“They spark,” she says. I jerk back. What the hell did that mean? “When they’re together, it’s like putting a hurricane and a tornado in the same room — you can feel the tension. I didn’t believe in the cliché of soul mates until I saw them together.”
I’ve heard enough. I am sick to my stomach. I look around for my ride and can’t see him anywhere, but Cammie’s not done.
“I know you got pregnant on purpose,” she says, plucking my cigarette from my fingers and taking a draw. I blink at her, too intrigued to argue. How could she possibly know?
“Now, you’ve got the guy … and the baby. You won. So, why are you asking about Olivia?”
I consider lying, telling her that I’m making sure she is gone for good or some bullshit like that.
She smirks. “You want to know why he loves her, Leah?” She overemphasizes the ah in my name. I flinch.
What a bitch.
I shake my head, but the little blond is smarter than she looks.
She stubs out my cigarette. “You won’t find an answer to that from anyone but Caleb. If I were you, I’d let it go. Go enjoy the life you stole for yourself. Olivia won’t be showing up at your doorstep crying, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
I feel my face heat as I remember the time I followed Caleb to Olivia’s apartment. That was inside information. The little bitch is probably her best friend.
“He wouldn’t leave me for her even if she did.” I say this with more confidence than I feel.
Cammie raises her eyebrows and shrugs. “Then why do you care?”
I swallow hard. Why do I care? It isn’t like I grew up in a home where my parents were madly in love. My mother married my father for money, she’d told me so on numerous occasions. I have my guy, so why am I picking at the scab?
“I — I don’t know.”
“It’s not fun to play second choice, is it?” She plucks a piece of tobacco from her tongue and flicks it off her fingertip. “There is a possibility that you feel like you’re worth more than being Caleb’s marriage of pity, and if that’s true then you should jump ship now. It’s only a matter of time before the Caleb/Olivia saga starts up again.”
Her words sting. I shift around in my chair as pain courses through me. “I thought you said she moved on?” I hiss.
“Yeah, so?” Cammie shrugs. “Their story will never be over. She’s married, you know? So, technically you have some time to make your husband fall in love with you.”
I can’t hide my surprise. She hadn’t married Turner, that’s for sure. He’d blown up my phone after she broke things off with him, begging me to appeal to her on his behalf. Stupid Turner.
After the whole amnesia debacle, I broke into her apartment and found letters from Caleb, dated to his college days. It didn’t take long to figure out she was his ex-girlfriend, trying to pull a fast one on him. I blackmailed her into leaving town and then hired a private detective who tracked her to Texas. A friend was attending the same law school as Olivia was, so I made a call, traded some Super Bowl tickets, and BAM! Next thing I knew, they were engaged. The luck! Turner was a tool. How a woman could go from Caleb to that half-wit was beyond me. Either way, I thought she was out of my life for good until Caleb hired her to be my attorney — and a good thing he did, because she won the case and saved me from ten years in state prison.
I don’t say any of this to Cammie, whose southern accent is suddenly making me uncomfortable. Was she the friend Olivia had gone to live with in Texas?
Nothing further passes between us, as Sam chooses to resurface at the table at that exact moment. I stand up to leave. Cammie is no longer looking at me, she’s kissing the skateboarder who is cupping her chest in one hand and holding the other above his head as he makes the Black Sabbath horns with his fingers.
I turn, disgusted, and follow Sam to his car.
“Did you get the answers you needed?” he says when we are on the road.
I look at him in surprise. “What are you talking about?”
He tucks in one side of his mouth and looks at me out of the corner of his eye. “She’s my cousin, and she’s a blabber mouth. She told me about that chick.”
I stare at him, openmouthed. “You knew she was friends with Olivia, and you didn’t tell me?”
“That’s what you were hoping for, weren’t you? You wanted to know if she knew her?”
He’s right, but I’m still angry.
“I’m your boss,” I say. “You should have told me. And, what kind of g*y man are you, anyway? You’re supposed to love gossip and drama.”
He throws back his head and laughs. Despite the world of bad news swirling around my head, I smile. Maybe he’s not so bad. I decide to stop trying to get Caleb to fire him.
When I get home, Caleb is already in bed — not ours, but the twin bed in the baby’s room. I check the milk supply in the fridge, luckily there is enough frozen for a day or two — enough time for the dirty martinis to work their way out of my system. I roll my eyes. Caleb will probably check my blood/alcohol level before he lets me pump again.
I go to bed, still wearing my clothes, sadder than I’ve ever felt.
My sister was so beautiful it almost hurt your eyes to look at her — and God, that’s all I did in those early years. She was younger than me. Only by a year, but still. It was kind of awkward to idolize your baby sister. It was hard not to, since the minute she walked into a room, every eye was stuck to her like she had some sort of ethereal fairy magic flowing from her pores. For a long time, I believed that once I hit a certain age, I would get some of that fairy juice — no such luck. I looked like a malnourished, crack ho with braces and twelve hundred dollar sneakers. Courtney made me want to die — especially when she dated and then disposed of all the boys I liked. I could never be mad at her for it. We were a team — Court and Jo — until Jo decided she wanted to be Leah, and then it was Court and Lee. Despite our closeness, as we got older there was no denying the chasm our differences caused. Our friendship wavered for a year in middle school. She left me for the cheerleaders. I watched her make new friends from my seat in the social bleachers, picking bread from my braces and trying to figure out why my boobs hadn’t come in yet.
I am nothing like the rest of my family. Each one of them, with the exception of my mother, had raven black hair. Pair that with the Smith signature olive skin and green eyes, and they look like an army of beautiful Greeks. I was born red: my skin, my hair and my hot, fussy attitude. My mother used to tell me that I cried for a week after they brought me home. She said I lost my voice, and all you could hear was air coming out of me as I made screaming faces.
Our mother encouraged Courtney to do all of the typical, perfect girl things — cheerleading, modeling, and stealing other girls' boyfriends. I, on the other hand, was encouraged to diet, especially during my last year of middle school. I was a little chubby. I started eating my feelings when I discovered boys, rejection and Little Debbie snack cakes. I went from malnourished to fleshy all in a matter of months.
“You’re going to seriously regret this,” my mother said, upon discovering my stash. I’d hidden a dozen assorted boxes in an old Christmas popcorn tin in the pantry. “You already have red hair, now you want to add pounds of extra flesh?” To emphasize her point, she’d grabbed a handful of fat at my waist and pinched it until I’d cried out. She shook her head. “Hopeless, Johanna.” And then she’d tossed all of my snack cakes in the trash.
I bit my lip to keep from crying. When she saw me struggling with tears, she’d softened a little. Maybe she was chubby once, I thought hopefully.
“Here.” She opened the freezer and shoved a bag of frozen peas against my chest. “When you get the urge to binge on crap, eat these instead. Just think of it as a frozen treat … like ice cream.” When I looked doubtful, she’d grabbed my chin and forced me to look at her. “You like boys?”
“You won’t get them if you eat snack cakes, trust me. No one’s ever hooked a man with processed cake crumbs on her face.”
I’d carried my bag of frozen peas back to my room and sat down cross-legged on the floor. Staring up at my Jonathan Taylor Thomas poster, I ate the entire bag, pea by pea.
I was kind of nerdy. I liked boys, but I also liked math and science. But, math and science didn’t give you attention. It was a one-sided, dry love. I wanted people to look at me the way they did Court. I rolled onto my back and chewed on my peas. I kind of liked them.
The next day I asked Court to introduce me to her friends.
“You make fun of cheerleaders,” she said.
“I won’t anymore. I want people to like me.”
She nodded. “They will, Lee. I do.”
Court snagged me an invite to a sleepover, complete with all her giggly friends. Despite her reassurance, her friends had not liked me. They were thirteen-year-old bitches, heavily sedated by their mother’s opinions. They ended almost every sentence with the words sweetie or awesome. I didn’t want to be like those girls. I didn’t want to be like my mother. When one of them asked why I hung out with the math geeks, I’d snapped.
“They talk about more interesting things than you.”
The girl — Britney — had looked at me like I was something detestable. She’d cocked her head and smiled at me. I could almost see her cardigan-wearing mother doing the same thing. “She’s a lesbian,” she’d announced to the room. The rest of the girls nodded, like it was a completely acceptable explanation for my strangeness.
Court’s face had dropped. She’d looked so disappointed in me.
“I’m not a lesbian,” I’d said. But, my voice had been weak, unconvincing. The girls had already taken Britney’s word for it. They were already avoiding my eyes.
I’d looked around the room at their stupid, hair-sprayed, pink-lipped heads and said a loud “Fuck you!” before storming out. I felt mildly guilty for casting a shadow over Court’s social game. She’d recover. She was too pretty not to. When she came home, she stormed into my room and folded her arms across her chest.
“Why would you do that?” She’d asked. “You ask me to help you and then you act like an idiot in front of my friends.”
I shook my head. Was she kidding?
“Court, it was them. What are you talking about?”
“You made me look really bad, Leah! You’re so selfish. I’m so sick of your drama.”
She turned to leave, but I’d jumped up and grabbed her arm. I couldn’t believe she was saying this. It’s like they were slowly stealing chunks of her brain and replacing it with their lesser functioning ones.
“That’s not fair! You’re my sister. How can you take their side? Britney lied to everyone. You know I’m not a lesbian.”
Courtney had jerked her arm away. “I don’t know that.”
I’d opened and closed my mouth in shock. My sister — my Courtney had never spoken to me this way. She’d never taken anyone’s side over mine. I felt like someone was burning a hole through my chest, it hurt so bad.
“You’re ruining things for me,” she’d finally said. “They’re my friends. You’re my sister. It bothers me when they say stuff about you. Just please, leave it alone and don’t run your mouth any more. You’re making things hard for me.”
I swallowed my response and nodded. I could do that for her.
We never spoke about what happened after that day, but she was weird with me for a long time. Her friends made a point of snickering when they walked past me in the halls of our private school. They spread rumors too — told people that they caught me masturbating at the sleepover. All this and Court never spoke a word in my defense. I never spoke a word in my defense. I started wondering if she believed them.
In a few weeks, I was declared a lesbian by every popular kid in the seventh and eighth grade. When the rumors finally made it back to my parents, they sent me to Bible camp for the summer. I loved it. I met a Pastor’s son and lost my V-card in the bushes behind the communal bathroom. I came back with an affirmed taste for men. Of course, that didn’t stop the lesbian rumors when school started again. Britney took it upon herself to make sure every girl in her grade and mine knew that they shouldn't undress in front of me in the locker room. The boys would elbow each other in the hallways, snickering and making comments as I walked by. It was terrible. Hurtful. Courtney didn't correct them — that was the worst part. Our bond frayed and snapped, all under the cruel fingertips of Kings High School. I had become used to it in a way, I expected that it was the same way I had become used to my parents’ hands-off approach with me.
I kept my head down, dated boys in the math club who could keep up with me mentally and never stopped plotting against Britney and her lackeys. I changed that year, and no one noticed. They were too busy ostracizing me to notice that my C-cups came in. I learned how to use a blow dryer and makeup. I lost my puppy fat.
That same year, my sister and Britney had a falling out over a boy named Paul. They both wanted him. To save their friendship, both girls had sworn off him in an emotional embrace, insisting that nothing — especially a guy — could come between their friendship. Britney lasted a month before she slept with him. My sister was crushed. I didn't like seeing Courtney cry. And that's what she did for two weeks. I even caught her clutching a bottle of sleeping pills in the bathroom one day.