“I like this,” he said, running a finger along the material that topped off my cleavage. He was referring to my suit, but with Caleb there was always underlying meaning.
“Why don’t you take it off and see if you like what’s underneath,” I said into his mouth. I liked the idea of christening my new office.
He was considering my offer, when there was a knock on my door.
I pushed away from his chest, annoyed.
Cash opened the door. Her face flushed when she saw us.
“My God, I’m so sorry,” she said, backing away. “I was coming to ask you if you knew how to get to the nearest Panera.”
Her eyes traveled over us, pausing on Caleb’s face.
I didn’t like the way she was looking at him. I pressed myself closer, wrapping my arms around his neck like a possessive sloth.
She seemed to understand my body language. The corners of her mouth turned up slightly. There was an uncomfortable pause, during which I was waiting for her to go away. Caleb cleared his throat. Introductions, of course.
“Cassandra Wickham, this is my boyfriend, Caleb,” I said, giving the mandatory introduction. Caleb broke away from me to shake her hand. I didn’t want him touching her. She held onto his hand for a few seconds too many, smiling coyly.
Did she not see me standing right there?
“Are you new to the area?” Caleb asked, letting go of her hand. He leaned into me, and I pressed myself against his side. He knew my weaknesses, one of them being insecurity. Whenever he picked up on those vibes, he overcompensated in the attention department. Perfect, he was perfect.
Cash nodded. “Just moved here a week ago.”
“Cassandra is going to be working with me on the new project,” I said, tightly. I didn’t feel like calling her Cash anymore.
I knew what was coming next. Caleb was a gentleman. If someone didn’t know their way around and was proclaiming hunger —
“You should join us for dinner. We were going out to celebrate.”
I flinched. She didn’t appear to notice, maybe because her eyes were glued to my boyfriend.
“I’d hate to impose…”
Yeah, f**king right.
“Of course you wouldn’t be imposing,” I said, quickly. “We’d love it if you tagged along.”
Her eyes shot to mine, and I had no doubt she heard what I was really saying.
“Well then, I’ll just grab my purse.”
As soon as she was out of my office, Caleb kissed me on the forehead … then the lips. He was drawn to kindness, turned on by it even — which is exactly why I was insecure. I wasn’t exactly on Santa’s Nice List. Either he hadn’t figured that out yet, or he was too distracted by my boobs to care. Admittedly, I had a really nice set.
We met Cash in the lobby and she insisted on driving with us. I just about had to nudge her out of the way to get to the front seat. Caleb took us to Seasons 52. We ordered wine and one glass later, Cash found out more about my boyfriend than I had in a year.
“So, this girl — your ex — wouldn’t sleep with you. Excuse me for saying this, but you’re so f**king sexy, how is that possible? Was she a lesbian?”
Caleb smiled crookedly, and I wondered what secret he was hiding behind his sensual lips.
He ran his tongue along his bottom lip and regarded Cash with what I called the ‘laughing eyes’.
“Someone hurt her emotionally. Unfortunately, I hurt her as well.”
“Unfortunately?” she mimicked, her eyes darting to where I sat.
I felt the sting without seeing his face. Caleb wore his emotion on his jaw. I could imagine he was clenching it pretty hard at this point. I reached for his hand under the table, and our fingers entwined. He thought I was offering support, but really I just needed to know he was still mine. I wanted to remind him that I was the one sitting at this table with him, not her.
He shifted in his seat. Cash had given him the third degree about how we’d met. As soon as she’d latched onto the idea that he’d been reluctant to go on the blind date with me, she’d wanted to know why.
“What about you, Cash? What’s your story?” Cash’s eyelashes tried to fly away. I bit down my smirk and prepared for a wild ride. Caleb had a knack for rooting out information. I was fairly certain that by the end of our meal, we’d know her whole life story.
She reached a manicured finger up to swipe her hair behind her ear. She was hiding something. I knew what a woman with a secret looked like; I stared at one in the mirror every day. Women wore their secrets in their eyes, and if you paid attention you would catch glimpses of sharp emotion, pooling through in regular conversation. Caleb asked her if she’d moved to Florida alone, and I caught a quick downward glance, before she cheerfully answered, “Yes.”
I’d taken a psychology class in college that studied body language. One of the lectures had been called The Art of Lying. We had been required to run an experiment along with reading the chapter, in which we’d ask a person who was not in the class, a series of questions. Much to my delight, I’d discovered that a person who is recalling a real memory looks up and to the right, whereas a person who is utilizing the creative part of their brain — to lie — looks down and to the left. Cash was doing a lot of downward dogging with her eyes. Filthy. Little. Liar.
“Where does your family live?” Caleb asked. He was running a piece of my hair between his fingers. Cash looked on enviously.
“Oh, they’re around,” she said, waving off his question.
“My father lives here. My mother lives in New York.”
“Do you see him often?”
She shook her head. “Not really.”
Another f**ked up family, no doubt. I almost nodded in support.
“I wish I had more time,” she said quickly. “I’ve just been so busy with the move. We’re very close.”
Her mouth was open to deliver another lie, when our server arrived with the food. A shame. I wanted to hear it. The rest of the meal was accompanied by small talk. So, she was close to her father? Must be nice.
Caleb had hidden the boat from me. What else is he hiding? The knowledge that there could be more is rusting my brain. It’s all I can think about, until I am practically choking on my suspicion. I’ve been frowning so much I’m going to need a Botox shot at the end of this. One thing is certain: I need to find out if there is more, even if that means breaking his code of privacy. Caleb hates anyone in his office if he isn’t there. I’ve always given him his space, seeing that the entire rest of the house is mine, but tonight calls for snooping. I let Sam go home as soon as he puts Estella down. Normally, I make him stay for a few hours and watch TV with me, but as soon as seven o’clock comes, I practically shove him out the door.
I open the door to his office still chewing on my celery stick and flick on the light. I hardly ever come in here. The whole room smells of him. I breathe deeply and immediately feel like crying. I used to get to cuddle up to that smell every night, and now…
I eye the stacks of books piled everywhere. I don’t really know when he finds the time to read. When he is home with us, he is cooking and interacting. Despite the fact that there is always a book lying around the house, I’ve never actually seen him read. Once, I’d been tidying up, putting the books that he scattered around the house back in his office, when his bookmark had fallen from one of the novels I was carrying. Bending to retrieve it from the floor, I’d found what looked like a penny — or at least it used to be a penny. Now, it had a message about kissing stamped on it. It was an odd shape too, bent slightly and elongated. I’d stuck it back in his book and the next time I was out, I’d picked him up a real bookmark. It was leather, imported from Italy. I paid fifty dollars to the salesman, thinking Caleb was going to be so impressed at my thoughtfulness. When I’d presented it to him that night at dinner, he’d smiled politely and thanked me, showing none of the enthusiasm I’d expected.
“I just thought you needed one. You use that weird penny, and it keeps falling out — “
His eyes had immediately snapped to my face. “Where is it? You didn’t throw it away, did you?” I’d blinked at him, confused.
“No, it’s in your office.” I couldn’t hide the hurt from my voice. His eyes had softened, and he’d come around the table to kiss my cheek.
“Thank you, Leah. It was a good idea — really. I needed something better to use to remind me of my place.”
“In the book.” He’d smiled.
I’d never seen the penny again, but I had the feeling he’d stowed it somewhere for safekeeping. Caleb was strangely sentimental.
Pushing aside a pile of books on the floor, I go to his drawers first and begin pulling out papers. Bills, work crap — nothing important. The filing cabinet was next. I browse through each file folder, reading them out loud.
“College, Contractors, Deeds to houses, Discover Card…”
I flip back to Deeds to houses. We only had one house, aside from Caleb’s condo, which he insisted on keeping. There were three. The first address was for our house, the second for his condo, and the third…
I sit down as my eyes rove over each word … each name. I feel like I am trying to dig through glass. My brain is at a disconnect with my eyes. I force myself to read. By the time I am done, my eyes can no longer focus on anything. I lay my head on his desk, the papers still clutched in my hand. I’m having trouble breathing. I start to cry, but not self-pitying tears: tears of anger. I cannot believe he did this to me. I cannot.
I stand up so filled with rage. I am ready to do something reckless. I pick up the phone to call him — to scream at him. I hang up before I dial. I double over, clutching my stomach and a moan rumbles from my lips. How can this hurt so much? There have been worse things done to me. I hurt. I hurt so much. I want someone to cut my heart out just so I don’t have to feel this. He promised he would never hurt me. He promised to take care of me.
I knew he never loved me like he loved her, but I wanted him anyway. I knew his love for me was conditional, but I wanted him anyway. I knew I was second choice, but I wanted him anyway. But, this was too much. Stumbling from his office and into the foyer, I look around my mansion, my beautiful little world. Had I created this to cover up the stench of my life? A filigree egg sits on a table near the door. It's an antique that Caleb bought for me on a trip we took to Cape Cod. It cost him five thousand dollars. I pick it up and fling it across the room, screaming as I do. It smashes against the tile, skittering every way, like my life.
I walk to our wedding picture, which is hanging above the sofa. I consider it for a moment, remembering the day — supposedly the happiest day of my life. I grab the broom, which is leaning against a wall, and smash the handle as hard as I can into the glass frame. The picture comes off the wall, crashing over furniture and landing face down on the coffee table.
Estella starts to cry.
I wipe my leaking face with the back of my hand and move toward the stairs. I’m kind of glad she’s awake. I need someone to hold.
My wedding day looked more like a coronation than an actual wedding. It was a coronation for me in a way. I had won my crown. I had, quite possibly, the sexiest, most endearing man the world had to offer. I’d beaten out the evil, raven-haired witch to get him. I felt triumphant. I felt validated. It felt like a long time coming.
I thought all of these things, as I stood in front of the mirror in my ivory dress. It was a heart bodice, mermaid skirt. My hair was up, curled into what looked like a seashell, with a stunning white flower pinned to the side. I’d wanted to wear my hair down, but Caleb asked for it up. I’d do anything for Caleb.
I peeped out the window at my parent’s sprawling backyard. The guests were starting to arrive; ushers were leading them to their seats. The sky was dimming and the thousands of lights I insisted be strung in the trees were finally beginning to show.
A huge tent sat off to the left, where the reception would be. To the right was the Olympic-sized swimming pool. My parents had ordered a glass floor to be placed over the pool, where Caleb and I would take our vows. We’d be walking on water. It made me giddy just to think of it. Chairs were set up to circle the pool. We’d have an audience all around us. Caleb had laughed when he’d first seen it the day before. He hated the way my family tried to outdo the Joneses.
“Love is simple,” he’d said. “The more pomp you add to a wedding, the less sincere it becomes.”
I hated that. Weddings were the frosting for the rest of your life. If the frosting wasn’t good, who wanted to stick around for the cupcake?
We’d stared at that glass floor for a good fifteen minutes, before I eventually said, “I wanted to be the Little Mermaid.” He laughed at first, and then his face had turned serious. He tugged on one of my curls. “It’ll be beautiful, Lee. You’ll be the Little Mermaid. I’m sorry, that was the jackass in me speaking.”
My mother bustled into the room ten minutes before the wedding. It was the first I’d seen of her all day. She leaned over me as Courtney applied my lipstick. Katine, who was across the room putting the final touches on her own makeup, met my eyes in the mirror. She was all too familiar with my mother and her antics. I quelled rising nausea, as Courtney dabbed at my lips with a tissue.
“Hi, Mom,” I said, turning to smile at her.
“Why did you choose that shade, Leah? You look like a vampire.”