Small Plates

From the short story, "Hiding Places"

The Wyndhams were an ideal match. Everybody said so. Normally this would not mean much—a convenient phrase— but in this case, it happened to be true.

 Felicity Wyndham was sitting in a large wicker chair. She’d covered its over-stuffed cushions with a crisp blue-and-white windowpane check that matched the blue stripe of the paper that lined the walls not covered with bookshelves. The room, a small library and her favorite, was in the front of the house—a large Victorian in Ridgewood, New Jersey. She’d placed the chair directly in front of the bow window that faced the front lawn across the porch.

The snow was finally melting. Soon she would take a walk and see if the snowdrops were up. Meanwhile, it was heaven to sit in the sunshine that streamed through the glass, its warm rays streaking across her face making her feel even lazier than she had when she’d dropped into it to take a break. Being pregnant had produced a pleasant lethargy once her mercifully brief bout of morning sickness had passed. She put her hand across her stomach, feeling the bump that she still found hard to believe was a human being.

A boy. Their son. She hadn’t wanted to know the sex, but Geoff had convinced her that knowing would mean an even closer bonding. Besides her doctor knew. It wasn’t one of the universe’s secrets. Yet, that’s exactly how the whole pregnancy had struck her from the beginning. Miraculously secret or secretly miraculous. Both? She smiled to herself. No name for the baby so far. More fun to toss suggestions around. Geoff was open to all; adamantly opposed only to “Brendan”. No reason he said, just didn’t like the name. Still, Felicity suspected it must have belonged to someone in his past. She’d nixed “Patricia”— “Patty”— recalling the mean girl who had bullied her so relentlessly in second grade for no reason Felicity could fathom then or now.

A slight kick, a flutter. Not enough yet to make her wince. But enough to make her feel an intense well being she had never experienced before. A kind of floating—floating on a warm sea with no thoughts at all save one. She’d lined one of those French baby baskets with leftover fabric from the chair and imagined herself sitting in this same spot watching their child sleep as the seasons changed outside the window.

Geoff had given her free rein with the house. He’d spotted it during their search, online, and then called the realtor, arranging to see it that very day. She’d known it was perfect even before she walked through the front door. A wisteria vine in full bloom shaded one half of the porch and climbed high up the side of the house. There were old-fashioned flowerbeds—hydrangea with flowers as large as bowling balls, roses, lilies. Ridgewood was only twenty miles from Manhattan, close enough for an easy commute to Geoff’s office, but it felt many more miles away. The house had been built in 1900 and Felicity liked to think about the families who had lived here—the children who had run up and down the stairs—formal ones in the front, the servants’ stairs in the back. Another child would go up and down them in the not too distant future.

Decorating the house had been a labor of love. She’d wanted to stay true to the period, but not make it feel as if they were living in a museum. Before her marriage, she had been an interior designer and enjoyed mixing periods—a Mid-Century Modern accent like a George Nelson clock in an otherwise Arts and Crafts interior. She’d done the same with the Victoriana here: bright, contemporary fabrics paired with walls painted in the dark reds, ochres, and greens of the period. Eastlake meets Marimekko, she’d told Geoff. He’d told her she was a genius. That he was a lucky man.

And she was a lucky woman. Felicity got up and walked closer to the window. A year ago she was struggling to make ends meet. The downturn in the economy had meant a sharp decline in her business. There had been no reduction in her rent, however. She had been thinking about moving out of her West Side apartment to someplace more affordable—although no place in the city was and forget about Brooklyn these days!—when Geoff walked into her life. Things hadn’t been going all that well in the romance department either. Predictably Felicity and her college boyfriend had broken up a month after graduation and then she went through a serious of relationships that she’d known weren’t going to work. Even so each time she’d hung on too long in the belief that things would change. Suddenly she was twenty-six, turning heads with her long legs, slim figure, blonde hair from her mother’s Scandinavian heritage and big brown eyes; her skin slightly tan as well from her Tuscan grandparents. But no Prince Charming or Happily-Ever-After in sight. That is until the benefit cocktail party one of her loyal clients gave for City Harvest, inviting Felicity and suggesting she bring cards, as everyone would adore what she had done to the apartment.

Geoff Wyndham, whose coloring so closely matched Felicity’s they could have been siblings, but thank goodness weren’t she later reflected, was a venture capitalist in his early thirties who had made a great deal of money and was making more. He had an office in Manhattan and one in San Francisco. He was ready to settle down if he could only meet the right woman. By the end of the evening over a late dinner at Jean Georges, he told Felicity he was pretty sure he had.

Flowers arrived. Small gifts, thoughtful ones— a new CD she’d mentioned was out, hummingbird cupcakes from the Magnolia Bakery, a William Morris scarf and umbrella from the Metropolitan Museum after she’d told Geoff of her lifelong love of the designs. They took a vacation to Anguilla, missing a huge snowstorm that crippled the East Coast. He proposed in the airport as they sat waiting for the next possible flight out. An emerald cut diamond ring from Cartier had been in his pocket; he’d been waiting for the right moment and that one— that sitting in a crowded airport lounge with people milling about, most of them angry— was it. He realized he didn’t want to be anywhere else or with anyone else. Ever. She said yes. Yes, yes, yes.

Felicity’s parents had married late and she had been a bit of a surprise. Her father had died when she was still in high school, a chronic heart condition, and then her mother the year after college—a cancer so swift Felicity had barely time to get to Ohio and say good-bye. Geoff had no siblings either and only his father was alive—remarried, living in Florida, interested in golf, the ponies, the new wife a little, Geoff not at all. So Felicity and Geoff tied the knot in Manhattan at City Hall.

The client who had given the fortuitous party and Geoff’s college roommate who happened to be in town from Chicago stood up with them. Afterwards, they all had a riotous lunch with much wine nearby at City Hall Restaurant, because Geoff said it was too apt a name to pass up and besides he wanted oysters plus a Delmonico steak.

A few hours later the newlyweds caught a night flight to Paris. Each was eager to show the other “their” Paris, but Geoff’s turned out to be far different from Felicity’s— even now the memory of walking into the suite at the Georges V took her breath away. And the Michelin three star meals! Still, Geoff had loved the bistro—amazingly still there on the Île Saint-Louis—that she had discovered one spring break and always came back to on her too infrequent visits to Paris since.

Geoff had had to go to the West Coast almost as soon as they returned, but they’d already found the house and she was busy moving. He had been up front about the amount of traveling he had to do, but while she missed him when he was away Felicity had always been content to be on her own and never more so than now when she was truly nesting. He’d be back from this current trip in two days. She pictured his face when she opened the door, the smile that would light up his face—and she could almost feel his embrace. The sex had been a revelation from the start, even better now than when they had just been getting to know what each other liked. She flushed at the thought. Two days was beginning to feel like a long time.

Get going she chided herself. Take your walk, or finish dusting the books. Felicity and Geoff’s combined library had revealed their eclectic tastes and the arrangement on the shelves revealed what Geoff called his “slight OCDness.” He arranged books alphabetically within fiction and nonfiction with further categories for art, biography, and so forth. He had described himself to her early on as a would-be librarian. A passion for books was just another of the things they had in common she’d been excited to discover.

Felicity disliked disorder as well. Her designs had always focused on de-cluttering a space. She’d assigned herself the job of dusting the books while Geoff was on this trip. She knew she wouldn’t be it doing once the baby arrived. She’d finished the nonfiction, including the coffee table books, which were stacked on the broad bottom shelves. She was up to the “D”s in fiction. She’d dust to “M”, then go outdoors. Dante, Danticat, Delafield, Dickens.

A Tale of Two Cities. Not her copy, if she’d ever had one. She hadn’t read it since high school. This one had a fancy binding, leather embossed with gold. Where had Geoff picked it up? But it wasn’t a book at all! It was a fake one sold for hiding valuables with a compartment carved from the pages in the middle! She’d have fun teasing him about this. Especially since what he’d hidden was his spare set of keys. What was with men and their keys? Why did they need so many? She had two—car and house. Period.

Geoff’s spares were on the same kind of key ring that was in his pocket right now. A simple loop from Tiffany with small knobs on each end, nothing dangling except the keys. It was so like him to put these spares in the fake book. Very precise. Very safe. Her spare house key had been in one of the planters by the front stoop until she’d happened to mention it to him. The next day he’d presented her with a fake rock, suggesting she put it behind the house.

Felicity worked her way to Mann, Marquis, Melville, Mitford, called it quits at Morrison, put on a jacket, and went to look for signs of spring. As she left the house she was slightly disappointed that the hiding place hadn’t revealed anything more interesting. Like love letters— although did she really want to find any of those? She’d tossed everything from her own past when she’d moved out of her apartment and it had felt great. Nothing for a future tenant to stumble across. Once when she was finishing staging an apartment going on the market, she had found a leather bag containing handcuffs and a small whip stuffed in the bottom of the owner’s Majolica umbrella stand. It had creeped her out more than a bit and she’d put it back, then doused herself liberally with Purell.

She was rewarded for making the effort to leave the house. The snowdrops were up in the rear of the back garden, a mass of them peeking through the snow. Next year she’d show little not-named-Brendan.