Wish Upon a Star

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“A lot of books have been written about being a single girl in the big city, but none like this. Klasky provides fun and entertainment while offering a thought-provoking view of relationships. A thinking woman’s romance, this one should not be missed!” — Romantic Times

In Wish Upon a Star (previously released as To Wish or Not To Wish), actress Erin Hollister’s life is one disaster on top of another – she loses her day job, her boyfriend dumps her, and she has nowhere to live.  Everything changes, though, when Erin finds a magic lamp, complete with a wish-granting genie! Soon, Erin has a great new apartment, she’s being courted by a stunning chef, and she lands an understudy role in a hot new musical.  If she makes one last wish, she can cement all that newfound success.  But Erin has realized she loves her genie – and when she makes her last wish, he’ll be out of her life forever. What’s a wishing girl to do?

Wish Upon a Star, the third volume in the As You Wish Series, is available in print, as an ebook, and as an audiobook (under the title To Wish or Not To Wish).  It has been translated into French as Petit Guide de Survie pour New-Yorkaise en Deroute!

<<< Chapter 1 >>>

They say that bad things come in threes.

One.

Like every good aspiring actress, I arrived early for my four o’clock audition. I spent the time in the hallway with all the other hopefuls, running through my monologue. Again. For the thousandth time. What was I worried about? I knew my lines cold.

Precisely ten minutes before my time slot, the audition monitor appeared with his clipboard. “Erin Hollister!” he barked, squinting at his computer printout and refusing to look any of us aspiring stars in the eye. I leaped forward with a professional smile, handing him a pristine folder that contained my head shot and résumé. He took it without a word and disappeared into the sanctified privacy of the audition room.

I bowed my head and shook out my hands, trying to relieve the tension that had crept across my shoulders and down my arms. I could do this. I could read for a role in David Mamet’s newest Broadway play. I could impress the casting director with my raw power, my vigorous style, my willingness to grapple with thorny texts and thornier social messages.

The door to the audition room opened, and the monitor barked out my name again. Quickly, before he could even notice, I crossed the fingers of both hands and muttered, “Please, just this once.” I wasn’t quite certain who or what I muttered to, but I’d had the habit of wishing, ever since I was a little girl.

The silly ritual centered me, settled me into place. I pasted a professional smile on my lips before I said, “Thank you,” to the monitor. I preceded him into the space, knowing enough not to offer my hand. If he wanted to shake hands, he’d extend his first.

Inside the room, three people sat on chairs, gazing at me with bored expressions. I forced myself to smile as I took two precise steps forward. I knew this audition room well; I’d read for roles here at least a half dozen times before. A half dozen unsuccessful times before.

I hated this room. It was tiny, apparently carved out of the much larger dance studio next door, a sort of architectural afterthought. The wall to my right was covered with mirrors, and a ballet barre bisected my reflected waist. In the past, I’d described this room as the “Check Your Teeth” audition venue—every single person in those chairs would instantly be able to spot a stray fleck of spinach across the cramped space. Or catch a whiff of garlic, for that matter.

I threw back my shoulders. I’d fortified myself with a Wint-O-Green Life Saver  in the hallway, for I was wise in the way of auditions. Knowing that I had a total of three minutes to impress the watching trio, I said, “My name is Erin Hollister, and my monologue is from The End of My So-Called Affair by Jeanine Thompson Walker.” I took a deep breath, trying to ignore my own reflected image as it loomed in my peripheral vision. I began: “‘I can’t take it anymore!’”

The casting director waved her hand dismissively. “That’s enough. Thanks for coming in.”

Thanks for coming in?

Thanks for nothing.

“Thanks for coming in” was the universal kiss of audition death. The supposed politeness meant that they’d sized me up from my head shot, already made a decision before I even walked through the door. I wasn’t the “type” they were looking for. There was no room in their show for straight blond hair, for blue eyes, for a fresh, Middle America–wholesome actress. I wasn’t worth three minutes of their time.

“Thank you,” I said, pasting an automatic smile across my lips. New York might be the largest city in America, but it was still too small to alienate a single casting professional. I didn’t wait for them to nod, or to shrug, or to grimace, or to do whatever they would do to prove that they were Much Too Busy to pay further attention to me.

Two. (Remember those bad things, coming in threes?)

I tugged on my light jacket—just right for late May in NYC—as I ducked out of the Equity Audition Center, glancing dispiritedly at my watch. I was late for my Survival Job, the employment that gave me money for food, shelter and general life expenses while I waited for my big break onstage. Or my medium-size break. Or even a little one—who was I to complain?

Concerned Caterers had been a godsend for the three years I’d been trying to break into New York theater. I could schedule my catering gigs around auditions; I would even be able to remove myself from the schedule for a few weeks if I ever landed a real role.

When I landed a real role, I remonstrated with myself firmly.

I slipped into my pavement-eating New York stride, doing my best to ignore a blossoming headache as I dug my cell phone out of my cavernous tote bag. I punched a single button and waited for Sam to pick up.

Ring. Ring. I was going to get his voice mail. Ring.

“Hey, babe,” he said, just as I was preparing to leave my sad little message. He sounded rushed.

“Hey.”

I heard him suck air between his teeth. He’d obviously parsed my tone. That was the advantage of dating a guy for two years, living with him for nearly ten months. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I know how much you wanted that role.”

“Yeah—” I said, but he interrupted.

“Can I put you on hold? Opposing counsel’s on the other line. I think we’re going to settle the Lindstrom case today.”

“Go,” I said. “I’ll see you tonight.” He clicked off without saying goodbye, obviously eager not to let his opponent’s feet grow cold.

I shoved my phone back into my bag, trying not to take the dismissal personally. Sam had been working on the Lindstrom case forever. Settling that monstrous litigation was a big deal, especially for a guy who was up for partner at the end of the year.

It wasn’t like I had tons of time to talk, anyway. I was a block away from the Van Bleeker Mansion, where the Knickerbocker Alliance was holding its annual awards dinner. I glanced at my watch again. Half an hour late. I’d hoped for an earlier audition slot but had taken the only time open for a nonunion actress.

Determined to do a perfect job to make up for my tardiness, I bounded up the mansion steps. With the experience of a trained caterer, I made my way to the service area of the gigantic home. Sure enough, a white-draped card table crouched in the hall outside the kitchen. A swag of fabric was clipped to its front, proudly proclaiming: Concerned Caterers—Your Happiness Is Our Concern. A clipboard was centered precisely on the white square of cloth.

Jack Skellar was managing the event. Jack Skellar, who had disliked me since he joined Concerned as a supervisor, six months before. Jack Skellar, who stood in the kitchen doorway, glaring at his watch. Jack Skellar, whose main purpose in life seemed to be finding catering jobs for every single one of his dozens of cousins. He had already fired at least three friends of mine for minor violations of Concerned’s policies, replacing each hardworking actor with a rat-faced relative who was immune from his nit-picking supervision.

Jack pointed at the clipboard and enunciated, “Hol-lis-ter.”

Great. He’d be gunning for me all night long.

“I am so sorry,” I said, loading all of my acting skill into my apology. “I had an audition—”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “Hurry up, Hollister. Grab your shirt and get into the dining room—they’re still arranging flowers for the centerpieces.”

As I scrawled my name on the clipboard, along with the shamed admission of my late check-in time, Jack tugged a cardboard box from beneath the white tablecloth. Inside was a tangle of chartreuse and orange, a color combination so atrocious that my eyes started to cross.

“You have got to be kidding,” I said.

Concerned Caterers occupied the elite top tier of Manhattan catering. One of the gimmicks that set us apart from the riffraff was a unique “costume” created for each engagement. I got to keep my costume at the end of every gig—one of the so-called perks of working for the very best.

Alas, Concerned’s idea of a costume was the cheapest grade of T-shirt that money could buy. The company scooped them up by the gross (and I do mean gross!), dyeing them for each individual job. In theory, the colors matched something about the client, bringing together a variety of unique qualities into a single tasteful statement.

In practice…

Jack plucked one shirt out of the tangle, shaking out wrinkles with a violent flick of his wrists. Shockingly, the fluorescent green and orange wasn’t the worst thing about the shirt. A glittery red lion was stamped across the front of the tee, its claws raised up like it belonged on some fancy coat of arms.

My not-so-beloved employer had really outdone itself this time.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“The chartreuse is from jenever.” I must have looked as confused as I felt, because Jack sighed in exasperation. “Jenever,” he repeated. “Dutch gin. There’s some brand that’s packaged with a chartreuse label.  We’re serving it in the parlor for cocktail hour.”

“And orange?” I studied the horrific garment as if it might somehow come to life.

“William, Prince of.” He glared at me as I pondered my scant knowledge of Dutch history. “And before you ask, the lion is part of the Knickerbocker Alliance coat of arms. Let’s go, Hollister. We haven’t got all day!” Jack thrust the hideous shirt into my unwilling hands.

With a twist of nausea, I saw the size label. Small. I’d been with Concerned for long enough to know that the T-shirt wholesaler gave us deep discounts on size small. And their smalls were really small. All of the comfortable shirts designed to fit normal human beings with breasts had been snatched up by my goody-two-shoes coworkers who had arrived early. Or at least on time. Or, to be more accurate, not a full half hour late.

I sighed and took the hint from Jack’s imperious finger, heading down the hallway toward the staff restroom. As expected, the shirt was tight enough that my rather ordinary…assets looked like some porn star’s inflated balloons. Worse, the sleeves cut into my armpits. I stretched my arms above my head, trying to loosen the damn thing, even a little. My back protested the movement with a sharp twinge that settled into a dull ache, making me wonder if I was coming down with something.

No time for speculation, though. I hurried out to the dining room.

The curious might ask, What flowers go with chartreuse and orange? The answer was…fake ones. Lots and lots of fake, silk chrysanthemums, dyed to match Concerned Catering’s unholy version of the Knickerbocker Alliance coat of arms.

Within an hour, the banquet hall was decked out completely. Fake flowers, golden charger plates at every seat (adding to the visual, um, flair), white serving plates, wineglasses, water glasses, an entire battalion of silverware… Before I could admire our collective handiwork, or at least finish blinking away stars from the visual clutter, Jack pounced.

“Coatroom, Hollister,” he commanded.

I gritted my teeth as I obeyed. I hated coatroom duty. Far away from the camaraderie of the kitchen crew, the coatroom was lonely. And boring. And cold. Every time the door to the street opened, a blast of unseasonably chilly air gusted across the marble foyer. My thin tie-dyed tee didn’t provide a whole lot of protection.

I couldn’t believe the number of women who wore fur coats into the mansion. Fur! In May! I wasn’t a big fan of wearing dead animals at any time, but the coats seemed completely over the top for a spring night, no matter how unusual the low temperatures. Oh, well. This would likely be the last cold snap of the year for mink owners to impress their friends, at least before the fall show-off season began.

After a long pause in arrivals, when I thought I might be through with my lonely coatroom mission, four women swept through the mahogany door at the same time. They gushed to greet one another with air kisses and exclamations of undying friendship. Or undying gossip. Whatever.

Two wore severe black gowns, as if they were attending a formal funeral. One sported cascades of pearls spilled across far too much décolletage. The fourth was the belle of this fashion-disaster ball. She had obviously received the William Prince Of memo—she wore a shocking orange gown, a shimmering garment that cascaded from her ample bosom to her dyed-to-match slippered toes. As if she feared being overlooked, she had settled a diamond-studded tiara on top of her gray-streaked updo.

Pearl Woman thrust her mink into my hands at the same time that Orange Tiara loaded me down with a silver fox. The coats weighed more than I did. The furs slipped against each other, and I struggled to balance both of them, but the fox slithered down to the ground.

Orange Tiara shrieked as if I’d stabbed her.

Before I could stammer out an apology, Jack glided across the foyer. I realized that he must have been watching me from the hallway, waiting for me to screw up so that yet another Skellar relative could become a proud Concerned Catering employee.

“I am terribly sorry, madam,” Jack murmured, scooping up the offended coat in one arm as he offered the enraged matron support with the other. “That clumsy girl should have paid more attention. Please, accept my apologies and send the cleaning bill to Concerned Caterers.” He produced a business card out of a breast pocket, all the while muttering more oily platitudes. I stared at the spotless floor in front of me, furious with myself for initiating the debacle, but defensively positive that the fur had not been the slightest bit damaged.

As Orange Tiara finally sailed into the parlor, Jack turned to me and hissed, “Watch it, Hollister.”

I swallowed my frustration and turned back to wait for more latecomers. Once Jack was gone, I tried to distract myself from the freezing foyer temperatures by speculating on the menu.

It would be something Dutch, I was sure, in honor of New Amsterdam and the original Knickerbockers. Maybe the appetizer was creamy Gouda cheese, liberated from its red wax wrapper and melted over crusty bread. I wasn’t usually a big fan of cheese, but the thought of that creamy goodness, toasty hot from the oven… That was comfort food. That could make anyone forget a lousy audition, forget a freezing coatroom. I swallowed hard, suddenly ravenous.

I waited the requisite half hour after the last arrivals, making sure that no other Alliance matrons would need my coat-slinging services. Then, without giving Jack a chance to scold me, I scurried back to the kitchen to help with whatever food remained to be served.

A recycling bin near the door was filled with chartreuse-labeled bottles. Sure enough, that was the jenever. And it looked like the Alliance had made an admirable dent in New York City’s supply of the stuff. With that many empties, a healthy number of our society matrons must be totally smashed.

And they hadn’t had any melted Gouda appetizers to slow their absorption of alcohol. Apparently, the chef had whipped up some authentic Amsterdam treat. I’m sure it had a fancy Dutch name, but the translation was “fried herring on a stick.” Now it was cold fried herring on a stick, returned on almost every diner’s plate. So, the appetizer hadn’t been a grand success.

Jack was in an even worse mood than before. I watched him berate two of his cousins, telling them that they obviously hadn’t done their jobs, selling the hors d’oeuvres as delectable Dutch treats. If even Skellar cousins were bearing the brunt of Jack’s wrath, the rest of the night was going to be a sheer nightmare.

Eager to look busy, I lifted one of the silver warmers and stared at the plate beneath. Grilled asparagus. Innocent enough. Tiny roasted potatoes carved into roses. They were actually pretty. And stew.

Pungent, gloppy, lumpy stew.

A twist of nausea swirled through my belly and I slammed the warmer lid back onto the plate. As a Skellar cousin started toward the door with a full tray, I asked, “What is that stuff?”

Her pale face looked ghastly against her chartreuse-and-orange shirt. “Kippenlevertjes met abrikozen.”

I didn’t speak Dutch, but I thought I recognized that last word. “Apricots?”

She frowned and nodded. “With chicken livers.”

Our Customers’ Happiness Was Our Concern? Really? Concerned Caterers might want to consider a new slogan, if it was going to continue in the Dutch line of business.

Before I could say anything, the pastry chef ordered me over to his station. Following instructions, I arranged twelve parfait glasses on a serving tray. With Jack paying eagle-eyed attention from his perch by the double doors, I composed my dozen desserts, following directions from the harried chef. Sorry bites of fruit were spooned out of a hotel tray, rescued from the sweet wine where they’d been allowed to macerate for far too long. Three scoops of ice cream followed—two vanilla, one strawberry. Alas, the frozen confection, um, wasn’t. The ice cream was half-melted, so that it settled into a streaky mess at the bottom of each parfait glass. The pastry chef himself topped each deflated little mound with strawberry sauce, the unfortunate crimson streaks looking like a roadmap straight to the emergency room.

“Um, what is this called?” I finally dared to ask.

“Knickerbocker Glory,” he growled. “No seconds.”

I didn’t think that was going to be a problem.

Great,” I said, faking a smile so perfectly that I should have received an instant Tony Award on the spot. Unfortunately, when I had laid out the parfait glasses on my tray, I’d assumed that I would have the full range of motion in my lifting arm. I hadn’t counted on my tiny T-shirt cutting off the blood flow at my shoulder. I longed to invent a new catering tray, some type of molded plastic that would fit my shoulder, that would make it impossible for me to spill catered food treasures.

Gritting my teeth and compensating with the ordinary tools of my trade, I barely made it past Jack without disaster. My job wasn’t made any easier by the defeated stream of returning caterers, bringing back dozens of untouched plates of kippenlevertjes. A few of the abrikozen had been pushed around by adventurous diners’ forks, but the entrée looked to be a near-complete failure.

At least I carried my desserts across the crowded dining room without incident. I placed the first Glory on the plate of the oldest woman at my table. And the second. And the third. It was my dumb luck that the fourth Glory went to the drunkest woman in the bunch. Orange Tiara.

She may have gotten a late start at the party, but she’d clearly made up for lost time, downing more than her share of the chartreuse jenever. Now, she was declaiming eloquently about her family lineage, some ancient relative, her great-(emphasis with one hand), great-(emphasis with a forearm), great-(emphasis with a lurching torso), great-(emphasis with a nod of her head and a flying diamond tiara)—

And a cascading tray of melted Knickerbocker Glories.

Eight of them. Crashing down on two sedate black formal gowns, one décolletage covered with pearls and a tiaraless orange ensemble.

The dress was definitely not made better by a cascade of melted pink-and-white ice cream.

“To the kitchen, Hollister!” Jack shouted, and I realized that he’d followed me into the dining room. He fluttered around the table, doing his best to extinguish the cries of surprise and outrage. He flung business cards left and right, promised dry cleaning, door-to-door transportation for salvaged clothes, everything short of his nonexistent firstborn child.

Including punishment. Of me.

With one officious glare, he ordered me back to the kitchen to await my fate. I staggered through the doors and huddled miserably in the corner, trying to stay out of the way of the rest of the Skellar family.

Jack didn’t keep me in suspense for long. “You’re fired!” he snapped, immediately commanding the attention of every person in the bustling room. I would never have believed that a working kitchen could become so quiet, so quickly.

“But—”

“No ‘buts’! You showed up late, you ruined a fur coat, you dumped an entire tray of desserts! Are you drunk?”

“No, I—”

“Don’t make any excuses to me!”

“But she—”

“Out! Now! Before you destroy anything else!”

“What—”

He whipped a cell phone out of his pocket, sending a flock of business cards flying around the room. “Do I have to call the police to get you out of here?”

He was totally serious.

I looked around the kitchen. Two dozen eyes were locked on me, eyes that shimmered with shock (a couple of the women who had started about the same time I had), with horror (a couple of the guys, who realized that they might just be next in line for Jack’s unfair attention), with just a hint of glee at the scandal they were witnessing (the entire horde of Skellar cousins, who were probably already planning a family reunion to welcome whoever was going to take my place.)

My cheeks flamed red, certainly brighter than the glittering lion stretched across my chest. I turned on my heel and fled the kitchen, scarcely taking time to snatch up my bedraggled, fortunately furless coat and my beaten-up leather tote.

As my heels slammed down on the frozen sidewalk outside the Van Bleeke, I tried to accept that I had just lost my job. My Survival Job. The job that preserved my dignity, that let me contribute to the rent, to the groceries, to the life I shared with Sam.

I was going to be sick.

Three. (You didn’t forget, did you? I’ve only told two-thirds of my disaster trifecta.)

I fished out my phone and pressed the first number on my speed dial. Amy. My sister. We’d talked at least once a day, every day, ever since she’d phoned me during my freshman year in college with the staggering news that our parents had been killed in a car crash. In the intervening seven years, Amy and I had become more than sisters. We were best friends.

“Hey,” she answered halfway through the first ring. “Are you watching this?”

“Watching what?”

“Food Channel. The history of distilled spirits.”

“I don’t even want to hear that phrase.”

Amy grunted, and I could picture her shifting position on her too-deep sectional couch. “What’s going on?”

I told her the whole tragic tale, starting with my audition and ending with my rushing up Fifth Avenue, clutching my coat closed over a chartreuse-and-orange T-shirt, trying to decide if I could blow money on taking a cab home to the Upper East Side refuge that I shared with Sam.

Amy made all of the appropriate noises, clicking her tongue in dismay at the casting director, sighing in exasperation at Jack’s family-oriented insanity. When I’d finally run down, she said, “Don’t worry. Catering is really outside of your silo.”

I gritted my teeth. I hated when Amy lapsed into business-school-speak, an all-too-frequent occurrence, since she’d left her job as a bookkeeper for a law firm and started taking management classes at Rutgers. Unaware of my annoyance, she said, “What about your job at the Mercer? Can you take on more hours in the box office there?”

I sighed. The Mercer Project was a theater down in the Village. Despite their small house, they’d gained a reputation for doing some really innovative shows. For the past three months, I had worked two shifts a week in the box office, selling tickets, enforcing the no-refunds-no-exchange policy and dreaming of the day when I’d be cast in one of their productions. “I can try. I work tomorrow afternoon. I’ll talk to them then.”

“You know that if you need anything, if you need to borrow any money—”

“Thanks,” I said, before she could complete the sentence. Like I was going to borrow money from my sister. She was struggling to make her own ends meet, with her husband over in Germany, serving in the army while Amy stayed stateside to finish her business degree. Every spare penny she had went toward child care for my nephew. Speaking of which… “Where’s Justin?”

“I sent him to bed early.”

“Another bad night?”

Amy sighed. “Only if you count getting into a fistfight during recess at school. And refusing to eat his dinner. And using the F-word twice, when I told him that he couldn’t watch TV.” Justin was not handling his father’s deployment well.

“Oh, Ame, I’m sorry,” I said. Not that there was anything I could do. Not that there was anything anyone could do, short of getting Derek home.

“The worst part—” Amy groaned “—is that I’ve got cramps from hell tonight!”

Ah, the joys of sisterly communication. I listened to Amy complain about her body’s overly sensitive hormonal wiring. She’d always had a worse time than me, every single month. She was the one who got out of gym class on a regular basis, who stayed home with heating pads and Motrin.

Motrin. I wondered if I had any with me. My back still ached, a low, throbbing pain, and my headache had returned with a vengeance.

Amy had complained of backaches and headaches when she’d been pregnant with Justin. She’d said that Tylenol didn’t even start to take the edge off of them. She wouldn’t take anything stronger, though. Couldn’t, out of concern for her baby, and because of her persistent nausea.

My belly twisted, as it had when I’d seen that hideous liver-and-apricot concoction, spread out on the catering plate.

Back pain. Headache. Nausea. And I’d had a craving for those imaginary Gouda appetizers, too.

I’d read What to Expect When You’re Expecting, memorized every page so that I could help Amy.

Oh. My. God.

Today was May 21. I counted back. Four weeks. Five. Six.

Oh. My. God.

Sure, I was on the pill. But I’d had strep throat a while back, picked up from Justin when I babysat him one night for Amy. Strep throat, treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics that weakened the pill.

Oh. My. God.

“Hello?” Amy was saying, a slight ring of annoyance behind her voice. “Erin? Did you hear me?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Look, I am totally exhausted. I’m going to grab a cab and head home.” I’m sure I said something else, something appropriate to end the conversation, but I wasn’t really paying attention. And I wasn’t looking for a cab, either. Instead, I continued walking uptown. I needed the time to think.

What was Sam going to say? We were both always complaining that we didn’t have time to live our lives. We had too many dinners delivered, grabbed too many quick meals out, blew through his lawyer salary because neither one of us had time to cook. We constantly complained about not having clean clothes, because we couldn’t manage to do laundry in the few spare minutes we scraped together each week. We waded through piles of magazines and snowdrifts of the Times because neither of us had time to straighten up the apartment.

I could change all that. I could manage our home life. I could be the perfect corporate wife—cook for us, clean for us—all while raising our child.

Maybe everything did happen for a reason. Maybe I’d lost out on the afternoon audition—the Mamet play, and every other show I’d auditioned for in the past year—because I was meant to start down this new path. Maybe I’d pushed my catering boss beyond forbearance for a reason. Maybe it was time to stop being a child, stop being a starry-eyed little girl who thought that she could ever succeed in the impossible world of the theater. Maybe it was time to be a grown-up. Someone practical. A wife.

A mother.

I was a little astonished at how well I was taking this. I mean, it was a shock and all. I never would have asked for such a sudden change, for such a complete transition in my life. But it was real. It was happening. And it made so much sense.

Until I tried to figure out how to tell Sam. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I wasn’t actually pregnant. After all, it had only been six weeks. And I was on the pill. I should buy a test at the drugstore before I said anything.

Sam greeted me at the door of our first-floor apartment. (Hmm, the first floor would make it easier to get the baby’s stroller out to the street.) He nuzzled my neck as he closed the door behind me. I could smell beer on his breath. “You’re home early.”

I made some noncommittal noise as I let him lead me over to the living room couch. He’d been watching TV, a Yankees game. Two empty beer bottles sat on the coffee table, glinting next to a nearly full one. Sam nodded toward the collection. “Want a beer?”

I shook my head and shrugged out of my coat. When I collapsed into a corner of the couch, Sam lunged toward the television, howling at the blind ump who wouldn’t know a high strike if it knocked him on his ass. I waited for the batter to hit into a double play before I asked, “Did the Lindstrom case settle?”

He swore. “No. Bastard backed out at the last second. Said he couldn’t recommend settlement to his client without another ten mil to sweeten the pot.” He glanced at me, finally noticing the horror of my chartreuse-and-orange too-small T-shirt. He started to say something, but leered instead. “Well, at least Concerned has one thing going for it.”

I crossed my arms over my chest. I should tell him that I’d been fired. Tell him that this was the last “costume” I’d ever have to suffer through.

“What?” he asked, either because he realized I was upset, or because the baseball game had finally flickered to a commercial.

“I think I’m pregnant,” I said.

Wow. I really thought that I’d decided to wait. To have medical proof, something more than my wigged-out suspicion. Guess not.

He pulled away as if I’d spilled a tray of melted Knickerbocker Glories in his lap. “You’re kidding, right?”

I shook my head. “I don’t think so. I’m two weeks late.”

“What the—” He jumped off the couch, eyeing me as if I had bubonic plague.

“Come on,” I said. “It’s not contagious.”

“What?” His eyes widened. “You think this is funny? Don’t you realize I’m up for partner this year? I don’t have time for this!”

Time for this? Like I’d just invited him to a party he didn’t want to attend? I forced my voice to stay calm. “Of course I realize you’re up for partner. But it’s okay. I mean, this might all be happening a little sooner than we’d planned, but—”

“A little sooner?” His voice was hoarse, as if I’d punched him in the gut. “How could you have been so irresponsible?”

That lit a fire under me. I snapped, “Last time I checked, it took two people to make a baby.”

“Are you sure it’s mine?”

“Sam!” I was so shocked I could barely gasp his name. “I can’t believe you said that.”

His gaze settled on my belly, on the tight stretch of chartreuse and orange. He could still make everything all right. He could still apologize. We could still talk this out. But then he said, “I can’t believe it, either. I can’t believe any of this.”

He turned on his heel and strode out of the room. I heard him scramble in the foyer, grabbing for a jacket. I heard him turn the locks, fumbling them open as if his life depended on it. I heard him slam the door, as if he were fleeing a horde of raging demons.

And then I heard nothing but perfect silence inside our perfect brownstone apartment on our perfect block of the perfect Upper East Side.

I collapsed onto the couch and started to cry.

<<<>>>

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