Blinking from the bright studio lights, I scan my notes.
“Do you need any water?” Karen, the executive producer, calls out from the darkness.
Mandy from hair and makeup comes at me with a powder brush. Looking me over, she pulls my dark hair in front of my shoulders and smooths it down.
“Don’t touch,” she gently scolds. Last month, I ran my fingers through my hair, and my oversized turquoise ring got stuck in my tresses, forcing me to do the whole segment with my hand cupping the right side of my head.
There’s a scurry of movement as Holly Jenkins, the co-host of Wake Up, America!, leaves the living room set and joins me in the kitchen set, where I’m standing behind the counter. After reviewing her note cards, Holly looks at the prepped ingredients in front of us: sliced beets and onions, walnuts, arugula, goat cheese, a halved orange, honey, and a caddy with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper.
“Back in three,” Karen says, emerging from the darkness beyond the lights and pulling Holly aside for a quick chat.
Squinting, I look beyond the cameras for my sister, Natalie. I know this is an easy recipe—only a salad—but without Natalie nearby, my anxiety is rising.
Holly is back by my side as the red light of camera two flicks on. I look frantically around the studio. Where the hell is Natalie?
“Welcome back,” Holly says to the camera, her hair, makeup, and couture perfect. “Joining me in the kitchen today is Catelyn Bloom from Simply Chic magazine. She’s going to show us the trick to making a gourmet salad in under ten minutes.” Holly turns her dazzling smile to me.
“Right, uh…” I glance at my cards. I’ve done these cooking segments on Wake Up, America! a half-dozen times, but always with Natalie in my line of vision, coaching me along. “Today we’re making a goat cheese and roasted-beet salad.”
“Looks delicious.” Holly beams. “But there are a lot of ingredients laid out. How do you do it all in under ten minutes? What’s the trick?”
“It’s easier than you think. First…”
Oh, God! What’s the trick?
Just then, Natalie’s face appears to the right of the camera. She motions to the beets.
“Instead of buying fresh beets, which you have to boil for ages, and a whole onion, which you have to peel and cut, buy presliced onions and canned beets, available in most supermarkets. Then all you have to do is place them in a roasting pan”—which I do—“drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper, and stick them in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes.”
“It’s so simple!” Holly’s eyes widen as if I’ve just given her the cure for cancer.
“While that’s roasting, whisk the honey, oil, and juice of one orange together in a bowl.” Reaching into the refrigerator, I pull out a plate of already-cooked beets and onions. “And when the beets and onions are done roasting, scoop them into a salad bowl with the arugula and walnuts, and add the dressing mixture. Voilà! The salad is—”
From the corner of my eye, I see Natalie waving her hands and pointing wildly. I snap a glance at her and follow her finger.
“Erm…I mean, don’t forget the star ingredient: goat cheese! Crumble it on top, and there you are. A gourmet salad in under ten minutes.”
“As always, delicious and so easy.” Holly takes a tiny bite with her fork and washes it down with water. “Your husband is one lucky man.”
I cringe at her words and don’t dare look at Natalie.
“You’ll find the full recipe at our website, WakeUp.com” Holly takes another drink of water. Her skin glows in the bright lights. “We’re going to head over to Ed Priestly for the weather report. Then we’ll be back with more from Simply Chic’s Catelyn Bloom.”
Holly holds her smile and then relaxes as the red light goes off. Karen snatches her, and I hear Holly ask, “How many calories are in beets? I can only have twelve hundred…” Her voice trails off, and I mouth thank you to Natalie as I quickly look over my notes for the next segment, “Husband Emergency: How to Handle a Bad Gift Giver.”
An hour later, I’m sitting at the bar of Chez Bella, the restaurant Natalie runs as head chef. I clasp the thick document in my hands, a mixture of excitement and terror churning in my stomach.
“It’s official?” Natalie asks, sliding a piping-hot chocolate croissant in front of me.
“I signed the papers last night.” It’s nine in the morning, but I hand her one of the two glasses of champagne sitting in front of me. “Eight hundred square feet of wood and plaster are all mine.”
We clink glasses. I gulp the champagne.
“You’re America’s lifestyle guru. Any co-op would be dying to have you.” Natalie smiles and pushes a few stray blond hairs under her chef’s hat. If only I could pull off hair that light, but I take after our father whose family is from the south of France near Italy: olive-ish skin (if I ever got out in the sun) and mousy-brown hair (if I ever kept it natural). God bless highlights.
“You should eat something.” Natalie nudges the pastry toward me. Ever since I came out of the womb, Natalie has been trying to feed me.
“I’m too anxious.” I move the offending pastry away. Food would not mix with the circus inside my stomach. “It’s just dawned on me that I have a mortgage. And property taxes. And maintenance fees.”
“Don’t worry. You have a great job with the magazine and the new gig on Wake Up, America! Not to mention the money that’s still coming in from your book.”
Natalie waves her hand as if this is an insignificant fact. How can she be so flippant? If my life falls apart, hers will crumble too. We’re balancing on a house of cards, and Natalie is the ace up my sleeve keeping it together.
“Did the board ask anything about your husband?” Natalie puts air quotes around the last word.
“Since the mortgage is in my name only, they didn’t ask too many questions. I explained that he mainly worked out of the country, and I’d be the main resident. And once I got them on the topic of Wake Up, America!, all they wanted to talk about was what Holly Jenkins was like in real life and if Ed Priestly really wore a toupee. My work at the magazine hardly came up.”
“What’s another lie on top of so many?”
“I know. I’m worried how naturally it comes now.”
One of Natalie’s underlings beckons from the kitchen, and she disappears. Her drink sits untouched, and I finish it in one swallow.
The thing is, my whole life is built on a lie. No, a lot of lies.
Lie Number One: I can cook.
It all started out so small. When I first began my lifestyle and interior design blog, Blooming in the City, I wanted to post some recipes along with my design tips. I asked my sister, Natalie, who was in culinary school at the time, for some original dishes, and she happily provided them. At the time, no one read my blog except my mom and her friends, so what did it matter. Right?
Then The Huffington Post picked up one of my posts—“10 Design Hacks I Wish I’d Done When I Was Twenty-One”—and suddenly my blog blew up. My new exposure led me to a chance meeting with Patrick Simon, now my editor at Simply Chic, and two weeks later, I was hired at the magazine.
As my popularity grew, I soon discovered you can’t be the “Martha Stewart of the next generation” without including tips on cooking and meals and party planning, so I began adding more and more recipes and menus in the features I wrote for the magazine. I told Natalie what I needed, and she gave me the recipes. Through no fault of my own, my readers just assumed I could make all those gourmet dishes. I was only passing on information! It’s not my fault they think I can actually cook them.
Lie Number Two: I’m a Domestic Goddess.
Give me a blank room and I can throw beautiful paint on the walls, fill it with chic furniture that dazzles the eye, and transform it into a masterpiece of modern design. Ask me to maintain it, clean it, and keep it organized—as I expertly advise my readers every month—and I fail every time.
If my readers opened my closets, looked under my bed, or peeked in one of my drawers, they would see I’m a fraud. Yes, on the surface, I can put together a beautiful home. I just can’t keep it that way. I stuff drawers with papers I should file, old electronics cords, dead batteries, dried-up pens, and knick-knacks I’ll never use. Ski clothes, old tennis shoes, books I’ve never read, and magazines I plan to reread are shoved under my bed. The closets have piles of clothes that need ironing, designer shoes that I plan to sell on eBay (if I ever get around to it), handbags shoved on top of winter coats, shoved on top of filing boxes, shoved on top of designer sheets that don’t fit my new king-size bed.
If I didn’t (discreetly) hire a cleaning lady, there would be inches of dust and dirt all over the counters, windowsills, and wood floors.
But every month, I write tips on how to keep a clean, efficiently run, organized home. Despite pets, kids, and husbands. None of which I have. And still, I leave my unpacked suitcase in a corner for months after I’ve returned from a trip.
Any time guests come to my home, I have to lock all the closets and cabinets. The only part of my home that is a wonder of organization is the kitchen pantry. It is systemized, labeled, and color coordinated. I spent an entire weekend using every hack I ever wrote and organized it to perfection. Since I never cook, it never gets used. It’s like a museum piece. And I always “accidently” leave it open for any gawking guests.
Lie Number Three: I have a husband.
Okay, this one is easy to explain. I flat-out lied. Readers kept e-mailing and asking for advice on how to keep a house clean and organized in spite of a messy husband, or how to get their husband to help out with the cooking/laundry/cleaning, or what gift to buy a husband. So I started a section called “Husband Emergency.” And suddenly everyone assumed I was married, and I went with it. I never mention my husband in particular, but I guess talking about husbands in general makes people think you have one. I figured that’s their problem, not mine. It wasn’t a big deal until I was hired as a legitimate writer for a legitimate magazine at a legitimate publishing house.
I never expected to get a book deal three years after being hired, Catelyn Bloom’s Guide to Living Simply Chic—number eighteen on USA Today’s Best-Selling Books list—and I certainly never expected to be a guest correspondent on Wake Up, America!
It all just got out of hand.
The truth is probably pretty easy to figure out—this is the Internet age—but nobody has thought to doubt me. And my social media presence has almost always been exclusively about my blog and now the magazine. I’ve never been one to plaster my weekend plans all over social media. I’d rather plaster a room with designer wallpaper and share that on Facebook or Pinterest.
My phone pings, and I scrape through my tote until my hand clasps it, knowing there’s only one person who would text me this early in the day. And I’m right. It’s a text from my editor, Patrick.
Where are you??
I text back my location.
Be there in five. Don’t move.
Only two people at work know the truth, and Patrick is one of them. I kinda slipped it in right after he got engaged to his now wife, Avery. The news that half of what I wrote was basically a lie hardly fazed him. He was too focused on his upcoming nuptials and the honeymoon.
As a thank-you, or as he calls it, entrapment, I asked him to edit my book when I signed my book deal. The publishing company wasn’t too pleased, but they hired him as a freelance editor when I made it clear it was a deal breaker. I didn’t want to involve anyone else in the lies. Now he’s part of the conspiracy (his words, not mine) and not just an innocent bystander. But the fee he received covered the cost of his honeymoon, so I think we’re even.
Patrick tumbles through the door, his tall figure slumped inside his gray overcoat. I slide the untouched croissant to him as he sits on the metal stool next to me. Under the two blotches of red on his cheeks from the cold, his face is pale, and I’m worried something has happened with Avery. For the past two months, his wife’s been pumped full of fertility drugs, and about a week ago she went in to have the embryos transferred.
“Is Avery okay?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. She’s great.” Patrick shoves half the pastry in his mouth. “You know that Good Samaritan who’s been making headlines?” Flakes fly out of his mouth as he rushes on. “The travel writer who was almost killed when he saw a girl being kidnapped in Greece and followed the kidnappers and rescued her?” My blank stare prompts him to continue. “And when he woke up in the hospital, he didn’t remember anything about his life. He has no parents—they died when he was a kid—and he’s been working overseas for the past six months. Ringing any bells?”
“That’s so sad.” I really need to watch the news. Or check Twitter. “What happened?”
“I can’t believe you work in media.”
“I write for a lifestyle magazine.”
Patrick shakes his head, looking like a disappointed father.
“Why are you telling me all this?” I ask.
Natalie sweeps by, accepting a delivery of fruits and vegetables. “Hi, Patrick.”
“This croissant is spectacular, as always.”
“It’ll be featured in Catie’s next food blog.”
“I didn’t hear that!” Patrick yells after her as she carries the boxes into the kitchen. He scrapes his hand through his short dark hair, making it stick up like a porcupine. “We’re so screwed.”
Patrick is always so dramatic.
“I’m on pins and needles here,” I say.
“The guy, Max Euston, is Gillian Kennedy’s nephew.” Patrick lets this sink in. “She’s been talking to the producers of Wake Up, America!, and they want to bring a film crew into your home to shoot a special segment as part of their Coming Home series in two weeks.”
“Why my home? Can’t they shoot the segment in the studio?”
“Gillian wants Max to have a larger-than-life homecoming in the home of the ‘Queen of Domestic Bliss.’”
“Okay, but I’ll need some help getting my new apartment together in time. It should be good publicity.”
“You don’t get it. She wants this poor guy to have a proper homecoming surrounded by family and home-cooked meals for an entire weekend. Your family. As in you, your husband, your gourmet cooking, and all the Catelyn Bloom fixings.”
“But I don’t cook.”
Patrick looks at me and waits.
“And I don’t have a husband!”
“I knew this would come back to bite us in the ass one day.” Patrick rubs his eyes with the palms of his hands.
“I’ll just tell Gillian no. I’ll make up some excuse.” My mind is already whirling. “I barely moved in, there are still boxes all over the place. I’ll say a pipe burst and flooded the whole place. Or the floors are rotting. It’ll be fine.”
“Gillian doesn’t understand no.”
“Oh, please. I can charm anyone to say yes to anything.” I bat my eyes at Patrick. “It works with you.”
“Because I’m a wuss.”
“When’s the meeting?” I ask, undaunted.
“Don’t worry.” I smile, patting Patrick on the back. “I’ve got this.”