EXCERPT: 'The Kids Are All Right'

The following spring, I had another audition. This time, I was up for the part of Mariel Hemingway's younger sister in Star 80. Mariel was playing Dorothy Stratten, the Playboy playmate killed by her jealous husband. Mom thought I had a good chance because I looked like Mariel, same blond hair and blue eyes, dark eyebrows, and square jaw. Even strangers told me so. Some said I looked like Brooke Shields, but she had brown hair and brown eyes so that never made any sense to me.

Mom picked me up early from school to take me into Manhattan. Usually, her coming to get me would be an endless source of embarrassment. She'd barge into volleyball practice dressed in too- tight velour sweatpants tucked into gardening boots, her big dip sunglasses perched on top of the silk scarf she'd wrap around her hair instead of brushing it. Worse, she'd holler "Yoo- hoo" in a falsetto across the court, waving her arms at me as if I didn't know she was there. She was impossible to miss. During the winter months she wore a floor- length coat that looked like a skinned dead collie turned inside out. It was mortifying.

But that afternoon, waiting in the parking lot, she looked glamorous. Her brown hair was curled under and combed into a chic bob, her gardening outfit replaced by a silk shirtdress and burgundy knee- high boots. This was her city outfit.

Usually Mom liked to help me prepare for my scenes during the hour long drive into the city, but this afternoon, she had other things on her mind. "Lizzie Bits, you'll be the decoy," she said as we pulled out of Fox Lane Middle School's driveway. "You'll distract your father as I set up."

She was planning a surprise party for Dad's fiftieth birthday that weekend, and she had invited old college friends from Johns Hopkins, business associates from Houston, Dad's brothers and sisters, as well as friends from the Bedford Golf and Tennis Club and the Goldens Bridge Hounds. More than fifty people had RSVPed, but Dad had no idea. "I'll make eggnog," she said excitedly as we drove down Bedford's packed dirt roads lined with stone walls and ancient oaks. "We'll use the big punch bowl," she added. "We'll use all the good crystal."

Mom started her cut- glass collection when she married Dad in 1964, and over the last eighteen years, she had managed to fill the shelves of the butler pantry that lined the narrow hallway between our dining room and kitchen. She had cake plates and platters and champagne glasses, too, plus a dish designed specifically for celery and another for deviled eggs.

"I'll make lamb stew and Irish soda bread," she continued, turning onto Interstate 684, her diamond engagement ring catching and releasing the mid afternoon sun. "And an angel food cake for dessert."

Angel food cake was Dad's favorite, and mine too. For my thirteenth birthday, only one month earlier, Mom made me an angel food cake with strawberries and whipped cream.

She wanted me to keep Dad away from the house for three hours that Saturday afternoon. I gazed out the window at the messy paintbrush stroke of pine trees. I needed to come up with a good plan. Dad was smart. He paid attention to detail. He wore pressed shirts and pants, even on weekends. Duping him would be hard.

After several minutes of silence, I asked, "What if I ask him to take me shopping?"

"Ehhh," Mom made a sound like a game show buzzer. "Wrong answer. Try again."

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