“Caleb!” I grabbed him, hauled him back. His body was still twisted toward my father like he wanted to hit him again. “Let’s go. I want to leave.”
His jaw was scary. Truly. Put me in a room with a hundred hungry mountain lions before you put me in a room with Caleb's jaw.
Caleb grabbed my hand. My father, the great Charles Austin Smith was flopped face up on the chaise lounge, his nose bleeding through his fingers and his face the color of raw liver. Before we walked out, I stopped. My breath was keeping time with my heart. Caleb looked at me questioningly, and I shook my head. I faced my family. The three of them were huddled together around my father's bleeding face. My mother's eyes were terrified, as she tried to mop up the blood with a beverage napkin. My sister was saying Daddy over and over as she cried. I felt repulsed and terrified as I watched. For the first time, I didn't want to belong with them. I didn't want to be a part of their bleeding, cowering trio.
"Daddy?" He lifted his head and I saw his bloodshot eyes find me. My mother and sister stopped wailing to look at me, too. "Daddy," I repeat. "I'm never going to call you that again. You probably don't care, and that's okay, because I don't either. I'd rather be the bastard daughter of a prostitute than ever share your blood."
Caleb squeezed my hand, and we walked out.
Two days later he was dead.
I stalk Cammie on Facebook. I swear all that dumb blond does is post pictures of her lunch. I hate that. I keep hoping to catch some snippet of Caleb or that slut, Olivia. I sign on to my barely used account and type in Cammie’s name. I want to see if she posted pictures of Olivia’s birthday. I want to see if Caleb was there. That’s stupid, I tell myself. Olivia is married to sexy Ghandi. There is no way Caleb would be invited. I comb through all of the pictures anyway, searching for a piece of his hands or feet or hair. All I see are pictures of Olivia. Someone had snapped a photo of her walking into the surprise party. Her mouth is open and if you didn’t know better, you’d think someone was pointing a gun at her instead of shouting Happy Birthday. She is wearing skinny jeans and a tube top. I sniff as I click through the pictures. Olivia hugging Noah, Olivia laughing with Cammie, Olivia blowing out candles on a cupcake tower, Olivia shooting someone with a water gun, Olivia getting pushed into the pool…
The very last picture is of Olivia opening a present. She is sitting on a chair with the box open in her lap. The look on her face is anything but happy. Her eyebrows are drawn together and her mouth is puckered into one of her famous side frowns. I eye the box, trying to see what’s inside of it, but all I can see is the metallic blue paper. Cammie has captioned the picture: Don’t know who this one is from?? Own up or you don’t get a thank-you card.
I look at the package suspiciously. What could be inside that would cause her to look so horrified? I click to the next pictures, but Olivia is in none of them. It’s like she disappeared after she opened that package. I shove a handful of barely thawed carrots into my mouth. Scooting my chair back, I go in search of Sam. I find him folding laundry in the nursery. Caleb has the baby, but Sam has been coming in anyway to help me live.
“You were at that party, right?”
“What party?” He opens a drawer, deposits a pile of onesies and closes it without looking at me.
“Olivia’s party, Sam.” His eyes travel from my crossed arms to my tapping foot.
“I will not feed into your stalker tendencies.”
“What was in that blue box Olivia opened?”
Sam’s eyes snap to my face.
“How do you know about that?”
“I was on ... uh ... Facebook.”
Sam shakes his head. “I don’t know. The box didn’t have a card. She took one look inside that sucker and ran into the house. I didn’t see her again after that. I think Noah took her home.”
“What happened to the box?” Why am I so interested?
“I think Cammie has it.”
I grab his arm. “Ask her.”
He shakes himself free, his brow creased into three deep lines. I point to his forehead.
“You should really consider Botox for that.”
“I am not digging around in the Olivia obsession box for you.”
“I’m not obsessed with her,” I counter. “I just want to revel in what made her upset.”
“Don’t you and Nancy do enough Olivia bashing as it is?”
I screw up my nose. Could there ever be enough Olivia bashing? That woman should have to wear a sign on her back that says ‘White Trash Boyfriend Stealer’.
“Say what you like, Sam, but she didn’t try to destroy your life.”
I am walking toward the living room when his voice catches up to me.
“From what I hear, she saved yours.”
I spin and glare. I can’t believe he just said that. How completely untrue. I am sick, sick, sick of being forced to feel grateful to that sly looking bitch for something anyone could have done. I could have hired any attorney I wanted. Olivia was forced on me.
“Is that what Cammie told you?”
He puts the last clean bottle in the cabinet and faces me.
“Isn’t that what happened? She took your case and won it?”
“For God’s sake! That was her job.”
“Why did she take your case?”
I am already pale, but when someone asks me that question, e.g., my mother, my sister, my friends … I can always feel the color in my skin peel back. Why did she take the case? Because Caleb asked her to. Why did Caleb ask her to? At first, I thought it was because she lied to him. He was collecting on her guilt, making her pay up for the deceit by defending his wife. But, then I intercepted a look. A look. How long can a look be … truly? A look can be a second long, a freaking, harmless second, and it can tell long, complicated stories. You can see three years in a second-long look. You can see longing, too. I hadn’t known that until I saw it for myself. I wish I hadn’t seen it. I wish I could never see another look transferred between two people with history.
"It seems to me, you give loyalty to all of the wrong people," he says.
"What are you talking about?" I snap.
"Oh, I don't know. You almost take the fall for that father of yours, when he obviously treated you like crap, and then you shove your baby off to the side like she's an inconvenience to you."
“You can have the rest of the day off.”
Sam raises his eyebrows. “I’ll see you on Monday, then.”
I don’t acknowledge him when he leaves. I go upstairs to check on Estella and then realize that she's gone. I'd been doing that lately, expecting to hear her or see her when I walk into a room. Unlike a few months ago, I don't feel relief that she's not here. I feel...
What do I feel? I hate that. I definitely don't want to think about my feelings.
I go to the freezer and pull out the lima beans. Weighing the bag in my hand for a few seconds, I suddenly toss them back like I'm pitching for the Marlins.
I grab my car keys from the hook in the kitchen and head for the garage. My fast car is in the garage: my pre-baby, lots of fun, cherry red convertible. I pat the hood before I get in. Then I'm zipping past my mommy-mobile, past the mailboxes and down the street.
I feel lost. I feel lost and incredibly angry. I jerk to a stop in the parking lot of the grocery store. Marching inside, I don't miss a beat as I snatch up a basket and head for the candy aisle. I empty the shelf of chocolate covered raisins and grab an armful of Twizzlers. When I dump everything on the belt at the register, the kid ringing me up looks at me with wide eyes.
"Will that be — "
"That's all," I shout. "Unless you want to give me a new life."
He's still gaping at me when I snatch up my load and run for the car.
The first thing I do when I get home is empty my freezer of vegetables. I cut the bags open, one by one, and send the colorful little niblets down the garbage disposal. I hum as I work. Then I take a swig of vodka, straight from the bottle, kick off my heels, and open the first box of chocolate covered raisins. It all goes downhill from there. I eat every last box until I am sick. I call Caleb at two A.M. His voice is slurred when he picks up.
No two A.M. feeding, I think. Lucky him.
"What is it, Leah?" he asks.
"I want my baby back." I chew on a Twizzler and wait.
He's quiet for about ten seconds.
"Because, I want her to know that it's all right to eat candy."
"What?" His voice is clipped.
"Don't you 'what' me. Bring my baby back. First thing tomorrow." I hang up the phone.
I want my damn baby. I want my damn baby.
The trial was the most surreal experience of my life — not just because my husband’s ex-girlfriend was my attorney, but also because I had never been called out on anything before. I was in real trouble for the first time in my life.
I didn’t agree to Olivia being my attorney. I fought it until Caleb got right in my face and said, “Do you want to win or not?”
“Why are you so sure she can win this case? And why would you think she’d want to? Are you forgetting how she pretended not to know you when you lost your memory? She wants you back — she'll probably lose on purpose.”
“I know her,” he said. “She’ll fight hard … especially if I ask her to.”
That was it. Case closed. Except mine was still open and dangling like a glass Christmas ornament from my archrival’s fingertip. I had to trust him via her; there was no one else. My father was usually the one to get me out of trouble, and this time he was the one who had put me there before dying of a heart attack.
I didn’t trust her. She was snappy with me. Attorneys were supposed to make you feel good — even if they were lying about your chances at winning. Olivia made it her sole mission in life to make me believe I was going down. It was not lost on me, that whenever my husband was around, she was sour and tense. She wouldn’t look at him either, even when he directed a question at her, she’d pretend to do something else when she answered him. I hated her. I hated her every day for the year it took her to clear me of the charges. There was only one day during the entire thing when I did not hate her.
The day she put me on the stand was the worst day of my life. No one wanted her to do it — they thought it would ruin the case.
Let her plead the fifth was the consensus at the firm. Olivia had gone against every piece of advice offered as she prepped me for the stand. I saw the looks that were being exchanged at my expense. Even when Bernie, the senior attorney, had approached her, Olivia had shot her down.
“Damn it, Bernie! She can handle herself,” she’d said. “This is my case and I’m putting her on the stand.”
I was terrified. My fate was in the hands of an evil, conniving woman. I couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Most of me was convinced that she was trying to lose the case on purpose. When I told Caleb my theory, he was sorting mail in the kitchen. He barely glanced up at me.
“Do what she says.”
“What do you mean, do what she says? You’re not even listening to me.”
He tossed the mail down and walked to the fridge.
“I heard you, Leah.”
“I don’t trust her.”
He had a beer in his hand when he turned toward me, but he was looking at the floor.
And that was it. My only ally was the woman who would gain the most from my imprisonment. She prepped me for the stand by drilling me with questions that the Prosecution would ask, drilled me with her own, yelled at me when I wasn’t sedate enough, swore at me when I faltered in my answers. She was hard and she was tough, and a part of me appreciated that. A very, very small — I hate this bitch and I want her to die — part. But, I trusted Caleb. Caleb trusted Olivia. I was either going to go down in flames or walk out of the courtroom a free woman.
The day I took the stand, I was threadbare. I wore what Olivia brought for me: a dress with soft peaches and lilacs, my hair in a low ponytail, pearl stud earrings. As I secured them in my ears, I wondered if they belonged to her. They were fake pearls, so probably. My hands were shaking as I smoothed out my dress and looked at myself in the mirror. I looked vulnerable. I felt vulnerable. Maybe that was her plan. Caleb said to trust her.
I searched for her eyes as I took my seat on the bench, my knees weak beneath my folded hands. In the weeks of prepping, I’d learned to read her eyes. I’d learned that if she held them wide, her eyebrows slightly raised — I was doing well. If she stared right through me, she was mentally cussing me out, and I needed to change course, quickly. I hated that I knew her so well. I hated it, and I was grateful for it. I often found myself wondering if Caleb knew how to read her eyes like I did. Probably. I didn’t know what was worse — being able to read Olivia so well, or actually feeling proud that I could do it.
She stood in front of me, instead of pacing back and forth like they did in the movies. She looked relaxed in her tan suit. She was wearing a striking, cobalt blue necklace that made her eyes glow.
I took a breath and answered her first question.
“I worked at OPI Gem for three years.”
“And what was your active job title?”
I looked at the necklace, then her eyes, the necklace, then her eyes…
It wasn’t really cobalt. What was that shade?
“I was Vice President of Internal Affairs…”