Ariana stretched out her legs, crossed her ankles, and took a sip of her no-longer-ice-cold mojito. Half an hour in, Rose’s pool party had settled into its paces, with the clown making balloon creatures, the ice cream truck doling out artisanal scoops , and Rose’s classmates taking turns hurtling down the slide.
Ian, meanwhile, never missed a chance to do business. He huddled with his usual cohorts, discussing God only knew what. Hopefully they were finally deciding on how to handle Brad after his incident with the reporter. Ariana had always known Brad was useless, but Ian was all about second chances. Maybe after the reporter sniffed out his latest import scheme, second chances wouldn’t seem so appealing.
Ariana glimpsed a young woman over the rim of her glass and nearly choked. She was wearing a summery floral dress instead of the usual slacks and cardigan, but Ariana had no trouble recognizing Miss Deanna – Rose’s teacher.
Ariana became acutely aware of Ian’s less reputable guests: Charlie Hart, recently recruited for his prestigious law firm; Marco Cruz, twice arrested for and acquitted of racketeering; and Eliza Minetta, who had done time for extortion and was widely rumored to have poisoned her first husband. The current Mr. Minetta worked for Ian – in what capacity, Ariana knew better than to ask.
And into their midst wandered a second-grade teacher.
Janet Hart materialized next to Ariana, drink in hand. “What lucky weather!”
She sat down gracefully, leaning in close to clink glasses. “I’m so sorry, Evelyn wanted to invite her, I didn’t think she’d actually come – ”
“It won’t be a problem,” Ariana said. “It’ll be problem for the bouncer, anyway, but not for us.”
Both girls had spotted their teacher and launched out of the pool to greet her. Ariana and Janet watched as Miss Deanna scanned the crowd, her smile becoming increasingly strained.
“Will she suspect?”
“Ian’s used to this sort of thing. He knows better.”
But even as the words left her mouth, she saw her husband mimic a rearing horse, and her heart sank – safe among friends, he was recounting the time he’d thrown the Meadows Derby, oblivious to Miss Deanna standing ten paces behind him.
“He knows better,” she repeated through gritted teeth, and got up.
Ian didn’t notice his wife’s approach until she laid her hand low on his shoulder, nearly the small of his back, a touch that looked innocent enough but carried her signal that he ought to pay attention to her. His smile vanished.
She smiled pleasantly. “Rose’s teacher is here.”
Ian glanced around. “Think she recognizes anyone?”
“Is there anyone in the city who won’t recognize Cruz? I told you not to invite him.”
“Bit late now, isn’t it?”
“Not yet. Take your business inside, or for once, don’t even talk business – it is your daughter’s birthday, after all – ”
“Christ, Ariana, you know how these things – ”
“She’s eight, and her teacher is here!” she hissed. “Either go inside, or start behaving like a normal father at his daughter’s normal birthday party!”
“What about you? What are you going to do?”
She studied the crowd, trying to recall what normal parents did at these kinds of things. They probably didn’t drink alcohol served by a professional bartender, for starters, and they definitely didn’t lurk in the shadows discussing “business.”
“Me? I need to be in the water.”
She set down her mojito, slipped out of her silk tunic, and glided down the tiled steps of the pool in her six-hundred-dollar black halter swimsuit. She’d never even worn it in water before, only to sunbathe, but Miss Deanna didn’t need to know that.
Something splashed behind her. She turned to see Janet struggle to her feet, dragging wet hair out of her face, laughing.
“Those tiles are slippery!”
“Mommy?” Rose stood at the pool’s edge, Evelyn just behind her. Miss Deanna waved tentatively.
“So glad you could make it, Deanna!” Janet called. “Evy is loving your class so much.”
“Evy, come on, sweetie, jump in!” Janet held her arms wide. Her daughter grinned and leaped.
The splash probably ruined Ariana’s mascara just as thoroughly as Janet’s. When she wiped her eyes dry, though, there was no sign of Ian or Charlie or Cruz or anyone objectionable – just two dozen kids and their parents, enjoying a perfectly sunny day and a perfectly normal party. Rose stood shyly at the edge.
Ariana spread her arms and smiled.