“What do you want, Cash?”
“Oh, you picked up!”
“Would you rather I not have?”
There is a pause. I assume she’s gathering all of her words together. God knows she’s been saving them up for two years.
“Leah, I’m so sorry,” she says. I hear her sniff and wonder if she’s crying.
“That’s a given,” I snap. “You are a liar.”
“I was just doing what he asked,” she says.
“Courtney is my sister,” I say firmly. “And I will do everything I can to protect her.”
“That’s what I wanted to speak to you about.”
I wrap my free arm around my waist. I suddenly feel very vulnerable. Why did this woman think she could talk to me about my sister?
“I’ve tried to see her. They won’t — “
“Stay away from Courtney,” I say. “She doesn’t want to see you.”
I hear Cash sob and feel a pang of pity. Maybe, I’m being too harsh. I wonder what Courtney would say to her.
“I need to tell her I’m sorry. I need — “
I cut her off. “I have to go. Don’t call me again, Cash. I’m serious.”
I hang up and immediately go to the closet and pull out Courtney’s umbrella picture. I hold it against my chest, gnawing on my bottom lip. How could I stay away from her as long as I had? What was wrong with me? We used to be so close.
I start to laugh, covering my mouth at first, trying to stifle the hyena-like noises. I can’t control it. The laughter rolls out of me, climbing in volume. It’s the easiest thing I’ve done all day. When Sam comes to stand in the doorway of my closet, I abruptly stop.
“What are you doing?”
I straighten up, stashing the painting away before he can see it.
He left me after the trial. Not right after. We had three months of silence during which I learned what it was to be married and utterly alone. Caleb went back to work right away, leaving me at home alone for most of the day. I roamed the house and watched daytime television, feeling depressed. I had expected things to go back to normal after the trial was over, never considering that I would be out of a job and my high profile case would tarnish my name, despite my non-guilty verdict. My father’s company was dismantled. What was left of it was used to pay settlements to the families of the deceased and my attorney’s fees. Caleb’s moods were remote. He wouldn’t look at me anymore. It was the stress of the trial, I decided. I suggested we take a vacation together. He said he had already taken too much time off of work for the trial. I suggested marriage counseling. He suggested time apart.
One name kept ringing in my head over and over: Olivia. Louder and louder and louder.
She had driven a wedge between us. Again. She was like a disease that came along every few years, contaminating everyone in her path.
Caleb lost a lot of weight the first month. I thought he was sick. I made him go to the doctor, but his blood work came back normal. There was nothing wrong with him. But, there was something very wrong. He hardly smiled, hardly spoke. When he was home, he spent hours alone in his office with the door closed. When I asked him about it, he blew me off.
“I can’t always be perfect, Leah. Sometimes, I get to have bad days too.”
What did that mean? Had he always had bad days and just never told me? I tried to think about the last time I remembered Caleb having a bad day, and I couldn’t. He was always smiling, teasing, encouraging. Did that mean he never had bad days? Or that he hid them from me? I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to think.
“Why aren’t you eating?” I asked.
“I don’t have an appetite.”
“You’re under a lot of pressure. Let’s go away for a few days.”
“I can’t,” he said, without looking at me. “Maybe next month.”
I asked again the following month. He said no. He was having more than a few “bad days”.
Finally, I’d had enough. I had lunch with his mother. If anyone would know how to handle Caleb, it would be Luca.
Or maybe Olivia…
No, I wasn’t going to give her that. She had some sort of power over him, yes, but he’d been mine for five years. I knew him. Me!
Luca arrived to our lunch ten minutes late. I was on my second glass of wine when she gracefully lowered herself into the seat across from me. It was rare that we both had free time to get together. After we ordered and got through ten minutes of small talk, she looked me right in the eyes, like she knew something was up.
“So, what’s wrong? Tell me…”
I avoided her sharp, blue eyes and concentrated on my chewed down fingernails.
“It’s Caleb,” I said. “Ever since the trial, he’s been … different.”
She took a sip of her drink. “Different how?”
I caught the edge in her voice. I had to be careful what I said about him. I needed her insight without her jumping all over for me for criticizing her son.
“Distant. It’s like he doesn’t want to be around me anymore.”
She tapped her fingernails on the table and studied me.
“Have you spoken to your mother about this?”
I shook my head. “Our relationship is strained. Plus, she gives terrible advice.”
Luca nodded. She’d never really cared for my mother. Caleb told me once that she thought my mother was cold and unapproachable.
“Do you know anything, Luca? Has he said anything to you?”
She reached out and patted my hand. “No, honey, he hasn’t. But, he was like this once before, do you remember?”
I did remember. It was during his amnesia.
I nodded, slowly, not sure what she was suggesting.
“You brought him back,” She said. “Can you do it again?”
Her eyes were just like Caleb’s when she zoned in on you: intense, searing.
I wanted to snort. She was giving me way too much credit. The last time I had to drive Olivia out of town to bring him back. But, no one knew that except Olivia and me. What would it take this time?
“I don’t know how. I’ve tried everything.”
“What does my son value more than anything?”
I leaned back as the server arrived with our salads. I waited for him to leave before answering her.
“Family,” I said picking up my fork.
“Yes,” Luca agreed. “So give him one.”
I balked. Was she really saying what I thought she was saying?
“Children? You think Caleb wants to have a baby?” We hadn’t spoken about children since before we were married. I hadn’t even thought about the possibility. I wasn’t sure I even wanted them. Caleb was enough for me. Caleb wanted them. He always had.
“Children have a way of bringing people together,” she smiled. “Especially, when they’ve fallen apart.”
We ate in silence for a few minutes before she spoke again. “You shouldn’t have let him hire that woman.”
I choked on my food. “Olivia?” I asked.
Luca nodded. “Yes, Olivia. She’s trouble. Always has been. Keep the past in the past, Leah. Do what you have to do. I fully support you.”
For the first time, I wondered how much Luca knew about Caleb’s months of amnesia. Did she know something about the time he spent with Olivia? Had he told her?
I went home ready to talk to Caleb about the possibility of starting a family. Before the words were out of my mouth, he told me he was moving back to his condo.
“You’re leaving me?” I said, in disbelief. “We were happy … before the trial. We stopped working on things, Caleb. We can get counseling.”
“You were happy. I’m not sure what I was.”
“So you were lying to me?”
“You never asked, Leah. You close your eyes to what you don’t want to see.”
“Is this about the Prenavene? Those people who died?”
He flinched. “It’s really hard for me wrap my head around the decisions you made.”
“Did it make you look at me differently?”
He laughed coldly. “I knew when I married you, that there were issues.” He sighed and looked almost sad. “It made me look at myself differently.”
I didn’t understand. My father manipulated me. Surely, he realized that. What exactly did he mean by “issues”?
Twenty-four hours later, Caleb was gone.
Depression doesn’t even begin to describe what I went through. I’d lost my father, my career and my husband all in the span of a year. I curled up in a ball and wept for days … weeks. No one came. I tried to call my sister, but she hardly picked up her phone anymore. Katine was seeing some new guy and couldn’t be bothered. My mother moved to our summer house in Michigan as soon as the verdict was read.
I called Seth. I shouldn’t have.
I agonize over Cash’s phone call. I eat more chocolate covered raisins. I watch more Nancy Grace. I search the internet for pictures of cats with funny captions underneath. No one knows I like those; it’s a secret. Sam catches me.
“Are you kidding?”
I close my laptop. “You can’t tell.”
“Who am I going to tell? Your book club?”
“I have friends,” I insist. “And none of them read.” I’m pretty strung out on sugar, so I giggle. Sam raises his eyebrow. “And you’re proud of this?”
I turn away, hugging my knees to my chest. The Manny turns everything fun into a criticism. “No, Sam,” I sigh. And then as an afterthought, I add, “I used to read a lot … in high school.”
He’s folding laundry — he’s always folding laundry. “Don’t you ever get tired of doing that?”
“Yup. But, it’s my job.”
“I read novels. But, then I got too busy.”
I ease a few more candies between my lips and stare at the muted TV screen. I got too busy f**king boys-I wanted to say.
“What was in that box Olivia opened on her birthday?”
He shakes out a blanket and folds it expertly into a small square. “Why do you care?”
“What if it was from Caleb?” I say softly.
He won’t look at me. “Cammie says it was,” he says. “But, I don’t know what it was, so don’t ask.”
I eat a lot more chocolate covered raisins. I pretend to bite my tongue and yell Ouch! to cover for the tears that spring to my eyes.
“Leah,” he says, “it’s okay if it hurts you. You should tell him that it does. Also, if you’re considering a career in acting — don’t.”
“Why would he buy her a birthday present?”
When Sam doesn’t answer, I start thinking about Cash again. It’s an endlessly unhealthy reel of thoughts: Cash … Caleb … Olivia … Cash … Caleb … Olivia.
The last time I had spoken to Cash was right after my trial. After seeing her on the Prosecution’s witness list, Olivia did some impressive detective work and discovered that Cash was actually Charles Smith’s bastard. Olivia had taken no pleasure in telling me, much to my surprise. She'd even said that she was sorry. I'd reeled for a day, fitting all the pieces together in my mind until they made perfect sense. I had not told my mother what I knew. I waited until Olivia exposed Cash’s paternity while cross-examining her, completely discrediting her testimony. I'd looked at my mother's face when my attorney dropped the ball. It had registered nothing. She knew, I thought. She knew and she stayed with him. The Prosecution was mortified. Olivia won another round. Courtney began sobbing hysterically in the courtroom. I glared at Cash from where I sat, my blood boiling for all of the wrong reasons. She had knowingly betrayed me. For him. I should have been mad at him, but all of my anger was directed at her tacky, blonde hair and pink lipstick.
After the debacle in the courtroom, she called my cell phone, pleading with me to meet with her. But, she had allowed my father to use her to destroy my life. When I wouldn’t respond to her begging, she mailed me a handwritten ten-page letter, detailing her life from the moment she was born to the day my father asked her to come work for him. I ate an entire bag of frozen peas and smoked three cigarettes while reading that damn letter.
Her mother had been my father’s secretary in 1981, and according to Cash, she was conceived on his desk. When my father couldn’t convince her mother to have an abortion, he reluctantly agreed to pay her a monthly dividend to make her and her unborn child go away. But, despite his initial feelings, he’d made yearly visits to see Cash and had even paid her way through college. He told her about Courtney and me when she was little. She had grown up knowing her daddy had two other little girls, and when he was gone from her, he was with them. Cash had admitted that she developed a fascination with us early on. She used to daydream about what it would be like to have sisters. My father had even shown her pictures of us, which she kept taped to her wall. I was more surprised by the fact that my father carried pictures of us, than anything else. Since when had Charles Smith developed an affinity for fatherhood? After I read the last word, I burned the letter. I couldn’t let Courtney see it. She wasn’t dealing with things well as it was. Courtney was too much like my mother. She had an addictive personality, and she emotionally collapsed under stress.
“Leah … Leah?”