Take a peek behind the curtain of wealth and glamour in
Phyllis Melhado’s sassy and sultry beach read. The guests who arrive for a
10-day stay at the nation’s premier spa at Lavender Lane seem to have
everything a girl could want: high-flying careers, social and financial
prowess, access to the top fashions and beauty products, and even a dash of
fame. Yet each woman is in need of rejuvenation from insecurities, flatlined
business motivation, or failed relationships – problems that will require more
than the spa’s renowned anti-aging quince cream to fix. As the women learn to
trust one another, they each figure out how to take a second chance at life,
and reclaim what’s most important.
“We’re here, Miss,” the driver said, jarring Toni Etheridge from a state roughly approaching relaxation. She pushed her sunglasses up into her tousled auburn hair and snapped open her bloodshot hazel eyes, almost sorry the ride was over. The trip from LAX had provided the first pleasant moments in an otherwise horrendous travel day filled with an insane traffic jam on the way to JFK which nearly caused her to miss her flight, a terrible seat at the rear of the plane where the cabin staff were constantly rattling cans and refilling their carts and a raucous group of drag queens on their way to a competition in LA, who didn’t shut up for a minute during the entire five-hour flight. But the capper was the sudden drop in altitude that put her stomach firmly in her mouth and sent her stumbling to the bathroom to make sure that her body had not betrayed her like it had done a few years before. Happily, what she found was just the result of a leaky bladder and not the catastrophe she had dreaded.
“May I help you?” asked the good-looking young man as he opened the car door and offered his hand. He smiled broadly, gleaming white teeth set off by eager blue eyes and deeply tanned skin. Even though they were miles from the sea, Toni thought he had perfect California surfer looks, complete with thick, wavy blonde hair and a tall, well-built body.
“Did you have a good trip?” he inquired.
“Good trip!” Toni grunted, pushing her glasses back down to shield her eyes from the southern California desert sun. “Do you really want to know?
She leaned back and looked at him for a long moment, then laughed. “Of course you don’t want to know! I’ll spare you.”
There was an audible sigh of relief.
“Ms.,” the limo driver interjected, appearing with two mismatched and beaten-up travel bags.
“Oh, thanks. You can dump my stuff over there,” Toni said, pointing to a collection of Gucci, Vuitton and Prada bags waiting to be delivered to the rooms of other newly arrived guests.
“Now, Michael?” she asked, focusing on the name badge pinned to the surfer boy’s neat white Lacoste shirt. “Where to?” She grabbed his arm and gave him one of her most engaging smiles.
Michael smiled politely and tried to usher Toni in through the front door. “They’ll take good care of you at the desk, Ms…”
“Etheridge,” Toni said, taking off her sunglasses, but making no move to walk in.
“We’ve got to get you checked in quickly, Ms. Etheridge. Madame Demidova runs a tight ship.”
“I’ve heard that, Michael,” Toni said, toying with his nametag. I’m sure she depends on you to, uh, keep things moving.” She flashed him a coy smile. “And I certainly don’t want to get you in any kind of trouble.”
There was an awkward pause.
“I would sure appreciate that, Ma’am.”
“Ma’am!” Toni shrieked. “Dear God. I’m not that old!”
“Of course not!” Michael said quickly as he encouraged her through the door to reception.
“Ah, Ms. Etheridge,” the front desk clerk said. “Welcome!” But before Toni had a chance to reply, the cell phone buried in her huge tote bag began to ring. Damn, she thought, remembering the rules she had read in Lavender Lane’s confirmation letter: No men, other than staff, allowed on the premises. No loud talking in the public areas. And absolutely no cell phones. She began fumbling in her bag. “Shit!” she said, quite audibly. “Where is the damn thing?”
“Ah,” she heard a voice say softly. “You must be Antoinette Etheridge. We’ve been expecting you.”
Toni looked at the small, impeccably dressed woman who had silently advanced toward her. Clearly Chanel, and definitely the real thing — and oh-oh. It could only be one person.
“Oh, dear. I am so sorry,” she said sheepishly. Her phone, which had migrated to the bottom of her bag, somewhere between a prickly hairbrush and a plastic bag full of broken pretzel bits, continued to ring. “Guess I forgot to turn the darned thing off.” Gee-sus. Do you believe this? Toni felt her face flower into a full flush. She rummaged around her bag and after two more excruciating rings, finally located the phone and turned it off.
The woman in Chanel stood silently, a patient smile on her face.
“My apologies,” Toni said.
“Nothing to be concerned about,” the woman said in a soothing tone. “You’re here, now, and it’s time to leave behind those dreadful little machines and all that New York stress.” She offered her hand. “I’m Nadia Demidova, dear. Welcome to Lavender Lane.”
When Mavis Perkins was shown her accommodations, her gray-green eyes ignited with slow, icy fire. Her favorite suite, with some of the most magnificent sunsets in the western part of the United States, had been given to someone else, and this was simply not to be tolerated.
“What do you mean I can’t have my regular suite?” she asked, reveling in her haughtiest demeanor, making her cheekbones seem angled even higher on her fabled porcelain skin, while her chiseled nostrils arched in their most sanctimonious flare, as she pronounced the word “mean” with near biblical profundity.
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Perkins,” Nadia answered, reaching for Mavis’s hand. Her apology was not an empty one. She always did her best to accommodate her clients’ wishes, especially those who were regulars. But as Nadia moved forward, Mavis pulled away. She simply would not be touched.
Nadia wondered how she was going to handle the situation without breaking a confidence, and for a moment she nearly succumbed to temptation. It would be so much easier just to tell Mavis who was in “her” suite, but she couldn’t. Word simply could not get out. Eleanor was a highly visible spokesperson for her company, and if the media or the internet ever got hold of information about her plastic surgery, the perception of Lavender Lane as a retreat steeped in absolute discretion would be totally destroyed.
“I am terribly sorry that your favorite accommodations are not available this visit. I know how much you like that particular suite.”
“Like it,” Mavis intoned. “I practically own it. Let me remind you that I have been coming here two, sometimes three times a year for more than a decade.” She glared at Nadia. “You add that up, it comes to a hell of a lot of cash.” She kept her eyes fixed firmly on Nadia, not allowing her a second’s grace.
“Yes,” Nadia said looking directly back at Mavis, “and you know how much we love having you here.”
“Well, I’m beyond disappointed, Madame Demidova. It never occurred to me that I might not have my usual suite. You know how particular I am.”
Nadia remained poised. “Yes…of course, Mrs. Perkins. But let me assure you that you will be more than satisfied with this suite. As you can see, it’s exactly the same, only at the other end of the house.”
Mavis appraised the sitting room with its familiar cream-colored sofa, graceful deep-green potted palms and delicately carved Cherrywood armoire, then turned her gaze slowly back to Nadia.
“Well, if it’s the same damned thing, why couldn’t you just put whoever the hell is in my suite at the other end?”
Nadia studied the difficult woman who she knew was accustomed to always getting her own way. Telling Mavis the real reason without going in to any details might get her to settle in.
“May I speak to you in confidence?” she whispered, summoning up a bit of the actress she had developed during her brief career as a ballerina.
Nadia’s tone spoke volumes, and Mavis was intrigued. Usually interested only in herself, she became curious about who might be ensconced in the coveted suite. Warming to the notion of hearing something of special interest, she leaned forward. “Of course,” she said, pursing her lips in a half-smile.
Nadia leaned forward as well, her petite frame no match for that of the regally tall Mavis Perkins. She put her hand on Mavis’s arm, and looked up.
This time, Mavis did not move away. “The guest has just had some extensive work done,” she said, “and things don’t seem to be going as well as one might expect. I’m afraid she’s forced to stay a few days longer than any of us had anticipated.”
“I see,” Mavis responded, curiosity in full throttle. “Anyone I know?”
“I doubt that you have ever met this woman,” Nadia said, choosing her words carefully because, in all likelihood, Mavis knew who Eleanor was. “The poor dear…” she continued. It was imperative that Nadia diffuse Mavis’ curiosity. “It would be so kind to just let her recuperate in peace.”
Mavis arched one meticulously tweezed eyebrow, then relaxed into a measure of acceptance. This was a problem with which she could identify. She lived in dread of the scalpel, having seen more than a few botched jobs among her friends in Chicago’s best circles.
Nadia had taken a calculated risk, but it seemed to have worked.
“Very well then. Have someone fetch my bags. And please send a masseuse up ASAP. I’m simply exhausted from the trip–not to mention all this unpleasantness about the rooms.”
Nadia had only just checked the massage schedule and was quite sure that the “therapists” were all booked, but she could not possibly say no to Mavis Perkins at this point.
“Certainly, Mrs. Perkins. Get yourself settled in, and someone will be up to take care of you in a little while. And Mrs. Perkins, will you be joining the others for dinner this evening, or will you be dining in your suite?
“Oh, I think I’ll come down to dinner. First night, you know.” During her frequent stays at Lavender Lane, Mavis often had meals sent to her rooms, but Nadia was sure that she was not about to miss the initial dinner, with its overview of the guests in residence.
“Then we’ll see you at seven, and thank you for being so understanding about the suite. A masseuse will be up in just a little while, and, of course, the service will be complimentary to show our gratitude for your kindness.” She smiled graciously, then quickly summoned one of the attractive young attendants to bring Mavis Perkins’s considerable luggage up to the Mariposa Suite as soon as possible.
“Whoever you have to switch around,” Nadia cautioned Phoebe a few minutes later, “please make sure that Mrs. Perkins gets one of the better therapists.”
Phoebe peered over the top of the tortoise shell glasses which were perennially perched just below the bridge of her nose, a conspiratorial smile spreading over her angular but handsome face. “Without question. We can be sure that if Mrs. Perkins’ massage is anything less than celestial, we’ll hear about it.”
They both had been subject to more Mavis Perkins incidents over the years than either of them cared to remember.
“Not to worry. I’ll take care of it straight away.”
“Good. And please do your best to get back here as soon as possible. From the looks of this group, re-arranging a couple of massages will be the least of our problems.”
Lauder, Phyllis Melhado has had her work published in Town & Country,
Cosmopolitan, and The Scarlet Leaf Review. She has also ghosted a best-selling
beauty book as well as a nationally syndicated beauty column. She earned her
Master’s degree in Communications from NYU and lives in New York City. The Spa
at Lavender Lane is her first novel. To learn more about Phyllis and her work,