Saturday afternoon—Los Angeles
I ’ve always thought myself immune to the dizzying effects of fabulous wealth, but the sight of sleek jets lined up on the tarmac ignites an unexpected giddiness in me. How liberating to be able to move about the world so easily, without the inconveniences of mass transportation. No lines at the ticketing counter, no taking off shoes and disassembling carry-on bags, no body scans, no cramped leg space or short connections, no luggage belts or lost bags.
Yeah, I could get used to that. Summer certainly has.
I’m reminded of when I was first introduced to caviar at a swanky dinner party many years ago. My date was a pretentious bore, but I’ll never forget his voice in my ear as I stared with wonder (and perhaps a shade of apprehension) into the little glass bowl of tiny black eggs carefully balanced on a bed of ice before me.
“It’s easy not to crave caviar if you haven’t tasted it,” he said.
He went on to warn me as I put the opalescent spoon to my lips that once sampled, the delicate taste is not so easily forgotten. He was right. I could see how if the opportunity arose to make it a regular part of my diet, I might come to require it. I suppose the trappings of wealth that seem indulgent at first soon become necessities.
But I’m only a guest in this world, and I figure a week is not enough to develop a dependency on grandeur, so: I will not be turning down any caviar.
Nor will I be turning down any bread, cheese, butter, chocolate or gelato. Or, for that matter, any of the other delicious foods I’ve been denying myself for an entire month. I’ve kicked and punched and crunched and starved myself into the best shape of my life in anticipation of a full week in a bikini, and I am ready to indulge.
I rip my eyes away from the spectacle on the runway to rummage through my bag one last time. Passport, check. Wallet, check. Phone, check. Watch. Shit.
“What is it?” my sister asks as I dump the contents of my purse into my lap.
“My watch,” I moan. “I swear I had it this morning, and now I can’t find it.”
“Do you really need a watch on a yacht trip to the Riviera?”
“Just help me find it,” I beg.
She tucks a wisp of blond hair behind her ear and paws through the junk in the center console. Lauren is the spitting image of our mother, petite and blond, while I’m our father, lanky and brunette. And yet our faces are similar enough that she could always get away with using my ID in the four years before she turned twenty-one. Not that she needed it—my little sis spent even more time in the college library than I did. All that studying paid off, because she’s starting law school in the fall, and I couldn’t be prouder.
Finally, I unzip the side pocket of the little round crossbody Gucci insignia bag Summer gifted me and wrap my hand around the watch, right where it should be. “Oh.” I breathe a sigh of relief. “Got it.”
Lauren studies me. “You’re kinda wired this morning. You have too much coffee?”
I fasten the watch on my wrist. “I guess I’m just a little nervous about this trip,” I confess. “I’m not totally sure why I’m still invited. I’ve hardly seen Summer recently.”
“But you guys have been BFFs forever,” she says, surprised. “Didn’t she just give you that ridiculously expensive bag a few weeks ago?”
I nod, fingering the red-and-green stripe down the middle. It’s the most expensive bag I’ve ever owned, and despite myself, I love it.
“What happened?” she asks.
“I don’t know.”
But I do.
I unload my roller suitcase from the trunk of my beat-up Prius and give Lauren a hug through the open window. “Thanks for letting me borrow your car,” she says with a smile. “Have fun. And please don’t come back with a boyfriend twice your age.”
“Haha,” I return. “I’m not Summer.”
She gives me a wry smile. “I’ve never understood what you see in her. But the most exotic place a friend has ever taken me is Lake Michigan, so I guess you win.”
“Okay, now get out of here before anybody sees me with this beater.” I slap the roof of the car for emphasis. “Ow!” I jerk my hand away from the blazing-hot metal.
“Keep me posted!” She blows me a kiss.
“Give Grannie my love!” I shout after her.
As she drives away, I feel a twinge of regret I won’t be road-tripping with her to see Grannie perform the title role in Mame for the community theater at her new retirement condo in Lake Havasu. I blame Grannie for passing on to me the acting bug and always relish an opportunity to see her in her element. But as sad as I am to miss her in the part she was born to play, sometimes life demands that you sacrifice senior dramatics for a week on a yacht in the Mediterranean.
I roll my bag past the rows of expensive cars baking in the summer sun to the two-story stucco building that serves as the waiting room for the small private airport and ring the buzzer. The woman on the other end politely informs me that the crew for my plane has not yet arrived and the passenger list has not yet been published, so she can’t yet let me in. “I’m sorry,” she says. “New security measures. Check back shortly.”
Fantastic. I’m three minutes early and clearly the first to arrive, already sweating in the impractical vintage sundress I was so excited to find at a garage sale in Beverly Hills last week. The fabric is too thick for this weather, the bodice too tight. I wish I’d worn something loose and cotton, but I was doing my best approximation of stylish on a shoestring budget, so here we are. At least I have the purse.
Desperate for shade, I haul my suitcase over to the curb and stand in the strip of shadow cast by a lone palm tree, watching the activity on the airfield through the chain-link fence. Shimmering waves of heat rise from the tarmac, distorting the horizon. Past the line of jets, a yellow twin-engine Cessna takes off. Helicopters come and go from a couple of helipads in the distance.
Out on the runway, I count twelve men in suits descending the steps of one of the jets, holding their jackets closed against the wind, and watch an NBA player I recognize but can’t name board another with what must be his wife, three kids, two people who look to be assistants, and four big dogs.
I wonder if that woman is happy. She surely must be comfortable. Certainly more comfortable than I am, melting here in my stupid dress. Money has never been a part of the dating equation for me, but suddenly I have to wonder: What if I’m wrong? What if love doesn’t conquer all and money can in fact solve all your problems? Summer’s clearly placed all her chips on that bet.
My not-so-illustrious acting career has been studded with bit parts and waitressing jobs that have sometimes put me in the path of hunky celebrities, and on occasion I’ve been the recipient of their passing attention. But I’ve never followed through, always horrified by the thought of becoming a witless flavor-of-the-week dangling from the arm of some star until he dumps me for the next famous model. I can almost hear Summer’s voice whispering in my ear, suggesting that this sentiment is only my lack of confidence hampering my Hollywood ending.
I laugh out loud, realizing I must look like a madwoman if anyone’s watching. Surely the heat is going to my head. Or maybe it’s the jets. I’m not Summer. I would never go as far as she has in the pursuit of gold.
Before I can totally lose my mind, a silver BMW SUV pulls into the spot beside me and a voice chirps, “Hey, lady, what are you doing out here?”
I wave and drag my suitcase over to the car as Wendy emerges from the driver’s side, glancing at her dainty gold watch. “Lemme guess, Summer’s late.”
“We’re the first ones here,” I confirm. “And they wouldn’t let me in yet.”
“No wonder you’re melting,” she says as we air-kiss.
Wendy’s black with Disney princess dark eyes complemented by perfectly arched brows and a flawless complexion. Always stylish, today her petite frame is draped in the quintessential flying-on-a-private-jet-to-the-South-of-France outfit: freshly pressed white linen pants paired with tan wedges and a billowy golden top, her signature long wavy raven extensions covered by a floppy white sun hat.
My uncomfortable vintage dress suddenly just feels old. I am never as aware of my appearance as when I’m around Wendy and Summer. It’s not their fault; they’re just effortlessly chic. If I am ever chic, there is definitely full effort involved. My brain simply doesn’t work that way. I see a dress and think it’s an outfit. They put together a whole look.
Wendy’s roommate, Claire, gets out of the passenger side and joins us at the back of the car, where we repeat the air-kiss ritual. I notice she’s cut her usually long dark hair into a flattering lob, accented with beachy waves and caramel highlights that bring out her blue eyes. “Love your hair,” I say.
“Thanks!” Her dimples twinkle as she smiles. “Have I not seen you since I cut it?”
“Not since Wendy’s birthday dinner back in June, I think.”
“Claire’s never around since she started dating Mr. Major League,” Wendy teases.
“My boyfriend’s in Chicago, so I’m there a lot now,” Claire explains. “He’s a baseball player.”
“That’s great,” I enthuse.
Claire’s an incredibly sweet elementary school teacher originally from Miami who’s soft-spoken when she speaks, which isn’t much, and . . . well, I’m not sure what else, to be honest. We’ve known each other probably four years, and I’m ashamed to admit I don’t think we’ve had a meaningful conversation in that entire time––probably because she’s always overshadowed by Wendy, who is hands-down the most outgoing, energetic, popular person I’ve ever met. When we first became friends at UCLA, Wendy was president of her sorority as well as head of the Greek Society, somehow balancing maintenance of a 4.0 GPA with planning fundraisers and beautification projects for the school grounds. These days she’s an event coordinator turned publicist, and knows—I’m not kidding—everyone in Los Angeles. Well, everyone from a certain social set, anyway. The social set that would go to fancy events and need publicity. But trust me, that’s a lot of people. Like a politician, she has that gift of making you feel like she actually cares when she’s talking to you. Which makes sense, because her father’s a state senator in Ohio.
I asked her about her overwhelming charm once, thinking it was just a natural part of being Wendy, but it turns out it’s a technique. She told me it was all about light touch and eye contact. She tried to show me how to do it, but I just came off as creepy. You’d think that because I’m an actress, manipulation would come easily to me, but I’ve always just tried to be a decent human—and foolishly expected everyone else to as well. Unrealistic, I know. I’m working on it.
“I had dinner at Cove last night and stopped by the bar after, but I didn’t see you,” Wendy says.
“I took the night off so I could pack,” I fib. A casting director I’ve auditioned for numerous times yet never quite booked through was having a party there, and I didn’t want her to see me bartending. But Wendy got me the job (for which I am grateful), so I can’t tell her that. It’s not that I’m embarrassed to be a bartender per se. It’s just that after a year of being able to pay all my bills acting, I feel . . . Okay, maybe I’m a little embarrassed that things haven’t turned out quite the way I imagined. I’ve hit a slump, as it were. A speed bump. That’s all it’s going to be, because things are going to be different when I get back from this trip, I swear it.
Wendy opens her liftgate, revealing a completely stuffed trunk. “Overpack much?” I tease.
“The big one’s for clothes, the medium for shoes and bags, and the small for hair products,” Wendy says, indicating a matching set of maroon luggage. “You know me and my weave.”
“I was gonna say, it’s looking especially gorgeous today,” I laugh.
She gently sweeps her hair over one shoulder with a smile. “Thanks, it’s fresh for the trip.”
“I swear I had a regular-size bag until Wendy got involved,” Claire says as the three of us lift her gargantuan suitcase onto the pavement.
“Sounds familiar.” I give her a meaningful smile.
A chauffeured black Suburban rolls up as we’re unloading Wendy’s trio of bags, and Summer’s mom, Rhonda, her sister, Brittani, and another girl I don’t recognize spill out, juggling coffee cups, cell phones, hats, and purses.
Here we go.
“Had to stop at the outlet stores on our way into town,” Rhonda announces with a flourish. As if to punctuate her declaration, a shopping bag tumbles out of the car before the driver can catch it, spilling three boxes of shoes onto the pavement. “Wouldn’t wanna be underdressed in the South of France!”
Brittani gives her mom a high five, and they make spirit fingers like cheerleaders.
Besides a few extra pounds and some unfortunate cosmetic tweaks that have left her looking persistently surprised and curiously puffy, Rhonda hasn’t changed much in the ten years since I last saw her: blond-streaked hair piled on top of her head, makeup just a little too done, leopard-print top stretched taut across her ample chest.
I haven’t laid eyes on Brittani in as long, either, and I’m immediately surprised that despite their different fathers she’s grown up to look exactly like her sister—leggy, blond, and beautiful, with enviable cheekbones and a perfect bow of a mouth. Only, where Summer is always dressed as though she’s just come from brunch on the Upper East Side, Brittani looks like she’s headed to spring break in Cancun. She’s wearing a tight pink T-shirt with what happens in vegas . . . spelled out in rhinestones over cutoff jean shorts, and her hair is brassy from peroxide. Which is to say she’s clearly inherited her mother’s sense of style.
“Girls’ trip!” Brittani whoops as she gallops over.
I flash a bright smile. “Brittani! Rhonda! So good to see you guys!”
“Listen to you! ‘You guys’! You can say ‘y’all’ with us. We all know you’re from the South!” Brittani exclaims, putting on a Southern drawl. She hip-checks me, sending me stumbling into a Porsche.
I regain my balance, managing a good-natured, “Wow, you look great. I think you were twelve the last time I saw you.”
“Well, I’m twenty-two now! Whooooo!” Spirit fingers again. “Are you still trying to be an actress?”
I smother my irritation. Brittani can’t possibly mean to be as condescending as she sounds, can she? “I’m still acting, yeah,” I say, forcing a smile.
“What have you been in?” she asks.
A logical question, which shouldn’t bother me nearly as much as it does. There’s no good way to answer, and though I know intellectually that I’m still building my career, it only ever makes me feel like a failure. None of the movies I’ve done are big enough that she would have heard of them, and the parts on television are small enough she wouldn’t remember me. So instead I say the one thing that I’m actually proudest of, which will be the least interesting to her and hopefully shut her up. “I’m nominated for a Webby Award for a web series I did,” I say. “It’s called Junk, and it’s about—”
Aaand I was right. She doesn’t even let me finish before beckoning to her friend. “Come meet Summer’s sidekick!”
A week on a boat with Brittani. Didn’t fully consider that when I accepted this invitation.
Her friend has long dark hair streaked with purple and is dressed more like she’s going to Ozzfest than the Riviera. A black jean miniskirt rides low on her hips, held in place by a heavy studded belt that matches her black-and-silver spiked platform heels, and her limbs are laced with ink. She’s not wearing a bra under her slinky black tank top, but she doesn’t need anything to hold her sizable boobs in place. They’re high profile.
As she saunters over, I can see she’s quite beautiful, with smooth, tan skin and delicate features, and there’s something exotic and rebellious about her. But most remarkable are her startling violet contacts.
Strange. I knew Summer was allowing Brittani to bring a friend “to keep her occupied,” but I’m more than a little surprised this is the friend she sanctioned. Summer’s always been image-conscious, and has become rigorously so as John’s girlfriend, meticulously cultivating a facade of sophistication to conceal her less-than-cultured upbringing. Wendy and I fit into her aesthetic, sufficiently attractive and socially graceful enough to make her look good, but not quite so beautiful or accomplished as to be rivals.
I can understand inviting Claire, who she hardly knows—Claire’s agreeable and well mannered, pretty in a nonthreatening way, a safe solution for filling six slots on a boat when you only have two friends. Brittani and Rhonda are family, of course, who’d have given Summer all kinds of hell if they weren’t invited (and Summer’s already disclosed to me her plans to adjust their wardrobe once we’re on the boat). But this girl . . . It’s not just that her style clashes with Summer’s; the bigger offense is that she’s undeniably, unforgivably sexy.
I extend my hand to her with a smile. “I’m Belle.”
Her many bracelets jangle as she awkwardly shakes my hand. “Amythest.”
“Like the stone?” Wendy pipes up.
“But spelled different,” she clarifies.
I can’t help but wonder which came first, the name or the purple contacts.
Rhonda stretches the neck of her leopard print and blows down her shirt. “Hot out here.”
I give her a moist hug. “I know; it’s terrible. This is Wendy, and Claire.”
“Oh, Wendy, I’ve heard so much about you!” Rhonda says.
Wendy adjusts the brim of her big white hat, laughing. “All good, I hope!”
“Summer won’t shut up about you. It’s so great to finally meet you.” Rhonda turns her attention to Claire. “Tell me your name again,” she says, throwing an arm around Claire’s shoulders.
Claire begins to speak, but Rhonda cuts her off. “No wait, I know it! It’s Abby!” Claire shakes her head, embarrassed. “Amy! Ashley! Amber!”
“Claire,” Claire says quietly.
“I could have sworn it started with an ‘A.’ And how do you know—”
Wendy takes Rhonda’s arm as though they’re old friends, effectively rescuing Claire from her focus. “We’re all gonna have such a good time!”
We troop through the arctic cool of the tiny terminal, where our passports are checked against the passenger list, then out the double glass doors onto the roasting tarmac. The jet’s crew is nice enough to take our bags, but a stout flight attendant in a structured khaki dress who can’t be much older than we are politely informs us that it’s strict policy not to allow anyone on the plane until Mr. Lyons arrives.
So back we go across the asphalt toward the terminal. But before we can reach the oasis of air-conditioning, she heads us off. “My apologies. Mr. Lyons prefers for guests to be ready to board as soon as he arrives so that we can take off promptly.”
“Okay, great. We’ll be ready.” Rhonda throws a thumbs-up as we continue toward the terminal.
“So much for a girls’ trip.” Wendy sighs.
I laugh. “He hardly lets her out of his sight. You really think he was going to send her to the Riviera on his jet without coming along?”
The stewardess rushes ahead of us, flustered. “No, no, I’m sorry,” she calls, sweat glistening on her brow. “What I mean is that you should stay put. They’ll be here any minute.”
No one moves. “You mean here in the sun?” Brittani asks, incredulous.
“Yes. It’s better that way,” the stewardess insists, a hint of desperation in her voice. “Please, come this way. You can stand in the shade over here.”
Which is how we wind up sweltering in the shade under the nose of the plane for close to an hour.
By the time the white Bentley arrives, I have to pee something awful and sweat is pooling in the underwire of my bra. Summer emerges from the driver’s side looking like she just stepped out of a Bogie and Bacall movie. She’s always been my most glamorous friend, but this is a whole new level. She’s dressed in a beige wrap dress with big dark glasses, a Chanel scarf covering her tastefully blond hair, and she’s positively beaming, completely oblivious that their hour delay has caused us all to wait standing on the tarmac.
Her cool elegance sparks a flame of resentment within me. It’s not too late to bail; I could say I don’t feel well, probably even get most of my shifts at the bar back. No sane person would accompany her on this trip after what she’s done. But no. In spite of everything, I have to be here. I resist the urge to check my watch, douse the plume of sedition, and power up my smile.
Emerging from the passenger side of the Bentley in a bespoke gray suit is her boyfriend, John, not a day over sixty-three to her twenty-six, a wiry slip of a man who may almost reach Summer’s height if you factor in the two inches of perfectly coiffed silver hair and the stacked heels on his handmade Italian leather shoes. Summer’s not overly tall, but I notice she’s in Chanel flats to match her scarf, no longer allowed heels lest she dwarf him.
“Look what John got me for my birthday!” she exclaims, dashing over to us. She pushes back her sunglasses, her eyes like emerald pools sparkling in the sunlight. “Come see! It has my name stitched into the leather!”
Her delight is infectious. We all gather around the exorbitantly expensive vehicle, oohing and aahing appropriately—it is, after all, something magnificent—as the bags from the trunk are loaded onto the plane.
I give Summer a hug, trying to recapture our old familiarity. “It’s gorgeous, and so are you.”
“I’m so glad you could come.” She squeezes my hand. “Nice sunglasses.”
“Thanks!” I finger the large black knockoff frames. “I thought you’d like them. I found—”
“Honey, does this mean I can have the Mercedes?” Rhonda interrupts.
Summer smiles, but her eyes convey a different message. “Mom,” she cautions with a little shake of her head.
“I’m joking! Tell my daughter to give her old mom a break,” Rhonda appeals to John as Summer looks on, clearly having second thoughts about having invited her mother.
“Rhonda, you’re not old.” John flashes his Cheshire-cat grin. “And the Mercedes is yours.”
Rhonda drops her chin and squints at him over the top of her sunglasses, trying to tell whether he’s serious, but he’s already turned his attention to the valet, confirming he’d like the car parked in his usual spot.
As the Bentley pulls away, Wendy lays a light hand on John’s arm. “You’re such a great boyfriend. Thank you so much for this trip. We’re really looking forward to it.”
I turn up the wattage in my smile. “Yes, thank you.”
“Thank you,” Claire echoes softly, lowering her eyes.
He nods magnanimously. “My pleasure. Glad to have you girls along.”
And with that, he’s off toward the plane, precipitating a flurry of activity as the crew prepares to greet him.
The couple of times I’ve met John he’s been pleasant, if deliberately so, with the occasional flashes of brilliant charm common to a man who’s gotten as far as he has in life. He and I have only had briefly superficial conversation of the type you’d expect with a billionaire whose age is somewhere between that of your parents and your grandparents—still, I’m never sure that if I dropped dead in the midst of chatting with him and was replaced by another girl of vaguely similar genus, he’d actually notice.
When I was a kid, we had this goldfish with bulging eyes, Eddie.
Periodically, Eddie would die, and my parents would covertly replace him with a new Eddie. This went on for years undetected by my sister or me, until finally one day I happened to be the one that discovered Eddie belly-up in the fish tank, eliciting a confession from my parents (who I now realize were holding back tears of laughter, not grief) that this was in fact Eddie VI.
If Summer’s friends are Eddies to John, what does that make Summer? Is she replaceable, too? She admits he’s had other mistresses and taken other groups of pretty young things on exorbitant vacations (apparently it’s good for business), but seems to genuinely believe he’s never felt about any of them the way he feels about her. And she claims to be head-over-heels in love with him. Hasn’t been sleeping around on him, either. Not since Eric, at least.
To each her own, I remind myself. It’s not like all the guys I’ve been with were princes, exactly.
Brittani pushes Amythest in front of Summer. “This is Amythest,” Brittani says. “She’s the best. You’re gonna love her.”
My brain shorts. In no world would Summer agree to Brittani bringing a friend she’s never laid eyes on.
“Hello.” Summer’s smile doesn’t falter as she extends her hand to Amythest, but I can see her taking in the platform stilettos, the violet contacts, the curvy body swathed in black.
Amythest takes Summer’s hand with a smile, and for a minute I think she’s going to curtsy, before I realize it’s just a crack in the asphalt she’s having trouble navigating in those heels.
Summer meets Brittani’s eye with intent. She’s got a great poker face, but I know her well enough to read the distress she’s covering. “Can I talk to you for a minute, sis?”
She steers Brittani by her elbow to the foot of the airstair, where John is talking with two men in suits. He takes leave of the men and listens intently with a hand on each of the girls’ shoulders as Summer speaks in low tones and the rest of us pretend not to be trying to hear what they’re saying, while Amythest fiddles with her bracelets and stares at the pavement. After a minute, Brittani calls Amythest over and introduces her to John. He says something to her that sends her fishing in her bag and beckons to one of the men in suits. Amythest hands the man her passport, and he jogs up the steps to the plane with it in hand while she stands chatting with John, twirling a long strand of purple-streaked hair on her finger.
“Brittani was supposed to bring someone else,” Rhonda stage-whispers. “But the girl got sick.”
Wendy and I exchange a bemused glance. “Did Summer know there was going to be a switch?” Wendy asks.
Rhonda chuckles, eyeing her younger daughter with admiration. “Sly little bitch didn’t ask because she knew Summer’d say no. Didn’t tell me, either, until we were picking Amythest up.”
“Bold move,” I say. Maybe Brittani’s smarter than I’ve given her credit for.
Over by the plane, the man in the suit has a quick conversation with John, who then says something to the three girls, hands Amythest her passport, and trots up the steps.
“I guess she’s been approved,” Wendy breathes.
“Something tells me that was John’s decision, not Summer’s,” I return.
Summer strides toward us, her expression dark, leaving Brittani and Amythest whispering behind her.
“Everything okay?” Wendy asks as she approaches.
Summer narrows her eyes at her mother. “Why didn’t you call me?”
“I didn’t know,” Rhonda professes. “I can’t keep up with her friends, I figured that was the one you okayed.”
“No,” Summer fumes, sotto voce. “But now John has decided she’s fine, so we have to spend the rest of the trip with her. Thanks a lot.”
“I’m sorry—” Rhonda reaches out to hug her daughter, but Summer turns and marches toward the jet.
An older stewardess with short gray hair escorts the rest of us to the airstair, where Wendy insists we snap a flurry of pictures before finally boarding. As I step through the door of the plane, my sandal catches on the metal and I trip headlong into John, knocking him into the younger flight attendant, who spills the cup of coffee she was in the process of serving him all over me.
“Shit!” I say. “Shoot. I’m sorry. So sorry.”
Well, this is a great way to start off the trip. The stewardess is as mortified as I am. She quickly grabs a napkin and begins dabbing at his suit.
“I’m fine.” He brushes her away without a hint of the charm he usually radiates. “Clean her. She’s dripping all over the floor.”
The stewardess hands me the napkin, which I use to clean my legs and dab my sundress. At least this will provide me with an excuse to change into the more comfortable outfit in my carry-on. I can hear Summer asking John what happened, then apologizing for me.
Wendy grabs my elbow. “You okay?”
I nod, my cheeks on fire as I follow her into the cabin.
The inside of the plane is refined luxury in shades of cream and beige, and refreshingly cool after the sauna we’ve been baking in for the past hour. Having discovered long ago in the way-back of my mom’s station wagon that I get violently ill riding backward, I’m careful to pick one of the forward-facing seats. I slide into the buttery leather captain’s chair that would make any first class look like economy and take a swig of cold water from the bottle conveniently placed in the cup holder at my fingertips.
Yeah, I could definitely get used to this.
I’ve just turned to look for the bathroom when I see the two men in suits that John was talking to outside board the plane, one a large Italian mobster-looking guy in his fifties and the other closer to John’s age, bald and rounding at the belly. “Vinny,” Wendy whispers, indicating the mobster-looking one, “and the bald one’s Bernard.”
I’m aware John travels with bodyguards and have met the bald one in passing before, but Vinny is new. “Friends of yours?” I joke.
“They’re John’s security. I met them at dinner last week.”
A dinner I wasn’t invited to, clearly. It stings a little—especially since I’m the one who introduced Summer and Wendy—but I’m not surprised, in light of the recent events that have driven a boning knife into our friendship, which neither of us dare speak of.
Vinny and Bernard confer with John, then Bernard holds up his hand for us all to quiet down, which we do. Summer stands at attention next to John, her smile restored; the canary-yellow rock on her finger glitters in the sun that streams through the window, sending flecks of light around the cabin. I don’t know anything about carats, but it’s gigantic. John clears his throat and curls his lips into a smile. “Thank you ladies for joining us on Summer’s birthday trip,” he begins. “If you’ll all stand up, the crew are going to come through the cabin and show you to your seats.”
We all stand obediently as he continues. “Each of you will receive a gift bag with an eye mask, earplugs, and a sleeping pill. Once we take off, the stewardesses will reconfigure the plane for sleep while we have a light dinner. Then Summer and I will sleep in our bed in the back, and the rest of you will sleep in your assigned beds in front.”
I think I read a hint of apology in the smile Summer gives us as John takes her hand. They make their way toward the back of the plane while the crew points us toward our seats. Sure enough, I’m assigned one of the two rear-facing seats, next to Amythest, across from Rhonda and Brittani. Why, oh why, did I pack my Dramamine in my suitcase instead of my carry-on?
I quietly get the young stewardess’s attention once we have all been seated. “I’m so sorry, but I get sick facing backward. Is there any way I could sit facing forward?”
“I don’t have the authority to change your seat,” she apologizes, “but I’m sure it would be okay if one of your friends wanted to switch with you.”
I look up at Rhonda and Brittani, who chortles, having heard the whole thing. “Sorry, girl, I ain’t giving up my seat!”
“I gotta sit next to my baby.” Rhonda pats Brittani’s hand. “We have so much to talk about.”
Should have known better than to ask them. I get up to approach Wendy and Claire, who sit directly behind me, facing forward. “I hate to ask you guys this, but I get supersick facing backward. Could one of you possibly switch with me?”
They look at me with pity for a painfully long moment before Wendy scratches my arm with her French-manicured nails—an incurable habit that I assume evolved from her theory about light touch being ingratiating. “Don’t want you retching all over the jet,” she teases. “I get a little woozy facing backward, too, but take Claire’s seat. Claire, you don’t mind, do you?”
Claire shrugs amiably. “Okay.”
“You sure?” I ask.
She smiles, gathering her things. “It’s not a problem.”
“Oh my God, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. And I’m so sorry for making you move. I owe you one.”
“I totally understand. Anyway, I’m on a private jet. I really don’t care where I sit.”
I’m just settling into my seat next to Wendy when the older flight attendant approaches, a look of alarm on her face. “My apologies. I’m going to need you to take your assigned seats for wheels up.”
“It’s okay,” Wendy explains. “Claire switched with her.”
The stewardess smiles tightly. “I know. But unfortunately, I’m going to need you to take your assigned seats.”
I blink at her. “But the other flight attendant said—”
“Mr. Lyons has requested that everyone take their assigned seats for wheels up.” She gestures toward my seat. “Please.”
Wow. Okay. I unbuckle my seat belt and collect my things like a toddler punished for throwing her green beans on the floor at a fancy restaurant.
As I move past the stewardess, she mouths, Sorry. I can’t quite bring myself to smile back.
I sink into my rear-facing seat, again doubting my choice to come on this trip. In a daze, I buckle my seat belt and reach for the airsickness bag tucked into the arm of my chair. At least I’m by a window. Across from me, Rhonda and Brittani are engrossed in a celebrity magazine, tittering over the cellulite of some reality star.
Amythest pats my hand, her violet eyes exuding genuine sympathy. “Sorry,” she whispers. “That totally sucks.”
“I’m sorry if . . . ” I gesture to the airsickness bag.
“It’s okay. I hold Brittani’s hair back, like, every Saturday night. And sometimes Fridays, too. And Thursdays. And . . . Well, you know. I’m pretty much an expert.”
As she fiddles with one of her many silver earrings, I notice the script etched into the inside of her forearm. It reads to thine own self be true.
“Polonius,” I smile, recognizing the line. When her eyes flit to mine in confusion, I indicate the tattoo. “From Hamlet?”
“Oh, no, that’s from a Reba song. ‘Fancy’?”
Of course. “Oh yeah. I like that song. Ever been on a private jet before?”
The tiny purple stone in her nostril glints in the sun as she shakes her head.
And with that, the jet is hurtling forward. The ground rushes away faster and faster until we lift into the air. I look out the window, my palms sweating.
The endless grid of Los Angeles lies beneath us in all her glory as we climb into the sky. The dark-blue sea appears to be held back only by the thin line of sand that separates it from the rows upon rows of homes sprawling across the basin and up the sides of green mountains that turn to umber as they rise past the line of irrigation.
“Two kinds of neighborhoods in LA,” I say, “the ones with blue pools and the ones with blue tarps.”
“I’ve always wanted a pool,” Amythest says. “But I don’t know how to swim.”