She remains exactly where she is, wide-eyed and confused.
“There’s lots of room over there,” she says, pointing with the remote control she’s clutching at the couch opposite hers.
“Yes,” I agree, “but you’ve got all the blankets.”
I lift the faux chinchilla and sit down beside her, careful not to touch her, slipping off my shoes—what a relief!—and tucking my legs beneath me, imitating her posture. We learned in our psych class that study after study has shown that subtly imitating another person’s body movements heightens one’s chances of a successful interpersonal involvement. Baby certainly appears to find the situation acceptable, since he quickly settles into the small faux-fur gulley that has formed between us.
“So,” I say. “The Cartwrights seem to really like you. That’s nice. They’re kind of nuts, but I think most families are. Certainly all the ones down at New York College, where I work, are. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a normal family. What does normal even mean anyway?”
Tania doesn’t reply. She keeps her gaze on the TV. She’s switching channels like no one’s business, seeming to be having trouble finding anything to watch, although the Cartwrights have satellite and Tania’s already reached the 900s. But she’s turned the sound down, which is a good sign.
“It’s nice,” I say, trying again, “that when you have your baby, she’ll have so many people to care about her, even if their sanity might be slightly questionable. I’ve heard you can restrict how many people can be in the room when you give birth, so you might want to consider that. Otherwise, I could see Nicole wanting to be there through the whole thing so she can gather material for a song about tasting the placenta—”
Tania finally cracks a smile.
“No,” she says, dragging her gaze away from the television screen. “She wouldn’t.”
“I’m serious,” I say. “She might. It’s hard to find words to rhyme with ‘placenta,’ but I bet Nicole will manage. ‘It was the color magenta. It tasted like polenta.’ ”
“Stop,” Tania says, laughing. Picking up a nearby throw pillow, she tosses it lightly at me, causing Baby to let out a tiny bark.
I pick up the pillow and pretend to conk Tania over the head with it, then say, while Tania is still laughing and Baby is running around the faux chinchilla in excited circles, “So. Do you want to tell me who hates you enough to try to poison you? Because I think you know.”
Tania’s laughter abruptly dies. She sinks back against the leather cushions and stares up at the TV screen, but it doesn’t seem to me as if she’s really seeing it.
“I don’t,” she says. She’s wearing a filmy, multicolored dress, her shoulders bare, her hair loosely curling all over. When she shakes her head, the curls tremble. “I don’t know.”
“Don’t lie to me, Tania,” I say. I’m no longer mirroring her posture, which is slumped in defeat. I’m sitting up straight. “You can lie to everybody else, but you can’t lie to me. You owe me. You actually owe me double, because Jared died in my building.” This is a slight exaggeration, because Jared died hours after he collapsed in front of me, in the hospital, but I’m pretty sure Tania doesn’t know this. “And if it wasn’t for you, I’d be the one married to Jordan.”
I’m piling lie on top of lie, but I tell myself it’s for the greater good, which is getting to the truth. If I hadn’t caught Tania with Jordan, he and I would have broken up anyway, because I’d have wised up on my own and realized what a terrible couple we made . . . and how much of a better fit I’d be with his older brother, Cooper, if only I could get him to glance my way. (I can’t believe it took as long as it did to get him to.)
Tania doesn’t need to know this, however.
Finally, she glances at me.
“I thought you were over Jordan,” she says, looking slightly suspicious. “I thought you were with Cooper now.”
I’m so stunned, I nearly kick Baby off the blanket and across the room, like he’s a little Chihuahua football.
“How did you know that?” I demand, my voice rising to a squeak.
“Stephanie told me,” Tania says.
Who didn’t Stephanie tell?
“Does Jordan know?” I ask. I assume not, or Jordan wouldn’t have been so chummy with Cooper at the dinner table . . . unless that was all an act to lull Cooper into a false sense of security so Jordan can push Cooper off the deck later. But I don’t think Jordan is capable of that kind of duplicity, and Cooper is armed anyway.
“No,” Tania says, shaking her head. The curls tremble. “Jordan doesn’t know. Stephanie said not to tell him. She says . . . she says you guys are getting married.”
“Well,” I say. I’m going to punch Stephanie in the face next time I see her. I don’t care that she spent the day getting her stomach pumped full of charcoal because she ate rat poison. “There’s no date set or anything, but it’s something Cooper and I have talked about. Stephanie’s right, it would be great if you wouldn’t tell Jordan yet. It’s a little . . . awkward.”
“I understand,” Tania says, and she looks down at her fingers. On the third finger of her left hand is a diamond that’s approximately the size of Dayton, Ohio, or possibly even Paris, France. “Jordan can be a little . . . babyish about some things.”
“Yes,” I say, surprised by the maturity both of the admission and of her tone. “He can be sometimes.”
“I’m sorry I did that to you,” Tania says, speaking to her diamond ring. “What you caught me doing that day with Jordan. I knew you were still with him, but I . . . I needed to.”
You needed to give my live-in boyfriend a blow job? I want to ask.
Instead I say, “I understand,” even though I don’t.
“Have you ever been married before, Heather?” Tania asks, still looking at her ring.
“No,” I say, unable to restrain a smile. Tania doesn’t mean to be funny, I know, but I can’t help laughing a little. It suddenly strikes me as amusing that she’s about to give me some marital advice, even though I’m so much older than she is. She’s closer to Jessica and Nicole’s age than Jordan’s.
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