Twice the Trouble

Kara stares at her reflection in the mirror and sticks her tongue out at herself, this isn’t going to work. Carelessly twisting her hair in a half updo, flaming tendrils curling around her face, she scowls. Foundation, blush, eyeliner, eye shadow and mascara—good lord, she hasn’t worn so much make-up since she was child and went dressed as a clown for Halloween. Hannah owes her big time!

Now for the dress, Kara inhales and slips the teensy black cocktail dress over her head, careful to avoid smudging her face. How does Hannah do this or better question, why does she do this? While Kara approves of the color, a few more inches of dress would have made her a much happier gal. Finally, outrageous fuchsia stilettos and clutch purse in hand and she is ready to begin the farce.

The cab is waiting at the curb as she exits Hannah’s building.  Holding the door open for her, the doorman is clearly overwhelmed by her appearance.

“Have a good evening, Ms. Tompkins”, he says blushing.

“Oh, stuff it Hal!” she says while sliding cautiously into the cab. “79th and Central Park West, please.”

The cabbie’s eyes ogle her from the rear view mirror and Kara shifts uncomfortably in the back seat. She cracks the window open to allow some cool air into the cab as waves of steam emanate from her. Blast her sister! Any normal person would have called their boss and explained that contrary to popular belief, you still can catch chicken pox. Any rational person would regretfully bow out of this soiree, no harm no foul. But that’s not Hannah. A tiny flaming haired dynamo, Hannah started at the museum as an intern and has bullied and worked her way up to Assistant Project Conservator of the Natural Science Collection. Declining the invitation to the museum gala was not an option. It wasn’t Kara’s fault that Hannah possibly caught chicken pox when she came to Kara’s fourth grade class to present on biodiversity.  It could be coincidence that the two newest students presented with spots the day after Hannah visited. It also isn’t Kara’s fault that Hannah didn’t get chicken pox at the same time her six year old twin did—some things are out of Kara’s control.

The cab speeds through Manhattan and deposits Kara at the museum entrance faster than she would have liked.  She pays the cabbie and maneuvers herself out of the cab, the skirt is sinfully short. Taking a big breath she heads up the stairs as best one can in four-inch heels. Moving with more confidence than she feels, Kara presents her invitation at the door and the guards wave her through.  There is simply no place to hide a weapon of any sort in this dress.

Grabbing a glass of champagne as she enters the ballroom, she takes in her surroundings, the elegant and storied museum ballroom. This is madness; the room is full of people who know Hannah well. How can her sister think Kara will be able to fool them? But oddly enough, it is easy. The orchestra plays non-stop and with the music bouncing off the walls, normal conversation is near impossible. By her third glass of bubbly, the butterflies are gone and Kara finds that she is actually enjoying herself. True, there were those women in the ladies room who gave her the cold shoulder, but who knows what that was all about. With a degree in biology, she knows she can hold her own during any small talk she might have with Hannah’s colleague. No one seems to notice anything amiss.

Kara is perusing the buffet table, when a tall and devilishly handsome man appears at her side. Gripping her arm painfully, he leads her away from the food.

“Hey” she says yanking her arm away, “what’s the big idea?”

“Hannah” the man spits her name like it’s a curse, “I won’t stand for you undermining my position by strutting around barely dressed and cozying up to the board of directors. You should be ashamed of yourself!”

“What are you talking about? I wouldn’t do that?”

“Oh please, you must think I was born yesterday. Do not try me on this matter” And with that, he strides off, an angry wave of Armani. In shock, Kara gazes wistfully at his retreating profile.

“Oops, you’ve done it now,” teases a tall blonde lady dressed equally provocatively. “You’ve pissed off the boss. That’s a career killer, sweetie. “Unless”, she pauses to arch one eyebrow, “you plan on going around or shall I say, under Guillaume to advance your career. It’s not like you haven’t done that before.” Laughing nastily, the blonde winks at her then glides into the crowd.

Kara’s cheeks blaze at the insinuation, what has Hannah been up to? Kara has no illusions about her sister; Hannah goes after what she wants and has been known to fight dirty. But this, sleeping around to advance her career, that just can’t be true. After that encounter, the party loses its glow and the one canapé Kara managed to eat sits in her stomach like a rock. She wants to go home and get into her jeans and sweatshirt. Her feet are killing her and she’s tired of this belt her sister calls a dress. She wobbles across the ballroom and heads up the stairs. At the landing, she slips her shoes off; unaware of a pair of intense brown eyes staring at her.

Guillaume eyes her thoughtfully; something is off with Hannah tonight. The accent was more Brooklyn than usual and Hannah has never backed away from a confrontation.  She loves to rub his face in the fact that he fell for her girl next door act, before her claws came out and she revealed her true nature.

Kara stands on the cool pavement soothing her aching feet desperately trying to hail a cab. Finally one stops and whisks her home before anyone else can accuse her of sleeping her way to the top.  Leaning her head against the seat back, she reviews the evening to see if there were any clues she missed. Hmm, it was pretty obvious that most of the women at the party didn’t like Hannah. What does that usually mean? Hannah would say they’re all fat cows and jealous of her youth and beauty, but Kara can’t accept that. Some women might be jealous, but not all of them. If all the women have issues with Hannah, that must mean something is up, there’s no smoke without fire, as their grandmother would say.

At home, she wiggles out of the dress, slathers her face with cold cream and wipes the goop off her face in angry strokes. The night has left a bad taste in her mouth and she’s furious with herself for going along with her sister’s plan.  

     The next day Hannah calls her to see how the gala went. Kara tells her about Guillaume and the blonde and Hannah just peals with laughter. “Oh god, I wish I had been there to give those dopes a piece of my mind!’

“Hannah, he’s your boss…”

“Not for much longer if I have my way” her sister chortles happily. “And I do believe I’m going to have my way.” With that cryptic statement, Hannah rings off.

“Damn, she didn’t even say thanks for going to that blasted thing. When will I ever learn?”

Two weeks later, at the school staff meeting, Kara’s friend Peg drops a bombshell on her.

“Kara, I have some good news for me, but bad news for you”

Kara gazes at her friend’s rounded belly, “What’s that Peggy-o?”

“Well, my ultrasound is scheduled for next Thursday, so you’re going to have to go on the field trip and we’ll get a substitute to stay back with the kids.”

“What? No, let the sub go on the trip.”

“What‘s wrong with you? Did you have an embarrassing museum-related incident as a child? Most people love going there. It’s a great trip! Besides, you know we can’t send a sub on a field trip, they’d never be able to keep track of the kids.”

Kara’s stomach clenches and she sighs, “I know, I know, Peg. I’m happy for you. I guess I’ll have to take one for the team.”

“God, Kara, you act like you’re going to the dentist instead of a field trip.”

“What can I say, museums give me a rash!”

     Driving home that afternoon, Kara tries to convince herself that it’ll be okay. It would be extremely unlikely to run into either her sister or Guillaume during a field trip.  She has managed to successfully avoid her sister since the phone call, unsure of what to say.

No matter how hard she prayed, Thursday dawned clear and bright and Kara finds herself aboard the bus with twenty-seven excited children and two parent chaperones.

Standing at the front of the bus, Kara addresses the chattering children.

“Okay kids, I know you’re all excited about this trip, but let’s review some ground rules.  We all stay together, we’ll keep our ears open and our mouths closed while the docent is speaking. When he or she ask for questions, please raise your hand and speak loudly so we all can hear the question.  We’ll visit the bathrooms when we arrive, before and after lunch and again after the planetarium show. We’ll hit the gift shop after the planetarium. For a special treat, if you’re good, we’ll spend some time at the Diana Ross playground before we get back on the bus and head home!” That got a rousing cheer, and so smiling, Kara sits down and tells the driver they can go.

Once at the museum, Kara is so busy keeping track of squirmy children that she forgets her worries. Later, outside the bathroom, about to head to lunch, Kara does another head count; twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six. She counts again, still twenty-six, whose missing? Sighing, she realizes Jamal has wandered off. She saw he was captivated by the dinosaur displays; she should have kept a closer watch on him.

She calls over the chaperones, “Jen, Petra, can you two take the kids up to our lunchroom? I don’t want to get off schedule and the kids need to eat. I have to go track down Jamal, my budding archeologist.” The ladies agree and lead the children off to lunch.

Kara hurries up the steps anxious to get to the fourth floor and the Dinosaur Halls. So focused on finding her little wanderer, she’s unaware of a spill on the stairs. Her Maryjane’s have no traction, her foot slips and she starts to fall. She flings her hand out to grab the balustrade, but her knee slams down onto the marble stair.  Pain rockets through her knee and her eyes immediately fill with tears. Thrown off balance, she’s about to fall, when a warm hand touches her back and steadies her.

“Easy does it mademoiselle, you’ve had a nasty fall.”

Tears stream down her face, as Guillaume helps her stand up on her good foot.  Try as she might, Kara cannot walk and for now, hopping is also out of question.

Kara struggles to get up the remaining steps, but Guillaume barks at her, “Stop it; please stop moving. You cannot know what damage you might be doing to your knee!” She stops resisting him and he gently picks her up and carries her up the remaining steps. At the top, he carefully puts her down so her back can rest against the mural. He calls a guard over and tells him to get medical assistance and also to find someone to attend to the stairs before someone kills themselves.

He kneels down and offers her his handkerchief. She wipes her eyes and blows her nose loudly.

He laughs and says, “So, we meet again, my imposter. I wondered if I’d ever see you again.”

Kara sniffles, “You know I’m not my sister?”

He slides down beside her, “I didn’t know at first, but when I saw you slipping your shoes off in the museum, I knew you weren’t Hannah.” He laughs harshly, “Hannah would never do anything so human.”

Her knee is throbbing madly and Kara is pretty sure something is broken, but she can’t help but be touched by the raw pain in his voice. “I’m sorry my sister acts the way she does. She’s always gotten what she’s wanted, I’m afraid that hasn’t led to a kinder, gentler person.”

Guillaume looks at the naturally beautiful woman sitting beside him and replies, “It doesn’t seem to have affected you adversely.”

Kara laughs, “Oh, please, Hannah is much better looking than I am!”

Guillaume shakes his head and laughs “Unbelievable.”

At that moment, Jamal wanders by and spots Kara sitting on the floor.

“Ms. Tompkins, Ms. Tompkins, did you see the dinosaur eggs?”

Kara waves him over and tells the boy to come sit by her. “I thought we discussed sticking together, Jamal.”

“But ma’am, I never left, everyone else went away.” Jamal’s logic was flawless.

Kara smiles and says, “Well, you’re here now, so all’s well that ends well.”

     EMTs arrive and lift her onto a gurney. She’s going to have to go to the hospital for x-rays. On the elevator, Kara asks Guillaume to make sure Jamal returns to the class and gets some lunch. She’s still barking orders when they load her onto the ambulance. 

     The knee fracture requires surgery and Kara’s kept in the hospital for several days.  She receives many visitors, but not the one she wants. He does send some flowers, but all the card says is “Get Well Soon’, hardly pulse elevating.

When she’s discharged, her mom picks her up so she can stay at her parent’s house for a couple of days. Heavily medicated, Kara overhears her sister’s conversation with their mom. It sounds like Hannah is blaming Guillaume for Kara’s accident and is causing trouble for him at the museum.

Kara can’t believe that anyone would fall for that, but she also can’t believe that most people think Hannah is nice when they first meet her. Sighing, she resigns herself to never having a chance with the enigmatic Guillaume.

     Recuperating, Kara finishes out the rest of the school year at home. One afternoon, after hobbling around the house doing what housework she can do, Kara decides to take her book out on the porch and enjoy the spring day.  It takes two trips to get settled outside and she sighs with pleasure as she lifts the cast onto the lounge chair. Her handy stick keeps the itches away.

     Fully engrossed in her novel, she’s startled at the sound of a voice.  Standing before her on her porch is Guillaume dressed elegantly in a dress shirt and black slacks. As usual, he is disturbingly handsome. “Hmm?” she says

“I asked how you are doing.”

Running her hand over her hair, Kara can’t remember when she last washed her hair. “Umm, I’m aah, doing much better. The surgery went well and the therapist says I‘m progressing nicely. I hope to have the cast off in a couple of weeks…”

He smiles, “That’s good, that’s very good news; I was worried when they said you had to have surgery.” He motions towards the chair opposite her and Kara nods yes.

Suddenly feeling shy, Kara hesitates. Then decides she has nothing to lose. “Guillaume, can I ask you a question?”

“But of course.”

“Why haven’t you come to see me sooner?” Heat rises from her cheeks.

“Ah, I wanted to, but I couldn’t. Not with the trouble your sister was stirring. It was looking like we might have a court case. And now”, he said shrugging his shoulders, “I wasn’t sure you’d want to see me.”

“What? How come I never heard anything about this?”

“You haven’t spoken to Hannah?” he says pulling at a thread on his slacks

“You may not believe this, but Hannah and I are not very close.”

“Well, she got the board of directors involved and it got ugly. It’s a shame really, because she actually is quite talented at her job.”

“And what happened?”

“They let her go. Like I said, she’s talented, but toxic to work with. The board decided she’s not worth the trouble. Her last day was Friday.”

“Hmm” she says relief flooding through her. Hannah’s plan backfired. “Hannah hasn’t said anything to me.”

Guillaume looks down, “Are you upset at me?”

“No, whatever did you do?”

“Well, I dated your sister two years ago.”

She laughs, “If I was upset at every guy Hannah dated, my dating pool would be extremely limited.”

Guillaume grabs her hand, “So you agree to date me?”

Smiling up at him, she replies, “Oh, I insist on it. It’s the least you can do for all I’ve been through.”

He laughs and gently kisses her hand, the promise of much more to come evident in his eyes.

 

 

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