New Beginnings for Jeremy Haines – Winter
It didn’t take long for Jeremy Haines to find his feet in New York. He had been in the City for all of three days and already felt well adapted to the change in pace, far removed from the London he had left behind for this work trip. He knew what streets to avoid, to walk fearlessly at pedestrian crossings, and that most waiting staff don’t want a genuine answer when asking, “How are you doing today?”.
Jeremy fancied himself a cosmopolitan man now. Since Spring he had been to the opera, joined a weekend hunt party in Scotland and taken a holiday to the French Riviera. He had earned a promotion at work, replaced his previous girlfriend with a better one, and there were talks of a three-month stint in Switzerland, if tomorrow’s New York presentation went according to plan. Life had certainly changed for Jeremy, and all for the better.
Smiling to himself as the lift doors dinged open, he stepped out into the hallway. Yes, this was the right place. He’d arrived at Cad & The Dandy’s New York Penthouse, to pick up his latest suit.
With one sharp knock the door flung open, revealing a welcome and familiar face – Morris, his trusty tailor, from Savile Row.
“I had a feeling you were the J. Haines in the diary for today!” Morris greeted him with a wink.
“Morris! I didn’t know I’d be seeing you this week!”
“Well, in fact a surprise for us both, Mr. Haines. The New York team are holding a trunk show in Boston this weekend, so I flew out to man the fort, so to speak. And, of course, not wanting to miss the opportunity to fit you in your beautiful new suit. Come on through, there’s a lot more of this place to see.”
Morris, never prone to exaggeration, was correct. There was a lot to see. The penthouse had all the flavors of London’s flagship base, at 13 Savile Row, but offered up with a New York twist. Shaken, it appeared, not stirred.
Through the foyer into the space’s main attraction: a grand room with elegance and charm on a scale that left Jeremy quite speechless. A circular blue velvet couch took center stage while a sentinel of five mannequins posed in front of the floor-to-celling windows overlooking 57th Street. In the corner, Morris was already at the in-house bar, mixing Jeremy a drink.
“It’s a fantastic space, wouldn’t you agree?”
Jeremy smiled and accepted a drink, The Cad, their signature cocktail. A simple concoction; two ounces of Tanqueray 10, half an ounce of Italicus Bergamot liquor, and half an ounce of Dolin dry vermouth. Garnished with lemon peel, it was smooth, refreshing and exactly what Jeremy needed.
Morris took a finger of scotch for himself and waved his hand to the couch, where they sat like old friends, catching up with the usual pleasantries. How was your flight? Where are you staying? Any recommendations for dinner?
Jeremy looked forward to his chats with Morris – wholly unpretentious and always with a wise nod of understanding. And, inevitably the conversation turned to Rosamund, Jeremy’s girlfriend, who had accompanied him on his work trip.
“It must be pretty serious if Miss Small-Rundell is spending her Christmas with you,” Morris said, betraying his good manners with romantic curiosity.
“Yes. I was sure she’d be spending it with her parents or her uncle in France. But Rosie isn’t very conventional, you know. She not so bothered about the holidays and all. Besides, she said she’ll just tell everyone she converted to Greek Orthodoxy and will celebrate in January!”
Among the long list of things Jeremy loved about Rosamund, her great sense of humor was up at the top, his having wilted long ago, during 45 hours a week under the stark glare of the bank’s fluorescent lights.
“Well,” Morris said, rubbing his hands together and adjusting the glasses on the edge of his nose, “let’s see how you look in the grey flannel, shall we?” Cocktails finished, it was back to business.
Jeremy stood admiring himself in the mirrors of the spacious fitting room. He had opted for a double-breasted suit this time. Perfectly attuned to the season in terms of warmth, the style also complimented his frame and, he felt, embodied the holiday season spirit.
The peak lapel flattered his long arms and neck, balancing him out. The soft grey flannel had just enough weight to feel substantial without any bulk. This was a suit he could grow old in, wear to charity events and business dinners and the occasional night on the town. All, he mused, with Rosamund by his side.
As Jeremy zipped the fly on his trousers, Morris called from behind the door.
“You left your phone on the couch, Jeremy. I’ve put it on the stool here so you don’t forget it. By the way, your appointment with Tiffany’s is in fifteen minutes. A notification just popped up on your screen. Now let’s take a look at this suit!”
* * * * *
That evening, Jeremy and Rosamund sat in a candlelit corner of The Waverly Inn. Jeremy wore the ‘lucky’ navy suit he had packed, his first from Cad & The Dandy, while Rosamund wore an elegant light blue dress that complemented her auburn hair and highlighted the earrings he had gotten her for her birthday last month. Her thoughtfulness was one of the things he loved most about her – she had nicer earrings, but she had made a point of wearing his.
Falling into the ebb of conversation easily, there was never any pretense between them. No competition, just common ground, from the most serious to the silliest of subjects. When Rosamund brought out her reading glasses and Jeremy shone his phone light on her menu, they agreed it was a classic scene of two comfortable old fools in love.
Over grilled octopus and crispy salmon, Rosamund and Jeremy planned their respective tomorrows. Rosamund would have most of the day to herself, while Jeremy had the board meeting for which he’d travelled. She wanted to see how London’s Chelsea stacked up to New York’s and while Jeremy wanted nothing more than to investigate this with her, he had talks of a promotion and future return trips to the City on his mind. He reasoned he could sacrifice spending a day with her for the future they might yet enjoy together, albeit begrudgingly.
As thoughts returned to the task in hand, Jeremy began to sweat nervously. Was now the right time? Was this the moment to ask The Question? The waiter came over with offers of the dessert menu, coffee and digestifs. Playing for time, Jeremy agreed to all. How long would it take to slice a piece of cake? To pour a cup of coffee? To mix an espresso martini? Ten minutes? Could he make the decision to possibly change the course of his entire life in just ten minutes?
He’d lost his nerve by the time the check came. Still sweating (“Are you feeling alright, Jim?” Rosamund asked, the third time he mopped his brow), he scribbled his name on the line and handed the receipt back to the waiter.
“I hope you and your wife enjoyed your meal with us, Mr. Haines,” the waiter said before going to tend the next table.
Jeremy didn’t correct him, looking at Rosamund to see her reaction. She only smiled and winked at him over the rim of her martini glass.
Excellent, Jeremy thought, that was a very good sign indeed.
* * * * *
The board meeting was going well for Jeremy, looking very much the part in his new flannel suit. He had borrowed Rosamund’s reading glasses as a prop, strategically putting them on or taking them off whenever he needed a moment to pause and gather his thoughts.
He had gone over his presentation endlessly – on the fight into JFK, on the taxi into the city, in the shower that morning. He knew the numbers and knew the systems inside-out and back-to-front. Now, just to convince everyone else in the room.
Jeremy took a sip of water at his conclusion, looking around the room at the men sat before him. Middle-aged scowlers with the occasional cough, arms folded across chests, eyebrows furrowed. He could almost hear them saying: Who is this kid? And, what does he know that we don’t?
They reminded him of his father. Each a pinstriped crystal ball into the future of who he might have become, had he stayed with Natasha, had he done just enough at his job to get by, had he never found himself in the mirror at Cad & The Dandy.
“Well, gentleman,” Jeremy stood up to leave, stacking his papers into his attaché, “it has been a pleasure and I am available for any questions you may have.”
No one responded except for a ‘harrumph’ passing the lips of a Mr. Hasnawi. Jeremy pushed the glass door open, turning momentarily to say, “You all have my number… er… and my email…don’t you?”
Unsure how to read the outcome, Jeremy headed to the coffee shop in the building’s lobby and called his boss. On the fifth ring, just as his flat white arrived at the counter, Mark picked up.
“Jeremy! What the hell happened in there?”
“I…I’m sorry…what’s that?” Jeremy tried not to drop his phone while simultaneously blowing on his coffee and taking a sip.
“What the hell happened?”
“I gave them the quarterly figures and went on to unveil the new market strategies and laid out all the other points we agreed before I left.”
“No, there must have been something else. Did you change anything?”
“Not that I know of.…” Jeremy began to sweat again. His poor clothes, he thought. His monthly dry cleaning bill was going to double at this rate!
“Well, whatever you did, do more of it! They loved you! That old toad Mr. Winegardner was saying how well you presented everything and talked my ear off about your strategic thinking. I think we need to make some changes for you. Whatever you’re doing, keep it up. I’ve already talked to your secretary about changing your flight, if you’d like to extend your stay? Take the rest of the week off. You deserve it. Come back in the New Year.”
Jeremy was thrilled. He gulped down the rest of his coffee and dialed Rosamund immediately.
“Rosie, where are you? Come to 600 Fifth Avenue as soon as you can, darling. I want to do something wild. We have something to celebrate!”
* * * * *
In the boardroom, Jeremy could glide through anything. But on ice skates? That was another story. He staggered and bumbled, blushing mildly and waving his arms for help, holding onto the wall for a few seconds too long, waiting for the courage to come so he could let go. It never did. Rosamund, on the other hand, was a natural. A knitted Alice band held her hair in place while she whirled from foot to foot. She had natural coordination and elegance. Everything seemed to come so easily to Rosamund.
While Jeremy got his bearings to do a first loop around the rink, he heard a familiar voice approaching that he couldn’t readily place.
“Drats! Damn! Oh, it’s so cold!”
He looked around. Who was that?
“Darling, you look like an absolute moose, watch us!”
Two women glided past Jeremy, careering in front of him so dangerously close he faltered but somehow kept his balance. One in a mink coat, the other a Burberry trench, impossibly cinched at her minuscule waist. It was Millicent and Talia Lyonne, giggling like schoolgirls at the clumsy way Jeremy tried to stop on the ice.
After them came Hernan Oliviero, the Argentinian, who Jeremy recognized as the voice complaining about the cold. Lined up like a hockey team behind him were Olivia Havillantis, Jock Martin and the bewildered-looking Amanda Connaught, in another turban of her own creation.
All said their hello’s like it was the most natural thing in the world to be meeting Jeremy, on ice skates, thousands of miles from home.
Rosamund, having gone to find some warming hot cocoa, had not yet seen this gang of new arrivals and Jeremy wanted some answers before she returned.
“Tal – Millice – Jock…what are you all doing here?”
“Well….,” Talia answered first, “…didn’t your tailor tell you? We’re here for the engagement party!”
“Oh, damn! Did we ruin it?” It was Millicent this time.
“The proposal. You know, I was always a fan of you and Rosamund. Talia, on the other hand, had a bet going and –”
Talia pushed Millicent off balance to shut her up but Jeremy had already gotten the gist.
“There’s no proposal,” Jeremy said.
“See?” Talia arched her eyebrows mockingly. “You all owe me ten pounds! I knew they wouldn’t last until Christmas!”
Jeremy ignored her and kept going, “There’s no proposal because i haven’t found the right moment yet! Now if you’d all just leave me alone to get on with telling the woman I love that I want to marry her –”
“Yes!” Came a voice from behind
“Wh-what was that?” Slowly, awkwardly, Jeremy hobbled round in a circle to face Rosamund.
“I said yes, Jim. Of course I’ll marry you.”
“Oh! No! This isn’t how it’s supposed to be! Let me get down on…one…knee…Let’s see here…now if I just don’t fall…” Unsteadily kneeling with a skate blade lodged firmly into the ice to balance him.
“Can someone hold my cocoa? And my gloves? Thank you, Amanda, thank you, darling”
Rosamund was crying as she put out her hand for Jeremy to place the ring on her finger. Jeremy’s cheeks were too cold to feel his own tears sliding down his face.
“Oh, gosh. My makeup. I’m sure I look dreadful. We really should go somewhere to warm up!” Rosamund said, wiping the corners of her eyes before her mascara could streak.
“Here, Miss, use my handkerchief.”
It was, of course, Morris. Smiling, rosy-cheeked, and skating towards the happily engaged couple. Was there anything this man couldn’t do, thought Jeremy admiringly.
“Morris, how did you…?”
“Well, these Bright Middle-Aged Things didn’t have a lot going on, so I thought a little get-together for the holidays was in order. And once I knew you’d be here, too, with the lovely Rosamund, I thought we might as well throw a little engagement party while we were at it!”
“But how did you know it was going to be an engagement party?”
“It’s the holidays. It’s New York. A beautiful time of year with a beautiful woman. Love isn’t rocket science, you know.”
And there was that signature Morris wink.
“Now, I have made us dinner reservations at 8, so let’s meet at the penthouse by 7:45. In the mean time, Mr. Haines, why don’t you come with me to be fitted for white tie? The girls have a few stores in mind for Rosamund to buy a dress.”
“But I didn’t order anything else, Morris.”
“Don’t worry about that. I knew you’d need one so we went ahead with the order once we knew you’d be in town,” Morris replied. And to the group a reminder, “A quarter to eight, please! At 130 West 57th Street, Suite 11B, everyone!”
* * * *
Jeremy looked around the penthouse, marvelling at the new friends he’d made over the year. Dressed for the occasion, each donned their interpretation of what could only be described as Old New York. Hernan had drawn on a thin moustache to go with his black tuxedo. Jock, as much Old Hollywood as a man could be, was debonair in a green velvet smoking jacket and worldly smirk. Talia sported a gold and black bow fronted dress with sculptural tiara. Millicent went for a bordeaux-colored two piece trouser suit while Amanda’s white turban captured the candlelight like a personal chandelier .
And then there was Rosamund, glowing in a champagne satin gown, hair adorned with a simple diamond clip. Would this group ever look more gorgeous, more stylish, than in this moment?
Jeremy took his glass and proposed a toast to Morris, looking sharp as a pin in his classic double-breasted navy blue dinner jacket.
“You really changed my life, old man,” Jeremy said affectionately.
“Mr. Haines, this was always the path your life was going to take. I simply made sure you dressed the part.”
Each returning the other’s nod, they got back to the general chatter of party talk. Jeremy Haines’ life had changed enormously in just 12 months, there was no doubt about it, and he was more himself in that moment than he had been in all of his previous thirty-six years.
Illustrated by Miguel Carranza, an illustrator and portraitist residing in Mexico. You can find his work on his instagram @milkymike462.