Look the Part (Page 22)
“In here.” I lead Harry to the bedroom and open the cage. “Come, babies.” I make kissing sounds. “Mozart, come see Harry. You remember Harry don’t you, baby.”
Mozart waddles his chubby little rat ass out of the cage, and Harry picks him up.
“That one is a lot smaller.” He nods to my shy girl staying in the cage as the rest of my musical geniuses make their way to freedom.
“That’s Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta.”
Harry gives me a funny look of confusion as Mozart squirms in his hands, trying to get onto his shoulder.
“That’s her real name?”
I nod, nuzzling my nose into Beethoven. “Gaga might not come out to play today. We’ll see. This is Beethoven, and this is Chopin, and this crazy guy here is Bach.”
“I’m going to ask my grandparents for rats this Christmas. My dad would never buy them for me.”
That’s totally true. I set Beethoven down and stand. “Here’s a banana. You can break off some pieces for them and they’ll love you. Lady Gaga might even come out if you have food to share.”
“Will they bite me?”
“No. They’re very tame. They’ve always lived in a pack, which usually makes rats less aggressive. But they’ll all lick your hands. I think of it as giving you kisses. Anyway, I’ll be out in the other room. It’s okay if they wander out too, but that banana will keep their attention for a while.”
Flint’s still focused on his phone, one leg crossed over the other at his ankles. Even when he’s an ass, he’s over six feet of sex in a suit.
“Can I get you a glass of water?”
He shakes his head without looking up at me. “Who’s Alex?”
I lean against my counter, crossing my arms over my chest. “Are you an alcoholic?”
“That’s your assumption?” Still no eye contact.
“It wasn’t until I realized how pissed off you were at that full glass of wine.”
“My ex-husband. Are you an alcoholic?”
“I’m chronically sober. Why didn’t you answer his call?” He still doesn’t look at me.
“I wasn’t in the mood to talk to him. Was alcohol your only addiction?”
“Yes. Why did you get a divorce?”
“Because he hated me for having two hands after part of his were amputated. Were you driving the car the night your wife died?”
Now he looks up and a complex expression of shock, confusion, and anger twists his face. “Harrison, we’re leaving right this minute.”
If I crossed some line by asking that, it was only because he crossed the same line, and in the middle our realities collided.
“Gaga came out.” Harry brings my little lady out with him.
I fight past the pain to smile at him. I bet he has no idea that his father carries around such an unfathomable grief on his conscience.
“Want to hold her?” He tries to hand Lady Gaga to Flint.
“Put it down, we’re leaving.”
“Her, not it,” Harry scolds.
I take her from him and set her on the sofa. “Thanks again for dinner.”
Flint opens the door.
“Bye,” Harry says.
As Flint turns to follow behind him, I grab his wrist. Flint looks over his shoulder at my hand on him.
“Sometimes the world ends and forgets to take you with it. I get it.”
He pulls his arm from my grasp, giving me a quick glance of hollow, heartbreaking nothingness before following Harry.
“If you’re wondering what I want for Christmas, I want rats—at least three.” Harrison interrupts the conversation I’m having with my parents—the one that has nothing to do with rats for Christmas presents.
My dad laughs. “I think that’s doable.”
“No.” I shake my head. “It’s not. If you want him to have rats, you’re going to have to keep them at your house, and he’ll come visit them.”
“They carry less diseases than dogs.” Harrison huffs out a sigh.
“I’ll keep that in mind when we don’t get a dog either.”
“You’re not even half as cool as Elle.”
“You mean the rat lady who hums all day long? I’m really wounded.” I press one hand over my heart and point to the stairs with my other hand. “Go to bed.”
He wrinkles his nose at me and shifts his attention back to my parents wearing amused grins on the couch. “Elle has gone skydiving too, and she has a friend who climbed Mount Everest. There’s a lot of dead bodies still on the mountain. It’s too dangerous to try and retrieve them, so they’re just there … some of them frozen in time with ropes still tied around their waists. Some climbers who come across these dead bodies on their way to the summit will try to bury them. Can you imagine coming across a dead body and just tossing your equipment aside to bury it like no big deal?”
“Wow!” my mom says. “That’s … I don’t know. Seems like you’d have to be a little crazy to want to climb to the summit.”
“Crazy?” Harrison shakes his head. “I’m going to do it someday.”
“But for now…” I point to the stairs again “…you’re going to go to bed.”
“Yeah, yeah …” He heads toward the stairs.
“Goodnight, Harrison,” my parents say.
“Elle has made quite an impression on him.” My dad gives me a grin that says he’s thinking about finding us in the closet.
I run my hands through my hair and nod slowly. “Unfortunately.”
“Having a positive female role model would be a good thing for him.” My mom gives me a sad smile. “And you too.”
“I thought you were our positive female role model.”
“You only see me a few times a year. It’s not enough. And Harrison clearly finds your friend Ellen much more intriguing than what he finds me.”
“Who said Ellen is my friend?”
My dad’s overly bushy eyebrows shoot up. “Oh? You’re not friends? Or are you more than friends?”
“I should be in prison.” I fight away the pain as my gaze drifts to the stairs. Thoughts of our son, and how little he knows about the past, hits me hard in the chest. “This isn’t my life anymore, it’s his.”
My mom stands, tightening the sash to her robe as she walks toward me. She presses a finger under my chin like she did when I was a child and tips it up until I look at her. “If you truly mean that, then get the boy some rats.” She smiles. “But if there’s even the slightest part of you that feels deserving of a tiny bit of happiness, then get the girl. I think Harrison likes her more than rats.”
My eyes slide to the side, catching my dad’s shrug. He told her about the closet.
Mom keeps my chin tilted up and leans down, pressing a kiss to my cheek and the tip of my nose. “Goodnight, my lovely boy.” She leaves me with my all-knowing father.
“We’ll get Harrison breakfast. Be back in time to take him to school and drop us off at the airport.” He rests his hand on my shoulder, giving it a firm squeeze.
Before he gets halfway up the stairs, I say, “What if I get him rats?”
He chuckles. “Then you’re an idiot. Live or die, Flint … but don’t sit in the fucking middle just … existing.”
I knock on the door. It’s almost ten. This is a bad idea. A weak moment. She doesn’t answer. I turn.
“Giving up so easily?”
I turn back, taking in her tiny shorts, baggy nightshirt hanging off one bare shoulder, and fuzzy socks. Her hair is a wavy mess and … so fucking gorgeous.
“I was drunk.” I swallow hard. I’ve never said those three words to anyone, even those who know. Not my parents. Not Heidi’s mom. Not Harrison. And not to anyone at the hundreds of AA meetings I’ve attended.
Ellen nods slowly. “I know,” she whispers.
I clear my throat. “It feels … unforgivable.”
She nods again. I wait for her to tell me that nothing is unforgivable. I wait for her to tell me that I need to forgive myself. I wait for her to tell me that Heidi would forgive me. I wait and wait, but she just gives me a sad smile like there is nothing in the world to say to my confession. And the truth is … there’s not.
I killed my wife.
But I’m alive. And this woman before me is so much better than rats.
She takes a step toward me and grabs my tie, pulling me into her apartment. The door shuts behind me, and she shoves me up against it. My lips twitch into a small grin as she jerks my tie side to side, loosening it before working the buttons to my shirt.
“He didn’t let you touch him?”
She releases the last button and blue eyes meet mine. I see it in the glassy pools of tears filling her eyes.
Inching my tie around my collar, she releases it to the floor and pushes my shirt over my shoulders as her lips press to my chest.
I thread my fingers through her silky strands of hair and tilt her head up. “Because he couldn’t touch you.”
She blinks and fat tears bleed down her cheeks. I catch them with the pads of my thumbs and lower my head, brushing my lips over hers, relishing the warmth of her breath.