Happy & You Know It Page 1

Author: Laura Hankin

Genres: Fiction


New Yorkers are good at turning a blind eye. They ignore the subway ranters, the men who walk with pythons twined around their shoulders, anyone who suggests meeting for dinner in Times Square.

But on one sweltering August afternoon, when the whole city was trapped in a bubble of heat, a woman came running down Madison Avenue in a full-length fur coat, demanding to be noticed. As she sprinted by, encased in a suffocating cocoon of mink, the sweaty customers at the sidewalk café on East Ninety-Fourth Street couldn’t help but stare.

Maybe it was, in part, because of her smell—the staleness of the inky black pelt she wore, plus something else, something sickly sweet and stomach turning. Vomit. Dried bits of it crusted the woman’s mouth. Little chunks clung to her hair. She didn’t look like someone who should have smelled that way. She looked rich.

Maybe it was the sleek stroller she pushed in front of her. It glided along the sidewalk, the baby equivalent of a Porsche, but without a baby inside.

Or maybe it was the pack of women chasing her.

Afterward, when the media was just starting to whip itself into a frenzy about the so-called Poison Playgroup of Park Avenue, one witness would tell reporters that he had known the women were dangerous all along. He had sensed it from the moment he saw them—even before they tipped back their heads and started to scream.

Chapter 1

Claire Martin didn’t want to throw herself in front of a bus, exactly. But if a bus happened to mow her down, knocking her instantly out of existence, that wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world.

If she were floating in eternal nothingness, at least she wouldn’t have to hear Vagabond’s music in every fucking bar in New York City. It happened for the fourth time not long after New Year’s Day, as she sat on a stool in some Upper West Side dive, performing her fun new ritual of Drinking to Forget. She’d managed to swallow her way within sight of that sweet, sweet tipping point—the one where all her sharp-edged self-loathing melted into something squishy and Jell-O-like—and just caught the eye of a curly-haired guy nearby when “Idaho Eyes” came over the speakers, as jarring and rage-inducing as the clock radio blaring “I’ve Got You Babe” in Groundhog Day.

She turned away from her new prospect and leaned over the bar. “Hey,” she said to the bartender, who held up a finger in her direction and continued his conversation with a middle-aged man a few stools down. Automatically, she drummed her fingers along with that catchy opening beat before she caught herself and closed her hand into a fist. “Hey!”

“What?” the bartender asked, glaring.

She squinted at him, trying to make him come fully into focus. He was a big, scowling bear of a man and alarmingly fuzzy around the edges. “Can we skip this song?”

“No,” he said.

Claire considered leaving, but the guy with curly hair intrigued her, and she liked Fucking to Forget almost as much as Drinking to Forget. She swallowed, then flashed the bartender what she hoped was a winning smile. “Please? I’d really appreciate it.”

Her smile, bright and effective enough to be a form of currency, had worked wonders for her in the past. In the early days of touring with Vagabond, rattling around in a van for which they could barely afford the gas, the guys had joked about it and had sent her into convenience stores to see if she could get them all free snacks for the road. But this bartender remained unmoved. He folded his hairy arms across his chest. “My bar, my playlist.”

Claire gritted her teeth as the verse turned into the first chorus. A nearby couple began to dance, shout-singing along, the man looking into the woman’s face with pure love. At times like these, Claire thought that maybe God did exist, not as some benevolent being or terrifying father, but as the omniscient equivalent of a prank show host. An Ashton Kutcher kind of God. She took another large gulp of her whiskey. “Don’t be a dick, man,” she said as the bartender turned away. “The customer’s always right, right?”

“I’m a customer, and I love this song,” said the middle-aged man down at the end of the bar.

“Well, you shouldn’t,” she said as a wave of nausea rose in her stomach. “They’re terrible.” She took a couple of shallow, panicky breaths as, over the speakers, Marcus’s and Marlena’s voices mingled in harmony. Dammit, they sounded good together.

The middle-aged man, apparently some kind of regular at this dive, made a wounded face, his shoulders slumping. The bartender noticed and pulled out his phone, holding it up right in front of Claire to show her the song playing on his Spotify app. His finger hovered over the skip button. Then he deliberately turned the volume up. The sound grew loud enough to suffocate her, to smother her. She lunged forward to grab the phone away from him.

As the bartender ejected her, none too gently, into the stinging January night, she realized that perhaps it was safer to drink alone in her apartment instead.


* * *


A month later, Claire’s cousin Thea called.

“How’s the wallowing going?” Thea asked in her brisk way.

“I don’t know if it’s fair to call it ‘wallowing,’” Claire said. “That sounds so masturbatory. I think your band getting super-famous right after they kick you out is a great reason to become a shut-in.”

“Mm-hmm,” Thea said.

Over the past couple of years, Claire had spent so much time on the road that all she’d wanted from her home was a place without roommates where she could immediately take off her pants and collapse into bed. What did it matter that her “kitchen” only had room for a mini fridge and a hot plate? She wasn’t exactly whipping up five-course meals for herself. Who cared that the bars on her window blocked out most of the natural light or that she’d stuck up all her posters with tape instead of framing them? But now, from underneath her sheets, Claire cast a look around her tiny studio, at the stacks of boxes from Pizza Paradise starting to grow mold, at the piles of discarded beer cans, at the torn-up remains of a note her parents had sent her, reading: You can always come home. Jesus forgives, and so do we.

“The wallowing is getting pretty gross,” she said.

“Well, then, get up. I got you a job.” Even as a child in their tiny Ohio town, Thea had been the one who got shit done. She’d organized all the bored neighborhood kids into teams for kickball. She’d harangued all the grown-ups until they signed up to bring something for the church bake sale. And then, when her parents had discovered she was gay and threatened to kick her out of the house unless she agreed to go to a conversion program, Thea had wasted no time in getting a full scholarship to Harvard and leaving on her own terms.

“A job? What is it?” Claire asked.

“Singing ‘Old MacDonald’ to the future CEOs of America. Some woman named Whitney Morgan e-mailed the Harvard list, looking for a playgroup musician, so I sang your praises.”

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