"Sundays at Tiffany's" Book Excerpt
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.
Once Upon a Time in New York One
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 white-coated 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.
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."