Today's Reading

"They're good, too." Erin and Lucas had five adopted children, and there was no one in their lives who did not understand that they were a collective—one of those classic examples of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. "Maude transferred to LaGuardia and she's doing well—she's got two paintings in the senior gallery, which is a big thing. Damien still looks like a young Noel Gallagher—girls are calling all the time, but he's got more important things to do. Hector's, well, just Hector—I think he's the most self-contained child I've ever met. And Laurie and Alisha keep reminding me to stop and smell the jelly beans."

Neville nodded in approval. "Sage advice."

One of the waitstaff was walking by—a short girl in penguin colors whose red eyes said she had taken a cannabis break before her shift—and Neville got her attention. "Can we please get—?" He arched an eyebrow at Erin, then redirected it to Lucas. "What are you two crazy kids having?"

"I'll have a Sauvignon Blanc," she said. 

"Make mine a root beer. Lots of ice, please."

Neville shook his almost-empty glass. "And I'll have another bourbon, soda, rocks, please." He pulled out a fifty and tucked it under an empty wineglass on the cork-lined tray; evidently Neville was also over-tipping on behalf of the cheapskates in the place.

Neville had been a Wall Street banker with a penchant for vintage Ferraris, a habit he picked up once he started making what he liked to call real money. But two minor heart attacks had forced him to make one of those quality-of-life/fork-in-the-road choices, and hunting down Italian sports cars gave him more pleasure than simply shoveling all the zeros from clients' bank accounts straight into his own. He turned his hobby into a business and was now what Lucas considered a very fancy used-car salesman. It didn't pay as well as his former occupation, but he didn't wake up in the middle of the night having chewed through his mouth guard anymore, which was an amenable trade-off.

Neville picked up his glass and waved it in the air, indicating everything in general and nothing in specific. "So, once again, we find ourselves at an overpriced affair, populated by those without merit." He put the glass to his lips and finished what was left of his drink.

Erin asked, "Where is Lorne?"

Neville made the everything/nothing gesture again. "He's min-gling," he said, dividing the word into two hard syllables.

As a child, Lucas had spent many evenings at these things with his adopted mother—the elderly Mrs. Page. She accepted every invitation sent her way, mostly because it gave her an excuse to dress up. As she got older, and her dwindling finances constricted her ability to contribute to whatever cause they were pushing, the invitations became scarcer. But even at the end, when she had been relegated to third-tier community hall events, she and Lucas always showed up dressed for the red carpet. Whenever he and Erin did one of these things, he wished Mrs. Page could be there with them. Which, in a way, he always felt she was.

Lucas was pulled back to the present when Lorne materialized out of the crowd, on his way from one conversation to another, and stopped to say hello. "How are the Pages tonight?" he asked, kissing Erin and giving Lucas one of their patented fist bumps—a habit they had developed to help Lorne with his carpal tunnel syndrome. But it was easy to see that he wasn't in the present at all—he looked tired and preoccupied.

After the fist bumping and kisses, he was gone, off to do more mingling.

Neville said, "He's pretty upset about Jennifer Delmonico," as he crunched an ice cube. 

Erin nodded. "I know he and Jennifer were close."

Neville's tone changed. "He's friends with her mother, Dee Dee, from way back. The first time I met him he was with her. It was in the café at ABC Decorating. She set us up—two strangers who never would have met without her interference." He looked down into his empty glass. "And she just lost a daughter. Jesus. What a world, huh?" Then he looked up and nailed Lucas with his infectious smile. "Look who I'm telling that to, the luckiest unlucky person I've ever met."

Lucas said, "You need to get out more," just as the waitress came back with their drinks. 

"One Sauvignon Blanc, one bourbon and soda, and a root beer—lots of ice." She smiled over the tray when she handed Lucas his soda—replete with tiny cocktail napkin—but when she saw his face, she blushed and turned away.

Neville slid another fifty under the empty glass he plopped down on the tray amid the wet rings. "For being so prompt," he said.

She scampered away before Lucas could throw another smile at her.

Neville raised the old-fashioned and said, "To Jennifer Delmonico, who I did not know very well, which I now regret."
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