“Seriously?” he’d say. “Why do you think she does that?”
“You’re the shrink.”
He stroked his face and then said, “It’s her thing. She plays vulnerable for attention.”
“You have to be careful with what you tell her,” said Darius with a frown. “She-”
“She what?” I snapped then almost immediately regretted it. He was trying to help. I was always so hard on him. He was also a shrink. If he thought that Fig was taking everything I said too far, then she probably was. I thought about all the things I’d told her about Ryan and flinched. Was she pushing me toward Ryan because she wanted Darius? I’d seen the way she looked at him, the way she tried to create a divide between us whenever we were all together. Sometimes we’d play board games, and even with her guy there, Fig would somehow end up on a team with Darius, the two of them hunkering down on the other side of the table together, plotting their strategy. I thought it was cute at first. They shared humor, and movie quotes, and sarcasm. It was almost a relief at first to not have to pretend those things with Darius, scrounge around in my brain for a movie quote to match his movie quote. The bantering came easy for them. If I wanted to feel a connection to Darius I had to come to his level. He had no clue how to get to mine. She was quite the pro at setting up emotional teams and then rallying her players against me. A real smooth gamer. Up until now it had mostly annoyed me, but seeing her behavior in a new light—in Darius’s light—made me feel sick to my stomach. We’d once had dinner with Amanda and Hollis and I’d been the butt of her jokes—she’d even had Darius laughing—until Amanda had caught my eye from across the table and changed the subject. After dinner she’d grabbed me by the arm and whispered, “What the fuck?” in my ear.
Later at home, I thought back to the first day we’d met Fig. The day she’d spoken to Mercy in the garden, a completely different person, overweight with limp blonde hair—eager, so eager in everything she did. I’d invited her into my home because of something I’d seen in her eyes.
As soon as Darius passed out on the couch, per usual, I called Amanda.
“Jo, I told you from the beginning that something was up with her. She’s strangely obsessed with you. Even Darius thinks that.”
“Yeah,” I said, weakly. “I just figured she needed a friend, you know…” I heard myself making excuses for her and scrunched up my nose.
“She’s no friend,” Amanda’s voice trailed off.
“What do you mean? Do you know something? You have to tell me.”
I heard her sigh into the phone. “Look, I didn’t want to get involved. I know you like your projects. But, while you were in France with Darius she came here.”
“Yeah…” I said. I vaguely remembered seeing photos of them in front of the water near Amanda’s house. Fig had looked drunk; Amanda was humoring her.
“She spoke about you. Like, for hours. Ask Hollis if you don’t believe me. She went on and on about how you and Darius didn’t belong together. She was drunk, so I gave her that. But, then she started talking about some spoon she found on the pier. Something about Darius and a story he told her. She thinks the spoon is a sign that … I don’t know. This is all crazy.”
I poured myself a glass of wine, right to the top of the glass. It was so full I had to bend down and sip some off the top so it wouldn’t spill when I picked it up.
“What’s the spoon a sign for?” I asked.
“That everything is going to be all right? Work out her way. Who knows, that bitch is bat shit crazy.”
I sighed into the phone. Amanda was my most levelheaded friend. Darius was my husband. If both of them were calling Fig bat shit crazy they were probably right. Right?
I chugged the rest of my wine. So classy.
“Jolene,” Amanda said, “promise me something.”
“Don’t ever leave Mercy with her, okay?”
I got chills. I didn’t leave Mercy with anyone but my mother, but Fig had been asking—begging. She was relentless about watching my daughter.
“Okay,” I said, weakly. “But, we don’t know anything for sure, right?”
“Jo, she showed us a video. Of you and Darius fighting. She taped you.”
“What the fuck?” I breathed into the phone. I rubbed a hand across my face, suddenly feeling so tired. I would have to wake Darius up for this. He needed to know.
“I have to tell Darius,” I said. “This is getting weird. I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”
We hung up, and I walked into the living room where Darius was still fast asleep on the couch.
“Darius,” I said. He stirred, opening his eyes and smiling at me. “We need to talk. It’s about Fig.”
I couldn’t stand to be in the house. It was stifling. I turned down the heat, opened the window. Darius kept things too hot. The cold air on my skin helped for a bit, but then I was anxious again, moving, wandering from room to room, chewing on my nails and waiting for something to happen. But why? I was uneasy because of a neighbor who took things a little too far? That sounded silly even to a writer. Maybe I just needed fresh scenery, a change of pace. Darius suggested I try to write at a coffee shop, so on Thursday I slipped my MacBook into my bag and drove the five miles to Venetian Coffee. The traffic to get there was awful, but I liked the shiny, tiled floors, and the stern owner who chastised you for using Starbucks terminology in his shop. I used to write there when Darius first opened his practice just so I could be near him. He’d walk over on his break and we’d share an apple fritter before he’d go back for his afternoon patients. That’s when the relationship was young, before I could have found something closer, but I’d written an entire novel from Venetian and I was looking to find my luck again. I parked near the entrance and walked in, anticipating the pale glow and chilled out atmosphere that had always helped me write. Instead, I walked directly into Fig, who was carrying her coffee from the counter to a table. She looked momentarily shocked to see me too, then wiped her face clean of emotion and greeted me with her usual, “Hey there.”