I lie on my back, flick my wrist above my head until my diamond casts rainbows across the bedroom ceiling. I gaze up at the slender gold band; the cushion cut diamond like a portal to another universe installed on top of my finger. It’s been nearly two weeks since our engagement, and I’m looking forward to celebrating with our friends tonight at our favorite cocktail spot in Hollywood.
On the night of our engagement, Rich and I had promised each other no work and no phones until we were on the way home from Santa Barbara. It had been Rich’s idea, and I’d been on board, doubtful that he would be able to stick to our agreement. I thought of his phone as his portable oxygen container.
“You sure you can go two whole days without checking your phone?” I’d teased.
Sure, it sometimes bothered me how connected he was all of the time, but the real estate business was brutal-- especially in LA. There was always someone else who could answer the phone, show a listing. And it didn’t help that Rich’s personality attracted the kinds of clients who were as demanding about what they wanted as he was.
“I’ll have business hours someday,” he’d say when I’d question what could be so urgent for a client to need him at 10 pm. “There’s always time to slow down later. But if I slow down now, I’ll never catch up.”
But who was he catching up to?
The truth was, as much as I knew Rich was itching to check on his clients and his emails, I’d thought of little else since Rich had arrived at the hotel but that dangling sentence and that unfinished chapter. So, after lunch the very next day, I’d been the one to initiate amending our pact. Work, then play. Rich had kissed me on the forehead and practically sprinted to retrieve his phone, while I had happily slid into the chair at the writing desk and opened my laptop.
On the ride home, we called family with our news. My parents were first. Rich had already admitted to calling my father to ask for permission. This had irritated me a little.
“Why would you ask his permission? He doesn’t know me well enough for the ritual to have any real significance and...”
Rich had interrupted, “He’s your father.” And then more softly, “He knows, and I know, that if your grandfather were alive...”
I’d said nothing. Knowing Rich, he would have been diplomatic and asked both of them, if circumstances had been different. A familiar ache started to bloom in the place my grandfather had filled, so I had pressed it down as far as I could. I’d always imagined my grandfather’s fingers interlaced with my own, my other hand resting in the crook of my father’s arm as we three walked down the aisle toward Rich. My father would have held the place of honor, but my grandfather would have occupied the spot nearest to my heart.
As usual, it was my mother who had done most of the talking, my father throwing his contributions in like seeds for pecking.
“We knew this day would come soon, and we are so excited for you both. You’re going to be an excellent team.”
“Just like your mother and I,” he said.
“I suppose...” my mother had sniffed. “Except you two live in one of the most affluent cities in the world and are going to make so much more than your father and I ever did or ever will.”
“Will you come home for the wedding?”
I could hear my mother turning toward my father to say, “Seriously?” and then back to me, “Of course not. Their wedding will be in LA! There’s no reason for them to have it back here. Their lives are in California.”
Rich and I had said nothing. We hadn’t discussed it.
I’d felt tense calling my grandmother. I knew she would be happy for me because marrying Rich was what I’d wanted since college, but there was an ease missing in her relationship with him that I had always longed for.
When I’d asked Rich about their relationship, he’d been dismissive. “We respect each other, and we both love you. Do you need us to be best friends?” He’d raised his eyebrows. “I mean, do you really want us to be?”
When Therese picked up the phone, Rich and I both yelled, “We’re engaged!”
And without missing a beat, my grandmother had said, “Oh, that’s wonderful! Congratulations!”
I had taken the phone off speaker so that I could hear her better. “You don’t sound surprised at all, grandma.”
The pause between us was so long; I thought I’d lost the connection. “Grandma?”
“Oh... can you hear me now? Rich called me last week to get advice on the ring. It’s just lovely, Livy!”
I’d glanced over at Rich with a smile on my face, but he was wearing a frown, his gaze on the road. I’d known he wanted to keep the phone calls short. He’d even suggested we call Therese last, to ensure we got through the rest of our calls in a timely manner. Neither of us had wanted to be stuck on the phone the entire car ride home.
“I’d better go, grandma. We still need to call Rich’s grandparents before we get back.”
I’d invited Audrey over to share a bottle of wine back at my apartment that night so that I could tell her in person. I’d planned on flashing the ring nonchalantly across my face. But it was the first thing she noticed when she walked through the door. Girls have homing devices for things like rings, and nose jobs and recent rejections.
“It’s a beautiful ring,” Audrey had said, squeezing me tight. “Let’s sit down, and you can catch me up on everything!” That’s when she’d seen my unpacked overnight bag slouching where I’d dropped it just a couple of hours before.
She hadn’t even attempted to hide her annoyance as she put two and two together. “Don’t tell me Rich crashed your writing retreat to ask you to marry him?”
My phone dings from somewhere under my comforter, interrupting the memory of Audrey’s tight smile as she listened to my reasons for why Rich’s timing in asking me to marry him had been “just perfect”.
The rainbows across my ceiling disappear as I pick up the phone. I forget for the moment how irritated I’d been with Audrey for her reaction, as I read the text message from Jake.
Talked to Marty Macken at Blue Moon last night.
Jake’s inability to separate Marty from his last name makes me smile. When I’d commented on this during our last phone conversation, he’d said stoically, “but, he’s Marty Macken. I can’t ever think of him as just... Marty. Who’s Marty? I don’t know that guy.”
“I know,” I’d said. I’ve always felt the same way. “Just calling him Marty, is like living with an uncomfortable sentence fragment.”
I heard crickets.
And then, “Nerd!” Jake had said, his laugh bursting through as though he’d been holding it back. “That’s not at all what that’s like.”
I think I’d blushed and had been grateful that he couldn’t see my face.
And? I hedge, knowing that’s what Jake’s waiting for.
And... he’s IN.
I thought he would be.
Want to talk again sometime?
You need more help, don’t you?
Need? No. Want? Yes, please.
I grin, scrolling up to see the photos he’d sent me after our phone call last week. The first picture is a closeup of a bill from the diner. “Chocolate malt, $0.00.” The second is a selfie of him tipping the malt back like a tequila shot, looking into the camera from a side angle. I told myself it was the familiar sight of the diner in the background that made me feel abruptly nostalgic, and not the warm hazel eyes, the superior side smirk.
On my third cup of coffee at the time, I’d sent Jake a picture of me drinking it with the text, “now I need to buy more cream.”
He’d sent me an emoji of a cow.
Audrey and I pose and laugh as the photographer with TVE gets a few more photos of us. When he’s finished, he steps to the side so the photo booth guy can take the pictures he’ll print out as party favors for each guest before the end of the night.
Audrey is doing a segment on fall celebrity engagements this weekend, and she wants to throw in a few pictures of me and her to personalize the story. Her fanbase is growing so quickly; the network has already modified her contract to include regular hosting duties throughout the week, plus her own Korean skincare and beauty segments.
“What if there is an Audrey Cho, Show,” I had teased. She’d laughed and rolled her eyes. “The Cho Show! Sounds like a spoof.”
We move out of the bright lights set up for the photo booth and watch as Rich, and a few of his guys do their best to imitate our moves. “Stick your asses out more!” someone yells. One of the girlfriends walks into the photo to throw a feather boa around Rich and to hand her boyfriend a giant pair of cardboard champagne glasses.
“Thank you, Audrey,” I say, gesturing to our speakeasy-inspired surroundings and the tasteful decorations edged with pearls and feathers and white flowers. “This is... beyond.”
“Did you expect anything less? I mean, you are like the only person I truly love on the entire planet!”
We hug, then straighten each other’s YSL cocktail dresses which are on loan for the evening, as well as the designer accessories and shoes.
“Oh, and thanks for letting me exploit your engagement for my benefit,” Audrey says in a way that hints this is just one of many more exploits to come.
“I should have known.”
Audrey plies me with the full power of her signature TV smile; all dazzle and glam and seduction.
“Save it for the Cho show,” I say with mock defeat, taking two drinks off a passing tray and handing one to Audrey. We “cheers” each other and take a sip. The next thing I know, my feet are lifting off the ground, my drink sloshing across my hand. I groan as I smell his whisky breath whispering around the side of my face. Based on his photobooth performance and his sudden urge to pick me up, I’d say he’d already put away a few. “Rich, put me down!”
“Seriously Rich,” Audrey says impatiently, straitening the accessories that have gone awry after he sets me back down. “Did you miss the part where this is not your bachelor party?”
“Seriously Aud,” he says, mimicking her tone, “Did you know that the stick up your ass did not come with your dress?”
Some people stifle laughs, others make sounds that support either Audrey or Rich. Before I can think of a way to diffuse the conversation, Audrey does.
“You know I hate being called ‘Aud’.” And then she walks away.
If I weren’t so annoyed by them both, I’d have been proud of her.
I shake my head at Rich, who is super pleased with himself for getting the last word and is taking a slap on the back from one of the guys. When our friend catches my glare, he coughs into his hand and stalks away like he’s a mediocre actor in a scene study and I pull Rich toward a corner of the bar where we can talk for a minute, uninterrupted.
“Rich,” I hiss, “why did you have to say that?”
He stares reproachfully at me. “Why does she always have to give me such a hard time? Isn’t she throwing this party for us? Doesn’t she want us to have a good time?”
I sigh, place a restraining hand on his chest. “Of course, she does! Look at all the effort she made for us! It’s just that, once you’ve had a few drinks you do get a little physical...”
“Stop,” he says, closing his eyes for a second and I shut my mouth, even though the words-- you act like a frat boy when you’ve been drinking, and I hate that-- are on the tip of my tongue and not saying these things aloud makes me feel like I’m swallowing bad bourbon.
When he opens his eyes again, his look and his tone say that he doesn’t want to fight with me, doesn’t want to ruin the night with what he considers a minor annoyance. “I’m sorry. I’m going to apologize to Audrey right now, and thank her for this classy party, okay?”
I’d have felt more confident about how the apology would turn out if he hadn’t verbally placed quotation marks around the word “classy.” I let out a sigh and watch him walk away.
“We need all the details,” one of my girlfriends say as she and a few others come to stand where Rich had been a moment before, “and we want to see your ring closeup! We heard it’s Cartier...”
I’ve told the story enough times now (my landlord Ted, my favorite cashier at Trader Joe’s, the dog walker who lives across the street), that I can expertly tell it for the maximum number of “oohs” and “awes”. Before I have to admit that Rich and I hadn’t decided on the date or the state, Audrey walks toward me in such an agitated way; my first thought is Rich has really made things worse with his apology. But as she nears, I see that she doesn’t seem angry, just worried. “Audrey, what...”
She takes my arm, “Sorry guys, I need to talk to her for a sec,” but instead of pulling me slightly away into the room, she walks me toward the back of the bar and then through a heavy metal door that empties into the alley behind the building. It’s dark and chilly and quiet outside. I hadn’t realized how crowded it had become inside the venue, how loud with the exaggerated tones of inhebriation.
“Promise you won’t be mad,” she says.
Cars stop at the far end of the alley from us, fuzzy red lights glowing like a match head on North Hudson.
“I won’t be mad...”
“And don’t freak out.”
“Okay...” I say, but of course, when she tells me not to freak out, I start to worry.
“I just got a phone call.”
So, it wasn’t about Rich, at all.
“It’s about Therese. She’s fine. I’m supposed to start with that.”
“Sam told you to say that!” I say, my heart stopping. “Wait, why would I be mad?”
“Maybe because... she’s been in the hospital for a few hours and no one called you?”
“What?” and suddenly I am upset and very, worried. “What reason would Sam have for not calling me right away?”
Audrey is in full reporter mode now and giving me only the headlines. “Therese didn’t want to ruin your engagement party. She fell off your horse, and she broke her leg, got a bit bruised. They’re monitoring her overnight because of her age, but she should be going home by tomorrow morning.”
I’ve been nodding as Audrey talked— pretty sure it’s a subconscious form of self-soothing.
“Okay,” I finally spit out, the initial panic clearing enough that the facts can sink in. “She’s okay. She has a broken leg.”
“Yes...” Audrey says, apparently still waiting for me to freak out.
“And she’s still in the hospital, but only because she’s old.”
She nods. “Exactly. It’s not because they think there is anything more serious going on.”
I reach for the phone inside my clutch. I stare blankly at the bright screen. “No one called me. It’s eight here, which means its ten there so...”
“It happened around six their time. Sam said you could blame him, but your grandmother insisted no one call you unless she became unconscious or was dying. Sam also thought it best if he called me, rather than you, because then it would feel less urgent. Not sure how that makes sense, but...”
I realize that I’ve been nodding my head again. She’s okay. A broken leg, some bruises. I know what that’s like, I remind myself. These things can happen when you swing yourself onto 900 pounds of power and speed. I’d fallen off horses more than a few times throughout the years. No broken bones, but I’d twisted a few things, walked away with some pretty ugly bruises.
“It’s because Sam was the one who called me with news of my grandfather’s accident,” I say absentmindedly,“that’s what he meant by it’d feel less urgent for me to hear about this from you.” I’m still trying to work out what Therese was doing on my horse. “Did you say she was riding Miss E. when she fell?”
Audrey’s expression brightens, satisfied that I'm okay. “Yes, but Sam didn’t say why. Has she even ridden since...?”
I shake my head. As far as I knew, my grandmother hadn’t been on a horse since my grandfather’s death. “She has started hosting bridge club at the house again,” I say.
After she’d started fielding calls about that “handsome young man she was doing business with,” my grandmother had started talking more regularly with her friends.
“They practically begged me to start hosting the bridge club again,” she’d said gleefully over the phone last week. “Between you and me, Livy, Darlene has space, but she’s never been fond of hosting parties. She buys everything prepackaged from the market and makes instant coffee. Instant!”
My heart fills with hope at the thought of my grandmother getting back to yet another activity she used to love. “Did Sam say if I should call her still, tonight?”
Audrey shakes her head, already pushing me back inside the bar. “Sam said she is resting and expects a call from you first thing.”
Just inside the door, I stop Audrey and give her a big hug, my eyes welling unexpectedly with tears. It hits me all of a sudden what could have happened and what did. “I know it’s terrible that she fell, and it scares me to think how badly this might have turned out but, she’s riding again. She’s hosting bridge club, she helped Jake scrape rotten egg off the hotel windows, she’s getting back to her life, and I can’t help but think it all started with your crazy idea.”
Audrey lets out a big sigh, joking it off. “What can I say? It’ll always be the Cho show.”