Mattia had been the only one in my house to give me hugs. I counted on her hugs. I was just about to turn down the radio when Caleb turned it up.
Coldplay, he listened to them as if they were whispering truths to him. I never understood his fascination. They were always trying to dress up big concepts with piano vamps. I drummed my fingers on the armrest as I waited for the song to be over. Like anyone could fix anyone else. If that were true, Caleb wouldn’t like Debbie Downer music, he’d listen to happy crap that represented our relationship. When I met him, he was drowning in his emotion for some woman who had broken his heart. I spent years trying to pull him out of it, only to get a sort of floating contentment that came and went depending on the day. We’d go weeks at a time being happy with each other, and then suddenly, the wind would change direction, and Caleb would turn into the brooding, dark person I’d first encountered at the yacht party.
Right now … at this moment … on this day — he was happy. I looked at his face as he sang the lyrics to the song and linked our fingers. He said I could trust him.
As I drive home from my meeting with Olivia, I intermittently sob and swear. The whole world is swimming in and out of focus as I weigh the chances of losing my husband. Olivia’s words mingle with my thoughts until I almost crash into a garbage truck. As soon as I walk through the front door, I beeline outside to where Sam has Estella on a blanket. I pick her up and hold her against my chest. She wiggles and lets out a wail of protest. Sam takes her from me, and she stops crying. I take her back from Sam.
“Take the day off,” I say, studying her scrunched up face. “It’s about time she learns to f**king like me.”
Sam raises his eyebrows. I’m about to tell him that I don’t like the look on his face, when he turns and walks away.
I can see him through the French doors. He grabs his keys from the kitchen counter and strides off without a backward glance. I look back at Estella.
“Maybe we can try this again. If we can figure out how to like each other, your daddy might stay.”
She flails her fists and blinks at me. She really is kind of cute.
I stretch my legs out and lay her on my thighs. I talk to her for the next thirty minutes about life until she starts screaming at me. Then we go into the house for dinner. After I’ve put her to bed, I put on my sexiest piece of lingerie and wait. Forty minutes later, I hear his key in the lock.
When I rush into the foyer, Caleb is closing the front door behind him. I freeze, and when he looks up, I’m not sure who looks more flustered.
“I’m just here to pick up some of my things.”
He won’t look at me. I take a few steps toward him. I want to touch him, tell him I’m sorry.
“Caleb, talk to me … please.”
He fixes his eyes on me, and I see none of the warmth that used to be there. I flinch back. Has everything between us disappeared?
“I’ll be back for her tomorrow. There are just a few things I need to pick up,” he repeats.
I place a hand on his chest and he freezes.
He grabs my wrist. “Don’t.” This time he looks me in the eyes. “You use sex like it’s a weapon. I’m not interested.”
“It’s okay when Olivia uses it, just not me?” The words are out before I can stop them.
“What are you talking about?”
I think about my conversation with Sam. If I want to know about his relationship with Olivia, now is probably the time to ask, since he’s already mad at me.
“Why didn’t you ever sleep with her?”
Caleb reacts instantaneously, grabbing me by the shoulders and moving me out of his way. He heads for the stairs. I follow behind him.
“Come on, Caleb. You let her use sex — or lack thereof — as a weapon. Why?”
He glares at me. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Maybe. But that’s because you never talk about her. And, I want to know exactly what happened between the two of you.”
“She left me,” he says. “End of story.”
“What about the second time?” I challenge. “During your amnesia?”
“She left me again.”
His admission cuts me, deeply.
“Why didn’t you ever talk to me about what she did? When she came back and lied to you?”
“Why didn’t you ever ask?” He counters.
“I didn’t want to know…”
He starts to turn away.
“But, I do now,” I say.
“No?” I follow him up the first few stairs. “I want to know why you hired her as my attorney … why you weren’t angry with her for lying to you.”
He turns around so quickly I almost topple over.
“I hired her as your attorney because I knew she’d win. I was angry with her … I still am.”
“Why?” I yell after him, but he’s already gone.
One thing to know about me: I dig. If I can’t find it — I dig deeper, harder. I dig until I find it. The only thing I couldn’t dig into was my own mind. I didn’t want to see it.
My father was acting strange, even for him. Twice, I’d caught him swallowing a handful of pills. The only pills I’d ever seen him take were vitamins. These were not vitamins. I found the bottle in the top drawer of his desk.
The bottle said it was a Vasodilator — a high blood pressure medication, but also mixed in the same bottle was a pill I recognized — Klonopin, an anti-anxiety pill. My father had anxiety. I wanted to know how long he’d been taking them and why he was taking them. My father had always been the healthiest man I’d ever met. He was sixty and he had a six-pack. It was an old man six-pack, but still. He made fun of people who suffered from things like depression and anxiety, ironic since he supplied them with medication.
I called my mother.
Her voice warbled across the line when I asked her about the pills.
“He’s fine,” she affirmed. “You know how things get in the office. He’s under stress with this new drug he’s testing.”
I held the receiver closer to my ear. Whatever I said from here could either end the conversation or tell me exactly what I needed to know. I opened my copy of Manipulating Mother 101.
As far as I knew, the testing of our newest drug, Prenavene was successful. Daily, I had to sign off on paperwork that Cash or my father delivered to my office. The drug had been in its testing phase for more than five years. We were on the final leg toward marketing it. Why would my father be having anxiety over a successful project?
“I bet he’s a mess,” I said, trying my hardest to sound sympathetic. I could almost see her nodding on the other end of the line.
“I wish I could just smack that terrible man,” she whispered into the receiver, "claiming Prenavene induced his heart attack. Your father hired a private investigator, you know. The man was a walking heart attack. He has a history of it in his family and he weighs three hundred pounds.”
She said three hundred pounds like it was a swear word. It took me a few seconds to wrap my mind around the words heart attack.
Why hadn’t I heard about this? A heart attack during a trial run of a drug was huge! It was enough to shut down the testing until the drug could be re-formulated. It was hard to say anything after that announcement. Why? Why would he risk everything? Not wanting her to know she’d just outed something I obviously wasn’t already privy to, I listened to her babble for a few more minutes. I needed to use her for more information. I swallowed the betrayal in my throat and told her that I had another call coming through.
Why would he keep something like this from me? Why hadn’t they shut down the testing? I thought about calling Cash, but her loyalty was obviously to my father if she hadn’t told me already. I was going to have to dig this out myself. Money. That had to be it. At the last sales meeting, he’d mentioned a drop in our sales. Prenavene was a way to bring the company back. Were we really that desperate for a new drug that he would do something like this? Risk everything?
The next morning, I went into the office early. My father arrived promptly at six o’clock every day. I had an hour before he would show. I had a set of spare keys to his office. I unlocked the door and flicked on the light. Stepping around to his computer, I powered it on, drumming my fingers on his desk. His level of access in the system was higher than mine. I would need his passcodes to access his files. Swearing, I typed in my parents' wedding anniversary. Incorrect Code popped up on the screen. That was a terrible guess on my part — he wasn’t exactly the sentimental type.
I tried birthdates, my sister's and mine. Nothing. Finally, I tried the coordinates to his hunting cabin in North Carolina. The system magically opened, and I had the vast grid of OPI-Gem in front of me. I clicked on the icon marked Prenavene and went to town.
It was true. Oh God, it was true. By the time I locked the door to his office, I had enough information to shut down my father’s company and put him in prison for the rest of his life. The worst part was I wanted to. No, I didn’t. He was my father … well, kind of. He’d raised me. Or maybe Mattia had raised me. I wasn’t even sure anymore.
My head throbbed as I made my way to the elevator. I was going to call in sick. I couldn’t look all of those people in the face when I knew what I knew. I had to figure this out. Find a way to know exactly who was involved and who was being kept in the dark like me. My head was down as the doors opened. When I looked up, he was standing in front of me, a newspaper tucked under his arm. Shit, why hadn’t I thought to take the stairs?
I threw my shoulders back, forcing a smile.
“Good morning, Daddy.”
He nodded at me, exiting the elevator. Then all of a sudden, he stopped. “Why are you here so early?”
The lie rolled off my tongue easily. “I’m not feeling well today. I just came in to pick up some work. I’m taking the day off.”
He narrowed his eyes. “You look fine. Go home and change and come back in. I need you here today.”
“I’m sick,” I said, like he hadn’t heard me the first time.
“This is a pharmaceutical company, Johanna. Go get some samples out of storage and medicate yourself.”
I watched the empty hallway for a good minute after he’d disappeared into his office. Did that really just happen? Of course it did. My father hadn’t taken a sick day in twenty years of work, what would make me think it would be okay to offer him illness as an excuse? I stepped into the elevator and the door closed. If I hurried, I could be back in forty minutes.
Caleb took the baby to his condo the day after he came to pick up his clothes. His face was grim and determined as he stood at the door and let me say goodbye. I kiss the red fuzz on her head and smile casually. I am treating this whole situation as if they are going to the supermarket rather than moving out. Bide your time. Let him see how hard it is to take care of a baby by himself. I feel smug as they pull out of the driveway. Sometimes a little separation is good for the soul. Caleb is a family man. In a few days, he’ll be back, and I’ll try harder. Everything will work out. Estella is my sure thing. She’ll keep us tied together no matter how bad things get.
When his car lights disappear, I open the freezer and pull out two bags of frozen vegetables. Carrying them to the table, I poke holes in the plastic with my finger and start thumbing peas into my mouth. There are things I could do to make the situation better. Katine takes her kids to Mommy & Me classes. They sit in circles and sing and bang f**king tambourines. I could do that.
The doorbell rings. I shove a handful of lima beans into my mouth and dance toward the door. Maybe, Caleb has changed his mind already.
My husband is not standing on the doorstep. I eye the man who is.
“What do you want?”
“I came to see if you were all right.”
“Why wouldn’t I be all right?” I snap. I make to close the door, but he pushes past me and walks into the foyer.
“You shouldn’t be here.” My words might as well be vapor. They don’t reach him, or he has his own agenda, per usual.
He looks over his shoulder at me, his smirk so familiar I feel my vertigo slip.
“Of course I should be here. I’m checking up on my sister-in-law. It’s the family thing to do, especially since my brother has left you.”
I throw the door closed and the pictures on the wall rattle.
“He hasn’t left me, you abhorrent prick.” I march past him and sit at the table with my peas.
He strolls in a moment later and starts examining the photos on the wall like he’s never seen them. I eat my peas one by one and watch him.
Finally, he sits down across from me, folding his hands on the tabletop.
“What did you do this time?”
I look away from the smug expression on his face. “I didn’t do anything. Everything is fine. He hasn’t left me.”
“I heard they passed you up for the Mommy of the Year award.”
I bite the insides of my cheek and refuse to respond. Seth gets up and ambles over to the liquor cabinet, pouring himself a finger of Caleb’s Scotch.
“If you keep it up, my baby brother might actually file the papers this time. A man can only take so much of your never-ending antics.”
I throw him a dirty look. “And then what, Seth? You move in and take over his life?”
This time I’ve thrown him off balance. He lifts the glass to his lips, never breaking eye contact with me. Unlike his brother’s, Seth’s eyes are grey. At the moment, I can almost see the smoke coming out of them.