Playing “Winter Wonderland” for last-minute Christmas shoppers has got to be the all-time low point of Stephanie Glassman’s career. The aspiring jazz soloist and single mother has no singing prospects, no man in her life since her hot fling with a movie stuntman, and a social life that consists of having her two best friends over for high-calorie Sunday brunches. Even her grandmother’s having more sex than she is. That is, until toddler Jake’s irresistible father hurtles back into her life.
Albert promises fidelity, plus married life filled with the best sex Stephanie’s ever had. But there’s a tantalizing new wrinkle: Frank Waterman, rising star and Stephanie’s old crush, is suddenly semi-available and interested. And her stalled career seems to be heating up. But when her big break erupts in a scandal that puts her on the front page instead, Stephanie’s in a whole new league. Now, with fame at her door and two hot guys fighting over her, Stephanie’s got some big decisions to make...and they may surprise everyone—including her.
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Sue Margolis was a radio reporter for fifteen years before becoming a novelist. She is the author of three previous novels: Apocalipstick, Neurotica, and Spin Cycle.?Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter 1 “Elizabeth Arden?”
It was the third Saturday before Christmas and Stephanie Glassman, resident pianist at the Oxford Street branch of Debenhams, was sitting at a white baby grand on the ground floor, playing “Winter Wonderland.” She couldn’t have looked less Elizabeth Arden–like if she’d tried. Unless, of course, Miss Arden used to celebrate the festive season by dressing up in a tacky Mrs. Claus Christmas outfit, which included a fur-trimmed thigh-high skirt and Teutonic blonde wig with plaited Alpine shepherdess-style earphones.
As she carried on playing, Stephanie looked up from the keyboard and saw a bulky, tweedy woman standing at her side. She was weighed down with carrier bags, and her face exuded faint desperation and the urgent need of a large gin. Stephanie had been at Debenhams for two weeks now and the haunted, get-me-out-of-here Christmas shopper look was one she had come to recognize only too well.
“I’m looking for her Perpetual Moisture,” the woman panted, desperation rising. “It’s for my sister-in-law in Stoke Poges. She swears by it. Lord knows why she bothers. Got a face like a fossilized custard skin. Harrods and Selfridges have both run out. Of course, if I had my way the poisonous old boot would get a box of Newberry Fruits and a Jamie Oliver video and be done with it.”
While the woman paused for breath, Stephanie gave her a warm, sympathetic smile.
“The Elizabeth Arden counter is just over there.” She nodded. “Behind Dior.”
“Right, well, if they haven’t got it I think I’ll plump for a foot spa. That way I can always live in hope she might electrocute herself.” Stephanie thought it best to remain noncommittal—at least regarding the electrocution bit. “A foot spa’s always useful,” she said. “Or gardening gloves and a pair of pruning shears, maybe.”
With that the woman huffed off toward the Elizabeth Arden counter and Stephanie segued into “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Being Jewish, Stephanie’s family didn’t do Christmas—something for which she knew her mother, Estelle, had always been eternally grateful. The spring cleaning, shopping, baking and fish frying frenzy of Passover was enough to send her racing for the Valium—without having to cope with Christmas as well. Stephanie, on the other hand, had always rather resented the family’s lack of Christmas celebrations.
Traditional as they may have been where Passover was concerned, her parents weren’t particularly observant. For a start, they ate nonkosher food. When she was a kid they went out for Chinese dinner nearly every Sunday night. Her father was a ferocious advocate of cha siu pork, believing its medicinal qualities to be infinitely greater than those of chicken soup. Her grandmother, who usually accompanied them on these jaunts, refused to touch the pork. On top of this she always insisted on going through what Stephanie called her preening ritual, whereby she painstakingly picked out all the pork and prawns from her yung chow rice and piled them up in her napkin.
Christmas was like pork. You could “have it out”—like the turkey lunch at the Finchley Post House, even the midnight carol service at The Blessed Virgin down the road (her mum loved the tunes)—but on no account was it to be brought into the house.
As a child, Stephanie ached to take part in all the Christmas excitement and always felt jealous of her non-Jewish friends. Each year at junior school, just before they broke up for the holidays, all the kids in her class (except her, David Solomons and the Qureshi twins) would stand around in groups, busy competing about what they were getting for Christmas and having impassioned debates about whether Father Christmas really existed or whether the fat old bloke who delivered presents was just your dad dressed up.
She could still remember walking home from school on those dank December afternoons. It was teatime and in all the non-Jewish houses, the tree lights were being switched on. Every so often she would stop and stare at the twinkling windows, feeling she was peering into a never-never land. Ordinary houses, with their boring tarmac drives and UPVC window frames, became enchanted fairy grottoes. Her eight-year-old heart quite literally ached not just for Santa and the pillowcase of presents, but for the tinsel, the Christmas tree baubles, the crackers, the ritual of leaving mince pies outside for the reindeer—the sheer wondrous, sparkling magic of it all.
Of course she had Hanukkah, which happened around the same time as Christmas, but it wasn’t the same, lighting a few pathetic candles and getting a fiver pressed into your hand by some whiskery old aunt.
When she gave birth to Jake, two and a half years ago, she promised him three things: her unconditional love and support, that she would never allow him to own a motorbike while he lived under her roof, and that he would have a childhood full of brilliant Christmases. Although this was his second, it was the first he was old enough to appreciate. As a result, Stephanie’s living room ceiling was thick with paper chains, streamers and balloons. In the alcove next to the fireplace stood a garish, overdressed, six-foot-tall Norway spruce, which—since there was no husband or boyfriend to do it for her—Stephanie’s father, Harry, had insisted on schlepping back from the greengrocer’s around the corner, on the strict understanding it was to be referred to as a Hanukkah bush. Deciding that she shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Stephanie agreed.
She looked down at her watch. Almost three. Time for her break. Although she loved Christmas, she loathed her Mrs. Claus getup. What she hated even more was walking through the store wearing it. She didn’t mind the short skirt so much because it showed off her long—and even if she did say so herself—shapely legs, as did the long stiletto-heeled boots she’d been given. No, what she loathed was the earphones wig. It made her look like that woman in The Sound of Music who, having been handed second prize at the Salzburg Music Festival, refused to stop bowing.
Women who noticed the earphones tended to smile in sympathy, but blokes always made some kind of smart remark. “Can you get the football on ’em, then?” Yesterday a shaven-headed youth in a Manchester United football shirt, loitering suspiciously with his mates by the watches, had yelled out: “Whassit like shagging Santa, then?”
“Not that good, actually,” she’d replied, grinning. “He only comes once a year.” Ho bleeding ho.
What worried her most about being Mrs. Claus was the thought of being seen by somebody who knew her, such as her parents’ rabbi, or an ex-boyfriend, or perhaps some girl from school she hadn’t seen for years and who now looked like Gwyneth Paltrow and was in mergers and acquisitions. It wasn’t just the costume she would have to explain away. Far more important was why, more than ten years after leaving university (English, honors) and a successful stint at drama school—not to mention her great singing voice—she could aspire to nothing more elevated, careerwise, than a temp job as a cheesy, piano-playing Mrs. Claus in a middle-market chain store.
Stephanie finished with a quick burst of “Jingle Bell Rock” and then stood up. The place was teeming with the fraught and the frazzled. A few feet away, a middle-aged couple seemed to be having a major fight about driving gloves. Then: “Coooeee.”
Her heart sank to her stiletto boots. It had finally happened. Somebody had recognized her. OK, she could always say her dad played golf with Mr. Debenham and she was just helping out because the store’s regular piano player had come down with Ebola.
She turned toward the voice. Instant relief. It was only the tweedy woman bent on electrocuting her sister-in-law in Stoke Poges. She was holding up a Debenhams carrier bag.
“Mini carpet bowls,” she cackled. “Byeee. Merry Christmas!”
Stephanie gave her a small wave and watched the woman disappear into the crowd. She was just trying to work out whether she had time to go to the loo and get to the toy department to buy Jake his main present—a Bob the Builder tool belt, on which she was entitled to a 20 percent staff discount—when she saw someone even more embarrassing than Rabbi Nodel.
She recognized Frank Waterman at once. Dark, swept-back hair, eyes the color of conkers, just a hint of well-tended stubble. They’d been in Cabaret together at the Nottingham Playhouse, six or seven years back. Stephanie had been in the chorus and he’d played Cliff Bradshaw, the romantic lead. During their time together, she developed the most almighty crush on him, but nothing ever happened between them. They exchanged hellos at rehearsals, went drinking with the same gang after the show, but since he was so resoundingly A-list to look at and always had stacks of women (not to mention a couple of blokes) sniffing round, she’d never plucked up the courage to flirt with him.
The show had been on for a couple of weeks when the message filtered down to London that the production was particularly excellent and a theater critic from one of the broadsheets turned up. He raved about the show and Frank’s performance in particular, saying he possessed that indefinable quality common to all great actors and that celebrity undoubtedly beckoned. Frank had never looked back. These days, he was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s rising star—and she was Mrs. Claus with earphones.
Now he was coming her way, but since he was busy chatting to the woman with him, Stephanie was pretty certain he hadn’t noticed her. Plus it had been years since they’d last met and it wasn’t as if they’d had much to do with each other back then. Chances were that even if he saw her, he wouldn’t recognize her. Nevertheless she sat back down on the piano stool and buried her head in her music book.
“Steph?” Bugger. OK, play it cool. Do not let him see you’re flustered. She looked up and forced her mouth onto full beam. “Frank? Frank Waterman?”
“I don’t believe it,” he said. “I knew it was you. I said to Anoushka”—glorious cheekbones, Fulham highlights—“I’m sure that’s Steph from Cabaret. God, it must be what, four, five years ago?”
“No. As long as that?”
“Yup. Time flies.”
“God, doesn’t it? So, you’re Mrs. Christmas.”
He was looking at the wig and smiling. Her hand sprang self-consciously to her left earphone. “A bit Heidi, I know.” A smirk of agreement from Anoushka. “Still, it’s only until Christmas Eve. Pays the bills.”
“But what about the singing? Don’t say you’ve stopped. You had such a fantastic voice. You were into blues and jazz, if I remember. Ella, Peggy Lee, that sort of stuff.”
“That’s right.” She was gobsmacked. Utterly astounded that he remembered. He turned to Anoushka. “One night in the pub when we were touring, Steph got up and sang ‘My Melancholy Baby.’ She was outstanding. Had us all in tears.”
“Really?” Anoushka said with a brief, polite smile.
There was a moment’s silence. “Wow, stunning earrings,” Stephanie said to Anoushka, noticing the glistening pinkish-red stones. “I love rubies.”
“They’re pink diamonds, actually.”
“Anoushka designed them herself,” Frank said. “She runs her own jewelry business.”
“Oh, right.” Stephanie nodded. Then the penny dropped. Anoushka didn’t run a mere business. It was a full-frontal corporate empire. “God, of course, you’re Anoushka Holland. I read that piece about you in last month’s Vogue. Didn’t your company just get bought out by Theo Fennell for eleven million quid?”
“Eleven point five,” Anoushka corrected. Having been put in her place, Stephanie didn’t quite know what to say next. Frank picked up on her awkwardness.
“So,” he said to Stephanie, “are you still singing?”
“Yes. I do a couple of gigs a week at the Blues Café in Islington. And I’ve had the odd bit in Chicago and Les Mis. Nothing major, though.”
“Oh, it’ll happen one day,” he said. “With a voice like yours, it has to.”
“But what about you? The critics loved you in Othello.”
He blushed ever so slightly. Before he had a chance to reply, Anoushka broke in: “We really ought to be going, Frankie. I need to pick up a few bits at the General Trad- ing Company.” She put a proprietorial arm through his. “We only popped in to buy that Dustbuster thingy your grandmother was after.” That last remark was clearly for Stepha- nie’s benefit—to explain why the likes of Anoushka, her highlights and her eleven point five million, were slumming it at Debenhams.
“And don’t forget,” she went on, “we’re due at the wedding planner’s at six.”
“Tying the knot in the spring,” Frank explained.
“Thanks. We’re off to discuss harpists and doves. Bit bloody camp if you ask me. Plus I’ve got visions of two hundred guests turning up to the reception covered in bird turd.”
“Frankie,” Anoushka said, laughing, but Stephanie could tell she was cross, “how many more times? Otto has promised faithfully they don’t feed the doves for three hours before the ceremony. Now then, we really must get going.”
“Yes, we must,” he said. “Sorry, Steph. It’s been great seeing you.”
“Sweetie,” Anoushka simpered.
“Perhaps Anoushka and I could catch you at the Blues Café one night?”
Anoushka had already started walking away. “Yeah. That’d be good,” Stephanie said.
“Catch up on old times.”
He gave her a soft smile.
“Bye,” she said. A moment later he had caught up with Anoushka, who turned her head and gave a little wave. “Bye Beth, lovely meeting you.”
Stephanie arrived home just before seven. She rented the house—a large four-story Victorian terrace in Muswell Hill—from Jimmy, who was best mates with her friend Cass. He was also filthy rich. In November, having been dumped by his lover, Brian, he decided to take off to Phuket for six months “to heal myself.” He had simply wanted somebody to look after the house and feed Liberace the cat, a Persian with a coat of the palest peach. Stephanie had to persuade Jimmy to take any rent at all. In the end he asked her what she was paying for her flat round the corner—which was so small it would have virtually fit into Jimmy’s living room. She told him and he said she might as well pay him the same.
Since Jimmy was a film set designer as well as gay, the place had been totally decorated when she moved in. With its overstuffed sofas, chandeliers (in the bathroom), swags and tails curtains—not to mention the Cath Kidston cowboy ironing board cover—it was just a bit too camp for her taste. She was more of a black-leather-sofas-and-white-walls-covered-in-huge-abstracts sort of a person. But since she could barely afford the Habitat catalogue, let alone buy anything from it, she wasn’t about to get picky. Stephanie had been there eight weeks and still couldn’t believe her luck. Even now she was still pinching herself whenever she walked through the door.
“Hi, Mrs. M.,” she called from the hall. “Sorry I’m late. Had to let three trains go at Oxford Circus, they were so packed. God, I forgot, it’s your darts night tonight. I haven’t made you late, have I?”
“Don’t worry, darlin’,” Mrs. McCreedy’s voice came from the kitchen. “Doesn’t start until eight. I’ve got loads of time.”
She hung up her coat and went into the kitchen, where Jake—aged two and a half—was sitting astride his red plastic road digger, eating Marmite soldiers. His face—what she could see of it under his rather too-big policeman’s helmet—was smeared in a crust of dried-up baked bean sauce. The moment he saw her he jumped up and came charging toward her.
“Hi, poppet,” s...
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Buchbeschreibung Delta, 2004. Taschenbuch. Buchzustand: Gebraucht. Gebraucht - Gut - Single mom Stephanie Glassman's singing career is going about as badly as herlove life. is in a rut. When everything spins out of control, she must decidewhat is really important to her. 336 pp. Englisch. Artikel-Nr. INF3002404727