Monarch Beach: A Novel

Monarch Beach: A Novel

by Anita Hughes


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Anita Hughes' Monarch Beach is an absorbing debut novel about one woman's journey back to happiness after an affair splinters her perfect marriage and lifewhat it means to be loved, betrayed and to love again.

When Amanda Blick, a young mother and kindhearted San Francisco heiress, finds her gorgeous French chef husband wrapped around his sous-chef, she knows she must flee her life in order to rebuild it. The opportunity falls into her lap when her (very lovable) mother suggests Amanda and her young son, Max, spend the summer with her at the St. Regis Resort in Laguna Beach. With the waves right outside her windows and nothing more to worry about than finding the next relaxing thing to do, Amanda should be having the time of her life—and escaping the drama. But instead, she finds herself faced with a kind, older divorcee who showers her with attention… and she discovers that the road to healing is never simple. This is the sometimes funny, sometimes bitter, but always moving story about the mistakes and discoveries a woman makes when her perfect world is turned upside down.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312643041
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 06/19/2012
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.79(d)

About the Author

ANITA HUGHES attended UC Berkeley's Masters in Creative Writing Program, and has taught Creative Writing at The Branson School in Ross, California. Hughes has lived at The St. Regis Monarch Beach for six years, where she is at work on her next novel.

Read an Excerpt

Monarch Beach

By Anita Hughes

St. Martin's Griffin

Copyright © 2012 Anita Hughes
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312643041

Chapter One
The day my life changed forever started like any other Tuesday. I liked Tuesdays. My appointment book stayed blank on Tuesdays. Sometimes I wondered how the other days filled up so quickly. You’d be surprised how ladies’ auxiliary lunches, PTA committee meetings, and library fund-raising can occupy your time. Not to mention the karate lessons, piano, and chess club Max had after school. Like many stay-at-home moms I was a full-time chauffeur for my son and fund-raiser for his school. Tuesdays were mine. I started the day with a yoga class, usually followed by a fresh strawberry muffin at the Lemon Café. But this Tuesday, the Lemon Café was out of strawberry muffins, so I did something different. I made an unexpected visit to my husband’s restaurant and found him in the back room with his pants down and his legs wrapped around Ursula, his new chef. He tried pulling his pants up before I swung open the door, but it was a glass door. I had seen what I had seen: my tall, dark French husband sticking it to his blond Scandinavian chef. I thought, how cute, they had matching ponytails: Ursula’s was a long blond plait down her back, Andre’s was a short black ponytail I had always found very sexy. Apparently, Ursula did, too. I slammed the glass door so hard I heard it shatter behind me. I jumped in my car and tore away. Black Tuesday changed everything.
I didn’t drive far. My hands were shaking, I was afraid I would lose control of the wheel. While I wanted to kill Andre, and possibly Ursula, I didn’t have a personal death wish. I pulled into the parking lot at the post office, threw my purse under the seat, and started walking. I was still in my yoga clothes, so I looked like any other mother going for a morning hike. I left the parking lot and took long strides till I reached the lake, a walk that usually took me half an hour. That Tuesday I made it in sixteen minutes. I sat on a bench watching the ducks and took deep breaths. It was a beautiful spring day. The sun was warm, the sky a pale blue, and beds of purple and white daisies surrounded the lake. I often brought Max here on Saturdays while Andre worked. We tossed stale bread to the ducks. Max threw stones in the water and we would both be quiet so we could hear the “plop” sound when they landed.
That Tuesday the only sound I heard was my own sobs. I sounded like a stuck pig. And I felt like a complete idiot. What a cliché I was. Married for ten years, mother to a fantastic eight-year-old son, never suspecting that when Andre went to the restaurant on Tuesdays to “do the books” he was also doing the chef.
I tried blaming myself. I should have protested when Andre wanted to hire a female chef. Ursula was a former sous chef at the Palace Hotel Dining Room in Montreux and she specialized in fondue. Andre’s restaurant specialized in fondue: cheese fondue, salmon fondue, chocolate fondue. But if he hadn’t hired Ursula I may have found him in the supply closet with Yvette the hostess, or Marie the cocktail waitress. I couldn’t even blame Ursula. Andre was thirty-five. He had olive skin and green eyes. He looked like a European film star, and he was her boss. Ursula had only been in California for six months. Maybe she thought it was part of the job description. The only person I could blame was Andre.
I closed my eyes and remembered just a few nights ago, breezing into the restaurant on Andre’s arm on our date night. We had been to the movies and seen The Proposal. I loved romantic comedies where the couple overcame all sorts of obstacles on their path to happiness. We sat in the back of the theater and Andre slung one arm over my shoulder, and played with the hem of my skirt with his free hand. I slapped his hand away, pretending to focus on Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, but I loved Andre’s attention. I loved knowing that after ten years together, he still wanted to put his hand up my skirt.
I remember seeing Ursula fleetingly while I waited for Andre to give directions to his staff. Now I thought maybe the direction he gave was “kiss me harder,” while I politely discussed the savory flavor of fondue with one of the couples dining in the restaurant.
*   *   *
My sobs became hiccups and I recalled the last time my life changed in a single day. I was eighteen, and I had arrived home from school to find four envelopes addressed to me on the marble table in my parents’ foyer.
“Good afternoon, Miss Amanda.” Our housekeeper swept up my backpack. “Your parents had to go out. I prepared a snack for you in the kitchen.”
“Thanks, Rosemary. I’m not hungry. Please let me know when Mom and Dad come home.” I grabbed the envelopes and climbed the staircase to my bedroom. I sat on my bed looking at the view from the bay window. My bedroom was on the third floor of my parents’ house. My friends rolled their eyes when they came over and called it “the palace” under their breath. It had a full-sized ballroom where my parents held parties with seven-piece orchestras. In the basement there was a separate kitchen and living room for the staff: housekeeper, cook, laundress, gardener. I had the third floor to myself. My bedroom took up half the floor. It had a four-poster bed and a huge desk where I did my drawings. And it had the most amazing view of the San Francisco Bay. On clear days I watched hundreds of boats zip under the Golden Gate Bridge. My father had made his money himself. He wasn’t ashamed to spend it, and I refused to be ungrateful for the luxury that surrounded me.
I held the envelopes printed with their college insignias and tried to decide which to open first. I hesitated. Should I wait for my parents to come home and open them together? I was their only child, and they were as excited as I was to know where I would spend the next four years. But I didn’t know where they’d gone, or when they’d be back. I opened the envelope from Stanford first. I read the letter carefully. I had been placed on their wait list. I took a deep breath and opened the envelope from Rhode Island School of Design. It was a long letter on dark gray stationery saying I had been accepted.
I hugged it to my chest. My dream was to be a fashion designer: not a very popular goal at my college prep school. I had to beg my advisor to let me apply to RISD. I breathed a sigh of relief and opened the envelope from UC Berkeley. I had been accepted there as well. Not surprising, since the campus was dotted with benches and playing fields donated by my father.
The last envelope was from Parsons in New York. I held it and closed my eyes. For the last two years I had dreamed of attending Parsons and interning for a fashion designer, being in the center of the fashion universe. I slit the envelope and opened my eyes slowly. I was in. I had been accepted at Parsons. I fell back on the bed and looked at my beautiful hand-painted ceiling. I felt my life was lining up perfectly like the gold stars painted on a night sky above me. There was a knock on the door and Rosemary poked her head in. “Excuse me, Miss Amanda. Your mother phoned. Your parents are almost home and they would like you to meet them in the library.”
I gathered my college letters and ran down the two flights of stairs to the library. I sat in one of my father’s leather wingback chairs and debated how to tell my parents the news. They would hate to see me go across the country, but they would be thrilled. I had inherited my love of fashion from my mother. I spent countless afternoons and weekends as a child sitting in my mother’s closet and sketching her evening gowns. As I grew older, I would take the sketches back to my room and make small changes; erasing a shoulder strap here, adding an ivory bow there, until I created my own fantasy dresses.
“Amanda showed me a design today that rivals Coco Chanel,” my mother said one evening to the ladies who arrived for a Junior League meeting.
“Mom, nothing rivals Chanel,” I replied, secretly glowing.
“Coco Chanel was once a young girl, too.” My mother poured my hot chocolate while the ladies drank tea in fragile porcelain cups.
After I made polite conversation, and my mother dismissed me with a discreet nod of her head, I ran up to my room and looked at the sketch, wondering if it really did resemble Chanel. I vowed I would sketch and sew, and read and learn everything I could about fashion. One day my label would be found in Neiman’s and Bloomingdale’s and in chic boutiques on Fifth Avenue.
*   *   *
I clutched my acceptance letters, thinking that day was coming closer, but my parents walked in looking like they had seen the grim reaper. My mother entered the room first. She wore one of my favorite outfits: a pale pink St. John suit with gold cuffs. I looked at her face, usually so artfully made up that she glowed from across a room. Her cheeks were white and her eyes were swollen from crying.
My father staggered in behind her. He was over six feet tall. He had white hair and his forehead was lined, but he usually moved with the confidence of someone who had come from nothing and created his own empire. That day he looked like an oversized schoolboy: scared and weak and wanting to hide behind his mother’s skirt.
“I have the best news!” The words popped out of my mouth.
“Your mother has some news,” my father said softly.
“It’s not my news.” My mother shot an imploring look at my father. My parents had been married for twenty years. They met late in life: My father was busy building his empire and “forgot” to get married. My mother was a self-described “debutante left on the shelf.” They found each other at a symphony gala and married six weeks later. I could not remember them ever looking crossly at each other. I never heard them raise their voices in anger or hurt. My mother glided from room to room of our house like a fairy godmother, sprinkling good taste and serenity on everything she touched. My father worked long hours but returned at night to scoop her up and take her to dinner and dancing. I would sit at my window, watching them roar away in my father’s latest sports car, content to be left alone, happy to have parents who idolized each other.
“Grace, please.”
My mother looked at me seriously. “We’ve been to see Dr. Galen. Your father has liver cancer. Dr. Galen said…” She paused. I had never seen my mother without a perfect French manicure. I had never known her to smell of anything but Chanel No. 5. And I had never heard her unable to finish a sentence. My friends called her the “Queen of Polish.” She was a legend in San Francisco for her witty fund-raising speeches. Invitations to her Sunday evening “salons” were hugely coveted.
“Dr. Galen said”—my father took her hand—“I have nine months to live. A year if I be a good boy and stop drinking and smoking.” His broad face broke into a smile. “But have I ever listened to what anyone said? I can’t die. I have to see you graduate from high school and college.”
I crumpled my college letters into tight balls. My eyes filled with tears. We just stood there like three department store dummies. My parents and I, who had ridden camels in Egypt, who had stared down lions in Africa, we could beat this together.
“Simon,” my mother said quietly. “Dr. Galen is our second opinion.”
I looked at my father, hoping he would tell my mother she was wrong. When he looked at me, his eyes were wet. “The only person who has ever made any sense in my life is your mother. I guess she’s right then.”
I remember turning away and studying the wall of books as if they held the answer. It wasn’t surprising my father had liver cancer. He was of the Rat Pack generation. Like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, he worked hard, played hard, and felt immortal. Every night for as long as I could remember, he and my mother would start their evening with a cocktail. Dinners in our long formal dining room included a bottle of fine wine; a tall brandy followed dessert. The nights they went out with friends, or to social events, I knew he drank for hours. But I had never seen him drunk. My father was a gentleman and I adored him.
“What’s your news, honey?” my mother asked.
“I, ah, I got my college letters,” I said. I dropped the crumpled letters on the floor and watched my future roll away. I could not miss the last year of my father’s life. New York would have to wait.
“Don’t keep us in suspense.” My father smiled.
“I got in to Berkeley,” I said. I could go to Berkeley, and spend weekends at home. I would be close when anything happened.
“That’s fantastic.” My father beamed. He loved his alma mater. We used to prowl Telegraph Avenue together on Sundays. Sometimes we would hike up to the Lawrence Laboratory and look at San Francisco from across the bay.
“I thought you wanted to study fashion, honey. In New York.” My mother looked at me sharply.
“Well, sure, later. But UC Berkeley is a great university. And I love the campus,” I faltered.
“Amanda, did you get into Parsons?” she asked.
“Yes, but I don’t want to go,” I replied stubbornly.
“Amanda, you’ve been talking about Parsons for two years. You can’t put your life on hold for us. I’ll be here with your father.”
“Your mother is right,” my father said, nodding.
“I’m not going to Parsons. I want to stay right here. ” I fled upstairs. My parents may be pillars of strength, but I was an eighteen-year-old girl about to lose the only man I ever loved. I locked my bedroom door and cried until it was dark.
*   *   *
I sat on the bench by the lake, wishing I could ask my father what to do after I discovered Andre and Ursula glued together with shrink-wrap. When I was nine my father and I went on a ski trip, just the two of us, to Aspen. My mother had twisted her ankle doing the foxtrot at the Asian Art Museum Winter Gala, but she insisted my father and I keep our reservations and go without her.
I remember the heady feeling of boarding the plane, the flight attendants gushing over my father, so tall and handsome with his steel-gray hair and his easy manner.
“Can I get you anything, anything at all?” A blond flight attendant leaned close while she adjusted my seat belt. She seemed to be sending my father a secret signal, a discreet flutter of her eyelashes, the way she ran her tongue over her lips, which I didn’t understand.
“I’ve got everything I need right here,” my father replied. I saw his face close down, and he spent the rest of the flight asking me about my drawing classes, and guessing what my mother would do in our absence.
We stayed in a rustic chalet on the side of the mountain with three other families from San Francisco. One night, after a long dinner where the children were relegated to a table in the kitchen and the adults kept flitting in and out, popping open bottles of wine, I watched one of the women take off her fur coat and drape it over my father’s shoulders.
I stopped in my tracks, about to join him in the dining room, and heard the woman giggle, “Nothing feels better than fur on naked skin.” Even before my father saw me, he took the jacket off his shoulders, steered the woman back to her husband, and said he was going outside to get some fresh air.
I joined him on the balcony, and put my hand in his pocket to keep warm.
“Why did Mrs. Graham give you her fur jacket?” I asked.
“Alcohol affects people in different ways,” he explained slowly.
“In bad ways?” I moved closer to my father. It was twenty below zero, and I was wearing leggings and my favorite pair of socks with toes.
“Sometimes, but then you just gently redirect them.”
“You mean, Mrs. Graham got confused and thought you were her husband,” I said, pondering the possibility.
“Something like that.” My father nodded and led me back inside.
The next night my father invited me to eat with the grown-ups. With his wife absent, I was his shield to keep away interested females.
I wiped my eyes and plucked a handful of daisies. I knew what my father would think of Andre. He hated weakness of character.
*   *   *
My father defied the doctors’ prognosis and died two weeks before I graduated from Berkeley. I spent almost every weekend of those four years playing games with him in his library overlooking the bay. He taught me chess and backgammon and how to never lose at tic-tac-toe. They were wonderful weekends. My mother would greet me with hugs and little presents: a pashmina she picked up at Neiman’s, a pair of Tod’s driving shoes she thought would be excellent for walking around campus. Then she would mumble something about a committee meeting and leave us alone.
I learned how to relax. I wanted time to stand still so I could always be looking at my father wearing his “at home” clothes: a silk robe over cashmere pants and leather slippers. I wanted to be able to hear his voice saying, “You can do anything you want, Amanda. Just make sure you know what that is.”
When I stood up with my graduating class on a foggy afternoon in May, I promised myself I would listen to him. Now I would go to New York and start my life. But I looked at my mother clapping furiously as I received my diploma and realized I couldn’t leave her either. She looked perfect in her black Dior suit, but she was thin as a stick and she was smoking two packs a day.
I moved home for the summer and got a job at a boutique in Presidio Heights. I would help my mother heal and in the fall I would move to New York. I pictured walking the avenues of New York and drinking in the winter clothes in the windows of Bergdorf’s and Bloomingdale’s.
I met Andre on July Fourth and by the end of the summer I was engaged to a sexy Frenchman who had been in America for ten months and didn’t know why everything was closed on the Fourth of July. My dreams of becoming a fashion designer came to a halt. I had only myself to blame. No one forced me to fall in love. I could have said no when Andre appeared at my mother’s house just before Labor Day with three dozen red roses and a box with a small, square diamond ring. But I was twenty-two, and drunk from a summer of long evenings holding hands and walking along the bay. Maybe I was trying to replace my father. Maybe I just adored having Andre whisper “J’adore” in my ear.
I remember the evening I first walked into Andre’s bistro. My friends all had big Fourth of July plans but I didn’t feel like celebrating. It was our first holiday since my father died, and by evening I desperately needed to get out of the house. My mother was trying to keep herself together. She filled her days with philanthropy but at night she sat in the library and smoked. I couldn’t get her to stop. If I told her she was killing herself she would look at me knowingly and nod. If I suggested we go out to dinner or hit a movie she would say she was tired and go to bed.
I asked Rosemary to watch her and I headed out to Sacramento Street. I needed to get some fresh air. Sacramento Street was deserted. All my usual haunts were closed. I kept walking, hoping at least Starbucks was open and I could get a hot mocha before I went home. I saw a tall man with a black ponytail lounging outside a restaurant.
Allo, beautiful,” he said.
I turned around. There was no one else on the sidewalk.
“I am talking to the beautiful girl with curly brown hair,” he said as I walked closer. “That’s you.” His face broke into a wide smile. He had very white teeth and a Roman nose.
“Hello,” I replied.
“Come inside and have something to eat.” He motioned to the doorway. He wore dark blue jeans, a white apron, and white sneakers.
“Are you open?” I asked.
Mais, oui. Why wouldn’t I?” he asked.
“It’s the Fourth of July,” I replied.
“So?” He shrugged his shoulders.
“America’s birthday. You know, a national holiday.”
“Bastille Day is my national holiday. I am Andre Blick, this is my restaurant.” He held out his hand. I shook it awkwardly. I had been so busy worrying about my father during college I hadn’t dated. Every now and then I would get pizza with a group of kids, but mostly I kept myself apart.
“Okay, I am hungry,” I agreed finally.
“Excellent, you are my first customer this evening.” He escorted me to a table, his arm lightly touching mine.
I turned out to be his only customer. He cooked for me and served me himself, his waitress having gone home early. Eventually he sat down next to me and opened a bottle of wine.
“I don’t drink,” I said, pushing away the wineglass.
“You have to drink, it’s a national holiday.” He filled my glass and poured one for himself.
“I thought your holiday was Bastille Day,” I said.
“I am in America now, with a beautiful American.” Andre clinked my glass. “To national holidays; may we celebrate many more.”
I knew he was flirting. No one had ever flirted with me and I didn’t know how to respond. He was handsome, like the Roman gods we had studied in mythology. I concentrated on my crepes and let him talk.
“I have worked in a kitchen since I was this high.” Andre placed his hand four feet off the floor. “My father was a chef in Toulouse and he let me stir the sauces and chop vegetables when the owner of the restaurant was away.” He paused and sipped his wine.
“When I was nineteen, I hitchhiked to Paris and became assistant chef at a bistro in the Thirteenth Arrondissement,” he continued. I liked the way he moved his hands around when he talked.
“Last year an American came in every morning and ordered my crepes. He said he was opening a French restaurant in San Francisco and asked me to be his chef and partner.”
“You left your family?” I asked. I couldn’t imagine living an ocean away from my mother.
“America is the land of opportunity.” He flashed his perfect white teeth. “I could not refuse. I moved to San Francisco and voilà. Crepe Suzette was born,” he finished his story, refilling our glasses and moving his chair closer to mine.
“Who’s Suzette?” I asked.
“My partner’s wife. Ex-wife now. She didn’t like the long hours he keeps at the restaurant so she’s divorcing him for a stockbroker who is home at four p.m.” He shrugged. “You Americans are funny. In France you get married, you stay married. Affairs, long hours, doesn’t matter. Marriage is for life.”
“I can understand long hours. Affairs would be another story,” I said.
“See, Americans. Very puritan.” He shook his head. His English was almost perfect. And he was so beautiful, his features chiseled from stone; I had to stop myself from looking at him. He was only twenty-four but he seemed older.
“Your crepes are wonderful. I have to go.” I fished my credit card out of my purse.
“Do you have a boyfriend waiting at home?” Andre leaned on the table, his elbow pressed against mine.
“No boyfriend. My father died recently, I am staying with my mother. They were married a long time and she really misses him.”
“Love. There are no happy endings. That is why we must live now.” He touched my face with his fingers.
I pulled back. “I better go. What do I owe you?”
“Dinner is on me, in exchange for your beautiful company.” Andre shook his head.
“Your English is very good. But you say ‘beautiful’ too much.”
“One can never say ‘beautiful’ too much if it is true.” He didn’t get up or remove my plate. He just sat looking at me.
“I need to pay, please. I don’t want your night to be a complete waste.”
“I will let you pay if you let me take you out to dinner on my night off,” Andre said.
“Okay. Agreed,” I said.
I handed him my credit card and he got up and walked over to the cash register.
“I need your phone number,” he said, placing the bill in front of me.
I wrote down my phone number and gave it to him. I opened the bill and signed my name. He picked up the bill and studied it closely. I remember thinking maybe I shouldn’t have tipped him; it was his restaurant. He handed me back my credit card and touched my shoulder. “When we get married you won’t have to change your initials, Amanda Bishop.”
*   *   *
I should have seen the warning signs, I thought, kicking a handful of pebbles into the lake so the ducks lifted their necks and shook their feathers. Andre had told me stories of wealthy women who propositioned him when he worked at the restaurant in Toulouse. How he lost his virginity in the giant fridge with the wife of the local judge. Andre had the morals of an alley cat and I had been blinded all these years by his declarations of love, and by the way he put his hand on the small of my back.
In my parents’ circle, at the highest rung of San Francisco society, infidelity was not tolerated. Families lived in mansions at the top of Pacific Heights and their morals were as lofty as their real estate. My father had been a member of the Bohemian Club and every summer he had spent a week at the Bohemian Grove, a private enclave in the redwood forest visited by heads of state, where women were denied entry. One year as he was leaving for his week’s retreat, one of my friends asked him what they do there.
“What’s all the hush-hush?” Maisie was sixteen and going through a rebellious stage. She liked to rile up her parents, or mine when she slept over on the weekends. “My father has taken a vow of silence. He won’t tell my mother a thing.” She leaned against my father’s Mercedes. “Do you guys import a bunch of strippers and play strip poker under the redwoods?”
My father looked at her levelly and opened the car door. “Maisie, I think it’s time you went home. I’ll drive you. And I’d like to have a word with your mother.”
A few days later my father received a written apology from Maisie in the mail, and she was not allowed to sleep over again.
When a scandal did occur among their friends, the culprit was ousted from the Pacific-Union Club and the Bohemian Club, and his social invitations were rescinded. A few of my father’s friends were self-made like he was, but most were descendants of the robber barons: Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins. They had spent the last hundred years making their names respectable; they weren’t going to let any blackguard tarnish their circle.
So how had I fallen for Andre, I asked myself, hurling the stones so they fell in the middle of the lake. Was I just taken in by his looks, by his Continental charm, or in the beginning had he been a gentleman?
*   *   *
That first summer Andre treated me like a princess. Whenever he arrived at the house he brought presents for Rosemary, my mother, and me. For Rosemary it was often a tomato from the restaurant’s garden, for my mother a small bouquet of lilacs or daisies, and for me a special chocolate dessert. At first I questioned his motives—he knew I was an heiress. But as the summer progressed and we explored the city together, he kept saying he enjoyed my company. And he thought I was beautiful. No one except my parents had ever called me beautiful.
In August my mother seemed more herself. She started going to lunch with friends. She wore her favorite color, pink, and she began accepting some of the invitations that kept pouring in. I thought about the fall and New York. I had mentioned my plans to Andre. He hadn’t said anything for or against. He hadn’t tried to sleep with me either. I was partially relieved. I was the only twenty-two-year-old virgin I knew and was terrified he would shrug me off as a juvenile if he found out. But each time he left me at the front door with just a long, deep kiss, my whole body quivered.
Sometimes I thought he was just filling his days off. I would leave for New York, and he would kiss me good-bye at the airport and find a new girl to hang out with in Pacific Heights. The week before Labor Day he proved me wrong. It was a Tuesday evening. I had worked all day at the boutique and was in the kitchen nibbling popcorn. My mother was at her book club and Rosemary was upstairs, turning down the beds. I heard a knock at the back door. I went outside and turned the corner toward the front of the house. Andre was sitting on a bench holding three bunches of roses. Beside him were a bottle of champagne and two glasses.
“Pick a bouquet,” he said as I approached.
“One of them holds a prize. A prize for me, but I want you to pick.” He smiled. His green eyes were like emeralds in the evening light. He wore a crisp white shirt, open at the collar, and navy slacks.
“Okay.” I stood uncertainly in front of the roses.
“Pick this one,” Andre said.
I took the bunch of roses he offered. “Why this one?”
“Look inside.”
I undid the tissue paper and found a small red box sitting at the base of the rose stems.
“Open it,” Andre said quietly.
I opened the box. Inside was a white gold ring with a small, square diamond.
“You are my prize, Amanda. Will you marry me?” Andre took my hand, which was shaking, and put the ring on my finger.
“Why do you want to marry me?”
“You only get to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Not why,” Andre told me.
“Before I answer yes or no,” I replied, trying to sound like an adult, “I have to know why. I don’t have a brilliant career. I’m not sexy.”
Andre put his finger on my lips and kept it there till I stopped talking.
“In California I have met a dozen women. They all have breasts out to here”—Andre stuck his hands out in front of him—“and blond hair down to here”—he touched my back—“but they have nothing up here.” He put a finger on my forehead. “You have hair like the Mona Lisa, eyes like a tiger, and up here”—he touched my forehead again—“you are an angel.”
I studied the small diamond on my finger. I looked at Andre, kneeling in front of me like a medieval knight. I wanted to believe he thought I was beautiful, but when I looked in the mirror I saw brown curly hair that frizzed up in the summer. My eyes were green but they were placed too close together, and though I was tall I had a neck like a giraffe.
“But we’re so young. We hardly know each other,” I said, trying another avenue. My whole body wanted to say yes, but somewhere inside me I knew a sophisticated Frenchman wanted more than a twenty-two-year-old virgin.
“Getting to know each other will be an adventure. You make me feel happy, Amanda. You give me something to look forward to when I am working.”
I sighed. He almost had me convinced. I had to bring up the one subject we had ignored: my money. “You know, I’m not really rich. All my money is in trust and I only get an allowance. I don’t see any real money till I’m thirty.”
Andre did not take his eyes off my face. He stayed kneeling and he held on to my hand. He chose his words carefully.
“Amanda, I know you were raised like a princess, and I will not be able to support you like that yet. But one day I will have my own restaurant. I promise I will never ask to borrow money from you, and we will never live on your income.”
We were both silent. I smelled the scent of three dozen roses. My parents had married after six weeks and they lasted twenty-three years.
“Yes,” I said, nodding.
Andre stood up and kissed me. He crushed the roses against my chest and he held my hand so tightly my new ring left an indentation on my finger.
*   *   *
We were married at Thanksgiving in my father’s library. It was too soon after my father’s death to hold a big wedding, and I didn’t want to wait. Since the day Andre proposed, I was a bundle of nerves. Like most girls who stay a virgin into their twenties, I became obsessed with sex. I clung to some romantic notion that we should wait till our honeymoon to really “do it.” Maybe I still thought I wouldn’t live up to Andre’s expectations and he would call off the wedding.
Thanksgiving morning was foggy and drizzly. I wore a simple Jackie O–style wedding dress: white and short with a full skirt. Andre wore a gray suit and a red rose in his lapel. His partner, Eric, was his best man and my best friend from high school, Kate, was my maid of honor. My mother gave me away. She was completely charmed by Andre and pleased that I was starting my own life.
“You and Andre haven’t known each other very long, Amanda, but he seems to make you happy,” she said in my bedroom on the morning of the wedding.
“I’m deliriously happy,” I replied, trying to tame my hair into a bun and slipping small diamond earrings into my ears.
“Deliriously happy doesn’t last,” she said, stubbing out her cigarette. She still smoked a pack a day, but she tried to stop when she was around me.
“You and Dad acted like life was one big party.”
“Your father lived large, but he had a solid backbone.”
“Andre is going to be very successful. The restaurant is doing really well. Dad started small.” I slipped my feet into ballet flats. Andre was tall, but I wanted to be looking up at him when we said our vows.
“You’re right. I’m just playing devil’s advocate. Marriage is a long haul.” She looked in the mirror and smoothed her pink Chanel skirt. She was over sixty but her face was smooth. Only her neck was wrinkled, hidden under a bright Hermès scarf.
“We’ll be great, Mother. I had the best role models.” I hugged her.
She snapped open her bag to find another cigarette. “I’ll go downstairs and see if the caterers are here.”
The ceremony was short, performed by one of my father’s old friends, Judge Hansen. Afterward we popped a bottle of champagne and nibbled salmon and rice balls. The wedding-Thanksgiving lunch was served in the long dining room under crystal chandeliers.
Andre sat at the head of the table, my mother at the other end. I was on Andre’s left, Kate on his right. Andre kept his hand on mine the entire lunch, so I had to eat one-handed. While we waited for the pumpkin pie that was going to be our wedding cake, Andre stood up to make a toast.
“This is my first Thanksgiving. I am so lucky to be welcomed into this family. And Grace”—he nodded to my mother—“I will treat Amanda like this champagne flute: delicate, perfect, and priceless. Thank you for allowing her to be my wife.” He lifted his glass and we all drank.
Later, when I was changing into my going-away outfit, Kate knocked on my door.
“What do you think?” I asked. Kate and I had known each other since grade school.
“A little corny,” she said, pulling off her heels and lying down on my bed.
“What do you mean?” I frowned.
“I like Andre,” she said carefully, releasing her short blond hair from its ponytail holder. “He’s just a little clichéd.”
“Well, thanks.” I sat down on the bed next to Kate.
“He’s just sooo romantic. So French.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing. I hope it lasts.”
“You’re jealous.” I laughed. “You want someone to shower you with rose petals.”
“I’m fine being single. Sorry, I wasn’t trying to be nasty.”
“I forgive you. It is my wedding day,” I said. I closed the overnight bag that held my La Perla negligee. “And tonight is my wedding night.”
“Maybe you should have had the wedding night first,” Kate giggled.
I threw a silk pillow at her. “Maybe I should have made you catch the bouquet.”
*   *   *
We checked in to the Mark Hopkins on top of Nob Hill. I felt electric shocks run up my spine when the concierge welcomed us as Mr. and Mrs. Blick. I wore a taupe Eileen Fisher skirt, a Donna Karan silk bodysuit, and camel-colored Prada flats. I had straightened my hair and it lay in silky layers over my shoulders. I looked like a confident San Francisco twenty-something. But as Andre and I stood in the elevator, climbing to the twenty-third floor, I felt like a little girl going to her first ballet class. Andre placed his hand on the small of my back. I was too nervous to make polite conversation with the bellboy. I pretended to search my Michael Kors clutch for some imaginary item until we arrived on our floor.
While Andre inspected the room I stood by the window, hoping the familiar view of San Francisco Bay would steady my nerves. I watched the ferry leave its wake in the gray water, and I studied the Golden Gate Bridge. I took a deep breath and turned to face Andre.
“So, Mrs. Blick, may I pour you some champagne?” Andre held my shoulders and kissed me slowly.
“I think I had enough champagne at lunch,” I replied.
“Then let’s get out of these clothes, yes?” he asked. He unzipped my skirt and slipped off my bodysuit without waiting for my response. Then he took my pantyhose and rolled them off my legs. He took my hand and guided me to the bed.
“I am the luckiest man,” he said when we were lying naked facing each other. I had never seen Andre completely naked. His skin was olive and completely smooth. His arms had rows of small muscles from years of working in a kitchen. His stomach was flat and he had a smattering of black hair over his chest. Every time he touched me I felt an electric shock.
He moved slowly, touching my hands, my stomach, my breasts. He planted little kisses up and down my spine. He pulled my hair to one side and covered my neck with his mouth. I thought, how did I end up in bed with this Roman god? Me, who had known the same skinny boys all through grade school and high school, who had not been on a real date since senior prom?
Andre’s kisses grew deeper. I kissed him back and placed my hands tentatively on his chest. Andre climbed on top of me, covering his body with mine. We began moving together. I tried to give in to just feeling and follow him. He kept moving, stroking my hair and murmuring my name. When he finally shuddered to a stop, groaning softly and rolling off me, I moved to the side of the bed and lay perfectly still. I waited till I was sure he was sleeping and then I turned my head and looked at him. I studied his curly black hair and his long black eyelashes. I followed his long legs wrapped up in the sheets. I closed my eyes, and I thought at that moment nothing else mattered. The world outside the big picture window did not exist. I was complete.
*   *   *
I got up from the bench and stretched my legs. I thought maybe if I did some yoga, looking straight at the mountain, I could ease the pain that was squeezing my chest. I tried standing in a Half Moon and clearing my mind of unwelcome thoughts. Andre and Ursula danced before my eyes like hand puppets at the fair. I conjured up Max’s face, his blue eyes that were just like my father’s, but that made me start crying again. I relaxed the Half Moon and slumped back on the bench. It was easier just to hate him.
*   *   *
I remembered our first year of marriage when I was Andre’s willing sex slave. We rented an apartment in Cow Hollow and my mother decorated it for us as her wedding present. It had a tiny kitchen, a small living room, and a bathroom with a shower and no tub. But the bedroom was large enough for a king-sized bed, and it had a window with a view of the bay. Andre laughed at me and called me his little trollop because I would wait up for him till he closed the restaurant. I met him in bed so we didn’t waste time eating or talking about our day. I just wanted him between the sheets, as fast as possible.
“You are not really American. American girls do not like sex like you,” Andre said after we had been married a month. We were sitting in bed at noon. I brought him orange juice and croissants and the newspaper.
“How many American girls did you know?” I teased him.
“I have no memory of anyone before you,” he said seriously. I didn’t press him. If he claimed he had forgotten all his past girlfriends, I wasn’t going to argue. I was too busy enjoying the present to worry about the past. I didn’t think much about the future either. My days were full. I had everything I wanted.
*   *   *
In our second year of marriage two things happened that changed our delicious routine: Andre had a falling-out with his partner, and I got pregnant. It was just after Christmas and I had a nasty cold that turned into walking pneumonia. I was given a course of antibiotics and told to stay in bed. With nothing else to do, and the restaurant closed for the holidays, we made love three times a day. The antibiotics canceled out the Pill, and by February I realized my period was late.
I panicked. Andre and I never argued because I never voiced an opinion that was different from his. I bought my clothes and books with my allowance so I wasn’t even a drain on his income. I confided in Kate that I was pregnant and afraid to tell Andre.
“What are you afraid of? He’s the one who knocked you up.” It was a Thursday afternoon. Andre was at work and Kate arrived from the spa in her workout clothes.
“We’re so young and Andre works so hard. He’s at the restaurant almost every night. Now he’ll come home to a screaming baby instead of a sexy wife.”
“Amanda, you have to stop being scared of your husband. He works hard because he wants to. Having a baby won’t cramp his style,” Kate said, taking a banana from the fruit bowl.
“What do you mean, what ‘style’?”
Kate was silent while she ate her banana. “Nothing. Just I’m sure your mom will help out with the baby. She’ll be in stitches over having a grandchild.”
“I don’t know why you don’t like Andre.” I was feeling bloated and grumpy.
“I like Andre, but you treat him like a god. He won the jackpot when he married you.”
“Andre and I don’t talk about money. I don’t come into my inheritance till I’m thirty, Kate.” I narrowed my eyes.
“Just tell him you’re pregnant.” She threw the banana skin in the garbage.
*   *   *
I told Andre I was pregnant on Saturday. Andre and Eric got in a huge fight on Sunday. When he came home early on Sunday night, and told me he quit, somehow I thought it was my fault.
“You can’t quit, it’s your restaurant,” I said. We were lying on our bed and I was rubbing his back. He had come home, flung off his clothes, and thrown himself spread-eagled on the bed.
“I can’t work with Eric anymore. He is making a bastard of French cuisine.”
“But what will you do?” I kept rubbing his back.
“He wants to serve flavored crepes. Cinnamon crepes, mocha crepes. We are not the House of Pancakes.”
“Can you buy him out?”
“I can’t afford to.”
Finally I said, “We could ask my mother. She could help us buy him out.”
Andre sat up and held my arms tightly. “I told you I will never ask you for money.”
“But what will we do? With the baby, I won’t be able to work.” I made a tiny salary working at the boutique, but somehow I had to bring up the subject of the baby.
“You think I can’t support our child? Do you think you married a boy?” Andre raised his voice.
“I’m just being practical. You love the restaurant,” I said evenly.
“I’ll find another partner, and another restaurant,” Andre replied. He placed his head between my breasts. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.” He nuzzled my breasts and pulled me down on the bed next to him.
He caressed my thighs. He turned me toward him and stroked my hair. I closed my eyes and gave in to the luscious release of sex. After we made love and Andre was asleep, I felt a sharp stab of uneasiness about our future. Our bedroom with its wonderful king bed did not have room for a crib. For a guilty moment I wished I were back in my bedroom at my parents’ house, looking up at my beautiful ceiling with its gold stars and dark sky.
*   *   *
The next morning I ate a piece of wheat toast to settle my stomach, and walked to my mother’s house. I usually loved walking up the hills of San Francisco, turning at the top of every street to look out at the bay. But I was tired and feeling queasy. My stomach did little flips like goldfish trying to escape from their bowl.
My parents’ house was set behind a rose garden. The house was three stories, all looking out on the bay. Ivy climbed the walls and the windows were hung with thick gold curtains.
I rang the doorbell. Rosemary opened the door. “Is my mother home?” I gave Rosemary a quick hug.
“She is in the morning room. Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“No thanks, Rosemary. I’ll go say hi.” I walked through the long hallway with its black-and-white-marble floor and faux-painted walls. My mother was sitting at the breakfast table reading the paper. The table was covered in a gold tablecloth and set with sterling silver. My mother was perfectly dressed in a belted Gucci dress and pumps. She stubbed her cigarette out when she saw me.
“Do you have to smoke at breakfast?” I asked.
“That’s not much of a greeting.” My mother got up and kissed my cheek.
“I just want you to live a long time.” I took a deep breath. “Since you’re going to be a grandmother.”
“I’m pregnant, we’re having a baby.” My eyes filled with tears.
“That’s wonderful. Why are you crying?”
“I’m not crying,” I said, but then my voice wobbled and I burst into tears.
My mother held me in her arms while I sobbed. Finally she pushed me gently away and smiled. “Welcome to pregnancy. I used to cry when I read fortune cookies.”
“I know. I can’t wait to have a baby.” I rubbed my cheeks. “It’s just…” I started crying again. This time I couldn’t stop.
“Okay, tell me what’s wrong,” my mother said.
I told her Andre and Eric had a falling-out and he quit the restaurant. I told her how I was afraid we couldn’t fit the baby’s things into our tiny apartment. I told her Andre was determined to pay for everything himself.
“I know I’m being selfish,” I finished.
“I understand Andre wants to support you. But I could be a silent partner in a restaurant with him. He would run it, I’d back him financially,” she continued.
I shook my head. “He would consider that helping out.”
“But I believe in Andre. He is a great chef, and he’s charming and charismatic. I would like to be a partner.”
“I wish you could, Mom. But he’ll be furious with me if you suggest it. I can’t risk it.” I shook my head.
“I’m sure he’ll find another partner then.”
She picked up a cigarette from its thin gold case. She lit it, and then quickly put it out. “I’m sorry. I can’t smoke around you when you’re pregnant. Your father was stubborn and proud, too. Marriage is tough.”
“Thanks for telling me,” I said glumly.
“Amanda, you’re having a baby! We should be so happy. Think of all the fun we’ll have shopping! Andre can’t fault me for buying the baby presents. We’ll get a lovely crib and baby blankets. And lots of newborn outfits, and a stroller so you can go on long walks. What if”—she paused—“what if I buy you an apartment in the baby’s name?”
“Let’s not push our luck. I’m happy with a crib and a stroller,” I replied.
“Well then, let’s go shopping. We can run down to Neiman’s and get a few newborn outfits.” She took one last sip of coffee and picked up her cigarette case.
“Mom, I’m not due for seven months!”
“It’ll be fun. And we can buy a couple of maternity outfits, too. Some of the young designers have come out with really pretty things.”
“Okay.” I gave in and followed her to the garage.
“Good girl. One thing your father taught me is a day’s shopping can fix almost anything.”
“I’m sure the credit card companies loved him for that,” I chuckled, getting into the passenger seat of my mother’s silver Mercedes.
“American Express used to send him a bottle of cognac every Christmas.” She nodded as we pulled out of the driveway and drove to Union Square.
*   *   *
Andre found his new partner at a dinner party given by one of my prep school friends. I didn’t want to go to the dinner. I was still really queasy and the last thing I wanted to do was spend the evening stuck in front of a plate of salmon and rice sauté. I wasn’t too keen on the company either. The hostess, Stephanie, had been one of the biggest flirts at school. She had big lips and huge breasts and toyed with all the male teachers, the soccer coach, even the headmaster.
Stephanie and I lost touch after graduation. She went off to Penn to major in international finance. Now she was back, living in Marin, and somehow heard I had married a French chef.
“You have to bring him over to meet Glenn.” Stephanie called out of the blue soon after Andre quit the restaurant.
“Who’s Glenn?” I asked.
“My husband, silly. We got married in St. Moritz last Christmas. Glenn loves French food and French wine. When Kate told me you married a French chef, Glenn said I had to have a dinner party in your honor. Friday night, eight o’clock.” Stephanie hung up before I could make up an excuse to beg off.
I picked up the phone and called Kate. “When did you see Stephanie and what did you tell her about Andre?” I fumed.
Kate laughed. “Sorry, you know how nosy she is. She came into the spa and somehow your name came up. I didn’t know you were hiding Andre.”
“I’m not hiding him. But she invited us to dinner. I don’t want to go.”
“Then don’t go,” Kate replied.
“Andre will want to go. Her husband wants to meet a French chef.” I sighed.
“It’s only dinner, Amanda. Are you afraid of Stephanie and her very large breasts?” Kate laughed.
“I have very large breasts of my own right now.”
“Then think of it as one night you don’t have to cook.”
“I don’t like food, and food doesn’t like me.” I hung up the phone.
I casually mentioned the invitation to Andre when he returned from one of his long afternoons spent at Starbucks reading the newspaper. His face brightened and he kissed me on the mouth. “Of course we’ll go,” he said. I knew what he was thinking. He had had no luck finding a new partner and he was running out of ideas.
*   *   *
We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge in Andre’s old Volkswagen. Andre drove with one hand on the wheel and the other on my thigh. His hair was tied back in a shiny black ponytail; his white shirt was open to the third button.
Stephanie and Glenn lived in Ross, down the hill from our prep school. Ross was a tiny town centered around a patch of green called “the commons.” The commons was the home of the Fourth of July barbecue, Family Day in October, even a Winter Festival in December with fake snow. It was always full of kids playing soccer and mothers standing around admiring each other’s Gucci shoes.
Andre and I pulled up in front of Glenn and Stephanie’s house: It was a big Craftsman style with a three-car garage and a yellow Porsche in the driveway.
“I guess Stephanie married well,” I said as we approached the front door. I knew Stephanie hadn’t grown up with a lot of money, and real estate in Ross was astronomically expensive.
“Maybe her husband will want to be my partner,” Andre said.
*   *   *
Glenn wasn’t interested in investing in Andre, but Stephanie was. From the moment she opened the door, wearing a green velour Juicy Couture sweat suit, her platinum-blond hair falling over her breasts, I wanted to throw up. She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. She pouted prettily at Andre. I grabbed a glass of champagne from the bar.
“Amanda, should you be drinking?” Stephanie shot me a quizzical look. She had one hand on Andre’s arm and was guiding him to the bar.
“One drink every now and then is fine,” I said, giving Stephanie a wide smile. If Stephanie didn’t let go of Andre’s arm I might strangle her.
“In France most pregnant women drink wine at dinner,” Andre said supportively. But he didn’t remove his arm from Stephanie’s grasp.
“I’ll tell Glenn to open one of our best French wines.” Stephanie disappeared into the kitchen.
Andre stood close to me and put his hand on my back. “Relax, Amanda,” he whispered into my ear.
“I forgot what a vulture she is.”
“She is an attractive woman,” Andre said. “But no one is as beautiful as you.”
I was trying to figure out how to respond when a man wearing khakis came down the stairs. He must have been at least six foot three, skinny as a stick. He was almost bald and wore round brown glasses.
“Hi, I’m Glenn. You must be Amanda and Andre. I’m so glad you came.” He shook our hands.
“Andre, help yourself.” Stephanie held the tray in front of Andre. “I tried some French recipes in your honor. Tell me what you think of my escargot.” She picked up a small round snail and popped it in Andre’s mouth.
I took a swig of champagne. I hadn’t eaten anything but a handful of saltines since lunch. The champagne floated straight down to my shoes.
“How did you and Stephanie meet?” I asked Glenn.
“I spent my junior year at the Sorbonne and Glenn was working at Lehman Brothers in Paris. We ran into each other at a café near to his office.” Stephanie was beaming.
I took a piece of toast with liver pâté from the tray. It looked and smelled awful, but I had to put something in my stomach that didn’t have bubbles.
“We had a lovely time exploring Paris,” Glenn agreed.
I knew what Glenn saw in Stephanie: five feet seven inches of perfect bronze flesh. But why had she picked him? Glenn looked like a very thin version of Gumby. I glanced nervously at Andre and wished he’d button up his shirt.
“He just swept me off my feet. Proposed to me at the top of the Eiffel Tower. With this”—she stuck her engagement ring under my nose. It was an emerald-cut diamond, at least five carats. She had a matching diamond wedding band. I noticed the large diamond studs in her ears and the floating diamond hanging on a gold chain around her neck. I was beginning to understand what Stephanie saw in Glenn.
My legs felt wobbly. I sat down on the sofa. I saw Stephanie staring at Andre. Her pink mouth was open in a small o and she ran her tongue over her teeth.
“Who else is coming?” I asked.
“Oh, just a couple of guys Glenn knows from Lehman’s and their wives. Boring. I thought it would be such fun to have you two here. Maybe Andre can improve my French cooking.” Stephanie continued to beam.
Andre was either oblivious to her advances or didn’t want to offend her. He smiled at Stephanie and made no move to sit next to me.
“Actually, would you mind if I stole your husband for a moment? I want to show him my entrées.” She pulled Andre into the kitchen.
I was left alone with Glenn. He sat down on the sofa and offered me a bowl of pretzels.
“No, thanks.” I shook my head, thinking if I put anything in my mouth I would choke.
“So you and Stephanie went to prep school together?” Glenn asked pleasantly.
“Yes. It was a small school so all the kids knew one another pretty well.” I smiled weakly. I wanted to tell him that I knew Stephanie too well: She was a cheating hussy after his money and he should get out now, before they had kids.
“Stephanie has very fond memories of school. When I took the position in San Francisco she convinced me to look at houses in Ross. We fell in love with this one.”
“It’s a beautiful home. But didn’t Stephanie want to stay in the city?” I asked.
“She thinks Ross is a perfect place to raise a family. We’re hoping to have kids soon.”
“Are you talking about me?” Stephanie emerged from the kitchen. Andre came up behind her. His shirt was smooth, his expression bland. They had only been gone a few minutes. Maybe I was making something out of nothing.
I looked at Glenn closely. He seemed so innocent. He must be one of those “numbers” guys who was a fox with figures but a lamb in the real world.
“You’re lucky, Amanda.” Stephanie refilled Andre’s champagne glass. “I want babies so badly.” Her face crinkled into a sexy pout. “But it hasn’t happened yet.”
“We’ve only been trying for three months,” Glenn reminded her.
“I guess we’ll have to try harder,” Stephanie said. She seemed to be talking directly to Andre.
Before I could get up and strangle her, the doorbell rang. Stephanie dashed to answer the door.
I looked at Andre leaning against the bar. He wore navy wool pants and leather loafers. It was time I stopped being a jealous wife and became Andre’s supportive partner. As much as I abhorred Stephanie, I trusted Andre. Stephanie and Glenn could obviously afford to invest in a restaurant, and we had no other prospects. I put down my champagne glass, rubbed my stomach, and went and slipped my hand in Andre’s.
Andre turned and gave me his radiant smile. I squeezed his hand tighter. When Stephanie returned with two other couples, Andre and I stood side by side, shoulders touching.
*   *   *
Stephanie seated Andre on her right at the long cherry dining room table. Glenn was on my left, and a man in his mid-forties named Harvey was on my right. Harvey’s wife, Jane, sat across from me. Harvey and Jane oohed and aahed over each course Stephanie served. It was as if she invited them to be her own personal cheering section, just in case Andre didn’t notice how wonderful she was.
“This bread is too good to be store bought. Did you make it yourself?” Jane dipped a chunk of bread in her soup and made appreciative smacking noises.
“Stephanie has been taking some Cordon Bleu courses,” Glenn said proudly.
The other couple were named Tom and Dell. Tom had a face full of acne that made him look like a teenager. Dell had small brown eyes framed by brown hair. Stephanie was like a movie star at her own premiere. She flitted around the table flashing her breasts every time she bent down to serve a dish.
“Stephanie told me Andre has a restaurant called Crepe Suzette on Sacramento Street,” Glenn said, sipping his expensive French wine.
“Had a restaurant, unfortunately,” Andre replied. “My partner wanted to serve peanut butter crepes. I could not bastardize my beloved French cuisine, so I resigned.” He bowed his head as if he should be awarded the Medal of Honor for his sacrifice for France.
“That’s terrible.” Stephanie’s mouth formed its sexy pout. “How could he suggest peanut butter crepes?”
“I don’t know.” Andre let out a long sigh.
“Andre wants to open a new restaurant,” I said.
“I’m sure you’ll do well,” Glenn said. I glanced at Andre. That wasn’t the response we were hoping for.
“I thought of opening my own catering company,” Stephanie said, licking her soup spoon. “I’d cater dinner parties in town. Just to keep busy, till we have babies.”
“You don’t want to cook in other people’s houses,” Andre said and shook his head. “But if you had your own restaurant people would come to you.”
“My own restaurant,” Stephanie mused.
“I don’t think you have time to run a restaurant, darling,” Glenn said nervously.
“Andre could be my partner. We could have a French restaurant right here in Ross. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before!” she exclaimed.
Probably because there wasn’t a hot French chef sitting at her table before, I thought miserably.
“Stephanie, you would make a wonderful maître d’.” Andre gave her a movie star–caliber smile.
“There’s a space on the commons that used to be a dress shop. It would be perfect. We could have ten tables, very intimate, and just serve dinner.” Stephanie almost bounced out of her chair.
I tried to open my mouth and protest. I didn’t want Andre commuting to Marin. I certainly didn’t want him to be partners with this overripe viper.
“That would be a long drive for you,” I said, touching Andre’s hand.
“We could move to Marin,” he replied, putting his hand over mine.
“You should buy in Ross,” Stephanie piped in. “It’s the best place to raise children.”
“We can’t afford Ross,” I said quietly.
“Oh, Amanda, stop. We used to call Amanda’s house ‘the palace’ and Amanda ‘the princess.’ Her parents were so rich,” Stephanie said to the whole table.
“My parents, not me,” I mumbled.
“Honey, I’d never be bored if we had a restaurant.” Stephanie got up and stood behind Glenn. She nuzzled his neck so her guests had a full view of her breasts. Even I was impressed. Mine were big, but hers were big and perfect: two pale pink peaches pushed up by a Wonderbra.
“Sweetie, we’ll have kids soon and then where will that leave Andre?” Glenn looked at Andre for support, but Andre’s attention was directed at his soup.
“Oh please. I want to do something. You don’t want me to get antsy,” Stephanie begged.
“I’ll clear the table,” Jane said brightly.
“I’ll help you,” Dell offered. Both women obviously wanted to escape to the kitchen. Stephanie was like a girl intent on a new toy.
“If you don’t mind I’m going to step out and have a cigarette.” Harvey pushed back his chair.
“I’ll join you. I always like a breath of fresh air between courses.” Tom followed him outside.
“Opening a new restaurant is a huge undertaking.” Andre turned toward Glenn. “But it might do very well. You have a wealthy client base over here, and not a lot of dining options.”
I realized while Andre was studying his soup he was figuring out the best way to approach the situation. Glenn was a numbers man, so Andre was talking numbers.
“I never thought of it like that,” Glenn replied.
Stephanie decided to let the men hash it out. “Amanda, help me get the entrées.” She gave Glenn a dazzling smile, brushing against him before dragging me into the kitchen.
Stephanie’s kitchen was huge, with a giant butcher-block island and a double Wolf oven.
“Wow, what a gorgeous oven,” I said, wanting to talk about anything other than a partnership with Andre.
“I told you, I love to cook. But it gets boring cooking for two people.” Stephanie removed a ham from the oven and sliced it onto six plates.
“Where did you get these lovely plates?” I admired the plates lined up on the marble counter. The number of times Stephanie said she was bored was making me nervous.
“Where did you get your divine dish?” Stephanie replied.
“What?” I asked.
“Your husband,” she cooed. “He is a cutie. How did you snag him?”
“Um, just love,” I said, sounding stupid even to myself.
“I never expected you to catch a sexy Frenchman,” Stephanie continued.
“Glenn seems really wonderful.” I tried to change the subject.
“Glenn’s great,” Stephanie agreed, adding asparagus tips to each plate and dribbling a hollandaise sauce. “But you got the hunk. I’m impressed.”
“Andre’s going to be a great dad,” I mumbled. I wanted to get out of the kitchen, out of the house, and back into Andre’s old VW.
“Here, take these plates, let’s see if our husbands struck a deal.” Stephanie pushed two plates into my hands and nudged me into the dining room.
*   *   *
“Stephanie, your tips are cooked to perfection. And this sauce … Where did you get the recipe?” Andre asked, cutting his asparagus into ribbons.
“See, Glenn, I do have talent. Can I please have my restaurant?” Stephanie turned her don’t-say-no-to-me pout on her husband.
“Andre and I were crunching a few numbers while you girls were in the kitchen,” Glenn said, slurring his words. He wasn’t as good at holding his liquor as he was at working his figures.
“Glenn is a real whiz with numbers,” Andre complimented our host.
“A French restaurant in town might have potential,” Glenn said, looking well lubricated.
“Please, please,” Stephanie purred. “We could call it La Petite Maison.” She turned to her dinner guests. “Glenn lived in a pension in Paris called La Petite Maison. It holds special memories.” She turned back to Glenn and gave him a secret smile.
“La Petite Maison,” Glenn faltered.
“I’ll pull out the Dom Perignon and we’ll make a toast!” Stephanie jumped up and flew into the kitchen to grab the champagne. I thought if I saw any more bubbles I’d throw up on their Persian rug. I looked at Andre, who was quietly wiping his plate, and thought I’d be sick anyway. I couldn’t fault Andre for encouraging Glenn and Stephanie. He needed a partner. I stood up and excused myself to the bathroom.
When I returned everyone was toasting “La Petite Maison.” Stephanie was jabbering about calling the Realtor about the space on the commons. Andre and Glenn were discussing “cash flow” and “reserves.”
“Honey, have some champagne.” Andre reached for my hand and squeezed it tightly.
I couldn’t be in their house another minute. I pushed my chair back and smiled weakly at everyone. “I’m actually not feeling well. I think we better go.”
“But I made the most wonderful dessert,” Stephanie protested. “It’s a Belgian chocolate mousse.”
“I’m practically allergic to chocolate at the moment,” I insisted. “Pregnancy is playing havoc with my stomach. And I just want to be asleep by eight p.m.” I grimaced.
“Oh, you poor baby,” Stephanie cooed. “Next time just send Andre over. There’s so much to discuss!”
“He doesn’t like to leave me home alone,” I said.
“It’s true.” Andre nodded. “We will start looking for a place to live in Marin.”
“Ooh, I’ll help you! Amanda, call me tomorrow, we can go house hunting.” Stephanie kissed me on both cheeks. She turned to Andre and he practically disappeared in her bear hug.
Glenn drained his second glass of champagne. “I’ll have my attorney get some numbers to you next week.”
*   *   *
Finally we were in the car. At first I was so grateful to have escaped I was silent. But as we neared our apartment, my horror of going into partnership with Stephanie surfaced.
“I can’t believe you would consider being partners with that human piranha,” I said as we neared our building.
“Amanda, you should be thrilled the evening was a success. We are going to have our restaurant.” He put my hand to his mouth and covered it with kisses.
“You are not opening a restaurant with that hussy,” I hissed.
Andre pulled up in front of our apartment and turned off the engine.
“Are you telling me what to do?” he asked in a low voice.
“How could you even consider it? She just wants a new boy toy.”
“Don’t you trust me?” he asked in the same stony voice.
“Of course I trust you,” I replied. “I just don’t trust her. She was doing half the male faculty when we were in high school. We don’t need her.”
“Actually, Amanda, we do need her. She is the only potential partner we have.”
I took my hand away from him and placed it firmly in my lap.
“Andre, we can’t,” I said plaintively.
“Why not?”
“She’s just too awful,” I begged him.
“Amanda, jealousy is an ugly trait. It does not suit you. We need an income.”
“But you can’t commute to Ross,” I said, trying another approach.
“You did all through prep school,” he reminded me.
“I had a driver, and I didn’t have a wife and baby to come home to. You wouldn’t get home till midnight.”
Andre was quiet. I thought I had convinced him the new restaurant needed to be in the city.
“We’ll move to Marin,” he said.
“We can’t afford to move to Marin.” I shook my head.
“There are apartments in Marin.”
“There aren’t any apartments in Ross. The only way I’m moving to Marin,” I said carefully, “is if we let my mother buy us a house.”
“Your mother cannot buy us a house.” Andre shook his head.
“For our baby. She wants to do something for us. She wanted to be your partner,” I reminded him.
“Darling, I would never be a partner with a family member.” His voice softened and he reached for my hand in the dark.
“Then let her buy us a house in Ross, in the baby’s name. Then you can have your restaurant.” I wanted to go upstairs and climb into bed, but we needed to resolve this first.
“Okay,” Andre said finally. “But it must be a very small house, and I will pay her back when the restaurant is on its feet.” He leaned over to kiss me on the cheek.
“Amanda, why are you crying?” he asked in the dark, brushing away the tears on my cheek.
I couldn’t admit I was terrified of Stephanie stealing him away. “Oh, pregnancy,” I lied. “I cry about everything.”
“Well, stop crying and kiss me. Let’s go upstairs and I’ll show you how happy I am.”
The next morning I lay in bed while Andre ran to the market to buy croissants and orange juice. We had made love last night and again this morning, as if Andre was convincing me he couldn’t get enough of me. I leaned against the pillow and willed myself to be happy. We would find a lovely house. Our child would grow up in Ross, playing soccer on the commons. Life would be good. And life was good, until Black Tuesday when I found Andre with his pants down and his legs wrapped around Ursula and it all fell apart.

Copyright © 2012 by Anita Hughes


Excerpted from Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes Copyright © 2012 by Anita Hughes. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

When Amanda Blick, a young mother and kindhearted San Francisco heiress, finds her gorgeous French chef husband wrapped around his sous-chef, she knows she must flee her life in order to rebuild it. The opportunity falls into her lap when her (very lovable) mother suggests Amanda and her young son, Max, spend the summer with her at the St. Regis Resort in Laguna Beach. With the waves right outside her windows and nothing more to worry about than finding the next relaxing thing to do, Amanda should be having the time of her life—and escaping the drama. But instead, she finds herself faced with a kind, older divorcee who showers her with attention… and she discovers that the road to healing is never simple. This is the sometimes funny, sometimes bitter, but always moving story about the mistakes and discoveries a woman makes when her perfect world is turned upside down.

1. Stephanie says that Amanda doesn't love Andre, she only lusts after him, because "he is completely unlovable." Do you think Stephanie is correct, or is it still possible to love someone after they have betrayed you? What is the definition of love as it relates to Amanda and Andre?

2. Edward is a very likable character with obviously strong feelings for Amanda, yet he cheats on her because he thinks Amanda still cares for Andre. Should Amanda give Edward another chance, or is cheating unforgivable no matter what the excuse?

3. Stephanie's friendship is one of the most important influences in Amanda's life, yet they seem to have little in common. What is the basis of their friendship, and how important is it for women friends to have similar backgrounds and goals?

4. Andre tells Amanda when they are first dating that the French have different views on sex. He says it is quite acceptable for men to have affairs and still be happily married. Should Amanda have taken that into account before she married him? Should she have reacted to his cheating differently because of his nationality?

5. Amanda comes from tremendous wealth, and one of her struggles is stopping Andre from feeling like a kept man. Their lifestyle (home, vacations) is considerably scaled down because Andre won't accept help from Amanda's mother. Should Amanda support Andre in this, or is Andre depriving Amanda and Max of a lifestyle they deserve? Do you think Andre's feelings of financial inadequacy contribute to his desire to cheat?

6. At the end of the novel, Amanda decides to take Max to New York for a year so she can attend Parsons School of Design, a dream she has had since high school. Do you think she is doing the right thing—finally doing something for herself that will help her grow? Or do you think the move will be detrimental to Max because he will be far away from his father and grandmother?

7. How do you perceive Stephanie's marriage? Do you think Stephanie loves Glenn—or did she settle for someone who could take care of her? Do you admire Stephanie or think she sold out in order to have a beautiful home and stable family life?

8. Grace takes Amanda to the St. Regis, one of the most beautiful resorts in California. Amanda has butlers and a spa and beach club at her fingertips, yet for much of the summer she is unhappy. How does one's environment affect one's happiness? Should Amanda be happier, or does a person carry their problems wherever they go, no matter how gorgeous the surroundings?

9. Do you think one of Amanda's problems is that she married too young—before she had time to be an adult, working and living on her own? Do you think there is a best age to get married? If so, what do you think that age is?

10. Could you see yourself falling for and marrying a man like Andre: handsome and sexy but with questionable morals? Why or why not?

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