Alec is Abigail's psychiatrist. He is the one with whom she shares all of the stories of love and fame, tragedy and scandal, Olympic gold medals and Academy Awards. And Avery? Well, we're not quite sure who Avery is. Initially, Alec believes her to be a publisher who aims to bring Abby's delusional - yet fascinating - stories to the masses, but he quickly discovers that Abby has led him astray once again.
Avery is a devoted supporter of Abigail Phelps but, by her own admission, doesn't like her very much. She knows more about the real Abigail than anyone else, and yet she is the first to admit that, even to her, Abby is a mystery.
I love Alec and Avery. And believe me when I tell you that no one was more surprised than I was when I got to the end of all I had created and realized that as much as the story was about Abigail, it was also about Alec and Avery. It was their story every bit as much as it was hers.
Today's excerpt is from book two, Scenes From Highland Falls. At the heart of the story of Abigail Phelps is the relationship between Abby and John Kennedy Jr. In this chapter, we learn how Avery Brennan first came to be an integral part of the heart of it all.
GRADUATE CENTER - CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK
I’ll never forget the first time I saw him. I was sitting behind my desk, busily studying for my Politics in Post-Civil War 19th Century America final exam, trying to remember to answer the phone when it rang. It was Friday, May 7, 1993. I was pursuing my master’s degree - in political science, of course - and I had been selected for the most prestigious, demanding, non-paying job on the CUNY campus. I devoted five hours every day to answering phones, pouring coffee, making copies, and transcribing taped conversations. I was exhausted and broke, since I only had time to work a real job on weekends. But I didn’t care, because I was answering phones, pouring coffee, making copies, and transcribing taped conversations for Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.
The man worked in the White House. He took Jacqueline Kennedy to the movies. His advice was, in many cases, valued above that of senators and White House chiefs of staff. He was my hero, and he had chosen me to answer his phones, pour his coffee, make his copies, and transcribe his taped conversations. It didn’t matter that I didn’t get a paycheck. I would have paid him for the opportunity.
For you see, once in a while, he sat down on the other side of the desk from me and he asked me what I thought. About anything, really. It didn’t matter if we were talking about politics or war or the newest bistro in SoHo. Arthur Schlesinger asked for my opinion, and that made it all worthwhile.
And once in a while I would get to meet, or at least pour coffee for, his famous friends – presidents, ambassadors, authors. The greatest minds of a generation.
And then on May 7, 1993, I met him. I didn’t look up when the door opened. I heard it, but I thought it was Charlie from down the hall - his fax machine wasn’t working so he was in and out all day using ours.
“Charlie,” I said, never lifting my eyes from my book, “if I understood how fax machines work, I’d make some snide remark about how you’re using up all of our…whatever fax machines use.”
“I’m glad I’m not the only one who has a difficult time understanding faxes,” said a voice which definitely did not belong to Charlie.
I looked up, embarrassed even before I saw who it was. Once I saw, I wanted to crawl under my desk. But to crawl under my desk would be to lose the ability to look at him, so there was absolutely no chance of that happening.
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
“No worries. You thought I was Charlie. Were you expecting Charlie? Should we coordinate a search party?” He smiled at me, and I had to remind myself to breathe.
He was the most gorgeous specimen I had ever laid eyes on. All of my girlfriends claimed to see him all the time. “He was carrying a shopping bag up Seventh Avenue today! We made eye contact. It was magical.” “I saw him and his sister having lunch. The way they were laughing together – it was magical.” “Totally saw him riding his bike. That body is just magical.” Everything about him was supposedly magical, and once I saw him in person, I was inclined to agree.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m sure Charlie will be here any moment to send a fax out into the…wherever faxes go. In the meantime, what can I do for you? I assume you are here to see Professor Schlesinger?”
“Yes, if he’s available. I just came right over and didn’t think to call for an appointment. Sorry about that.” And then he took a step toward me and put out his hand to shake mine as he said, “I’m John Kennedy, by the way.”
After that day he started coming in pretty regularly, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe, just maybe, he was finding excuses to come in so often so that he would have an excuse to talk to me. We would talk for a couple of minutes or so each time he was in, usually while he waited for Arthur to finish up whatever he was doing, but sometimes after they finished up.
The name plate on my desk said J. AVERY BRENNAN, but he made a joke of blending my first initial and my middle name and calling me Javery. I would have legally changed my name to Javery Brennan if I could have, because I loved to hear him say that. I had myself convinced that he liked me, and that it was only a matter of time until he asked me out. I was sure that the only thing standing in our way was our age difference – he was thirty-two, I was twenty-two, but I knew I didn’t care, and I would convince him he didn’t need to care either.
One day I dressed up a little nicer, and fixed my hair a little fancier, knowing he would be in. I sat at my desk, trying to focus on anything other than the magic which was going to walk through the door any minute, and then Arthur sat down for one of our talks. I expected him to ask my opinion on something, but that day it was different.
“Avery,” he began, “you look very nice today.”
“Thank you, sir,” I smiled.
“Tell me, do you look especially nice for the benefit of a visitor I am expecting?”
I blushed. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Avery, my dear, he will be bringing a friend with him today. A female friend. An extremely close female friend. He is a good, kind man who I believe considers you a friend, but I assure you, and I hope you do not think me insensitive, his attention is very strongly spoken for by this female friend. Do you understand?”
Embarrassment and disappointment heated my cheeks further and created tears which stung my eyes. “Yes, Professor Schlesinger. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, my dear,” he said with a smile, patting my hand which was on the desk. “Please don’t apologize. Every woman I know - including Mrs. Schlesinger - is in love with John. And some of the men are as well, come to that,” he chuckled as he stood to go back to his office.
I felt like such a fool. JFK Jr. He dated celebrities, and then broke up with those celebrities to date bigger celebrities. He could have any girl he wanted. What had I been thinking? I made myself feel better by trying to imagine who he would walk in with. Daryl Hannah? Sarah Jessica Parker? Madonna? I ran through the checklist of every woman I had seen him with in magazines, and I was hoping for a ridiculously famous, beautiful woman. There’s no shame, after all, in being cast aside for Madonna.
They walked in five minutes later, and I was instantly confused. I tried to place her. She certainly wasn’t one of the women I had thought of. Maybe she was a model, though she didn’t look like a model. Maybe she did shampoo commercials, I thought. She had gorgeous, auburn curls, but apart from that, she looked…normal. Pretty, but normal. She was tall, but just normally tall. She was thin, but just normally thin. She wore nice clothes, but just normally nice. She just looked so normal.
They were whispering to each other and laughing about something as they walked in. He opened the door for her, and then he placed his hand gently on the small of her back to usher her through the door. Arthur was right – she had his complete attention. And I hated her.
“Javery!” he finally greeted me, daring to take his eyes off of her for a moment. “How are you? Any mystical, mysterious faxes from the great unknown today?” She looked at him with a smiling, quizzical look on her face, and he laughed. “We don’t understand fax machines,” he explained to her.
I don’t remember what she said. Something very normal, I’m sure, but he reacted as if the world had just gotten a little brighter.
“Oh, sorry, Javery. I didn’t introduce you,” he smiled.
No need, I thought. It didn’t matter who she was, because she was nobody. I was okay telling myself only Madonna could keep him away from me. But her?
“Javery Brennan,” he began the introductions, but I cut him off.
“Avery, actually. You can call me Avery.” There was no way I was going to let her in on his nickname for me. That was sacred. It was bad enough that he told her about the fax machine.
“Oh, sorry,” he smiled. “I kind of forgot that’s not your real name. Let me start again. Avery Brennan, I’d like to introduce you to my closest friend in the world. This is Abby Phelps.”