The problem with asking a guy who made at least ten times what she made out on a dinner date in Times Square, Ivy thought, was selecting the restaurant. There were the tourist traps, the ones that were easy to avoid. And then there were the places you took someone to impress them, but then, they were out of her price range. Would he expect her to pay? she wondered. She had done the asking, after all, but then, he was the guy and he did make about ten times what she made, maybe he would insist on paying. But she didn't want to gamble her ability to pay for her meal on that chance, nor did the fact that she would be depending on him for that sit particularly well with her. So those were out, at least unless he made it clear that he wanted to go to one of those places and wanted to pay first. She knew plenty of diners and bars, most of which served food that was somewhere in between "mediocre" and "good."
"So, any favorite places in the area?"
"Does Keen's count?"
"You want to take me to Keen's for our first real date?"
He pursed his lips together, in an inscrutable look, before grinning crookedly. "First of all, Keen's is awesome. Best steak in the city, and you don't even have to go to Brooklyn. Second, technically, you asked me out, so really, I wouldn't be taking you anywhere."
"Semantics," she retorted.
"True, but that doesn't change anything. Also, I have taken someone out to Keen's for a first date before. The second-worst first date ever, and I'm never doing it again." He paused. "But because this isn't our first date..."
"Okay, so, managing to pick me up at a bar? Totally does not count. Neither does picking me up at a wedding."
"The baseball game?"
She laughed heartily. "Do you really want me to remember you as the guy who took me to a Mets game for a first date? But fine, first real date that doesn't end up with one of us going home with the other."
"Not even if I play my cards right?"
"Sorry," she smirked.
"Well then, color me disappointed. Still, there was brunch? Sunday after the wedding? I know what you're about to say, you want to count it as part of the wedding, but it was a separate thing. We made awkward small talk that got less awkward and more fun, you told me about your mother, we got to know each other a little better and learn that we liked each other? It was totally a first date, a damn good one if I do say so myself."
"Fair enough. Also, second-worst? I think it's funny that you're that specific about it."
"And yet, it's true. I was poor and still in school so I just took her to the bar. I mean steakhouse bars, they've got great happy hour deals and you get the atmosphere of..."
"You went to the bar at Keen's for the atmosphere? Well there's your mistake right there. Never take a girl to a place where there's a painting of a naked chick staring out at her from behind the bar. Come on, that's basic stuff right there..."
"Okay, fair point. Actually, that's pretty much what happened. I asked for menus, the waiter gave me the happy hour menu and gave her the regular dinner menu. I figured he was trying to inflate the check, and I just sat there staring into space trying to come up with a way to point out we had different menus and suggest she order off that one while thinking there really is no non-awkward way of saying 'please don't order off the dinner menu, I'm poor.' So she..."
"And she thought you were staring at the naked lady? Hah. And no, there really is no good way of saying that. But it serves you right, you never take a date somewhere unless you can pay for everything on the menu. I mean, yeah, if she orders one of those publicity-stunt thousand-dollar-whatevers with caviar and gold leaf and shaved truffles then sure, stick her with the bill and be glad you dodged a bullet. But otherwise, what I said before. It might mean you're going on a lot of dates at McDonald's, but you get a chance to, you know, really think outside the box and impress a girl, and it's more honest. It lets her know what she's getting. Also, that was only second-worst? What did you do for the worst, take her to Scores?"
"Hey, we met at a steakhouse bar, don't knock it. Not Keen's, but still. And Scores? Come on, you've got to give me some credit here, I'm a little smoother than that. I picked you up, after all."
"You know, I hate to deflate your male ego here, but trust me, I was low-hanging fruit. You just happened to catch me..."
"...at your worst. You told me that once. Remember what I said then? If that was you at your worst, then you must really be something special at your best. Well, you are. And yet, you're still here."
"I guess I am, aren't I?"
"Okay, that was really sweet," she conceded. "You can be pretty good at this when you want to be."
"Well, now that my male ego has once again been properly engorged, I have to..."
"Really?" she snorted, cutting him off. "'Your male ego has been properly engorged?' That's your word choice? Didn't I just say that nobody's taking anybody home tonight," she said, laughing.
"Oh, I'm sorry," he said, mockingly apologetic. "Was that too dirty for you? Would you care to define an acceptable level of double entendre for us here?"
She giggled. "I don't know. Depends on just how bad your worst date really was, I guess."
"Oh, the worst date was also totally not my fault. It was also when I was poor and still in school and was a double date at some place down in Chinatown with my buddy Danny. So, Chinatown's not like Little Italy, I mean, it's actually possible to find a decent Chinese place in Chinatown that's not just for the tourists and we'd found one. Anyways, Danny speaks Chinese, his parents are from Hong Kong, so he orders in Chinese. The waiter looks at his date and they really start talking. Danny laughs nervously, waiter laughs again, and then Danny's date stands up and she's got this look. Like, I'm terrified that she's going to, I don't know, scald him with the boiling hot tea or stick a chopstick in his eye or something. Then she goes and says something in Chinese and I should mention that she's like, the waspiest, preppiest, most All-American looking girl ever. I mean, blonde hair, blue eyes, the whole deal. Then she goes and whispers something to my date and they both leave. Later Danny tells me that the waiter was making some rather, uh, graphic jokes about what he'd like to do to his date and he didn't want to make a big scene because he figured, you know, no way anybody can figure out what the guy's saying, what's the point? But, well, it didn't turn out that way and my date..."
"You know, women like a guy who can take charge of a situation," she said. "That's why she bailed there."
"Well, in that case, executive decision here. That place," he said pointing to a restaurant on the corner.
"Is it really taking charge of a situation if you're only doing it after I suggested it? Because, really, that would be me..."
"I like you. I think you like me. We have fun together. Stop analyzing this and just relax and go with it."
"People tell me that a lot," she said with a smile. "Let's go."
"See?" he grinned. "Taking charge of the situation."
The place on the corner was a sushi bar, one they both knew. They shared a bottle of sake and split a sushi platter.
"I'm just glad I didn't accidentally pick one of the tourist traps," he said.
"You're lucky. They're pretty much all tourist traps on this block," she replied.
"Well, the barbecue place on the other side of the block is pretty good, the diner across the street's decent. The sushi here's not bad, I mean, it's not the best in the city or even the best around here. The one on the other side of the block's better. But this is the best sushi you can get on Seamless in Midtown, so, yeah, I probably give this place at least a hundred bucks a week of the firm's money."
"The firm's money?" she asked.
"Yeah. The most important thing about working in a Manhattan office job that nobody ever teaches you is how to properly work the Seamless. The firm pays for dinner after 7, there's a 25-buck-a-head limit and you're not supposed to order in alcohol, but there are ways around both of those conditions. If you're a real pro at it, you can find a way to do your shopping on the Seamless."
"I did it once, just to prove that I could, when I was younger. It's not worth the bother, though. I'm a partner here, I take home seven figures now, I'm not going to all that trouble just to save a few bucks on groceries. By the way, I talked to your producer the other day, Eileen? That thing with the kid and your friend Tom, it's taken care of."
"Oh, well played," she noted.
"The way you just worked that in there, how you took care of the problem, right after casually dropping that you make over a million a year."
"Ivy," he said patiently, "you knew what I do and where I worked already. I'm pretty sure I didn't need to drop anything about my salary, you probably already had a pretty good idea. And I thought you'd be interested in getting an update about what's happening with your show. You're the one who called me last week to tell me about it, remember?"
"Yeah, I know." He was probably right, she was overanalyzing things again. She could remember when they had met, how she had been the one who asked where he worked, how he had frowned slightly before answering that time. It seemed so long ago but it had only been a couple of weeks.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I don't want to do this, I tell myself to stop it when I catch myself doing it sometimes, but so many other times, I just can't help it. I mean, I can do bubbly and charming, I think it's actually pretty close to my normal personality when I'm not, well, when I'm not dealing with all of that extra stuff. But I've had to deal with a lot of it, and sometimes it just gets to me, you know? And all of this is just how I deal with it, it's just how my mind works, and it's how I keep myself from getting hurt. It's just that, well, this business, you have people telling you that you're great and wonderful and talented and beautiful, all the time. Everybody gets that, even the ones who don't make it, who will never make it. And sometimes the people saying these nice things, they even mean it. So if you want to have a chance, if you want to know where you really stand, you have to learn how to read between the lines. And if you don't want to just keep setting yourself up for heartbreak, you've got to realize that most of the time when people say you're wonderful, they're just being nice, and even when they do mean it, it doesn't mean that something great's going to come of it. This is, I don't know, it's almost like an instinct by now. I learned all of this early, just from my mom. I remember when I was very little, when I'd just discovered that I loved this thing and that I was pretty good at it, and I was in a play at my school, and mom, for once, had come to see me and..."
She paused. By now, her friends knew that her relationship with Leigh was, well, difficult. But she had launched in to the story without planning to tell it, without knowing that she had started telling it. It was actually something she hadn't really told anyone yet.
"You don't need to explain," he said. "I like that about you, actually. That you can, like you said, do bubbly and charming, that it can be the real you, but that you can be so wary and worldly and savvy at the same time."
"No, I want to tell this story," she found herself saying to her own surprise. "So, there was my mom, Broadway legend, coming to see me in my school play. You can imagine how excited I was, and then when she came over to get me, she smiled and told me I was wonderful. I went off to say goodbye to some of my friends and when I came back, mom was talking to some of the other parents who had recognized her. One of them had just told mom that I was awesome and that there was another actor in the family and, of course, that made me happy. Mom just said that I was 'not bad' even if I was a little bit 'sharp,' that I had worked really hard on it and that it was pretty good, and that even if I wasn't going to go on Broadway she was proud of me, one actress in the family was enough, she wasn't going to guide me through to the theater. And of course, I heard all of that. Right after telling me how great I was, she was going around to all of the other parents telling them how I was just okay, that the theater which I had already discovered that I loved, just wasn't for me. So you can imagine how all of that, it's just gotten stuck in my head, and it's just what I do now."
"Yeah, I can. I just hope you'll remember that you've proven her wrong already."
"I know," she said. "And that there are some people who've always believed that she was wrong. I didn't have the best mother in the world, but I made some of the best friends in the world on Broadway. It's just that it's hard to train myself not to think that way sometimes. Oh, by the way, I probably should have mentioned it earlier, but I'm glad you could take care of that thing with Ellis."
"Oh, right, the kid. I did very little, actually. What happened was that Ellis and Eileen's ex-husband's production company had formed a joint-venture, an LLC, to produce their own competing Marilyn show and they were pursuing litigation to acquire the rights to the show. Most of the legal work for these productions is performed by one of several boutique firms and all of these firms have worked for the ex's production company at one time or another and he retained them all to do various small things, so that they'll all be conflicted out when he initiates..."
"Sorry, but in English please?" she asked.
"Okay, so Jerry and Ellis, they formed their own production company to put on their own Marilyn show and they were going to sue to get the rights to Marilyn. Also, there are only a few law firms that work with Broadway. Jerry hired them all to do various little things so that when he sued Eileen, she wouldn't have anyone to represent her because of the various conflict of interest rules, so she, once again, would be pressured in to settling. All I did was do a basic search and find the company Jerry and Ellis formed, and pull their paperwork, and then put two and two together. Then I told her she could use my card. Which has the firm's name on it, of course. Skadden's not one of the firms that works with the theater industry, but we're very big and we have a lot of muscle and nobody pushes our clients around. We're the people you hire when you want to do the pushing around. Also, I gave the stuff about the company to her divorce lawyer. The firm doesn't do divorces either, but I don't think you're allowed to try and screw with your ex's ability to make money like that. Anyways, Eileen got back to me, told me that Jerry backed down and pulled the kid's backing, and Ellis just dropped his claim and went away for a promise not to blacklist him. Which pretty much clears the way for the show to go on."
"Well, even though you weren't trying to impress me, I have to say, I am impressed."
"Thanks. Hey, you want to go to a party later this week? Thursday, maybe?"
"It's a business thing, a reception sponsored by one of our clients and with a whole lot of potential clients, and I'm sorry I keep asking you to these instead of coming up with better date ideas myself, but, well, I have to go to these things and I know I'd love your company."
"Well then, I'll see you on Thursday."
At rehearsal the next morning, she waited eagerly for the first break so she could corner Tom and ask him the question she so wanted answered.
"So who was Cora?"
Her friend gave her a wan smile and sighed before saying, "Ivy, she's exactly who you probably think she is."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means, take a guess. You'll probably get it right."
"Okay. Derek's mother?"
"Right in one. Yes, Cora was Derek's mother."
"What was she like? Did you ever..."
"I never met her. She had died long before I ever met Derek, I never asked how and he never told me. But I know he always blamed his dad for, well, I don't know if it was for her death per se, but it was for something related to her. I saw a picture of her once. She had her own corner devoted to her at his place back then, I'm surprised you never noticed her anywhere before."
"Well, it's been a while since you were on visiting terms with him," she noted. She hadn't noticed any pictures of anyone at Derek's apartment. Now that she thought about it, it was actually remarkable just how impersonal his home had seemed. Beautiful, yes, but with that cold, interior-decorated-to-every-inch, straight-off-of-a-photoshoot-in-a-magazine-and-rarely-lived-in quality. Odd, given how Ivy knew just how much time Derek spent awake, working. There were lots of blacks and whites, all sleek lines and stark contrasts. Upscale modernist, she thought, making an internal face. She had never cared for the style; too cold, too eager to look sophisticated and contemporary and leaving no room for any real personality. And while she knew that Derek's wardrobe was heavy on the blacks and on updated basics, it still didn't seem like the decor was quite his taste, but rather someone seeking to emulate his taste. Trying far too hard to emulate his taste and not quite pulling it off. In any event, she couldn't ever remember seeing a single photograph, anywhere, in the apartment. It looked like the place that a Dark Lord would live in, and she was sure that there had been more to him than that. He was all about the work, he had a passion for theater, and she could see no evidence of any flair or passion or feeling or any sort of artistic temperament in his home. It all felt so very corporate.
"Yeah. It has been," said Tom. "And it's a different place he has now than he had then, of course. I don't remember seeing it at Lyle's party way back when, though. It was an old picture, anyways. Very faded. It was a color picture, but everything had already been yellowed. But she was a pretty thing. Tall, with long brown hair. She was from the country, the west midlands of England. Shropshire, to be exact. He would say that she was 'a Shropshire lass' sometimes."
"A Shropshire lass. He called her that? Appropriate, especially if she..."
"If she died young. Which she did. Like..."
"Like Marilyn did," Ivy finished, before laughing, quickly and harshly and without humor, while shaking her head. "Oh my God, you were right. That's why...Marilyn...it was all just an Oedipal thing. That's...that's why he sees her..."
"Oh come on. Be gracious, Ivy," Tom said, reproaching her gently. "She's good. And you know that's not what I meant and besides, you..."
"I know, I know. But this isn't about that. In Boston, he told me he saw her as Marilyn. Karen, that is. And I don't mean he imagined her as Marilyn or he wanted her as Marilyn, I meant he said he saw her saw her, like, he had actual visions. Not he had a vision, like an artistic vision or something like that, but actual, literal visions, where, I don't know, Iowa's prancing around in full Marilyn costume and singing to him and demanding that he cast her or whatever, I don't know. I mean, I know I'm not making much sense right now and I know this sounds crazy or like it's just me being bitter but I swear, that's what he told me. That he had visions of Karen as Marilyn, and that he couldn't help it but he kept seeing them, like they were hallucinations or something. I mean, he said it like he didn't have a choice. I just thought it was bullshit then, like he had already broken my heart in so many ways but now he couldn't even give me the dignity of an honest answer, he just had to tell me how it wasn't his fault, but he just had to do it, like he didn't even respect me enough not to think that I'd buy something as ridiculous as that. I never thought that...well...I guess it all makes sense now, even how..."
Her voice trailed off as she avoided revealing what Karen had told her about being second choice in Derek's bed as well. Well, that was what a classic Oedipal complex was about, she thought, that's where it got its name, after . But she didn't need to say it out loud. For one, she was pretty sure that Tom was more than capable of putting it together himself, but also, and more importantly, because she didn't need any more pity. She had never needed nor wanted it, pity being an emotion one only felt for those one considered to be lowly. It was the better-intentioned cousin of condescension, and besides, with everything that had happened to her since getting back to New York, her condition was far from pitiable. And that applied to self-pity as well, she resolved.
"Never mind. It doesn't even matter anymore."
"It doesn't. Anyways, what I said, it was really about his father, not his mother."
It was remarkable, she thought, just how little she actually knew about Derek. They had been a real couple, of that she was sure. She had kept a toothbrush and a change of clothes at his apartment and he had been a regular guest at hers. He always had better luck with the often temperamental plumbing in her building than she had. She could remember saying as much once and remarking that she should invite herself in while he showered. He had grinned wolfishly and made the requisite comments about being all wet and coming out dirtier than when she entered, but she had laughed. And now that she recalled the impersonal nature of his place, she started to wonder whether that was why he had spent so much time at hers.
Her own home was tiny and cluttered. Posters from shows and little knick-knacks everywhere, mismatched dishes and plastic glasses in the kitchen. Her shoe collection, something of a point of pride with her, lined up on the window sill like trophies. Furniture that clearly didn't match, but nevertheless worked together, somehow. And little girlish touches, like the sparkly curtain that served as the entrance to her closet. It felt like a glorified dorm room, or a first apartment in the city after finally leaving the nest. Which it was. Maybe it was that lived-in quality that made him want to spend time there, instead of taking her back to his place.
But she couldn't know, because he had never said. He had said so little about himself that she had had to ask who his mother was. His father, she knew. Humphrey Wills, a director and sometime producer and a prominent member of the theater community in his own right. But he had never once mentioned him.
"His father, Humphrey, did he..."
"Whatever he did or did not do was certainly none of your business whatsoever..." she heard a voice say. She hadn't noticed Derek come in. Ivy blushed in embarrassment and attempted to force out an apology, but Derek didn't give her a chance. "...and whatever he knows, he had no right whatsoever to share. Now if we're quite finished, I believe our break is almost over."
A/N: Guest - Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the reference and that you think it was organic to the story. And while I think it might be fun to write that scene later, I'd have to think of a way to make it fit. The last scene in the story is the Tonys next year, so maybe they'll have time for a brief conversation at the ceremony.
Shanshii - Thank you. Like I just said, I'm glad that you like the references. I like putting them in in order to, as you said, add some verisimilitude and sometimes because I think its witty and fits with the dialogue, but I do worry sometimes about disrupting the flow of the story, of making it seem as if I was writing around in order to make a reference fit. I'm glad you don't think that's the case.
On to this episode's references! A Shropshire Lad is a collection of poems by poet A.E. Housman. You probably have (or will) read either "To an Athlete Dying Young" or "When I Was One and Twenty", probably both, in your English class, even if you don't remember it. In any event, one or both is almost certainly in your textbook. Anyways, both poems are part of the collection. The collection has themes of loss, love, and especially mortality, which is why Tom and Ivy find it an appropriate nickname for someone who was unlucky in love and died young like Cora (or Marilyn herself, for that matter).
Keen's is a real steakhouse and it does serve a good steak. It's very much an old-New-York, smoke-filled-room, boys-club type of place (it used to be a private smoking club, in fact) and it does, in fact, have a nude portrait behind its bar.
Seamless is the website/portal for ordering takeout food online and having it delivered to the office that most offices in Manhattan use. As for the workarounds, they're actually not that complicated. In my experience, as long as you don't go crazy and really abuse it, most companies won't mind if once in a while you use your absent coworkers' meal allotments when you're ordering on Seamless. So, basically, an occasional steak or lobster dinner, fine. A tin of osetra or a bottle of Petrus? Not so much. As for grocery shopping, that's pretty easy also. Just order what you want online, and the restaurant will automatically deliver to your office. Then call up the place and ask to change the delivery address to your place. Ask your doorman to sign for your stuff and hold it for you to pick up when you get home. You can also call the restaurant to change your order, which is how you get around the 'no ordering alcohol on Seamless' rule. Disclaimer: so, these are workarounds, and they're probably against the rules at your office. And I'm definitely not advocating that you break the rules of your office or do anything to risk your employment, certainly not on my word. So, if you want to try these, be careful, and know what your boss/company is like first!
Anyways, thanks to everyone who's still reading and reviewing this, and hope you enjoy.