I’d rather stay home, but I can’t skip today’s lunch. It was set up months ago by Charlie’s boss, the Chinese banker and philanthropist…forgot his name. Rags to riches kind of guy, born in a small village in rural China, today one of Hong Kong’s billionaires. Charlie asked me very kindly, but repeatedly, to attend this luncheon, stressing how important it was to him, you know him. Blah blah blah. I said I understood and pretended to agree. I assured him he wouldn’t be ashamed of me. Not this time.
After Charlie left for the office, I took a long, relaxing bubble bath. I love the lavender scented one. I did my hair and nails, chose my best outfit (XXL always looks better in black) and the jewelry that showed wealth without ostentation. I carefully applied my make-up and checked myself in the mirror: not bad!
I did everything right.
I was not planning to drink, so I took the car. The weather was perfect, you know how much I love driving the convertible on the coastal road, the view is stunning. Traffic was fluid, I reached Central in record time. I left the keys with the young valet parking guy and headed to the second floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Private dining room. I was early, the other managers’ wives had not arrived yet. Everything looked classy, perfect. Too perfect. The waiter greeted me with a polite smile and asked if I wanted something to drink.
Well, what else could I do?
“Absolutely! A gin and tonic, please. Double! And make it light on the tonic!” I giggled, but the joke seemed lost on him. These locals don’t seem to get my sense of humor. Can’t wait to get the heck out of here. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, so I checked my phone, there was no missed call from hubby, no text message. That was a good sign, right? Like he did trust me, after all.
The waiter reappeared with my G&T on a small silver tray. How civilized. Yes, I know… I said I wouldn’t drink, but one drink wouldn’t hurt, right? I took a sip. That felt good. Hadn’t had one in like…twenty-four hours? Ha! The first wife arrived, skinny and gorgeous. She looked familiar, but I couldn’t remember her name. Sally? Debbie? I got up to greet her. I was a good girl. Her smile froze when she spotted my glass. I defiantly stared back and gave her my best fake smile. I lifted my glass.
“Double gin and very little tonic, care to join?”
“Oh no, I never drink at lunchtime…”
I bet you never eat at lunchtime either…bitch.
Sally-Debbie-what’s-her-name ordered a lime soda. Can you believe it? A fucking lime soda. Pardon my French…
We sipped our drinks, it was awkward. Small talk, silence, fake smiles. Repeat, until the others finally arrived. The gang. Grand entrance. Drum rolls. All decked up. The tiny waists, straight skirts and high heels. They all looked similar: the perfect hair, the expensive designer outfits and exclusive handbags. The luxury watches, the pearls and diamonds. The “Tai tai” of Hong Kong, the ladies who lunch. The trophy wives, the clones, on show.
I replied to their head-to-toe appraisal with my best smile. Despite my effort to look elegant, their unforgiving eyes expressed nothing but disdain laced with a dollop of pity. I knew what they were thinking. I read them loud and clear. I pretended not to care. We greeted each other, faking pleasure. Like I often do with Charlie.
We finally sat down, my feet were killing me. Not used to those high heels anymore. I was starving. Two waiters appeared and twirled around the table, offering wine and water. No one was talking to me, so I ordered another gin and tonic, single this time. It was mostly ice anyway. They finally brought the starters, a tiny avocado and salmon salad. I was the first to finish. The Tai tai played with their food, moved it around their plate, chewed endlessly on their two salad leaves-no-dressing while sipping their lime soda-no-sugar. I tried very hard not to roll my eyes. Fake smile. I wanted to slap their made-up faces.
But instead, I pretended I was interested in their conversation. Your kids? Really…international school? Nod. Fake smile. Who cares? Swimming and piano after school, really? Barf. Best tutors? Nod, fake smile. I did all this for Charlie. They sipped their lime sodas; I gulped my G&T down. Ordered another glass. Asked for more bread and butter. All of a sudden, the skinnies stopped talking. They all looked at me. The fake smiles were gone. Then their faces became blurry. I don’t remember anything after that.
I woke up at home, on the couch. It was 5:50 p.m. The house was totally quiet, all I could hear was the hum of the a/c. My head hurt. I tried to remember…lunch, skinny women, the waiters, the clatter of forks, the gin and tonic…then nothing. My purse was by the couch, so I checked my phone. No missed call, no message, weird. I called Charlie, got his voicemail. I managed to walk to the bathroom, took a long cool shower, brushed my teeth and changed. I was feeling a bit better by the time Charlie got home. He looked exhausted, his face was livid. He glared at me without a word.
“Hi sweetie…Are you ok? What’s up?”
“What’s up? What do you think happened, Emma?”
Oh, I hate it when he answers a question with another question. I shrugged. I knew he would tell me anyway.
“I got a call from the hotel, saying you had collapsed on the table.”
I tried very hard not to laugh, but even I didn’t expect that of myself! My sweet, own, XXL bod splayed on the table, among the silverware, bread and two salad leaves, that must have been quite a sight.
“Well, you have to give me that, I am a classy lady! At the Mandarin, no less!”
Charlie didn’t find it funny. Prick.
“I had to leave work to come and get you, take you home, go back and look for the car. I can’t imagine what my colleagues or my boss must be thinking.”
I can’t either, and couldn’t care less. Drop your self-righteous rant, can’t stand it.
“Why don’t you pour us a drink, darling?”
“You think it’s funny?”
So I poured myself a drink. Can you believe the man’s nerve? I did all this for him, and that’s how he thanks me?
“I’m sleeping in the guestroom tonight. I am tired, it’s been a long day. I need to get up early, I have a business trip to Japan early tomorrow. When I come back, we need to talk, Emma. We can’t continue like this. I can’t continue like this.”
That’s how I knew it was time. Charlie had crossed the line. Ingrate, bastard. He’s not better than the others. So, are you going to help me get rid of him?
Emma’s reflection in the mirror nodded.
This story is dedicated to Deanna, amazing friend, inspiration and mentor. Sharing your story of ladies who lunch in New York inspired me. Thank you.