“Why?” I asked, and clamped my hand over my mouth in horror. I’d meant to say ‘who.’ “S-sorry,” I stuttered, “I meant to say, ‘who?’ Freudian slip!” Oh my God, just stop talking, Josie.
“Freud, what?” Elizabeth replied, sounding confused, and I felt triumphant. You may weigh as much as my thigh when nine months pregnant, but my brain is better than yours!
“Nothing,” I said. “Nevermind. You caught me off guard and I’m not making sense. How did you get my number?”
“William,” Elizabeth said, lightly. Then there was silence…except, was that a baby I heard in the background?
“So…can I help you?” I prodded. But there was still silence. I realized Elizabeth wasn’t paying attention to me anymore. I could hear her shushing what definitely had to be a baby, and not soothingly.
Finally, Elizabeth came back on the line. “Jesus,” she huffed. “It’s like, I’ve fed it, the nanny changed it, what else does it want?”
I was stunned speechless. I am not a kid person, but I couldn’t imagine referring to my child as an ‘it’.
“Anyway,” Elizabeth sighed. “The reason I’m calling is because I need you to do me a favor, the way I did you a favor getting you a job.”
I bit my tongue to keep from pointing out that she may have gotten me the interview, but I was the one who got the job —and kept it after a massive layoff. “What is it?” I asked, tightly.
“It’s William’s birthday on Thursday—did you know that?”
“I didn’t,” I said.
“Well, I wanted to surprise him with a present. It’s this antique typewriter that apparently Hemingway used or something. It cost me a fortune and it isn’t even functional, but he went crazy for it when we saw it at this auction a few months ago. I wanted to get it in his office before he gets there in the morning, and I was hoping you could just leave my name with security so I can pop in there quickly and drop it off on Thursday morning.”
I was still trying to process everything Elizabeth had just said. From the sound of it, William and her were back together, and I’m assuming that meant he was the father? Was that the ‘good news’ William received over the weekend?
“Why don’t you just give it to him at home?” I asked. If they had a baby together, they had to be living together, right?
“Because he wants it for his office. And I want to surprise him. I have my trainer in the morning so he’ll think I’m on my way to that but really, I’ll set it up in his office so it’s there when he arrives.”
I couldn’t think of any good reason not to help her, so I said, “Um, sure. I guess can put your name in the security system as a guest.”
“Perfect,” Elizabeth said. Then she said goodbye without even thanking me. Harrumph.
I finished cleaning up, got ready for bed, and put the whole conversation out of my head until Wednesday night, when I had dinner with Peter.
After we’d settled into our seats and I had a big fat glass of wine in front of me, I said, “You’re never going to believe who called me on Monday.”
“Scorsese,” Peter said. “He saw you on TV and wants you in his next movie.”
“Weirder,” I said. “Elizabeth.”
Peter had been buttering a piece of bread but he froze, and a clump of butter slid off his knife and onto his plate. “What the hell did she want?”
I told him about our conversation, when I got to the part about putting her name in the security system, Peter said, “Tell me you didn’t do that.”
“Why?” I asked, a sick feeling forming in my stomach.
“Before I left work tonight, yeah. I can take it out. It’s not permanent. Should I?”
“I would,” Peter said. “I don’t think William and Elizabeth are together. And I definitely don’t think that’s his baby. I don’t think he wants anything to do with her.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because I saw her last weekend, with the baby, and he has a full head of red hair.”
I didn’t know what the red hair comment was supposed to mean, but I was too curious about the fact that Peter had seen Elizabeth to focus on that at the moment. “Wait, you saw her?” I asked.
“I ran into her,” Peter clarified. “That’s what I wanted to tell you about.”
Peter said he’d gone for a run in the park on Saturday, after I’d left his apartment. After he was finished, he took a walk down to the reservoir to stretch. Sitting in a bench, with a stroller by her side, was Elizabeth.
“She was crying,” Peter said.
Even after all the shitty things Elizabeth has done to other people, the image of her crying on a park bench on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, with a newborn and no one to share that joy with, tugged at the strings on my heart. I am a human!
“Why was she crying?” I asked.
“She’s alone, Josie. She has no one. Her family is supporting her, financially, but they’re furious with her. William wants nothing to do with her—I imagine—and she has a newborn. I can’t speak from personal experience, but from what I can tell, having a newborn is hard as hell even when there are two parents. She’s doing it on her own.”
“She has a nanny and her parents pay for everything,” I pointed out.
“Right, but she doesn’t have any emotional support,” Peter said. “Which is her own doing, no doubt. Elizabeth is a very troubled person, and it actually concerns me that she’s alone with a baby for the better part of her day.”
“But why do you think William doesn’t want anything to do with her?”
“Because,” Peter reached into his pocket and dug out his phone. He punched something in, waited, and showed me the screen. I was looking at a Facebook picture of a red headed man with his arm around a pretty brunette. His name was Andy Goodman. “Everyone knows she slept with Andy, even though he’s married, and the baby has bright red hair. William isn’t very smart, but it doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together.”
“William told me he had gotten ‘good news’ over the weekend,” I said.
Peter snorted. “Probably that the kid is Andy’s, which means he doesn’t have to be tethered to my crazy ex-wife for the next eighteen years.”
“So basically, I need to get back to my office right now and remove Elizabeth’s name from the system.”
“Just do it tomorrow,” Peter said, waving his hand. “I’m starving.”
“I can’t relax right now,” I said. “What if she decides to drop it off tonight? William will kill me if he finds out about this.”
“Maybe that’s for the best,” Peter said.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Why do you even want to work at that place? It’s unstable, they’re bleeding money, and your boss is a dick.”
“I like working for William,” I said, defensively.
Peter laughed. “Since when?”
“I know he’s an acquired taste but I’ve acquired it,” I said. “He’s a shark. And he trusts me. I feel like I have a lot to learn from him. I don’t want to screw this up.”
Peter sighed, irritably. “You really want to go over there right now? We can’t even eat?”
“You don’t have to come,” I said. “But I just can’t relax until I take care of this.”
Peter didn’t say anything, but he signaled to the waiter and asked how much we owed for the wine. I slurped down as much as possible before we left.
My building always gives me the creeps after 8 PM, which is when the lights automatically shut off. If you’re there late, you have to manually turn them on. When I know I’m going to be working late, I frequently stake out by the lights around 7:57 so I can flick them on the moment they shut off. Otherwise I have to scramble through the dark to the far end of the office, and every time I encounter an object that is even remotely human shaped, like a coat rack, I give myself a heart attack thinking it’s a rapist.
I said hello to the nighttime security guard, Mel, and introduced Peter. “I just forgot something,” I said. “I’ll only be a few minutes.”
Peter said he would wait downstairs in the lobby, which was fine with me. He’d given me the silent treatment since we’d left the restaurant, only mumbling, “It’s fine,” when I told him again that he really didn’t have to come with me.
It was easy enough to remove Elizabeth’s name from the system. The hard part was going to be calling her and backing out on our deal.
It really freaked me out that I was so quick to believe her story and bend to her wishes. I don’t doubt that she spent an arm and a leg on an antique typewriter, or that it was something William went crazy for at an auction they attended a few months ago, back when they were dating. I also don’t doubt that it would have been a surprise for William, but it would have been a terrible one that could have gotten me into serious trouble. I suddenly felt vulnerable, the way I had when I first moved to New York. I’d moved for my ex-boyfriend Eric, and when I found out that he was cheating on me it was this terrible moment where I realized I had no idea how to protect myself, that my instincts were off and I couldn’t trust them the way I thought I could. I thought everything between us was fine. Better than fine—great. How could I have been so wrong, especially when it was so obvious to so many other people that Eric was a total douche canoe? The Eric thing and the Elizabeth thing are two different situations, but they both demonstrate poor judgment that in retrospect, make me question myself. How could I have possibly thought everything with Eric was fine when he disappeared for days on end, and how could I have possibly thought that letting Elizabeth into William’s office without his permission was a good idea? It was beyond idiotic. I was so mad at myself.
I decided to call Elizabeth from the privacy of my desk. She answered on the second ring, “Josie?”
“Hi,” I said. “I just wanted to tell you I can’t put your name in the security system anymore.”
“Why?” Elizabeth demanded.
“Because I don’t feel comfortable letting someone into William’s office without his permission.”
Elizabeth laughed, meanly. “I’m not someone, Josie, I’m the mother of his child. And when I’m not happy, William isn’t happy.”
Even though I knew she was bluffing, that statement still terrified me. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth. I wish you all the best.” I hung up as she started to say something back to me.
I took a deep, shaky breath. I didn’t know if I’d done the right thing. Maybe now I’d enraged Elizabeth so much she would show up tomorrow anyway and cause a scene.
Downstairs in the lobby, Peter was hunched over his phone, texting away. He looked up when he saw me. “Crisis averted?” he asked with a smile. The way he said it, it was condescending, like I’d made a big deal out of nothing. It was infuriating.
I stalked past him. “Yeah,” I said sarcastically. “Crisis averted.”
“Come on,” Peter said, following me out. “I was just kidding.”
We paused on the street corner. “Want to just order from the Thai place you like?” Peter suggested.
The Thai place I like is by Peter’s apartment, not mine. “Actually,” I said. “Do you mind if we just catch up later? I’m kind of in the mood to be alone.”
Peter studied my face. “Why?”
“I’m just freaked out by this whole thing,” I said. “I’m freaked out by myself, that I could be so stupid. I’m losing my focus. I can’t fuck this up, and I almost just did.”
“Josie, it’s fine,” Peter laughed. “You fixed it. William never has to know.”
Peter’s laughter worked me up even more. This wasn’t funny. “But I know,” I said. I realized I was near tears. “I know that I came this-close to a royal screw up two weeks after my company fired over half the staff. I can’t afford to be distracted right now.” As soon as I said those words, I realized what a game changer they were.
“And you think I’m distracting you?” Peter shot back.
I could have turned it around right there. I could have backed down and said, no, of course not, I was just making a mountain out of a mole hill. But I would be lying to myself and to Peter, and I couldn’t do that. If being with Peter was the right thing for me at the moment, I wouldn’t have so many second thoughts. I loved Peter, I really did, but the truth was I did not want to be in a relationship with him. I didn’t want to be in a relationship with anyone. I’d finally found my niche in New York, and I wanted to give that my all for a little bit. I didn’t want to have to share that with anyone else.
“I’m just not the type of person who can do two things, two important things, at once.”
Peter dug his hands in his pockets and nodded. “I’m not going to try and change your mind,” he said. “But I think you’re making a big mistake. You can have both, you know. It doesn’t have to be one or another.”
But I didn’t want both. And I didn’t want to be with someone who couldn’t fully support me right now, and Peter’s suggestion that I just find a new job demonstrated that he didn’t. “For me it does. I can’t reign in my feelings for you. I can’t take things slow with our history. And even if I could, you don’t want to take things slow.”
Peter sighed. “Fine, Josie. Go find yourself, soul search, whatever. I can tell you, speaking from experience, it’s not nearly as much fun as it sounds. There are a lot of douchebags out there.”
“Awesome,” I said. “Sweet pep talk.”
Peter stepped off the curb and held his hand up. “Here’s a cab for you,” he said. He opened the door for me, but wouldn’t look at me as I climbed inside.
I started to say something but he slammed the door in my face. Fine. If that’s how it’s going to be. I gave the driver my address and settled into the backseat, blinking back tears. I did care about Peter, and the thought of not having him in my life was heartbreaking. But I knew, without a doubt, that not having him in my life was the right decision.