Chapter One: Greer
For everyone, family dynamics are stressful for a multitude of reasons, but my family is more difficult than most. My cousin Vanessa is my age and understands all the challenges I face. Our mothers are sisters and equally crazy, so we’ve always had one another to lean on in difficult and stressful times. She also works in public relations and owns a small company that caters to designers and companies in the beauty industry here in New York City. Fashion Week is her twice-a-year crazy time.
Carleton opens the passenger door of the Mercedes for me.
“Did CeCe tell you where I’m staying?”
“She mentioned you were at The Whitby Hotel on West 56th Avenue. Is that correct?”
I sit back in my seat and try to relax. “Yes, that’s the place.”
I look through my e-mails, but nothing is happening that I need to deal with, so I fire off a text to CeCe.
Me: You didn’t have to send a driver. I’m quite able to get a car and meet Vanessa later today. You have enough to worry about this week. The girls and I are good and here to help you, not the other way around.
CeCe: I know that. Don’t worry about it. It took two seconds to tell Carleton to get you, and he was grateful not to be here waiting all morning.
Me: Somehow I doubt that. I bet he’d much prefer watching models get ready for Fashion Week.
CeCe: He’d have been stuck in the car downstairs. Go. Have a great time. Love you, and have fun with Vanessa. She’s been amazing to work with this week.
Me: How are things going?
CeCe: Great. A few things to get done, but we’re almost ready.
CeCe: Come by the suite at the Four Seasons when you can and let’s figure something out.
Watching the landscape change as we drive in from the airport to Midtown Manhattan, my excitement grows. This week I’ll have everyone I care about most all together.
The Whitby is close to Central Park and shopping on 5th Avenue. I’ve stayed here for many years and love it. As we arrive at the hotel, Carleton jumps out of the car to open my door, and the doorman greets me. “Good to see you again, Ms. Ford.”
“Thank you, Tom. How are your wife and the twins?”
“Excellent. I have pictures I can show you later, if you’re interested.”
“Without a doubt.”
He ushers me into the lobby, and the front desk clerk looks up. “Why hello, Ms. Ford. Welcome back to The Whitby Hotel. It’s so nice to see you again.”
She clicks a few times on her computer, takes my credit card and prepares the keys. “Here is your room key for the suite. May we send up a bottle of champagne?”
I glance at her name tag. “Thank you, Monica. Maybe later. I’m off to meet my cousin shortly, and the champagne will put me to sleep after the red-eye from San Francisco.”
“Please let us know if you need anything. The bellman will bring up your luggage. Would you like a houseman to unpack your bags?”
“No, I can manage that, but thank you.”
I take my room key and head up to my usual suite with a beautiful terrace and two bedrooms. I’m staying alone tonight, but when everyone arrives from San Francisco tomorrow, we’ll add the room next door and it’ll become a three-bedroom suite.
When I was growing up, Vanessa and I would spend days here, just the two of us. Our mothers both have some mental health issues, and we would run away to get a break from our home lives. Our dads would set us up here with unlimited room service, and we’d have a great time eating junk food and watching television all night. We didn’t go to clubs and weren’t very wild; we had wild at home. We came to The Whitby to escape and get some peace and calm.
My cell phone pings.
Vanessa: Hello, my beautiful cousin. Are you too jet-lagged to meet me for coffee at the Met?
Me: I can’t wait. 20 min.?
Vanessa: I’ll be the one who has giant raccoon eyes and knuckles dragging on the ground.
I know that may be how she feels, but I’ve never seen her look like that—ever. Vanessa loves the crazy pace that Fashion Week provides, and she’s so good at what she does.
Me: That’d be a first. See you soon!
My luggage arrives, and after tipping the bellman, I pull a freshly pressed silk pantsuit from my suitcase. I know there’s snow on the road, but I won’t be walking on the streets for long and can head to the Met to enjoy brunch. Knowing the two of us, it’ll be coffee; this time of year, I swear Vanessa doesn’t sleep and just mainlines caffeine.
I call Carleton to let him know I’ll be right down, then make my way out of the hotel. My blood must be awfully thin, because although the temperatures may be just below freezing, even with the heat roaring I can’t get warm. I’m a San Francisco native to the bone.
Carleton drives me to Flora Cafe. Located at the Met, it’s a perfect place to sit and chat away from the hustle and bustle of New York City.
Taking a seat in the back corner, I can’t help but grin from ear to ear when Vanessa walks in. Wearing a full-length fox fur coat, she’s absolutely beautiful.
“GiGi!” She calls me by my childhood nickname and opens her arms wide for a sisterly hug.
“Vannie, you look well rested and ready for the week.”
“Oh, you have no idea. I have a model who’s working four shows and is on TubeIt saying defamatory things about minorities. What a mess. I wish she’d shut her mouth already. I have a designer who’s so wasted he can’t work. And forget the drama in getting the gift bag people to stay within their contract with Metro Composition Cosmetics.” Her job in public relations is significantly more challenging than mine, since she’s dealing with artists whereas I’m dealing with practical technology people. I don’t envy her job in fashion in the least.
I watch her light up when she talks about her work. She’s made for this.
When she finally takes a breath, I reach for her and say, “You know you love this.”
She looks around to make sure no one is listening. “I do, but don’t tell anyone,” she whispers at me and winks. “How are things going with your corporate espionage at SHN?”
How is it going? I’m so grateful that Vanessa signed SHN’s nondisclosure, as she’s helped me with the New York press and has been great to discuss issues with. She’s someone whom I know will keep it on the downlow.
There’s a mole in our company who’s been sharing our confidential information with clients and the industry. It seemed like they were sharing with just one company at first, though we recently learned that wasn’t the case.
“Well, it’s taken a strange twist. The company that’s been benefitting from the mole has been struggling because we floated bad information, but we learned the mole is also feeding our information to other competitors. It’s a mess, but business is good, and I love my job. No high drama usually.”
“Oh my God! How do you tackle the unknown in PR when you don’t know whom you’re combatting?”
She understands. That’s part of why I love my cousin so much. Not only does she appreciate my mess with my mom, but she works in my field, so she’s a constant source of encouragement. “Exactly. We’re doing the best we can. We’re putting the word out that we’re financially sound and just trying to be more proactive than reactive. I hate this.”
“You’re good at it though,” she sympathizes.
Coming from Vanessa, I know this is a true compliment. She’d call me on it if she thought I was dropping the ball or not doing my job well. “Not as good as you are. I wish you’d leave this drama of models, photographers, and crap and come to San Francisco and work with me. We could start our own company together and rule the town. ” I miss her. We used to talk every day, but now we only manage to catch up when we can.
“You know I’d love to, but you’d never leave SHN, and what would Angus do?”
Angus is Vanessa’s husband, and they’re perfect for one another. They both love their jobs and are very focused on that. “He’s an investment banker. He could run his fund from San Francisco. There’s a large finance community, and he even knows them all.”
Even as I suggest it, I know Vanessa would never consider leaving New York City. She loves the fast pace, great restaurants, and the craziness that comes with living here.
“Speaking of Angus, how are you doing?” The grip on my hand tightens as she implores, “It’s been almost eight months since Mark left. Are you ready to date?”
Trying to hold back the tears, I share, “Not really. He married his assistant a few months ago. He should be announcing his candidacy for Congress before too long.”
“Wow, just like your dad. I’m so sorry.” She stands and moves around the table to sit next to me on the bench, then puts her arm around my shoulders and pulls me in for a tight hug. Mark decimated me, but only CeCe and Vanessa know how deeply it cut.
“Thanks. Her father has money, and he made the papers recently for donating a bunch of money to Mark’s campaign. Plus, there’s no Eve in her life.” I don’t want to dwell on this; I’ve already spent too much time rehashing it in my mind and with my friends. Shifting the conversation away from me, I say, “I’ve missed you so much. How’s Gillian doing?” Eve and Gillian are our mothers. We started calling them by their first names when we were in our early teens as a way to separate the extreme behavior that comes with their issues.
“Crazy as ever. And Eve?”
I’ve been taking a break from Eve recently. As an only child, I’m often the one who’s called in to manage her erratic behavior. She lives north of me up in Napa Valley, and I check in on her every few days, but she rarely answers my phone calls or texts. “Still crazy. She tries.”
“I hear you. Gillian has her moments. How are you doing?”
“I’m trying. I worry every day that I’m going to turn into my mother. But I have a job that keeps me busy and out of trouble and amazing friends who help keep me sane.”
She grins. “You do have amazing friends.”
“CeCe has been a beacon. She’s so happy with all you’ve done to help get her here this week.” Vanessa’s the one who spearheaded the push for CeCe’s company, Metro Composition, to be part of Fashion Week. It’s really hard for an independent makeup company to get noticed and participate in the event, so if it goes well, Metro Composition may see many more Fashion Weeks. And because of Vanessa and her guidance, I have all the confidence they will.
Vanessa looks at me and holds my hand. “Caroline absolutely adores you.”
“Why do you call her Caroline and not CeCe?”
“Because professionally she’s Caroline. CeCe is reserved for friends and family, and we have a business relationship.”
I look down at my empty cup and debate a fourth round of coffee, but I may never sleep if I do.
Vanessa’s phone keeps lighting up, but she isn’t paying attention to it as I begin to gather my things. Together we stand to walk out.
“Well without you, CeCe wouldn’t be here this week. Thanks for helping to make it happen,” I tell her sincerely.
“We’ve been working on this for a while. This year we had success, and we’re participating in three different designers’ shows. Metro Composition’s going to be a hit. I need to get over to the suite and check to see how it’s coming along. Do you want to join Angus and me for dinner tonight? We’ll eat about eight. I know we can squeeze you and Caroline in if you’d like to join.”
“I’ll check with her, but I bet she won’t have time.”
To sweeten the idea of joining her for dinner, Vanessa shares, “Well, there are a few men who work for Angus who would trip over themselves to meet you both. Very casual. Promise.”
I release a deep laugh. Everyone is ready for me to move on, but I’m not there yet. “You and CeCe are always the matchmakers.”
“We need to move Mark firmly to your rearview mirror.”
I know she’s right, but I’ll get myself there in my own time. “Come on. Let’s get over to the suite.”
I tighten the coat’s tie at my waist, and push through the door. The cold winter air hits me square in the face, and it’s miserable. I can’t stand this weather, and I don’t know how anyone does.
As we take our seats in the car, Vanessa turns her phone’s ringer back on and it immediately rings. It’s nonstop calls all the way to the Four Seasons. I listen as she directs one call and then another, counting eight different ones in less than five minutes.
Walking in, she gives her coat to the hotel coat check and we head upstairs, where CeCe spots me before I see her.
“Greer! You made it.” She gives me a sisterly hug and I return it just as enthusiastically, so happy to be here. Not just because I love clothes and all things fashion, but also because Fashion Week has been on my bucket list for years.
I put my arm around CeCe. “Well, having Carleton at my beck and call makes a difference.” Looking around the suite, I see boxes and, truly, a controlled chaos. People are actively setting up what looks like high-end beauty chairs facing large mirrors around cabinets that an electrician is trying to light. There’s a team of eight people dressed in black stretch pants and black T-shirts, standing over what must be twenty rows with easily fifty gift bags in each one. Every team member has an armful of Metro Composition products they’re dropping into the bags. I see a few of the new spring colors that haven’t hit the market. I wouldn’t mind one of the gift bags.
Beginning Thursday in the hotel’s penthouse lounge, the makeup artists from Metro Composition will host a nightly “beauty therapy bar,” where guests can sample products and have their brows shaped for free. Looking around, I see all sorts of makeup samples scattered everywhere. I know they sent samples for each Fashion Week ticket holder’s goodie bag, but those who come to the suite will be very lucky. There’s some pretty impressive stuff here.
CeCe is perfectly coiffed in black palazzo pants and a beautiful blue silk blouse. She’s calm and not crazy, but everyone around her looks like they’ve had six cups of coffee too many. She doesn’t seem frazzled, but I know that over the years in the public eye, CeCe has learned to hide it well.
“You don’t look stressed at all,” I comment. “In fact, you look amazing.”
She hugs me again and kisses my cheek. “Aren’t you sweet. And no, I’m not stressed. I pay all these people to be stressed and get it done for me. They’ll make it on time. I know they will.” Looking over my shoulder, she spots Vanessa. “Hey. You just missed the reporter from Women’s Wear Daily.”
“How did it go?”
“I think pretty well. She didn’t ask too many tough questions. If you find out, can you let me know? If not, it’ll be in the Fashion Week Daily tomorrow. I can always read it then.”
“Caroline, you’re the last one I worry about. You’ve been managing press your entire life.”
She’s right. CeCe is from an old-money family, and her parents are the founders of Sandy Systems, a Fortune 10 company her brother currently runs. She’s been in the limelight since she was born.
“What can I do to help?” I ask.
“You can join me for a late lunch. Have you eaten?”
I just look at her. She knows me well enough to know I start every morning with coffee. Some people think that’s why I’m so thin, but the reality is my taste buds are so acute that I struggle with how strong I taste things. For some reason, eating breakfast out seems to bother me. “I’ll go wherever you want to go.” I look around the room, taking it all in. “Everything looks fantastic. You’ve been here a week. How are things going?”
“We’ve hit a few snags, but nothing earth-shattering.” She reaches for my hand and gives me a tour of the suite. There are so many things going on at once, and it’s impressive. CeCe’s amazing assistant, Ginger, is like a traffic cop as she jumps from call to call, directing people both on the phone and in the suite. “I’m so excited you’re here. Do you want to get together tonight?”
Vanessa cuts in. “My husband, Angus, and I are entertaining two investment bankers from his firm. Would you both care to join us at Musso’s for steaks tonight? We have reservations at eight.”
CeCe looks at me expectantly. “If you want to eat that late, I can do it.” She turns to Vanessa. “Are you sure you can add two people to a reservation this late?”
“Without a doubt. You’ll enjoy Todd and Steffen. They both run different funds for Angus, and are incredibly handsome and very eligible.”
I look over at CeCe. “That means they’re players, so look out. We’d be fresh meat.”
Vanessa laughs. “Well yes, they might date a lot of women, but I do know they wouldn’t mind settling down if they met the right one.”
CeCe holds up her hands and says, “I think we should go. You need to meet someone who doesn’t have political aspirations or is a giant social climbing creep.”
Vanessa nods. “See? What was I just saying? Mark needs to be an afterthought.”
We sit in the hotel restaurant, and while CeCe orders herself a big sandwich, I choose a salad and another cup of coffee to get warm. After this much coffee, I may never sleep again. It’s overrated anyway.
CeCe catches me up on some of the drama Vanessa alluded to about her gift bags. She’s glowing and having a great time.
“I’m so happy for you, Ce. You deserve all of this and more.”
CeCe’s parents started the largest computer networking company in the world, Sandy Systems. When her mother decided she wanted to make a change in women’s lives, she started Metro Composition Cosmetics. Her parents retired a few years ago, and her brother took over Sandy Systems while she took over Metro Composition, having worked for the company during the summers and after school since it was founded. They donate 10 percent of their profits back to women’s issues, and the family motto is to remain an independent. This is very challenging in the cosmetics industry, because the big companies keep eating up the small ones and it becomes more challenging to get cosmetic counter space in the big department stores.
When we’re done with our meals, CeCe heads back to the suite to continue her preparation for Fashion Week, and I go back to my hotel.
Turning the television on to a mindless rerun of a police drama for a bit of background noise, I set the alarm on my phone to help me manage the time, then set myself up at the dining room table to check on my work e-mails. I have an out-of-office message auto-replying to everyone, but I like to keep my finger on the pulse of what the wires are saying.
As I read through the mountains of articles on our competitors and clients, my eyes get heavy. I’m jet-lagged, and despite all the coffee I’ve drunk, I’m tired. There’s a large overstuffed couch, and I decide to lie down to just rest my eyes for a moment.
As I listen to the show on TV, I must drift off because suddenly the alarm on my phone is ringing. I’m disoriented when I wake, forgetting where I am or what I’m doing here. I can’t believe I actually slept—I just don’t sleep well anymore. Now I have just enough time to get ready before CeCe arrives to pick me up.
At 7:00 p.m. exactly, the doorbell to my suite rings. CeCe is always on time.
Opening the door, I ask, “How’s it possible that you look even better than this afternoon and you worked all day?”
She giggles as she walks past me. “I left at four and took a power nap.”
I don’t believe her, but I learned a long time ago that it isn’t worth arguing. CeCe is one of those people who can sustain herself on four to five hours of sleep, and I hate her for it. I could get so much more done if I could do that. I may not sleep well, but I can keep going with only a short burst of it now and then.
She hands me a bouquet of flowers and a beautiful box of my favorite hard candies from Europe.
“These are lovely. What are they for?”
“For all the mental support you bring with you, and really for recommending Vanessa. She’s been amazing through all of this. We’ll give her a nice bonus when we pay her bill.”
“I know she’s thrilled with the work.”
“You have no idea how much she’s done. Honestly, I never thought I would see anyone as talented as you are in public relations, but she comes a pretty close second.”
I laugh. “She wipes the floor with me. Who are you trying to kid?”
“No way. You deal with the unknown. She knows all the players and works them well.”
I’m here to support my friend just as she’s supported me time and time again. It doesn’t require any kind of thank-you gift, and particularly one so generous, but I know it’s useless to refuse. “I’ll enjoy the candies. Thank you.”
She links her arm in mine and conspiratorially asks, “Now, what do you know about these two guys she’s playing matchmaker with?”
“Well, Todd is Angus’s number two and runs the biggest fund for Angus’s company. Steffen is a German guy who’s some kind of numbers wunderkind. I still think they’re players and only looking to get laid.”
“You’re probably right. I still can’t believe she tamed Angus.”
“I don’t know if he’s tame, but she keeps him on a tight leash. No funny business for him. I don’t think he cares though. He only has eyes for Vanessa.”
We gather our coats and head downstairs. I’m excited to have my two best friends together—Vanessa and CeCe. The added mix of the fix-up will either make dinner something to laugh about later or be a fun way to pass the time.