Dammit! Gin! The Murrays were walking over by now and Mara would ask — no, expect — a “G&T.” She could send Steven to the liquor store, but then they’d arrive and she would have to greet them, alone, and, well, that always looked unacceptably questionable. She wouldn’t give Mara the satisfaction of bearing witness to her quarantined disarray. Kate would instead play up her white sangria. The secret was a generous splash of pineapple juice, crushed ice (never cubes!) and a certain Sonoma blend she ordered these days by the case.
She considered Mara a friend, but if she was being honest with herself, she was more of an athleisure companion: a spot of tennis here and there, some yoga . After the Murrays’ New Year’s Eve party — which they left before midnight after she declared to Steven in an emphatic whisper that she had been consumed by one of her migraines — her husband had accused her of being jealous of Mara Murray. “Keeping up with the Murrays is making your head hurt,” he had said, as they drove the short distance downhill from Rosemont to their bungalow in Del Ray. The accusation at the time had infuriated her and, although it begged for more thoughtful self-reflection, she simply didn’t have it in her lately. She’d save it for the next Zoom call with her therapist, which, by the way, she abhorred. Her professions of psychiatric vulnerability were somehow stomach-turning to watch.
She arranged the two sets of patio chairs exactly six feet apart and, on the table nearest to where the Murrays would sit, Kate’s Latex-gloved hands placed two sweating glasses of sangria on the hand-carved teak coasters she bought from a Norwegian artist on Etsy. Envious of Mara Murray! Why whatever for? Just because when she had her third child, Campbell, she gained maybe the nine pounds he ultimately weighed and was pushing him in a Thule Urban Glide jogging stroller at a full sprint down Commonwealth Avenue in what seemed like the first week she was back from Sibley Hospital? Or that Mara had to turn down a fourth board appointment because she wanted to devote more time to the nationally-recognized non-profit artists’ consortium she and Andrew had started? Or that the Murrays didn’t “vacation,” they “summered?” Or that their oldest son, Reese, was evidently agonizing between dueling acceptances from Yale and Harvard? Please. No.
By the time Steven came downstairs, it was 7:15 and the Murrays hadn’t arrived, or even called to say they were delayed. “She is one of the most punctual people I know, Steven,” she said, as she gloved-up again and scooped fresh ice for her guests now tepid tumblers. “Should we wear masks for this?” He shot her a questioning look that meant he thought the idea ridiculous.
Just then Kate’s cell phone rang. She answered.
“Hello…Oh, hi, I was just refreshing your…Oh my God…no, of course…well it’s been on our calendar’s forever and, well, no, no…just focus on you…oh, well, thank goodness…don’t give us another thought…our best to Andy…bye.”
“Mara?” Steven said, stabbing a stuffed mushroom cap off the baking sheet on the granite island and popping it into his mouth. “What did she say?”
“She’s in the hospital,” Kate said, sitting down at the kitchen table, a stunned, blank expression on her face. “She’s…she’s tested positive. She said she’s been sick for a week. But she recovered and they’re sending her home.”
“Well, thank God she’s okay. Jesus, that sucks though,” Steven said, as he poured himself three-fingers worth of single malt Scotch.
“I know,” replied Kate. “She’s been sick for an entire week and only now calls to tell me she’s not coming!?”