On Second Thought

Page 24


“Right. I’ll take another look.”
A quick knock on my cubicle frame. “Ainsley, have you finished that piece on—Oh.”
Jonathan, wearing his resting bitch face. My sister, I mouthed. He hated personal calls at work, but for God’s sake, he himself had tried to resuscitate Nathan. Even Captain Flatline had to let me talk to Kate.
He sighed and went off to bother someone else.
“You should get back to work,” my sister said. “Thanks for checking in, though.”
“Can I do anything for you? Maybe stop by tomorrow?”
“That’s okay. I think I’m going over to Brooke’s.”
Jealousy flashed through me, followed by its twin, shame. I wanted to help. Sean and Perfect Kiara had stayed with her for a few days after Nathan died; Kate and Sean had always been closer, since I was the half sister, and significantly younger. And now there was Brooke, who was suffering, too, of course.
But I wanted desperately to be helpful. I wanted to cook for her, except she said she had too much food. To let her cry on my shoulder...not that I’d seen her crying. I wished I had. Instead, she looked like a little kid left on the side of the highway, terrified and alone.
“So what’s new with you?” she asked. “How’s Ollie?” She had a soft spot for my dog.
“He’s good. If you want to borrow him for a night, just say the word.”
“I might just do that.”
There was another silence. “Hey, I think Eric might propose tonight,” I blurted, then winced. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“No, no, that’s great. That’ll be really nice. I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks,” I mumbled.
“Is he taking you out somewhere?”
“Le Monde.”
“Oh, very nice. Nathan and I...” Her voice trailed off.
“Did you eat there?” I asked, my voice husky. It’s okay, I wanted to say. You can talk about him. The words stuck in my throat.
“We always meant to. Never got around to it. Oh, shoot, Eloise is calling. I better go. Let me know how it goes tonight, okay? Congratulations. I’m sure he’ll do a lovely job.”
She clicked off.
Kate had always been like her name: brisk, efficient, classy. It’s not that she was a bad sister; she was a dutiful sister. We never shared giggles over boys, but she showed me how a tampon worked. She let me believe in Santa as long as I wanted to (an embarrassingly long time). She gamely took me to the mall with my friends, where she’d sit with her camera in the courtyard while we tweens tried every makeup sample known to womankind.
I just never felt that she really liked me. I was the daughter of the woman who stole her father, after all. Sometimes I’d see her looking at me, judgment in her eyes, and I’d wonder what I was doing wrong. She was never mean, but she was never truly there.
The dynamic didn’t change when we became adults. Kate lived in Brooklyn. She was cool, and I was not. She was thin and elegant, and I was round and cute. She was a successful photographer (and a great one, really, her pictures were stunning); I was excellent at unjamming the printer. She’d never relied on a man for anything, and I’d been living with my boyfriend since I was twenty-one.
Sensing that my phone call was over, Jonathan reappeared at my desk. “Are you finished with your personal calls?”
“Yes, Jonathan, I am. Kate sends her best.”
“And are your cramps sufficiently muted?”
Right. I’d pulled the period card when I got back late from my lunch hour. “I’m feeling much better. Thank you. That’s very sweet of you to remember.”
“Believe me, I’d love to forget. Are there any other personal problems interfering with your ability to work? A lost kitten, perhaps? A sick goldfish?”
I pretended to ponder. “I don’t think so.”
“Then please finish editing your mother’s column.” His pale blue eyes were a little eerie. Plus, he didn’t blink. I was almost positive he was an alien.
“Stepmother. She’s my stepmother. Um, I’m almost done. I’ll have it to you any minute.”
“It was due at noon.”
“This is a difficult time for my family, Jonathan.” I raised an eyebrow.
“And yet your mother has her work in on time.”
Stepmother. I closed my eyes briefly. “Well. Candy loves her job.” Then, realizing how that sounded, I added, “Like all the O’Leary women. I’ll get right on it. Sorry for the delay.”
He gave me a pointed look and went off to stare down someone else.
I opened Candy’s emailed file and started reading.
Dear Dr. Lovely,
My daughter lost her husband suddenly, and I don’t know what to do for her. She’s in a fog. The thing is, I’m not sure she really loved him, so it’s more shock than heartbreak. Some days I want to slap her, and others, I want to hug her. She—
I picked up the phone and dialed. “Candy. You can’t write about Kate.”
“What are you talking about?” she said in that faux innocent voice. For a shrink, the woman was a terrible liar.
“You wrote the letter to Dr. Lovely!”
“No, Ainsley, I am Dr. Lovely.”
“Oh, please. You can’t fool me.” There had been one about two years ago involving a laid-off daughter who was content to clean up after her live-in boyfriend and make door wreaths. “Don’t make me tell Jonathan.”
“Tell Jonathan what?”
I dropped my voice to a whisper. “That you write some of these letters.”
“Prove it.”
“Candy. Your professional reputation is at stake.”
She sighed. “The coincidence factor is high, I’ll grant you that. But I picked it because it did remind me of Kate, and she needs to get out of her funk.”
“It’s been three weeks, Mom.” Whoops. The M-word slipped out sometimes.
“I know how long it’s been,” Candy said after a pause. “And maybe it would do her good to read that other people are going through similar things.”
“I actually recommended a group for widows and widowers,” I said.
“Did you! Good. She needs help. I hope it’s led by a professional grief therapist and not some quack with a piece of paper she got over the internet.”
“Me, too. So what should I do with this letter?” I asked.
“Just cut it, I suppose,” she said. “There are two more after it.”
“Got it. Have a good day, Candy.”
“You, as well.” She hung up without saying goodbye.
Just then, Rachelle came into my cubicle and leaned against the frame, dunking a tea bag into a cup. “So there I was last night at the park by the river, okay? Guess who I ran into?” She had a gift of spotting celebrities and would often post pictures of them from behind on Facebook. Robert Downey Jr.’s butt in Southampton! or You’re goddamn right that’s Jennifer Hudson!
“Was it Chris Hemsworth?” I asked, brightening.
“Derek Jeter?”
“No. Jonathan.”
I made a face. “I was hoping for more.”
“And his ex-wife.”
“Oh! Do tell.” It must’ve taken a strong (or masochistic) woman to be married to our boss. I sympathized with her already.