Nan Goldberg lit a Dunhill cigarette and inhaled until her lungs ached. She rubbed the foggy window of the limo with the tail of her Hermes scarf, hoping to see something other than the snotty sleet that had pelted the car since they’d left the airport in Burlington, Vermont, an hour ago.
Nan Goldberg did not want to be fish-tailing in a limo around bumfuck, Vermont, in the middle of a snowstorm. She wanted to be in Manhattan, inside her cozy townhouse, at Sixty-Seventh and Lexington, wrapped in soft, warm layers of angora. She missed her tiny, manicured Bonsai trees. She longed for her toasty-warm, cedar sauna.
Plus, she could guzzle top drawer gin in peace in her townhouse. A shot of Nolet’s Reserve for breakfast ─ maybe five or six shots, as she’d enjoyed that very morning ─ who’d be the wiser?
Nan shot a glance across the limo’s back seat. Her gaze fixed on the matronly woman in a tightly tailored, blue tweed suit who’d forced her into another limo that very morning.
Who’d be the wiser if she kept sucking on a gin bottle like the town drunk? Birge Hathaway, that’s who.
Birge, Nan’s partner of nearly thirty years, tapped Nan’s platinum cigarette case, which lay on the tufted red leather seat between them. “Can’t take those with you, dear.”
Nan clawed for the case. “Ohhh no! Not on your life, baby! I agreed to give up drinking, not smoking. Drinking, not anything else.” Nan fumed. She’d always had a short fuse, but this past year, with the stock market as flat as West Texas, and the bond market in the toilet too, she’d dialed up to dynamite.
Ten years ago Nan Goldberg had been at the top of her game, the cover girl two times running for Fortune. Ten years ago The Motley Fool had sung her praises. Now the SEC had frozen her assets–not all, she still had over five million in Cayman cash accounts and her priceless Bar Harbor, Maine, estate, but she’d bet and lost a billion in bad bond calls. Her name was poison on Wall Street. Even Donald Trump, who had his own problems, was declining her calls.
Birge thought drying out might help Nan.
Nan thought the answer lay in switching drinks. The jewels of the juniper at seven hundred dollars a bottle were no longer sufficient. Maybe she should switch to Scotch with Prozac, an increasingly popular bear-market mix in the marble gutters of Wall Street.
Recognizing the desperation in her partner’s eyes Birge launched into a reminder of the purpose of the trip. “This place is a rehab center, dear. They frown on all addictions. Smoking is an addiction.” Birge pried Nan’s manicured fingers from the platinum case and pocketed it in the outer zipper compartment of her briefcase. “No more Dunhills from here on in.”
Nan locked her arms across her pink cashmere sweater and stared out the snow-pelted limo window. Sleet. Snow. Ice. No cocktail hour. And now no cigarettes? This rehab thing felt stale already. “Anything else you neglected to tell me about this little Vermont vacation?”
“Love you, dear,” said Birge.
Nan popped open the limo bar and busied herself mixing what might be her last cocktail in perhaps forever. She didn’t look at Birge. She didn’t have to look. She could feel her disapproving glare across the cold canyon stretch of the back seat.
Nan sipped a puddle of golden gin and tried to remember why she had ever fallen in love with Birge. They’d met three decades ago in business school, at Cornell, in the after-hours smoking lounge of the library. Birge had cool moss-green eyes, the color of the granite seabed in Bar Harbor, Maine, where Nan’s family had kept a summer home for three generations.
It wasn’t Birge’s eyes that Nan had fallen in love with though. It was her attitude. Her walk more precisely, clipped, like a military cadet’s. It drove Nan crazy with lust, the way Birge, eldest daughter of a steel worker walked: with a confident swagger that typically only men of their generation enjoyed.
Once Nan had Birge’s strident movement going wild deep inside her, she wanted more, much more. It had been a wonderfully wild thirty years. Hell, if Birge Hathaway, financial wizard of Wall Street, wanted her sober for thirty days she supposed she could humor her. One day for each year they’d been together. Why the hell not. Humor her.
“We’ll get through this,” Birge murmured as she slipped a glossy lavender flier from her briefcase. She tapped the folder on the seat between them. “Sugarbush, Vermont. Run by a sassy old Yankee gal named Lily Rockworthy, who, for the record, has cured worse cases than you.”
Nan snorted as she mixed a second triple Nolet from the limo bar. “Sugarbush? You’re kidding, right?” Nan had been on the Manhattan pro-lesbian circuit long enough to know that sugarbush was Seven Sister’s lingo for an elderly trust fund dyke.
In her line of work, as a Wall Street bond broker, Nan had serviced many a sugarbush.
“Not what you’re thinking, dear,” chastised Birge. “Get your mind out of the Wall Street gutter. This is Vermont. Up here, a sugarbush is a stand of maple trees.”
Nan nursed her drink. “A stand of maple trees? Really?”
“Yes, really. Like those.” Birge slid her fingers along the sleet smeared window tracing a thick dark, smoothly barked line of trees as they whizzed by on the mountain road.
“Those,” murmured Nan as she squinted through the storm, “are not maples. Those are oaks.”
Birge adjusted her trifocals. “Oak? How in God’s name can you tell?”
“I was a Girl Scout.”
“A Girl Scout?” Birge grunted. “I don’t think so. You hate camping. I’ve known you three decades and you hate camping.”
“Who said anything about camping?”
“You said you were a Girl Scout.”
“I don’t understand. No camping? How’d you become a Girl Scout?”
“The way we all did in the ‘70’s, dear. I ate my fair share of Brownies.”
Birge bellowed as the limo skidded to an uncertain stop.
Both women rubbed at the windows trying to see if they’d arrived at their destination.
Nan saw it first. A simple, white farmhouse materialized through swirling curtains of snow. The two-storey structure was nestled in a snow bank, the wrap-around porch drifted in white. Two Adirondack rocking chairs sat quietly on the porch like a pair of snow-covered turtles. Buttery light leaked from the windows. A faded wooden sign that read “Sugarbush” creaked in the winter wind.
Nan grasped the limo door handle and sprang it open, not waiting for the uniformed driver to tromp back through the snow drifts to assist. She had to flee before Birge said something sentimental, something that would surely make them both cry.
She was way too old to cry, or to throw a temper tantrum, though at the moment she desperately wanted to do both.
Thirty days without alcohol? No problem. Hell, she was a middle-aged lesbian. She’d survived an East Coast Jewish upbringing. The Reagan administration. The Bee Gees. Big hair. A year in electrolysis. And three decades of blue-collar Christmas parties with Birge’s cross-clutching, Catholic mother, Nona Francis Marie.
Nan Goldberg didn’t need gin to survive; what she needed was for Birge Hathaway, the love of her life, to believe in her once again.
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