Mariana Pasternak's 'The Best of Friends'

Read an excerpt from the book by Martha Stewart's good friend Mariana Pasternak.

March 16, 2010— -- Mariana Pasternak was one of Martha Stewart's closest friends for nearly 20 years. She was also among those to take the stand against Stewart in the high-profile case that sent the domestic diva to prison.

In her book "The Best of Friends: Martha and Me," Pasternak shares what it was like to be in Stewart's inner circle for all those years and pushed her back to the outside.

Read an excerpt of the book below, and then head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.

Chapter One: Martha at the Gate

The attractive blond intruder, wearing a conservative button-down shirt and pleated khaki shorts that came to just above her knees, stood next to her bike in front of our garden gate and peered in. My fiance and I were having a Memorial Day party on our Westport grounds, two acres with a large lawn, landscaped gardens, old and new trees, a covered loggia, and a garden terrace. Enclosed by stone walls, the property could be entered via the main gate or the garden gate, which was open under a cascade of fragrant wisteria blossoms. The preppie-looking lady walked her bike right through.

Two other couples, friends from Manhattan, had come to spend the long weekend. It was Sunday afternoon, and warm in the East Coast way of May, the summer perennials putting out petals and the tips of green leaves, coaxed ahead by the sunny soil. There were bees fat from early bee balm, and good-fortune ladybugs plump with aphids. We had just finished lunch and were lounging on comfortable chaises, sipping chilled Chablis Premier Cru, passing back and forth sections of the Sunday New York Times, the discarded pages in a fluttering heap under the glass-topped terrace table. Our new puppy, Attila the Hun, an adorable golden brown Vizsla -- all legs, ears, and personality -- had fallen asleep on my lap.

I put him down and walked toward our new visitor. As I approached, she stared at me. I had never seen a woman's eyes look at me with such intensity -- her gaze seemed to reflect a masculine dominance, feminine competitiveness, and a child's curiosity all at once. I saw her eyes sweep across my body, take me in, process me, my youth, my shorts, my high heels. I had colored my copper-chestnut hair a brave bright blond and wore my long locks down, or in a carefree twist held to my head with a found stick. While most of the American women I knew in the early 1980s sported preppie outfits that suggested "proper," I was more interested in "chic." I was comfortable with my body and, like many European women of my age, I grew up inspired by images from French-Italian cinema and influenced by the British Mod subculture of the hyper-cool.

I saw the slightest shadow ripple across her face, and then just as quickly she brightened up. "Hi," she said with willful cheerfulness. "I'm Martha. Your neighbor. Thought I might stop for a glass of water before biking up the hill to my house."

I invited her to sit down with us, but she declined. I called out, "Everyone, this is our neighbor, Martha," then went inside to get her some water. When I came out, she was still standing rigidly near the gate, holding her bike with one hand, with everyone watching. By that simple act of staying where she was, she had managed to disrupt our party and make herself the focus of everyone's attention.

She sipped her water and then said, "I'd heard a handsome bachelor doctor had just moved in here. I thought I might come by to meet him."

That handsome bachelor doctor, of course, was my fiancé. Now I understood why she had been appraising me.

She began listing her accomplishments as though she were reading from a curriculum vitae, and loud enough for everyone on the terrace to hear her. She told us she was married, but her husband was away (lonely, I thought), and that she ran a catering business and was about to have a cookbook published.

I remember thinking that her sudden appearance was somehow surreal, like a blue-sky window in a Rene Magritte painting. Researchers have found that first impressions play a huge role in whom we will later choose for friends, employees, even mates. If this is so, then my experience contradicts these findings. If you had told me this woman would become one of my closest friends for twenty years, that she would be the driving force behind a lifetime's worth of adventures, that her signature would become so intertwined with mine that even now, the friendship over, my name is impossible to disentangle from her shadow, I would have said, trying out my American slang, "No way."

Yet I heard myself ask, "Would you like to join us for dinner this evening?"

Martha turned to look at me and I saw in her luxuriously velvet brown eyes a deep longing combined with something swift and sharp as she graciously accepted the invitation. Her voice had a silky slide to it.

She drained the last of the water, then held the glass out in the air, as if expecting one of the men to take it from her. Long seconds passed as none of them made a move, so I relieved her of the glass, conscious of saving an awkward moment. I had no idea how many times I would see this scene with the glass replayed, how typical it was of Martha.

The party had gone silent during her brief visit, but as soon as she left it was as if some spell had been lifted and our friends kicked back into action, whooping with laughter -- She came to meet the handsome bachelor doctor! To my fiancé, they said, What's the diagnosis for women seeking to quench their thirst at the new neighbor's house when her own house is just a few doors up the street?

But my fiancé looked thoughtful and embarrassed. He scratched the side of his chin, then cracked a grin. "Just what the world needs," he said. "Another cookbook."

When Martha came back that night, she was dazzling in her finest pearls. She was dressed as if out for a night at The Ritz, a bit too fancy for our informal Sunday-night dinner party.

We served coq au vin with a delicious Burgundy. When Martha asked if I'd made the dinner, my fiancé gave his standard answer, "Mariana is the spice, I am the cook." Our friends laughed and raised their glasses. Despite a strong breeze that night, Martha seemed completely unruffled; not a single strand stirred on her head. Yet her eyes seemed to devour the scene with great concentration. Her smile seemed too carefully carved. In the flickering candlelight, her too-white teeth made me think of ivory chessmen on a board, moving in a game of skill and strategy rooted in war. Yet there was nothing the least bit bellicose about Martha. She was friendly in a girl-gabby kind of way. She told us that she was alone over Memorial Day because Andy, her husband, was in Patagonia.

Excerpted from Mariana Pasternak's "The Best of Friends," copyright HarperCollins Publishers, 2010.

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