Here is chapter three of Happy Hour. Enjoy!
Three and a half years ago...
These things were always so phony. The smiles, the chit-chat, the bullshit. Women in their designer outfits discussing the latest craze in cosmetic surgery and gossiping about which desperate housewife had taken the leap and gone under the miracle worker’s knife. Good God, could it be any more dull than that? Get a life, right? But Danielle Bastillia caved every time someone called and asked her if she would participate in whatever charity event their organization represented. Al thought it was wonderful, explaining how necessary it was to keep good community relations. Sure, that was a part of it. However, for Danielle, it always came down to the charity itself. She was a sucker for kids, animals, anything and anyone stricken. Maybe it was the Catholic upbringing and the inevitable guilt that came with it, but come on? How could she turn down the Leukemia Fund for Children’s Hospital, or the rescue center for greyhounds? Everyone knew that if you invited Danielle Bastillia to your charity event, she would show up to donate her wines and her time.
Today’s event was yet another Danielle could add to her list. She braved a smile at Marilyn Dixon, the co-chair for Homeless, Teenage mothers. Ah, Marilyn, all cheeky and blonde. Indeed she’d seen the inside of Dr. Get-rich-off-of-women’s insecurities office. Her face was taut to the point where Danielle found herself wanting to touch it to see if it felt like Saran Wrap.
“Danielle, you look absolutely stunning. Vintage Diane, right? It’s amazing on you. Love the purse, too. Prada, right? Saw it at Bloomie’s in the Big Apple and should have grabbed it, but the hubby was rushing me. He had some meeting or something. I don’t know. Anyway, you’re seated at my table, and…oh, you…” she snapped and pointed at one of the servers. “What’s your name?”
“John,” the young man replied.
“Right. John, can you please move the chairs over there that are blocking that doorway and put them in a back room or something? It’s not tidy looking.”
The server nodded and scurried off.
One thing, well, two things that Marilyn was actually good at: charm and delegating. She had those down to a tee. Even with her apparent A.D.D.
Marilyn haphazardly flung her hands in the air, cocked her head to the side, and smiled back at Danielle. “Thank you so much for your time today. Your wines are lovely. Everyone is singing praises.”
Anyone who used the word lovely or expressions like ‘singing praises,’ was someone Danielle could never trust. Especially anyone who looked like Marilyn Dixon—hair dyed a golden blonde that was only natural on three-year-old children, eyes a shocking ocean blue that were surely colored contacts, and skin that was…well, that was the clincher. No way the woman could be trusted.
Danielle stared at Marilyn with a mix of envy and loathing. “You’re welcome. It was Al’s and my pleasure to supply the wines.” She smiled again feeling the crinkling of the crow’s feet that had recently shown up on her face. She hoped she didn’t look as exhausted as she felt. Two days earlier, Danielle had conducted a food drive through the organic growers association. She’d packed and loaded food onto vans with a handful of other folks, then had driven one of the vans into San Francisco to the food bank. Her mind and emotions handled it fine, but her body in full PMS mode hadn’t fared so well, and now she found herself wiped out and wanting chamomile tea and her bed.
Marilyn cocked her head to the other side. “By the way, how is Al?”
“He’s good. Busy as always. We’re both working constantly. And you know how it is with kids. It’s go, go, go.” What time was it? When could she get out of here, kick off the high heels, and slip out of the Diane Von Furstenberg dress? Not that she wasn’t in love with the dress. Diane had a knack for making a dress that showed off a woman’s best assets, yet camouflaged less than attractive areas—like that belly bulge that inevitably followed childbirth and hung on into middle age. Middle age! It couldn’t have been called a wiser age, the mature age, the grown-up age? But middle age, was a term that meant she gained five extra pounds annually since turning forty a few years ago. Middle age was not nearly as fun as everyone claimed.
For Danielle, the wraparound navy blue dress made the most of her breasts—totally natural and not yet sagging. With good boobs you could usually get away with an extra pound or two, and good boobs fit great in a Furstenberg dress. All the same, Danielle preferred her jeans and T-shirts. For these events, though, she did what she had to, even having her long dark red hair styled and putting on some makeup. No matter what she felt about the charitable brouhahas around town, she did have an image to maintain. Al reminded her of that regularly. They were important people in the community. God forbid anyone think that the owners of Bastillia’s Wines had any issues. Yes, God forbid she taint their image.
Marilyn nodded emphatically as if she completely understood Danielle’s life. What a joke, because although Marilyn stood as the president of the woman’s club chairing the event, the fact was that Marilyn Dixon never picked up her own children from school—and it was doubtful that she ever really did anything with her kids unless nannies were along for the ride. Her staff consisted of a personal trainer, private chef, nannies galore, and a housekeeper. If the woman ever lifted a finger, Danielle guessed it would be to get a glass of wine for herself. At least, those were the rumors in Napa’s gossip logged vineyard land.
“And the girls? They’re good?” Marilyn asked as if she was really interested.
Danielle applauded inwardly. The moment she’d been hoping for. Danielle wanted to palm her hands together and wave them high over her head and do the victory dance. Instead she smiled warmly. There were times to be grateful for that gossip vine… Thanks to the local grapevine, Danielle had learned that Marilyn’s daughter had been rejected by Yale. “The girls are great. Shannon earned a full scholarship to Yale. We received her acceptance letter over the weekend. And, of course, Cassie will be starting at Trinity Prep.”
Marilyn was rendered speechless. “Why, that’s wonderful,” she finally said, and rose from her seat. “I guess I better get things started.” She walked up to the stage at the front of the room and tossed back the golden waves.
Marilyn smiled brightly at the crowd and Danielle studied her. Yes, it was petty not to like the woman for being fake—sort of—but, dammit, get real. Please, would someone get real around here! She was acting as badly as Marilyn, posing at the luncheon in her designer dress, with her newly colored hair, boasting about her kids for her own ego while carrying a fake Prada purse. Yes, fake. What was the point in spending two grand on a purse when you could get a perfectly decent knockoff for thirty bucks? Maybe she was the true fake here. Danielle, at least, knew better than to believe this shit was what made up the real world.
Her mouth went dry. No time for a panic attack or a reality check. She’d stopped popping Xanax a few months ago and had gone on a health kick, even joining the local gym, secretly hoping that Al would notice her again. She’d shed ten pounds and felt better than she had in years, but Al still didn’t seem to pay much attention to her, except when there was a problem with the payroll, or the accounts, or an employee. Their life together after twenty years had boiled down to a business relationship, not a marriage, and she missed that connection that they used to enjoy. She missed the jokes they shared about the craziness that went on in the world around them.
That was where she should start being honest—with her own husband.
Marilyn turned to Danielle and asked her to stand. “I’d like to thank the lovely Danielle Bastillia and her husband, Al, for donating the wine for today, since, as you know, the alcohol is generally the major expense for one of our events.” Low laughter rippled throughout the banquet room.
Danielle tried not to cringe through the smile. She glanced around at the room filled with women from all over Sonoma County—some she recognized and waved to. Two women at another table whispered to each other while one stared right at her. Kind of disconcerting. Was one of Danielle’s best assets hanging out of the Furstenberg? The woman in a slinky white dress looked vaguely familiar. She was a redhead like Danielle, but at least fifteen years younger. The woman continued looking at her. Danielle offered a slight smile, but this pretty young thing kept the ice glare on and Danielle had to look away.
Why the hell had she flushed the Xanax down the toilet?
Not able to help herself, she looked back again at the redhead who whispered something in her friend’s ear, and they both laughed. Bizarre. What was that about? She checked the twins. Nope, they were in their place with only the acceptable amount of cleavage showing. At forty-two-years-old, being paranoid over women’s cattiness was plain stupid. They probably weren’t even talking about her.
Perspiration bubbled at the base of her neck. She really did have to get out of this place. Danielle waited patiently, trying not to look at the woman and her friend again.
Right after the President of the Teenage Homeless Mothers’ Charity gave her talk and the servers started pouring coffee, Danielle excused herself. She told Marilyn that she needed to pick up one of the girls for a dentist appointment. More bullshit, but it didn’t matter because she’d lose it quickly if she had to continue sitting there.
For the sake of her image, Danielle did her best to masquerade her run for the door as a fashionable quick strut. She handed the valet her ticket and a few minutes later he was pulling her gray -750 BMW around to the front. When the young man got out of the car to let her in, he handed her a large manila envelope. “Mrs. Bastillia, right?” He cocked a dark brow and eyed her with what Danielle thought to be a rather suspicious glare. Jesus, she was truly losing it. Come on! As though everyone was actually staring at her as she smoothed down the Furstenberg over the Spanx flattened tummy; she decided she’d never wear the damn dress again.
“Yes.” Hot asphalt beat through her Stuart Weitzman’s and she could feel a blister forming in the back of her heel. How karmically appropriate—blisters from the real Weitzman’s and compliments for the fake Prada. Note to self; time for good knock off shoes.
“A gentleman in the parking lot said that you needed this.”
“What? What gentleman?” She scanned the area and didn’t spot anyone that she knew. All she saw was luxury car after sports model after luxury car, their gleaming paint jobs reflecting spotlights of the sun’s rays.
“I don’t know. He gave it to me and said that it was important and that you needed it.”
She sighed, handed him five bucks, and got behind the wheel. Could the day get any stranger? Other cars were pulling in behind her so she had to drive instead of looking inside the mystery envelope.
A glance in her rearview mirror reflected the young redhead and her friend standing under the awning in front of the hotel. Danielle shook her head, knowing that tonight she was going to the cellar to pull out a bottle of the good stuff, even though Al insisted it was only for special occasions. This was a special occasion—she was losing her sanity.
Maybe the panic had something to do with Shannon’s impending departure for college, thousands of miles from home. Could this be the beginning of that empty nest syndrome she’d heard so much about?
At a stoplight, Danielle finally had a chance to open the envelope. She took a handful of papers out and read the first few words.
Her heart raced.
She reread the words, blinking her eyes in disbelief. Her hands shook. Cramps seized her stomach so tightly that she almost vomited as she audibly gasped. It was like getting sucker punched.
Who would do this?
The person in the car behind her laid on the horn. Danielle jerked, glancing in her rearview mirror, and yanked the wheel.
This could not be happening. This was a joke, a cruel joke. But as Danielle read over the papers again, she realized this was no joke.
Her husband wanted a divorce.