Ted had asked, fifteen years ago, if she was sure about Erin, the first assistant they hired to be hers, not theirs. From now on, they would have his and hers chiefs of staff. Holly liked that hers would be close to her age, that she didn't fit the mold of the assistants Ted usually chose. Erin wasn't strident or intellectually superior; she was a wraith, a poet with a degree in library science and not the least bit ambitious. Holly had even thought, briefly, that they would be friends—although that was before she understood about money, that you could never fully discount the effect of it on your relationships, no matter how much of it you gave away or to whom. Erin worked for Holly, not the other way around, so confidences would only ever flow in one direction. No matter how much Holly had tried over the years to pump Erin for information—about men, her friends, her sisters, other poets—or how many secrets Holly had shared—about the bass player she'd dated in college, the funny things Ted muttered in his sleep (Land ho! he'd yelped once and then hugged his pillow), which actors at the Golden Globes were sloppy drunk before the show even began and who iced out who during the commercial breaks—Erin never fully let her guard down with Holly. On the other hand, she never tried to make things all about herself either. She was at the estate every morning by 8:00 a.m. and often stayed until eight or nine at night, even when she was pregnant. Still, there were moments when Erin's ability to disappear into the background was a little bit creepy.
"We need to tie a bell around your neck," Holly said. And then she laughed and hugged her to show there were no hard feelings.
"I have your speech," Erin said, opening up her leather portfolio to show Holly the crisp pages. "And we'll review the details for tonight on the ride over."
"Okay. I'll meet you at the car. Just give me a minute."
Holly grabbed her purse and went up to the third floor. A faint ache settled in her chest when she saw Zoe's empty bed. For months, Holly had been looking forward to the end of June, when the kids would be out of school, and there'd be no more ballet rehearsals or climate change group projects for Zoe, no more soccer practice or debate meets for Flynn, no more field trip chaperoning or bake sale shifts for her, and their overplanned lives could relax into the kind of aimless summers she'd enjoyed as a kid in the mountains. Sleeping on the back porch, climbing trees barefoot, nothing but marmalade sandwiches and her imagination to fuel her. But at the last minute, Zoe decided she just had to join her friends at Camp Spruce in Maine for six action-packed weeks of Zumba and organic gardening, aquaplaning and riflery with the other nine-year-olds. She'd been gone a week already, and in just a few hours, Flynn would be gone on his fishing trip with three boys from the Harvard-Westlake Upper School. Holly and Ted would be all alone, rattling around this huge house just the two of them and their staff of thirty. With their children around them, they did well together, but sometimes it seemed as if they were the furniture the kids jumped on. Left to their own devices, there might be nothing to do but sag in empty rooms. Holly picked the blanket off the floor in Flynn's room—her son slept as wildly as his dad did—and covered his lanky, spread-eagled form. She tucked him in and mussed his hair a bit, hoping he would wake so she could give the adolescent stink of him a kiss. But all he did was roll over.
Downstairs in the garage, Erin and James were waiting.
"Hi, James," Holly said.
"Good morning," he said, opening the back door of the Tesla for her, the window down and the air conditioner already running, just like Ilya would've done if he hadn't gone home to Sochi for the month. One was an African American former football player and the other was a scrawny Russian Jew, and it didn't matter which one of them was driving, that's how well they knew the family's preferences and routines. Holly suddenly felt a little sleepy and thought maybe she'd shut her eyes on the ride to Stabler Studios.
"Could you please grab one of the pillows from the back, James?" she asked. He could put on NPR, that always sent her off. Holly could even stretch out on the third row under a blanket, the way some of her friends had to do when they went for lipo or met with their surrogates. But then Holly saw Zanne striding across the driveway like some sort of punk sheriff, and her hopes fell. That's right, they had to go over the details for the Bump to Pump party tonight.
Zanne was one of Ted's, you could see it from outer space. Not so much the way she dressed (Bikini Kill T-shirt, black jeans, motorcycle boots, leather cuffs stacked up her wrist) or the way she styled her hair (short, spiky, jet black). If she never opened her mouth, you might even think Zanne was pretty, with those liquid blue eyes of hers. No, it was the giant chip on her shoulder that marked her as his, the permanent, scrutinizing scowl that screamed I have something to prove' and 'Don't you dare underestimate me. Holly found it exhausting, being surrounded every day by all these type As running around the estate in a hot panic. There was some kind of trauma in Zanne's past, Holly was sure of it. There usually was with Ted's, some damage that drove a young swing or researcher to succeed, until one day it broke them and someone found them curled up in a ball under their desk. But Zanne seemed to be quite competent, and she hadn't broken yet. If it was up to Ted, she'd be running the place soon.
Zanne climbed into the way back, foiling Holly's dreams of sleep. James appeared with the pillow, but she shook her head and he took it away. Holly buckled herself into one of the two captain's chairs, her mood soured. James tapped a button and the door dropped down from above, enfolding her inside the egg of the car, a hatched chick in reverse.