Lydia Vanderwalk has an obsession with candy, so when she invents an NEB–non-existent boyfriend–who turns out to be the male hire-a-date equivalent of a jumbo box of Hot Tamales she knows she’s in trouble.
Lydia has worked hard to have the right job, the right wardrobe, and the right everything else, in the quest for the appearance of perfection. Fed up by conversation #3,524—not that she’s counting—about long-since-exed fiancé Gavin, Lydia goes to drastic measures to change the subject. When she needs her NEB for a golden career opportunity, she enlists a talent agent friend’s help to produce perfect date Phelps. He was supposed to be pure eye candy, but there’s more going on beneath the surface than Red Hots looks and Pop Rocks spontaneity.
Throw in a banking wunderkind ex-fiancé, a trio of cutthroat couture-climbers, and a designer of questionable orientation and origin, and Lydia soon learns that what you see is often much less than what you get when it comes to people and not everything in life can be solved by a Jolly Rancher and a trip to Ann Taylor.
- coming soon!
- coming soon!
Q: What do you get when you have a cat that eats lemons?
A: A sour puss.
— Laffy Taffy Joke #41
My lower left desk drawer holds a secret.
Looking at the rest of my office you’d never guess. The pristine mahogany surface of the desk is unspoiled by dust or clutter. Every office tool has a place and every file is appropriately color coded. Rows of sales data binders are neatly aligned and in chronological order. The flat-panel monitor is oriented at the perfect ergonomic angle to minimize eye strain and glare.
But that drawer—securely locked if I’m out of the office for even a second—is the exception to my immaculately professional appearance.
That drawer is loaded with candy.
A sweet-tooth soup of peppermints, lemon drops, butterscotches, caramels, lollipops, and atomic fireballs. A treasure trove of red vines, gummy bears, licorice whips, fruit slices, red hots, and tropical dots stacked in disorderly piles.
My name is Lydia Vanderwalk, and I’m a candy-holic.
I’ve known this for a long time and freely confess my dependency. I know I couldn’t stop, even if I wanted to.
I would never, ever want to.
I live for the sugar rush of a one-pound bag of M&Ms. Sour apple tape got me through my college all-nighters. Every great idea I ever had was Lifesavers-induced.
When I was four years old, my mom dressed me as Jo from Facts of Life and took me trick-or-treating. Everyone thought I was Michael J. Fox. I was traumatized. When we got home I dumped my booty onto the carpet and started consuming. Amongst the Smarties and fun-size Snickers I found comfort for my costume identity crisis. Candy soothed my pain. And has ever since.
Next Halloween I was a gumdrop. And not one nearsighted neighbor mistook me for a pink mountain.
Candy is my coping mechanism, and it’s less destructive than other addictions I could have. As far as vices go, it’s a harmless one.
Thankfully, I am skilled at maintaining the appearance of normalcy. And have the metabolism of a hummingbird.
So when Janice, junior VP of Marketing for Ferrero Couture and my direct superior (otherwise mentally known as Jawbreaker—hard on the outside hard on the inside) barged into my office without so much as a knock on the closed door, I slipped open the drawer, pulled out a Werther’s, and popped it in my mouth.
She was dressed, as usual, like an aging Vegas cigarette girl. Shoulder-padded silver blazer with a deep-v neckline, tight black pants, and eye makeup that made Cleopatra look like a bare-faced virgin. She thinks she’s the Donatella Versace of Ferrero Couture. She’s an executive, for Good&Plenty’s sake—a design diva she is not.
In my black Armani pantsuit and lilac Tse cashmere shell I felt deliciously like Belgian chocolate next to a bag of carob chips.
“Have you seen the new GQ?” she asked.
“Uh-uh,” I hummed around the toffee. The buttery sweetness melted into my tongue and improved my overall sense of well-being.
She plunked the magazine on my desk and smirked. I flicked my eyes to the cover and back to her, trying to maintain an air of nonchalance and disguise my annoyance at her intrusion. My gaze flew immediately back to the slick image on the glossy cover. Gavin!
Now Jawbreaker’s smirk made sense.
Here came conversation #3,524—not that I’m counting—about the Lamentable Loss of Gavin the Great.
“Isn’t this your fiancé, Lydia?” she said, gloating. “Oops, I mean your ex-fiancé.”
Right, that was a slip-up.
If I could manage to scalp her hip-length platinum tresses and braid them into a fashionable tiara without getting fired, I would. That might even become the next hot trend from Ferrero Couture. But as that was a remote possibility, I held my tongue and started mentally ranking my favorite Jelly Belly flavors.
Toasted Marshmallow, Cotton Candy, Buttered Popcorn…
I smiled politely.
Green Apple, Juicy Pear, Strawberry Cheesecake…
“Imagine all the women chasing after him now.”
My smile brightened.
Crushed Pineapple, Watermelon, Grape Jelly…
“Have you tried to get in touch with him? Maybe there’s still a chance—”
I had to stop her before my head exploded and a rainbow of Skittles drizzled down over my immaculate office. “Haven’t I told you,”—Jawbreaker—”Janice, about the new guy I’ve been seeing?”
I regretted those words almost before they left my mouth. I am such a horrible liar, but when Jawbreaker started down the Gavin path, I couldn’t help myself. So I came up with the one thing sure to stop her in her tracks: a boyfriend.
Unfortunately, she was a seasoned social veteran and her path changed faster than you can say Reese’s Pieces.
“How wonderful,” she cried, not meaning it at all. “You simply must bring him to the Summer Sail Away next weekend.”
Summer Sail Away, my mind echoed. The end of summer gala at Jawbreaker’s Southampton tres posh estate—her husband owns a very successful import/export business. The fashion industry event of the season. All the senior VPs will be there. All the board members will be there. Ferrero will be there. Half the fashion world will be there.
Never before had I been graced with an invitation.
As senior account exec, my social profile never ranked high enough to warrant an invite. And, since my status had not recently changed, I had to assume Jawbreaker thought she was pulling one over on me.
Show up stag after the whole extremely small world of fashion heard about this new beau? It would be poor, pitiful Lydia. And a liar to boot.
I could always not show up.
But I wanted a promotion. A rumor had been circling that Jawbreaker was about to be promoted to senior VP of Marketing. And I would do anything to get her current job. The gala would give me the chance to prove I was more than a brain with a knack for numbers. A chance to show Ferrero that I was VP material and could schmooze with the best of them.
A chance I couldn’t pass up.
With the KY Clique—my trio of nemeses at Ferrero—out to get my current job I had to seize opportunities where I could.
“Wonderful,” I replied, knowing my farce was worth it just to see the scowl crease Jawbreaker’s brow. Botox can’t fix everything. “What time should we be there?”
Kelly showed up first. She is the most aggressive of the three KY girls and Jawbreaker probably ran to her with the gossip of my previously unheard of boyfriend the moment she left my office.
The KY Clique came on board at Ferrero as marketing interns in May following their barnyard—er, Barnard graduation. From the start they settled for nothing less than full control of the house. I have an under-the-table wager with Marlene in accessories that the house will be Ferrero, Kelly, Kathryn & Karyn within five years. Three if they hit a stroke of luck or juicy gossip earlier.
And I might have just handed them that lucky gossip on a jewel-encrusted silver platter.
Kelly knocked—the simple courtesy the first sign she was up to something—and entered on the pretense of needing my opinion on an overseas marketing campaign. A blatant ruse as my region covers the Western United States.
“Oh,” she squealed as I tried to not-so-subtly urge her out of my office. “Janice told me about your new beau. He sounds like a prince.”
That’s funny, because I don’t remember telling Jawbreaker anything about him. Because I don’t know anything about him. Because he doesn’t exist.
“I mean, it’s not as if just anyone can measure up to Gavin, but a girl’s gotta try, right?”
“Mmm-hmm.” Hopefully a vague enough response to derail conversation #3,525—not that I’m counting.
I’m never that lucky.
“It’s about time you moved on to someone new. Two years is far too long for someone your age to stay single, you need to do your hunting before all the big game are shot.”
Like I need relationship advice from a revolving door whose idea of taking a relationship to the next level is giving the guy her real phone number.
Her monologue didn’t warrant any input on my part, so I contented myself with neatening up a stack of papers on my desk while she talked on.
“I can’t believe you never mentioned this new guy before. He must be something special if you’ve been keeping him all to yourself,” she cooed. “And we all get to meet him at the Summer Sail Away.”
Suppressing the sudden and overwhelming urge to scream, I lunged for my candy drawer. Within seconds I had a Meltaway in my mouth. The sweet sugary goodness could almost make up for the news that the KYs—low chicks in the hen house—were already invited to the Summer Sail Away. It took me a fabricated boyfriend and an ex on the cover of GQ to earn one.
I should have gone to Barnard.
“Hi Kelly,” twin high-pitched voices squealed.
Kathryn and Karyn bounded into my office. I was surrounded by KYs with no means of escape.
They looked so similar. They could be triplets, with their matching golden Licari highlights, black von Furstenburg wrap dresses, and black Manolo slingbacks. I can usually tell them apart by their nails—Kathryn is natural and unpolished, Karyn is French-manicured, while Kelly is all-acrylic and more than a little scary around ripe fruit.
“We heard about the new boyfriend,”—I checked the nails—Karyn exclaimed.
“Shame on you for keeping him a secret,”—unpolished—Kathryn chastised.
“But,” Kelly interrupted, “he’ll be at the Summer Sail Away.”
“Ooh, I can’t wait.”
“We can evaluate his TIP for you.”
His what? I needed a KY-to-English dictionary.
“His Total Income Potential. Maybe his TIP will be almost as high as Gavin’s.”
I gave up trying to figure out which one spoke. Dizzy, I desperately grabbed for another Meltaway.
I felt like a spectator at my own execution. Only I had handed the man in the black hood the axe and pulled my hair out of the way as I laid my head on the block.
Mental Post-It: Try not to make up non-existent significant others in the future.