Sitting in bleating traffic, I stared out the window and thought about how my current situation came to be. The very beginning. All the way back to when I had met the group of women who now hovered at my epicenter and were knee deep in my dilemma.
Marian, Hillary, Kathleen, Tiziana and I had met at Oxford. We were all at varying points on the same path, graduate students at the Said Business School. I met Kathleen first. Her long, blonde hair glistened in the late summer sun as she taped up a poster for a pub crawl for American students studying abroad on a lamp post. It wasn’t her I noticed so much as all the guys ogling her wiggling backside as she smoothed down the tape.
Three days later, at the pub, The Bear, we met Marian. She was there spying on a groom, at the behest of her good friend, the bride. I guess to make sure he didn’t get out of line.
We were young, easily influenced, and really drunk. We had been in and out of four pubs in the two hours, if my memory served me well. While ordering a round of drinks, we heard people chanting, “Stripper, Stripper!” The next thing I knew, Kathleen’s elbow collided with my kidney as she pointed at Tiziana.
Tiziana! Every woman’s archenemy nemesis. Think of Sophia Loren wearing a man’s white dress shirt with a long string of pearls and a pair of flashy stilettos. To be fair, Tiziana appeared shocked when she realized the stripper comments were directed at her. You’d think a girl who oozed that much sexuality and dressed that skimpily would get used to being the object of every male’s fantasies. But no. She looked more than a little nervous when a couple of guys drinking with the groom became a little too friendly and suggested Tiziana show the soon-to-be-married man a little mercy.
Marian reminded me of a bull when she was angry: snorting nose, steam out of the ears, crazy eyes. A smart person would back away, slowly. So when Marian dragged Tiziana outside before anything could happen, we were worried for her. None of us knew Tiziana, but still I didn’t think she’d done anything worthy of dismemberment. When Kathleen and I followed them outside to where they stood on the narrow sidewalk, Marian was swearing away in Gaelic at Tiziana, and Tiziana was shouting back in Italian. The two of us just stood back, amazed.
Just when things had calmed down a bit, a very regal looking woman opened the pub door and took in the situation. “Oh! What luck, I found your… purse?” She handed a bedazzled black clutch to Tiziana.
Why we burst into laughter, I wasn’t quite sure. I really didn’t even know if we were laughing together or at each other. After we controlled our laughing, Hillary, the regal one, who had let loose and smirked a bit, invited us to go back in for another drink. “The groom’s my brother! I’m here to make sure he doesn’t overdo it. Sorry his friends are such asses.”
We’ve been close friends ever since.
Looking out the car window, I saw that we’d made very little progress. Glancing at my watch, I saw that there was plenty of time, Taylor having insisted that I leave an hour ahead of time. There were still forty-five minutes until I met with Des Bannerman.
My thoughts drifted to a back, to a little less than a year ago. Over the winter holidays, we met up to do a little skiing in Chamonix, France. The five of us had taken a skiing holiday there while in school at Oxford and had such a fabulous time as poor students we decided to experience it again as fiscally solvent adults.
Chamonix caters to the famous and very wealthy. The first trip, way back when, we skimped and saved, scraping together enough money to pay for airfare, lift tickets, food, and a few bottles of wine.
Since finishing our studies we had spread all over the globe, so much of the planning for last year’s trip occurred via e-mail and the internet. Hillary, born and bred in the upper classes of England, was the center point around whom the rest of us orbited. Her impeccable pedigree came with iron-clad etiquette skills. This helped ensure that we would stay in touch long beyond the grave. It was her family home we had stayed in on our last trip to Chamonix.
In any case, it was Hillary who happened across a website that promoted truly luxurious retreats… private jets, personal chefs, exquisite accommodations, and luxuries galore. After taking a look at the number of zero’s involved, we collectively took a deep breath and sighed. Though we all had achieved a high level of professional and financial success, only Hillary could afford private jets and castles.
Perhaps for our fortieth birthdays, we all agreed. That gave us approximately seven years to seal our destinies and increase our fortunes. (Secretly, some of us were thinking perhaps more like our fiftieth birthdays. But then one has to ask whether one wants a young, impeccably toned, nubile masseuse giving your imperfect body a rub-down.)
Consequently we ended up renting a home very similar to Hillary’s family chalet, sat in first class seats, and did what we wanted with a great deal more flair.
Rumors and sightings of famous people floated through the village of Chamonix. Kathleen, who currently lives in France, was infatuated with all things royal. For her the entire vacation was deemed “perfect, simply perfect” when we saw the entourage of Prince Albert of Monaco. She hasn’t admitted it, but I think she has spent many a pleasurable moment dreaming of princes, white horses, and what Grace Kelly’s jewelry collection might be like.
We even saw the back of Cameron Diaz’s head, and a few others whose identities were less than certain – one doesn’t want to claim to have seen Justin Timberlake if it was really the bartender at the local discotheque.
Living in New York City and working for a PR firm has jaded me in concerns of celebrity. Our firm manages the publicity for many accomplished public figures.
However, my jaw hit the glacier when we heard Des Bannerman was in town. When that news reached our group’s ears, all heads swiveled in my direction. I felt my knees go weak and my heart race. I had openly adored and gushed about Des Bannerman for years. Juvenile, for sure. But still, I had fantasized about being the object of his desire since I first laid eyes on him. We had both attended an event at Oxford, where he had initially gone to school before finding great fame in romantic comedies. But as with all famous people (I assumed), he vaguely made eye contact with me, smiled, and then moved on.
In Chamonix, every event became an all-out effort to find him. We tried to glean his whereabouts, determine places he might go, and skied black diamond slopes we had no business skiing on (since he was an excellent skier). Every outfit, tube of lipstick, and dollar was spent in pursuit of Des Bannerman.
To that end, we decided to search the Casino de Chamonix. None of us were truly gamblers, but we had all read Blackjack for Dummies that afternoon while sipping Chardonnay at a local hot spot. So, armed and accessorized in the latest fashion trends, and with fists full of dollars, off to the casino we went looking for Lady Luck… and the previously mentioned Des Bannerman.
Early in the evening most of my cohorts had lost all the money they were willing to and had been swept off their feet by handsome foreigners. Oddly enough, I was having amazing luck. Since I had never won so much as a penny, the fact that I was up seven hundred dollars was close to a miracle.
I told the woman sitting next to me that if this kept up, we should look for sightings of the Virgin Mary. No laugh, not even a roll of the eyes. She clearly took her blackjack too seriously. At some point she lost her last chip and I was left at the table with a mobster-looking fellow – okay, he had no neck, which in my books made him a mobster.
I felt a gust as Hillary suddenly arrived, carefully turning her refined shoulder to the mobster, “Charlotte!” She was practically vibrating on the spot. “We’ve just spotted Des Bannerman!”
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