Home > The Idea of You

The Idea of You
Author: Robinne Lee

las vegas

I suppose I could blame it all on Daniel.

Two days before my planned getaway to Ojai, he showed up at the house in a tux with our daughter, Isabelle, in tow. He’d left the car running in the driveway.

“I can’t do the Vegas trip,” he said, thrusting a manila envelope in my hand. “I’m still working on the Fox deal and it’s not going to close anytime soon.”

I must have looked at him in disbelief because he followed that up with:

“I’m sorry. I know I promised the girls, but I can’t. You take them. Or I’ll eat the tickets. Whatever.”

An unopened package of Da Vinci Maestro Kolinsky brushes was lying on the entry table, alongside a set of thirty-six Holbein watercolors. I’d spent a fortune at Blick stocking up on materials for my artist retreat. They were, like the trip to Ojai, my gift to myself. Forty-eight hours of art and sleep and wine. And now my ex-husband was standing in my living room in formal black tie and telling me there’d been a change of plans.

“Does she know?” I asked. Isabelle, having retreated immediately to her room—no doubt to get on her phone—had missed the entire exchange.

He shook his head. “I haven’t had time to tell her. I thought I’d wait and see if you could take them first.”

“That’s convenient.”

“Don’t start, okay?” He turned toward the door. “If you can’t do it, have her call me, and I’ll make it up the next time the group’s in town.”

It was so like him to have a Band-Aid for everything. To walk away from commitments guilt-free. Would that I had acquired that gene.

Isabelle and her two girlfriends had been counting down the days to see the band August Moon, a quintet of handsome lads from Britain who sang pleasant pop songs and drove tween girls mad. Daniel had “won” the tickets at the school silent auction. Paid some formidable amount to fly four to Vegas, stay at the Mandalay Bay, and attend the concert and a meet-and-greet with the band. Canceling now would not go over well.

“I have plans,” I said, following him out into the driveway.

He slipped around the back of the BMW and withdrew a cumbersome bag from the trunk. Isabelle’s fencing equipment. “I assumed you would. I’m sorry, Sol.”

He was quiet for a moment, drinking me in: sneakers, leggings, still damp from a five-mile run. And then: “You cut your hair.”

I nodded, my hands rising to my neck, self-conscious. It barely reached my shoulders now. My act of defiance. “It was time for a change.”

He smiled faintly. “You’re never not beautiful, are you?”

Just then the tinted window on the passenger side rolled down and a sylphlike creature leaned out and waved. Eva. My replacement.

She was wearing an emerald-green gown. Her long, honey-colored hair twisted into a chignon. There were diamonds dangling from both ears. It wasn’t enough that she was some youngish, stunning, half-Dutch, half-Chinese star associate at the firm, but that she was now sitting in Daniel’s 7 Series in my driveway looking every bit the princess while I was dripping sweat—now, that stung.

“Fine. I’ll take them.”

“Thank you,” he said, handing over the bag. “You’re the best.”

“That’s what all the boys say.”

He paused then, screwing up his aristocratic nose. I anticipated a response, but none was forthcoming. Instead he smiled blandly, leaning in to do the awkward divorcé cheek kiss. He was wearing cologne, which he’d never done in all his years with me.

I watched him make his way over to the driver’s side. “Where are you going? All dolled up…”

“Fund-raiser,” he said, getting into the car. “Katzenberg’s.” And with that, he pulled away. Leaving me holding the baggage.

* * *

I was not a fan of Vegas: loud, fat, dirty. The underbelly of America convened in one garish skid mark in the desert. I’d visited once, years before, to attend a bachelorette party that I was still trying to forget. The smell of strip clubs and drugstore perfume and vomit. Those things linger. But this was not my adventure. This time I was just along for the ride. Isabelle and her friends had made that clear.

They spent that afternoon running circles around the resort on a quest to find their idols, while I followed dutifully. I had become accustomed to this: my passionate daughter trying any- and everything, setting her mind and forging her way. Isabelle and her American can-do spirit. There was trapeze school and figure skating, musical theater, fencing … She was fearless, and I loved that about her, envied it even. I liked that she took risks, that she did not wait for permission, that she followed her heart. Isabelle was okay with living outside the lines.

I was hoping to convince the girls to visit the Contemporary Arts Center. It would have been nice to squeeze some real culture into the weekend. To imprint something worthwhile upon their impressionable minds. I’d spent countless hours trailing my mother through the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as a child. Following the click of her Vivier heels, the scent of the custom-made fragrance she bought every summer in Grasse. How knowledgeable she was to me then, how womanly. I knew the halls of that museum as well as I knew my third-grade classroom. But Isabelle and her cohorts had balked at the idea.

“Mom, you know at any other time I would say yes. But this trip is different. Please?” she’d implored.

They’d come to Vegas for one reason only, and nothing would thwart their mission. “Our lives begin tonight,” Georgia, with the silky brown skin, had proclaimed on the flight in. Rose, the redhead, agreed, and the three quickly adopted it as their mantra. No expectation too high. They had their whole lives ahead of them. They were twelve.

* * *

The meet-and-greet was at six o’clock. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly, something slightly elegant, civilized, but no. They crammed us into a fluorescent-lit holding room in the bowels of the arena. Fifty-odd worshippers in various stages of puberty: girls in braces, girls in wheelchairs, girls in heat. Wide-eyed and smitten and on the verge of combustion. It was at once beautiful and desperate. And it pained me to realize that Isabelle was now part of this tribe. This motley crew searching for happiness in five boys from Britain whom they did not know, could never know, and who would never return the adulation.

Several parents were scattered throughout. A select swath of Middle America: jeans, T-shirts, practical shoes. Faces pink from a brutal introduction to the Vegas sun. It dawned on me that I would be lumped in with these people. “Augies,” as the media had dubbed the fandom. Or, worse yet, an “Augie Mom.”

The girls were beginning to fidget when a side door opened and a hulking bald man with a neckful of laminated passes entered. “Who here is ready to meet the band?!”

Shrieks pierced the air, and I suddenly remembered that I’d forgotten my earplugs in the hotel room. Lulit, my business partner and confidante in all things worth confiding, had mentioned it yesterday at the gallery, told me I’d be crazy to step into a stadium of Augies without a pair. Apparently, she’d once attended a concert with her niece. “The boys are adorable, but my God, the fans are loud.”

Beside me Isabelle’s entire body had begun to shake.

“Excited?” I squeezed her shoulders.

“Cold.” She shrugged it off. Ever the aloof one.

“The guys are going to be five more minutes,” the hulking man continued. “They’ll stay for about twenty. I need you all to form a line up here to the left. You’ll each get your turn for a quick hello and a photo with the group. No selfies. Our photographer will take the pics, and you’ll be able to download them later online. We’ll provide you with the link. You all get that?”

It seemed so impersonal. Certainly there were better ways Daniel could have spent his money. I was thinking, as they steered us into line, that I was overdressed in Alaïa sandals and out of place. That I was pulled together and polished and that once again, for better or worse, I stuck out. This, my father’s mother had explained to me on numerous occasions, was my birthright: “You are French, at your core. Il ne faut pas l’oublier.” There was no forgetting it: my Frenchness. And so I resisted being grouped in with these women, but at the same time I was keenly aware of their selflessness, their patience. The things we did for our children. What kind of mother would I be to begrudge Isabelle this moment?

And then they entered. The five of them. There was a groundswell and audible swooning, and Rose let out a little yelp like a puppy that had her tail stepped on. Georgia threw her a look that said, Get it together, sister, and indeed Rose did.

They were young—that was my first thought. They had dewy, fresh skin, as if they’d been raised on an organic farm. They were taller than I’d expected, lean. Like the swim team at Brown. Only prettier.

“Now, who is who?” I asked, and Isabelle shushed me. Right.

We migrated to where the boys were positioned before a banner with the August Moon logo: big yellow letters across a gray backdrop. They seemed happy, giddy even, to be mingling with their fans. A mutual love affair. The way they hammed it up for the camera and put the awkward adolescents at ease, the way they flirted with their older fans—sly, but not crossing the line—the way they engaged the tweens and charmed the mothers. It was an art. They’d nailed it.

When we were next in line, Isabelle leaned into me. “Left to right: Rory, Oliver, Simon, Liam, and Hayes.”

“Got it.”

“Don’t say anything embarrassing, okay?”

I promised her I wouldn’t.

And then it was our turn.

“Well, hullo, lasses!” Simon bellowed, eyes wide, arms outstretched. He had an impressive wingspan. Isabelle had mentioned on the plane that he’d rowed crew in boarding school. “Step right up, don’t be shy!”

The girls did not need a second prompt. Georgia lunged into Simon’s arms, and Rose sidled up next to Liam, the baby of the bunch, he with the green eyes and freckles. Only Isabelle hesitated, her eyes darting back and forth. Eenie, meenie, miny … Quite the candy store.

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