I got rid of her.
For a while.
After I drop Caleb off at the airport, I go shopping. Seems sort of shallow, like I should feel guilty … but I don’t. I want to feel the buttery silks beneath my fingers. I decide that since I no longer have a basketball attached to my waist, I need a whole new wardrobe.
I pull my new SUV into a spot at the Gables and head right for Nordstrom. In the dressing room, I avert my eyes away from my belly. It feels good to slide into dresses with cinched waists. By the time I head for the doors, I am carrying over three thousand dollars in merchandise. I toss everything on the backseat and decide to meet Katine for a drink.
“Aren’t you nursing?” she asks, sliding into the seat next to me. She eyes my burgeoning br**sts as she plucks a cherry from the bartender’s garnish tray.
I shrug. “Pumping. So?”
She smiles all condescendingly and chews on her cherry. Katine looks like a blonde, botoxed Newt Gingrich when she’s being snotty. I lick the salt from the rim of my margarita glass and feel sorry for her.
“So. You’re not supposed to drink when you’re nursing.”
I roll my eyes.
“I have plenty of stock in the fridge at home. By the time I need to pump again, the alcohol will be out of my system.”
Katine widens her eyes, which makes her look even dumber than a blonde should.
“How’s Mommy Dearest?”
“She’s watching Baby Dearest,” I say. “Can we not talk about that?”
She shrugs like she couldn’t care less anyway. She orders a gin and tonic from the bartender and drinks it entirely too quickly.
“Have you had sex with Caleb yet?”
I flinch. Katine has no filter. She tries to blame it on the fact that she’s from a different culture, but she’s been here since before she could walk. I motion for another margarita. The bartender is attractive. For some reason I don’t want him to know I’m a mother. I lower my voice.
“I just had a baby, Katine. You have to wait at least six weeks.”
“I had a C-section,” she announces.
Of course I know this. Katine has regaled me with her disgusting birth story over a dozen times. I look away, bored, but her next words make my head snap around.
“Your va**na is going to be all stretched out and useless now.”
First, I check to see if the bartender heard her, then I narrow my eyes. “What are you talking about?”
“Birthing, naturally. What? Do you think everything just snaps back into place?” She laughs a true hyena laugh. I watch her exposed throat as she throws her head back to finish her cackling. How many times have I wondered what it would feel like to slap my best friend? When she calms down, she sighs dramatically.
“God, I’m just kidding, Leah. You should have seen your face. It was like I told you your kid died.”
I toy with my drink napkin. What if she's right? My fingers begin itching to pull out my phone and Google. I do some Kegels for good measure.
Would Caleb notice a difference? I break out in a sweat just thinking about it. Our relationship had always been about sex. We were the sexy couple; the ones who kept things alive when all of our friends were retiring into a life of half-lucid missionary sex after the kids went to sleep. For months in the beginning of our relationship, he would get this relieved look on his face when he reached for me and I responded. I never pushed him away. I never wanted to. Now, I had to consider that he might push me away.
I order another drink.
This was going to cause all kinds of new anxiety. I would have to schedule an appointment with my therapist.
“Look,” says Katine. She leans toward me and her overly sweet vanilla perfume creeps into my nose. “Things change when you have a baby. Your body changes. The dynamic between you and the husband changes. You have to be inventive, and for the love of God, lose the baby weight … fast.”
She snaps her fingers at a server and puts in an order for a basket of fries and fried calamari.
I met Caleb at Katine’s twenty-fourth birthday party. It was held on a yacht, which was significantly better than my twenty-fourth birthday venue at one of South Beach’s swanky nightclubs. I invited two hundred people; she invited three. But, being that my best friend’s birthday is four months after mine, she has the advantage of outshining me every year. I call it even since I am prettier and my father placed twelve spots above hers in Forbes.
I was wearing a black silk Lanvin dress that I’d seen Katine eying the week before as we shopped in Barney’s. Her h*ps had been slightly too wide to accommodate the slim cut of the dress, so I scooped it up when she wasn’t looking and bought it. She would have done the same to me, of course.
After making rounds among our friends, I headed to the bar for a fresh martini. I spotted him sitting on one of the barstools. His back was toward me, but I could tell by the width of his shoulders and the cut of his hair that he was going to be beautiful. I slid into the available seat next to him and shot him a look out of the corner of my eye. I noticed the strong jaw first. You could crack walnuts on that jaw. His nose was kind of weird, but not in an unattractive way. The bridge was curved, a slight bend in the road. It was elegant, the way an old revolver would be. His lips were too sensual for a man. If it were not for his nose — that incredibly elegant nose — his face would have been too pretty. I waited a few customary minutes for him to look at me, normally I didn’t have to work very hard to garner male attention, but when he didn’t, I cleared my throat. His eyes, which had been focused on the television above the bar, turned slowly toward me like I was an imposition. They were the color of maple syrup if you held it up to the light. I waited for him to get that lucky look that all men got on their faces when they stumbled upon my attention. It didn’t come.
“I’m Leah,” I said finally, holding out my hand.
“Hello, Leah.” He sort of half smiled as he shook my hand and then dismissively turned back to the television. I knew his type. You had to play hard to get with boys that had crooked grins. They liked the chase.
“How do you know Katine?” I asked, suddenly feeling desperate.
“Katine … the girl whose birthday party you’re crashing?”
“Ah, Katine,” he said, taking a sip from his glass. “I don’t.”
I waited for him to explain that he came with a friend or his distant relation to someone at the party, but he offered no explanation. I decided to try a new route.
“Do you need bourbon and a beer to go with that Scotch?”
He looked at me for the first time, blinking as if he was clearing his vision.
“Is that your best pick up line? Lyrics from a country song?”
I saw a hint of laughter in his eyes, and I smiled, encouraged.
“Hey, we’ve all got a vice and mine is country music.”
He studied me for a minute, his eyes roving over my hair and stopping on my lips. He ran his fingers across the condensation on his glass, collecting the moisture on the tips of his fingers. I watched in fascination as he used his thumb to rub the moisture from his fingertips.
“Okay,” he said, turning toward me. “What other vices do you have?”
I could have answered you right then and there.
“Uh-uh,” I said, seductively shaking my head and leaning forward just enough to give him a bird’s eye view of my cleavage. “I already let one out of the bag. Your turn.”
He harrumphed and glanced at his sweaty glass. He spun it slowly as he looked back at me, like he was deciding whether or not it was worth it to continue the conversation. After a long pause, his eyes iced over and he said — “Poisonous women.”
I sat back, startled. This was perfect. I was about a ten on the poison scale. If he needed venom, I could inject it directly into his neck.
He took a long, hard sip of his Scotch. I evaluated the situation. It was clear that this man had just played emotional dodge ball with a professional. He was nursing a very strong and expensive drink at a yacht party he’d rather not be attending. Despite the fact that I was offering up my goods, wearing a dress that left little to the imagination, he barely looked at me. Normally, a man on the rebound would not scare me. They could provide passionate, casual sex in the wake of their heartbreak. They see only the best things about you; the things that remind them of the better days with their ex, showering you in compliments, and clinging to you gratefully for a fun-filled week or two. I relish rebound men. But, this one was different. This one wasn’t questioning his worth as a human because his relationship ended. He was questioning her sanity. Trying to figure out at exactly what point things had started to unravel.
He was immaculately dressed, without trying. He dressed that way by nature — which meant that he had money — and I loved money. I recognized the royal sign of the Rolex, the fine thread of Armani, the easy way he looked at the world. I also recognized the way he said “thank you” when the bartender refilled his drink, and how when the couple next to him swore repeatedly, he flinched. His type was hardly ever single. I wondered what stupid bitch let him go. Whoever she was, I would wipe her from his memory in no time at all. Why? Because I was the best of the best: the Godiva, the Maserati, the perfect colorless diamond. I could improve anyone’s life — especially this man's.
With my newfound confidence in our future relationship, I smiled at him and crossed my legs so that my skirt hiked up my thigh.
“Okay,” I said slowly. “Today happens to be your lucky day.”
“Why is that?”
He didn’t even look at my legs. I sighed.
“Well, I was going to say something smart ass about being poisonous too, but I think by the looks of you, you need a good dose of Jamba Juice or something.”
He cracked up.
“See, I’m funny,” I quipped.
“Yeah,” he smiled. “A little.”
Emboldened, I tucked my elbows back to my sides and twisted my barstool to face him. My knees were now touching his outer thigh, and he made no attempt to move away.
“So — ” I pulled a pearl cigarette case from my pursette. “This is my other vice, do you mind?” He looked at the cigarette poised at my lips and shook his head. I lit and inhaled in one smooth move I’d managed to perfect.
“What’s your name, Mr. Sad Eyes?”
His mouth twitched at the corners as his eyebrows did a little dance upward.
“Caleb,” he said. “Caleb Drake.”
I tried Drake on with my name and decided I liked it.
I blew my mouthful of smoke toward the ocean.
“I’m Leah … and if you play your cards right, I could be Leah Drake,” I raised my eyebrows.
“Wow. Wow …” he said again. “That’s almost refreshing.”
“She didn’t want to marry you?” I asked sympathetically.
“She didn’t want to do a lot of things,” he said, swallowing the last of his Scotch and standing up. He was wonderfully tall. I mentally placed myself right underneath his arm, which must make him at least six one.
I waited for his next move. Whatever he did, he was mine anyway.
He stood up and kissed my hand. I was confused.
“Goodnight, Leah,” he said. Then to my utter astonishment, he walked away.
I thought we had chemistry.
I thought about him the following day as I nursed my hangover. Who was he? Why had he come? What had she done to him to make him pass me up? Me! I briefly entertained the idea that his ex was a celebrity. God knows he was good looking enough to break a celebrity’s heart. I thought about his cool nonchalance, the flutter I felt when he finally looked at me. Had I ever had to work that hard to make a man look at me? No. And when he did look, you wanted him to stop. He looked at you like he already knew you — direct, slightly bored, judgmental. He made you wonder how it would feel to be on the other side of that look, to have his eyes on you because he wanted them there.
I dug around a little bit, tried to find out who he was and where he hung out. I was a talented sleuth. My social network was broad and within two phone calls, I knew where to find Caleb Drake. Two more phone calls and I had someone setting us up on a blind date.
“Wait at least a month,” I said to my cousin. “Give him more time to lick his wounds before I save him.”
One month later, I was walking up to a sushi joint called Tatu, the heat clinging to my bare legs, my heart boom booming against my ribs.
“No way,” he said as soon as he saw me.
I feigned surprise. Dipping my head down, I asked, “Single and British, looking for a redhead?”
He laughed a stomach laugh and hugged me.
He was wearing a white button down, rolled to the elbows with khaki shorts. He was golden bronze, like he’d been tanning every day since I last saw him.
“How do you know Sarah?” He held open the door for me, and I stepped past him.
“My cousin,” I smirked. “How do you know her?”
Of course I already knew the answer. Sarah’s boyfriend and Caleb were frat brothers. The night of Katine’s party he’d tagged along with them.
I listened as he explained the connection. His accent was sexy. When we followed the host to our table, he put his hand on my lower back. It was familiar and possessive. I liked that. I wondered if he would have done that if this were our first time meeting.
“You know how Sarah lured me into this blind date?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“She told me you had good legs.”
I smiled and bit my lip. “And?” I extended them out from under the table, ankles together. My dress was dangerously short. Of course I knew he liked a good pair of legs. I’d grilled Sarah’s stupid boyfriend for an hour to find out everything I could about him.