CHAPTER SEVEN: Bed of lies
I could tell it was going to be a long dinner the moment Amanda showed her face. It was Nathaniel who stated she was part of the family and no one would have as little as a spoonful of soup unless she was in her seat at the table.
When the driver fetched her, Amanda came in with an aura that could be distinguished from the one I was familiar with. Her bitterly antagonistic demeanor bore the power of horror. It almost had me like a farmer who saw a cloud of locusts dangling in the sky. What did her friends do with the calm, collected Amanda?
I counted the topics that might come up tonight, prepping in my head the impeccable reactions and comments to each; my whereabouts throughout the past week, Nat’s emergency mission at Dearborn, Michigan, the state of Leo and Amanda’s union, and perhaps, the employees return.
Giving exaggerated thanks to Nathaniel for inviting her to dinner; Amanda appeared to be making a bigger deal out of nothing as it was Nathaniel’s habit to get his family together at the table and everyone knew it already. I sipped my Cauliflower soup, patiently awaiting the first subject to come up. Garnished with parsley, green onions and chives since I could not pick a favorite, my traditional soup came out with a luxurious flavor.
“You didn’t answer my calls all week.”
Well, it began.
Amanda’s voice as violent as blade came as a bolt from the blue. It caught her husband off guard but not me. Yea, I saw it coming. I was in no mood for surprises.
He wore a half smile, “I was busy.”
Reaching for some bread, “what’s up?”
“I’m pregnant.” Amanda declared with the intention to agitate Leo, understanding he never would have wanted such announcement to be made at the table; but he had to be paid back for ignoring her calls.
Okay, that, I never saw coming.
Choking on crusty bread, Leo tossed down a glass of water in a flash.
“I’m three months pregnant.” She continued with an impassive attitude.
“That’s good news.” Nathaniel’s clean smile veiled the consternation in the room, “Congratulations to the both of you.”
But the perceptible infelicity became conspicuous when he added, “now, Leo, you have to forget all about Ella and focus on your family.”
“What?” Leo froze.
“Don’t be surprised. Amanda called me.” Nathaniel revealed. “And I spoke with your marriage counselor.” He supped some warm, creamy soup.
Not astonished about Amanda, it was her nature to disclose almost everything about their marriage to Nathaniel, “isn’t my discussion with the doctor supposed to be confidential?” Leo flashed his eyes with disbelief.
“I was as sick as parrot when I learned about it. You would have another woman’s name written on your body? I raised you better.” Waves of disappointment crept over him.
“Why are y’all bitching over some damn tattoo?” Leo lost it. “Fuck it, it’s my fucking body. Ain’t nobody gonna treat me like a child or tryna make me feel bad about what I do with my damn body or motherfucking life!”
Leo exploded into bits, surrendering to the ire he’d attempted to tame since Amanda’s statement.
“Bitching?” Nat slammed the table, “you ditch the language and that tone when you’re speaking with me, young man!”
The employees began to peep from the kitchen to get a glimpse of the petulance and irascibility at the table. Nathaniel had never raised his voice at Leo in my presence. I hadn’t predicted this. None of the scenes I’d pictured in my head was manifesting. I had no idea how to react at this moment.
“I’m outta here.” Leo rose to his feet.
Nathaniel ordered before he could move an inch, “You sit right there!”
I understood Leo. He was mad about a lot of things but Nathaniel wasn’t on the list. While Amanda enjoyed the show, I gave Leo a face that begged earnestly for his patience.
He took his seat, I’m sorry.” Repressing the fury and resentment burning him within at Amanda’s expression of satisfaction, Leo apologized.
Nathaniel, aiming to wrap his mind around the scenario, “first you get a design of her name, then you get defensive like this? Who is this woman?”
Leo shot a glance at me, requesting my approval to spill the beans but I shook my head faintly in declination, “honestly, I feel unfairly criticized. Ella could be my favorite artist or the name of my favorite movie. What’s the fuss about, dad?”
I heaved a quiet sigh of relief before Nathaniel stated, “your favorite artist has always been Tupac.” He was right.
And Amanda came in, “your favorite movie is Mission Impossible.”
Nope, that would be Fast And Furious but it wasn’t the time to play who-knows-Leo-better.
“Really, who is Ella?” Nathaniel probably assumed Ella was someone from the university.
“Okay, dad, I’ma tell ya. We might as well just get this shit over with right now.” Ignoring my scaredy-cat face to avoid any form of discouragement, Leo went, “Ella is – ”
The ticking of the clocked seemed to be getting louder. Focusing on Leo’s lips as they parted for words to escape, my hands squeezed into tight fists. The heat beneath my star-print dress couldn’t be suppressed by the air-conditioning. And the sound of my heart throbbing against the cage was my chest was tolerable until my heart chose to live in my throat for a moment.
“No one.” I jumped in front of a moving train propelled by Nathaniel’s inquisitiveness.
“No one is Ella. Ella is no one.” I declared and instantaneously got it through my head that for someone who hadn’t mentioned a word all through the night, I’d just made a suspicious move.
My heart pounded with fear. I had three pairs of eyes fixated at me for more information.
“Hm,” I licked my lips, blinking repeatedly, “I’m sorry, Amanda. I’d… kind of known about your pregnancy… and I told Leo about it… and uhn… he got a tattoo… a tattoo of the name he was going to give the baby.” I spewed out of nowhere.
“But we don’t know if it’s a girl.” Amanda folded her arms, giving me more concentration than I deserved.
“Leo…” I turned to the love of my life for a little help but he wanted to be left out of whatever it was I was up to, “… he wants a girl.”
It dropped on my mind, “but – but if it’s a boy, that’s Allen. All he has to do is put an n.”
Leo’s countenance of amusement at my words made me consider my mind’s keen ways of magnifying events had just messed with me. He caught my tapping foot beneath the long, rectangular, marble-topped table with dramatic inlay work. My brain kept searching for every sign that Nathaniel and Amanda bought it.
“How’d you find out about my pregnancy?”
With an insincere smile matching my forged confidence, “I noticed the day you moved in, Amanda. I have my way of knowing these things. It’s my secret and I ain’t sharing.”
Nathaniel and Amanda found my reply funny, bursting into laughter that dimmed the atmospheric anomaly.
“You’re just smart at everything, cupcake.” Nathaniel complimented with a kiss on my cheek.
“Sweetheart, you could have just told me.” Amanda directed to Leo who’d gone back to drinking his soup steadily.
“Sorry, Leo. I had to spill.” I told Leo with a shrug, trying to be certain the ghost of smile on his face mocked or commended my lying skill.
I faced Nathaniel and Amanda, “he wanted to keep it a secret.”
“I hope it’s a girl, then, so you don’t have to alter the ink.” Amanda chewed some bread.
“She’ll be so beautiful.” I received a wink for Leo that praised my acting. It was guaranteed we were going to meet up later. “Congrats you guys.”
“Now that your child is involved, I hope the idea of getting a divorce gets dumped. Work things out for the sake of the baby.” Nathaniel advised.
“You’re right, Mr. Alberto. For Ella’s sake.” Amanda grinned.
“Dad.” Leo called in a calm voice that brought silence to the room. “How’s it go at Michigan? What happened?”
“Oh, son. I won’t want to ruin the happiness in the air but – “
I wore a strained smile to mask the panic attack I was about to experience. I hated buts.
“…the contract between Alberto Motors and Ford Company has been terminated.” Nathaniel broke the news as benignly as he could. “I am not eligible to deal in any of Ford automobiles.”
He went further with a tone of consolation, “it wasn’t just Alberto Motors. There are hundreds of other auto dealers affected.”
With Amanda’s pregnancy news and Nathaniel losing a multimillion-dollar contract, the subject of my whereabouts was trivial. In fact, it didn’t come up. Leo and Nathaniel pressed on regarding the company until dinner was over and he conversation continued in Nathaniel’s office.
Could we be going broke? Oh, God, no, the strange fright of penuriousness gripped me like a nightmare. I didn’t marry Nathaniel for his money but I loved the way I could get anything I wanted. I loved my wrists embellished with Cartier watches. I loved my neck ornamented with diamond, platinum, gold and pearls. I loved my out-of-this-world face with its unfading coruscate gleam. I loved flying the jet from time to time. The designer outfits that flooded my closet were an addiction. I loved this top-notch lifestyle. I had all of my favorite things. I was wearing a crown many would only dream of faking. I love money.
Leo brought my eyes to the door when he barged into the bedroom.
I tied my loose-fitting, shirt-like sleeping robe, “this is not the garden!”
“Rona is in the garden.” He informed.
“What?!” The employees weren’t meant to sleep over. “Why are they still around?”
It was half past midnight. The clear canopy of black married to millions of stars under the glow of a new moon. The city lights and streetlights were visible through the sliding Aluminum French window. It was the most stunning of art. And faint wind brushed into the room, introducing the freezing temperature.
“I don’t know.” He leaned on the wall, arms folded and legs crossed.
I walked over to the couch, “You shouldn’t be here. Anyone could have seen you. What if Nathaniel was inside?” I fidgeted.
“No one saw me. And he is in the office, working on ways to revive the contract. Don’t wait up.”
I let out a sigh of assuagement, getting seated on the couch facing his direction.
“Name of my unborn child?” He stated the reason for his presence. “What are you doing, Gabby?”
“Saving me?” He gave a short laugh, “I don’t need saving. You’re Ella. Ella is you.”
I dashed towards him and covered his mouth with my palms, “someone might hear you.” I whispered.
Taking my hands in his, “how many times do I have to tell you that I don’t care? What’s the worst that could happen? We get sent out of the house, we move to our apartment. Don’t you want that?” His tongue ran over his lips, twirling a lock of my hair. “Why do we keep postponing the inevitable?” He stroke my face lightly, setting a bright white flame inside the two of us.
His touch was moonlight. His touch was heaven. It hurt how I needed it so much. Every caress, every gaze, every smile, every gesture Leo made mirrored love and care. This was supposed to be simple; just as easily as he owned my heart, but it wasn’t. It seemed as though the more I prayed for a miracle, the more complicated things got. Amanda carrying his first child, all my hope was diminishing.
Perplexity dominated our world, what was right and wrong seemed intertwined and contradictory. The truth would set you free, maybe not always after all.
“Not like this.” I followed my mind, even though every part of me was screaming otherwise. “Nathaniel is in the middle of a crisis.”
He nodded in compliance, “but we got to stop waiting the perfect time. There isn’t one. And this love…” He looked me in the eye, “this love is hard, lady. This love drives me insane.” He craved steadfastly for the time when the universe would know about us. He could barely wait to show me off.
“There are so many things to think of right now, other than us.” Like your pregnant wife, I should have added but he’d gotten the message.
“I cannot think of anything else besides you Mi Amor.” He brushed his lips against mine and wrapped me in his affectionate embrace.
“Did you do it?” Alisha questioned at the other end of the phone.
“Did it work?” She approached the porch with a can of Diet Coke.
“Yes. We aren’t getting separated anymore.” She strolled through the sidewalk. “The weirdest thing happened.”
Alisha’s silence encouraged her to go on.
“After I dropped the pregnancy lie, Gabriella claimed to have known that I was pregnant and said the tattoo was the name Leo had in mind for the baby.”
“But you are not pregnant. How could she have known you’re pregnant when you aren’t actually pregnant? Why did she do that?”
“I don’t know.” She bit her nail. “What do you think?”
“Two things: she knows you were lying and chose to help you make it more believable. She knows Ella and chose to cover up for Leo.” Alisha perceived something fishy.
“What do I do?”
“Play along and get close to your stepmother-in-law.” Alisha decided.
Sleeplessness. Leo and I played Monopoly online from our rooms until Nathaniel summoned him into his office. The last couple of days gave no room for anything Leo and I didn’t have in common and I’d missed my favorite cooking channel; I tuned in to Bob Appétit on YouTube. After an episode of “Gourmet Makes” series, the enthusiasm to experiment gourmet Pop-Tarts drove me to the kitchen.
Salt, sugar, butter, flour, I was settling my ingredients on the crown-molding kitchen cabinet when Amanda appeared behind my back. Startled, it was almost four O’ clock in the morning and I hadn’t expected anyone sneaking up on me. Okay, maybe she wasn’t, maybe I misinterpreted but it sure did look like it. She grabbed a plastic cup and jerked to the water dispenser.
“Hey chef.” Amanda greeted. “Making breakfast this early?”
“No.” I reached for a large bowl, resisting the urge to elaborate.
“I’ve been thinking,” she sipped some ice water, “will you help me decorate the baby’s room?”
She had my attention finally, “but the sex is unknown.”
“I know. Neither blue nor pink works for me anyways. I want something unisex and unique. Will you help me?” Her question had a tinge of instancy.
“Sure.” I conceded. It was an honor to make with her such an important decision about her first baby.
Gourmet Pop-Tarts abandoned, I went with Amanda to the empty room she chose on the second floor, where we discussed colors, designs and shopped online. Amanda was meticulous about her child’s first space; and it was rational. As much as babies never cared what their rooms looked like, it would be their number one home, the space to welcome them into the world. It had to be calm, inviting and all shades of fun.
“Do I look fat?” Amanda asked after we concluded on neutral yellow wallpaper.
Skimming through a page of exciting plush rugs, “no.” I answered.
“I was wondering how you knew about my gravidness before I who was carrying it. I know you’ve never been preggy before.”
Chuckling, “it’s a gift from above.” I joked.
“Okay. I’ll take it. Okay.” She closed the chapter only to open another immediately. “Never knew you and Leo talked much.”
No comments. Like always, it was not enjoyable to talk about Leo with his wife. It felt like whatever I’d utter could and would be used against me. To cover up, I showed Amanda the photos of some stylish cradles with the hope that she would make a choice and we’d never have to mention Leo till the online shopping was done. But coincidentally, Leo’s call came in.
“Speaking of the devil, uhn.” Amanda’s face lit with a malicious joy.
“Aren’t you going to answer?” She explored the overwhelming scent of my hesitancy.
“Nah. He probably wants to scold me for revealing his secrets earlier.” I was in the process of figuring out Amanda’s contemptuous smile.
“No. I think he already did that when he came up to your bedroom earlier.” Amanda dropped a bombshell.
Now, I was out of my mind but wouldn’t show it. “Okay. What exactly am I doing here?” My expression hardened.
Leo dropped a text I was dying to read. I wished this was a dream.
“You’re about to find out.”
“Come with me, will you…?” She turned towards the door.
“Come on, Gabriella” Evidently, she stressed the last two syllables – Ella.
I followed Amanda. It appeared as the only thing I could do. A million things rushed into my head at once. Was she guessing? Had she found out? How did she find out? How hadn’t I suspected this? Where were we going? It looked like Nat’s office; but it was the same direction to her room. I’d prefer she took me to Leo. Nat didn’t deserve this. No one deserved this. What was happening?
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