Lila spent years trying to be that girl. She has been on every diet known to man, but nothing has reduced the size of her bottom and, frankly, she loves food too damn much to worry about fitting into a size four pair of jeans. Or even a size ten. There is a cupboard in her bathroom spilling over with hair products and appliances that promised to give her silky smooth hair, but nothing has been able to tame her frizz.
She even bought a Goyard bag, except it was from a street vendor in Chinatown and if you look closely you will see it says Coyerd. She didn't think anyone would notice, but when she passed the identikit princesses, she saw their eyes flick disdainfully over the bag, and she knew they knew. She sometimes thought she should care more, instead of finding it funny, but she only found it funny because it was easier to laugh than to admit how painful it was that she lost countless men to women she didn't understand.
She almost married once. She was thirty, and dating Steve, whom she didn't particularly like. He was arrogant and charmless, but he was clever, a lawyer and Jewish.
He treated Lila like his servant from the first time she made him dinner, something she had been trained to do as she was growing up by watching her mother prepare for her father's homecoming every night.
"Always set the table even if dinner isn't ready," her mother would tell her, laying out place mats and napkins. "That way they'll always feel looked after."
Her mother had her father's drink ready as soon as he walked in the door—a small tray with a vodka martini and a bowl of nuts. No one was allowed to talk to her father until he had "decompressed" in his study, emerging to sit down at the dining-room table and be served dinner by Lila's mother, while Lila and her brother and sister were ushered upstairs to "leave your father in peace."
Like her mother, Lila is a nurturer. She shows her love for people by cooking for them. Not, as her mother did, with chopped liver roast chicken dripping with schmaltz, brisket simmered for hours until it was so tender it was falling apart, but with recipes culled from The Barefoot Contessa, Martha Stewart, Mario Batali.
Steve was the perfect recipient of her nurturing. He loved her cooking and she, in turn, loved to feed. Th e fact that they didn't have much conversation mattered less than knowing he was exactly the type of man her father would want her to marry. Steve encouraged her to cook Friday Night Dinners and invite her entire family. She played hostess instead of her mother, serving up her father's favorite food, feeling a glow of contentment as her father slurped up her chicken soup, sighed dreamily and complimented her on the kneidlach: "As light as a feather."
"He's a mensch," he'd say about Steve, who would give her father the honor of saying the prayers over the bread and the wine. "And he's a lawyer. You could do worse." "Nu?" her elderly relatives would ask at the first-night seder at her parents' house. "When's the wedding?"
When Steve asked, on bended knee in the New York Botanical Garden, proffering a box containing a large, sparkling, emerald-cut diamond that had belonged to his grandmother, she didn't know what to say other than yes.
She chose to ignore the feeling she had never quite been able to shake off since she'd started dating him: Is this all there is?