Nina thought of herself driving to someone else’s house to scream on their front lawn while a whole party’s worth of people watched. It was so impossible that she couldn’t even summon a mental picture.
But Carrie had this fire within her. Where was Nina’s fire? Had it ever been there? And if so, when did it go out?
Her husband had slept with Carrie last night and then Nina had taken him back this evening. What was wrong with her? Was she just going to accept it all? Just accept every piece of bullshit thrown at her for the rest of her life?
When Nina opened her mouth to speak, her voice was flat and calm and controlled. “I think you two need to leave,” she said.
Brandon wasn’t sure he’d heard her right. Carrie didn’t hear her at all.
“I think you two need to leave,” Nina said again, this time louder.
“Honey, no,” Brandon said, trying to move toward her.
Nina put up her hand. “No. Nope,” she said calmly. “Leave me out of this. You two can have each other.”
“I don’t want him,” Carrie said. “I just wanted him to know that you can’t treat people like dirt and think they are just going to take it.”
Nina hated how small she felt in that moment, for having taken him back.
“How dare you come to this house?” Tarine said to Carrie. Her voice was loud and angry and when Nina looked at her, she could tell that Tarine had been seething for quite some time.
“For what it’s worth, I hate myself,” Carrie said to Nina and Tarine. “And I know I shouldn’t be here. I’m just really sick and tired of people thinking they can treat me like I don’t have a heart. Like mine doesn’t break, too.”
Nina looked at her and nodded. She understood Carrie Soto, understood she was heartbroken, understood that in another world they might even be friends. But they were in this world. And they were not friends.
“You have no right going around acting like you’re Mr. Nice Guy. You’re an asshole,” Carrie said to Brandon. “All I wanted to do was give you back your stuff and tell you that. But then you pissed me off trying to shoo me away like some shameful secret. Like you didn’t come on to me. Like you didn’t start this whole thing.”
Carrie turned around and walked back to her Bentley, which she’d left running, the driver’s door still open. “I’m sorry, everyone,” she said. “I really am.”
She backed her car up, bumped against a palm tree, put it in drive, and took off.
Brandon watched her drive out of sight, and then, wearing a look of shock and embarrassment, moved toward his wife.
Nina put up her hands again, in front of everyone. “You need to go, too.”
“Nina, honey, it’s over with Carrie.”
“I don’t care. Please, Brandon, just go.”
Nina was relieved to hear herself say it, relieved she was capable of this.
“You can’t kick me out!” Brandon said. “It’s my house! This is my house.”
“So then take the house,” Nina said. “It’s yours.”
And the moment she relinquished that stupid cliffside monstrosity and the tennis star that came with it, Nina Riva felt one hundred times lighter.
There was finally enough air within her for a fire to ignite.
Casey Greens looked at herself in the mirror of Nina’s master bathroom, splashing her face with cold water and then drying it with a lush taupe towel. Everything in this house was so nice. The towels were so soft, the rooms were so big. She looked at the floor-to-ceiling windows and the mirrored walls and the thousand thread count pillowcases.
But Casey ached for her old world, where the pillows were a little scratchy and the windows were small and always sort of stuck with humidity and old paint, where dinner was always a little overcooked. Where her mom got every question wrong on Jeopardy! every night, but they all sat on the couch together and had fun listening to her guess hopelessly anyway.
If Casey could—if the devil ever bartered—she would have sold her soul to leave this place and have her parents back. She felt a wave of despair coming toward her, ready to take her under. This had been happening on and off since she lost them. Casey had learned that the best thing to do was to brace herself for every rush of grief. She would let the sadness and sorrow wash over her, smother her. She held on tight, knowing all she could do was feel the pain until it passed.
She opened her eyes and looked at herself in the mirror once more.
Maybe she didn’t belong here. Maybe she didn’t belong anywhere, wouldn’t belong anywhere. Ever again.
Nina walked back into the house trying to pretend she had not just suffered the indignity of her husband’s mistress on her front lawn. And then she went right through the kitchen, opened up the pantry door, and walked in.
There, among the bags of rice and the cans of tomato sauce, Nina closed her eyes and settled herself. While the pantry door hummed with the sounds of the Eurythmics and the noise of people talking and laughing still penetrated the space, it was quiet enough to find stillness. Nina rested her famous ass on a stack of paper towel rolls and pulled her shoulder blades in toward each other, fixing her posture, releasing some of the tension from her back.
For fuck’s sake. Her husband had returned, his mistress had shown up, she might have a long-lost sister, and her brother was sleeping with her other brother’s ex-girlfriend. She just wanted the night to be over.
The pantry door opened, showering Nina with light and sound. She looked up to see Tarine standing in front of her with a bottle of wine and two glasses.
“Hi, doll,” Tarine said as she slipped in and shut the door behind her. She pulled on the cord hanging above their heads. The light went on.
“Brandon is upstairs, packing up your things,” Tarine said. “He is drunk, obviously. And he thinks he is kicking you out of the house.”
Nina laughed. She had no choice but to find it funny.
Tarine sat down next to Nina and grabbed a corkscrew from her jacket pocket. She started opening up the bottle of sauvignon blanc. Once the cork was popped, she poured some wine into a glass and handed it to Nina, then poured one for herself.
“Someone took the rest of the Opus One,” Tarine said. “These people are animals. I got us a white this time.”
Nina took it but didn’t drink out of it yet.
“Drink up,” Tarine said as she took a sip of her own. “We are celebrating your Declaration of Independence.”
Nina looked at Tarine and a small smile crept out of the corner of her mouth. She took a sip. And then she drank some more. Good God, she could drink the whole bottle right now.
“I didn’t expect him to come back,” Nina said.
“Once he left … I don’t know, our relationship felt over for me. I was mourning it.”
“And I’ve been really sad,” Nina added. “That I … that I meant so little to someone who had made me believe I meant so much.”
Tarine grabbed Nina’s hand and squeezed it.
“But there was no part of me that wanted him back,” Nina said, finally looking Tarine in the eye.
Tarine smiled. “Good,” she said with a firm nod.