—I’m a little upset about Gabby—
She got right back with a bloop.
—Can I do anything?—
—If you could bring back two Jameson’s? One shot and one on the rocks for my nerves? And I’ll be out right after—
I straightened my dress, wiped mascara from under my eyes, and reapplied my lipstick. A waitress came. I cracked the door to thank her for the drinks and remove them from her tray.
Once the door closed, I knocked back the shot. The other one was my prop. I looked in the mirror and tried out my customer service smile. Awesome. I was just smashing. And f**k her.
I went out to do my job. I entered the room and said a few hellos, smiling and graciously accepting compliments. Deirdre was at the bar. Jessica was alone at the table, half paying attention to her phone and half pretending she didn’t see me.
I went to the bar and squeezed next to Deirdre. “Hi, I think we’ve met,” I said.
She was more polite than before and nodded, a noncommittal smile playing at her lips. “Yeah. Nice singing.” She tucked a strand of tight curls behind her ear. They bounced right out.
“Thanks. I, uh, I don’t want to launch into this and be rude, but I couldn’t help but notice you came with someone?”
“Yeah. She’s family. She wanted to see you. I knew where you were, so…” She ended with a shrug.
“She’s borderline malevolent.”
“She’s my brother’s wife.”
“You have a lot to learn.” She tried to put the hair behind her ear again, but it sprang in front of her eyes.
I took a deep breath. She was one of seven, and I was alienating her. “I’m sorry. I just don’t understand.”
She considered me deeply. There was something about her, some sadness, a touch of melancholy. She had a deep spring of sorrow. I saw it in her eyes and the way she fought a losing battle with the strand of hair that wouldn’t tuck behind her ear. “Like I said. Family. A man is meant to marry one woman. One life, one wife.”
I wondered for a second if Deirdre lived in the twenty-first century, then I saw her crucifix necklace. I got it then. She was saving Jonathan’s soul by serving Jessica.
“All right,” I said. “I’ll go say hello. You walking over there?”
“In a minute.” She smiled at me. I couldn’t read it. Besides the spring of sadness, I couldn’t read Deirdre at all.
Jessica pretended to see me for the first time when I was halfway to her. Quelling a tidal wave of hatred that would surely overcome even the power of my customer service smile, I sat at the edge of her booth. We were equals. I wouldn’t stand over her as if I was her waitress.
“Nice to see you again,” I lied.
“Same here,” she lied back. “You play beautifully.”
“And your voice is heavenly. You’re an artist.”
I put my elbows on the table and fondled my glass of whiskey. “Is there something you want? Being here? Because I do believe in the odd coincidence, but not this one.” I was all smiles. If Rhee saw me, she’d assume I was making friends with a customer.
Jessica looked down at her own drink, a half empty clearish-brownish thing with soda and lime. “You played a song in the middle I didn’t recognize. I mean, let me correct myself. I did recognize it. I asked myself many of the same questions.”
“Were you as honest with yourself as you were with me?”
A smirk played at her lips. “I deserve that.”
I could have pounced, but I didn’t. She wasn’t there to get beat up. She wasn’t there to apologize, and she certainly didn’t come to see me sing. She came to get Jonathan back. As far as I was concerned, I was pissed as hell at him, but I hadn’t decided I was finished with him. So I stayed silent, waiting for her to explain. She didn’t move a muscle unnecessarily. Her face gave away nothing. She didn’t twitch or fondle a glass like I did, and she didn’t have a customer service smile. She had an expression that went deeper. It was more practiced, more ingrained. She had the grace Debbie tried to instill in me. In spades.
“There will come a day when you want to talk to someone.” She reached into her bag and took out a card. “Someone who knows more about who you’re involved with. If you can forgive the little joke I played on you, you can contact me. We can talk.”
She slid the card to me. It was a plain, matte, white business card with her name, number, and an address in the industrial part of Culver City.
It was so wildly classy I resented her all over again. I slipped it into the pocket of my dress. “If I have something to ask, I can just go to Jonathan, don’t you think?”
She sipped her drink. “Has he told you about Rachel?”
“I can’t prove a negative. Neither can you. And if you think I’m repeating what he told me so that you can cross-check it… well, that says more about you than it does about me, doesn’t it?”
“Your hostility does the same.” I felt slapped, and I shouldn’t have. She barely moved a muscle or changed her expression, adding to my feelings of inadequacy. “There are a lot of moving parts here, and if I may be honest, you’re out of your depth.”
I rolled my glass between my palms, cooling them, thinking of Jonathan’s porch on our first night together and how he’d used his glass and the ice in it. The shot had loosened me, reducing my stress and inhibitions. I’d walked minefields like Jessica’s before. Unfortunately, I always forgot my map. “So what you’re telling me is you want to help me stay away from your ex-husband, whose heart you broke? No, I don’t think so.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Oh, yes, it is.”
“Things have been put in motion. I wanted to warn you away, so you don’t get hurt.”
I didn’t like threats, especially vague ones. They implied the person making the threat didn’t respect me enough to explicate, and that was guaranteed to twist my knickers in a knot. I tried to keep my game face on. “I’d understand if you just wanted him back, but you want something else.”
“Right now, I’m trying to get you out of harm’s way. I’ll be happy to explain but not here.”
Oh, that was a sneaky trick. I wouldn’t touch it. Wouldn’t believe it. Why would she have my best interests at heart? I thrust myself forward. She didn’t balk. “He has one dick, and it can be inside one woman at a time. Nothing you say will stop me getting peeled off the ceiling every time he puts that astonishing c**k in me. If you miss it badly, if you imagine it when your new man’s on top of you, if you think about it when you’re alone with your hands under the sheets, I understand completely. He’s a monster f**k, Mrs. Drazen, and you’re going to have to go through me to get him back.”