I was peeking out my bedroom window at the brand-new Lexus LS 400 in the Hendersons' driveway when my husband Gary walked in and announced that we were invited to guess whose house for cocktails that evening. That's right, Mark and Linda Henderson's.

I was reluctant to go (the Hendersons' get-togethers are only slightly less dull than the MacInnises'), but I decided this was the perfect chance to finally get into the Hendersons' basement and see what Linda had done with that utility room. I'd heard from Barb DeRoya down the street that Linda had converted it into a sewing room, and I was dying to see with my own eyes if she had a new Singer in there.

So, in the interest of being neighborly, I whipped up an 11-layer salad (my own superior version of the seven-layer salad Jan Brophy shows up everywhere with), put on a nice pantsuit, pressed on a set of fingernails, and was ready for cocktails.

When Gary and I arrived, I gave Linda a hug and complimented her on the obviously catered hors d'oeuvres. For some reason, that made her start to cry. That's when she told me that as soon as everyone arrived, she and Mark had "an announcement to make."

Finding a seat in the three-season porch Mark and Linda added on last spring, I wondered what that announcement would be. I'll bet they're putting in an in-ground, I thought. Or maybe they're planning to renew their wedding vows yet again. Or maybe they're going to adopt a needy child from overseas. (That would be just like those two. At last year's community food drive, I ended up donating 50 cans of cream of mushroom soup just to keep up with them!)

Then it hit me. I'll bet their daughter Jill is getting engaged. Darn it all. Our Sara has been dating that podiatrist for almost two years, and he hasn't come up with a ring yet. Besides, you'd think no man in his right mind would want to marry Jill, what with her past trouble with the law. Though I'm polite enough never to mention it to Linda, everyone in town saw Jill's underage-drinking charge in the paper in March 1992.

Needing to kill some time before the big announcement, I snuck off to the bathroom to check out the Hendersons' medicine cabinet. Nothing exciting—no Zoloft, no Viagra, not even a trial pack of Propecia. What I did discover, however, was a set of very familiar-looking burgundy towels on the shelf next to the sink. I'd seen those towels on the Hendersons' clothesline several times over the past month. From over the backyard fence, they looked so thick and plush, I was sure they had to be from Boston Bed & Bath. But upon close examination of the tag, I found that they were nothing more than Target towels that couldn't have cost more than $3.99 apiece! If I hadn't come to the Hendersons' party, I never would have known that Linda buys bargain-brand towels!

When I returned the dining room, Linda and Mark had gathered everyone together and were ready to make the big announcement. It turns out, I had nothing to be worried about at all! The Hendersons aren't building a deck, and no one is getting married... Linda has a degenerative muscle disease! She said she wanted her closest friends to know that in a year or two she'd be in a wheelchair!

It's so strange, because Linda didn't look sick at all. Though I do think she was a little underdressed for entertaining guests.