Melanie stood, poised, at the edge of the “wedoption” of her friend Perrin. The ceremony had tradition, spontaneity, and so much heart. A wild mix, just as Perrin was. She had taken vows with her husband as his two children stood by them in Angelo’s Tuscan Hearth Ristorante in the heart of Seattle’s Pike Place Market.
It was Perrin’s new ten-year old son who had named the ceremony. The wedding of Perrin and his dad, and her adoption of Bill’s children—the “wedoption.” The kids were adopting Perrin as much as she was doing so for them.
It was all so sweet that Melanie felt mushy and sniffly inside, not that she’d ever let it show. She pulled out no handkerchief, had no pockets in her sleek dress to carry one. She only showed emotions carefully, and never mushy and sniffly ones. Being one of the fashion industry’s leading models, she’d learned long ago that showing her own emotions was almost never appropriate. Everything she presented, both on the runway and off, was very carefully considered. She occasionally wished she could simply react, but that never seemed to work out.
She let her present boyfriend, Carlo, swirl her into a dance across the space cleared at the middle of the restaurant.
“That was magnifico, Carlo. Your Ave Maria.” The operatic tenor, just finished with a highly successful production at Emerald City Opera, had indeed filled the restaurant with liquid soaring tones that evoked the sanctity of a small church set in the Italian countryside rather than Angelo’s fine dining restaurant in the Market.
“This place and Angelo’s food made it simple. It looks and smells so Italian, I sing from heart. The couple…” he slipped his hand from her waist for a moment to toss a kiss to the sky.
“Yes, molto bello.” Melanie had dressed carefully, to not outshine the bride, but she needn’t have worried. One of the most innovative designers working today, Perrin had judged herself and her maid-of-honor daughter perfectly despite their sharply contrasting coloring. Perrin’s golden hair and fair skin and Tamara’s darkly flowing curls and her birth-mother’s dusky complexion had both radiated in Perrin’s designs.
“I could marriage her myself. So pretty.” Carlo swirled her among the other dancers with effortless control. Carlo’s French was as poor as her Italian and his English was non-existent. So, she always spoke in her school-girl Italian and he spoke to her in a child’s rudimentary French. That way they always understood one another and the inability to discuss more complex topics had not been a major issue. Carlo was not a deep man.
But he was a kind and considerate lover. Also, his Mediterranean-dark skin, classic Italian good looks, and international fame had made them a stunning couple, frequently gracing the tabloid covers. But his limitations had soon become apparent and were now wearying. Soon they would be finished.
“I have received call on phone,” he whispered as they pulled together for a slow passage of the song. “Marko Lerano has taken ill and they need an Alfredo for Traviata at La Scala.”
“That’s such wonderful news for you. La Scala,” at least she thought it might be, so she offered her support. “When do they need you?”
“I have already called the taxi. They say the tickets at the airport will be. You keep hotel room as long as like.”
Well, that was abrupt, but she knew such contracts were rare, vital to a career, and lucrative. Still…
“There is more, isn’t there, Carlo?”
He nodded sadly.
She needed no other cue, she was about to be dumped. People didn’t dump Melanie, she dumped them. She considered getting angry, but she wasn’t, and hated people who put on a show for others. This was the perfect opportunity for a drama queen: a large audience, grinding someone else’s celebration to a total, upstaged halt. Why did some women do that? She’d never understood.
What she did know was that, being Italian and male, it would be hard for Carlo to say the next sentence. They had done well together but she too had known it was over, for her at least. She wouldn’t have minded if he had been left to pine away for her un petite moment, but if such was not to be, c’est la vie. She could at least be kind.
“It was a good run, Carlo, oui?”
“Si.” His appreciation shone on his face and the sagging relief in his shoulders. He kissed her on each cheek. “You are wonderful woman, Melanie. Never let persons tell you not.”
“You’re wonderful as well,” she patted his cheek.
He leaned in for a final kiss, but if they were done, they were done. He was wise enough to hesitate then pull back and nod. And just that easily, their six months was over. Moments later he had led her gracefully to the edge of the dance floor, offered a final bow, and, after offering congratulations to the groom once more, slipped quietly out of the restaurant.
She stood pillar-still at the edge of the room as dancers swirled about the dining room floor. Those still at the tables shared stories and smiles among candlelight and buffet dishes.
Melanie sought inside herself for pain, or relief. And found neither. Merely irritation that she had been dumped. The Ice Queen they often called her, due to that perfect mix of self-composure and immense sexuality she could project. It had earned her so many accolades: four swimsuit covers, Victoria’s Secret signature model, ever increasing offers of obscene amounts of money from Playboy that she kept refusing.
Melanie didn’t need the money and would never pose nude. She had caused two major photographers to be fired for taking candid shots while she was changing clothes during a shoot; her contract was very strict on that point. She wore sheer and skimpy, posed naturally with a well-placed arm and little else, or wore only a Godiva of her trademark waist-length blond hair. But that’s where she drew the line. The stories of those high profile firings had ensured that all her photographers were very careful around her. Neither of those images had made it out of the studio; the second one she’d had to shatter a five thousand dollar camera in order to make her point. But it had been made and no one in the industry was likely to forget it.
It was Playboy’s first offer years before that had led to the final fight, of so many, with her mother. She had taught her daughter many lessons. Melanie had discarded most of them, but two lessons she took to heart: care with her money, and only the work mattered. The professional standards and practices Melanie had worked out on her own.
Carlo had left her by two towering vases filled with lilac and rhododendron, not far from the front door; the flowers nicely accented her maroon dress. She could easily slip away, but found herself unusually reluctant to do so. Melanie never stayed until the end of a party—it might look too desperate—but she remained despite that.
People came and greeted her and were greeted in return, having no idea that for only the second time in her life she had been dropped by a lover. She could forgive Russell because he hadn’t known that’s what he was doing at the time. Carlo however, was a sign. Of what? That things were changing?
Jo, one of Perrin’s best friends, and her husband Angelo dropped by.
“So glad you could attend,” Jo’s touch was friendly as they traded cheek-to-cheek kisses. It really touched her and she let her façade melt enough to let them know it. Angelo was Russell’s best friend and knew of their failed relationship all too well. And Jo, the calm, cool clear-thinking powerhouse lawyer who now managed the Pike Place Market. Of all the people she knew perhaps Jo was the only one who didn’t judge her as anything more than who she was—inside.
“The food. Angelo. Holy Merde!” Melanie flapped her hands as if she couldn’t think of enough to say. And she couldn’t; his cooking really was that good. Yet another reason she was still standing on the far side of the room from the banquet table. He was one of the best Italian chefs in the country and she’d already had too much to eat, but would eat more if she happened to pass too near the sumptuous table.
He positively beamed.
How odd that she and Jo knew each other so little, but knew each other so well. They had cemented their relationship in an airport bar over two photographs, both by the same photographer. One photo, the moment she had fallen in love with Russell as he captured an image he didn’t understand; the other of the same moment for Jo and Angelo, though they hadn’t yet known.
She and Jo didn’t need to speak to recall the moment where they had set the photographs side by side and Jo’s life had changed as she saw the images of herself with her future husband. Jo simply held her hands a moment longer and pressed their cheeks together, no air kisses, no need for whispered words, just understanding and acceptance—both rare items in Melanie’s world.
The couple moved on but Melanie felt a better than before they’d arrived.
She took a glass of champagne from a passing waiter so that her hands would have something to do. She didn’t really want any. The merriment that resounded around the crowded dining room brushed by her as lightly as the smell of Angelo’s amazing marinated lamb—that must be wafting out the windows to tease the tourists walking the cobblestones of Pike Place Market this cool May evening.
Perrin, Jo, and Cassidy—friends since college. And Angelo’s mother Maria. They were all so close. You could see it in every gesture. What would it be like to have such friends? She watched them, all happily married. Perrin and Bill dancing to a Fleetwood Mac tune that for some reason was causing their children no end of amusement. Jo and Angelo now with Maria, all tasting the latest dish to come from the kitchen. More food. Impossible. Cassidy and Russell also moving across the dance floor.
Melanie took a sip of champagne to hide the pang of envy. Russell was so handsome, having just the right kind of roughness to him, and disgustingly wealthy. Though she had been very careful and was quite well off herself, so that had been less of a factor. Still, they would have been a perfect couple…for about a year. Whereas he and Cassidy looked quite content enough to be together the rest of their lives. Again, she resisted the sigh of longing.
Marriage and lifetime were not for her. Still, she could envy the group of friends their stable husbands and their close friendship.
While the other three women were starting college together, Melanie had dropped out of high school to pursue her modeling career. By the time they’d graduated, Melanie had nailed her first swimsuit cover and had put out a restraining order against her ex-manager mother ever contacting her again.
That had been the day she’d legally dropped her last name forever—she wanted no ties to her past. She’d earned her GED through a correspondence course and her business skills through the college of hard knocks and intense study.
Melanie now hid her desperate, New Jersey past behind careful emotional control and a soft French accent acquired from a learn-at-home computer program and perfected on international photo shoots.
Yet Perrin had made her feel included and welcome rather than the supermodel outsider unexpectedly in their midst. And those who Perrin accepted, her friends accepted without question. It was so unlike Melanie’s own world where everything was move and countermove; where the only things that mattered were image and your latest contract. The one escape she allowed herself was into novels, everything else she kept focused on her career.
She allowed herself to simply observe the wedding reception crowd packing the restaurant, taking microscopic sips of champagne to portray herself as content with standing alone.
Angelo’s Tuscan Hearth was warm with mahogany tables, blues and yellows on the walls and the midnight dark tablecloths. The wall art was all photographs of the old country by Russell. She had never looked as good as when he was the one photographing her—his retirement from fashion photography had been a blow to the industry.
The dance floor had become more crowded in the few minutes since Carlo’s departure. The women wore DKNY, Lauren, Armani, and a fair number of innovative Perrin’s Glorious Garb designs. Perrin’s work stood out, by not suffering from the classic couture problems. Wearing her designs, a woman could walk out the door and not be out of place strolling through Pike Place Market. They would stand out for their beauty or eye-appeal, but these were not runway-only showpieces.