3


Ed’s gaze settled on the note he’d taped to the side of his screen that morning: CALL ICE RINK. Julie said it was just a few blocks from the paper, right behind Moscone. Who knew? Not Mr. San Francisco Unearthed. He googled the place and clicked Parties. They took reservations only by phone. Ed punched the numbers.

An ice-skating party, of all things. Sonya didn’t know a figure skate from a bowling ball. But her favorite cousin back in New York had recently celebrated her ninth birthday with an ice-skating party, so of course Sonya had to have one, too. The deal was that Julie would handle the invitations, cake, and ice cream, while Ed arranged things with the rink.

The woman said the smaller party room was available on the afternoon they wanted and could easily accommodate their group.

“What about lessons?” Ed asked.

“Do the girls skate?”

“Not really. My daughter’s been once, I think. I don’t know about the others.”

“No problem. We provide a thirty-minute lesson and thirty minutes of supervised skating—”

“What’s that?”

“After the formal lesson, the teacher skates with the kids. More coaching and moral support. They’ll have fun.”

“How much can they learn in a half hour?” Ed inquired, the skeptical consumer.

“Plenty,” the woman replied, “A half hour is all nine-year-olds can handle. We’ll have them skating forward and backward.”

She sounded like she’d explained this to a million parents.

“And the supervised skating, is thirty minutes long enough?”

“More than enough. They probably won’t last that long.”

“Okay.”

“And the adults? Will you and your—daughter’s mother be attending?”

Ah, the delicacy imposed by the prevalence of divorce.

“Yes, we’ll both be there.”

“Will you skate?”

“Can we?”

The idea had never occurred to him. He figured that while the girls were on the ice, he and Julie would snap pictures and roll plastic forks into birthday napkins—but not skate. He wasn’t sure that getting out on the ice was a good idea. His sweet little Sonya was getting to the age where parental proximity was becoming an embarrassment. Maybe he and Julie should keep their feet in shoes.

“We encourage parents to skate with their kids.”

“Really. Why?”

“Because skating is fun, and good exercise. And kids pick it up faster than adults, so you’ll provide comic relief and none of the girls will feel like the worst.”

The woman was a child psychologist.

“I haven’t skated in thirty years, and I never could go backward.”

“That’s what the lesson’s for. With a half-hour of instruction, you’ll be skating again—backward, too. Adults are included in the package, and the girls will love it.”

Skating sounded amusing, and watching her father play the bumbling clown, a latter-day Charlie Chaplin, would tickle Sonya and make all the girls feel less self-conscious. But what about Julie? They’d been married forever, yet Ed had no idea if she’d ever skated. Or wanted to. And if there was one thing he’d learned, it was that in situations where Julie could wind up on her beautiful butt, she made her own decisions.

“Can I talk to my wife and get back to you?”

“No problem. When you decide, call me.”

The woman totaled things up and read Ed the number. It was pricey, but they could afford it. Ed pulled out his credit card just as Tika pushed the chrome bar across his tall glass door and breezed in waving some papers and pointing at her watch. She didn’t have much time.

Tika looked alluring in a burgundy suit, her long black hair piled high and held with silver combs. Tika was her nickname back in Tehran, only she insisted she was Persian, not Iranian. Her father had been a midlevel functionary for the shah. When the ayatollahs took over, the family fled to Los Angeles, with a hundred thousand other refugees, many of whom settled in Westwood, which Tika called “Irangeles.” Her parents raised her to be a good Persian wife and mother against the day the fanatics would fall and the exiles could return home. But Tika grew up watching MTV and wound up at UC Berkeley, which led to journalism, an Anglo husband, and a couple of kids. Now she was a single mom working her way up the paper’s management track. She was not quite Ed’s boss. As creator of “Unearthed,” Ed had his own bailiwick. But Tika was still his editor and the niceties had to be observed. She didn’t like to be kept waiting.

Ed raised an index finger to say “one minute,” and pointed to the chair by his worktable. He read the rink woman his card number and expiration date, hung up, and swiveled to face his editor.

Tika was gazing at his Awards wall. He caught her in profile and noted her recent metamorphosis from bitter wife to radiant divorcée. When men ditched their wives, the women spent a year looking like shit. But when it was the other way around, the women glowed. Tika flashed him a thousand-watt smile. Before her marriage tanked, Tika and her husband had socialized a bit with Ed and Julie. But that was a previous life. The new Tika’s dazzling smile implied that one wrecked marriage deserved another, and that she was game—if Ed was.