I jerk back to Sam, who is still folding the damn laundry.
“What?” I hiss. I wish he’d do that in another room and stop stressing me out.
“Your phone is ringing,” he says.
I look down at my cell and see Caleb’s name flashing across the screen. I grab it so quickly; I drop the phone. Snatching it off the floor, I answer with a breathless “Hello?”
“Hi,” he says. “I’m calling to check on Estella.”
“She’s taking a nap. She smiled at me!”
There is a ten second pause before he says: “She looks like you when she smiles.”
I instantly feel warm all over. I want to know if that makes him like me more.
“I miss her,” he sighs.
“Well, you can come over if you like. But, you’re not taking her again until the weekend.”
“I understand. She has a doctor’s appointment next week. I was hoping to take her to that. I want to be there when she gets her shots.”
I sigh. “Fine, you can take her.” I think better of it. “But, I want to be there too.”
His turn to sigh.
“I’m thinking about taking her to see Courtney.”
Caleb clears his throat. “You should. Are you all right to go by yourself?”
“I’m taking Sam,” I rush. “It’s just … time.”
“Are you still angry with her?” he asks.
“No,” I say, but oddly enough, I am nodding my head.
Seth was Caleb’s older brother by four years and two days. They were nothing alike. Cain and Abel, if you will. I was shocked the first time I met the dark haired, dark eyed police detective.
“You’re Caleb’s brother?” I blurted. He had barely smiled at my surprise.
“Yup, last time I checked.” He held on to my hand for a little too long, his eyes boring into me. “I guess we don’t really look alike, huh?”
I shook my head. Seth shared none of Caleb’s features. He was the anti-Caleb with his small button nose, thin lips and eyes so dark they looked almost black.
Weird, I remember thinking. He was a recluse. During family gatherings, you’d find Caleb in the middle of the action, surrounded by people who were all hanging onto his every word. You’d be lucky to find Seth at all. He didn’t show up to most of the barbeques and dinners, and if he did, he lurked in the garden or went for a walk by himself. If caught alone, he was surprisingly engaging and darkly intelligent. He reminded me of Holden Caulfield. I read the book in high school and remember Holden giving me chills. Sometimes, Seth would look at me in a completely unguarded way, a small smile playing at the corners of his lips, and I would get chills.
Once, before Caleb and I were married, we were at his mother’s house when Seth turned to me out of the blue and said, “You remind me of a cheap reality show, Leah. You’re shallow, and you pretend to be stupid for God only knows what reason.”
I’d stared at him in complete mortification, hoping no one else had heard. I darted my head around the room. Caleb was preoccupied with a game on television and his mother was in the kitchen finishing up dinner.
“What the hell, Seth?”
He’d shrugged. “I know you’re not really as stupid as you put out. Shallow, maybe. You have the type of eyes that have claws in them.”
I’d stared at him for a long time, wondering if that was how everyone else saw me. Wondering if that was how Caleb saw me.
“It’s sexy,” he said. “I don’t think my brother appreciates it.”
I’d flushed and looked away. That was the most he’d ever said to me up until that point. I wasn’t sure if he was hitting on me or insulting me. It occurred to me that it might be both. I’d never seen him with a woman. I figured he was one of those asexual men and more concerned with his career than finding someone to warm his bed.
“Why don’t you ever date?”
“Who says I don’t?”
“You never bring anyone over … or talk about anyone.”
He snorted. “Have you seen the welcome my mother gives to women we bring home?” He was somewhat right. I’d heard about the reception she gave Olivia from Luca herself. She detested the woman almost as much as I did. But, Olivia was easy to hate, and Luca was really nice once you got to know her.
I dismissed his comment with a wave of my hand. “She is always nice to me.”
He laughed. “That’s because you’re a lot like her. She probably has a healthy fear of a fellow bitch.”
My mouth dropped open. “What is it with people in this family saying exactly what they’re thinking? It’s so rude.”
He leaned over the arm of the sofa and winked conspiratorially at me. “You should try it. Though, it’s quite fascinating to sit back and watch all of your thoughts boil behind your eyes and never make it to your mouth.”
I had no words. Seth saw the look on my face and started to laugh. “Don’t worry, Leah. Your secret’s safe with me. No one needs to know there is a brain underneath all of that pretty hair.”
I glared at him, clutching tightly to the arm of my chair. I was angry … and I was incredibly turned on. Caleb always said just enough to leave you feeling both incredibly charmed and wondering exactly what he was getting at. Seth spewed truth like it was Old Faithful: too much, too fast, too hard. No wonder no one ever spoke to him.
“You’re an asshole, you know that.”
He shrugged, turned back to the TV. “I’ve been told. But, at least I see you. My brother only sees your hair.”
I got up, but his next words pulled me back down.
“I’ve been waiting for you to remember,” he said.
He looks at me with such directness, I flinch.
“That you and I have slept together.”
If I had been holding my glass, I would have dropped it. My eyes darted to Caleb. Thankfully, he was tuned out to our conversation.
“What are you talking about?” I hissed.
“Relax,” he said, lightly. “It was a long time ago.”
I searched my memory for his face. Wouldn’t I have instantly recognized him if we’d slept together? Probably not. I’d had a lot of sex with men I barely knew. But, if we had … why would he wait so long to tell me?
“You’re messing with me,” I said.
“Nope.” He shook his head so casually I wondered if we were talking about sex or what he had for lunch.
“You definitely came up to my hotel room. It was the weekend after the fourth of July, six years ago. We met at that little bar in the Keys.”
I almost fainted. Six years ago, I had indeed gone on a trip to the Keys with my sister and a few of my friends. It was a combined birthday/holiday weekend celebration.
“How can you remember that if I don’t?”
“You were pretty wasted from what I can remember.”
Oh God. I did remember meeting a guy in the bar. He danced with me, and then we went across the street to his hotel. Had that really been Seth? What were the f**king odds?
“Don’t — “
“Tell my brother,” he finished. “Yeah, I figured you wouldn’t want him to know. My lips are sealed.” He pretended to lock his lips and throw away the key.
How could this be happening? If Caleb found out…
He wasn’t going to find out. Seth and I both had something to lose. I nodded at him. “Thank you.”
After that day, I tried to keep my interactions with Seth to a minimum. He sought me out whenever we were at the same event. I was partially mortified and partially flattered. He always had a hushed quip ready about my claw eyes or my censored thoughts. Sometimes, he’d call me out when we were in a group and say, “What do you think about that, Leah?” or “I’d like to hear Leah’s take on this.” To which I’d be forced to answer. He always made inappropriate comments when no one else was paying attention. Sometimes, I’d blush so fiercely at the things he said that Caleb would look at me in alarm and ask me what was wrong. Only Seth could make me blush. It made me feel like we had a secret camaraderie. It made me wonder if he was right, if Caleb really saw me — if anyone did.
During my trial, Seth showed up to almost every hearing. I was pleased by his unexpected support as much as I was confused by it. It was quiet, but it was there … always on the left side of the back row. It made Caleb happy that he came. Their relationship had always been strained. I expected the chasm was forged by Luca’s obvious favoritism of her youngest son.
“He must really like you, Red,” Caleb said, after a grueling day of listening to the Prosecution question their witnesses. “No one can get him to show up to anything, but for you, he’s here.”
“He’s a Sergeant in the Police force, Caleb. I’m sure this sort of thing interests him.”
I really wondered if he was playing his own jury, trying to decide if I was as wicked as he was always insinuating I was. It was exhausting trying to hide yourself from everyone. Watching them, watch you. Wanting to know everyone’s thoughts and deathly afraid that those very thoughts were condemning you. I was so angry with the man I had called my father for my whole life. I constantly found myself wondering what would have happened had he not died. Would he have scrounged up enough decency to protect me from this? Or would he have asked me to take the fall for him? And most importantly: would I have done it?
Seth asked me that very question the day I called him, after Caleb left me. He stopped by after work with a box of French pastries in his hand. He knew I liked them. I took them from him smiling, and he followed me into the kitchen.
“Where’s my brother staying?” he asked.
“His condo.” I opened the box and took out an almond croissant. Seth watched me bite into it before speaking.
“That father of yours was something else.”
My chewing stilled.
“According to that hot little attorney of yours, he completely framed you. Is she right?”
I wasn’t sure whether I was more offended that he’d called Olivia “hot” or that he was questioning my innocence.
I forced myself to swallow what was in my mouth and glared at him. “He didn’t do it on purpose,” I said. “I don’t exactly think he expected to die.”
“So, if he hadn’t had a heart attack and conveniently left you with this mess, you think he’d be taking the fall for this?”
“Yes, I do.”
It was a lie.
“According to Caleb, his signature wasn’t on any of the documents you signed.”
“What’s your point, Seth?” I snapped. “Did you come here to goad me?”
He pursed his lips and shook his head. “No, Leah. I came to see if you were all right. Truly.”
“I’m fine.” I slammed the lid to the pastry box closed and walked toward the fridge. I could feel him behind me before I turned around. The suddenness of my turn caused him to slam into me. He didn’t pull back. He kissed me. Right on the mouth.
“Seth!” I shoved him away. He stumbled back a step. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“You called me,” he said. “I thought…”
“You thought what? That I wanted you to kiss me? I called you because Caleb left me, and I don’t know what to do! You didn’t have to come over here and take advantage of me.”
He kissed me again. Harder this time. I responded a little before I pushed him away.
“Get out,” I said, pointing to the door.
I cried after he left. How long had it been since Caleb kissed me? I tried to remember. Was it before the trial started? I think about all the months of preparation and can’t pull up a single memory of being kissed. How had I missed that? How had Seth’s abrupt kiss made me remember?
Chapter Thirty Five
A few days after Cash’s phone call, we pull up to a tan stucco building around one o’clock. Sam jumps out first and has Estella out of the car before I’ve even checked my makeup. My hands are shaking when I open my door. We meet in front of the car.
“You okay?” Sam asks.
I nod without looking at him. I haven’t been able to take my eyes off the building. I wish I hadn’t worn heels. Sometimes, they make me feel confident, but today they make me feel pretentious. We walk in silence, or as much silence as my heels will allow.
At the front desk I give my name: Johanna Smith. I see Sam quirk his eyebrow. I don’t look at him. God, I hate that name. I only told Sam we were coming to see my sister, not where she was. We are led down a long hallway that smells of antiseptic. I glance over at the baby, wondering if the smell will bother her. She is asleep. Such a good sleeper. I smile.
We are taken to the very last room. I stop in the doorway, and Sam places a hand on my shoulder. I suddenly feel very sick. He nudges me. He’s so damn pushy.
I walk through. She is sitting in a wheelchair facing the window. Bright sunlight streams onto her face. She seems impervious to it, staring straight ahead, not really seeing anything. I walk to her slowly and crouch down in front of her.
“Court,” I take her hands. They are limp and cold. “Court, it’s me.” She stares past me. I look around the room — a bed, a television, two chairs. There are no personal touches; no flowers or pictures on the walls just like the rooms we passed on our way here. I look back at Courtney.
“I’m sorry I haven’t come before now,” I say. “I brought Estella to see you.”