“Where are we going?” I say, trying to distract his attention from how disgusting I look.
“You don’t get to ask questions,” he says. “You wanted to come along, so here we go…”
I’ll take it.
He turns the radio on, and we drive with the windows down. Normally I would have a fit about the wind messing up my hair, but I’m so beyond caring, I almost enjoy the feel of it on my face. He heads south on the highway. There is nothing but ocean in this direction. I can’t even begin to guess where he’s taking me.
We pull into a gravel driveway about an hour later. I sit up straighter in my seat and peer around. There is a lot of foliage. Suddenly, the trees open up, and I am staring at aquamarine water. Caleb takes a sharp left and pulls the car underneath a tree. He gets out without saying a word. When he doesn’t do his usual spiel of coming around to open my door, I jump out and follow him. We walk in silence, trailing the water until we come to a small harbor. There are four boats, bobbing gently on the swells. Two of the four are newer looking fishing boats. He passes these and heads for an old Sea Cat that is in bad need of paint.
“Is this yours?” I ask, incredulous. He nods, and I feel momentarily affronted that he never told me that he bought a boat. I keep my mouth shut and climb onboard without his help. Sea Cats are a British brand. I'm not surprised; he usually buys European. I look around in disgust. I am allergic to things that are not shiny and new. It looks like he has started to work on it. I smell the sharp tang of sealant, and I spot the can next to the hatch.
I try for a nice, neutral comment. “What are you going to call her?”
He seems to like my question, because he half smiles as he messes with the rope that holds us to the dock.
I like it. I was prepared not to, but I do. Great Expectations is the name of the book where he chose Estella’s name. Since I gave birth to the screaming pile of flesh, I feel pretty good about the whole thing. So long as it has nothing to do with Olivia. Don’t think about her, I chide myself. She’s the reason you’re in trouble in the first place.
“So are we going to take her out?” I ask the obvious question. His head is still bent, but he lifts his eyes to look at me as his hands work. It is one of those things that only he does. I find it incredibly sexy, and I get butterflies. I sit down on the only available seat — which is ripped — and watch the muscles in his back as he turns on the engine and steers us out of the harbor. I am so insanely attracted to him, even in the wake of our fight, I want to rip off his clothes and climb on top of him. Instead, I sit ladylike and watch as we cruise over the water. We stay like this for a long time, him at the wheel and me waiting. He turns off the engine. The shoreline runs in a parade of sand dunes and houses to my left, the ocean dark and blue to my right. He walks to the helm and looks out over the water. I lift myself from my seat and walk the few steps to join him.
“I leave tomorrow for Denver,” he says.
“I won’t go postpartum and kill your daughter — if that’s what you’re getting at.”
He tilts his head slightly and looks down at me. “She’s your daughter, too.”
We watch the waves lap against the side of the boat, neither of us speaking our thoughts.
“Why didn’t you tell me about the boat?” I run my fingernails over the pad of my thumb.
“I would have eventually. It was a spur of the moment purchase.”
That’s fair enough, I suppose. I’ve bought shoes that probably equaled the cost of this thing without telling him first. But, spur of the moment meant it was an emotional purchase. The kind I made when I was in depression or worried about something.
“What else are you not telling me?”
“Probably the same amount of stuff you’re not telling me.”
I cringe. So painfully true. Caleb could see through walls like nobody’s business. But, if he really knew what I was not telling him, he’d be gone tomorrow ... and I couldn’t have that.
If he really was hiding more — I was going to find it.
“You know everything about me — all of my secrets and family drama. What could I have to hide?” I say.
He faces me. There is a dark cloud behind him. It seems like an omen. I shiver.
“There is a lot I don’t know about you,” he says.
My mind immediately goes to the fertility monitor and Clomiphene I was using to get pregnant.
His brain is working overtime. I can see the burning behind his irises. When Caleb thinks, his eyes practically glow. I hate that. The benefit is, I always know when he’s on to me. His eyes now dart to mine; they drop to my mouth, and then lift back to my eyes. He narrows his and tilts his head like he’s reading my thoughts. Can you read a secret on someone’s face? I f**king hope not.
“When you came to me that night … in the hotel … were you trying to get pregnant?”
I remove my eyes from his and stare down at the water. Goddamn, he can. My hands are shaking. I fist them. Then I fist him with the truth.
I don’t know why I tell the truth. I never tell the truth. Damn it all! I want to suck the words back into my mouth before they reach him, but it’s too late.
Caleb links his hands behind his neck. His eyebrows are up, up, up, creasing his forehead into half a dozen little lines. He’s mad as hell.
I think of that night at his hotel. I went there with determination. I had a plan. My plan worked. I never thought I’d get caught. Caught I was. I flick my thumbnails across the pads of my fingers.
Caleb is biting the inside of his cheek. It looks like he wants to take off running. He runs to think. When he speaks, his words come from between his teeth.
“Okay,” he says. “Okay.” He looks up at the sky, the struggle evident on his face. “I love her so much…” his voice cracks. He leans an arm on the side of the boat and peers into the water with me. “I love her so much,” he starts again, “I don’t care how she came to be. I’m just glad she’s here.”
I breathe a sigh of relief and look at him out of the corner of my fearful eye.
He swallows, once, twice…
“You got pregnant on purpose. And now you don’t seem to want her.”
It’s hard to hear … both parts. Chilling and true and ugly.
“I thought she’d be a boy.” My voice is so low it’s competing with the waves, but Caleb hears me.
“And if she were? Would you like being a mother then?”
I hate when he forces me to think. Would I? Or was this role something I was doomed to fail at, boy or girl?
“I don’t know.”
He lifts his head to look at me. I eye the scruff on his face, and I want to touch it.
“Do you want her?”
Don’t tell him the truth!
“I ... I don’t know what I want. I want you. I want to make you happy…”
“But, not Estella?”
His voice is catching edge. The edge that usually indicates I’m in big trouble. I try to work my way out of it.
“Of course I want her. I’m her mother…”
My voice lacks conviction. I used to be such an accomplished liar.
“What you did after that … was that planned out too?”
I watch his chest play the in/out game. Rapid angry breaths … he’s steeling himself for my answer.
I suck in all the air that the sky has to offer. I pull it until my lungs burn. I don’t want to let it go. I want to hold that air and hold the confession he’s forcing out of me. I don’t have to tell him the truth.
“God, Leah, just tell me the truth…”
He runs a hand through his hair, walks a couple paces to the left so that I can only see his back.
“I was upset … Courtney-“
He cuts me off. “Did you do it to make me come back?”
I swallow. Fuck. If I say no, he’ll keep asking me questions until he traps me.
He swears and drops to his haunches, his fingertips pressed on his forehead like he’s trying to hold his thoughts in.
“I think I need time to think.”
“No, Caleb!” I shake my head from side to side. He shakes his up and down. We look like a couple of distraught bobble heads.
The whirlpool starts, panic sucking me down until I whimper, “Don’t leave me again. I can’t take care of her alone.” I drop my head.
“You won’t have to, Leah.”
I look up at him hopefully.
“I’ll take her with me. She’s my daughter; I’ll take care of her.”
Oh God. What have I done now?
He gets up, turns on the Cat’s engine and we are slicing back toward shore, the remnants of my sanity shredding.
The minute he ties us to the dock, I am off the boat and racing to my phone, which I left in his car. I want to get out of here. My fingers become boneless as I fumble with the screen, jabbing uselessly. I dial a taxi service and tell them my location. I am shivering despite the heat. My God, what was I thinking telling him that? I can barely breathe as I see him walk down the dock and toward where I am perched against the hood of his car. Even in lieu of our current situation, my heart stirs at the sight of him. I love him so much my heart aches. He won’t look at me. I don’t know what this means, but thinking is never a good thing. Thinking stirs up a dangerous maelstrom of emotion. My emotion almost drowned me once. I don’t want to go back there.
The gravel shifts beneath his feet as he walks to where I sit. My arms are wrapped around my waist as I try to press my sanity back into my torso. He stops a few feet away. He’s coming to check on me. He hates me at this moment, but he’s coming to check on me. “I called a cab,” I say. He nods and looks out at the water, which is just visible beyond the copse of trees where he parked his car.
“I’m going to stay here,” he says. “I’ll call you when I’m back so I can pick up Estella.”
My head snaps up. “Pick her up?’ Oh yeah, that.
“I’m going to take her to stay with me for a while at my condo.”
I breathe through my nose, grappling with my emotions, trying to rein back control of the situation.
“You can’t take her from me,” I say through clenched teeth.
“I’m not trying to. You don’t want her, Leah. I need some time to think, and it’s better if she stays with me.” He rubs his forehead while I calmly panic.
I want to scream — Don’t think! Don’t think!
“What about work? You can’t take care of her with your work schedule.”
I’m trying to buy time. I messed up, but I can fix this. I can be a good mother and a good wife…
“She’s more important than work. I’ll take some time off. I have a trip next week, after that, I’ll come get her.”
My thoughts drag. I can’t come up with excuses for why he can’t do this to me. I can use the baby as leverage — threaten him — but that would screw me in the long run. If he wants to take some time, maybe I should let him. Maybe, I need time too.
He presses his lips together until they burn white. Neither of us says anything for the next twenty minutes. He waits with me until the dingy looking cab pulls up, spraying gravel at our ankles until it comes to a stop. I climb in, refusing to meet his eyes. Perhaps he is waiting for me to turn around and tell him that it was all a lie. I look straight ahead.
The drive from the Keys back to Miami is taken across narrow patches of land that stretch out over deep blue water. I refuse to think … all the way home. I just can’t do it. I focus on the cars we pass. I look in their windows and judge their passengers: sunburned families coming from vacation, blue collared workers with bored expressions, a woman crying as she sings along with the radio. I look away when I see that one. I don’t need to be reminded about tears.
When I get home, Sam has just put the baby down for the night. He studies my face and opens his mouth, the questions ready to pour out.
“Don’t f**king say anything,” I snap. His mouth is still hanging open when I storm up the stairs and slam my door. I hear his Jeep pull out of the driveway a few minutes later, and I peek through the drapes to make sure he’s gone. I pace around my room, flicking my fingernails, and trying to decide what to do about this mess Olivia created. Then almost abruptly, I jerk toward the hall and slip inside of the baby’s room. Tiptoeing to her crib, I peer over the edge like I expect to find a snake instead of a sleeping infant.
She is on her back, her head to the side. She's managed to wriggle a hand free of Sam’s swaddling and she has it fisted and partially in her mouth. Every few seconds, she starts sucking on it so fiercely I think she is going to wake herself up. I back up a few steps in case she sees me. I don’t even know if she can see me yet. Mothers usually keep charts of these things — first smile, first burp, first whatever. I tilt my head and look at her again. She’s grown, gotten a little less — yuck. I’m surprised that I can actually see myself in her face, the curve of her nose and the sharp chin. Babies usually just look like blobs until they’re four, but this one has a little character to her face. I suppose that if any baby were to be cuter than the rest, it would be mine. I linger for another moment before stepping out. I close the door and then I open it, remembering that I am on my own tonight. No Caleb. No Sam. Not even my self-absorbed, alcoholic mother. I have watched Sam and Caleb enough with the baby to know the basics. You feed it, it craps the food out, you wipe away the crap, you put it in the crib … you drink.