They met like this for dinner and drinks at the bistro, on the second Thursday of the month for the last eight years. Sara would tell you that they only missed sixteen times since they made the vow, at Dusty’s wedding. The bistro was charming with a luscious smell of herbs and spices that hit you when you walked in the door. One whiff could bring them back to days of shared hopes and dreams as well as their favorite meal, Quail stuffed with roasted garlic and rosemary. Memories abounded for both, of two single girls starting out life in Chicago after four years of college in a tiny Iowa town. They shared an apartment that was twelve flights above the bistro and eaten so many meals there that all the waiters knew them by name. Alex was their favorite, he seemed to be able to tell when they needed a little tender loving care and would occasionally provide, on the house, their favorite dessert a crunchy-coated crème caramel. The wine selection was excellent and the prices were affordable even if they did stretch their budgets a little in the early years. They always reserved the same table near the fireplace because it was always glowing and they felt like they were in a cozy cabin in the woods. After her marriage, Dusty moved to Winnetka to a mansion on Lake Michigan. Sara still lived in the building, moving up to the fortieth floor to a luxurious apartment with a view of the lake.
Sara was excited to see Dusty this particular Thursday. They had something to celebrate.
“Congratulations, I ordered a bottle of champagne. I heard that your C.D. release party was a smash. Imagine, finishing your album and getting a contract for a video all in the same week. I’m so happy for you,” said Sara, almost as bubbly as the champagne.
“Celebrate and commiserate is more like it,” Dusty replied.
The tear stains on her make-up said more than the smile on her face.
“Why so sad? I thought you would be floating on a cloud,” said Sara.
“He gave me my notice today,” Dusty said looking down at her hands.
“Notice, what notice? Who’s giving notice” Sara replied.
“Mac,” Dusty was sobbing now and blowing her nose into a huge, damp handkerchief.
“I don’t understand what you mean. Have a drink. Try to calm down and start over,” she said as she filled Dusty’s glass and took out a tissue from her purse. "Take one of these, they are full of Aloe and Vitamin E. They won’t make your nose so red.”
“Always the little nursemaid,” said Dusty as she forced a smile “worried about my nose.”
Dusty gulped down the glass of champagne and did the same with a second glass before she tried to dry her tears and start over.
“I’ve never told anyone this before, but ever since I’ve known Mac he has sent me a letter every three months, telling me how I’m doing. First as a prospective wife, then as a wife. Like a performance review, you know, like at your job.”
“And you still married him. I can't see you taking that kind of treatment. You've always been so confident and in control," said Sara excitedly.
“I loved him and those were his terms, like the prenuptial agreement. I was upset at first thinking that he thought I loved him for his money. I realized that he has lived with this kind of paranoia all his life and I wanted him to know that I loved him for who he is. He still believes his first wife married him for the money.”
"He's an idiot making you jump through hoops for him. He doesn't deserve a woman like you,” anger was creeping into Sara's voice.
“It was kind of fun at first, I was doing so well and the few suggestions he made were so insignificant compared to the praise, I guess I loved seeing the praise in print,” said Dusty.
“Did you ever talk about these reviews?” asked Sara “ask him some questions or give him a few suggestions of your own for his improvement?” What about his children, the ones you raised for the last eight years, has he told them yet?”
“No,” Dusty answered “we never talked about the reviews and he hasn’t told his children yet. You and his lawyers are the only ones who know. I have six months to “get my life together” as he says and until then he’s not telling the kids. He’s still sleeping in my room occasionally so they won’t suspect. No sex though, I drew the line on that one.”
Did he give you any hints in his last few performance reviews?"
“No, no hints that I noticed, a few small things, like usual,” said Dusty.
“Thank god you told me now, we still have time to devise a plan,” said Sara who believed that a good plan could solve anything.
“The hardest part is that he won’t talk about it. He says the notice is final. He wants me to live in the house, entertain his family and friends like nothing happened. Then poof, I’m gone.”
“What reasons did he give in this so called notice?”
“Nothing I would call grounds for divorce. No, it was the spreadsheet. He made a spreadsheet on me and my spending habits. He said he extrapolated the rate of growth of my spending over the last eight years, a full cycle he called it, and that if I continued at that rate I would put a serious dent in his children’s legacy. That I wasn’t taking my stewardship of his family’s fortune seriously,” Dusty said as she motioned the waiter over for another bottle of champagne.
“How dare he. A full cycle indeed. He’s got enough money to keep several future generations living the good life. What are you, one of his investments like his stocks or those crummy money losing ventures he gets hooked into.” Sara was livid. "Why just last year he hired me to look at that real estate venture in Barbados. He would have lost millions if I hadn't figured out his buddies down there were con artists. We’ve got to have a plan. We’re getting you the best lawyer money can buy. He can’t do this to us. To you, I mean.”
“It's not that easy,” Dusty said “I have to stay there. Besides I love him. Maybe I can prove that I can curb my spending. I’ve got six months to convince him to keep me.”
“Keep you! My god, he’s lucky to have you. You’re a beautiful, talented, sweet and loving woman. You just wrote, produced and performed your first record album. I'm sure your video will be on MTV in no time. No, it can’t be the money. I bet he’s jealous or maybe he’s afraid you won’t need him anymore now that you’re living your dreams."
“I’m sorry Sara, I can’t. I’ve got to take the chance, play by his rules. I just have to learn to be better somehow, quit spending money, there has to be something I can do to win him back.”
“But Dusty, you’ve got to have a plan. I’ll help you. You could move in with me for a while. Think of all the fun we could have.” Sara's plan was starting to form.
“Sara,” Dusty said coldly, “you don’t understand, I do have a plan. If I moved in with you it would confirm his suspicions. That would only make things worse."
Sara never before witnessed the hardness that suddenly formed on Dusty’s face. She never before felt the sting of words like the ones that were coming out of her mouth. She could not believe it was her best friend.
"Suspicions!" Sara uttered in disbelief.
Suddenly Sara could feel the force of her own tears about to break forth. She grabbed her purse and ran out of the restaurant. She did not look back.
Sara and Dusty never had another Thursday night out. Sara missed her best friend but she was working on a plan.