Sam, who has already taken her from her car seat, hands her to me. She holds her neck stiff as I take her, her large eyes looking around with innocent curiosity. I place her in Courtney’s lap and hold her there. My sister doesn’t move, doesn’t blink and doesn’t register the tiny presence pressed against her body. Estella fusses after a few seconds, so I take her and hold her.
My sister’s hair is greasy and limp. It is too short to tie back and hangs in her face. I reach up and push it behind her ears. I hate this. I hate this place, and I hate that my sister is here. I hate myself for not coming to see her sooner. She doesn’t belong here. I make my decision right then and there.
“Sam,” I say, standing up, “I want to bring her home … to my home. I can have someone come in to help.”
“Okay,” he says. “Are you clearing this with me or...” He shakes his head, and I want to slap him for the tenth time today.
“I’m just telling you, idiot.”
“Courtney, I’m going to bring you home. Just give me a few days, okay … to get everything ready.”
I touch her face lightly. Beautiful, vibrant Courtney, I can see her in this person’s features, the high forehead and aquiline nose. But her eyes are lifeless. I reach around the back of her head and press my lips against her forehead. I can feel the scar beneath my fingertips, thick and hard. I swallow a sob and straighten up. Estella clings to my shirt, her little fists grabbing the material tightly. I march out without looking back, my heels clipping with new purpose.
Sam waits with Estella while I speak with the director of the facility. When we leave, I have a handful of pamphlets for in-home care.
We are back in the car when he speaks for the first time since leaving Courtney’s room.
“So … Johanna?”
“Shut up, Sam.”
“It’s a valid question, your majesty. If you don’t tell me why you hate it, I’m going to call you Johanna from now on.”
I sigh. How much to tell him? Caleb was the only one who knew. What the heck, right? I didn’t even know why it was a big secret anymore. My father was dead, his empire fallen, and my mother was a drunk. Whyyyyyy not tell the manny?
“I was adopted. No one knows. It’s been a big secret.” I shake my head, quirking my mouth to the side like it’s nothing. Sam lets out a low whistle.
“So, anyway, I was born in Kiev. My birth mother worked in a brothel — yada-yada.”
“Yada. Yada,” Sam repeats. “Seems like a little more than yada-yada.”
I give him a stern look before continuing. “My birth mother was reluctant to give me up. She was young. Sixteen. When she was little, her mother used to read to her from an American book called, Tales of Johanna. She agreed to give me up, but only if my parents would name me Johanna. They wanted a baby so badly that they did.”
“So that’s kind of great,” Sam says. “It’s like she gave you something of herself.”
I snort. “Yeah, well … my parents only told me I was adopted when I was eight. You can imagine my shock. They sat me down in the formal dining room — just tiny little me and them — in this imposing room. I was so afraid I was in trouble; I was shaking the entire time. As soon as I found out about the origins of my name, I didn’t want it anymore.”
Sam reached out and squeezed my shoulder. “Man, I thought my parents sucked.”
I grimaced. “So, that’s why I go by my middle name. The end.”
“Is Courtney their birth daughter?”
“What happened to her?”
“When my father died, she got sick.”
He interrupts me. “Sick?”
“In the head,” I say. “She was always that way. She was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. She’d go into these depressions and no one would hear from her for months. She didn’t tell anyone this time. We were all so wrapped up in our own lives, no one checked on her. I guess my father’s death and everything that happened around my trial just sent her over the edge.”
“So, did she-?”
I brake a little too hard at a red light, and he jerks forward.
“She shot herself. The bullet grazed her brain, and they were able to save her in time. But, there was too much damage.”
“God,” he says. "And this is the first time you’re seeing her since…”
“Since the hospital after it happened.”
His eyes are wide.
“Don’t judge me,” I snap, “I was pregnant. I was on bed rest.”
“You were a selfish, self-centered bitch.”
I glare at him. “I was afraid.”
“Of what, Leah? She’s your sister. God, I can’t believe I work for you. I feel sick.”
I glance at him. He does look pretty disgusted. “I’m making it right,” I say.
We drive in silence for the next few minutes.
“Ooh! Jamba Juice. Want one?” I swerve into the parking lot, and to my satisfaction Sam’s head hits the passenger side window with a nice little thud.
“Sorry,” I smile.
He rubs his head, seeming to forget his question.
“I’m going to ask Caleb to come home,” I say as I pull into a spot. I check his face to see his reaction.
“I don’t want a fruit juice,” he says.
“Come on, Sam!”
He shakes his head. “Bad idea. You’re going to get hurt.”
Sam sighs. “I don’t think he’s ready. Caleb is the type of man who has an agenda.”
“What does that mean?”
Sam scratches his head like he’s uncomfortable.
“What do you know?” I narrow my eyes at him.
“I’m a guy. I just know.”
“You’re gay! You don’t have special insight into straight men.”
He shakes his head. “You are the single most offensive woman I have ever met, you know that? And, I’m not gay.”
My mouth pops open. “What are you talking about?”
He shrugs, embarrassed. “I just told you that so you wouldn’t hit on me.”
I blink at him. He cannot possibly be serious. “Why would you think I’d want to hit on you? Ew, Sam! I can’t believe this!”
He sighs. “Are we getting a juice or not?”
I fling myself out of the car. “I’m not getting you anything. Stay here with the baby.”
I am so angry, I completely miss the Jamba Juice store and have to backtrack. Men are such worthless liars. I should have known he wasn’t gay. He wears way too much polyester to be gay. And, I haven’t once seen him check out Caleb. Caleb is freaking gorgeous.
I am sipping my juice and halfway back to the car when I start laughing.
When we get home, I call Caleb’s cell three times before he finally picks up.
“When you pick Estella up tonight, I was hoping you could stay a while so we can talk.”
There is a long pause before he says. “Yes, I need to talk to you, too.” I feel a surge of hope.
“Okay, it’s all set then. I’ll have Sam stay a little bit later than usual.”
I hear him sigh into the phone.
“Fine, Leah. I’ll see you tonight.”
He hangs up. I don’t even think about the fact that he never hangs up without saying goodbye, until a few minutes later.
Four months after Leah was acquitted, I filed for divorce.
— That was my first thought.
— That was my second thought.
— That was my third thought. Then I put them all together in a sentence: That motherfucker Turner is going to marry Olivia!
How long did I have? Did she still love me? Could she forgive me? If I could wrestle her away from that f**king tool, could we actually build something together on the rubble we’d created? Thinking about it set me on edge — made me angry. We’d both told so many lies, sinned against each other — against everyone who got in our way. I’d tried to tell her once. It was during the trial. I’d come to the courthouse early to try to catch her alone. She was wearing my favorite shade of blue — airport blue. It was her birthday.
She’d looked up. My heart pounded out my feelings, like they did every time she looked at me.
“I’m surprised you remembered.”
“Why is that?”
“Oh, you’ve just been forgetting an awful lot of things over the last couple of years.”
I half smiled at her jab.
“I never forgot you…”
I felt a rush of adrenaline. This was it — I was going to come clean. Then the prosecutor walked in. Truth was put on hold.
I moved out of the house I shared with Leah and back into my condo. I paced the halls, I drank Scotch. I waited.
Waited for what? For her to come to me? For me to go to her?
I walked to my sock drawer — infamous protector of engagement rings and other mementos — and ran my fingers along the bottom. The minute my fingers found it, I felt a surge of something. I rubbed the pad of my thumb across the slightly green surface of the ‘kissing’ penny. I looked at it for a full minute, conjuring up images of the many times it had been traded for kisses. It was a trinket, a cheap trick that had once worked, but it had evolved into so much more than that.
I put on my sweats and went for a run. Running helped me think. I went over everything in my head as I turned toward the beach, dodging a little girl and her mother as they walked along hand in hand. I smiled. The little girl had long, black hair and startling blue eyes — she looked like Olivia. Was that what our daughter would have looked like? I stopped jogging and bent over, hands on knees. It didn’t have to be a ‘would have’ situation. We could still have our daughter. I slipped my hand in my pocket and pulled out the kissing penny. I started jogging to my car.
There was no time like the present. If Turner got in the way, I’d just toss him off the balcony.
I was one mile from Olivia’s condo when I got the call.
It was a number I didn’t recognize. I hit talk.
“Yes?” My words were clipped. I made a left onto Ocean and pressed down on the gas.
“There’s been an … incident with your wife.”
“My wife?” God, what has she done now? I thought about the feud she was currently having with the neighbors about their dog and wondered if she’d done something stupid.
“My name is Doctor Letche, I’m calling from West Boca Medical Center. Mr. Drake, your wife was admitted here a few hours ago.”
I hit the brake, swung the wheel around until my tires made a screeching sound, and gunned the car in the opposite direction. An SUV swerved around me and laid on the horn.
“Is she all right?”
The doctor cleared his throat. “She swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. Your housekeeper found her and dialed 911. She’s stable right now, but we’d like for you to come in.”
I stopped at a light and ran my hand through my hair. This was my fault. I knew she took the separation hard, but suicide. It didn’t even seem like her.
“Of course — I’m on my way.”
I hung up. I hung up and I punched the steering wheel. Some things were not meant to be.
When I arrived at the hospital, Leah was awake and asking for me. I walked into her room, and my heart stopped. She was lying propped up by pillows, her hair a rat's nest and her skin so pale it almost looked translucent. Her eyes were closed so I had a moment to rearrange my face before she saw me.
When I took a few steps into the room, she opened her eyes. As soon as she saw me, she started crying. I sat on the edge of her bed and she latched onto me, sobbing with such passion I could feel her tears soak through my shirt. I held her like that for a long time.
“Leah,” I said finally, pulling her from my chest and settling her back onto the pillows. “Why?”
Her face was slimy and red. Dark half–moons camped around her eyes. She looked away.
“You left me.”
Three words. I felt so much guilt I could barely swallow.
“Caleb, please come home. I’m pregnant.”
I closed my eyes.
I send Sam upstairs with Estella and wait for Caleb.
Things have to go my way tonight. He knocks instead of using a key. That’s a bad sign. When I open the door, his face is grim. He won’t look at me.
“Hello, Caleb,” I say.
He waits for me to invite him in and then heads upstairs to see Estella. I follow him to the nursery. Sam nods at him in greeting, and Caleb takes the baby from him. She smiles as soon as she sees him and shakes her fists. I feel a little jealous that he gets smiles so easily.
Caleb kisses both her cheeks and then under her chin, which makes her giggle. He repeats this again and again until she’s laughing so hard, both Sam and I smile.
“We should talk,” I say, standing in the doorway. I feel like an outsider when he’s in the room with Estella.
He nods without looking at me, makes her giggle one more time from his kisses, and hands her back to Sam. She immediately starts to cry.
I hear Sam say “Traitor” as we leave the room and head downstairs. Caleb looks once over his shoulder, as if he’s tempted to go back.
“You can see her after…” I say.
I had the kettle on before he got here; it is just starting to whistle as we walk into the kitchen. I set about making him tea while he sits on a barstool with his hands clasped in front of his mouth. The fact that his leg is bouncing is not lost on me. I dunk a tea bag into the mug of hot water and avoid his eyes. I am transferring the tea bag to the trash, when he says —