Adrienne flinched, then played it off as surprise. Phillip was standing in the doorway, holding out a large, flat box.
“Think of me as your fairy godmother,” he said as he handed it to her.
She opened it and put on the widest smile she could muster. “It’s beautiful, Phillip. Thank you so much.”
It was a pale pink confection, a strapless dress with layers of ruffled tulle. It was gorgeous. But it wasn’t Adrienne at all.
“The party starts at 8, and the driver is waiting outside to take you to your stylist. I already told them about the dress, so all you have to do is sit there while they make you gorgeous. You’re the luckiest girl in the world, sweetie.”
Adrienne forced her smile wider, squeezing her eyes to make it look natural, and put the lid back on the box.
“I really am. I can’t wait for tonight.”
She spent two hours in the stylist’s chair. On the one hand, it was a relief to be away from Phillip and out of the crushing weight of his mansion, away from his expectations and demands and fussy little whims that changed every day. On the other, it gave her unlimited time to ruminate about the evening ahead of her. He may have called it a party, but it was a gala, the massive extravaganza put on every March by his illustrious company. Phillip was the star of the show, and she was a beautiful trophy, hanging off his arm and smiling like her life was the happiest on earth.
It should have been. Phillip was wealthy, handsome, and had known her since she was tiny. When he’d found out that her ex-husband Derek was beating her up, he’d flown down, kicked Derek out, and paid for the divorce. She’d married him a year later.
Now she felt like she’d been rescued from a dragon by a vampire. Phillip never raised a hand to her, but after three years of his lightning-fast mood swings triggered by the tiniest of issues, she was no less terrified than she’d been with Derek. After last year’s gala, when she’d talked to a few men without Phillip beside her, he’d started taking her phone at night and wouldn’t let her leave the house unless his driver was with her. She had no idea what he would do when she inevitably made some tiny mistake tonight.
The dress was so tight she could hardly breathe. She pretended it didn’t matter; no need to let him comment on her weight gain again. She knew she was pregnant, but she wasn’t going to tell him until it was impossible to keep it a secret anymore.
The gallery where the gala was hosted every year was sparkling and glittering and filled with beautiful people. A hush descended as they entered: the young, charming, gorgeous CEO and his stunning wife. Her dress was heavy, her hair was heavy, everyone’s attention was heavy. Adrienne smiled and prayed that the Jimmy Choos pinching her feet to death would hold up under the weight of it all.
By 11:30 she was exhausted. She was holding the same champagne glass she’d had all night; just because she didn’t want the baby didn’t mean she should poison it. Her smile was slipping but she jacked it back up. They always left at the stroke of midnight as part of their fairy tale prince and princess act. Only half an hour to go, then the drive home in silence, then the tirade of all the things she’d done wrong and the entreaties to just try a little harder, do a little better, be a little more perfect, and then she could go to bed. A tiny voice in the back of her mind, the voice she ignored as often as possible, wondered how long she could endure all this before she snapped or broke or twisted into something no longer recognizable as Adrienne. She tinkled a fake laugh at a terrible joke and told the voice to be quiet.
At 11:45, she whispered to Phillip that she had to go to the ladies again. A fraction of a frown passed over his brow, and she knew she’d added to her dressing down later, but she wasn’t lying. Being pregnant was no joke.
When she opened the door, there were three other women in the bathroom, all laughing at something on someone’s iPhone. Adrienne knew who they were; everyone did. Jo, Laura, and Tiffany were heiresses who had grown up together at private schools and country clubs, and when they were all twenty-one they’d announced collectively that they wouldn’t be marrying and they all moved in together. Adrienne died of jealousy whenever she saw them, and she saw them at almost all her social engagements. They were rich and mysterious; everyone wanted them around.
They stopped laughing when they saw her. They offered her tiny smiles, and she could feel their judgment. She could see herself through their eyes. She was dressed up like a fairy tale princess that she would never be, living a life she didn’t fit. She was as much under the power of a dragon as she had been with Derek, and the bruises were blooming on her soul.
She ducked into a stall before the tears started and spent a furious minute getting herself back under control. But when she came out again, they were still there, and she could see in the mirror that she’d missed a smear of mascara under one eye. Ashamed, she wiped it away with scented tissues that were probably $3 a sheet.
“If you’re that unhappy, why do you do everything he tells you?” asked Jo, leaning against the counter.
Adrienne was startled. “I… can’t.”
Jo shrugged. “If you ever change your mind, I’ve been told our couch is pretty comfortable. You know, if you need a place to crash.”
The three of them left Adrienne with her mind whirling.
When she finally emerged, she could see from across the room that Phillip was furious. His face looked the same, smiling and handsome, but there was a hardness in his jaw that she had learned to dread.
People were waiting, milling around, just staying until Phillip had had his little performance at midnight so they could all go home. No one looked happy. No one was convinced by any of it; the fancy clothes, the venue, the tiny food. The only people comfortable in their own skin were Jo, Tiffany, and Laura, who were on their way out.
She glanced at Phillip. He was staring at the three of them, clearly annoyed that they weren’t staying for his moment.
He’s just like me when I was a child, playing with my Barbies, she thought, except that he thinks he can manipulate people the way I manipulated my dolls.
Across the room, Jo made eye contact with her and raised one perfect eyebrow.
Adrienne wanted to be like her with all her heart.
At three in the morning, Adrienne was still awake. She had a plan – she’d slip out a window on the east side of the house, where the cedars were thickest, at six in the morning when the alarm system turned off. She’d bring her dress and diamonds and sell them at the fancy consignment store downtown, then she’d go to Jo’s apartment. But if she was caught, if he dragged her back, she’d never be able to try again.
She looked over at him, sound asleep. He wasn’t attractive to her at all anymore; he was something to fear, not something to desire. She thought of the tiny embryo deep in her belly, how it would chain her to this life all the stronger. She thought of raising a child in this house, infecting it with the heavy, toxic atmosphere. She thought of being a single mother.
She knew what she was going to do.