Meet Lily Wilder: New Yorker, lawyer extraordinaire and totally incapable of being faithful to one man. And in six days she’s getting married – or is she? Read an extract of Eliza Kennedy’s hilarious debut, I Take You, out now.
I gaze up at the house. My house. It’s an old island Queen Anne with a double-decker veranda and a round tower on one side. Lavish scrollwork drips from every available surface, barely visible through the palms and the banyans in our tiny front yard.
Will looks impressed. “You grew up here?”
“It seemed so much bigger back then,” I say.
“Maybe the new color makes it look smaller,” Mom suggests. “Do you like it? I did a little research at the preservation commission last year—this is the original yellow.”
Will turns to her with amazement. “How did you match it?”
Mom launches into an earnest explanation as he listens, rapt. He’s not kissing her ass, either—he lives for random historical details like this. I push through the wooden gate and run up the steps.
Ana is hovering just inside the front door. “Lilybear!” She hurls herself at me like a tiny tornado. “How the hell are you? How was the flight? Look at your hair—good Christ!”
Will follows me in. “Is this Will?” Ana says. “Listen to me—what a moron. Of course it’s Will!”
“Will, my stepmother Ana. Ana, Will.”
He holds out his hand. “This is such an honor.”
She takes his hand in both of hers and gives him a dazzling smile. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that, Will. I get far more death threats than compliments. Last week, I—”
“Ana. You’re tearing his arm off.”
“Sorry!” She lets loose with her raucous laugh. “Professional hazard.”
Will laughs, too. He seems totally comfortable around her, which is a relief. Ana tends to intimidate people. She’s in Congress—serving her eighth term in the House, one of the distinguished gentlewomen from California—so she’s got a real aura of power about her, which is somehow magnified by the fact that she’s barely five feet tall. She’s fierce and scrappy—famous for her tirades on the Sunday talk shows and for antagonizing her constituents at town-hall meetings. She’ll say anything, to anyone, which tends to provoke either fanatical devotion or homicidal rage.
She looks wonderful. I haven’t seen her since July, when she was in New York for a fund-raiser. There, she was dressed in one of her ugly power suits and all cranky from having to ask rich people for money. Here, she’s the real Ana—long hair loose, eyes twinkling. I hug her again. “I’m so glad you’re here,” I whisper.
She whispers back, “We need to talk.”
“Lily darling.” We all look up as Jane descends the staircase. She’s wearing a shimmery blue dress and scary-high heels. Her perfectly straight, perfectly platinum hair floats gently around her. She zeroes in on Will, showing him her expensive teeth. The poor boy is going to go blind from all this smiling.
“Will, this is my stepmother Jane,” I say. “Jane, Will.”
She holds out an elegant hand. “I hope your flight down wasn’t as wretched as mine,” she says, in her flat, slightly bored voice. She’s looking him in the eye, but I know she’s also appraising every inch of him—clothes, shoes, haircut.
“Oh, no!” Will says, sincerely concerned. “You had a rough flight?”
But she’s already turned to me, all business. “Let me see it.”
I give her my left hand. She scrutinizes the ring from a distance, then closer. She turns it on my finger. Her brow would be furrowing right now, except that it hasn’t done that in years. She looks up at me at last. “Where is the diamond?”
Will clears his throat. “There isn’t one. It’s a replica of a Roman ring in the British Museum. The Romans didn’t use gemstones in their—”
“And why is it all . . . scratched like this?” Jane asks, picking at the ring with a sharp fingernail.
“I had an inscription added,” Will says hopelessly. “In Latin.”
I pull my hand away. “Give it a rest, Janey. I love my ring.”
“So do I,” says Mom, coming through the front door. “It’s very artisanal.”
I can feel Will cringing. He hates that word. Jane gives me a look of boundless pity, then drifts toward the living room. Will watches her go. I squeeze his arm sympathetically. I always marvel at how Jane is the opposite of Ana, in almost every way. She’s cultured and poised. A fancy society type who spends her time organizing galas and minimizing her cleavage wrinkles. Condescending to maître d’s and pretending to care about art. Hiring huntsmen to lead all the younger, prettier women into the woods and . . . you know.
“Gran!” I yell.
“Kitchen!” she yells back. Something crashes in the distance.
I turn to Ana, who’s typing on her phone. “She’s not cooking, is she?”
Ana nods grimly.
“Is that a bad thing?” asks Will.
Before I can answer, Gran shoots through the dining room with crazy hair and flour on her nose. “Finally!” she growls. I get another crushing hug. Then she leans in to smell my breath.
“Cut it out!” I whisper, pushing her away. “Gran, this is Will. Will, this is my grandmother Isabel.”
Gran looks him up and down while she takes his hand. “What a pleasure,” she says. “I’ve heard so little about you.”
He laughs. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
I clap my hands together. “I have an idea—let’s go out for lunch!”
Gran yanks on a lock of my hair. “Nice try. Food’s ready.”
We file into the dining room and sit down. The table is a crime scene. There’s a sickly looking salad, slabs of greyish meat heaped on a platter and a tureen filled with . . . I don’t even know what that is. Gruel, maybe? We fill our plates dutifully. Silence descends, interrupted by occasional gagging noises.
“Thank you, Isabel,” Will says. “This is delicious.”
Ana smothers a laugh. Mom sighs. Jane shakes her head sadly.
Gran points her fork at Ana, who’s checking her phone. “Put that machine away before I toss it into the fucking street.”
“Mother, please!” Mom says. “We have a guest!”
“I’m expecting an important e‑mail,” Ana protests.
“Do it, Izzie,” Jane drawls. “You’d be performing a public service.”
I catch Jane’s eye and hold up my lemonade glass. I mouth, Vodka? She pretends not to understand.
Sunlight is filtering through the tall windows and bathing my mother figures in a heavenly glow. I’m so happy to see them—they’re rarely all in one place like this. I look over at Will. He’s fidgeting in his seat and moving his silverware around, aligning it with the edge of the table. He steals a glance at them across the table, then looks away. But when Mom leans toward him to say something, he responds with a big, goofy grin. So he’s not too overwhelmed. Good.
Eliza Kennedy (Jonathan Cape) is out now.