an occasional drink was okay after the first trimester.” It wasn’t really a lie. Doctor Shultz recommended refraining from drinking as much as possible and ruled out smoking all together. “Besides it was fun at the club. I met the wife of your college friend, Stuart Preston. Her name is Margot. She’s …” Tim stood up, his face suddenly pale and pinched.
“Is something wrong?” Connie asked sitting up.
“I should have known you two would cross paths.” He paced then stood before the windows with his back to her.
“Margot said you and Stuart went to Princeton together. That you were friends.”
“That used to be the case.” Tim sounded oddly remote, detached.
“I thought you wanted me to make some friends at the club.”
“Yes, I know I did. You wouldn’t know any better. I didn’t warn you.”
“Warn me? Warn me about what?”
He turned but stayed put. “We don’t associate with the Prestons anymore.”
“We? Meaning your entire family?”
“Dad and Stuart’s father were partners. They founded a company together but then they had a major disagreement about ten years ago. Stuart’s dad forced Dad to take a buyout or lose everything. Dad still feels betrayed.”
“I thought that you worked for your family business.”
“I do but it’s my mother’s family. Dad hasn’t really worked in years.”
“But he commutes to Chicago regularly.”
“Yes, he maintains a small office with a secretary. He calls himself an investment banker but the only money he invests is family money.”
“Are you saying that you gave up your friendship with Stuart because of what happened?”
“Yes, that is what I am saying.” He turned to face her.
“I don’t think Margot knows. She asked me to go to Chicago with her next week. She…” He interrupted her. “You can’t go anywhere with her. It would be disrespectful. My parents have housed us for the last five months. Promise you won’t socialize with that woman.” Connie was spinning inside, her frustration and loneliness threatening to erupt.
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I am not feeling well.” It was the only response she could muster. She was in no state to placate. Besides disagreement made her anxious.
“I am going to shower before dinner.” He loosened his collar, unwound his necktie, grabbed his tartan robe and left the room.
Connie wanted to scream and cry but wouldn’t risk either, so she dug her fingernails into her arm. Sitting on the edge of the bed emotions and thoughts cascading, she tried to calm down and think. She didn’t want to disappoint or disobey Tim nor burden him with her loneliness. If anything, she wanted to demonstrate that she was self- sufficient, competent and adaptable. She decided to accept Margot’s invitation and not tell anyone of her plans not realizing that with one lie, a future of lies would follow.
As a former professional psychotherapist and yoga teacher, Leisha Douglas has been blessed to help others in their deeply intimate, personal explorations for over thirty years. From 2001 to 2010, Leisha has codirected the Katonah Poetry Series with former Poet Laureate Billy Collins and currently serve as poet advisor to the series committee.