“I’m fine,” he paused. “Relieved that it’s over.”
“We should celebrate. As soon as I’m done with work, I can meet you.”
He hesitated. “Sure, Leah. There's a lot I want to talk to you about.”
My heart fluttered. What did that mean? Now that he remembered who I was, maybe he wanted to move forward with me. I pushed the thought away. No use getting my hopes up for nothing.
“Okay, I’ll see you after work. And Caleb…” I held my breath. “I love you.”
There was a brief pause, during which my heart went to battle with my stomach for who felt sicker.
“I love you too, Leah.” He ended the call. I slouched against the wall.
He remembered that he loved me. I’d been waiting to hear those words for months. I started crying, and then I called Katine and Courtney. Katine was ecstatic, Courtney, not so much.
“So he just remembered everything … out of the blue?” my sister said after I told her.
“Yes, that’s how it works.”
“I guess I’m just finding it hard to believe that you can forget your girlfriend for months and then, bam! All of a sudden, it all comes back.”
“Can you just be happy for me?” I snapped. “We can finally move forward in our relationship.”
“What if he doesn’t want to move forward,” she said. My heart plummeted. He had said he wanted to talk to me. Weren’t those infamous breakup words?
“Courtney,” I hissed, “you’re really pissing me off.”
“I’m just trying to look out for you. The guy was having a relationship with another woman for goodness sake. Wake up, Leah. He’s not as perfect as you think he is.”
I hung up on her. Courtney was bitter. She’d recently broken up with her boyfriend and was taking it out on Caleb. I wasn’t going to let anything dampen my spirits. He was back, and he was mine.
I walked into his condo without knocking. Now that he remembered who I was, there was no need for pretenses. He was standing in the kitchen, drinking a beer, his hair still wet from his shower.
I dropped my purse and ran to him. He just managed to set his bottle on the counter when I launched myself at him. He caught me, laughing.
We looked at each other for a good minute before he set me down.
“How do you feel?”
“Fine … great. I just … there is so much…”
I put my hand over his mouth. “You don’t have to say anything. I’m just glad you’re back.”
Before he could argue, I reached up on my tiptoes and kissed him. He was surprised at first. I felt his hands on my arms, trying to pull me away. I wrapped my hands around his neck. I was being territorial. God knows what he had been doing with that woman. I needed to reclaim him, have him kiss me like he did before the accident. He didn’t. When I backed away, he wouldn’t look at me.
“Caleb, what’s wrong? You remember everything, right?”
“I feel like you’re still treating me like you don’t know who I am.”
He walked away, went to stand at the window with his back to me. I wrapped my arms around myself, squeezing my eyes shut. Why did I suddenly feel so cold?
“You’re breaking up with me, aren’t you?”
He kept his body stiff, but turned his head to look at me. “Were we still together? The way I remember it, you broke up with me the morning of the accident.”
I swallowed. That was true.
“The accident put things into perspective for me,” I said, carefully. “I almost lost you.”
“The accident put things into perspective for me too, Leah. It changed everything — what I wanted … what I thought I could have…”
I shook my head. I didn’t understand what he was saying. Was he referring to her?
I squeezed in between him and the window so he was forced to look at me. “Caleb, before the accident you wanted me. Do you still want me?”
The longest two minutes of my life came next. I started to walk away. He grabbed my arm.
I was already crying. I didn’t want him to see.
“Leah, look at me.”
“I’ve been really selfish-“
“I don’t care,” I rushed, “you were confused.”
“I knew what I was doing.”
I stared at him. “What do you mean?”
He swore and ran his hand through his hair.
There was a knock at the door.
“Damnit … damnit!” He pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes, before stalking off to answer it.
It was Luca and Steve. I grabbed my purse and ran to the bathroom to fix my face before they could see me. If my mother had taught me anything in life, it was not to get caught with your emotions out.
“Leah!” she exclaimed when I walked out of the bathroom. She moved like a cat toward me. I resisted the urge to back up. The difference between Luca and my mother was a tremendous amount of sincerity and maternal love. This woman loved her son in ways I was completely unfamiliar with. It was unconditional. I envied him that. Something about her need to always embrace me, made me uncomfortable. I felt sized up every time she did it, like she was testing my bones to see if they were worthy of her son. I let her, looking at Caleb over her shoulder. He watched us with a strange expression on his face.
When she pulled away, she kept a hold on my upper arms and looked me in the eyes.
“Caleb, this girl…” She looked over her shoulder at him, then back at me with tears in her eyes. “This girl is a rarity.”
My surprise must have been evident on my face. She hugged me again. “Thank you, Leah. You have been so loyal to my son. A mother couldn’t ask for anything better.”
I wasn’t the only one in shock. Caleb’s face ranged between full-on astonishment and confusion.
When I caught his eye, he shrugged and smiled.
They stayed for the majority of the night, talking and drinking champagne — which they’d brought to celebrate. I left when they did. At the door, Caleb caught me by the wrist before I could walk away.
“Leah,” his voice was husky. “My mother was right. No matter what, you stuck with me. Even when...”
I shook my head. “I don’t want to talk about that.” Her.
He narrowed his eyes. I felt like he was seeing me for the first time in months.
“You didn’t have to. It’s a shame it took my mother to point that out to me.”
“What are you saying, Caleb?”
“I’ve taken you for granted. Your loyalty. Your trust. I’m sorry.”
He pulled me toward him and wrapped me in a hug. I didn’t know what his words meant for us, but I was sure as hell going to stick around to see.
“I’ll walk you to your car.”
I nodded, swiping at my tears with my fingertips.
Please, God, don’t let him hurt me.
Sam is on my side — or at least I think he is. He doesn’t judge me. I like that. He knows the basics of what happened between Caleb and me. So far, he hasn’t asked any probing questions. I almost want him to.
I feel like we’re a team. He cleans the house, keeps me fed, does the laundry and tells me when to feed the baby.
I feed the baby.
Sometimes I watch when he gives her a bath and hand him the towel.
Motherhood isn’t nearly as hard as I thought. Except when it is.
Caleb doesn’t call.
Caleb doesn’t call.
“What’s with all the tattoos?” I ask him one day. He has his sleeves rolled up to the elbows and he’s gently rinsing the soap from the baby’s hair. He looks at me out of the corner of his eye. I trace the pictures with my finger, something I’ve never done before … to anyone. It’s a mess of artwork: a pirate ship, a lotus flower, and an incredibly tacky spider web. When I reach his elbow, he raises his eyebrows. “Would you like me to take my shirt off so you can continue?”
He smirks and lifts the baby out of the bath. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were attracted to me.”
I cackle. Really. It’s kind of embarrassing.
“You’re gay, Sam. And no offense, but I’m not really into the Kurt Cobain, tattooed look.”
Sam carries the baby into the nursery and sets her on the changing table. “I hope you’re at least into the Kurt Cobain sound, then.”
I swallow. God. I feel dizzy all of a sudden.
I’m shaking my head before words can make it past my lips. “I listened when I was younger.”
He looks at me quizzically.
“I’m gonna go get something to drink…” I slip out of the room before he can say anything else, but instead of going to the kitchen, I head for my bedroom. I shut the door as quietly as possible and crawl onto my bed.
I am trying to think of happy things, things my therapist gave me to focus on, but all I can hear are the words to a Nirvana song, echoing so loudly in my head I want to scream.
I scream into my pillow. I hate that. I’m a goddamn mess and there is nothing I can do about it. When my heart stops racing, I go downstairs and get a drink of water.
I am channel surfing a few hours later when I hear Olivia’s name. I flick past the channel and have to backtrack. Since Caleb’s been gone, I am desperate for any news on her. I know he’s watching. I pluck at my eyelashes and watch as Nancy Grace gives me an update on what’s happening in Dobson’s trial preparation. She’s on a tirade. I snicker. When is she not on a tirade? She moves on from Dobson and it takes me a few minutes to figure out that her sharp southern accent is directed at Olivia. I turn up the volume and lean forward. Yes! Olivia bashing! This is exactly what I need to feel better about myself.
I snuggle down in my seat to watch, a full glass of Scotch sweating in my hand. One corner of the screen is reeling footage of Dobson’s victims. They range in age and appearance, but they all have the same haunted look in their eyes. When a video clip of the ra**st comes on the screen, I scrunch my nose. He’s in an orange jumpsuit, handcuffed and shackled. Officers wearing plain clothes surround him as he walks the short distance from the vehicle to the courthouse. He gives me the heebie-jeebies. He’s huge — linebacker size. The cop next to him looks puny. How this buffoon managed to get girls to come within five feet of him astounds me.
Suddenly, the screen flashes to Olivia. I want to change the channel, but as usual, I can’t pull my eyes from her. Nancy is waving her bejeweled hand in the air. Her voice is rising in crescendo and she’s told three people on her panel that they’re idiots for defending Olivia’s case. I reach over for a handful of popcorn, not taking my eyes from the screen. Nancy is right. I feel a sudden fondness for her. She obviously knows how to read people. Then I hear my name. I spit out my popcorn and lean forward.
She won a case a year ago, defending an heiress on clinical fraud charges. Nancy calls to someone on her panel. Did she win that case, Dave?
Dave gives a brief summary of my case and affirms that yes, indeed, Olivia did win the case.
Nancy is disgusted.
The evidence against that girl was overwhelming, she says, stabbing the desk with her finger.
I change the channel.
But, the following night, I turn it on again and watch all fifty-two minutes of blond fury. By night three, I’ve called into the show as a Ms. Lucy Knight from Missouri, and expressed my disgust with Olivia too. I make sure to tell her that I appreciate what she does for women, that’s she’s a goddamn hero. Nancy tearfully thanks me for being a fan.
By the end of her show, I am usually drunk. Sometimes Sam stays to watch it with me.
“She’s really pretty,” he says about Olivia. I spit an ice cube at him and he laughs. The baby is almost sleeping through the night now. I still sleep in her room, just in case she wakes up. Sam thinks I’m finally bonding with her, but I only do it so I don’t have to walk far in the middle of the night. Caleb is supposed to be back from his trip late the following day. He sent me a text saying he’d pick up Estella as soon as he got back. I plan a trip to the spa in the morning. If everything goes my way, he won’t be going anywhere.
“So, they were together in college?”
I look over to where Sam is sipping on his soda. “What the hell?”
“What?” He shrugs. “I feel like I’m watching a soap opera without all of the back-story.”
I sniff. “Yes, they were together for a few years in college. But, it wasn’t that serious. They never even slept together.”
Sam raises his eyebrows. “Caleb stuck around for a girl who wasn’t ha**g s*x with him?” He lets out a low whistle.
“What does that mean?” I curl my feet under my body and try not to look too interested. The lack of sex between Caleb and Olivia always confused me. I had wanted to ask questions on the rare occasion it came up, but never wanted to seem like the jealous girlfriend. Besides, Caleb protected his past like it was the goddamn crown jewels.
Sam looks thoughtful as he chews on a mouthful of beef jerky. He eats so much of the stuff I’ve come to associate the smell with him.
“Seems like a long time to ask a college-aged guy to wait. The only way I see someone doing that is if they are crazy in love … addiction love.”
“What do you mean addiction love?” Caleb has the most non-addictive personality I’ve ever seen. In fact, it bothers me. One year he will be a full-fledged skier and the next year when I book a trip to the lodge, he’ll tell me he’s not interested anymore. It happened countless times throughout our relationship — with restaurants, clothes … he even traded his car in every year. It almost always started with him loving something intensely and then gradually becoming bored with it.