Prologue | Jane's Michael
MICHAEL WAS RUNNING as fast as he could, racing down thickly congested streets toward New York Hospital – Jane was dying there – when suddenly a scene from the past came back to him, a dizzying rush of overpowering memories that nearly knocked him out of his sneakers. He remembered sitting with Jane in the Astor Court at the St. Regis Hotel, the two of them there under circumstances too improbable to imagine.
He remembered everything perfectly – Jane's hot fudge and coffee ice cream sundae, what they had talked about – as if it had happened yesterday. All of it almost impossible to believe. No, definitely impossible to believe.
It was just like every other unfathomable mystery in life, Michael couldn't help thinking as he ran harder, faster.
Like Jane dying on him now, after everything they had been through to be together.
Part One | Once Upon a Time in New York
EVERY DETAIL of those Sunday afternoons is locked in my memory, but instead of explaining me and Michael right off, I'll start with the world's best, most luscious, and possibly most sinful ice cream sundae, as served at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City.
It was always the same: two fist-sized scoops of coffee ice cream, swirled with a river of hot fudge sauce, the kind that gets thicker, gooey and chewy, when it hits the ice cream. On top of that, real whipped cream. Even at eight years old, I could tell the difference between real whipped cream and the fake-o nondairy product you squirt from a can.
Across from me at my table in the Astor Court was Michael: hands down the handsomest man I knew, or have ever known, for that matter. Also, the nicest, the kindest, and probably the wisest.
That day his bright green eyes watched me gaze at the sundae with undisguised delight as the whitecoated waiter set it in front of me with tantalizing slowness.
For Michael, a clear glass bowl of melon balls and lemon sherbet. His ability to deny himself the pleasure of a sundae was something my child's brain couldn't wrap itself around.
"Thanks so much," Michael said, adding extreme politeness to his list of enviable qualities.
To which the waiter said – not a word.
The Astor Court was the place to go for a fancy dessert at the St. Regis Hotel. That afternoon it was filled with important-looking people having important-looking conversations. In the background, two symphony-worthy violinists fiddled away as if this were Lincoln Center.
"Okay," Michael said. "Time to play the Jane-and- Michael game."
I clapped my hands together, my eyes lighting up.
Here's how it worked: One of us pointed to a table, and the other had to make up stuff about the people sitting there. The loser paid for dessert.
"Go," he said, pointing. I looked at the three teenage girls dressed in nearly identical pale yellow linen dresses.
Without hesitation, I said, "Debutantes. First season. Just graduated from high school. Maybe in Connecticut. Possibly – probably – Greenwich."
Michael tilted his head back and laughed. "You're definitely spending too much time around adults. Very good, though, Jane. Point for you."
"Okay," I said, gesturing toward another table. "That couple over there. The ones who look like the Cleavers in Leave It to Beaver. What's their story?"
The man was wearing a gray-and-blue-checked suit; the woman, a bright pink jacket with a green pleated skirt.
"Husband and wife from North Carolina," Michael rattled off easily. "Wealthy. Own a chain of tobacco shops. He's here on business. She came to do some shopping. Now he's telling her that he wants a divorce."
"Oh," I said, looking down at the table. I let out a deep breath, then took another spoonful of sundae and let the rich flavors unfold in my mouth. "Yeah, I guess everyone gets divorced."
Michael bit his lip. "Oh. Wait, Jane. I got it all wrong. He's not asking for a divorce. He's telling her that he has a surprise – he's made arrangements for them to go on a cruise. To Europe on the QE2. It's their second honeymoon."
"That's a much better story," I said, smiling. "You get a point. Excellent."
I looked down at my plate and saw that somehow my ice cream sundae had completely vanished. As it always did.
Michael looked around the room dramatically. "Here's one you won't get," he said.
He pointed to a man and a woman just two tables away.
I looked over.
The woman was about forty years old, well dressed, and stunningly pretty. You might have taken her for a movie actress. She wore a bright red designer dress and matching shoes and had a big black pocketbook. Everything about her said, Look at me!
The man she was with was younger, pale, and very thin. He was wearing a blue blazer and a patterned silk ascot, which I don't think anyone was wearing even back then. He waved his arms enthusiastically as he spoke.
"That's not funny," I said, but I couldn't help grinning and rolling my eyes.
Because, of course, the couple was my mother, Vivienne Margaux, the famous Broadway producer, and that year's celebrity hairdresser, Jason. Jason, the hothouse flower, who didn't have time for a last name.
I looked over at them again. One thing was for sure: My mom was beautiful enough to be an actress herself. Once, when I asked her why she hadn't become one, she said, "Honey, I don't want to ride the train. I want to drive the train."
Every Sunday afternoon when Michael and I had dessert at the St. Regis, my mother and a friend had dessert and coffee there too. That way she could gossip or complain or conduct business but still keep an eye on me, without actually having to be with me.
After the St. Regis, we would cap off our Sundays at Tiffany's. My mother loved diamonds, wore them everywhere, collected them the way other people collect crystal unicorns, or those weird ceramic Japanese cats with the one paw in the air.
Of course I was okay, those Sundays, because I had Michael for company. Michael, who was my best friend in the world, maybe my only friend, when I was eight years old.
My imaginary friend.
Part One | Once Upon a Time in New York
I SNUGGLED CLOSER to Michael at our table. "Want to know something?" I asked. "It's kind of a bummer."
"What?" he asked.
"I think I know what my mother and Jason are talking about. It's Howard. I think Vivienne's tired of him. Out with the old, in with the new."
Howard was my stepfather, my mother's third husband. The third one I knew about, anyway.
Her first husband had been a tennis pro from Palm Beach. He'd lasted only a year.
Then had come Kenneth, my father. He'd done better than the tennis pro, lasting three years. He was really sweet, and I loved him, but he traveled a lot for business. Sometimes I felt as if he forgot about me. I'd heard my mother tell Jason that he'd been "spineless." She didn't know I'd overheard. She'd said, "He was a good-looking jellyfish of a man who will never amount to anything."
Howard had been around for two years now. He never traveled on business and didn't seem to have a job, other than helping Vivienne. He massaged her feet when she was tired, checked that her food was salt-free, and made sure that our car and driver were absolutely always on time.
"Why do you think that?" Michael asked.
"Little things," I said. "Like Vivienne used to buy him stuff all the time. Fancy loafers from Paul Stuart and ties from Bergdorf Goodman's. But she hasn't given him anything in ages. And, last night, she ate at home. Alone. With me. Howard wasn't even there."
"Where was he?" Michael asked. I could see the sympathy and concern in his eyes.
"I don't know. When I asked Vivienne, she just said, 'Who knows and who cares?' " I imitated my mother's voice, then shook my head. "Okay," I said. "New topic. Guess what day Tuesday is."
Michael tapped his chin a few times. "No idea."
"C'mon. You know perfectly well. You know, Michael. This isn't funny."
"Stop it!" I told him, kicking him gently under the table. He grinned. "You know what Tuesday is. You have to. It's my birthday!"
"Oh, yeah. Wow, you're getting old, Jane."
I nodded. "I think my mother is having a party for me."
"Hmm," Michael said.
"Well, anyway, I don't care about a party, really. What I really want is a real, live puppy."
"Cat got your –––" I started to say but then stopped in midsentence.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Vivienne signing the check. In a minute she and Jason would be standing over our table, hustling me off. This Sunday at the St. Regis was coming to a close. It had been another wonderful afternoon for me and Michael.
"Here she comes, Michael," I whispered. "Look invisible."
Part One | Once Upon a Time in New York
VIVIENNE STRODE TOWARD our table as if she owned the St. Regis. Jason trailed along behind her. No one in the Astor Court would have believed that this beautiful woman with the perfect makeup, the perfect skin, the perfect tan, was in any way related to the pudgy eight-year-old with frizzy hair and smudges of fudge sauce on both cheeks.
But there we were. Mother and daughter.
Vivienne kissed me on the cheek and then got down to business. The business of me.
" Jane-Sweetie . . ." She almost always called me " Jane-Sweetie," as if that were my actual name. "Must you always order two desserts?"
Jason the celebrity hairdresser tried to help. "Well, Vivienne, the second dessert was melon. That's not too bad. Carbs, of course, but –"
" Jane-Sweetie, we've talked about your weight –––" my mother began.
"I'm only eight years old," I said. "How about I promise to be anorexic later?"
Michael laughed so hard he nearly fell off his chair.
Even Jason smiled.
Vivienne didn't move a facial muscle. She was always trying not to frown because she didn't want to get wrinkles before her time. Say, ninety or so.
"Don't be precocious with me, Jane-Sweetie." She turned to Jason. "She reads far too many books." Yeah, I'm terrible that way, I thought. Vivienne turned back to me. "We'll discuss your eating habits at home. In private."
"Anyway," I told her, "that melon isn't even mine. Michael ordered it."
"Ah, yes," said Vivienne, sounding bored, "Michael, the amazing, ever-present imaginary friend." She addressed the chair next to mine, which was empty. Michael was on my other side. "Hello, Michael. How are you today?"
"Hello, Vivienne," said Michael, knowing she couldn't see or hear him. "I'm just peachy, thanks."
All of a sudden I felt Jason tugging at a handful of my hair.
"Hey!" I protested.
"Something must be done about this," he said. "Vivienne, give me one hour with this hair. There's no reason why anyone should walk around like this. She'll come out looking like a Vogue model."
"That's great," Michael said. "Just what the world needs ––– an eight-year-old who looks like a Vogue model."
I winced and pulled my hair away from Jason.
"Come, Jane-Sweetie," said Vivienne. "There's a full-cast rehearsal tonight, and I must look in on it." Her latest huge Broadway musical, The Problem with Kansas, was opening in days.
"But first we can drop by Tiffany's, like we always do, dear. Our time together."
"What about Jane's hair?" Jason demanded. "When can I schedule her makeover?"
Michael shook his head. "You're perfect the way you are, Jane. You don't need a makeover. Never forget that."
"I won't," I said.
"You won't what?" asked Vivienne. She took a napkin, dipped it in my water glass, and wiped the fudge sauce from my cheeks. "A makeover's a great idea, Jane-Sweetie. There might be a big fancy party in your future."
She remembered! A birthday party! I thought, and suddenly I forgave her for everything else.
"Come along now. I hear Tiffany's calling." Vivienne spun on her four-inch heels and headed for the exit, Jason close behind her.
Michael and I both got up. He leaned down and kissed the top of my head, right on the frizzy hair that pained Jason so.
"See you tomorrow," he said. "Miss you already."
"Miss you already, too."
I looked ahead and saw my mother's slim, tan legs disappearing into the St. Regis's revolving door. She glanced back. " Jane-Sweetie, come! Tiffany's."
I ran to catch up.
I was always doing that.
Part One | Once Upon a Time in New York
POOR, POOR, POOR JANE! Poor, poor little girl! The next morning, Michael waited outside Jane's fancy Park Avenue building, as he always did. It was a good thing he was invisible: his wrinkled corduroys, faded yellow golf shirt, and docksiders wouldn't cut it in this pricey neighborhood.
He was thinking about something pretty amazing that Jane had said when she was only four years old. Vivienne had been heading off to Europe for a month. He'd been concerned about how Jane would cope. But Jane had shrugged it off and said, "Love means you can never be apart." Michael knew he would never forget that – out of a four-year-old's mouth and brain, no less. But that was Jane, wasn't it? She was an incredible girl.
So what was he going to do with himself on this lovely day while Jane was locked away in school? Maybe a big breakfast over at the Olympia Diner ––– pancakes, sausage, eggs, keep the buttered rye toast coming. He might even get together with a couple of other imaginary friends who worked in the neighborhood. What exactly were the duties of an imaginary friend? Pretty much just to make it easier for the child to fit into the world without feeling too alone or scared. Hours? Whatever it took. Benefits? The incredibly pure love between a kid and an imaginary friend. It didn't get better than that. Where did he fit in the great cosmic plan? Well, no one had ever told him.
Michael looked at his watch, an ancient Timex that kept on ticking just as the ads promised it would. It was exactly 8:29. Jane would be down at 8:30, just like every other weekday morning. Jane never kept anyone waiting. Such a sweetheart.
Then he saw her, but pretended not to, as always.
"Gotcha!" she said, wrapping her arms around his waist.
"Whoa!" Michael said. "You're sneakier than a pickpocket in Oliver Twist."
Jane grinned, her smile lighting up the little face that he couldn't get enough of. She hitched her schoolbag onto her small shoulder, and they headed off to school.
"I didn't exactly sneak up," she said. "You were lost somewhere interesting in your thoughts." Jane had a cute way of talking out of the side of her mouth when she was with him, so people didn't think she was loony. Sometimes he let people see him; sometimes he didn't. She could never be sure which – or why. "Life is a mystery," he would say.
As soon as they were out of the doorman's sight, she took his hand. Michael loved that more than he could ever say. It made him feel like ––– he didn't know. A dad?
"What did Raoul pack for your lunch?" he asked. " Wait ––– let me guess. Squirrel on whole wheat, wilted iceberg lettuce, hold the three-day-old mayo?"
Jane tugged on his hand. "You're goofy," she said.
"Nah, I'm Sneezy."
"More like Dopey." Jane laughed.
A couple of minutes later ––– too soon ––– they were at the tall, imposing school gates, only a block and a half from Jane's apartment building. The entrance was a sea of little girls in navy jumpers over simple white blouses. They all wore either Mary Janes or saddle shoes, socks turned down just so.
"Tomorrow's the special day," Jane said, looking down at her shoes so her classmates wouldn't see her talking to an imaginary friend. "I just might get my puppy. I don't even care what kind anymore. Maybe he'll be at my party. First we have to see The Problem with Kansas, though. And you're invited, of course."
The school bell sounded.
"Great. I can't wait to see Kansas. You go in now, and I'll be back at three to pick you up. As per usual."
"Okay," she said. "We can talk about what we're going to wear tomorrow night."
"Yeah, you can help pick out some fancy clothes for me. So I don't embarrass you."
Jane's eyes met his squarely. For a split second he had an idea of exactly what she would look like as a grown-up ––– the serious face, her warm smile, those intelligent eyes that reached right into his soul.
"You could never embarrass me, Michael."
She let go of his hand then and ran toward the school building. Michael didn't blink until he saw her head of blond curls slip behind the door. He waited. Jane peeked out again, as she always did. She waved, smiled, then disappeared for good.
Suddenly Michael needed to blink. Several times, actually. He felt as if a giant had stepped on his chest. His heart actually hurt.
How was he going to tell Jane that he had to leave her tomorrow?
That was another duty of an imaginary friend, and possibly the worst.
Part One | Once Upon a Time in New York
I WILL NEVER FORGET that day, in the same way that someone who survived the Titanic can't just put it out of her pretty little head. People always remember the worst day of their lives. It becomes part of them forever. So I remember my ninth birthday with piercing clarity.
That day after school, Michael and I got ready. Then we went to the theater and sat in our VIP seats for the opening of The Problem with Kansas. I hadn't seen Vivienne all day, so she hadn't had a chance to wish me a happy birthday yet. But Michael had met me at school with flowers. I remember how grown-up that made me feel. Those apricot roses were the most beautiful things I'd ever seen.
I hardly remember the play, but I know that the audience laughed and cried and gasped in all the right places. Michael and I held hands, and I had a fluttering excitement inside my chest. Everything good was about to happen: It was my turn. A birthday party, hopefully a puppy, Michael was with me, my mother would be happy about the play. Everything seemed wonderful, everything seemed possible.
At the curtain call, Vivienne walked onstage with the cast. She pretended to be shy and shocked that everyone liked her new show so much. She bowed, and the audience stood and clapped. I stood up too, and clapped the hardest, and I loved her so much I could hardly bear it. Someday she would love me back just as much, I was sure of it.
Then it was time for my birthday party at our apartment. Finally!
The first people to arrive were the dancers from my mother's play. I could have predicted that. Dancers don't make that much money, and they were probably starving after dancing so much. In the front hallway with the black-and-white marble floor, a group of them were taking off their coats, revealing stick-figure bodies. Even at nine years old, I knew I'd never look like that.
"You must be Vivienne's daughter," one of them said. "Jill, right?"
"Jane," I said, but smiled to show I wasn't a total brat.
"I didn't know Vivienne had a kid," one of the other stick figures said. "Hello, Jane. You're cute as a button."
A flock of gazelles, they moved into the huge living room, leaving me to wonder if I'd ever seen a button that qualified as cute.
"Holy Stephen Sondheim!" one dancer said. "I knew Vivienne was rich, but this place is bigger than the Broadhurst Theatre."
By the time I turned around again, it seemed as though there were a hundred people in the room. I searched for Michael and finally saw him standing near the piano player.
The room was as noisy as a theater during intermission. You could barely hear the piano over the chatter. Near the door to the library I saw that Vivienne had arrived, and she was talking to a tall, silver-haired man wearing a tuxedo jacket and blue jeans. I'd seen him at a couple of rehearsals for Kansas and knew he was some kind of writer. They were standing very close to each other, and I got a sinking feeling that he was auditioning for the role of Vivienne's fourth husband. Ugh.
A little old lady who played the grandmother in The Problem with Kansas hooked me with the handle of her cane.
"You look like a nice girl," she said.
"Thank you. I try to be," I told her. "Can I help you with something?"
"I was wondering if you could go to that wet bar over there and get me a Jack Daniel's and water," she said.
"Sure. Straight up or on the rocks?"
"My goodness. You are a sophisticated one. Could you possibly be a midget?"
I laughed and glanced at Michael. He was whispering something to the piano player. What was he up to?
As I began to walk toward one of the bars, I heard a loud voice. "May I have your attention, please?" It was the piano player, and the crowd quieted down immediately.
"I've been told . . . and I'm not sure by whom . . . that this is a very special day for someone. . . . She's nine years old today . . . Vivienne's daughter."
Vivienne's daughter. That's who I was.
I smiled, feeling happy and self-conscious at the same time. Everyone's eyes turned toward me. The leading man from the show picked me up and stood me on a chair, and suddenly I was taller than everyone in the room. I looked for my mother, hoping she was smiling proudly, but I didn't see her anywhere. The writer was gone too. Then music began, and everyone sang "Happy Birthday." There's nothing like having a professional Broadway chorus sing you "Happy Birthday." I think it was the most beautiful "Happy Birthday" I've ever heard. A shiver went right through me, and it probably would have been the happiest moment of my life if my mother had been there to share it with me.
When it was over, the very nice actor put me down, everyone applauded, and the party went back to being an opening night party. The birthday part was over.
Then I heard a familiar voice call my name. "Jane! I think I know this big, beautiful girl." I whirled to see my father, Kenneth. He seemed awfully tall and straight for someone who was supposed to be "spineless."
"Daddy!" I shouted, and ran into his arms.
Excerpted from SUNDAYS AT TIFFANY’S © Copyright 2011 by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet. Reprinted with permission by Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.
Sundays at Tiffany’s