We wait at the corner for an empty cab to come by and take us back to Washington Square. It’s a gorgeous spring evening, and there are a lot of people out and about, couples—both of the hetero and homo variety, some pushing strollers, some not—and singles, some walking dogs, some not, all stylishly attired (it’s the West Village, after all), enjoying the warm weather and twilight sky, strolling by the quaint outdoor cafés with their brightly colored awnings, the expensive home decor shops, the fragrantly scented cupcake bakeries, the specialty condom stores…
Sarah doesn’t seem to notice any of this. She keeps her gaze straight ahead, a faraway look in her eye. When Cooper successfully hails a cab and it pulls up in front of us, but she still doesn’t move, I reach out and pinch her, Muffy Fowler style.
Not hard, or anything. Just enough to get a reaction.
“Ow!” Sarah exclaims, jumping and rubbing her arm. She turns an accusatory gaze up at me. “What’d you do that for?”
“What’s the matter with you?” I demand. “You just found out the love of your life’s a big fat phony. Why aren’t you hyperventilating? Or at least crying?”
“What are you talking about?” Sarah’s eyebrows, badly in need of plucking, are constricted. “Sebastian’s not the love of my life. And he’s NOT a phony.”
“A pacifist who carries a thirty-eight?” Cooper, holding open the door to the backseat of the taxi, looks skeptical. “You don’t find that a bit hypocritical?”
“God, don’t you see?” Sarah lets out a bitter laugh as she climbs into car. “It’s so obvious. Someone planted that gun on him.”
I glance at Cooper as I slide onto the backseat beside her, but he shrugs, obviously as clueless as I am. “Sarah, what are you talking about?”
“It’s clearly a conspiracy,” Sarah explains, as if the two of us are simpletons not to have seen it. “A setup by the president’s office. I don’t know how they did it, but you can be sure they’re behind it. Sebastian would never carry a gun. Someone must have slipped it into his bag.”
“Washington Square West and Waverly,” Cooper says to the cabdriver, as he joins me on the backseat. To Sarah, he says, “I gotta hand it to you, kid. That’s a new one. A conspiracy by the New York College president’s office. Very creative.”
“Laugh all you want,” Sarah says. She turns her face resolutely toward the window. “But they’re going to be sorry come morning.Very sorry.”
I stare at her profile. It’s getting darker out, and harder to see. I can’t tell whether or not she’s kidding.
But then again, she’s Sarah. Sarah’s never been much of a kidder.
“What do you mean, they’re going to be sorry?” I ask her. “What are you talking about?”
“Nothing,” Sarah says innocently. “Don’t worry about it.”
I glance at Cooper. He’s trying not to smile. Although I don’t see anything particularly funny about the situation.
Sarah turns down my invitation to come over for dinner as we pull up in front of Fischer Hall. She says she has a lot of work to do—whatever that means. Cooper remarks when she’s gone that it’s just as well—he’s had as much twenty-something drama as he can take for one day.
“But what could she mean, we’re going to be sorry?” I wonder, as we make our way up the stoop to his front door. “What could she be up to?”
“I don’t know.” Cooper fumbles with his keys. “But it seems to me if she gets out of hand you have a good bargaining tool with the fact that she was letting that kid live illegally in your building. Just threaten to rat her out.”
“Oh, Coop,” I say. “I can’t do that.”
“Why not?” he wants to know. “You’re too soft on them, Heather. What was that whole thing earlier, with my car? Did you really think there was a chance in hell I was going to let them borrow it?”
“No,” I say. “But you’re one to talk. What was that other whole thing in your office earlier, where you were swearing at Sarah, and telling her to get the fuck out? Like you were really going to throw her out. You wouldn’t throw a cockroach out of there.Obviously.”
“Heather, you might not have noticed, but she was completely lying to us.” Cooper manages to get the front door unlocked, then pushes it open. “Do you think we’d have ever gotten the truth out of her if I’d coddled her the way you do?”
My cell phone rings. I pull it out, see that it’s Tad calling, and immediately send the call to voice mail.
Unfortunately, Cooper is standing close enough that he sees who it was. And where I sent the call.
“Trouble in paradise?” he asks, one dark eyebrow quirked.
“No,” I say stiffly. “I just don’t feel like talking to him at the moment.” I follow him inside, throwing my purse and keys onto the same console table in the hallway where he’s thrown his wallet and keys. “The point is, you didn’t have to be that mean to her… ”
Cooper turns to look down at me. “Yes, actually, Heather, I did. Sometimes, if you want to get to the truth, you have to push people. It may not be pretty, but it works.”
“Well, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree,” I say. “Because I think you can be nice to people and get the same results.”
“Yeah,” Cooper says, with a snort. “In four years.”
“Sarah’s conscience would have gotten the better of her sooner or later,” I say. “Way sooner than four years. Try four minutes. Which is exactly what happened. And oh my God, what is that smell?”
“That,” he says, in the tone of a man who is well pleased with a discovery, “is the succulent odor of your dad’s braised short ribs.”
“My God.” I am in shock. “That smells delicious.”
“Yeah, well, better enjoy it while you can, ’cause this is the last time we’re gonna get to experience it.”
“Shut up,” I say. “He’s only moving uptown. He’s not dying.”
“You’re the one who couldn’t stand having him around,” Cooper points out, as he hurries toward the back of the house, which is where the insanely good smell is coming from. “I was perfectly content to let him live here forever.”