“Something To Be Brave For” [Excerpt]
Earlier Christmas night
Claude said he wanted to give the Christmas party as a thank-you to his office staff, but that really meant that he wanted to entertain and impress his favorite patients. “Darling, it will be so much fun with Mitzi and Gillian coming,” he’d said. “Your parents are coming, too. And we even have free entertainment, you know.”
“We do?” I’d replied, thanking God Gillian would be here. Gillian Beckerman, my best friend from childhood and my father’s surgical fellow (and now colleague) who taught me to sail and introduced me to the world of old black-and-white films when we were girls.
“Yes, Lola Winter has volunteered to perform. She’s wonderful, and your father will love her jazz. It will set just the right tone.”
I preferred Christmas carols at Christmastime, but I understood very well what “the right tone” meant, so I said, “It sounds fabulous. What a great idea!”
As long as your husband’s happy, you don’t have to worry. If he wants a party, then you want one, too. You’ll get into party mode—everything will be glowing and bright with women laughing and men talking, and Lola Winter’s signature be-bop will lift the party into something people will talk about the next day. Claude will be happy for at least a week, maybe two weeks.
The first to arrive were my parents.
“May we entrée? It’s such a short walk, but I’m practically frozen,” my mother said, stepping into our mirror-tiled foyer, the heels of her black satin shoes clicking on the black-and-white-checked marble floor.
“Of course, we’re so happy to see you. Come in and warm up. Merry Christmas,” Claude said, taking her hand and kissing it. I remembered the way he’d kissed my hand at our first meeting.
“Oh, you are so charmant,” my mother said. “Katie is so lucky.” She flashed a smile at me, pulled off her gloves, and slipped them into the side pocket of her coat. At fifty, her looks had slipped almost imperceptibly from late summer to mid-autumn: the inevitable fade of color, the facial muscles loosening their grip and the grave aspect of approaching old age coming forward. Still, you could see the beauty she had been in her day.
“No, I’m just an admirer of great beauty,” said Claude.
“Well, I made a büche de Noël especially for you, Claude. I know it’s one of your favorite Christmas things. Jack, give it to him, please.”
Father stepped up, smiling, proffering the wrapped and beribboned box. “Merry Christmas, Claude.” He gave me a peck. “Merry Christmas, Katie.”
“How thoughtful of you, chère Amelia, you always remember,” Claude said. “Please, let me have your coats.” He snapped his fingers for the maid, who had just come inside after checking to see that the balsam wreath on the front door was still hanging straight. Claude had instructed her to check the wreath every time the door was opened because it tended to fall out of line just a bit with the door’s motion.