(Continued from Chapter 16.1 – Steel Silhouette; to start book, scroll to “Chapters” in right side bar.) “Look at you!” Veronica gushes, squeezing her and then giving her an exaggerated once-over. Terry’s always had an all-black wardrobe, but now, instead of the turtlenecks and pleated pants she used to wear to work, she has on a silk blouse unbuttoned to the cleavage and a tight, hip-hugging skirt. “You’re so … chic! Ohh là là. I can’t get over it!”
“Yeah, well. The office uniform.” Her coarse, baritone voice hasn’t changed. “And you! You’re the same as ever.”
“Gee, thanks,” Veronica smirks. The last time she saw Terry, the twins were five months old. Her breasts, double their usual volume, were leaking milk. Her midriff sagged like a semideflated inner tube, and the only decent outfit she could manage was a formless maternity dress handed down from Stella.
Inside the restaurant, Terry slides her shades to the crown of her head and promenades her regard from one corner of the dimly lit dining room to the next, absorbing each detail between its polished brick walls. Veronica smoothes her denim skirt, wondering if she looks as frumpy as she feels. She should have bought something new for the occasion or worn one of the old blazers in her closet rather than the cotton sweater she has on.
Seated, she studies the menu while Terry studies the diners packing the mezzanine, striking debonair poses as if for an invisible camera, assessing the bouquet of their wine. “Whadd’ya think? Salmon carpaccio to start with and then penne in a vodka cream sauce? Or maybe—ooh, check it out! How about the gnocci?”
Terry exchanges nods with a blonde woman in an audacious, paisley halter top a few tables away. “I’ll have my usual. Spinach salad.”
“Out of this whole Italian feast, you’re getting a pile of leaves?”
“I’ve tried everything else. It’s all overrated. And I’ve had to starve it off.” She pats her thigh.
“Gimme a break!” Veronica squeals. “You’re a stick!”
“If I’m not careful, I’ll turn into a tree trunk.”
Veronica stares wistfully at a waiter balancing a platter heaped with portions of linguine al mare and orders a spinach salad, too.
In her new job, Terry manages a team of publicists who pitch news stories about fashion houses and designers to the press. She talks about it for a while and then about her new apartment—a one-bedroom in the East 90s, a real step up from the studio she rented before on the seedy side of Prospect Park. Now she’s looking to buy. “Nothing fancy,” she explains, pushing the cheese in her salad aside. “I just want to get a foot in the real estate market so that a few years down the line I can sell at a profit and buy something nicer. The market’s moving so fast.” She also tells Veronica about the bonuses her company offers, which motivate her to bust her ass.
Veronica puts on her best listening face to mask her apathy and stupefaction: narrow eyes; a sharp, inquisitive regard. Back in the days of croissant sandwiches at Au Bon Pain, Terry would start talking about art before the two had even said hello, eager as a teenager bursting to confide that she’s in love. She’d prattle on about the all-nighters she pulled trying to finish her latest sculpture of writhing hands before leaving in the morning for work. She’d bring photos of her canvases in progress for Veronica to critique. Sometimes she’d get so wrapped up in describing the gallery openings she’d crashed and the cocktails she’d finagled invitations to so she could sidle up to all the right dealers and agents, that she’d forget to order food. Art was the raison d’être for everything else she did, including her job, which she viewed as a convenient but meaningless cash cow. Now the subject’s glaring absence feels as awkward, as wrong, as Veronica’s ignoring Didier’s phone calls every morning.
“Good thing we’ve got art degrees, huh?” Veronica ventures. Maybe with a little reminder, the real Terry will reemerge.
“That degree set me on my path! Without it, I’d never have landed my first PR job. And I’ve given art my best shot, I really have. But it’s always been one step forward, two steps back. How many times have I heard, ‘Come back next week?’ Or, ‘What if you tweaked this or tweaked that or tried a different medium?’ Meanwhile, at work, I’ve taken three giant steps forward every day. What can I do? Stop going into the office and hang around waiting for a miracle?”
“At one point I considered it. You know, quitting work so I could take a shot at sculpting and painting twenty-four seven. But I needed the money. And work just kept … happening. Moving forward. Progressing. For the most part, I’ve really liked it, too. Then, somewhere along the line, it occurred to me: maybe this work is my miracle! Not exactly the one I’ve been hoping for, but then, miracles never are.”
“Yeah. I know exactly what you mean.”
“Oh, really?” Terry straightens, fingers her earring. Anger flickers briefly in her pale blue eyes.
Veronica looks down at her plate and its impoverished portion of spinach leaves and walnuts. She should have changed the subject when she had the chance, moved on from miracles to a harmless topic like where Terry shops. But it’s too late now, and she can’t bear to let her friend imagine, with resentment, that she, Veronica, has it easy because she found a man to bankroll her life. “It takes way more than time, believe me,” she breathes, her gaze sliding to her hands and their maze of soothsaying lines. “As a matter of fact, you and I are pretty much in the same boat.”
Terry makes a guttural sound, a combination of a snigger and a grunt.
“I’m serious! You’ve got your job, I’ve got my kids. They’re happening every day, like work, progressing and moving forward. It turns out that my art, well, it’s not.” She shovels the remains of her salad into her mouth and shrugs. She’s said enough. “No biggie, though. Things change. And here we are, finally. I can’t get over how amazing you look!”