A FEW DAYS AFTER my phone conversation with Keith, his assistant
Toni calls me to coordinate the details of the upcoming dinner. She must
have been his assistant for a long time: she plans every single aspect of his
itinerary and doesn’t leave anything to chance. But really, am I having
dinner with a rock star or embarking on a covert military operation? I am
actually surprised she doesn’t say things like, “Keith will land at oh-nine-
hundred hours.” She explains that Keith will fly into Providence on July 9,
but that we’ll meet at the Stone Yacht Club in Newport on July 10, so he’ll
have a day to adjust to the time change and rest.
An hour later my phone’s email notification dings. She’s sent me an
itinerary. It tells me what time to get to the yacht club. She’s even added
Google map directions from my house. Also included on the email is a list
of topics that I should not bring up at the dinner. Of course, his son Damien
and his ex-wife are at the top of the list. I scroll further through the email
and read a list of his allergies. I wonder how many items on the list he’s
actually allergic to, or whether they’re just foods he doesn’t like. I don’t
think I’ve ever heard of anyone who is allergic to Brussels sprouts—but
apparently Keith Kutter is. She has covered every single angle and then
some. Though I wonder how many of the items on here are actually for his
safety—I am sure that most of them are for his comfort.
On one occasion at my job, I saw the list of “requirements” that a
celebrity demanded while she was participating in a benefit concert in
Providence. It included things like “only white flowers, only white
furniture, and only white linens” in her dressing room. At the time, I’d
felt guilty when I’d had to call the director of facilities at the Providence
Performing Arts Center to tell them about the diva’s dressing room
requirements. The disbelief in his voice when he confirmed with me that
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yes, he had to move all the furniture out of the dressing room and replace
it with another set in the required color, horrified me at the time. Now I
can look back on it and laugh. I didn’t think that stars actually had
requirements like that in real life. I had heard rumors about celebrities
wanting things like only red Skittles in bowls in their fitting rooms and
the like, and each time I’d thought it had to be a joke. It always makes me
wonder whose job it is to isolate the red Skittles out of the bag, and how
long that must take. As I read Toni’s emails, I imagine that Keith’s list of
demands has grown longer and more obscure as his popularity has risen.
It probably makes Toni’s job very difficult.
I close the email and call out to Tim, who is hunched over his computer
on a Skype meeting with his campaign manager, “Honey? Don’t make any
plans for the tenth. We’re having dinner with Keith Kutter.”
“Who?” I hear Aria bellow through Tim’s laptop speakers. “Did she
just say Keith Kutter? The guy from Hydra? Why didn’t you tell me you
knew him? Can we get his support?”
Tim rolls his eyes at me. “Never mind” he says to Aria. “Where were
we?” Soon enough, they’ve continued their meeting. I try to occupy myself
until their meeting is over, but I’m really just reading the same paragraph
over and over in a magazine. My mind keeps wandering to the meeting
with Keith. What will he really be like? What can I eat that I won’t end up
getting all over me? What does one wear to dinner at a five-star restaurant
with the best rock and roll bassist in the world? (Wow, I could spend days
on that question!)
While I’m thinking, I watch Tim conduct his meeting. He’s completely
focused on the discussion; he doesn’t seem at all fazed about the idea of
dinner with Keith Kutter. I can’t imagine how he can possibly be so calm,
knowing that we are going to be meeting a rock-and-roll legend. I’ve
already bitten three fingernails down to nothing without even realizing it.
* * *The night of the tenth rolls around before I even know it. And there is
nothing in my closet that I even want to wear. There’s a pile of discarded
clothes draped over the chair and on the bed. I haven’t had time to shop
because of the launch of Smile Airlines at work. Product launches are what
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we call a “BFD” at work, meaning it’s a “big fucking deal,” and I, along
with everyone I work with, basically have no life until the work is done.
We’ve been working until nearly ten each weeknight—as well as
every weekend—for the last month, coordinating a press event that took
place in the Marriot adjacent to the airport. I am pretty psyched about
how the press event turned out. Smile Airlines set up a life-sized model
of the cabin of one of their airliners in the parking lot of the hotel. The
press could go inside it and see what the cabins actually look like and
then report to the public about how spacious and modern they are. We
had a video created that played on a loop on the seat-back screens, so the
members of the press could sit in the seats, watch the video, and be served
a non-alcoholic Smile-tini. Coordinating all of that meant that I had no
time or energy to go to Macy’s or TJ Maxx to get something new.
Tim walks in, catching me on the verge of tears as I frantically shove
my clothes aside, trying to find that one perfect outfit. At least the product
launch went well. Very well, actually. Amanda’s been dropping hints at
promoting me. The client is over the moon with their results—and I’m the
one who orchestrated every single part of it. I actually got high-fived all the
way from the kitchenette to my cubicle by every single one of my co-
workers. Joy, the receptionist, told me not to forget the little people when I
get to the top.
Why can’t meeting a rock star be that simple?
“Just put something on,” Tim urges. “We’re going to be late.”
“What the hell am I supposed to wear? Why did I agree to this?” I sit
on the foot of the bed and let my face fall onto my knees. I am on the edge
of hyperventilating, and the room’s starting to get spinny. Why didn’t I
at least set aside a few outfits to pick from? Normally I prepare my outfit
for big meetings at work—I iron, I brush away stray pieces of Vito’s fur.
As a result, I go into the meeting calm and confident. Tonight, I am going
to fling entire outfits all over our bedroom and still end up hating what I
“Just wear what you would normally wear to a nice dinner,” Tim
suggests, rifling through the clothes on my side of the closet and the pile
on the chair. “Here.” He holds out my vintage turquoise dress with
brown flowers on it. “You look hot in this one. Put it on, let’s go.”
“Shoes.” I hold out my hand. He hands me the brown strappy sandals
I normally wear with the dress. I slip the dress over my head and let it fall
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over my hips. I tug at it to settle it around my waist. Tim’s right: it is the
perfect dress for tonight. It fits me beautifully. I catch him eying me in the
mirror. Good choice, Tim. I hold the sandal straps in my hand and let the
shoes dangle then head to the jewelry box. I paw around for a matching
pair and scowl at myself for not being more organized whenever I put my
earrings away. My mom used to clip her earrings together after taking
them off; another habit I really should adopt.
“Bren, come on. Just put something on, and let’s go.” He grabs the
white gold hoops he bought for my twenty-fifth birthday from my
jewelry box. “Wear these. Come on, we’re going to be late.”
On the way there, I sit in silence while Tim drives the truck over the
Newport Bridge. “You okay?” he asks as he steers us down the off ramp.
“Yeah. Nervous,” I sputter.
“You are freaking yourself out,” Tim warns. “Just relax and be
yourself. Let’s just have some fun. He’ll probably just talk about himself the
whole time, anyway. Let’s take it as an opportunity to have a fabulous
meal.” He takes my hand and spreads it out over his thigh, then
methodically rubs the back of it with the heel of his hand. It’s amazing how
calming this feels. I draw in a deep breath in through my nose and blow it
out in a narrow stream from my lips. Then he lightly massages my neck
with his right hand while driving with his left. “Come on, Bren. Loosen
My mind is a terrifying blank by the time we turn onto Bellevue
Avenue, where Newport’s legendary mansions line the street. Some of
them have been converted into museums, while others are still lived in—
like Portia’s very large white brick Victorian on the corner of Dartmouth
Street. I’ve always wondered what it must be like to live in those houses
day to day. I imagine enormous bedrooms, quadruple the size of the one
that Tim and I share—which is still larger than most—and being able to
soak in an enormous bathtub all the way up to my chin. But then I figure
that the wall-to-wall marble floors must be freezing in the winter. Sure,
they have the windows that were part of the original construction; some
are now tinted lavender from age. But they’re probably drafty as hell when
the cold ocean breeze kicks up in the doldrums of February. The people
who live in these houses are wealthy enough to have another house
somewhere warm where they can stay for the winter. I wish Portia would
As I gaze at the mansions, I am thankful for the house that Tim and I
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have, where our feet don’t freeze in the wintertime—even if Portia did
insist on decorating it for us, and I hate what she’s done with the place. I
mean, does she think we live in Versailles? What is with all the creepy old-
guy paintings she’s put up? I’ve moved most of them to areas in the house
where we don’t spend a lot of time, because I’ve gotten very sketched out
from feeling as if eyes are following me all through the house. I would love
for our house not to echo when I get home. It feels lonely with the sterile
hardwood floors and dainty antique furniture everywhere. I am so
tempted to buy a ratty old La-Z-Boy off of Craigslist and plop it right in
between her chaise and divan.
Then my mind drifts to what Keith’s house in Sydney must look
like, and I wonder if it is at all as extravagant as the ones on Bellevue.
I’d be willing to bet it overlooks the ocean somewhere just outside of
Sydney. It probably has a wrought iron gate at the front to keep out the
creepy stalker fans. Maybe, if this publicity stunt works out, his home
will be featured in MTV Cribs. Is that show still on?
We turn off Bellevue and pull up in front of the Stone Yacht Club.
Tim hands the keys to the waiting valet. I compare Tim’s dingy pickup
truck to the gleaming BMWs and Benzes in the parking lot, and for a
moment I wish I’d thought to take my car. But then, I kinda like it when
we take Tim’s pickup to Newport; it totally rattles his mom’s socialite
nerves. Surely some of her friends are at the Stone tonight, and they’ll
report back to Portia about Tim’s filthy truck pulling in. Then at least
she’ll hassle Tim about being unrefined for a change, and not me.
When we get into the restaurant, we play a bit of cloak and dagger.
Toni instructed me to ask for Michael Andrews, apparently Keith’s code
“Mr. Andrews is expecting you,” says the hostess. “He’s at the bar.”
She gestures toward the doorway to the right of her podium, and then
immediately turns her attention to the old-money couple behind us and
smiles broadly. It’s a very casual snub, executed perfectly. “Of course, Mr.
and Mrs. Van Marten, your usual table is ready. Right this way.” She
gestures gracefully to the door on the left.
I tug uncomfortably at my dress, fidget with my hair, and wonder if
the Mr. Van Marten walking past me is the Edward Van Marten, the
infamous investment banker accused of running a multi-billion dollar
Ponzi scheme with his clients’ money. I check out the gigantic diamonds
dripping from Mrs. Van Marten’s ears and her perfectly matching
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diamond necklace and bracelet and figure she is probably wearing about
fifty carats. The amazing thing is that her carat weight fits right in at the
Stone Yacht Club. I wonder what Tim’s mom wears when she comes here
with the ladies who lunch. I can’t help but feel a bit inadequate next to Mrs.
Van Marten. I really need to snap out of this. I can’t go in to meet my lifelong
hero feeling this way.
Still, I can’t help whispering to Tim, “Do you think that’s…” while
nodding toward the Van Martens. He nods back and warns me with his
eyes to keep my voice down and my mouth closed. I fidget with my
“My God,” he hisses at me, “would you stop with that already?”
I stop fidgeting when we walk through the doorway into the bar.
Actually, I freeze when I see him sitting on a stool at the end. He is sipping
a Scotch when he looks up at me. I recognize his face from the pictures
on my old cassettes, even though now he has a few more deep-set lines
around the eyes and mouth. I didn’t expect him to look so normal,
wearing a jacket with no tie.
“I think that’s him,” I whisper to Tim. “I never expected him to look
so—I don’t know—normal?”
“Well, what did you expect?” Tim says. “That he’d show up in a
bandana and eyeliner, looking like Keith Richards? He probably wants
to fit in a bit, don’t you think?” Keith Kutter is maybe ten paces away
from me. After all those mornings I woke up to his face staring down at
me in my childhood bedroom, now I am about to shake his hand. He sips
at his Scotch at the far end of the bar, looking dignified yet still ruggedly
sexy. His naturally wavy hair is pushed back, kind of like he’s just been
swimming in the ocean and pushed it off his face. I can picture the water
streaming down his chest. Wow, am I seriously standing here imagining Keith
Kutter without his shirt on?
I notice his eyes give me an elevator look, as my girlfriends in college
used to say. They trace me up and down and up again. I am glad I wore
this dress. Tim’s right: I rock this dress. And I think Keith thinks so, too.
“Come on, you look like a dork standing there. Close your mouth.”
Tim puts his hand at the small of my back and gently guides me through
the doorway. I am always amazed at how cool Tim is in situations like
these. He kicks into politician mode and is suddenly invincible. I briefly
imagine him shaking every hand and kissing every baby within reach
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while on his way to the bar, saying “Tim Dunkirk, candidate for State
Senate” to each person he meets. He strides over to the bar and looks back
over his shoulder at me, his eyes saying, “Are you coming?”
The butterflies in my stomach must have snorted meth. I walk
behind Tim to the far end of the bar, paying attention to keep my stride
casual and fighting the urge to squeal and run up to Keith. Or, even
worse, squeal and run out of the restaurant. I clench my fists at my sides
until Tim takes my hand and subtly straightens out my fingers. I need to
kick in to publicist mode.
Normally I can just turn it on and be a competent professional. But
right now, I can’t find that “on” switch. Where is my confidence? Keith
Kutter is sitting at the end of the bar, and my mouth has dried out. He
looks even better up close. He has a trace of five o’clock shadow on his
jaw line, just enough to not look grubby. He still looks like he’s a sun-
bleached blond, but I wonder if there’s some gray mixed in there. It’s
winter in Australia, but he looks like he’s just spent months at the beach.
I can see the veins on the back of his hands, pronounced from all the years
of plucking strings on his bass. He has a tattoo on his right wrist, some
sort of tribal thing maybe. He’s wearing what I think is his wedding ring,
but it’s on his right hand.
Tim is the first to speak, but only because he probably knows I’d
say something scintillating like “Woooowwww” over and over again.
“Hi, I’m Tim Dunkirk.” He extends his hand to shake Keith’s. “This is
my wife Brenda.”
“Hello, Brenda.” Keith greets my breasts. Is he seriously checking me
out in front of my husband? His bodyguard clears his throat, and Keith’s
eyes dart up to meet mine. “Yes, um. This is Greg, my bodyguard.” He
gestures to the wall of muscle with a shaved head standing beside him;
Greg nods at me but does not extend his hand to shake mine—a classic
“It’s… um… very nice to meet you?” I like to think that what I said
came out perfectly coherent, but I doubt it actually did. Tim looks at my
mouth with a warning look in his eyes, which I take to mean, “Close your
mouth.” I clench my teeth together for a few seconds just to get myself to
shut up for a moment and collect my thoughts. This is going to be a long
night, if I keep fumbling over every single thing I say. I really have got to
get it together. He’s just an ordinary dude, out for a nice dinner. I need to
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Keith sips his Scotch while we wait for my beer and Tim’s Gray
Goose and grapefruit. I spaced and ordered a beer. Why? Am I at a frat
party? I search my brain for something to say, something other than,
“So, you’re a big rock star. What’s that like?” Nothing comes to mind.
Tim saves me with his gift for gab. “So, Keith,” he says, “I read online
that you are a wine collector. Did you know that the Stone Yacht Club was
awarded Best Wine List in all of New England for the last five years?”
Tim read up on Keith online? When could he have possibly had time
to do that? I take his hand and give it a squeeze. I hope he knows that I
am grateful to him for doing this with me.
“Actually, that’s why I selected it,” Keith says, taking another sip of
his drink. “I heard a rumor about there being some Henri Jayer in the
cellar here. I’d love to get my hands on a bottle of ‘87 Richeborg.”
The hostess, after seating the Van Martens, finds us in the bar and
escorts us to a table.
“Would you two like to share the ‘87 Richeborg with me?” Keith
asks, settling into his seat and picking up the wine list.
“Actually, I’m not really into wine,” I reply as I skim the menu, “but
you guys go ahead. Tim likes it. I’ll stick with my beer.” I take a sip and
smile. I should finish this, I’m thinking, and order a classier drink, like a
Tim leans over to look at the wine list with Keith. “Doesn’t look like
it’s on the list,” he points out.
When the waiter comes back, Keith asks for it anyway.
“That is a reserved bottle, I am afraid,” the waiter says, gesturing to
the wine list. It’s not really a list; it’s more a book. “But we have a very
wide selection. I can recommend something comparable.”
“Who is the bottle reserved for?” Keith asks. But before the waiter
can answer, he starts in with, “Do you know who I am?” and raises his
voice noticeably higher. I look over my shoulder, afraid that some of the
other diners may have heard.
“I am afraid not, sir. Now, please, you may select a wine from our
list. Our list is quite large—“
“I am Keith Kutter. Bass player from the band Hydra. I am here to
have dinner with my friends. Now, the Richeborg, please.”
“I am sorry, sir, I am afraid that’s impossible.” I can tell that this guy
has no idea who Keith is. And that is the precise problem Keith has right
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now. If we’d had this conversation even ten years ago, I am sure he’d have
gotten his wine. Keith’s face is turning red. I wonder how many times this
scene has played out in the last decade. I don’t think Keith even knows that
he’s not famous anymore. The waiter is young, probably in his twenties,
and probably has no idea who Hydra is. And now Keith is looking to cash
in on his former glory, but the waiter is out of Keith’s league. Keith still
thinks that Hydra are rock-and-roll sweethearts. But seriously, now this
waiter is going to remember Keith Kutter for his tantrum, not because he’d
once been Guitar Magazine’ s bassist of the year.
I start to feel a bit sad for Keith—until he speaks again. “How can
this place possibly claim five stars,” Keith fumes, “when their wine list
is for shit?”
Greg fidgets with his bread plate; Tim and I exchange an awkward
glance. I am bracing myself. Is Keith going to throw the table on its side and
storm out? I want to slide under the table and hide; the conversation at the
other tables has pretty much stopped. It’s one glance from Greg that stops
Keith in his tracks. I doubt he’s ever gotten physical with Keith, but his
look says, “Shut the fuck up, or I will shut you up.” His glare is laser-
focused on Keith until he finally relents.
“Looks like I’ll have to settle for…” Keith says, turning the pages
on the wine list. I don’t know what he’s complaining about. There’s no
way that he can’t find something suitable to drink on that list. “I guess
we’ll have a bottle of Le Pin.” Keith thrusts the wine list at the waiter in
Tim raises his eyebrows at me, which I take to mean that this bottle
is impossibly expensive. But Keith’s dejected tone when he ordered it
suggests it is vinegar.
I open my menu. I’ve never eaten at the Stone Yacht Club and try not
to appear shocked at the prices. Tim used to come here with his parents for
special occasions when he was growing up. The menu is mostly written in
French, with English descriptions in delicate-looking italics. To me it
suggests, “If you’re an idiot and can’t read French, here’s the English
version for you uncouth Americans.” The menu includes things like confit
de canard, escargots de Bourgogne, and boeuf en meurette. I minored in French
in college, so I know that these items are duck, snails, and beef. I settle on
the coq au vin, because that is the cheapest thing on the menu. The practical
side of me cannot justify ordering anything else. I wonder what the chef
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could possibly do to a chicken breast to make it worth ninety dollars.
A few moments later, the waiter returns with the bottle of Le Pin. He
shows the label to Keith, who frowns and waves him on. We all watch as
the waiter cuts and removes the foil, then deftly extracts the cork with a
quiet pop, setting it on the table before Keith. He picks up the cork and
makes a big deal of sniffing it before grunting and tossing it back onto the
table. The waiter pours a small amount into Keith’s wine glass, then waits
patiently while Keith swirls the liquid around in the glass and holds it up
to the dim restaurant light, inspecting it carefully. Then he brings the glass
to his nose and inhales deeply before, finally, emptying the glass into his
mouth. He coughs, sniffs, frowns, and sets the empty glass on the table.
“It’ll be fine when it’s had a chance to sit, for like an hour,” he says
with disgust. The waiter nods without expression and sets the bottle on
the table next to Keith’s glass, after which he brings out the wine list
and sets it in the middle of the table, presumably in case we want to
order something else.
I glance at the list and notice that the Le Pin costs two thousand five
hundred dollars. How in the hell can Keith possibly not enjoy a wine that
costs that much? I watch Tim pour himself a half glass and take a sip then
I watch his face for a more realistic reaction. He closes his eyes and
holds the wine on his tongue for a moment. I can tell he doesn’t want to
contradict Keith by outwardly enjoying the wine; but I know he is in
fact enjoying it.
The waiter pulls a small leather folder out from behind him and,
opening it, announces that he’d be pleased to take our orders, if we are
Tim orders Wagyu short ribs, braised in a burgundy wine—one of the
most expensive things on the menu. I raise my eyebrows at him. That’s the
thing about Tim. He’ll take full advantage of a situation like this and order
something spectacular, while I’ll feel guilty about spending so much
money on something as frivolous as a fancy meal. Tim always says that it’s
not about the actual chicken breast and vegetables; it’s the experience of
eating it and the preparation of the food that I am paying for.
That’s the difference in how Tim and I were raised. As a result of Tim’s
dad’s success, Tim routinely enjoyed the experience of expensive gourmet
meals. My parents, who lived comfortably within their means, usually ate
dinner out based on the price and not the presentation of the meal. They
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often shared their entrées to save even more money. I was relieved, when
Portia first met my parents, that my mom didn’t insisted on bringing a
coupon to the restaurant. Dad couldn’t stand the coupons; Mom had them
all over the house as a constant reminder to save money. After Mom died,
he threw them all away.
The other diners are speaking in dignified hushed tones to the point
where I don’t want to speak up and order my entrée. Instead, I point to
“Oh, the coq au vin,” the waiter says to me, smiling. “A wonderful
choice. It is one of Chef Emile’s specialties. Madame will love it.”
“Thank you, I am looking forward to it.” I hand my menu back to
I try to relax, but, really, I feel entirely out of my element. I’ve eaten
in fancy restaurants with clients before. But in those sorts of situations, I
am there for work, so I pay more attention to remembering the purpose
of the meal and staying on top of my game. But tonight, I am seated in
one of the most exclusive restaurants in New England with a famous
musician and the upper crust of the northeastern United States. I feel like
the other diners are staring at me, after Keith’s hissy fit over the wine. I
take a deep breath and try to enjoy the various aromas of the steaming
entrées carried past our table. I smell garlic and lemon. I look around the
room and try to take it all in. I haven’t been here before, and I’m in awe
of the silver vases and white roses on every table. The bread plates are so
delicate that I’d swear I could see light through mine if I held it up. I am
sure many a dishwasher has been fired over breaking these babies.
After the waiter leaves, the silence at our table is awkward. I don’t
know what to say to Keith, and apparently he doesn’t know what to say
to me. I don’t want to engage in a discussion about his obvious
disappointment in his crazy expensive wine. He glances at Greg, who
merely shrugs. I turn my attention to Greg and smile, and I can tell he’s
bored out of his mind. Tim gives me one of those “What the hell is
wrong with these people?” looks. We’ve already chatted about Keith’s
flight to Providence and the fact that it is winter in Australia. What else
is left? I rack my brain and try not to cringe at the lack of conversation.
Finally, it’s Keith who speaks up. “You know, I have spent the last
thirty years of my life simultaneously avoiding and seeking out my fans.
I never imagined I’d randomly sit down to dinner with one.”
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“Is it everything you thought it would be?” I ask, then laugh and bite
into a warm dinner roll.
“Well, really, it’s dinner with a stranger,” he says. He looks like he’s
choosing his words. It’s one thing to be rude to the waiter; it’s another to
be rude to the people who are supposed to help you to become famous
Mercifully, our entrées arrive; now, at least, we can talk about our
food. Out of habit, Tim scrapes his veggies onto my plate and takes any
offending onions off of mine. I catch a faraway look in Keith’s eyes and
wonder if he and Tamsen shared a similar pre-dinner ritual. He’s
probably remembering something about her right now, but I know I can’t
ask. Instead, I smile at him and make eye contact for a moment. Hello,
confidence. How nice of you to return. At that moment, the bubble of
uneasiness that has been hanging over our table pops and dissipates. It’s
like Keith finally remembers the purpose of our dinner tonight—he’s
here to meet us and get to know his American fans.
Greg hands Keith a set of silverware he has stashed in his messenger
bag. Really? He brings his own silverware? Does he think he’s going to
contract some disease or be poisoned by the utensils at an expensive
“How long have you two been together?” Keith asks flatly. It’s a basic
question, but I feel like he’s just humoring us. He probably couldn’t care
less about how long Tim and I have been together. Tonight is all about him.
He sips his wine and grimaces. Come on, dude, get over it and enjoy. Greg
passes Keith a quick admonishing glare. Keith’s expression changes; it’s as
if he’s just remembered that he needs to feign interest in us for his great
publicity stunt to work. But at least he’s trying to break the ice.
“We’ve been together for twelve years,” I say, “but married for
seven.” I cut into my chicken then bite into it and slowly chew, trying to
take Tim’s advice and enjoy the experience of the food. He may be on to
something: I’ve never known that chicken could actually melt in my
mouth. I can’t ever get chicken to come out like this without its turning
to mush. And the flavors: it’s like an explosion of savory spices, the tang
of lemon, and something else a tiny bit sweet that I can’t quite place.
“By the time Bren relented and married me, we had a house,” Tim
says. A house that your mother insisted on decorating, I want to add, but then
figure it would probably tick Tim off. We’ve actually had a few
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conversations about how decorating our home has been worthwhile,
something to keep Portia busy and happy, as she has so few hobbies since
Tim’s dad died. I maintain that, since it’s our house and we live in it, it
should reflect our taste, and not something she’s seen in Paris
“So, how did you two meet?” Keith asks. He’d been busy cracking
his lobster; now, I notice that he puts down his utensils so that he can
listen to us undistracted.
“When I was in college,” I say, “I used to perform at an open mike
night in a coffee house in Providence. It was there that I met the guys in
Tim’s band and became friends with them.”
“By the time I joined the band,” Tim adds, “Bren was opening for the
band at almost every show. I loved her voice. She never bothered to tune
her guitar very well, but her singing voice is amazing.”
“I had no idea, Brenda!” Keith picks up his fork again. Wow, this is
getting to be a pretty nice conversation.
Maybe we just got off to a bad start with the wine tantrum. I thought
that Tim and I would have to kiss Keith’s ass tonight, but now I actually
feel like he’s interested in what we have to say. I still can’t help but
wonder if it’s a bit of an act, though. And, the way his eyes keep
wandering to my breasts, I am starting to wonder if one of them is
completely exposed. I can’t get a read on him. Is he some asshole rock star?
Or is he a nice guy? Greg apparently notices Keith ogling me and glares at
“Then we both got dumped at the same time by our respective
significant others,” I say, “and ended up commiserating together. It’s
amazing how what you think will just be a summer fling ends up being
forever.” I smile at Tim and caress the back of his hand.
I once Googled the boyfriend I had before Tim. I managed to find his
mug shot. Apparently, he’d tried to rob a liquor store with a baseball bat
and been caught trying to run through the snow after breaking his ankle.
Bullet dodged. Tim’s ex-girlfriend, however, is a model and has posed
for the cover of Italian fashion magazines since their breakup. I know this,
because Portia keeps copies on her coffee table.
“So you aren’t going to tell him the rest?” Tim asks.
“What do you mean?”
“The part where you invited yourself to my parents’ cabin in
Vermont.” He smiles and raises his eyebrows provocatively.
B J K N A P P
Keith sets down his fork and leans in closer. “I am a sucker for party-
crashing stories. I’ve never been brave enough to do it on my own. Do tell.”
“For what it’s worth, I was invited to Vermont, thank you very
much.” I stick my tongue out at Tim. “And I still can’t believe you guys
call that place a cabin. You don’t use the word ‘wing’ when talking about
a section of a ‘cabin.’” Keith nods in agreement. It’s nice to see him on my
side—although I’ll bet his house in Sydney has wings.
I still remember that weekend when I arrived at the “cabin.” Tim’s
mother had told me that I’d be sleeping in the east wing, while Tim and
his parents would sleep in the west one. I should have known then how
things would turn out with his mother and me, as the east wing was also
where the housekeeper and the chef stayed. It’s also important to note
that cabins don’t have housekeepers and chefs.
“Tim had gone with his parents to Vermont for the summer,” I
continue, “and I was living and working in Boston. He called me at work
on a crappy day. I told him I was stressed out, and he said, ‘You should
come to Vermont. It’s relaxing here.’ So I did.”
“Okay, so when did you crash the party?” Keith asks.
“Well,” Tim interjects, “I didn’t say, ‘Come to my parents’ house in
Vermont.’ I didn’t explicitly invite her to visit me at the cabin. So, she
wasn’t invited, right? ”
“Yeah,” I say, “but you said, ‘Come to Vermont.’ I mean, if you didn’t
want me to visit you at the cabin, you could have said anything else, like,
‘You need a vacation.’ You wanted me to go there to visit you, and you
Keith watches us banter back and forth until Tim asks him, “So,
member of the jury, what do you think?”
“Hmmm… interesting.” Keith strokes his chin in mock deliberation.
“The evidence on both sides is compelling. But Brenda, I just have to ask,
what did you say to Tim’s parents after you turned up uninvited?”
“Uninvited? Come on! Work with me, would ya?” I ask with feigned
“Yes!” Tim exclaims. They high-five, and I bite into another piece of
chicken, pretending to be annoyed. But I can’t stay annoyed for too long:
this chicken is ridiculously good. Keith has apparently relented and drunk
half the bottle of wine, and I think he’s mellowing out. After we’ve told
Keith the story about my visit to the cabin, it’s as if we’re having dinner
B E S I D E T H E M U S I C
with an old friend. He makes me feel as if we actually could be friends
after tonight. He tells us a few funny stories about being on tour with the
band—run-ins with small-town sheriffs and the like. But he lets us tell
him funny stories, too. The evening isn’t all about him, apparently, and
that’s very cool of him.
“Okay, here’s one for you,” Tim says, sipping his wine.
“Not the stinky car, Tim,” I say and laugh. It’s gross, but it’s actually a
really funny story.
“Yes, the stinky car,” he says, laughing. He has a gleam in his eye I
haven’t seen in a while. “So, a guy brings his car into the shop. I get in
behind the wheel to move it into the bay so we can get it up on the lift.
And man, I’ve never smelled anything this bad. I just know something’s
died in that car.”
“No!” Keith says, hooting with laughter. “How did he drive around
“That’s what I wanted to know. So I call the guy up and ask him
“What on earth did he say?” Keith is snickering now.
“The dude says, ‘I had a head injury, and I lost my sense of smell.
You mean to tell me my car stinks?’” Tim pauses so Keith can laugh.
“Then he says, ‘Well, shit, that probably explains why I haven’t been on
a second date in months.’” At this point it looks like Keith is going to fall
out of his chair from laughing so hard.
“So, did you find out what made it smell so bad?”
“Yeah, a squirrel had died under the front seat.”
“Gah! That’s terrible!” Keith is wiping the tears from his eyes.
We’re talking and laughing so boisterously that the other diners glare
at us occasionally, but I don’t care. I wish I could just say to them, “It’s a
restaurant, not a library. Lighten up. This is Keith Fucking Kutter.” By the
time we order dessert, my abs are aching from laughing so much.
This is what I wish the world could see right now. Keith is so relatable
and so much fun. I am sure that tomorrow I’ll get instructions from Toni
about how I should talk about tonight on social media, and I am glad to
do it. He really is a cool guy, once you get past the bullshit famous-rock-
star exterior. I am so glad I got the chance to meet him tonight. Would it
be weird if I offered him some coaching for his next fan encounter? He needs
to know not to throw a tantrum over the wine list next time, and then
he’ll be perfect.
B J K N A P P
“I didn’t quite know what to expect, coming here tonight,” Keith
says. “I’ve had such a nice time. Thank you for coming to meet me. I
was so afraid that we’d end up talking about me the whole night. It’s
been great to have a normal night with normal people.” He leans back
in his chair and sighs. Normal? Does that mean we’re boring? Gosh, I hope
not. “And the meal was great. Tim, what did you think of that wine?
How was it with your short ribs?”
Tim doesn’t get the chance to answer, everything next happens so
fast. I detect a quick movement out of the corner of my eye. I turn to
look: a man wearing ratty jeans and a baseball cap is weaving between
the tables, rapidly approaching ours. He pulls something from behind
his back. I am frozen. Is this what it’s like when rock stars leave the house?
Does Keith constantly look around and wonder what people have in
their pockets? Is every lump in a jacket a gun? My heart starts to race
until I see that it’s a camera and not a gun.
I turn back just in time to see Greg react; it’s pure instinct in motion,
and he doesn’t take any chances. With one swift movement, he shoves
Keith under the table. My mouth is now back to hanging open, I am so
confused. A bright flash of light blinds me for a moment. Then another
blinks rapidly, making me flinch every time. The flashes keep coming; I
hold up my hand to shield my eyes and try to see through the glare. A
crowd of photographers has materialized seemingly out of nowhere and
is surrounding our table.
Between flashes, I see Keith stand and Greg take his arm. Keith tosses
a wad of money on the table and hisses at me, “How could you?”
“But I didn’t do anything,” I say. I don’t think he cares to argue the
point right now, however. I don’t think he even hears me. Greg holds
onto Keith with his left hand; with his right, he’s shoving the paparazzi
out of his way and doesn’t look like he even cares if he knocks anyone
over. He forces himself between Keith and the crowd, and I lose sight of
them just after they plow their way into the kitchen. The photographers
then swarm around me and Tim and block my view. The reporters bark
out questions at us in rapid fire. I can’t tell who is asking what, and they
come out so jumbled, I can’t make sense of anything at all.
“Brenda, what did Keith…?”
I can feel my heart rate rising; this is stressful. The camera flashes
B E S I D E T H E M U S I C
are still going off all around me, and I am so disoriented, I am seeing
spots. I feel as if the reporters are closing in on me and pretty soon are
going to trample me with their zoom lenses. I have to get out of here.
I stand up from the table and straighten my back in an effort to get
the crowd to fall back. It’s not working, so I take a lesson from Greg and
bulldoze my way through, aiming for the kitchen. I stumble and almost
fall into Edward Van Marten’s lap; I fumble with my apology and continue
pushing my way through the wall of paparazzi. They are packed so tightly
that I actually become frightened. I can hear the other diners gasping in
disgust as I push my way through.
Finally, I start throwing elbows, figuring the photographers will
certainly want to protect their cameras and their faces. I don’t even look
back to see if Tim’s behind me, although I hope he’s making his way out,
too. I figure that, if we get separated in the confusion, we’ll meet back at the
truck once everything calms down.
After I’ve made it through the crowd, through the kitchen, and out the
back door, I see Keith and Greg take off on a pair of motorcycles. I look back
and see Tim still trying to push his way through the photographers who
are clamoring to get my attention. The restaurant manager yells at them to
get out of his kitchen. The kitchen door swings shut on Tim and the crowd,
and I half-wonder if Tim will survive among the piranhas. Then the door
swings open again just long enough for Tim to call out, “Bren! Wait there
It only takes a few minutes more for Tim to get around to the back of
the restaurant. When finds me, I’m sitting on the back steps, looking out
over the harbor. For a moment it is peaceful, until the photographers
following Tim begin to spill around us again. They call my name and shout
out more questions.
“Brenda, where are they staying?”
“Do you know where they went?”
How do they even know my name?
“Let’s get out of here,” Tim says, taking my arm. “Back off!” he barks
at the paparazzi. I gaze at my husband for a moment, impressed by the
way he is taking control and getting us out of here. It’s actually kind of sexy.
By the time we get around to the front, we find that the valet has pulled
our truck to the front door and is waiting impatiently for us to get in. The
restaurant manager is standing at the front door with his arms crossed, a
B J K N A P P
very pissed-off look on his face. I can’t say I blame him for wanting us out
as quickly as possible. The photographers have either lost interest or got
their shot; they jump into their cars and speed away.
I get into the truck and watch their receding taillights from the
passenger seat. I am sure a few must have followed Greg and Keith on
their bikes. Are they safe? I imagine that riding on motorcycles away
from a crowd of hungry photographers is pretty dangerous.
Just as I am about to climb into the passenger seat, I hear her shrill
nasal voice: Portia. She has that wealthy woman’s way of speaking,
where she doesn’t move her bottom jaw.
“Timothy. Why didn’t you tell me you were dining at the club tonight?
Isn’t this a bit far from your neighborhood?” Portia doesn’t care about
geography; “neighborhood” equals “above your station,” and that
question was just for me. I turn around to find her striding toward us.
She manages to execute the walk on the uneven cobblestone driveway
perfectly in high heels. Just one more way I can tell that she’s not really
human: nobody can do that. “Why do you insist on driving this heap
around?” She gestures to Tim’s truck. I smirk a bit. “Let me call Richard on
Monday, and he’ll find you something more suitable.” Of course, she is on
a first-name basis with a luxury-car importer. She looks me up and down,
and I can’t help but think she’s going through her mental contact list to see
who can help her find a more suitable wife for Tim.
“Not necessary, mother,” Tim says, air-kissing her cheek.
“Hello, Portia.” I plaster a fake smile on my face and extend my hand
to her. She doesn’t take it.
“Well, I’d better be getting in,” Portia says. She straightens the
collar on Tim’s shirt and artfully ignores me. “Stella and Edward are in
from New York and have invited me for a digestif.” Of course, she is
also on a first-name basis with the Van Martens. She looks me up and
down, and I can tell she disapproves of my dress—the one dress I wear
when I want to feel hot and confident. Now I need to find another dress;
she’s ruined this one for me. I try the same up-and-down look on her
probably ridiculously-expensive designer dress, but I really cannot pull
off the disdain as well as she can. She’s been doing it to me since Tim
popped the question.
The time Tim brought me home to meet Portia was an absolute
disaster. I’d Googled her and knew that, in her prime, Portia had been the
B E S I D E T H E M U S I C
“it” girl of Newport society. I learned that her debutante ball had been
expected to be so well attended that she’d had hers on her own, rather
than with a group of girls, the way it’s normally done. Her marriage to
Tim’s dad was mentioned in Time magazine, as well, where they’d been
described as the “tastemakers of Newport society.”
On the night Tim drove me to his family’s mansion, I brought Portia a
spray of yellow roses, because Tim had told me they were her favorite. She
politely thanked me and promptly handed them to the housekeeper to
have them put into a vase. Then she set them on the same table where an
embarrassingly large arrangement of the same flower had already been
placed. Mine, a full dozen, looked pathetic next to the tower of yellow roses
she already had. And she’d set mine next to hers on purpose, I just knew
Portia’s subtlety in her efforts to make me feel inferior became more
aggressive after Tim proposed. She took me to dinner soon after and
handed me an envelope containing thirty thousand dollars in cash. I
knew what she was doing, but I started out playing dumb.
“Oh, is this for the wedding? How generous of you.” She raised her
eyebrow; I’d wanted her to come right out and say that she expected me
to take the money and leave Tim. I excused myself and left the cash on
my bread plate. I didn’t tell Tim about it, at first. It was just too bizarre.
There’s no way he would have believed me; I didn’t quite believe it
myself. Then, when she realized paying me off wouldn’t work, she got a
bit more creative.
A short time later, Tim and I attended a fundraiser at her mansion. We
didn’t know that she’d also invited a few of Tim’s “more suitable” ex-
girlfriends. Portia’s house is an old school mansion with a ballroom on the
bottom floor, where she hosts incredibly ostentatious parties that are very
well attended. I learned very quickly that Portia is still very much the “it”
girl of Newport high society. Get an invitation to one of Portia’s parties,
and you are in an exclusive club comprised of the wealthiest families in
Newport. When we walked in to the party, the caterers, wearing white
dinner jackets, were all bustling about with hors d’oeuvres on sterling
trays. I think Portia had strategically placed young, flawless-skinned
blondes all over the room, just waiting for Tim to take his pick of them.
And, of course, she’d told these women that Tim was available. As a result,
Tim was surrounded by impeccably dressed, ice-princess-blonde
socialites, all fawning over him.
B J K N A P P
“Brenda, darling,” Portia called out to me. “I need your help. I want
to cut some more lemons for the bar.” It didn’t occur to me at the time to
wonder why she would be cutting the lemons. I was more excited that
she had called me “darling.” So I followed her into the kitchen. She
nodded at the cook and left me in there with the caterers. I’d been trying
to make an impression, but before I knew it, I was chopping fruits and
vegetables in Portia’s steamy expanse of a kitchen while she was busy
steering other women toward Tim.
Thankfully, he caught on and rescued me. For the rest of the night, Tim
spun me around the highly-polished parquet wood floor; we danced
underneath garlands of Portia’s favorite yellow roses that were strung
crisscross on the ceiling, while the socialites cooled their very high and very
expensive heels on the sidelines. Portia glared at us from the head table.
I know I should stand up a bit taller; instead, I lean on the side of the
truck. I need to stop letting her treat me this way. At first, Tim told me I
was imagining it and asked me to just be nice. Her aversion to me is
completely obvious; why doesn’t he see it? There’s no way he could have
missed the way her lip curled up when she looked at me, as if I were
repulsive. I know he just wants to keep the peace between me and Portia,
but honestly, it’s becoming increasingly difficult not to just say to her, “It’s
not my fault that Tim wants to perform surgery on cars and not on eyes.
Get over it already.” It’s on the tip of my tongue, as it usually is whenever
we see her. But if I say it now, after she hasn’t even acknowledged me, then
I know I will just look crazy.
I glance at Tim, but he’s looking around, watching the photographers
disperse. Portia sees him looking at them, too. “Was there some sort of
excitement here tonight? Why are there so many photographers?”
Tim begins to speak, but I interrupt him. There is no way I want her
to know that they were here because I’d wanted to meet Keith. “Um, I
don’t know. When we got out they were all out here.” I can see the relief
on Tim’s face; I am glad he’s on board with my lying to his mother. I feel
as if he’s just put a toe across the line onto my side of the fight; I’ll take
the small victories where I can get them. The Van Martens don’t know
us, so there’s no way she’ll be shamed by me tonight in front of her fancy
friends. I think I read somewhere that Portia was roommates with Mrs.
Van Marten at Radcliffe. “Honey, shall we?” I ask Tim. “We don’t want
your mother to keep her friends waiting.” I gesture toward our truck,
B E S I D E T H E M U S I C
putting an even wider, faker smile on my face.
Tim takes Portia’s hands and air kisses her one more time. “Have a
lovely evening, mother,” he says.
She turns her back on me and accepts the arm of the valet, who walks
her to the door of the restaurant.
I am relieved as we pull out of the Stone Yacht Club driveway and
back onto Bellevue Avenue. I look back to make sure we’re not being
followed—by Portia or by the photographers. Why does she seem to show
up at the most inopportune times? Thank God she hadn’t just five minutes
earlier, though: she would have seen us right at the center of the crowd.
And then there’d be no way that I’d ever get into her good graces.
As we ride over the Newport Bridge, I look down at a cargo ship
anchored in Narragansett Bay. I can see a man walking on the deck. He
looks tiny beside the ship’s looming tower. I always wonder where these
ships come from. This time, I wonder how long that man on deck has been
away from his family. It’s nice to think about something else for a moment,
because I am completely freaked out about how our dinner with Keith
ended. That look of complete disgust on his face keeps appearing over and
over in my mind. What must he think of me right now?
Tim breaks the silence. “How are you?”
I groan. “I’m confused. What the hell was that? He looked really mad.”
“He’ll get over it. I am sure this sort of thing happens to him all the
“Well, it doesn’t happen to us. We were having a nice time. He
probably thinks I sold him out.” I slouch down in the passenger seat, kick
off my shoes, and prop my bare feet on the dashboard. “I’ll probably never
get the chance to tell him I didn’t do it” I sigh.
“Bren, it’s okay. It’s not like he was going to be our friend.”
“I know. But I still feel bad. Did you see the look on his face?”
“I couldn’t see much with all those cameras going off.”
“I know, right? That was insane.” Then I laugh a little. “I’ll bet the
Van Martens are happy that the paparazzi weren’t there for them.”
“It probably gets pretty tiring, dealing with that bullshit all the time.”
“But now he must think that I set that up. It bugs me that I’ll probably
never get to tell him that we had nothing to do with it. Do you think I
should call Toni and explain?”
“No. I know that this will probably make you nuts for a little while.
You just have to leave it alone.”
B J K N A P P
“What do you mean, it’ll ‘make me nuts’?” I ask.
“Come on, Bren. You know how you can get sometimes—“
“No, Tim,” I interrupt. “How do I get sometimes?” My throat is
tightening, the way it usually does when we’re about to get into a fight. I
can taste that weird sour flavor in the back of my mouth that makes my
stomach churn. I clench my fists and swallow hard, trying to get it off my
“You just get a little obsessed with dumb shit.”
“Gee, it’s nice to know that you find my interests dumb. Sorry I can’t
do something more worthwhile, like run for office.” The sour taste goes
away; now I am just getting mad.
“Ugh. That’s not what I meant. Would you stop? Forget I said
For the rest of the ride, we don’t talk. He pulls the truck into the
garage while I am still trying to calm down, but I can’t. I am amped up
from dealing with the paparazzi, and I am pissed off at Tim. A bad
combination. We sit in the car in silence, and I wonder if he can hear my
Instead, we hear the telltale thud of our beagle, Vito, jumping off the
forbidden couch. Tim smiles a bit and shakes his head at the sound. Even
when he’s not in the room, Vito can still cut the tension between us. He’s
interrupted more arguments than I can even count.
“Bren, if we didn’t set up the photographers, then who did? And
how did they know our names?”
“I don’t know.” Then, after a pause, I add, “But I just don’t feel right
with him thinking that we set that up. I don’t want our meeting him to
end that way.”
“I know, Bren. I’m sorry about what I said earlier.” We get out of the
truck and walk to the inside garage door that leads into the house. But
before we go inside, Tim stops and throws his arms around me. “I
shouldn’t have said that,” he whispers into my hair. I try to tell him it’s
okay, but he pulls back, and I can see the thought process working its way
across his face. “Keith came to meet us because the band is trying to make
a bigger impression with their American fans, right? This whole thing was
a publicity stunt, Bren. What the heck else do you think this was about?
Keith Kutter probably doesn’t want to be friends with you. He’s trying to
get back into the spotlight. It’s even possible his manager set it up without
B E S I D E T H E M U S I C
telling him. Keith will get over it quicker when he sees that he’ll profit from
it. He’s a businessman, after all, and he has to sell his product to survive.”
“You’re right,” I say. “I’d just hoped it was something more than that.
We started to have fun, you know?” Dejected, I walk into the house. Vito
innocently wags his tail from his dog bed, trying to tell us that he’s been
lying there all along. I nod toward Vito. “Just wait until he figures out how
to clean his fur off the couch. Then he’ll be unstoppable.” I bend down and
absently scratch his ears as he licks my hand.
“Come on, let’s go to bed.” Tim hugs me, and I sigh into his chest.
I know that he’s right, and I should just let it go. This was a one-time
thing, and I am deluding myself if I think that I am going to be friends with
Keith. Though it was kind of fun to think of hanging out with him after
Tim lets go and calls to Vito, “Let’s go, buddy. Out!” He opens the
door and lets Vito out to pee. He stands at the door and waits for him,
but he’s also watching me mope through the kitchen to get a glass of
water. “It’s going to be okay,” he says, wrapping his arms around me.
“I promise that the next time we meet a rock star, it’ll be different.”
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