(Missed some? Read chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.)
Q: What did the cheerleader say to the ghost?
A: Show your spirit.
— Laffy Taffy Joke #26
"Where are you?" I asked.
I heard a rustling on the other end of the line, along with a muffled, "Here, let me speak with her."
"Hello?" This had to be the most bizarre phone call I had ever received. What was KY Kathryn doing downstairs in my apartment building, calling me because her fiancé was cheating on— Oh wait, that sounded vaguely familiar.
"Miss Vanderwalk, it's Howard."
At least he wasn't hysterical.
"What is going on down there, Howard?"
"There's a young lady,"—a pause followed by a wailed something akin to Kafrin Mamforf—"a Miss Kathryn Danforth if I interpret correctly, asking to see you. It seems a matter of some urgency but I wanted to check with you first."
"Send her up—" I started, but realized that might be a bad idea. "Actually, I'll come fetch her."
"Yes, Miss." Howard paused before adding. "And you might bring some Kleenex."
"I'll be right down."
On the ride down in the elevator, tissue box in hand, I mentally ran through all the possible reasons that KY Kathryn had come to me, of all people.
Not only were we not close, but we had never even had a complete conversation. She had her perfect life and her perfect friends and didn't need me, a thrown-over fiancé with no Manolos in my closet and no Barnard on my transcript.
I went through all the possibilities and came up with none. Zip. Zero. Zilch. And all those other words started with Z. Except that I had once played the role of jilted fiancé.
The elevator doors slid open and I entered the tear-fest. Kathryn looked worse than I had ever seen a KY look. Her hair hung in ratty strings around a face free of makeup except for black smudges beneath tear-reddened eyes. Unlike the polished Kathryn I usually saw at work, this defeated Kathryn wore a holey Barnard t-shirt with half the letters rubbed off and a pair of well-worn sweatpants. This was a picture not of an elegant, vengeful KY, but of a downtrodden and heartbroken woman.
Poor Howard, with only the experience of sons to guide him, sat with his arm around sobbing Kathryn's heaving shoulders. He saw me and lit up like a kid on a snow day.
He leapt from the bench, helping her to her feet and guiding her in my direction. "Here she is, Miss Danforth."
Kathryn looked up at me with all the haunting desperation of the world in her eyes. And broke into a fresh round of wails.
"Come on, Kathryn." I patted her awkwardly on the shoulder in an attempt at friendly sympathy. "Let's go upstairs and you can tell me all about it."
Handing her the box of Kleenex, I met Howard's gaze over her low-hung head and mouthed a "Thank you." He smiled and nodded. And then hurried back to the front desk, out of sight of the crying woman.
"Tell me what happened," I encouraged as we entered my apartment.
She plopped inelegantly into my chofa and wiped away the tears and mascara smudged beneath her eyes. "Victor is cheating on me."
"How do you know?" I grabbed the basket under the end table and pulled out the pristine package of Belgian chocolate seashells. Serious situations call for serious sugar.
Kathryn plucked a dozen tissues and blew her nose like a foghorn. "He said he was working late and I called the office and they said he wasn't there."
"Maybe he had a business dinner," I proposed as I handed her the box and she took a marbled seahorse from the selection. "Maybe he—"
"No," she said around a mouthful of chocolate. "I called his driver. He was at that new dinner club in Midtown."
"It could still have been a—"
"I saw him. With his secretary." She dabbed at her eyes as they watered again. "Huddling."
Well that did sound pretty incriminating. And it sounded like Kathryn had some doubts in the first place. "Why did you call to check up on him? Were you two having problems?"
Tucking her feet up under her on the chofa, she reached for another seahorse before continuing. "He's been spending more and more nights working late. And he's more distant. Especially when we're intimate," she continued despite my sudden fidgeting at the encroaching too-much-information zone, "he seems preoccupied and he's spending less time on fore—"
"What did he say when you asked him about it?" I rushed out before she could divulge all the secrets of her sex life.
She didn't answer, instead focusing on tearing her tissue to shreds.
"You didn't ask him?
She shrugged. "Seems pointless. I know what I saw."
"It would be better if you talked to him, Kathryn." I retrieved the cordless from the kitchen and handed it to her. "For your peace of mind."
She stared at the phone then looked up at me with sad eyes. "Did you talk to Gavin when it happened?"
I shouldn't have been surprised by either her question or her apparent knowledge of the details of our break-up. As I looked at her, a sorry heap surrounded by crumpled Kleenex, I saw a reflection of myself two years ago. Me in ratty Columbia sweats planted on Bethany's couch and surrounded by empty candy wrappers. Drained of every last drop of energy and confidence. If Bethany hadn't kicked me out of the apartment every morning at seven I would have lost my job.
It was months before I went out for anything resembling a social occasion. Months of days filled with work and self-pity and weekly trips to the candy aisle at D'Agnostino.
And as much as I despised the KYs and all they stood for, I would never wish that miserable agony on any woman.
So I answered honestly.
"No, we never talked." I pushed the phone into her hand. "And look how that wound up."
After several silent moments of consideration and tissue shredding Kathryn took the phone and dialed the number. "Victor?" she asked, her voice breaking with emotion.
She looked to me for encouragement and I managed a genuine smile.
Her jaw set in determination and she boldly asked, "Are you having an affair?"
One hour and countless apologies and assurances later, Victor escorted Kathryn from my apartment. Turned out he had been working tons of overtime to surprise her with an Aegean cruise for their honeymoon.
By the time they left I was so sick of baby talk and endearments that I might have given up Jelly Bellies for life just to silence them.
I closed the door on their clinging embrace and faced my suddenly empty apartment. It had always felt like home. A comforting and welcoming space with just the right mixture of cozy and spacious.
Right now it just felt desolate.
Something was missing, something more than a table or a painting. Something emotional.
"Maybe I need candy," I said out loud, just to hear the sound of a voice and maybe convince myself that was all I really needed.
But for once in my life candy was not the solution. That in and of itself should have floored me, if not for the greater problem at hand.
For the first time in two years I began to question whether I had done the right thing in just dissolving the relationship with Gavin without so much as a this-is-over talk. Admittedly, I had caught him in a significantly more compromising position—meaning his secretary kneeling at his feet and his pants around his ankles—but that didn't mean I didn't need closure.
Before I could think myself out of it, I picked up the phone and dialed Gavin's number.
When the machine picked up I nearly wimped out. Then I thought of all the heartache I had gone through, and all the heartache I had just saved Kathryn from, and I firmed up my resolve.
At the beep I left my brief message. "Gavin, it's time we talked."
With that long-due conversation irretrievably in the works, that left me with a looming realization. Somehow I had just made friends with a KY and I didn't know what to think about that. And the scariest part was realizing that they—or at least Kathryn, who always had been the friendliest of the clique—had all the same feminine insecurities as other women. As me.
The fresh pint of Heath Bar ice cream in my freezer called to me, promising to help digest this new information.
I had just dug a spoon from the drawer when the phone rang.
This night was never going to end.