"How is it possible that you can make bringing someone flowers sound like the Stations of the Cross?"
"Sometimes I just leave them on the kitchen counter and toss them with the leftovers." I knew this was not exactly true; Meghan had long had staff to toss the leftovers, and the people from Feeding Our People, the big society starvation charity, sent over a van to pick up the excess food from her larger dinner parties. "Just bring wine. Even if they don't want to use it they can put it away for cocktail parties. Or wait and send an orchid plant the next day. I don't know why, but every damn living room on the East Side has to have an orchid plant. I think they're creepy, like big white bugs. They don't look like flowers at all."
"I thought you loved them. You always have one on that chest under the windows."
"What can I tell you? I'm a slave to fashion."
We always see the same people when we run: the soap opera actor with the carefully tinted hair and heavily muscled legs, the small woman with the spiky gray hair who had the ropy muscles and sharp bones of a marathoner, the Chinese couple who wore identical fashionable warm-up suits and ran with a pair of borzois. One of our regular anorexics streaked past us, collarbone draped in the shroud of an extra-large Harvard sweatshirt. "You know that woman who does the financial news? Grace Shelton?" Meghan said.
"The one with that great haircut?"
"I don't understand why everyone says that. That haircut is not that great."
"Okay, fine. What's the point?"
"Someone told me that she doesn't eat anything except apples and Triscuits."
"That can't be true."
"Probably not, but you never know."
A runner in front of us turned and began to run backward. Meghan dipped her head so that the bill of her cap covered her face.
"I want to go back to the dinner gift issue," I said. "How much does an orchid plant cost?"
"A hundred and fifty dollars. You have to send the ones with two stems."
"Jesus Christ. That's a lot of money for a stranger who invites you to dinner."
"Accepted and acknowledged," Meghan said. Like the aunt who raised us, Meghan has a variety of expressions that she uses constantly and whose meaning is somewhat obscure on their face. This one has endured for decades. I think it was even beneath her yearbook picture. Once she told me it meant "I know but I don't care."
On the sidewalk, glittery with mica in the late winter sunlight, a solitary glove lay, palm up, as though pleading for spare change. Meghan barely broke stride as she lifted it and blew through the doors of her building. "Good morning, Ms. Fitzmaurice," the doorman said. The modern honorific was articulated plainly, a sound like a buzzing bee. The building staff know our Meghan.
"Can you see if someone dropped this?" she said, handing over the glove. "It's a shame this late in the season for somebody to find out they're one short."
"Of course," he replied.
"I'm such a good citizen," she muttered as we got into the elevator and Meghan took off the baseball cap that shaded her face so conveniently.
"Oh, get over yourself," I said.
"I am so over myself."
We are creatures of habit, Meghan and I. At the diner we have western omelets and rye toast; at her house we have oatmeal and orange juice. This works fine because we live in the city of habit. New York is so often publicly associated with creativity and innovation that outsiders actually come to believe it. The truth is that behavior here is as codified as the Latin Mass. The dinner party the night before had been no exception. The dining room walls glazed red, the tone-on-tone tablecloths, the low centerpiece of roses and some strange carnivorous-looking tulips. The single man on one side of me. "I hear you're a social worker," he said as we both lifted our napkins and placed them on our laps, as so many had said before him.
Excerpted from Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen Copyright © 2006 by Anna Quindlen. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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