“I don’t have any Scotch,” Celia called from the other room. “Sorry.”
“No problem.” I opened the cabinet and studied her inventory. Bourbon and vodka sat front and center—my mother’s liquors of choice. Something about that thought reminded me that I needed my wits about me that night. I closed the cupboard, filled my glass with ice, and poured some bottled water. Then I joined Celia in the living room.
She was already sitting on her chaise, spread out to look casual, but her body language said she was anything but. I took a long swallow of my water before taking a seat across from her on the loveseat.
“So.” She wrung her hands as she spoke. “What’s up? I mean, I know something has to be up. You’ve been avoiding me for weeks, and all this tonight is just…weird. You’re trying to throw me off balance. It’s working. So what is it?”
I chuckled. Of course she’d see through me. Wouldn’t I have seen through her?
Though I hadn’t planned to dive right in, Celia’s point-blank questioning of my agenda gave me no choice. “I came to tell you…I need to tell you…” Just spit it out. “I’m not playing anymore.”
It was Celia’s turn to laugh. “Of course you aren’t. We haven’t seen each other in forever. How could you possibly be playing? I’m sure it’s driving you crazy. You’re such a junkie for this stuff. Don’t worry. I have several possible scenarios just waiting for you to choose one. We’ll get you back in.”
She’d relaxed, her usual demeanor returning as she ticked off situations on her fingers. “There’s a new neighbor on the seventh floor. He’s seeing two women, neither know about each other. He’s serious about both. We could introduce them. Or you could try to seduce one. Or both. Or I could jump in as a third woman.”
Her enthusiasm was contagious. The longer I let her babble on, the worse it was for me. I had to correct her misunderstanding. “Celia, I mean—”
She ignored me, speaking over me. “If that doesn’t sound appealing, then I have another. I met a pair of newlyweds at the MoMA show last week. I know, we’ve done the newlywed thing, but I thought it might be fun for old time’s sake.”
“I’m out, Celia. I’m not playing anymore.”
“Or wait!” Now it was apparent that she did understand me after all. She just didn’t want to. “Andrea Parish has a wedding shower coming up. It’s co-ed. I’m sure there’s something we could—”
She did, her face falling as she turned to meet my eyes.
“I’m done. I’m not playing the game. Ever.” My voice threatened to catch, but I managed to cover it. “It’s over.” I finished my water, wishing that I’d chosen the vodka instead.
Her eyes fell to the floor for the slightest moment. Then she recovered. “What happened? Is there a lawsuit? We always knew that was a possibility.”
I shook my head. “There’s no lawsuit. I’m just…I’m done.”
“That’s ridiculous.” She narrowed her brows skeptically. “Are you trying to pull my leg? I don’t fall for your shit anymore, you know.”
While I’d known delivering this news to Celia would be difficult, I’d thought the hardest part would be convincing her I was happy with my decision, not that I meant it in the first place. “I’m not pulling your leg, Celia. I’m not making this up. I’m done with the game. I’m no longer playing. I know this seems to be coming out of the blue, but I’m serious about this. No more experiments. No game. Done.”
She tilted her head and studied me. “You can’t be done. You said you’d never be done.”
“I’d said that; you’re right. But I was wrong. I’ve changed my mind.” It occurred to me to bring up Mirabelle, but then I realized that there wasn’t any way I could explain how my sister had influenced me. Even if I could come up with the words, Celia wouldn’t understand. I barely understood.
She came near to assuming on her own, though. “Is this because of your mother? Jack?”
“No. Not because of Sophia. Definitely not because of Jack.”
Celia stood and began pacing. “Where the hell is this coming from, then? If not your family, did you meet Jesus or something?”
I chuckled again. “No.” Though ethics were beginning to take more of an interest for me than they had before. The rights and wrongs of things I’d done. It was starting to matter. “This is me, Celia. All me.”
She swung to face me. “Bullshit. This isn’t you. The game is you.”
“Always! You can’t even make it through a dinner without coming up with at least one play.”
I shot up from my seat. “And that’s exactly the problem. The game has become my whole life. To the point that I’ve begun to ruin the few things around me that aren’t the game. And still it isn’t enough. It’s never enough. I need something else. Something more fulfilling, less consuming. More honest.”
“Like what? Love? Because I swear to God if that’s what you mean…” She didn’t have to finish her thought. I got it. After I’d turned her off to that particular emotion, it would be the ultimate betrayal to leave her for that.
“Not love. Of course not love.” Yet, wasn’t that exactly what I was leaving for? Love for Mirabelle? It wasn’t romantic love, though, and that’s what Celia was referring to. “You know I’m incapable of that, Celia. Just…there has to be something else. If I knew what that something was, I’d tell you. But I don’t know. Yet.”
“Because there is nothing else.”
I’d believed that. Part of me still did. But I’d been listening to new voices recently—Dr. Alberts, Mirabelle—and they said differently. “How do we know that, Celia? Have we looked?”
She scoffed at me. “I don’t need to look.”
“Then how do you know?”
“Because you told me!”
“Only because you begged me to teach you!” This wasn’t the course I’d planned to take with Celia. Chasing the blame, passing the buck—it wouldn’t get us anywhere.
I ran a hand through my hair and blew out a stream of hot air. When I spoke again, I was calmer, more even. “Look, you chose this. I never did. I thought it was my only option, but I see now that it wasn’t. So I’m trying to choose something different.” My pride made me say more than I should. “I stood by you when you made this choice, and now it’s your turn to stand by me.”