Sunday, August 18, 2013

POPULAR by SUMMER DAY (Prologue by Phoebe Knightly)

POPULAR by Summer Day
Prologue by Phoebe Knightly: Former babysitter to Miss Honey Woodhouse

It is said in our street - the laneway that leads from Sunrise Drive all the way up the hill to Beverly Hills - that when Miss Honey Woodhouse was born, fairy princesses attended her every whim. Dressed in pink tulle, they ascended from the waterfalls that surrounded the infinity pool at the base of Honey’s perfectly manicured garden. These fairy princesses granted her every wish and bestowed upon her those qualities - beauty, kindness, intelligence and the comforts of wealth (in fairy dust), which wise people will assure you are rarely bestowed simultaneously and never on one person.
    Of course, I’m not saying that beautiful, blonde, popular Honey did not become both slightly conceited and even a little bit annoying by the time she reached her teens, but this is her story and I should never tell the ending just because I have the advantage of knowing it.    
   Honey’s brother-in-law, Ethan Knightly was the much younger cousin of the equally handsome and extremely sought after Mark Knightly. Ethan was staying with us that year, the year Emily Mouche Knightly (my daughter) was born. But I’m jumping ahead of myself as usual.
    I’m Phoebe Harris Knightly. I trained to be a lawyer and before that, when I was a teenager, I was Honey’s babysitter. Presently, I’m her next door neighbor. My husband’s cousin Ethan is staying with us while his parents are in Europe. Ethan is close to Honey’s age. I think they’re perfect for each other.
   Other children in the wickedly expensive enclave known as Bel Air, where Honey Woodhouse and the Knightly family grew up, were attended by baby nurses but Honey had a whole team of experts as well: her tutor and babysitter (that was me during the summer I spent at home before I went to college) a nanny, a swimming instructor, a tennis coach and even a riding instructor.
    Most of these people came into Honey’s world when she was just eighteen months old.
    I grew up in a slightly less expensive enclave known as Sunrise a few streets and an entire social divide away.  After my best friend was killed in New York and her husband and daughter stayed in New York City, I wondered what my life’s purpose was. I wanted to help people, but I was also just so over, everything.  Finishing law school was more of a chore than a pleasure, and afterwards I returned to Sunrise and resumed my teenage job for a few months over summer. This time I became more of a tutor and friend, less of a babysitter to Honey.    
    Honey’s mother wasn’t at home very much when she was growing up. Her parents separated, then intermittently got back together, until they agreed they were happier apart. This allowed Honey to consider herself, from the age of six, in charge of her father. This was a job she enjoyed. While Honey’s mother vacationed at various clinics in Europe (treating ailments that changed every winter from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to water retention to an overdose of Botox necessitating her thrice yearly trips to Europe and Switzerland), we grew into our own family. It was often just us in the house. Honey’s older sister, Maya, who was far more retiring than the boisterous and decorative Honey was soon away at boarding school. Maya got married soon after college and we saw little of her in Sunrise given that she now resided in New York. 
   Honey took her role as family organizer very seriously.
   After some success, she decided to organize her entire school, her neighborhood, her family and my husband’s younger cousin, Ethan Knightly – a dedicated athlete and high school student who was smart enough to have Honey’s measure since her celebrated birth. Ethan was also nine months Honey’s senior. Honey, at six, had conspired to make Ethan her pram pusher, sunglass straightener and swimming pool life guard – roles from which he had barely recovered.
    Elementary school Honey was very self-sufficient; nowhere near as bossy as the fashionable and wise twelve year old she became.
    Since I have lived near Honey most of my life, when I reached my teens and Honey needed a babysitter, her parents often called on me. By the time Honey was six and I was eighteen, Honey’s mother had checked into a spa in the Maldives for a two week ‘vacation’. It was decided Honey needed me to stay on as her tutor for the rest of summer. I’d just returned from a vacation in Europe and was undecided about which college I should attend or, in fact, which career path to take. I babysat Honey that fortnight and we’ve remained close ever since. When I lost my best friend in the world, Honey’s laughter got me up in the morning. So I have her to thank for showing me the way forward in order to make the best life possible.
    In Honey’s mind, I was her first great triumph. You see, Honey Woodhouse, at the ripe old age of six, had identified my future husband, Mark Knightly and conjured opportunities for us to continue to meet.
    All did not go smoothly between Mark and me. But that is a whole other story and belongs in a memoir somewhere between the high school story I wrote, Pride & Princesses and this. Let’s just say, without Honey’s matchmaking skills over the years, I’m not sure our marriage would ever have happened.
    I was well into my twenties by the time Mark and I finally got it together in New York City. Honey had decided that after ‘practically raising her’ what I now needed was true love and romance, and I found it. Of course I’d always known Mark Knightly was ‘the one’, but we were both stubborn and took a while to make our relationship official.  When I was Honey’s age I was never as sure of myself as her.
    Honey started her first matchmaking enterprise between two classmates when she was in first grade at elementary school. Her new friends, Tyler and Jessica, were holding hands a week after meeting but it took a decade to progress beyond that! 
    Honey agreed a match made in haste could be regretted at leisure.
    Wise people say your first success at something tends to make you more enthusiastic to repeat the enterprise.
     Honey attracted lots of friends. I’d taught her everything I’d learned in my years of besting the Princesses (a legendary mean girl clique at my old high school) and running my own popularity show as a junior. Honey was always first to remember birthdays, gifts and cards and always ready to give ‘helpful advice,’ both asked (and sometimes unasked).
     It’s the unasked part that got Honey into hot water.
     By freshman year at Sunrise High School, Honey Woodhouse was already developing her lists, cliques and bossy, pretty girl ways from her bedroom ‘office’ with the full scale canopy bed decked out in princess pink.
    She enlisted her computer whiz neighbor, Ethan Knightly, (who was staying with Mark and me that summer while his parents were based in Belgium on business), to develop a computer matchmaking program with her.
    Ethan thought it was all a bit of a joke and went along with it, until he realized Honey was taking her game from cyberspace to reality.
    I would often read a text or email from her asking me for advice about what to do in various social situations but usually she had those covered. By her sophomore year at Sunrise, she fielded at least a dozen calls every morning (including Saturdays), was constantly texting from her ‘social media platform’ as Miss Matchmaker Teen and was already bossing Ethan around, like a puppy dog.
     Tall, dark haired, smart and wickedly handsome Ethan was as bemused and adoring of the precocious Honey as her father (who indulged her every whim), was. Plus, Ethan seemed to have a new girlfriend every week and according to Honey, ‘needed a lot of help to sort out his relationships.’
     My husband Mark was a busy partner in his own law firm and on the boards of various companies and was admittedly, ‘not an expert in teen behavior ’ so I was left to counsel Ethan myself.
     Ethan’s girlfriends bore Honey’s intrusions and questionnaires only because Ethan assured them that Honey was his best friend. They quickly realized if they weren’t ‘in’ with Honey, they weren’t in with Ethan. 
    Here is an example of Honey’s first questionnaire – she has definitely refined it over the years:
    Terms of Agreement
     I, as ‘the matchmaker’ agree to introduce you to up to six favorable matches; ones I deem ‘suitable’. In exchange for this I require feedback in the form of an anonymous questionnaire (no parties shall be named) and information shall not be disclosed to a third party.
    Anonymous questionnaire as follows* (all answers must be G rated please!):
    Age range:
    Favorite activities: (G rated please)
    Do you believe in marriage, dating or just ‘hooking up?’
    Ideal boyfriend / girlfriend:
    Deal breakers:
     As she grew up, Honey would refer ‘hesitant matches’ to her sample questionnaires.
     By the time she reached her mid-teens, Honey was set in her matchmaking ways. Honey felt ‘matchmaking’ in this age of ‘busy teens’ was the way of the future. Her style was more personal than the internet and far more subtle. Honey’s father and cousins merely laughed at Honey’s suggestions.
     She had tons of ‘helpful’ advice even for Mark and me – and I think the way she conjured excuses for us to ‘run into each other’ when we were both in New York definitely sped up our romance, which as I said, had its ups and downs in the beginning.
    For example, I remember Honey advising me one day in Farmers Markets when she was in elementary school, “Oh Phoebe, it’s very clear Mark’s workaholic personality would not be a deal breaker if he actually liked you, which he so obviously does. I mean, I may only be a kid but I know a thing or two about both love and people,” she assured me.
     “Well, we dated when we were teenagers,” I explained, “but then…real life got in the way. We went to separate colleges and… stuff happens. Perhaps we weren’t meant to be. Mark always acted snobbish and boring. He even snubbed me at our first high school dance. Mouche and I dressed up to the nines to impress Mark and his friend Jet and it all… went wrong,” I added.
     “Mark insulted me. He told his friend I wasn’t pretty enough to dance with.”
     “I’m sure it was a misunderstanding, c’mon,” Honey tugged my hand as we went to buy strawberries dipped in chocolate at the fruit stall.
      “Oh look! There he is. I think you and Mark are both a perfect match,” she whispered.
       Honey was an adorable child and could not be ignored. Mark was with Ethan and Honey started talking to him, creating an excuse to bring Mark and I together.
     When my husband and I returned from our honeymoon on the Greek Island of Paros, Ethan came to stay with us and Mark became his guardian. Business interests had forced his parents to relocate to England for the year and because Ethan wanted to attend a summer program at UCLA and stay in the Bel Air school district, we were happy to have him.
     He spent most of his time at Honey’s house (next door) just ‘hanging out’ as he put it. By then, Honey was a sophomore. Ethan was about to transfer to Sunrise High where Mark and I attended school, so long ago. It was kind of a coincidence because the boys, like Honey, were from one of the richest families in Bel Air, but you’d never have known it.
     Neither of them were particularly interested in money, as it turned out.  Mark helped out as an advocate at an environmental law firm and with my former clients who were, for the most part, ‘at risk’ teenagers. His values were one of the many things I cherished about my husband.
     In fact, Mark and I were far more compatible than we realized.
     It just took Honey to prove it.
     The story of the matchmaker of Bel Air really did begin at the Farmers Markets… and I think, it’s probably time for Honey to tell you what happened next.