“I don’t know,” Sam says. “I guess it sounds like he was willing to do anything for her … even if it meant going against what he was used to.”
“I hate you.”
He slaps my leg playfully and stands up. “Just trying to clear your head a little, Mommy monster. Seems like he’s your addiction and it’s not a healthy one.”
I glare after him as he heads for the door. He’s such a pompous ass.
“See you tomorrow,” he calls over his shoulder. “When Mr. Perfect returns…”
But, the next day Sam calls to say he’s having car problems. I cancel the spa. I haven’t spent an entire day alone with the baby since Sam’s run with the flu. I eat a mini bag of frozen corn before going up to get her. For most of the day, I repeat everything I see Sam do. We have tummy time in the living room. I wipe her face after she’s done eating. I even splurge and take her for a mini walk in the stroller I have never used.
When I discover I'm out of diapers, I call Sam in a panic. He doesn’t answer, because no one is ever around when you really damn well need them! How am I supposed to take a baby to the store with me? There has to be some kind of service that runs errands for new mothers. After debating for more than an hour, I pack the baby in the car and head to the nearest grocery store. It takes me ten minutes to figure out how to load her car seat onto the cart. I swear under my breath, until a more seasoned mother comes over to help me. I thank her without meeting her eyes and steer my cart into the store just in time to miss the rain. The minute the cold air conditioning blows on the baby, she starts wailing. I push the cart haphazardly to the kid aisle and toss in five packages of diapers. Better safe than sorry.
By the time I’ve raced back to the register, people are looking at me like I’m a bad mother. I load everything onto the conveyor and lift her out of the car seat. Holding her against my chest, I pat her back awkwardly. I am fumbling with my wallet and trying to bounce her when the cashier — a bubble popping juvenile delinquent — asks me, “Will that be all?” I look at the bags of diapers that are now bagged in my cart and then at the empty belt. He is staring at me with his watery marijuana eyes, waiting for my answer.
“Um no, I’d like all of this invisible shit too.” I wave a hand at the conveyer and he is actually dumb enough to look.
“God,” I say, viciously swiping my credit card. “Lay off the pot.”
The baby chooses that exact moment to have a bowl movement. Before I’ve pocketed my credit card, the contents of her diaper have leaked onto my hands and shirt. I look around in horror and bolt from the store.
Without the diapers.
I send Sam to go back for them later when he finally calls me back. When he shows up at the front door, I still haven’t changed my crapped on shirt, and in addition to my daughter’s brown artwork, both of my br**sts are leaking. He shakes his head.
“You look worse every time I see you.”
I burst into tears. Sam sets the diapers on the counter and hugs me. “Go shower while she’s sleeping. I’ll make us something to eat.”
I nod and head upstairs. When I come back down, he’s made spaghetti.
“Sit.” He points to a barstool. I obey, pulling in the plate he slides toward me.
“You’re losing it,” he says. He wraps spaghetti around his fork without looking at me.
I use a knife to cut mine into little pieces so that they fit onto my fork.
“How do I get him to come home?”
“Get a new personality and learn to shut the f**k up.”
I give him a dirty look as I dab at my mouth.
“Are you attracted to me?”
There is a long pause.
“I’m gay, Leah.”
“What? I never really thought you were.”
“You’ve been saying it all along!”
“But, you have a daughter … what’s her name, again?”
He laughs. “Kenley. And, I guess I only figured it out later in life.”
I drop my head in my hands. This is an all-time new low for me, seducing a g*y man. I take a deep breath and look up.
“Caleb’s going to leave me again. I know it.”
For a second Sam looks taken aback, and then he scoots over on the couch and puts an arm around my shoulders.
“Probably,” he says. My head snaps around to look at him. Weren’t g*y men supposed to be sensitive? The minute he announced he was gay, I was planning on using him to replace Katine. “Probably. I can’t believe he’s stayed with you for this long.” He smiles at my expression.
“Did you really just say that?”
He nods. “Maybe the guy loves a good bitch — but you’re treading a thin line between attractively bitchy and psycho. You messed with his daughter. He’s probably going to leave you and take his kid.”
“No way. I won’t let that happen.”
“What? —The husband or the baby?”
I bite the inside of my cheek. It’s obvious what I mean.
“He won’t believe it — if I start acting all supermom. He sees through shit like that.”
Sam raises an eyebrow.
“He won’t leave me. He thinks I’ll fall apart if he does.”
“Is that how you want to keep him? By manipulating his emotions?”
I shrug. “I try not to think about it, honestly.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of apparent. Why not just let him go? You could find someone else.”
I have the urge to slap him across the face. I light up a Slim instead.
“I won’t ever let him go. I love him too much.”
Sam smirks at me and plucks it from my fingers, stubbing it out on my granite. “Never?”
“Never,” I say. “Never ever.”
Sam points a finger at me. “That’s not love.”
I roll my eyes at him. “What do you know? You’re gay.”
Daddy called me his right hand. It should have been considered an honor, but it felt more like I’d pinned a scarlet letter to my dress. Everyone knew his rigid policy on not bringing family into the company, so my sudden appearance was a cold, drizzly raincloud over the other employees. Had my father recruited a spy? Was he downsizing the company, using me to report who was and wasn’t doing their jobs? They shuffled papers when I walked by, pretending to be busier than they were. Some were radically pleasant, hoping to gain my friendship to secure their jobs, while others were openly hostile. The Why is she here? question was the ever-ringing bell that preceded me down the halls. It was miserable. What was more miserable was the size of my office. Other than Daddy’s, mine was the most coveted in the building. One wall made entirely of glass; it offered a view of downtown Ft. Lauderdale. If I stood just right, facing the ocean, I could see Caleb’s building in the distance. Its previous owner, who was well loved by everyone at OPI, was fired a week before I arrived. He’d been with the company for twelve years and had earned the office I’d been handed. My door plaque might have just read Entitled Brat in pink, bubble letters. I was making five times the money I’d made at the bank. On the surface, my already privileged life had just landed down Licorice Lane. On the inside, under the shiny new office and title, I was warping.
My father gave me a prestigious job at his company to prove how little he thought of me. My boyfriend gave me smiles that didn’t reach his eyes. My mother gave me love so thin it felt more like sugarcoated contempt. If someone had cared enough to say: Leah, it’s all in your head ... all I would have to do was refer them to the three people in my life who didn’t really want me there.
My assistant peeked her head in. “Ms. Smith, everyone is waiting for you in the conference room.”
Shit. I’d forgotten about that. I grabbed my MacBook and Jamba Juice and bolted out the door. I was so wrapped up in my pity party that I was ten minutes late for an uber important meeting. I hated that. I strolled in casually, avoiding my father’s eyes, and sat down in my seat.
I looked up, expecting to see Bruce Gowin, who normally sat next to me, but instead I was greeted by a blonde with blindingly white teeth.
Where was Bruce? Bruce was my partner in snark. My head swiveled around the table looking for him, until my father caught my eye.
“Leah, I’m so pleased you finally decided to join us. If you are looking for Mr. Gowin — he is no longer with us. Cassandra Wickham is his replacement.”
“You can call me Cash,” she said, extending her hand. Cash … how Hollywood.
Cash had edgy, trying-too-hard chin length hair and lips that had seen about five rounds of the collagen needle. She was striking … sexy. I immediately felt threatened. I gave her the most genuine smile I could muster and turned back to my father who was watching me closely. Cash was his new pet, I could already tell. I wondered if Bruce had been fired just to make room for her.
“Let’s begin, shall we…” He turned on the projector and every head swiveled toward it, like we were programmed to do so. And we were. Charles Austin Smith verbally berated anyone who dared speak or nod off during his meetings. He verbally berated my mother for speaking her opinions so often that she no longer had any. King Smith. Formerly Smitoukis, but that was part of his poor life. When the King spoke, his subjects lost their tongues and listened.
The meeting was a way for all of the OPI Gem departments to touch base. Since I was head of internal affairs, it was my responsibility to coordinate Cash’s new position as Pharmaceutical Formulation Chemist. Since most formulation chemists were either self-taught or had in essence been apprenticed under experienced researchers, Cash was an immediate important person in the company. A pharmaceutical rock star, if you will. I didn’t know how I felt about my new charge. I wanted Bruce back.
After the meeting, I headed to my father’s office to find out where he went. Closing the door behind me, I took the only available seat opposite his desk. I waited for him to look up from his computer before speaking.
“What happened to Bruce, Daddy?”
My father took off his reading glasses and set them on his desk. “Mr. Gowin was not performing. I have big projects emerging that are going to set us on the map as a pharmaceutical company. We needed a new set of eyes. I trust that you will take Ms. Wickham under your wing.”
I nodded … too eagerly. He frowned. “You will be working closely with her while we formulate and test a new drug. I’m putting you in charge of the entire project.”
My jaw dropped. I quickly recovered, wiping the silly smile from my face, trying to be vice president of internal affairs.
It was a big deal. Whatever my father’s motives were for bringing me into the company were all cast aside by this one bit of news. He trusted me with the launching of a new drug. That was huge!
“Thank you, Daddy. I’m so honored.”
He dismissed me with a wave of his hand, and I had to restrain myself from skipping out of the office. The first thing I did was call Caleb.
He was breathless when he picked up the phone. I imagined he’d just come back from a run.
“Wow, Red. I’m so proud of you. I’ll pick you up from work tonight and we’ll celebrate.”
I glowed under his praise. I agreed to be ready by seven. I hung up the phone and smoothed my skirt. I was going to have to take a trip down to the lab where Cash would be setting up her office. Since we were going to be working together, it was in my best interest to get to know her. When I turned toward the door, she was already there.
“Leah,” she said. “May I come in?”
I nodded and motioned for her to take a seat.
“I thought we could maybe get lunch, get to know one another a little bit.”
I decided not to tell her that I was about to do the same thing. Let her think she was chasing me. I was the boss; I should maintain a professional air. I studied her features as she sat across from me. We were around the same age. She was a little leathery, like she’d been best friends with a tanning bed for the last few years. And, I could respect a nice C-cup, but when you delved into the double D’s you were emulating a little too much Jessica Rabbit. Cash was definitely double D’ing it.
“I don’t really know my way around,” she said, crossing her legs. “I just moved here from D.C.”
What did one say to something like that? I really didn’t care where she was from. I smiled.
“You can ride with me. Tomorrow?”
She nodded and stood up. She had a tattoo of a dolphin on her ankle. Strange for someone from D.C.
“Great, see you tomorrow.” She lingered at the door. I thought she was going to say something else, but at the last minute she sped out and turned the corner as if she were running from something.
I watched her walk down the hall and push the button for the elevator. There was something so shady about her. Caleb would probably be able to figure her out. He was good at shit like that. I was almost tempted to let them meet, but then I thought of the way women reacted to Caleb, and I trashed the idea. The last thing I needed was that bottle blond flirting with my boyfriend. I’d just have to keep a close eye on her myself.
When six o’clock came, I slipped into the bathroom to freshen up for my date with Caleb. Luckily I was wearing my new, white Chanel suit. I pulled the pins from my hair and let it tumble down my back. The red was striking against the white. I was beautiful. I knew that, men told me all the time and most women were jealous of me. So jealous it was almost impossible to maintain friendships.
Caleb walked into my office ten minutes early, smelling of pine needles and looking edible. He was always early. I acted surprised, like I hadn’t spent the last twenty minutes primping in the bathroom. I stood up to kiss him and my stomach fluttered when his tongue slipped into my mouth.