Read In Five Years: A Novel Online

Authors: Rebecca Serle

In Five Years: A Novel (2 page)

BOOK: In Five Years: A Novel
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“Ms. Kohan,” he says. “So glad you could make this date work.”

“Naturally, Mr. Aldridge,” I say. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

He raises his eyebrows at me. He’s impressed I know his name sight unseen. Three points.

“Shall we?” He gestures for me to sit, and I do. He pours us each a glass of water. The other one sits there, untouched. “So,” he says. “Let’s begin. Tell me a little bit about yourself.”

I work through the answers I’ve practiced, honed, and sculpted over the last few days. From Philadelphia. My father owned a lighting business, and when I was not even ten years old, I helped him with contracts in the back office. In order to sort and file to my heart’s content, I had to read into them a bit, and I fell in love with the organization, the way language—the pure truth in the words—was nonnegotiable. It was like poetry, but poetry with outcome, poetry with concrete meaning—with actionable power. I knew it was what I wanted to do. I went to Columbia Law and graduated second in my class. I clerked for the Southern District of New York before accepting the reality of what I’d always known, which is that I wanted to be a corporate lawyer. I wanted to practice a kind of law that is high stakes, dynamic, incredibly competitive, and yes, offers me the opportunity to make a lot of money.

Why?

Because it’s what I was born to do, what I have trained for, and what has led me here today, to the place I always knew I’d be. The golden gates. Their headquarters.

We go through my resume, point by point. Aldridge is surprisingly thorough, which is to my benefit, as it gives me more time to express my accomplishments. He asks me why I think I’d be a good fit, what kind of work culture I gravitate toward. I tell him that when I stepped off the elevator and saw all the endless movement, all the frenzied bustle, I felt as if I were home. It’s not hyperbole, he can tell. He chuckles.

“It’s aggressive,” he says. “And endless, as you say. Many spin out.”

I cross my hands on the table. “I can assure you,” I tell him. “That won’t be a problem here.”

And then he asks me the proverbial question. The one you always prepare for because they always ask:

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I inhale, and then give him my airtight answer. Not just because I’ve practiced, which I have. But because it’s true. I know. I always have.

I’ll be working here, at Wachtell, as a senior associate. I’ll be the most requested in my year on M&A cases. I’m incredibly thorough and incredibly efficient; I’m like an X-ACTO knife. I’ll be up for junior partner.

And outside of work?

I’ll be married to David. We’ll be living in Gramercy Park, on the park. We’ll have a kitchen we love and enough table space for two computers. We’ll go to the Hamptons every summer; the Berkshires, occasionally, on weekends. When I’m not in the office, of course.

Aldridge is satisfied. I’ve cinched it, I can tell. We shake hands, and the receptionist is back, ushering me through the offices and to the elevators that deliver me once again to the land of the mortals. The third glass was just to throw me off. Good shot.

After the interview I go downtown, to Reformation, one of my favorite clothing stores in SoHo. I took the day off from work and it’s only lunchtime. Now that the interview is over, I can turn my attention to tonight, to what is coming.

When David told me he had made a reservation at the Rainbow Room, I immediately knew what it meant. We had talked about getting engaged. I knew it would be this year, but I had thought it would have happened this past summer. The holidays are crazy, and the winter is David’s busy time at work. But he knows how much I love the city in lights, so it’s happening tonight.

“Welcome to Reformation,” the salesgirl says. She’s wearing black wide-legged pants and a tight white turtleneck. “What can I help you with?”

“I’m getting engaged tonight,” I say. “And I need something to wear.”

She looks confused for half a second, and then her face brightens. “How exciting!” she says. “Let’s look around. What are you thinking?”

I take barrels into the dressing room. Skirts and low-backed dresses and a pair of red crepe pants with a matching loose camisole. I put the red outfit on first, and when I do, it’s perfect. Dramatic but still classy. Serious but with a little edge.

I look at myself in the mirror. I hold out my hand.

Today
, I think.
Tonight.

Chapter Two

The Rainbow Room is located on the sixty-fifth floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. It boasts one of the highest restaurant views in Manhattan, and from its magnificent windows and terraces you can see the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building floating amongst the city skyline. David knows I’m a sucker for a view. On one of our first dates, he took me to an event at the top of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They were showing some Richard Serra pieces on the roof, and the sunlight made the giant bronze sculptures look like they were on fire. That was two and a half years ago now, and he never forgot how much I loved it.

The Rainbow Room is usually closed for private events only, but they open their dining room during the week to select clientele. Because Tishman Speyer, where David works, owns and manages the Rainbow Room and the underlying real estate, these reservations are first made available to employees. Usually they’re impossible to get, but for a proposal…

David greets me at Bar SixtyFive, a cocktail lounge adjacent to the restaurant. The terraces are now covered, so even though it’s
reaching frigid temperatures outside, people can still take advantage of the superb view.

Under the guise of David “coming from the office,” we decided to meet there. He wasn’t home when I came back to change, and I can only assume he was running last-minute errands, or taking a walk to ward off nerves.

David is wearing a suit, navy, with a white shirt and a pink-and-blue tie. The Rainbow Room is, of course, jacket required.

“You look very handsome,” I say.

I take off my coat and hand it to him, revealing my fire-engine red ensemble. Bold, for me, in color. He whistles.

“And you look very incredible,” he says. He hands my coat to a passing porter. “Would you like a drink?”

He fidgets with his tie, and I understand, of course, that he is nervous. It’s endearing. Additionally, he seems to be sweating at his hairline. He definitely walked here.

“Sure,” I say.

We sidle up to the bar. We order two glasses of champagne. We toast. David just stares at me, wide-eyed. “To the future,” I say.

David downs half a glass. “I can’t believe I didn’t ask!” he says. He brushes the back of his hand against his lips. “How did it go?”

“I nailed it.” I set my glass down, triumphantly. “It was honestly butter. It couldn’t have gone better. Aldridge was the one who interviewed me.”

“No shit. What’s their time frame?”

“He said they’d let me know by Tuesday. If I get the job, I’d start after the holidays.”

David takes another sip. He puts his hand on my waist and squeezes. “I’m so proud of you. One step closer.”

That five-year plan I expressed to Aldridge isn’t just mine, it’s
ours
. We came up with it six months into dating, when it was
obvious this thing between us was serious. David will transition out of investment banking and begin working at a hedge fund—more opportunity for big money, less corporate bureaucracy. We didn’t even argue about where we want to live—it’s always been Gramercy for both of us. The rest was a fluid negotiation. We never came to an impasse.

“Indeed.”

“Mr. Rosen, your table is ready.”

There is a man in white tails at our backs, ushering us out of the bar, down the hallway, and into the ballroom.

I’ve only ever seen the Rainbow Room in movies, but it’s magnificent, truly the perfect place to get engaged. Round tables sit gracefully in tiers around a circular dance floor, where a dazzling chandelier hangs overhead. Rumors are the dance floor rotates, a spinning circle in the center of the room. Ornate floral arrangements, reminiscent of a wedding, pepper the dining room. There is a festive, old-world holiday air. Women in fur. Gloves. Diamonds. The smell of good leather.

“It’s beautiful,” I breathe.

David squeezes me to his side and kisses my cheek. “We’re celebrating,” he says.

A server holds a chair back for me. I sit. A white napkin is produced in a flourish and eased onto my lap.

The slow, smooth styles of Frank Sinatra float over the dining room. A singer croons in the corner.

“This is too much,” I say. What I mean is that it’s perfect. It’s exactly right. He knows this. That’s why he’s him.

I wouldn’t say I’m a romantic, exactly. But I believe in romance, which is to say, I believe in calling to inquire about a date instead of texting, and flowers after sex, and Frank Sinatra at an engagement. And New York City in December.

We order champagne again, this time a bottle. Momentarily, my chest ticks at what tonight will cost.

“Don’t think about it,” David says, reading me. I love that about him. That he always knows what I’m thinking, because we’re always on the same page.

The bubbles arrive. Cool and sweet and crisp. Our second glasses go down easy.

“Should we dance?” David asks me.

On the floor, I see two couples swaying to “All the Way.”

Through the good or lean years, and for all the in-between years…

Suddenly, I think that David may grab the mic. He may make this public. He is not a showy person, by nature, but he is confident, and unafraid of public displays. I am unnerved at this possibility. Of the ring arriving in my chocolate soufflé and his getting down on one knee for all the world to see.


You
want to dance?” I ask him.

David hates dancing. I have to drag him at weddings. He thinks he has no rhythm, and he’s right, but so few guys have rhythm that it really doesn’t matter. There are no wrong moves to “P.Y.T.” except sitting down.

“Why not?” he says. “We’re here.”

He offers me his hand, and I take it. As we make our way down the steps to the rotunda, the song switches. “It Had to Be You.”

David takes me in his arms. The two other couples—older—smile in approval.

“You know,” David says, “I love you.”

“I do,” I say. “I mean, you’d better.”

Is this it? Is this when he drops?

But he keeps just moving me, slowly around the rotating rotunda. The song ends. A few people clap. We go back to our seats. I feel, suddenly, disappointed. Could I be wrong?

We order. A simple salad. The lobster. Wine. The ring is neither perched on the lobster’s claw nor drowning in a glass of Bordeaux.

We both move our food around on our plates with lovely silver forks, barely eating. David, usually chatty, has a hard time focusing. More than once he knocks and rights his water glass.
Just do it
, I want to tell him.
I’ll say yes.
Perhaps I should spell it out with cherry tomatoes.

Finally, dessert arrives. Chocolate soufflé, crème brûlée, pavlova. He’s ordered one of everything, but there is no ring affixed to any of their powdered tops. When I look up, David is gone. Because he is holding the box in his hands, right by my seat, where he kneels.

“David.”

He shakes his head. “For once don’t talk, okay? Just let me get through this.”

People around us murmur and quiet. Some of the surrounding tables have phones aimed at us. Even the music lowers.

“David, there are people watching.” But I’m smiling. Finally.

“Dannie, I love you. I know neither one of us is a particularly sentimental person and I don’t tell you this stuff a lot, but I want you to know that our relationship isn’t just part of some plan for me. I think you’re extraordinary, and I want to build this life with you. Not because we’re the same but because we fit, and because the more time goes on the more I cannot imagine my life taking place without you.”

“Yes,” I say.

He smiles. “I think maybe you should let me ask the question.”

Someone close breaks out in laughter.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “Please ask.”

“Danielle Ashley Kohan, will you marry me?”

He opens the box and inside is a cushion-cut diamond flanked
by two triangular stones set in a simple platinum band. It’s modern, clean, elegant. It’s exactly me.

“You can answer now,” he tells me.

“Yes,” I say. “Absolutely. Yes.”

He reaches up and kisses me, and the dining room breaks out in applause. I hear the snaps of lenses, the
ooh
s and
aah
s of generous goodwill from surrounding patrons.

David takes the ring out of the box and slides it onto my finger. It takes a second to waddle over my knuckle—my hands are swollen from the champagne—but when it does, it sits there like it has always been there.

A waiter appears out of thin air with a bottle of something. “Compliments of the chef,” he says. “Congratulations!”

David sits back down. He holds my hand across the table. I marvel at the ring, turning my palm back and forth in the candlelight.

“David,” I say. “It’s gorgeous.”

He smiles. “It looks so good on you.”

“Did you pick this out?”

“Bella helped,” he says. “I was worried she was going to ruin the surprise. You know her, she’s terrible at keeping anything from you.”

I smile. I squeeze his hand. He’s right about that, but I don’t need to tell him. That is the thing about relationships: it’s not necessary to say everything. “I had no idea,” I say.

“I’m sorry it was so public,” he says, gesturing around us. “I couldn’t resist. This place is practically begging for it.”

“David,” I say. I look at him. My future husband. “I want you to know I’d suffer through ten more public proposals if it meant I got to marry you.”

“No you wouldn’t,” he says. “But you can convince me of anything, and it’s one of the things I love about you.”

Two hours later we’re home. Hungry and buzzing off champagne and wine, we crouch around the computer, ordering Thai food from Spice online. This is us. Spend seven hundred dollars on dinner, come home to eat eight-dollar fried rice. I never want that to change.

I want to put on sweatpants, per usual, but something tells me not to—not tonight, not yet. If I were different, someone else—Bella, for example—I’d have lingerie to wear. I’d have bought some this week. I’d put on a matching bra and underwear and hover by the door. Fuck the pad thai. But then I probably wouldn’t be engaged to David right now.

We’re not big drinkers, and the champagne and wine have gotten to both of us. I edge myself farther onto the couch. I put my feet in David’s lap. He squeezes the arch of my foot, kneading the tender place my heels are unkind to. I feel the buzzing in my stomach move upward to my head, until my eyes are being pulled closed like blinds. I yawn. Within a minute, I’m asleep.

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