“I’m still not feeling very well.” Tania slides her hand free of his and wraps her fingers around the water bottle she’s been sucking all evening. “If it’s all right, I’m going to go inside and lie down.”
“Of course it’s all right,” Grant Cartwright says, actually appearing genuinely concerned about someone besides himself for once in his life. It’s easy to see where his sons inherited their good looks, since Grant has the same lean height, square jawline, and piercing gray-blue eyes. The only real difference is that his hair has gone completely white, and of course, I’ve yet to see real evidence of his possessing a soul, just like I sometimes suspect Jordan lacks a fully functioning brain. “Nicole, why don’t you take her to your room—”
Nicole nearly knocks over her chair in her eagerness to help.
“Of course,” she says. “Come on, Tania. I’ll play you the new song I’ve been working on. It’s called ‘My Twin, My Oppressor’—”
“Are you kidding me with this shit?” Jessica demands, slamming her wineglass down so hard I’m surprised it doesn’t shatter.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Nicole says, not sounding sorry at all. “I didn’t think you’d want me to show Tania to your room, because it reeks of cigarette smoke and that isn’t good for the unborn.”
Mrs. Cartwright, at the other end of the table, looks toward Jessica in surprise. “You’re smoking now?”
“The doctor prescribed it,” Jessica insists. “As a way to control my irritable bowel syndrome—”
“Oh right,” Nicole says, with a sarcastic laugh. “It has nothing to do with you wanting to suppress your appetite, working all day with size zero models—”
“At least I’m actually getting paid at my job,” Jessica snaps, “instead of mooching off Mom and Dad like you’ve done every summer every year since, oh, your entire life—”
Nicole narrows her eyes and sits back down, ready for battle. “Excuse me, Miss I-Work-in-an-Industry-That-Encourages-Women-to-Starve, but as soon as my Teach for America training institute is over, I’ll actually be doing something important with my life. What will you be doing? Oh, right: going to work for Daddy. I’ll be teaching children to read.”
Yowza. It’s hard to keep score, but I think I have to give the point to Nicole for this one, although in our psych class we learned that the three basic human needs are food (including water), shelter, and clothing. Reading was nowhere on the list until scientists started experimenting with monkeys, depriving them of their mothers as tiny babies and raising them in isolation cages without any contact whatsoever with other monkeys or humans, noting that the baby monkeys became completely antisocial, tried to claw the scientists’ eyes out, flung their own poo at them, then died.
Only then did the scientists decide to add love, socialization, sanitation, education, and health care to the list of basic needs, without which all creatures will eventually go mental and die (not to mention fling their own poo).
I’ve decided to stick with criminal justice as a major, as psychology seems a bit harsh.
It takes me a minute to realize that Tania is gone, having slipped away unnoticed during the girls’ argument. I only spy her as she reaches the glass doors to the penthouse and goes inside, Baby at her heels. I throw a questioning glance at Cooper, and he nods.
I wipe my mouth with my napkin and lay it beside my near-empty plate—my serving of rib eye was too large even for me to finish, and I’m a girl who appreciates a well-prepared steak. But I managed to polish off all my mashed potatoes.
“Excuse me,” I murmur and stand up, not missing the look of gratitude Cooper sends me across the table. He knows where I’m headed and is thankful. Tania needs looking after. No one else notices I’ve gotten up.
“Jess,” I hear his brother Jordan say in a sympathetic voice as I head away from the table, “I get the appetite suppressant thing, I really do. But smoking cigarettes is so bad for you. Get Dr. Shipley to write you a script for an ADD med instead. That’s what I do when I need to lose a few before an appearance. Those things work like magic. And the side benefit is that the pills really help me focus, like, on my choreography and stuff.”
“Perhaps because you actually have ADD,” Cooper suggests, but Jordan only laughs and punches him in the arm.
“In our day,” Grant Cartwright says, “they called those pills ‘speed.’ ”
“Right,” his wife agrees. “Remember that time we took all that speed, then went for the drive on Martha’s Vineyard, darling?”
“No,” Grant Cartwright says. “That was the time we had all the margaritas.”
“Oh, right,” Patricia Cartwright says. “People didn’t seem to frown on drinking and driving as much then as they do now. Although that farmer was upset about his fence.”
“You people are disgusting,” Nicole says.
Jessica seems to agree with her sister for once. “Seriously.”
Their voices fade into the background as I follow the pathway—now subtly lit by halogen bulbs hidden in plantings—into the penthouse. There’s no sign of Tania when I get inside, but I hear the sound of a television and the tinkling of a dog’s collar . . . Baby is scratching himself. I go toward it until I find myself in a media room, all dark-wood paneling and black leather couches, and spy Tania sunk into the middle of one, bathed in the light of a flat-screen TV. She has a faux-fur chinchilla throw pulled up over her bare legs to ward off the chilly air conditioning, and Baby is on her lap, energetically scratching his ears. Both of them look up at me as I appear in the doorway.
“Oh hi,” I say hesitantly. Neither dog nor mistress seems particularly glad to see me. “I was just . . .”
Trying to find the bathroom? On my way out and I took a wrong turn?
You know what? Screw that. A producer this girl has been working with daily died today, practically in my arms. I deserve some answers, and it’s time to see if she has any.
“I was wondering if I could join you,” I say and come into the room, closing the door behind me. “I can only take so much Cartwright family togetherness.” I cross the room, looping around the large glass coffee table on which rests a decorative basket of rattan balls (dear decorators of the world: what’s up with the rattan balls?), heading directly for the couch on which she’s sitting. “Scoot over.”