It carried on like that for forty minutes. Toward the end, she started asking me questions that made every sweat gland on my body weep. Questions about my father. My mother was sitting next to Caleb, watching me intently, her hands pressed beneath her chin in what looked like a silent prayer. I knew it to be a silent warning.
Don’t humiliate your family, Leah. Don’t tell them where you come from. She was begging the gods of misbehaving, illegitimate, f**ked up daughters.
Olivia hadn’t wanted her there for fear of her intimidating me into not telling the truth. But, she had insisted on coming.
“What was your relationship like with your father, outside of work, Ms. Smith?”
My mother’s chin dropped to her chest. My sister swiped her hair behind her ears and gave my mother a sideways glance. Caleb pressed his lips together and looked at the ground. The gods of illegitimate, fucked-up daughters rumbled in the clouds.
I straightened up, pressing back the tears — those hateful tears that exposed my weakness.
I recalled what Olivia had said to me when we were arguing about some of her questions just a week ago. I told her that I wasn’t going to blacken my father’s name from the witness stand. She’d gotten grey in the face and her dime-sized hands had balled into fists.
“Where is he, Leah? He f**king threw blood at you and died! You tell the truth or you go to prison.”
Then she’d sidled up close to me so no one else could hear and said, “Use your anger. Remember how it felt to destroy my things when I was trying to steal something from you? If you lose this case, I might take him from you again.”
That had done the trick. I had been so angry I’d answered all of her questions — even the hard ones. She’d had a smug look on her face for the rest of the day.
Now, I had to channel some of the anger back. I pictured her with Caleb. That was all I needed.
She repeated her question. “What was your relationship like with your father, Leah, outside of work?”
“It was nonexistent. He only interacted with me at work. At home he considered me somewhat of a nuisance.”
It all went downhill from there.
“Your father had a reputation for never hiring a member of his family, is that correct?”
“Yes,” I said. “I was the first.”
I risked a glance at my mother. She wasn’t looking at me.
Olivia’s opening argument had included this information. She had stood in front of the jury with her hands behind her back and warned them that the Prosecution was going to paint me as cunning and manipulative, but really all I was, was a pawn in my father’s desperate plan to save his company from going bankrupt. “He used and manipulated his own daughter for financial gain,” she’d asserted.
Those words had unzipped my controlled exterior. I started crying immediately.
She cleared her throat, bringing me back to the present.
“Did your father ever ask you to sign documents without you looking at them?”
“What did he say to prevent you from looking at the documents?”
There was an objection from the Prosecution. Olivia rephrased her question.
“What was the typical procedure your father used in obtaining your signature?”
“He would tell me that he needed the signatures quickly, and then wait in the room until I had signed everything.”
“Did you ever mention to your father that you were uncomfortable signing the documents without reading them?”
Another objection. Leading the witness.
Olivia looked annoyed. The judge allowed it. She repeated her question, one eyebrow arched. I didn’t want to answer that question. It made me look irresponsible and foolish. Better a fool than an inmate, Olivia had snapped, when I’d voiced my concern the previous day. I swallowed my pride.
I wiggled around in my seat, darting my gaze to Caleb to see what his reaction was. He was staring at me stoically.
“So you just signed the documents? Documents that would potentially release a deadly drug onto the market and kill three people?”
I opened and closed my mouth. We hadn’t rehearsed this. I was on the verge of tears.
“Yes,” I said.
“I wanted to please him,” I said softly.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Smith, can you speak louder so the jury can hear you.”
Her eyes are glowing like her goddamn necklace.
“I wanted to please him,” I said louder.
She turned toward the jury so they could see the Wow, that’s f**king important look on her face.
By the time Olivia took her seat, my mother had a hand covering her mouth and she was crying.
She was probably never going to talk to me again. At least I had my sister. She had been a daddy’s girl, but she wasn’t blind to the strained relationship my father and I had. As I stepped down from the stand, I sought out my attorney’s eyes. They weren’t glowing any more. They just looked tired. I realized how hard it must have been to do what she just did — especially when she wanted me behind bars so she could score my husband.
Fierce, she was so fierce. It was probably the white trash background that made her such a good fighter. I gazed at her earnestly to see if she approved. She did. I had a second — no — a fraction of a second where I wanted to hug her. Then, it was gone and I wanted her to die and rot in the ground.
I wanted to gloat after I won the trial. I wanted her to know that he was mine and always would be. She needed to know. We were celebrating the win at a restaurant. Olivia arrived late. Honestly, I don’t even know why she came. Whatever debt she felt that she owed Caleb was paid. She’d won me my freedom and I would have gladly parted ways, content to never see her again. Yet, here she was, at my celebration, walking on my happy home with her short dress and spiked heels.
I made my way over to her, intent on expressing my displeasure with her being there. I glanced at Caleb who was preoccupied across the room. I didn’t want him to see me speaking to her. I wanted her to leave before he saw that she was there.
When she saw me coming, the smile dropped from her face. I had to give it to her — the bitch was exotic. One dark eyebrow rose as I strolled up, champagne in hand. Her mouth pulled into a pucker. She looked down her nose at me. I’d gotten used to it during the trial, but tonight it made me furious. Tonight was mine … and Caleb’s.
I hadn’t gotten four sentences in when she looked at me and said, “Go back to your husband, before he realizes that he’s still in love with me.”
It wasn’t true. She was hung up on him. Who could blame her? I looked at Caleb. He was everything I wanted to be. He protected me. He stood with me. He was the only man who said he’d never hurt me.
He laughed at something someone in his group said. My heart swelled at the sight of him. Olivia was jaded, and he was mine. I looked at my Caleb, so sure in that moment of our strength as a couple. It was as if he could sense my eyes on him. I felt the beating of butterfly wings in my stomach, just as his head came up. I smiled. We’d shared intimate looks like this in the courtroom. When I was afraid I looked at him, and he’d meet my eyes and I would feel better immediately. This time was different. I felt a groundswell of confusion. The room tilted. The beating wings stilled. He wasn’t looking at me.
As suddenly as he looked up, the smile was gone from his face. I could see his chest rising and falling beneath his suit like he was taking deep breaths. In those five seconds, I saw every piece of Caleb’s mind splayed across his face like someone had made a thousand little cuts and everything was coming out at once: anguish, love, belief. I turned to see where he looked. I knew I shouldn’t. But, how could I not? The answer was too bright for me. It made me want to shield my eyes and duck back into the cover of darkness. Olivia was the target of his eyes. I felt like he’d dropped me from the highest building. Shattered. Every part of me. He was a liar. He was a thief. I wanted to crumble to the ground right there, admit my defeat. Die and die again. Die and take Olivia with me. Die.
I opened my mouth to scream at her. To regale her with every insult and name I’d collected over my twenty-nine years. They sat on the tip of my tongue, ready to hurl toward her. I was going to throw my champagne in her face and rip at her eyes until they bled. Until Caleb thought she was so ugly and deformed, he would never look at her like that again.
Then she did the most dumbfounding thing. She set her glass down, her wrist wobbling like it couldn’t handle the weight of the dainty glass. Then she tucked her chin to her chest and left.
I took a breath — a deep, satisfying breath — and went back to Caleb’s side.
Mine. He was mine. That was that.
I rock back and forth after I get off the phone with Caleb. What is wrong with me? How did I worship the ground my father walked on after all those years of neglect? It was pathetic. I hate myself for it, and yet I know I’d do it all over again. And this baby — she is my only blood family and I do everything to stay away from her. She hasn’t done anything wrong. What type of person am I to isolate my own child?
How can chocolate covered raisins bring such clarity? It isn’t the chocolate covered raisins. I know that. It’s what Sam said to me, the part about me giving my loyalty to all the wrong people. The only person who really deserves it is the little girl I grew in my body. And yet, I can’t assemble the right feelings for her. I open my computer and search postpartum depression. I read through the symptoms, nodding. Yes, that has to be it. There's no way I am this bad of a person. I need to get on medication. There is something very wrong with me.
In the morning, Caleb brings my baby back. I clutch her to my chest and smell her head. He has her shock of red hair tied up in a little pink bow. I eye her gingham dress and give him a dirty look.
“Why are you dressing her like she’s Mary Poppins?” I say sourly. He deposits her diaper bag and car seat next to the door and starts to leave.
“Caleb!” I call after him. “Stay. Have some lunch with us.”
“I have somewhere to be, Leah.” He sees the disappointment on my face and says in a much gentler voice, “Maybe another day, yeah?”
I feel like someone has reached out and slapped me across the face. Not with his rejection of my lunch offer, but with that very simple “Yeah?” dripping off the end of his sentence. That yeah, is an acidic memory, burning painfully across my hippocampus. I think of Courtney and her summer in Europe. The way she came back, speaking as if she were born a Brit.
Wanna go to the mall tomorrow, yeah?
You have that shirt you borrowed from me, yeah?
You’re the worst sister in the world, yeah?
I am the worst sister in the world. Courtney, who always stuck up for me, always reminded my parents that I was alive … where is my loyalty to Courtney? I haven’t been to visit her once since…
I kick the door shut with my foot and carry Estella to her nursery. I take off the Mary Poppins dress. She gurgles and kicks her legs like she’s glad to be free of it. “Yeah,” I coo. “Let Daddy dress you in middle school and you might not have any friends.”
I start screaming Sam’s name. I hear his heavy footsteps as he charges up the stairs. “Wha—?” he says breathless. “Is she breathing?”
“She smiled!” I clap my hands.
He peers over my shoulder. “She’s been doing that.”
“Not at me,” I argue.
He looks at me as if I’ve grown another head. “Wow,” he says. “Wow. You grew a heart, and all it took was seven boxes of chocolate covered raisins.”
I flush. “How do you know about that?”
“Well, I took out the trash this morning, for one thing. And I’ve been finding them all over the floor.”
I’m quiet for a long time as I dress Estella in something more fashionable. It’s like dressing an octopus, all the limbs moving at the same time. I contemplate telling Sam that it was his words that shook me up a little, but decide not to. I tell him about Courtney instead. “Sam, I have a sister.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Great. So do I...”
“I’m having a serious moment here, Sam!” He motions for me to carry on.
I brush Estella’s hair. “I haven’t seen her in a very long time. She’s never even met Estella. Do you think that might have something to do with my…postpartum?” I test the word out, glancing at him sideways to see his reaction.
“I’m not a doctor.”
“Yet,” I say.
“Yet,” he smiles. “But, anything is possible. You are a pretty vile human being.”
I ignore him and brush Estella’s hair.
“So, take Estella and go see her,” he says, finally.
“Yeah,” I say. “Will you come with me?”
“I don’t see why — “
“Okay, great. Get your things. Also, I need you to make an OB/GYN appointment for me. I need drugs.”
“I’m not your secretary. We’ve had this discussion before.”
“See if you can get something for Tuesday.”
I walk out of the room.
“Leah,” he calls after me. “Your baby…”
“Oh, yeah.” I head back for Estella and pick her up.
She looks so cute. “We’re going to see your auntie,” I say.
We don’t go see Courtney. Cash calls. Normally, I don’t take her calls. Or her e-mails … or her Facebook messages. But since I am reforming my life, I pick up when her name flashes across my screen.