CHAPTER FOUR (see Chapter 3)
“Harvey?” Gemma was so disoriented she thought she was dreaming.
“Did I wake you?”
“What time is it?” She squinted at the walls, expecting to see the print of Monet’s blurry poplar trees that hung in Harvey’s bedroom. The hotel room slowly came into focus.
“It’s seven in the evening, New York time,” Harvey said. “I thought you might still be awake. Jet lag.”
She pulled the phone from her ear and looked at the screen. “It’s one o’clock in the morning here.”
“Don’t be angry.”
Her hands shook. “Why are you calling me?”
“I want to apologize. And explain.”
There was a long pause. “Where are you staying?” Harvey asked.
“Leave me alone. Don’t call me again.”
She tapped the hang-up key and put the phone on do not disturb.
She tried to fall back asleep but her blood was rushing in her ears.
She flung off the covers, tore off her eye mask, and snatched up the phone. There were two missed calls from Harvey. She thought of how the sweat trickled down Harvey’s forehead and hung at the tip of his nose when he lied. It was a bad tell, especially for a lawyer. And repulsive. A good image to help her recover from him.
She lay back down on her pillow and held her cell phone aloft. She tapped open the headstone portrait she’d snapped at Corin Falconer’s grave.
That fantasy wasn’t preventing her mind from spinning with recent events.
New York, 2 days ago
Gemma had left Harvey’s condo after dinner, the day before their planned trip together to Paris. Gemma’s first. She still had packing to do and didn’t want to sleep over. Harvey had to be in court for a client the next morning, and court days made him surly and constipated.
When she began packing she noticed her favorite perfume was missing. Well, not her favorite perfume. Harvey’s. He loved Obsession, the name of it ironically suiting his personality. She preferred something lighter that reminded her of flower and herb gardens, like Daisy, or Nantucket Briar.
She’d left the perfume at his place. He’d be cranky if she didn’t wear it on this momentous romantic trip, but he’d never remember to pack it, let alone find it in his bedroom where it always seemed to hide in new and more exotic places.
She decided to pick it up the next morning after he’d left for court.
The morning of the trip she drove to his place, punched in his lock code, and entered. Harvey was seated at his dining room table, dressed in his flimsy flannel robe. He glanced up at her in surprise when she stepped in. His hand, holding a bagel sandwich, froze halfway to his mouth.
A woman was seated across from Harvey with her back to the door. She twisted around in her chair and stared at Gemma with a startled expression. The strap on her filmy baby-doll pajamas slipped down her shoulder and revealed a young, firm breast.
Gemma gasped so suddenly it set off a coughing attack.
Harvey stared at her, paralyzed, but the young woman tugged her pajama top back up, grabbed the glass of water on the table, and slinked over to Gemma to hand it to her.
Gemma took several gulps of water until she could breathe without coughing. She patted her chest frantically and swiped at the tears in her eyes.
“Are you okay?” the woman asked, tilting her head curiously.
Gemma hesitated. “No,” she said in a strangled voice. “I’m not.”
Harvey stood up. Tiny beads of sweat pooled on his receding hairline and trickled down his forehead. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, like a baby blowing bubbles with its saliva. Like a man having a heart attack.
After the longest silence, the woman spoke. “Why are you here, Gemma?”
“Who are you?”
“Marla.” The woman tentatively offered her hand. “Nice to finally meet you.”
Gemma stared at Marla’s hand but didn’t touch it. Marla dropped hers.
Marla? This was Harvey’s ex-girlfriend who had shown up in his life over a year ago with a diagnosis of cancer?
“Obsession,” Gemma blurted out.
“What?” Marla asked frowning. Harvey continued to stare at Gemma in horror, his face a pasty white.
“My perfume,” Gemma said. “That’s why I’m here.” She ran up the stairs and flung open the night-table drawer on her side of Harvey’s bed. The perfume wasn’t there.
She gazed around frantically, not sane enough to stop looking for the damn perfume. A perfume that seemed to Gemma to have top-notes of fermented honey and base-notes of vomit.
She threw open Harvey’s armoire, grabbed his underwear drawer, and emptied it on the floor. There was a muffled thud as a balled up pair of faded, striped, boxer shorts bounced to the ground. Gemma unraveled the shorts and removed the perfume bottle.
Grasping it in her fist, she ran downstairs. When she reached the living room, she slowed down, trying not to look crazed. She took a slow, deep breath so she wouldn’t start choking again, and held up the perfume. “Got it.”
“Gemma,” Harvey said, finding his voice. “I’ll talk to you later.”
“No need,” Gemma said curtly. She was out the door before he could say another word.
She didn’t remember starting her car. She must have driven home in a mindless trance because she soon found herself stumbling into her bedroom. She dropped onto the bed and stared at the open suitcase beside her.
The trip was tonight. A red-eye that would get them to Paris by tomorrow afternoon. What should she do? Was it possible she’d read the scene at Harvey’s all wrong? Could it have been innocent? She wanted to ask someone their opinion, a friend, a relative, but she was sure that any rational human being would tell her to cancel the trip she had been looking forward to for months. For her whole life.
She felt sick. She picked up her phone and called Leora, quickly giving her the gist of the story, all the while sipping water so she wouldn’t start choking again as her eyes filled with tears.
“Marla looks twenty years younger than me,” she said, stunned. As if that were the relevant fact. “I always pictured someone my age.”
“Don’t go,” Leora said. “The whole trip is on his credit card, right?”
“Yes,” Gemma said. “But shouldn’t I hear what he has to say?”
It was a full two hours before Harvey called her.
“Gemma, Marla was only helping me with a case this morning,” he said. “There’s nothing going on.”
“Are you out of your mind?” she said. “You both looked like you’d just tumbled out of bed.”
Harvey continued as if he hadn’t heard her. “I’ll be by your house later and I’ll explain on the way to the airport.” He sounded like his calm, lawyerly self.
“I’m not going.”
“Don’t do this,” Harvey pleaded, his voice descending into that nasal whine. “There’s nothing between me and Marla anymore. I swear to you.”
“I’ll let you know if I change my mind,” Gemma said as she hung up. Why had she ended on such a wishy-washy note? Did she want to go to Paris that badly that she’d even go with this snake? She felt guilty for maligning snakes, a creature that she actually liked.
She glanced at the clock on her nightstand. She had a few hours before they were scheduled to leave.
She called Sammy, her older son, and told him what had happened, leaving out Marla’s exposed breast. She didn’t want to completely gross him out.
“Get rid of him,” he said. “Didn’t he do this to you before? With the same woman?”
Gemma closed her eyes. “I really wanted to see Paris.”
“Rebook the trip. Go by yourself.”
She thanked him for his advice and called Ellis, her younger son. She was like a patient shopping for doctors, hoping to get a better diagnosis.
“What do you want to do, Ma?” Ellis asked.
“I don’t know.”
“If you believe him, that it was nothing, then go,” he said. “If you don’t believe him, I can help you book the trip online for yourself. You’d have a great time. It would be an adventure.”
She put the phone down and sat at her kitchen table, torn by indecision. It was true that Harvey had done this to her before. A year ago. Marla had gotten a diagnosis of uterine cancer. She needed a hysterectomy. Harvey had said he couldn’t turn his back on his ex-girlfriend when she asked for moral support. He was a good guy, with good heart.
He’d said he still wanted to go to Paris with Gemma. Didn’t that mean something? If things went wrong once they arrived, she could always go off by herself. This trip had been planned for and dreamed of for months.
She picked up the phone to call Harvey and hear what he had to say. Before the call went through, her doorbell rang. She hung up and went to the window. Marla stood on her front porch and waved.
“What do you want?” Gemma asked, opening the window. Marla raised her hand to shade her eyes from the sun and squinted at Gemma. “There’s something I have to tell you.”
CONTINUED IN CHAPTER SIX