Reunion (an excerpt from The Hungry Heart by Fran Metzman)
It had taken Toni two hours to put herself together for the reunion with Caroline and Lana, two women who had meant so much to her in the past. Until a week ago she hadn’t seen or heard from either one of them for sixteen years. At first, they had occasionally phoned then e-mailed, and after all communication stopped, they lost track of what everyone was up to.
Studying herself in the mirror, Toni hoped she gave the appearance of success, confidence and a woman who had arrived. In the last year an urge to meet up with the old friends had become progressively stronger until Toni got their new e-mail addresses through old friends and made the arrangements. They all decided to wait until they met to play catch-up. She wanted to show her mentors how far she had come from being an administrative assistant, a euphemism for secretary, at Scarducci, Adden and Drugers. The law firm had hired her straight out of high school.
Caroline and Lana were newly graduated young lawyers at the same firm who, unlike Toni, had grown up privileged.
Although Caroline and Lana had treated her well, Toni felt that she didn’t measure up to them because she couldn’t afford to go to college. She always felt on the rim of their friendship. Despite having been invited to both their homes on a couple of occasions, in her perception, she never entered the inner circle of their lives. Looking back, she knew that feeling opaque in their presence was because of her own insecurities. Yet, undeniably, knowing them had been a life-changing experience. She could now present herself as a person of substance.
Going through her entire wardrobe, it frustrated Toni to realize she was so trying to impress the women – how pathetic. Still, she had tried on five of her best suits, finally settling on a Valentino design that she’d bought in a consignment shop. The beauty of combing the exclusive Main Line consignment stores was that they provided hugely discounted, runway-quality clothing, discarded by the ultra-rich after wearing them once or twice. It seemed as though hardly any of the Main Liners had the word wasteful in their vocabulary. The better for me, Toni thought.
She made, what she considered, an astronomical amount of money as an associate lawyer at a prestigious firm, Jackson and Haymour, that was located smack in the middle of Center City Philadelphia. Yet, she had never lost the fear of poverty that came from her deprived background. She only allowed a sliver of childhood memories to rise from time to time. Back when she worked at the Scarducci law firm she had never spoken of her roots, and no one had asked.
One last shake of her long, silky hair, a tug on the sleeve of her black short-jacket with chalk pin-stripes, a pat on the puffed-up collar of her cream silk blouse and she was good to go. The suit was perfect, and she approved of the effective dusting of make-up – thin purple eye liner, pale pink lipstick, and brushes of light magenta rouge on her mocha colored skin. As she often did, she felt grateful she’d inherited her Caucasian mother’s fine, softly waved hair that fell below her shoulders.
Years ago, her once beautiful mother had hair like that, but it had thinned, and she was beaten-down looking since her dad died six years ago. He had been ill for many years and unable to work. Toni missed him, and felt sad she visited her family so little because of long work hours. She promised herself to change that, but knew she probably wouldn’t. Her mother and sisters were proud of her, but what she missed most was the approval of the two friends, a goal that had haunted her over the years.
Toni walked out the front door of her West Philadelphia town house that was nestled in the protective shadow of the University of Pennsylvania where she had graduated from law school only four years ago. Originally, she had lived in the poorer side of the neighborhood, but recently moved to this more elegant and expensive location. She hailed a cab to take her to the Center City hot spot, La Bella.