You have to see that the whole story is very strange, Lexi, Mordecai said. I’ve never heard of any magical person acting like this. Are you sure he was? Magical, I mean?
She lifted her smiling lips to his, kissed him. I love you.Without breaking their lips apart, he said, Love you more.
It’s the first night of the new year.Irene Steele has spent the day in a state of focused productivity. From nine to one, she filed away every piece of paperwork relating to the complete moth-to-butterfly renovation of her 1892 Queen Anne–style home on Church Street. From one to two, she ate a thick sandwich, chicken salad on pumpernickel (she has always been naturally slender, luckily, so no New Year’s diets for her), and then she took a short nap on the velvet fainting couch in front of the fire in the parlor. From two fifteen to three-thirty, she composed an email response to her boss, Joseph Feeney, the publisher of Heartland Home & Style magazine, who two days earlier had informed her that she was being promoted from editor in chief of the magazine to executive editor, a newly created position that reduces both Irene’s hours and responsibilities by half and comes with a 30 percent pay cut.At a quarter of four, she tried calling her husband, Russ, who was away on business. The phone rang six times and went to voicemail. Irene didn’t leave a message. Russ never listened to them, anyway.
She tried Russ again at four thirty and was shuttled straight to voicemail. She paused, then hung up. Russ was on his phone night and day. Irene wondered if he was intentionally avoiding her call. He might have been upset about their conversation the day before, but first thing this morning, a lavish bouquet of snow-white calla lilies had been delivered to the door with a note: Because you love callas and I love you. Xo R. Irene had been delighted; there was nothing like fresh flowers to brighten a house in winter. She was amazed that Russ had been able to find someone who would deliver on the holiday, but his ingenuity knew no bounds.At five o’clock, Irene poured herself a generous glass of Kendall-Jackson chardonnay, took a shower, and put on the silk and cashmere color-block sweater and black crepe slim pants from Eileen Fisher that Russ had given her for Christmas. She bundled up in her shearling coat, earmuffs, and calfskin leather gloves to walk the four blocks through Iowa City to meet her best friend, esteemed American history professor Lydia Christensen, at the Pullman Bar & Diner.
The New Year’s Day dinner is a tradition going into its seventh year. It started when Lydia got divorced from her philandering husband, Philip, and Russ’s travel schedule went from nearly all the time to all the time. The dinner is supposed to be a positive, life-affirming ritual: Irene and Lydia count their many, many blessings—this friendship near the top of the list—and state their aspirations for the twelve months ahead. But Irene and Lydia are only human, and so their conversation sometimes lapses into predictable lamentation. The greatest unfairness in this world, according to Lydia, is that men get sexier and better-looking as they get older and women… don’t. They just don’t.
The CIA should hire women in their fifties, Lydia says. We’re invisible.Well, it gets kind of boring in the Men’s Parlor. I’m sure if I ask Kile, he’ll come and sit with me while I work. Or Ean, maybe.
Ean, I said, shocked. It’s hard to imagine him willingly joining anyone anywhere.Hale smiled. Yeah. I think he’s finally getting used to us. He talks to me sometimes, and to Erik. Probably because he’s not competition.
That makes sense. Ean seems like the ‘not here to make friends’ type, but I don’t think anyone could go through this without getting close to someone. It’s too hard. As difficult as it is for me, I know it’s just as bad for you all.We definitely get the better end of the deal though, he said, winking at my reflection.