“I’m surprised you finished it, if it was so hard,” Anthony says. “I thought your favorite hobby was quitting.”
“Hey,” I blurt. I’m still standing, and I realize I have a hand on my hip.
“Lucy, they’re just . . .” Elaine is unsure of what to do. “Maybe you should talk to Josh outside, Anthony.”
People at nearby tables are all sitting with cutlery lowered in various stages of avid interest or awkward avoidance.
Josh laughs meanly. “Why, so we can have a good old-fashioned fistfight? He’d just love that.”
Anthony rolls his eyes. “You need to—”
“Toughen up? Is that what you’re about to say to me? What you’ve said to me for as long as I’ve been alive?” Josh glances up at me in exasperation. “Now can we go?”
“I think maybe you should talk this out.” Another five years might go by.
“She’s one of those touchy-feely types,” Anthony says to Elaine. “Fantastic.”
Josh’s eyes narrow dangerously. “Don’t talk about her.”
“Well, she can’t resist bringing herself into it.”
“Be quiet,” Elaine says to Anthony. She’s furious. “All I asked was for you to be civil. Keep your mouth shut.”
I look at Anthony and he looks at me. His eyes are full of derision as he runs his eyes from the top of my head, down. Then he sniffs and looks out the window, obeying his wife, mouth pursed shut.
Oh boy. I’m not putting up with this twice in my life, and certainly not from another Templeman. My temper snaps.
“Your son is incredibly talented. Focused. Ridiculously intelligent. He is instrumental in keeping a publishing house running.”
“What, licking stamps? Answering phones?” We lock eyes.
I bark a laugh. “Is that seriously what you think he does?”
“I’m not going to sit here and be spoken to like this by you, young woman. I’ve seen his email signature block. Assistant TO the CEO. I don’t know who you think you are.”
He’s attempting to reestablish his authority. Maybe I’ll sit down and be a good little girl. Josh’s instinct to protect me is making him rise up out of his chair but I wave him back.
I got this.
“I’m the person who knows your own offspring better than you do. He’s the person the finance and sales divisions report to. They’re scared fucking shitless of him. I once had a forty-five-year-old man beg me in the hall outside the boardroom to pass on the documents so he wouldn’t have to attend. I’ve seen entire teams scurrying like ants, double-checking, triple-checking their figures. Even then, Josh will always find the mistake. Then usually someone takes a stress day.”
Anthony begins to bluster something, but I cut him off. I’m so worked up I could strangle him. Honestly, I could wrap my hands around his neck and squeeze.
I am Lara Croft, guns raised, eyes blazing with retribution.
“The reason Bexley Books didn’t completely implode before the merger is Josh recommended that their workforce be reduced by thirty-five percent. I’ve hated him for it. It was cold-blooded. And he can be, you have no idea. But it meant another one hundred and twenty people kept their jobs. Paid their mortgages. So don’t you dare try to make out like he’s nothing. Oh, and I know for a fact Josh was integral in the merger negotiations. One of the corporate lawyers told me in the kitchen he was, quote, ‘a fucking hardass.’”
I can’t seem to stop. It’s like I’m purging something.
“His boss, who’s the co-CEO in title only, is a fat, sleazy toad so out of his mind on prescriptions he can barely tie a shoelace. Josh is who keeps it all running. Both of us do.”
I look at them all. Josh is digging his fingers into the waistband of my jeans.
“I’m sorry I’m making a scene. And I like all of you. Except you.” I cut a look at Anthony.
“I spend more time with him than anyone, and I have to tell you, you don’t know what you’ve got. You’ve got Josh. He’s an awkward, difficult asshole. I hate him almost half the time and he drives me mental, and it’s clearly hereditary. You gave me the exact same look Josh first did when I met him. Top to bottom, out the window. You know everything about me? You know everything about him? I don’t think so.”
“I have been trying to give him a boost. Some people need a push,” Anthony says.
“You can’t have it both ways. You can’t completely neglect him, yet trash his choices.”
Anthony raises a hand to his brow and rubs it like he’s getting a headache. “My father pushed my younger brother.”
“And how did he enjoy that?”
His eyes flick sideways. Not too much, I’m guessing.
“He’s not a doctor. Deal with it.”
Anthony goggles at me.
“But I want you to know something. He could be, if he wanted to. He could be anything he fucking wanted to. Nothing is by mistake. Nothing is because he’s not good enough. It’s his choice.”
I sit down in a huff. Mindy and Patrick look at each other, mouths open. Hell, the entire room is sitting with their mouths open. I hear someone start to clap, then hastily stop.
“I’m sorry, Elaine.” I take a huge mouthful of tea, nearly spilling it down my top. My hands are shaking.
“Don’t apologize for defending him like that,” she says faintly. I suppose what she means by like that is like a rabid lioness.
I find the courage to look at Josh. He looks completely shell-shocked.
“I . . .” Anthony trails off and I level my best stare on him. The same withering, emotionless glare I’ve given his son a thousand times before.
“I . . . er.” He clears his throat and looks at his cutlery.
“Yes, Dr. Templeman? Care to share?” My audacity is breathtaking.
“I don’t know much about your work, Josh.” Everyone’s jaw drops even further. Mine doesn’t. I will never give him the satisfaction. I stare into his eyes and mentally twist a rusty fish knife into his gut. I raise an eyebrow.
“I’d . . . be interested in talking to you more about it, Josh.”
I interject. “Now that you know he’s successful? Now you know that he’ll almost certainly be promoted to chief operating officer of a major publishing house? You’ve got something to tell your buddies at golf now.”
“Squash,” Patrick tells me in an aside. “He plays squash.”
I have given Anthony the dressing-down of a lifetime. He is unable to speak. It is wonderful.
“You should love him and be proud of him even if he’s in the mailroom. Even if he were unemployed and crazy and living under a bridge. We’re leaving now. Elaine, it was a pleasure, I loved meeting you. Mindy, Patrick, congratulations again and enjoy your honeymoon. Sorry I made a scene just now. Anthony, it’s been real.”
I stand up. “Now we screech out of here like Thelma and Louise.” Josh stands and goes to kiss his mother’s cheek. She grasps helplessly at his wrist.
“But when will I see you?” She looks up at Josh, but she also looks to me.
I can see Josh’s jaw tightening, and I can almost hear the excuses forming on his tongue. He might drop off the radar for the Templeman family altogether. The next thing I say surprises even me. Especially given the fact I’ve essentially just said good-bye to them all for the last time.
“If you can come up to the city soon, we could meet you for lunch. We could go see a movie after. Anthony, you’re invited too.”
His jaw, which has been hinging loosely, sways in the breeze.
“But only if you’re prepared to be civil and start to get to know your son again. I think you know there’s going to be no more ragging on Josh. Except by me, because he loves it.”
“You and I are going to have a discussion. Outside. Now.” Elaine gets to her feet and points to a French door leading to the side gardens. Anthony looks like a man walking to the gallows. I know a fellow rabid lioness when I see her.
I take Josh’s hand and we weave through our spellbound audience.
“No charge,” the cashier tells me. “Lady, that was better than theater.”
I retrieve our bags from the receptionist, thankfully not the lustful blonde this time. I probably would have roundhouse-kicked her head off. Walking together, matching our footfalls, we exit the lobby like two television district attorneys gunning for justice.
I ask the valet for our car, and turn.
“Okay, let me have it.” I just made an incredibly embarrassing scene. I can see people talking about me as they wait for their taxis. I’m going to star in twenty different retellings of That Restaurant Incident.
Josh picks me up off the ground. “Thank you,” he tells me. “Thank you so much.”
When we kiss, I hear some applause.
“You’re not mad I rescued you? Boys don’t need rescuing.”
“This one did. And I’ll even let you choose which you wanna be. Thelma, or Louise,” he tells me, setting me on my feet as the car arrives.
“You’re the good-looking one, I guess you’re Thelma.”
He slides the driver’s seat back. We drive about half a block before Josh bursts out laughing.
“You told my dad it had ‘been real.’”
“Like I was a bad TV scriptwriter who thought that’s how kids talk.”
“Exactly. It was so priceless.” He wipes a tear away with his thumb.
“I feel bad about your mom, though. She looked so completely stricken.”
“Don’t you worry, she is going to kick the shit out of him for that.”
“I have no doubt. It’s why she and I get along so well.”
He thinks for a few moments while driving. “I don’t know how I can move on from this, with my dad.”
“Nothing’s insurmountable.” I try to believe my own words.