What happens when a wealthy, powerful and long-married (fictional) New York couple decides to call it quits? A high-stakes divorce as complex as a game of chess, of course. “The Starter Wife” author Gigi Levangie Grazer tackles this scenario in her new novel, “Queen Takes King.” Here, an excerpt from Chapter 1.
Chapter 1: The Queen
Cynthia Hunsaker Power stood shivering in her kitchen, a silk robe wrapped around her sylphlike body, and wondered whom she'd have to f--k or fire to get a diet Red Bull. Her doe eyes, accentuated by last night's false eyelashes, blinked at the challenge. She flicked her straight black ponytail, faded only slightly by age, and smirked. Cynthia's delicate mouth was stained, her beloved Chanel Red No. 5 intensifying her pale skin. Reality check, Cynthia, she thought, when was the last time you did either?
The chef wouldn't arrive until daybreak, the French butler was still asleep, and the housekeepers and drivers and trainers hadn't even tasted their first sip of coffee before hopping the train into Manhattan. Cynthia was alone in the kitchen, something she hadn't been since Vivienne was a baby. Had it really been almost twenty-five years?
She'd been jostled awake by a recurring dream.
"Snakes," Cynthia said out loud. "Even my nightmares are clichés." She imagined her therapist Dr. Gold's reaction: "Don't waste my time, bubule. I'm a very busy man. I've got a full day of undersexed neurotics."
Now. Find that Red Bull. The industrial-size refrigerator revealed nothing. There were no other clues. Her designer had prohibited appliances, declaring them aesthetically offensive. The kitchen looked like a morgue.
Open, close, open, open, slam, drawers upon drawers upon cabinets. No luck. Cynthia was sweating in her Hanros when she finally discovered a black machine with sleek lines; could this be a coffeemaker? It bore no resemblance to the dented aluminum percolator her mother had used back in Aurora, Missouri. She squinted, trying to make sense of the buttons and the timers and the vents. Cynthia refused to acknowledge the slow submerging of the printed word into a gray blur. Reading glasses? Forget it. Next, people would be whispering: "She was a real beauty in her twenties."
Even if Cynthia could bring Darth Vader to life, where was the coffee? She set the machine down.
And where were her Gitanes?
Caffeine and cigarettes, the breakfast of champions for ballerinas, even long-retired ones. What started out decades ago as a six-pack-a-day Diet Coke habit had morphed into almost a case a day of high-octane diet Red Bull as her metabolism slowed. Cynthia was Sleeping Beauty without her fix. And to make matters worse, Esme, her personal maid, had hidden the cigs from her, instructed to ration five a day — 7:30, 10:30, 2:30, 6:30, 10:30 — unless otherwise notified in times of crisis. Cynthia knew better than to bother anyone about her blessed unfiltereds at this hour.
Cynthia looked past the custom Bonnet stove she'd never used to the white Carrara marble countertop she'd used once, for a photo spread. The Town & Country layout had been featured several bright springs ago — Cynthia sitting sideways on the cold marble, her black mane freshly blown out by John Barrett, her red mouth open in silent laughter (behold the bliss of the wealthy Upper East Side wife, the inside joke of the Park Avenue Princess). She could see her dancer's torso curved backward, one long leg emerging from the slit in her Armani, ending days later in the arch of her bare foot. The caption: "Cynthia Power, patroness of the New York Ballet Theater, feels as at home in her Baron Waxfield-designed kitchen as onstage in a pas de deux."
Cynthia the Perfectionist was known for being meticulous in her performances, onstage and off. Case in point: last night's pas de deux at the Waldorf. Two years to plan her twenty-fifth wedding anniversary party and it was over in four hours. But what a four hours: five hundred of their closest and dearest, including the mayor, the governor, Barbara, Julian, Peter, Anna, Donald, the De Niros, Marc, Harvey, Rupert, Charlie, Woody, Diane, Liz, Nieporent, and the Schwarzmans, feigned obliviousness to the paparazzi penned in on the north side of Fifty-first Street. Once inside, they were ushered into a ballroom, completely overhauled in homage to Versailles's Hall of Mirrors. Gargantuan reflective panes had been installed on one side; faux "windows" had been painted on the facing wall to replicate the intricate gardens. There were twinkling chandeliers and a ceiling painstakingly repainted as per the Sun King's original specifications. There was consensus among the people who mattered: New York hadn't seen a party like this since the Steinberg-Tisch wedding/merger at the Met back in the eighties.
If only her husband, Jackson Xavier Power, had seen fit to show up on time.
"Now what?" she asked herself. She had a full two hours before her Pilates instructor rang, but without a schedule and without her Red Bull, she wasn't sure exactly what to do. She could boot up her social calendar for the upcoming fall season or go through last season's closet and decide which dresses to donate to charity.
On a whim, she decided to go out and get the newspapers. Excited about getting the papers — this was her life. Cynthia didn't fear running into anyone in the elevators at 740 — they were perpetually empty. Still, she decided to take the stairs. The eighteen-room apartment (six bedrooms, eight baths) commanded the penthouse of the seventeen-story limestone building, a trek, but Cynthia needed to get her blood moving. She cinched the robe tightly around her waist and walked out the service door into the darkened hallway.
Five minutes later, Cynthia was back in the kitchen, the Post spread open on the Pedini island. Her reflection hovered at its edges — forehead pinched, cheeks flushed, mouth agape. She played a game with herself, shutting her eyes, then forcing them open again. The photo remained unchanged.
Screw the Red Bull. Sleeping Beauty was wide awake.
Copyright © 2009 by Last Punch Productions, Inc.