"You know, Chuck, when I was a baby, every time I burped, my mother said it was the birth of a star," Rachel said. "What happened?"
He laughed. "She was right. You are a star. In my book, you light a whole galaxy."
Instead of taking the taxi back to her office, Rachel strolled up along Fifth Avenue. It was a rare summer day when the air was crisp and cool, giving vibrancy to the brushed brass and polished chrome of the stores' window frames and distilling all impurities till the displayed merchandise came to life in sharp, colorful lines. She glimpsed a moving silhouette reflecting back at her. If it weren't for the refined yet decisive stride and uptilt of the head, she would not have recognized herself in the young woman whose face was a play of shadowed planes and deep-set eyes, a face lovelier and more poised than she felt. She slowed down. Tomorrow might be another oppressively hot day, making a relaxed stroll down Manhattan streets impossible.
At the tail end of lunch hour, the suit-clad working crowd was dwindling, giving way to the multitudes of tourists in shorts and belt pouches. Rachel bought a bottle of cold, peach-flavored water. As she ambled on the west side of the street, keeping to the narrow strip of shade, she took small sips from the bottle. Careful not to jostle the tourists holding cameras to their faces, she studied the top of the buildings across the street. Exploring the architectural details stilled the scream of despair that rumbled inside her. Ever since she had taken a course about the Avenue during her maternity leave five years before, she found comfort in the beauty of the ornate windows, roof gargoyles, verandas, banisters, and turrets that decorated the upper sections of the pre-World War II buildings.
She stopped at a street vendor, his display of toys spread on a rickety table. She touched each item, turning it to check its construction and safety, and settled on a string puppet and a storybook. She'd keep the puppet for those moments when Ellie would have a temper tantrum and need to be distracted with a surprise.
At Fifty-second Street, Rachel turned east and crossed the block to Madison Avenue. With a rare lightness of step, she entered a building where she had scheduled two appointments at an advertising agency. Her corporate sales job at Women's Life magazine provided normalcy and the income to keep feeding the justice machine. Every sale of an ad page meant more money for filing fees, attorneys, and expert witnesses. And at the end of three years of legal battles in which she had so often been branded unstable and given to hallucinations, her work was the one place where she retained her old composed self. Once upon a time there had been weeks when work offered the background music to portentous decisions such as what shoe brand to buy, the scheduling of a weekend tennis game, or the amount to be written on a charity check. Now it was the oxygen line that kept her life functioning.
During the routine meetings with clients at both the media department and account services, Rachel shifted her emotions to neutral and navigated the discussions with ease. After two hours, she sealed a four-month negotiation with a commitment to advertise Compton Foods' new product launch.
Yet back at her office for the remainder of the afternoon, the thunder of panic over the coming trial gathered force. She must keep it all in check. Later there would be moments when her daily pressures would peel away, leaving her raw to do nothing else but feel for Ellie.
She was busy making notes at her desk when she raised her eyes to see her ad director's lanky figure leaning on her doorframe.
"What's up?" Vince asked. A lazy smile spread across his face, darkening its grooves with a five-o'clock shadow. His Nicole Miller sports-theme tie lay askew over a loosened button.
Copyright Talia Carner 2002. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce this excerpt please contact the author at www.taliacarner.com
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