Alex scanned the room to see if anyone she knew was in attendance. It was not unusual for Will to leave her alone for long periods of time at these kinds of events, where her role was two-fold: she was a prop that made him appear to be a normal, functional 28-year-old insurance salesman who just happened to be able to enjoy five consecutive Jack-with-a-splashes over a two-hour period, and afterward, she was his designated driver.
With a girlfriend like Alex, a respectable, hardworking college grad with a shoulder-length blond bob exactly like his mother’s, no one would imagine that Will would leave the reception and then demand to be driven to a bar. If Alex refused, he’d have her stop at the store and pick up a case of beer for the long night ahead.
Naturally, Alex had met Will in a bar. It never struck her as strange that he seemed to know everyone in the room. It was part of his natural charisma, she had first thought.
Will seemed to know everyone in Waterford, where he’d grown up among a close-knit group of friends who all lived in and around Chestnut Street in the small city’s most exclusive neighborhood. They swam at the country club on the weekends while their parents played golf and ate lunch.
“I’ve never been to the county fair before,” Will told Alex once when she asked if he wanted to go for a funnel cake. Alex had been astounded.
“Where did your parents take you for fun when you were little?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Skiing, I guess,” had been his reply.
Tonight they were attending the wedding reception of his friend Carlisle Preston, who graduated the same year as Will from Fauquier Country Day School. Will had followed Carlisle to the University of Virginia, where they both played rugby. It was not unusual for Will and Carlisle to carry on for hours, reliving the glory days of their college years.
Since graduation, Carlisle had dabbled in real estate and opened a number of turn-key businesses around town. Will worked for his father’s insurance company, although Alex had surmised that he didn’t actually earn enough to cover the cost of his own rent, much less his vacations and running tabs at every yuppie bar in town.
Alex was following Will to the bar at Carlisle’s reception when they were intercepted by a man in his 40s who looked a bit like Matt Damon with a receding hairline.
“Hello Roger,” Will said. “How’s business?”
Alex had noticed that Will deepened his southern accent and spoke a little more slowly whenever he was talking to a native Waterford resident. It was an effect that had probably added to his charm when they’d met, when she was under the influence herself. But under the cold glare of sobriety, it seemed contrived.
“Roger, this is my friend Alex,” Will said. He always introduced her as his friend, even though they had been dating for nine months. Will thought of himself as one of Waterford’s most eligible bachelors. Not only was he good-looking, but any girl would be lucky to marry into his family, he’d said. Moreover, whomever he chose would be an exceptional beauty, highly intelligent and preferably well-bred.
Most of Will’s long-term adult relationships had been with girls like Alex, girls who had attended public high schools and whose fathers did not own stock in any company. This was one of the reasons the relationships had not worked out, he had said. Those girls were entirely too eager to marry, perhaps hoping to escape their lackluster Berkshire County existences.
As a result, Alex never brought up marriage. On the contrary, she avoided the topic. She didn’t like the way he seemed to dangle commitment in front of her like a carrot. Besides, her relationship to him was more maternal than romantic most of the time. She was his chauffeur. She changed the sheets on his bed and picked up his shirts from the dry cleaner. She cleaned up the vomit when Will ate something that didn’t agree with him. He never drank anything that didn’t agree.
They had long friendly conversations when they were alone, but Alex felt like she disappeared as soon as someone turned on the tap in public. Once he’d had a few drinks, Will was someone else entirely. He was like a politician currying favor with a room full of constituents. Only his constituents were young suburban barflies.
“Alex,” Roger said, extending a hand, “What’s your last name? Do I know your parents?”
Alex was used to this line of questioning in and around Waterford. Older people usually asked about her parents. They assumed that as a 20-something female, all her assets and merits were readily apparent.
“Last name’s Chang,” Alex said, flashing a sardonic, snaggle-toothed grin. “Father’s a dentist.”
Roger looked at Will and issued a nervous chuff.
“I only ask because my daughter Casey is graduating from college this year. I was wondering if you knew her.”
“No,” Alex said. “I graduated in 2007.”
“What do you do then? Are you in insurance?”
“No,” Alex replied. “I work for Waterford Media Relations. I’m called a copywriter, but I do a little bit of everything. What about you?”
“I’m a real estate developer,” Roger said. “I buy farmland and then, well, we build on it.”
“Do you sell it first or build on it and sell the houses?” Alex asked. Attending parties with Will had at least helped her hone her small-talking skills.
“It depends. There are different ways we do it,” Roger said.
Will intervened, asking Alex if she would mind fetching him a Jack and Coke. She was grateful for the exit card.
When Alex returned 10 minutes later, Will was sitting at a table with Roger, Carlisle’s sister Melanie and another girl Alex had never met. Alex put Will’s drink down beside him and stood behind him for a few minutes. There were no seats left at the table and Will was engrossed in conversation with this new girl. They were talking about a mutual friend who lived in Colorado, and Will was saying he was planning a trip out there the week of Thanksgiving.
“I’ll probably go by myself,” he said. “Alex has to work. It’s always a good time if you like skiing. Do you ski?”
Alex wandered away in search of a familiar face. Will didn’t like when she read or played with her phone at social functions. It wasn’t classy, he said.
In the car afterward, Will lectured Alex on her rudeness.
“You know, you really ought to be nicer to my friends,” he said. “A lot of them could really help you, you know, with your career.”
Alex rolled her eyes. It wasn’t the first time he’d insinuated that she was lucky to know him and his friends. But deep down, she had to admit that on some level, he was right. Sad as she was about not being anyone’s true love, she knew she could never compete with Jack Daniels and ski bunnies. And any of his friends’ parents was a potential client for her firm. Alex had to earn her keep in the world and she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life functioning as Will’s chauffeur regardless of his plans. She vowed to take his advice and learn to schmooze like him.
When Roger Holloway called her the following week and asked her to have dinner with him, she agreed, knowing Will would approve.