“What are you doing here?” I asked.
She motioned to a table where her laptop was set up. “Working. They have the best apple fritters here.”
“Oh yeah?” I said, licking my lips. “I’ll have to try one.”
“Have you spoken to Darius?” she asked. Was there uncertainty on her face, or was I just imagining things?
“Well, yes. I speak to him all the time, he’s my husband.”
“He was just in here,” she said, quickly. “Got his coffee to go.” She reached up to swipe a stray strand of hair from her face, and it was then that I noticed her bracelet as it caught the light. It was one of those bangle things everyone was wearing, but it was the charm that caught my eye, a tiny silver snake, coiled like it was ready to strike.
Fig didn’t like snakes. I’d heard her say it five, six, seven times. Why? Because Darius and I had been talking about his ex-fiancée who was deathly afraid of the creatures. Fig had said, “I don’t blame her, I’ve never liked them either.”
Her words rang in my head as I watched the little charm dangle from her wrist. But, Darius loved snakes. He loved them so much that there were snake coffee table books scattered around the house. He’d petitioned me for a pet snake for Mercy just months ago, a coral corn snake, he’d said, pulling up pictures for me to see. I had a snake tattoo, a souvenir from my Harry Potter days when I claimed Slytherin House; it was what had drawn Darius to me all those years ago in college. We were snake people, and Fig was not. So, why was she wearing a snake? My first thought was: because she is one. Or maybe, she was in love with one.
I rubbed at the goosebumps on my arms and looked out the window toward Darius’s office building. Maybe we had it all wrong and her obsession wasn’t with me after all. She obviously knew he worked nearby, had she come here because of him?
“I think I’m going to run over there first,” I said, slinging my bag back over my shoulder.
“He has patients till five,” she said. “He won’t be able to see you.”
“I didn’t know you were his secretary now,” I said.
Her demeanor changed in that instant. She looked away, started stumbling on her words.
“Oh … he just told me how busy he was going to be today. I was just saying. I’m sure he’ll cancel all his appointments for you. Come running…” She tried to laugh it off, but I’d heard the possessiveness. I walked out without saying anything else to her, crossing the parking lot to Darius’s office.
Darius was standing at the receptionist’s desk when I walked through the doors, holding a paper cup of coffee. He looked startled when he saw me, but then his face adjusted into a smile. The waiting room was empty, so I walked over and gave him a kiss. He took it with some hesitancy, his smile momentarily dropping.
“Writing next door?”
“Yes. I just saw Fig? Did you tell her about the Venetian?”
What was that that passed across his face?
“Yeah, I may have mentioned it to her.” He turned away and walked to his office door, his receptionist staring after us with mild interest.
“So, you claim you don’t like her, tell me that she’s a crazy stalker, and you have coffee with her every day?” He shut his office door behind us, and I tossed my bag onto the only chair in the room other than the one where he sat.
“I never said that I didn’t like her,” he said.
“You didn’t, did you? So, you just don’t want me to like her? Is there a reason for that?”
“Did you come here to pick a fight? Does that help you write?”
I had, hadn’t I? I ran my thumbnail over my lip as I stared at him. Back and forth, back and forth.
“No, it helps me gather the truth, which you haven’t really been giving me lately, have you?”
Darius looked at his watch. He wasn’t going to dismiss me. I wouldn’t let him. I walked toward the desk, and he followed after me.
“I thought you had patients until five,” I said. “Fig told me.”
“I had a cancellation,” he said.
His phone was sitting on his desk. I glanced up at him as I lay a finger on the screen, making it light up. There was a line of messages. He was busy. All women. I saw Fig’s name among them.
“Who are you texting?” I asked. “I though you were laying off the Fig texts.”
He wouldn’t look at me.
“How long has she been coming here to … work?”
“I’m not talking to you when you’re like this.”
“Like this?” I laughed. “You mean when I’m on to you?”
Maybe I was overreacting; maybe I was punishing him for something. Not being there enough for me with my father. He was trying in his own way—making sure Mercy had her bath at night, bringing me a glass of wine—it just wasn’t good enough for me. I was selfish that way, wanting people to bend and give me the love I needed, not necessarily the love they knew how to give.
“Okay,” I said. I headed for the door. But, I had to poke once more. It was who I was. I’d learned that first reaction told the deepest truth. “Hey, what’s your password for your e-mail?”
He just stared at me.
“You know the password to my e-mail…”
His face was impassive, a stone mask. I wanted to throw something at his face to see if it would move. I was crazy. I turned away before he could see my face. If he wouldn’t give it to me, I’d figure it out myself.