Girl Before a Mirror: A Novel by Liza Palmer
Release Date: January 27, 2015
The author of Conversations with a Fat Girl—optioned for HBO—returns with the hilarious and heartfelt story of a woman who must learn how to be the heroine of her own life—a journey that will teach her priceless lessons about love, friendship, family, work, and her own heart.
An account executive in a Mad Men world, Anna Wyatt is at a crossroads. Recently divorced, she’s done a lot of emotional housecleaning, including a self-imposed dating sabbatical. But now that she’s turned forty, she’s struggling to figure out what her life needs. Brainstorming to win over an important new client, she discovers a self-help book—Be the Heroine, Find Your Hero—that offers her unexpected insights and leads her to a most unlikely place: a romance writers’ conference. If she can sign the Romance Cover Model of the Year Pageant winner for her campaign—and meet the author who has inspired her to take control of her life—she’ll win the account.
For Anna, taking control means taking chances, including getting to know Sasha, her pretty young colleague on the project, and indulging in a steamy elevator ride with Lincoln Mallory, a dashing financial consultant she meets in the hotel. When the conference ends, Anna and Lincoln must decide if their intense connection is strong enough to survive outside the romantic fantasy they’ve created. Yet Lincoln is only one of Anna’s dilemmas. Now that her campaign is off the ground, others in the office want to steal her success, and her alcoholic brother, Ferdie, is spiraling out of control.
To have the life she wants—to be happy without guilt, to be accepted for herself, to love and to be loved, to just be—she has to put herself first, accept her imperfections, embrace her passions, and finally be the heroine of her own story.
“I don’t understand what Bruce Springsteen has to do with why you haven’t been on a date in over a year,” Hannah says.
“You haven’t heard the ‘Thunder Road’ story?” Michael laughs.
“Everybody has a ‘Thunder Road’ story,” I say, smiling at the approaching waiter as the single candle flickers in the scoop of very pink gelato. My friends sing me “Happy Birthday” and I can’t help but smile. They’re off-key and terrible.
“Make a wish!” Allison says.
A moment. I close my eyes and breathe in.
You can wish for anything, Anna. You’re forty now. Forty. My mind riffles through the wishes I have for this next year as if they’re in a virtual photo album: me atop mountains, the breeze blowing my hair back. The pages flip and now we’re in Paris, meandering through a farmer’s market. Flip. Drinking a pint of Guinness overlooking all of Dublin. Flip. A red gingham tablecloth, a picnic, and the Jefferson Memorial. The flips are growing more manic. A gray-shingled cottage in a small beach town along the California coast. Flip. Fresh, lavendery linens, a perfect Sunday morning with nowhere to go, and a muscular chest beneath my cheek. Flip. I’m dressed to the nines and ac- cepting the Clio. Flip. I’m lying on the grass and covered in squirming golden retriever puppies.
I open my eyes. Everyone is staring at me. Concerned.
“It’s just a wish, not an exorcism,” Ferdie says, taking a swig of his beer. My mind goes blank and I blow out the candle. I’m forty years old and I have no idea what to wish for.
My friends clap as I pull the candle from the gelato and lick the end. Raspberry. The other desserts arrive and we all dig in.
“So, the ‘Thunder Road’ story,” Allison asks, pulling the chocolate monstrosity she and Michael ordered closer to her.
“I went out to dinner with this guy who worked in my building. He seemed nice enough.”
“Seemed being the operative word,” Nathan adds.
“Never a good sign,” Hannah says, taking Nathan’s hand in hers. He makes no attempt to hold Hannah’s hand back. She smiles and picks up her fork, digging into her tiramisu. We all let her think we didn’t see. We’ve been not seeing Nathan’s annoyance at Hannah for years now.
“Dinner is fine. Not terrible. Worthy of a second date, anyway, and as we’re driving home, ‘Thunder Road’ comes on the radio,” I say, stopping to take a bite of my gelato.
“That’s such a great song,” Ferdie says.
“Somehow I don’t think that’s where the story is headed,”
Hannah says, laughing. Nathan rolls his eyes.
“I just wanted to put it out there. It’s not the song’s fault,” Ferdie says.
“Always the protective brother,” Hannah says.
“He’s being protective of the song, not me. So,” I say, nudging Ferdie. “So this guy starts singing along—not really knowing the words, but enough. Enough for me to think better of him, you know?”
“Knowing the lyrics to ‘Thunder Road’ is a definite plus on a first date,” Michael adds.
“Right? And it was one of those beautiful D.C. nights right before the summer turns evil and there we are: windows down and singing along with The Boss. Then we get to that part—” Allison pulls her cardigan over her face, attempting to shield herself from what’s coming next. Michael barks out a laugh and she continues to cringe as if both I and the story I’m telling are some kind of horror film. “We get to that part, ‘you ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright.'” The table gasps in unison. I continue, “And the bastard motions to me.” I raise my eyebrows and hold my hand aloft. “You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright.” And then I just sit back and nod.
“Your wedding vows are writing themselves,” Michael says, cracking both of us up.
“No. That . . . that didn’t happen,” Hannah says.
“Oh, yes it did,” I say, taking another bite of my gelato. “And he just . . . he just kept singing?” Hannah asks.
“Like nothing had happened. Like he was just hilariously
acting out the song,” I say.
“No no no no no,” Hannah says, picking up her wineglass.
“And it was right then—and you know I don’t care about
looks, but I sure as hell know that the person you’re dating should think you’re the most beautiful woman in the world,” I say. I catch Michael gazing at Allison as she finishes off their chocolate cake. Hannah and Nathan can’t make eye contact.
Ferdie gives me that sheepish grin of his. I know he hates this story, but telling it helps. “I needed a break. Ever since the divorce, I’d been way too focused on moving on with the wrong kind of men. But in that moment, I knew enough to know I was nowhere near ready for the right one.”
“So you put yourself—”
I interrupt Hannah. “On a Time-Out, yes.” “Since when?” she asks.
“It was just before summer last year, so—”
“A year? You’ve been doing this for over a year?” she asks. “I needed to take some inventory,” I say.
“You needed a training montage. We get it,” Michael says. “A training montage?” I ask, laughing.
“Yeah, you needed to run through North and South Philly
while being thrown oranges and then hit sides of beef,” Michael says absently. We all just look at him. He finally notices our expressions. “Please tell me you know what I’m talking about.”
“Oh, we know,” Ferdie says. “Oh, we got it,” I say.
“Thank God, I thought I had to get a new group of friends there for a minute. Who doesn’t know about Rocky?” Michael asks.
“The question is: Are you at the Philadelphia Museum of Art yet?” Allison asks, clearly more used to Michael’s Rocky analogy than the rest of us.
“That’s the only question?” I ask. She laughs.
“No, I get it. Are you ready for the fight? Ready to step into
the ring?” Michael asks.
“I think you’re taking this whole Rocky thing a bit too far,” I say.
“I mean, I don’t think Rocky analogies can ever be taken too far, but that’s just me,” he says. I laugh.
“Kids have a way of making personal inventory-taking impossible. Sadly, no training montages for us,” Hannah pipes up.
“Unless this is a training montage containing a series of clips where I try to figure out where all our money and sleep went,” Nathan says.
“Sense of self, cleanliness, how many elastic-waist pants you now own . . . ,” Allison adds.
“Chronicling all the neuroses you’ve clearly passed on to them as you watch them interact with other kids,” Michael says.
Everyone laughs, happy to move on. Hannah’s eyes dart to her wineglass, her finished dessert, and Nathan now looking at his phone under the table. She looks back up at me and I smile. Allison excuses herself to the bathroom and Hannah joins her. I take this opportunity to check the time. Ten p.m.
“You got somewhere to be?” Ferdie asks, eyeing me. “I have a plan,” I say.
“You’re Marpling someone, aren’t you,” he says. “What?” I ask innocently.
“Without question,” he says.
I ignore him. And I totally am.
It was in my second year at the local community college that I came up with my Marple Theory.
The Anna Wyatt Marple Theory is named after Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple, the elderly lady detective who brought countless criminals to justice. Miss Marple was effective because everyone underestimated her and no one ever noticed her observing, chronicling . . . working. No one ever noticed her at all. Ergo, the Anna Wyatt Marple Theory was born: If people don’t perceive you as a threat, how will they see you coming? They won’t.
A text from Audrey. It’s an address on K Street. From where we are in Adams Morgan, it won’t take me long at all to get over there.
“Your boss is texting you at ten p.m. on a Sunday?” Ferdie asks, craning over to see my phone.
“Nosy,” I say, tucking my phone back into my purse.
“Marple away, birthday girl, Marple away,” he says, finishing his beer.
I smile at Ferdie and let him chastise me. Thing is, my birth- day dinner was lovely. There were flowers delivered to my apart- ment this morning from Michael and Allison, and I had a lovely lunch with a couple of people from work. While I don’t regret or second-guess my decision to go on a dating sabbatical for the last year, I do welcome the prospect of not having to go home to an empty house just yet. Michael’s words come roaring back. Am I ready to step into the ring yet? Guess that’s a resounding no. I check back in just as Nathan is settling the bill, much to everyone’s chagrin.
“It’s on me. I insist,” he says, sending the waiter away. Hannah beams. We are all unfailingly polite and thank Nathan for his generosity. We always do. That’s the deal: he buys dinners and we act like he wasn’t a complete jerk the whole time.
“We’d better get going. The babysitter is going to think we finally made a run for it,” Michael says. Allison nods. We gather our belongings, make our way out of the restaurant, and say our goodbyes.
“Happy birthday, Anna,” Nathan says. I situate my purse over my shoulder, hold on to my phone with the address to where I’m going, and try to stabilize the beautiful handmade mug Allison made me inside the very elaborate pink gift bag it came in.
“Oh, thank you,” I say, reaching out and putting a hand on his arm. He smiles and softens for the slightest of moments, his salt-and-pepper hair ruffling in the summer wind. He says his goodbyes to everyone and walks over to his waiting car, beeping it unlocked. Hannah’s smile falters as he strides away. Michael and Allison remind me that our book club is reading Hamlet and that they’re making Danish meatballs for our gathering.
“Don’t you mean—”
“We mean Danish meatballs. They’re Danish,” Michael says as he hails a cab.
“Even though they may very closely resemble Swedish meat- balls,” Allison adds.
“Let’s just say there will be plenty of dill and discussions about what exactly happened in that closet between Gertrude and Hamlet,” Michael says, arm held high into the night sky.
“I thought we were reading Twelfth Night,” Ferdie says, scrolling through his phone.
“Nope, that’s next,” Allison says. “Next?” Hannah asks.
“We’re reading Shakespeare in order,” I say. “Nerds.” Hannah laughs.
“Proudly,” Michael says, as a cab slows in front of him. He opens the door and signals to Allison.
“Happy birthday, my darling,” she says, giving me a huge hug. “Thank you,” I say, letting her warmth surround me. One last smile and she walks over to the cab and climbs in. Once she’s in, Michael walks back over to me.
“Happy birthday,” he says, towering over me one minute, then engulfing me in a hug the next. He bends down just enough to whisper “and the rest is silence” in my ear. I can’t help but laugh. A quick squeeze and he’s climbing into the cab with Al- lison. They wave and speed off.
“I’m sorry about . . . ,” Hannah says, gesturing over to Nathan waiting in the car. Ferdie walks a few steps away to where his bike is chained to a parking meter.
“Oh, honey, don’t worry about it. Birthday dinners for your
wife’s friends are a scourge to couples everywhere,” I say.
“I keep thinking it’s a phase, you know?” she says, in a shocking moment of honesty. One I will ask her about later and she will “forget” ever happened. “How did you . . . how did you know it was over with Patrick?” I decide to answer with the truth.
“We were driving home from somewhere and having one of our fights—the same fight, really. Right?” Hannah nods and allows a small smile. “Always the same fight. And then this calm passed over me. Completely out of place. I remember it so viv- idly. Like I could breathe again. And then this germ of an idea:
I could get out. It shouldn’t be this hard.”
“Marriage is hard.”
“But not all the time.” Hannah pulls a tissue from her purse
and dabs at her eyes. “I’d forgotten what being happy felt like.
Happy with him, anyway. I filed for divorce a week later.”
“Happy. God, we were so happy,” Hannah says.
“I was much thinner back then!” Hannah laughs.
“Honey, you’re beautiful. Stop with that,” I say, watching as Hannah pulls at her clothes, trying to smooth out her growing curves. Curves made from trying to comfort herself in a loveless marriage.
“If I could just lose a little weight, you know? Maybe we
“Leave it to me to be the crying girl at your birthday,”
Hannah says, looking back at Nathan. She gives him the “just a sec” sign and he nods. God, they were so in love. They were the couple you hated because they could never keep their hands off each other. They were scandalous and hot and he was all she thought about and vice versa. Now they can’t even look at each other.
“You going to be okay?” I ask, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Yes. Of course I am. Now. Enough of my histrionics, it’s your birthday,” Hannah says, giving me a big hug. She was always such a good hugger. “Happy birthday,” she whispers in my ear.
“Thank you,” I say as we pull apart.
“Don’t work too much tonight.”
“I won’t.” Hannah reaches out and squeezes my hand. “Call if you need anything,” I say.
“I will. Ferdinand Wyatt, come over here and give me a hug.” Ferdie walks over and lets Hannah lunge into him with a hug, idly patting her back with his mitt of a hand. She busts him about getting a real job and walks off to the car.
Tonight’s festivities, while lovely in every way, still feel a bit off. In transition. There’s been a lot of that “in transition” feeling over the past year. On top of the dating hiatus, my training montage has also been about cleaning house of all the friends in my life whom I’ve outgrown or who just weren’t working anymore. And while that may be empowering in the abstract and feel impressive as I wax rhapsodic about it to my therapist, the truth of it—the daily reality of it—is much quieter. The lack of white noise in my life has been a bit harder to get used to than I thought it would be. Having people around that caused drama was, I’m finding, quite the hobby of mine. Now that it’s gone? It’s just me. In my apartment. Feeling evolved and valiant as I smugly troll the various social media of ex-friends who look like they’re having way more fun than I am.
I haven’t been ready to step into the ring, so for right now it just feels lonely. I watch as Hannah closes the door behind her, pulls the seat belt across her body, and smiles at me. Nathan says something to her and she nods. Then she looks down at her lap, her body utterly deflated. They drive off and all I can do is watch. I’ll be very happy when I don’t have to act as though I like Nathan anymore.
“I have never been around two people who hated each other more,” Ferdie says, pulling his messenger bag over his shoulder and situating the strap across his chest. His wild brown curls are cut into this end-of-summer weird fauxhawk thing that he does. He’ll shave it all off within the week. His tall frame, powerful from a lifetime of hockey, is still settling around a knee injury that left him hopeless as he disappeared into a fog of pot smoke, barroom brawls, and nights in the drunk tank. But tonight he’s cleaned up and clothed in khaki Dickies and a plain white T-shirt. Nine years my junior and quite the surprise to our parents, Ferdie looks like every kid you screamed at to get off your lawn.
“They weren’t always like that,” I say, hailing a cab.
“Well, they’re like that now,” he says. He wheels his bicycle over and wraps the chain around his waist. “So, where are you meeting Audrey?” I pass him my phone and show him the ad- dress. “Here?” he asks.
“Yeah, do you know it?” I ask, waving down a cab.
“Oh, I know it,” Ferdie says, handing me back the phone. “I worked as a bouncer for them a coupla times.” A cab pulls over and I tell him the address through the open window.
“And?” I climb into the back of the cab and settle in.
“It’s The Naughty Kitty,” Ferdie says, climbing onto his bike.
“It’s a strip joint, Anna.”
“I . . . what?”
“Maybe you can make it rain for your fortieth,” he says.
“I don’t even know what that means,” I say, as the cab pulls away from the curb.
“You’re about to find out,” Ferdie yells after me.
As I ride to The Naughty Kitty, I allow myself to get excited. I got the idea several months ago. I’d just finished pitching an ad campaign for this line of bras and panties—or “intimates,” as the client insisted on calling them. They’d been known as the relics your grammy bought you for Christmas. Now, thanks to me, they were going to be the line of bras and panties you—yes, you, working professional—are thinking about buying for their function as well as form. It’s a huge account and I nailed it. I’ve certainly come a long way from when I first started at Holloway/Greene as a file clerk fifteen years ago.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Liza Palmer is the internationally bestselling author of Conversations with the Fat Girl. Conversations with the Fat Girl became an international bestseller its first week in publication, as well as hitting Number 1 on the Fiction Heatseekers List in the UK the week before the book debuted. Conversations with the Fat Girl has been optioned for series by the producers of Rome, Band of Brothers and Generation Kill.
Palmer’s second novel is Seeing Me Naked, which Publisher’s Weekly says, “consider it haute chick lit; Palmer’s prose is sharp, her characters are solid and her narrative is laced with moments of graceful sentiment.”
Her third novel, A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents, which Entertainment Weekly calls a “splendid novel” and Real Simple says “has heart and humor” was released in January 2010.
More Like Her is Palmer’s fourth novel. The book received a starred review from Library Journal in which they said, “The blend of humor and sadness is realistic and gripping, and watching Frannie figure out who she is and what matters is gratifying.”
After earning two Emmy nominations writing for the first season of VH1’s Pop Up Video, she now knows far too much about Fergie.
Palmer’s fifth novel, Nowhere but Home, is about a failed chef who decides to make last meals for the condemned in Texas. Nowhere but Home received the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction for 2013.
Palmer’s sixth novel, Girl Before a Mirror, is the story of Anna Wyatt, a driven ad exec who must attend the annual RomanceCon to land the Romance Novel Cover of Model of the year for Luxe Shower Gel’s spokesman.