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Ladies' Night
Mary Kay Andrews


If Grace Stanton had known the world as she knew it was going to end that uneventful evening in May, she might have been better prepared. She certainly would have packed more underwear and a decent bra, not to mention moisturizer and her iPhone charger.

But as far as Grace knew, she was just doing her job, writing and photographing Gracenotes, a blog designed to make her own lifestyle look so glamorous, enticing, and delicious it made perfectly normal women (and gay men) want to rip up the script for their own lives and rebuild one exactly like hers.

*   *   *

She peered through the lens finder of her Nikon D7000 and frowned, but only for a moment, because, as Ben had told her countless times, a frown was forever. She made a conscious effort to smooth the burgeoning wrinkles in her forehead, then concentrated anew on her composition.

She’d polished the old pine table to a dull sheen, and the available light streaming in from the dining room window glinted off the worn boards. With her right hand, she made a minute adjustment to one of the two deliberately mismatched white ironstone platters she’d placed on a rumpled—but not wrinkled—antique French grain-sack table runner. She replaced the oversized sterling forks, tines pointed down, at the edge of the platters. Should she add knives? Maybe spoons? She thought not. Spare. The look she was going for was spare.

Edit, edit, edit, she thought, nodding almost imperceptibly. Less was more. Or that’s what Ben always claimed.

Now. About that centerpiece. She’d cut three small palmetto fronds from the newly landscaped driveway … No, she corrected herself. The builder’s Web site referred to it as a motor court. The palmettos were giving her fits. She’d arranged them in a mottled, barnacle-crusted pale aqua bottle she’d plucked from a pile of random junk at the flea market the weekend before. They should have looked great. But no. They were too stiff. Too awkward. Too vertical.

Grace replaced the palmettos with a cardboard carton of lush red heirloom tomatoes. Hmm. The vibrant color was a good contrast against the nubby linen of the runner, and she loved the lumpy forms and brilliant green and yellow stripes on some of the irregularly shaped fruits. Maybe, if she placed the container on its side, with the tomatoes spilling out? Yes. Much better.

She grabbed a knife from the sideboard and sawed one of the tomatoes in half, squeezing it slightly, until seeds and juices dribbled out onto the tabletop.

Perfect. She inhaled and clicked the trigger on her motor-driven shutter. Click. Click. Click. She adjusted the focus so the pale gel-covered seeds were in the foreground. Now, she zoomed out, leaving the tomatoes as red blurs, so that the old ironstone platters were in focus, their age-crazed crackles and brown spots coming into sharp relief.

“Very pretty,” a voice breathed in her ear.

Grace jumped.

Ben rested a hand lightly on her shoulder and studied the vignette.

“Is that for tomorrow’s ‘Friday Favorites’ post?” he asked.

“Mm-hmm,” Grace said. “I tried the palmetto fronds and, before that, a basket of seashells, and then some green mangoes, but I think the tomatoes work best, don’t you?”

He shrugged. “I guess.”

“What?” Grace studied his face, as always, craving his approval. “The tomatoes don’t work for you?”

“They’re nice. In an artsy-fartsy kind of way,” he said.

She pushed a strand of light brown hair off her forehead and took a step back from the table. She’d spent an hour putting the table together, and she’d been fairly pleased with the effect she’d achieved. But Ben didn’t like it.

“Too country-cutesy?” she asked, glancing at her husband. Ben’s trained eyes missed nothing. He’d been in the ad business forever, and no detail was too small or too insignificant. It was why they made such a great team.

“It’s your blog,” he reminded her. “And your name is on it. I don’t want business stuff to impinge on your editorial freedom. But…”

“But what? Come on. I’m a big girl. I can take it.”

“The Aviento folks sent us a big crateful of pieces of their new fall line,” Ben said, hesitating. “Treasures of Tuscany, the new pattern is called. It’s for the giveaway you’re doing on Monday. I was thinking maybe you could put the tomatoes in one of those bowls they sent.”

Grace wrinkled her nose. “That is seriously the ugliest pottery I have ever seen, and it looks about as Italian as a can of Chef Boyardee.”

“You don’t have to set the whole table with it. Just maybe put some of the tomatoes in one of the bowls. They are spending a lot of money advertising with us now, and it would be good if they could see their product … you know.”

“Stinkin’ up my ‘Friday Favorites’ tablescapes,” Grace said, finishing the sentence for him. “Did you promise them I would use it editorially? Tell me the truth, Ben.”

“No!” he said sharply. “I would never try to influence you that way. But would it hurt to maybe try a couple shots with one of the bowls. Or a plate?”

“I’ll try it out. But if it looks as crappy as I think it will, I’m not going to run it. Right? I mean, you promised when we monetized the blog, we wouldn’t be whoring me out by using the advertisers’ product in a way that would compromise my aesthetic.”

“It’s your call,” Ben said, picking up one of the tomatoes and examining it. “These are weird looking. What kind are they?”

“Don’t know,” Grace said, gently taking the tomato from him and replacing it on the table. “J’Aimee picked them up at the farmer’s market.”

“Kid’s got a good eye,” Ben said. He glanced back at the table. “How long before you’re done here?”

“Maybe an hour? I guess I’ll try some shots with the Aviento stuff. Then I need to edit, and I’ve still got to actually write the piece.” She glanced down at her watch. “Good Lord! It’s after six. I’ve been piddling around with this tabletop for hours now. Why didn’t you say something?”

“Didn’t want to interrupt the genius while she was at work,” he said. “But since you brought it up, is there any actual food to go on these pretty plates?”

“Nada,” she said apologetically. “I’m sorry. I completely lost track of the time. Look, I’ll just take a couple more shots with the Tuscan Turds, then I’ll run down to Publix and pick up some sushi. Or maybe a nice piece of fish to grill. I can have supper on the table by seven. Right?”

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