No One Needs to Know
As the black Escalade inched down Park Avenue, Heather had the feeling she was being slowly marched off a cliff. She imagined a loud, male voice behind her bellowing out the orders—left, right, left, right—until she plunged blindly over the edge. Was it her husband’s voice she was hearing in her mind or some generic movie voice, like Morgan Freeman’s? It had to be the latter. If her husband had his way, she wouldn’t be sitting in this car right now. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” Oliver had repeated, as she’d pushed her feet into the ballet flats beside the door, his brow crinkled with concern.
Yes, she was sure.
So why wouldn’t Morgan Freeman shut the hell up?
Heather leaned her head between the seats, peering out the windshield at the river of illuminated red taillights. A mocking reminder of how little control she had over the evening.
“Can you take Lexington instead? This doesn’t look like it’s moving.” If she was going to be marched off a cliff, it should at least be efficient.
The driver tapped the dirty iPhone mounted on the dashboard. “Waze says Park is better, but whatever you say.” The car swung left and she slid back on the seat. She could already see the traffic was lighter on Lex. The knot in her stomach uncoiled a bit.
A good omen—she could use one of those.
She put her hand on her daughter’s arm and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “It’ll be more fun than you think. I promise.”
“You and I have very different definitions of fun,” Violet muttered, not bothering to raise her eyes from her phone.
Heather’s jaw clenched. There were kids right now who were weeping to their parents because they couldn’t get a ticket to this event, yet here her daughter sat, acting like she was about to spend the evening being waterboarded.
The driver jammed his brakes at the light, and an expensively clad woman holding the hand of a curly haired toddler stepped off the curb, lifting up an open palm to the cars, as if she had the power to stop traffic. Heather followed them with her eyes, feeling a pinch of nostalgia for when Violet was that age. Always at arm’s reach. How easy it was to guide her through life back then. Organic food, music classes to stimulate her brain, teaching her to go down a slide rather than walk up it—there was a playbook, a comprehensive step-by-step guide that made perfect sense to Heather. “It’s easy to feel like a good parent when you have an easy child,” the director of Violet’s preschool had told a roomful of eager parents, but Heather wholeheartedly disagreed. It wasn’t genetic luck. Heather had prepared for being a mother the same way she’d prepared for the SATs—meticulously. And it had paid off. Violet could read an entire chapter book before she’d finished kindergarten, had a shelf full of squash trophies, and was a regular winner of the service award at her competitive Upper East Side private school. This type of success didn’t happen by accident. Heather was a good mother.
Violet was proof of concept.
She tucked a stray strand of Violet’s cinnamon-colored hair behind her ear. “I know this isn’t what you want to be doing tonight, but you need to keep your eye on the prize.”
Violet groaned. “You don’t even know if she’ll be there, Mom. I mean, where did you even hear she was coming? You said yourself it wasn’t public knowledge.” Violet tore at a cuticle with her teeth, and Heather gently moved her hand away from her mouth. Violet looked like she might protest, but she let her hand fall into her lap.
“Eye on the prize,” Heather repeated, ignoring the question. Again.
“Whatever,” Violet mumbled, plucking a peppermint candy from the pile in the cup holder, twisting open the wrapper, and popping it into her mouth before Heather could protest. Heather pressed her lips together. She hated when Violet ate anything offered in an Uber. Who knew where those dirty little candies had been? Some pervert might find it humorous to unwrap them, lick, and rewrap, waiting for some unsuspecting rider to partake. Why wasn’t her daughter more suspicious of candy from strangers? A suburban, poison-in-Halloween-candy-style paranoia had been drilled into Heather as a child, but she’d somehow failed to pass on a healthy sense of caution to her daughter. She added that to her mental list of things to teach Violet. But not tonight.
Heather checked the time on her phone. 6:55 p.m. Dammit.
“We’ll get out here,” she said, tapping a fingernail against the window.
“We’re still five blocks away,” Violet whined as she unpeeled herself from the leather bucket seat. “And these shoes you made me wear are really uncomfortable.” She gestured to her sensible but fashionable one-inch-heeled pumps, the ones Heather had purchased last week after reading a study claiming people attribute significantly greater intelligence to taller children. While it might not be a fair assessment, who was she to argue with psychology?
“You’ll be fine.” Heather waved her out of the car impatiently. “The walk will be good for both of us.”
By the time they swept through the brass doors and into the elegant foyer, most of the children had already descended the scarlet carpeted staircase. They weren’t children anymore, Heather supposed. They were teenagers now, all dressed up and ready for their first Teen Night at The Doubles Club, the private dining club that catered to the elite social set, which Heather had spent years strategizing her way into. “It’s so overwhelming, isn’t it?” Heather could remember a perky southern blonde lamenting as she shook a small maraca over her three-month-old in their Music Babies class at Diller-Quaile. “New York City parenting, I mean. Like, we have to do all these classes to get them into the right preschools and we have to know about all this stuff, like, years in advance or our child is shut out. And apparently it only gets worse.” She’d leaned in conspiratorially. “Have you heard about these teen dances at Doubles? My neighbor told me her daughter became a social pariah because they weren’t members, so she couldn’t go.” Heather had arranged her expression to be appropriately shocked, but she’d gone home and straight to Google to investigate. Unlike her southern friend, Heather didn’t consider it overwhelming. There was a formula. Formulas she understood.
A gaggle of girls congregated at the bottom of the stairs now, teetering like newborn giraffes in heels that were much too high, visibly vibrating with excitement. Heather scanned the preening crowd, hoping for a familiar face she could point Violet toward—a social crutch—but came up empty.
Violet needed to make more friends. Although, truth be told, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in that category.
“Place your mobile phones in these locked pouches,” a goateed man in a dark suit bellowed to the group making their way inside, tendering a brown pouch to each outstretched hand. “They’ll be returned to you at the end of the night.”
Heather’s fingers curled tighter around the strap of her purse. The first time she’d encountered these “privacy pouches” was at the latest Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, when ushers had informed the patrons that they were required to stow their mobile devices until the final curtain. “It’s for your own enjoyment,” the usher had explained, as he’d passed her a Playbill and a numbered pouch. But everyone knew the pouches were less about altruism and more about preventing an opportunistic fan from filming the show and plastering it online for all to see. It made sense for private clubs across the city to employ the same approach to “protect the integrity and privacy of the members of the club,” as the president of The Doubles Club put it in a letter to its members. After Occupy Wall Street, these old-school, old-money clubs were vilified and all it would take was one unfortunate video posted online and the media would be all over it. Heather had purposely not mentioned this new rule to Violet, though, treating it as a “cross that bridge” problem.
“Wait.” Violet stopped short at the top of the stairway, the sole of her new shoes scuffing across the floor. Her eyes widened in horror. “What did he say?” She hugged her phone to her chest, as if it were a favorite teddy bear about to be ripped from her grasp.
Heather let out a weary sigh. “Don’t be so dramatic, Vi. It’s only two hours. I’ll pick you up at nine, you’ll have your phone back, and you can tell me all about the fun you’ve had.”
Violet gave her another eye roll and Heather noticed a fleck of mascara on her lid. Heather had broken her moratorium on eye makeup, hoping a few swipes of mascara would give Violet a booster shot of confidence, but looking at her lashes now she wondered if it was a bit much.
This isn’t New Jersey.