“Getting divorced just because you don’t love a man is almost as silly as getting married just because you do.”
—Zsa Zsa Gabor
Thursday, 7:32 p.m.
You know how I hate to gossip, but . . .”
That is how Brooke Bartholomew always begins before she launches into a piece of hearsay. She knows and I know (for that matter, everyone knows) that she is the most notorious gossipmonger in our gated community of Paradise Heights.
So, yes, this will be juicy.
“Don’t be such a tease,” I answer. “Just spill it.”
“It’s about DeeDee and Harry Wilder,” she whispers. “They’ve split up. For good!”
Her tone has me looking around to see if the leads in Brooke’s drama are within hearing distance. But it’s hard to tell because it is dark, and everyone, even the adults, is in costume. Witches, Harry Potters, Shreks, and vampires zigzag across Bougainvillea Boulevard, lugging king-size 300-count pima cotton pillowcases filled with all kinds of individually wrapped miniature candy bars. For Brooke, it is not just Halloween but Christmas too: her husband, Benjamin, is Paradise Heights’s dentist and will reap what Hershey’s has sown.
I check to see that my daughter, Olivia, is out of earshot but still within sight. To my chagrin, she and her posse of five-year-olds are racing up the circular staircase of the Hendricksons’ New Orleans–style McMansion. All the girls are dressed as fairies, which in Halloweenspeak translates into gossamer wings and long tulle skirts over leotards. It is inevitable that one of them will slip, fall, and cry, so I cannot take my eyes off them, even to gauge the veracity of Brooke’s raw data. For the first time tonight I notice that Temple, DeeDee and Harry’s younger child, is not one of the winged creatures flittering in the crush in front of me.
The nickname given the Wilders by my very own clique, the board of the Paradise Heights Women’s League, comes to mind: the Perfect Couple. Until now, it fit like a glove. Both DeeDee and Harry are tall, golden, patrician, and aloof. They are Barbie and Ken dolls come to life. Rounding out the family is their thirteen-year-old son, Jake, the star of the Paradise Heights Middle School basketball team. Our older boy, Tanner, is part of his entourage, as is Brooke’s son, Marcus. Temple is exactly Olivia’s age. With those gilt coiling ringlets and that dimpled smile, Temple is not just the kindergarten set’s unabashed leader but beautiful as well, which is why all the other little girls aspire to be her.
While the Wilders seem friendly enough during the social gatherings that put them in close proximity to the rest of us mere mortals, they never engage, let alone mingle. In Harry’s case, I presume he thinks his real life—that is, his office life—is too foreign for us to grasp: he is a senior partner in the international securities division of a large law firm, where every deal trails a long tail of zeros. But DeeDee has no such excuse. She doesn’t work, yet she pointedly ignores our invitations to lunch, preferring to spend the precious hours between school drop-off and pickup gliding through the posh little shops on Paradise Heights’s bustling Main Street. Heck, even the Heights’s working mommies try harder to fit in. The overflow crowd at the Women’s League Christmas party is proof of that, as are the numerous corporate sponsorships they secure for the school district’s annual golf tournament fund-raiser.
Proving yet again that mommy guilt is the greatest of all human motivators.
And now that the Wilders’ crisis has been exposed to the masses, DeeDee’s force field will stay up permanently, for sure.
“No way! The Wilders?” I say to Brooke. “Why, I just saw them together last weekend, at the club. He didn’t leave her side even once. And I know for a fact that DeeDee was at the school yesterday, for the Halloween costume contest.” Although I wasn’t there, Ted, my husband, mentioned seeing her. I stayed home with our younger son, Mickey, who has a nasty case of head lice, the scourge of the elementary school set. Not fun at any time, but doubly distressing to a nine-year-old boy on a day in which all class work is suspended in honor of a candy orgy.
To get his mind off what he was missing, Mickey and I spent the morning carving two more pumpkins to join the family of five already displayed on our steps and spraying a spiderweb of Silly String on the porch banister. Ted, who is too fastidious to appreciate our haphazard handiwork, has elicited promises from us both that all of this sticky substance will be pulled off first thing tomorrow morning, before it has time to erode the nice new paint job on our faux-Victorian.
Now, as I keep watch over Olivia’s raid on the neighbors’ candy stashes, Ted is at home with Mickey, parsimoniously doling out mini Mounds bars. Despite having purchased forty bags of the stuff, neither of us will be surprised if we run out long before the last trick-or-treater has come and gone. That is the downside to having a house that is smack-dab in the middle of Bougainvillea Boulevard, where all things pertaining to Paradise Heights begin and end. Because of this, poor Mickey will have to share whatever goodies Tanner and Olivia bring home. I don’t look forward to the fight that breaks out over who gets the Godiva candy bar and who is left with the smashed caramel apple.
“Yeah, well, apparently it happened yesterday morning. From what I heard, he came home early from work so that he wouldn’t miss the Halloween parade—and found her in bed with another man.” Brooke waves her little hellion, Benjamin Jr., on toward his older brother, Marcus, who has been trying all night to ditch the kid. Having been an only child, Brooke cannot accept the notion that a thirteen-year-old wouldn’t want to hang with his only sibling, especially one seven years his junior.
Frankly, I think all of Brooke’s energy would be better spent on some therapy over her own traumas. “My God! That’s horrible! Do you think it’s for real?”
“Who knows? For that matter, who cares?” Brooke arches a cleanly plucked brow. “Anyway that’s the rumor, and it’s too good not to be true, so I’m sticking with it. Besides, Colleen was behind Harry in line at Starbucks this morning. She overheard him bickering with DeeDee on his cell. Seems she’s asked for a divorce, but he’s fighting her for everything: the kids, the house—even the dog! In fact, he also told one of his partners that he planned to cut back his hours at work to prove he should be the one to get full custody. Look, I say where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
And they say that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? Bullshit. What guy wouldn’t go for the throat, particularly one who’s just been made a laughingstock in the neighborhood?
Frankly, I can’t really blame him, since I’d do exactly the same thing. Still, I wonder what he’ll do if he does get it all. I’m of the theory that househusbands are born, not made. And they are certainly not made from high-powered corporate attorneys like Harry Wilder, who live for the thrill of the deal.
But I don’t say this to Brooke, who wears her sistah solidarity on her silk Cavalli sleeve. If what she says is true, then there is no reason to feel sorry for DeeDee in the first place. Harry is the one we should pity, since he has no idea what he’s in for. I’m willing to bet he’ll reconsider his stance the first time Jake needs to be carpooled to basketball at the same time Temple has to be at ballet and it’s not until they are halfway there that she tells him she’s forgotten her tights.
“So, who is DeeDee’s boyfriend?”
Frustrated because her reconnaissance is incomplete in this one very important area, Brooke’s perfect moue of a mouth turns down at the sides. This is what passes for a frown when your social calendar revolves around standing appointments for Botox and collagen injections. “Since neither of them is talking, your guess is as good as mine. But don’t worry, I’ve got my spies working on it.” She winks broadly.
That trail might be cold right now, but she is a good enough gossip hound that I’ve no doubt we’ll know the answer by the end of the week.
As we pass DeeDee and Harry’s authentic-looking Tuscan villa, I notice that all the lights are off and the bougainvillea-wrapped wrought-iron gates are locked. The Wilders did not even leave out the requisite consolation: a plastic pumpkin filled with candy and sporting a sign that begs visitors to TAKE JUST ONE AND LEAVE THE REST FOR OTHERS.
Once again, Brooke is right: there is trouble in Paradise Heights.
© 2010 Josie Brown
Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives
Take the Paradise Heights Women’s League board. Lyssa Harper should have warned golden-haired DILF du jour Harry Wilder what he was getting into when she invited him to meet the mommies who run their suburban, gated community. At least he brought cupcakes. Since meeting the former Master-of-the-Universe turned stay-at-home single dad, Lyssa has been his domestic Sherpa, teaching him the ins and outs of suburban life. She just didn’t realize her friends would show up at his house unannounced with casseroles, leopard-print bikini briefs, and plans to rearrange his kitchen cabinets.
The truth is, if Harry and his wife, the neighborhood’s "perfect couple," can call it quits, what does that mean for everyone else? Lyssa’s husband, Ted, is a great father, but he pays her Pilates-pumped momtourage more attention than he does his own wife. Her friends gossip about the neighbors while ignoring their own problems: infertility, infidelity, and eating disorders.
When Harry sets boundaries with his new fan club, he is exiled from the neighborhood’s in-clique. But Lyssa refuses to snub him. What she never expects is the explosive impact her ongoing friendship with Harry will have on her close-knit pals—and on her marriage.
Josie Brown on SECRET LIVES OF HUSBANDS AND WIVES
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Reading Group Guide
Lyssa Harper has it all: a comfortable home in the exclusive neighborhood of Paradise Heights, a handsome and successful husband, and beautiful kids. But bubbling beneath the exterior of her enviable life, and the lives of her close friends, is a web of gossip, cheating, lies, and scandal. When the neighborhood’s most attractive power couple breaks up, Lyssa finds herself drawn to the newly single Harry Wilder. As the bond between Harry and Lyssa grows, rumors begin to spread, and the long repressed tensions in the quiet enclave of Paradise Heights boil to the surface. Friends become enemies, charity events and middle-school basketball games become battlefields, and the secret lives of husbands and wives are finally exposed.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. The town of Paradise Heights is portrayed as an upscale enclave for mostly upper-income families. What did you think of the author’s portrayal of the people in this town? Do you admire or cond see more