On Second Thought

Page 21


Another long, pained, uterus-shriveling glance. “How old are you?”
“I believe it’s against the law to ask that question.” He stared. “Thirty,” I added.
“You look younger.” It wasn’t a compliment.
He stared at my résumé, glanced up at me. I smiled, or continued to smile, as the case was. He didn’t smile back. Looked at the papers again. My smile felt stiff. The left corner of my mouth was twitching.
People usually liked me right away.
Jonathan Kent wore a suit, and his tie was not loosened. He was clean-shaven, which was kind of rare these days. Dark hair combed back severely. Cheekbones like dorsal fins, and those pale eyes. He was neither attractive nor ugly. Generic Caucasian male with potential to be a serial killer, please. Back when I was the receptionist at NBC, I’d made calls for the casting director.
“Do you really want to work here?” he asked, looking up at me.
“Yes! I’m here for an interview, after all.”
He blinked. Finally. “Why?”
Because I’m bored didn’t seem like a great answer, though it would be honest. “Well, I really, uh, respect what you do and think I could positively contribute to the content of the magazine.” Ta-da! The perfect answer.
“What do we do?” he asked.
“Excuse me?”
“What is it you think we do?”
“Is that a trick question?” No answer. “You publish a regional magazine.”
“And why would we do that?”
Because it’s a cash cow. “To showcase the beauty and vibrancy of life in the Hudson River Valley,” I said with my best Girl Scout smile.
“Your résumé says you graduated from Wagner College. I assume you have a degree in journalism?”
“Uh, no.”
“Do I have to keep guessing, Ms. O’Leary?”
I winced, then smiled to cover. “Philosophy.” Another stare. “It’s one of those degrees that can be used for anything,” I said, echoing the duplicitous guidance counselor at Wagner.
“Is it?” Mr. Kent said. I couldn’t argue that point. “You worked for Ryan Roberts.” He waited, expressionless.
“Who was fired for an egregious breach of professional ethics.”
“And rehired by another network. But yes. That’s correct.”
“Putting aside your possible complicity in his journalistic deception, do you have any actual skills or education to recommend you?”
I felt a sudden rush of anger. What a rude man. Ryan had not been my fault. (Okay, fine, a little bit my fault, but mostly not.)
“Wow, Jonathan,” I said. “Those are a lot of big words. I’m not sure I follow you.” Clearly, I wasn’t going to get the job, so why not go for broke? “But after seven years with NBC, I think I can write about the great lettuces of Westchester County and who does the best boob jobs.”
His expression didn’t change.
“Have a lovely day,” I said, standing up and reaching for the door.
“You’re hired,” he said. “You’ll have a three-month probationary period. Be here tomorrow. We open at 8:30. Don’t be late, Ms. O’Leary.”
And so I went from writing news that tens of millions of people would hear to editing fluff pieces—the historic Groundhog Day parade in Smithville and the artisan potter who’d had a piece bought by the White House. Where the prettiest wedding venues were (okay, that piece I enjoyed), and how shipping lanes had changed on the Hudson.
It was fine. It was pleasant. I made friends fast, as I always did, though Jonathan failed to succumb to my charms and didn’t eat the cookies I occasionally brought in. I was just killing time, waiting for Eric to propose so we could get married and have kids.
Instead, he got cancer.
Chapter Eight
My brother and his family stayed with me for three days after Nathan died, and thank God for it. Dad was helpless and overly jocular because of it. And Mom...though she didn’t say the words, there was definitely a grim sense of I told you not to get married so fast.
It was good to have the kids there, the two teenagers making heroic efforts to talk about movies or books or school. Kiara was lovely and kind, telling me nondeath stories about the hospital. I was invited to stay with them in the city. Esther said she’d give up her bed for me. Matthias told me he’d take me out for sushi.
Sean didn’t say much. There wasn’t much to say, of course. But part of me wanted him to come up with something for me to grab on to; he was my older brother, after all, always with that slight air of superiority granted to him by being the firstborn and only son.
He had nothing other than an occasional shoulder squeeze.
Ainsley, on the other hand, had been strangely practical, dividing up the food people brought into single-serving blocks, wrapping them in foil and labeling them, leaving a few in the fridge, most in the freezer. She and Eric had come for dinner last night, along with our parents, and I saw her and Eric dragging the trash cans down to the curb. Yesterday, when Sean and I went to the lawyer’s and Kiara was out with the kids, Ainsley came in and cleaned up the kitchen from our breakfast mess. She left a sweet note and a mason jar full of tulips on the kitchen table.
Sadie, the three-year-old, was the one I really wanted to be around. She didn’t really know or remember Nathan, only that “Auntie was sad” and thus appointed herself to be my keeper. Every morning they were here, my little niece climbed into my bed and ordered me to make animal sounds. Happy to oblige, I nuzzled her soft, fuzzy curls, pulling her close against me. “Kitty!” she demanded.
“Mew! Mew!”
“Woof, woof!”
I took that to mean elephant and trumpeted obligingly.
“Purr, purr.”
Her laughter sounded like water over rocks, and for a second, I’d thought that if she stayed, I could totally handle widowhood. Surely Sean and Kiara would give her to me. They had two other kids, the selfish things.
Alas, they were rather attached.
When they left on Wednesday, Kiara and Sean hugged me, and the kids tried to smile, and I tried not to cling too hard as my brother took Sadie out of my arms.
Then they pulled out of the stone driveway, leaving me alone in Nathan’s house.
A storm of panic started flinging debris in my head. What would I do? Could this really be my new life? Was it possible to rewind and skip Eric’s party? Or maybe...rewind and just say no when Nathan called for that first date? How could Nathan be dead? What was I supposed to do? Actually do in the next few hours?
I didn’t know.
I had no idea how to be a widow. I wanted to be brave. To make Nathan proud of me. To be elegant and kind. I could see myself in Paris, wearing a black Audrey Hepburn–style turtleneck, a glass of red wine in my hand as I stared out at the street, melancholy but noble. Perhaps I would take up smoking, just one a day, for effect. Men would look at me, intrigued, but that slight air of sorrow would keep them at arm’s length. I’d walk back to my garret, where I would continue to work on poetry, let’s say, and not the more realistic scenario of ripping open a bag of Cheetos and watching HBO.
I shivered. It was cooler than normal, and rainy.
I guess I had to go inside, into that enormous, empty house.