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Authors: Laura Caldwell

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BOOK: A Clean Slate
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“Have you told her you don't want to get married?”

“Not yet. Look, what's this about? What are you getting at, Kell?” The pink had crept back into his cheeks, and it wasn't from the temperature. He was getting angry at me, at the conversation growing heavy. Exactly what he wanted to avoid. Exactly what he thought I wouldn't do anymore because I was the new Kelly.

I lifted my shoulder bag from the floor and plunked it onto
my lap, digging inside for the photos I'd picked up that day. The ones of Ben. When I found them, I slid the packet across the table to him.

He looked at me, then down at the packet of photos as if they were an explosive device. “What? What am I supposed to do here?”

“Look at them.”

Ben opened the flap slowly, removing the stack of pictures, flipping through one, then another and another. “They're nice. I like the flower in this one.”

“Not
those.
” Irritated, I took the pictures from his hand and skipped through the ones I'd taken at the botanical gardens until I came to the surveillancelike photos of him.

I'm not sure why I showed them to him. They were mortifying, the work of a depressed person. But I guess that was it—that depressed person had been me, was me. Even though I had been running from her. Ben's obvious attraction to the new me made me feel sorry for the old, unable to leave her behind. Because I was the same person. Or at least I was a composite of all the past Kellys—the Kelly I'd been before my thirtieth birthday, the sad person who'd spent five months in a fog and the new woman I'd become since that one strange Saturday.

Ben's mouth grew tight, his eyes troubled as he looked at the photos. “What the hell are these?”

“I found some film in my camera and got them developed. I must have taken them this summer.”

“Why?”

“I guess I didn't want to let you go, even though you'd already gone.”

“So why do you want me to see them?” he asked.

“I suppose because I want to be honest with you, just like I want you to be honest with me. And I need to remind you what kind of person I am.”

Ben grabbed the envelope and stuck the photos back in
side, not bothering to flip through the entire bunch. “But you're not that person anymore, Kell. Look at you! You're back on top. You've got your shit together again. You can't even remember being that way.”

It was true. I'd lost a bit of myself, a bit of my life, but my parts were all still there at the core. And now that I'd recognized that, I couldn't act like I had all the time in the world to achieve what I wanted—a stable career, a husband, kids. I didn't. All I had right now was a “hobby of a job,” one that wouldn't pay the bills for long. I'd been in a fantasy world, thinking I could live like this. I needed to get on with my life, the way I'd originally designed it, and obviously Ben wouldn't be able to give me that. He still didn't want those things, not from me. Not from Therese, apparently, either.

“You know this isn't going to work,” I said.

The waitress dropped off his drink then, but he pushed it aside. Some of the alcohol sloshed over the side and puddled on the table.

“Kell, don't get all crazy about this.”

“I'm not in the slightest bit crazy.”

“That's not what I mean. I'm just saying don't get worked up about this thing with Therese.”

“This
thing?
” I said. “Is that how you think of it? That poor girl.”

He looked confused when I took her side.

I stood up. “Go home and talk to her. Tell her the truth. Tell her how you really feel.”

The confusion stayed on his features. “Yeah. Sure.” He nodded a few times. “I'll call you tomorrow.”

“No. Don't call me anymore, okay?”

Ben opened his mouth, then closed it. He started to stand, but I pushed him back down by the shoulder, then kissed his forehead, just like I used to before we went to sleep at night.

I turned then and walked through the bar, back toward the
bathroom, toward the pay phone where I'd called Laney that Saturday.

As she had that day, she answered after a few rings.

“Can I come over?” I said.

19

E
xhausted, I trudged up the two flights of stairs to Laney's apartment. I mentally practiced how I would explain everything to her, but in the back of my head I knew everything would be okay, because that's how we worked.

It was Laney who'd taught me how to fight. My mom, Dee and I were three girls all growing up together, all in our different stages, and so we orbited each other in whatever apartment we were living in, rarely getting into any tussles. But Laney's family fought about everything, often letting fly phrases like “fuck you” and “go to hell, freak.” The first time Laney was mad at me—something to do with a shirt I'd borrowed and spilled ketchup on—I had thought our friendship was over. No one had ever really been upset with me before, and I had no concept of how to argue and move on. I'd watched her mouth move as she let me have it about the shirt, telling me how she'd saved her baby-sitting money for
that damned thing, and when she was done, I nodded and walked away.

“Where the hell are you going?” she'd said, chasing after me.

“Calculus.”

She'd laughed. “Wait. You have to tell me not to be so picky, that it's just a stupid shirt, after all.”

I hesitated, then said, “Don't be so picky? It's just a stupid shirt?”

She shrugged. “You're right. Let's go to class.” She linked her arm in mine and led me down the hallway.

We'd had a bunch of spats since then—there were numerous arguments over directions when we drove to Padre Island for spring break, and we'd had a couple of run-ins over Laney's propensity to be fifteen minutes late and the way I spent too much time with my current boyfriend. But we always made up. Always.

So now, as I rounded the last landing, I worked myself up to an apology, but was already thinking about my epiphany of the night—how I'd decided that I had to get my life back on the track I'd originally set for myself.

I tried the doorknob, but it was frozen. Usually Laney unlocked the door after she'd buzzed me in. I rapped a few times.

It seemed to take her forever. I was just raising my hand to knock again when it opened a few inches and Laney appeared in the doorway.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey.” She didn't move away from the door, didn't open it.

“I'm really sorry. I should have told you I was hanging out with Ben. I just meant to see him once, but somehow it picked up steam. We weren't sleeping together, honest. It was just—”

“Kell,” Laney interrupted.

I stopped, waiting for her to say something, but she just
stared at me, then down at the floor. “Can I come in?” I said finally.

“I need a little time.”

“Oh.” This was new—Laney asking for time to get over something—but of course I'd give her whatever she wanted. “Want to meet for breakfast tomorrow?”

“No, I mean more time than that.”

“Like how much?”

She looked over her shoulder as if searching for the answer in her apartment. She faced me again. “I'm not sure. I'll call you, okay?”

“When? What's going on?”

“I don't know. Just give me some time to figure it out.”

“Figure what out?” I felt panicked suddenly. What was she talking about?

“I'll call you,” Laney said, the same thing guys often say when they're talking to you for the last time.

 

The rest of the weekend was hell. I rattled around my apartment with nothing to distract me. I picked up the phone to call Laney every hour or so, but after dialing the first couple of numbers, I'd remember her words
I need some time,
and I would softly place the receiver back on the phone, wondering if my horrible summer had pushed her away, if I'd relied on her too much. It was exactly what I'd been trying to avoid lately by not spending as much time with her. I'd tried not to call her with every neurotic thought in my head, and when she kept bringing up my memory loss, suggesting doctors and Internet research, I'd stayed away even more. It was killing me not to know what she was doing, whether she was hurting or just angry, whether she ever wanted to be friends with me again.

And the thing with Ben nagged at me, too. Most of the time, I was sure that I'd done the right thing by breaking it off with him. The life I'd always wanted wouldn't just fall into my lap. You had to plan for these things, and Ben had
made it clear he wasn't up for that plan. But for some crazy reason, I still missed him.

On Sunday morning, I spent a few hours at Katie's Coffee, reading through every section of the paper. I spent a considerable amount of time on the real estate section, trying to gauge the cost of a house somewhere outside the city, like the one I'd always planned to have. The prices gave me sticker shock, and the realization kept coming to me that the pathetic hourly wage Cole gave me would never, ever get me a down payment on a four-bedroom-three-and-a-half-bath-with-attached-garage-and-one-acre.

And so Cole was on my mind when I got home that afternoon and found a message from him on my machine.

“Kelly Kelly. Cole here,” he said, sounding faintly out of breath. “Call me back, yeah? Tonight. Whenever you get in.”

I picked up the phone, a little alarmed that maybe there was some kind of bad news, like we had to do a reshoot with William or maybe I'd lost a roll of film on the way to the shop.

He answered on the first ring. I barely got my name out before he started talking. Fast. “Hey, remember how I told you about that assignment I might be getting?”

“The ad for the children's cold tablets?”

He made an exasperated sound. “No. A rather
big
assignment. I was waiting to see if I'd got it.”

“The one you didn't want to talk about because you didn't want to jinx it?”

“Yes. Right. Good.” He was all pleased again, now that I was back on his page. “Well, it came in, so to speak.”

A pause. I realized that he needed me to ask. “So tell, tell,” I said.

“You're familiar with
U Chic?

“Sure.”
U Chic
was a lifestyle magazine similar to
In Style.
It featured gorgeous photography and lots of celebrity names to make you feel like a podunk farmer unless you ac
quired Julia Roberts's Navajo rug or Whitney Houston's moisturizing eye pads.

“Well,” he said, followed by another dramatic pause. “I have a friend who's an editor there and he's been trying to get me work, but so far nothing, okay?
But
another photographer just cancelled for a shoot this week, and they couldn't cancel all the models and the site and such, and so
U Chic
has asked me to go to the British Virgin Islands for a beach fashion layout.”

I'd never heard him so effusive, so puffed up with pride. It made me a little sad, to tell the truth. It was a great assignment, but I was pretty sure that something like this would have been relatively routine for the Coley Beckett of old. He'd gotten so used to being on the outside, though, that he was like a teenager with his first date.

“I'm really happy for you,” I said, and I was, although it struck me then that he'd be gone for a week or so and I'd have no work. It was probably just as well. I'd been unable to stop thinking about Ben's words—
hobby of a job
—and that, combined with my foray into the real estate pages, had made me think that maybe I should start calling headhunters. Maybe I should think about getting another analyst position. But the thought of giving up the job with Cole when I'd just given up Ben, and maybe Laney, was too much. I wouldn't decide now.

“I could do some projects at your studio while you're gone,” I said. “You could even pay me part-time or something.”

“While I'm gone? Kelly Kelly, you don't understand.
You're
going with me, right? We're leaving Wednesday.”

 

The next few days flew by, in direct contrast to the crawling pace of my weekend. I was on the phone with
U Chic
nearly all day Monday, getting the details of the trip and working with their travel agent to make arrangements for Cole and me to fly to Tortola. And then there was the pack
ing. When I used to flip through
Vogue
or
Vanity Fair,
I'd never given a thought to what was brought along to those tropical locations in order to get an apparently simple shot of a girl on a beach. But now I was the one who was packing it all—the lights, the seamless, the stands, the cameras, the film, the batteries, the backup cameras, the reflectors. Some of it had to be shipped, the rest we would bring with us.

Then there was my own packing. Since I couldn't remember what I'd worn this summer, it seemed even more difficult to determine what I should bring along for the hot weather. On Monday night, I tried on a host of shorts and bathing suits and summer dresses that I'd found in my bedroom, but none of them fit properly. Now that I was eating more normally, I had gained a little weight, but I was still smaller than I used to be and as a result, the capri pants hung too low on my hips, the shorts sagged in the butt and the bikini tops gaped. The fact that my clothes were too large would have made me gleefully happy a year ago, but it was an annoyance now. I didn't have time to look for new outfits.

In a panic, I called Melanie at Saks and asked her to pull any leftover summer clothes and a few pieces of their resort wear. And so on Tuesday, when Cole thought I was running around town doing a host of his errands, I was actually back in the yellow, silk-lined personal shopping department of Saks.

“Hello, hello!” Melanie said, wafting into the room. Two assistants followed her, pushing carts piled high with clothes. Melanie's eyes fairly glittered, and I could see that I should have warned her that I wasn't in the same kind of buying mood as I was last time.

“Champagne?” Melanie said, already making an uncorking gesture to one of her assistants.

“No, thank you. I'm in a rush, actually. I just need a few things for a trip, and then I have to get back to work.”

“Fine. So where are you going?”

“The Caribbean.”

“Ooh. A few weeks at Cap Juluca? Nevis, maybe?”

I felt an unexpected pang in my gut. Cap Juluca was the resort on Anguilla where Ben and I had always talked about spending our honeymoon. Come to think of it, I had done most of that talking, Ben merely nodding along, but still the thought turned my insides.

“No,” I said to Melanie. “I'm going to Tortola, actually. It's for work.”

“Work in the Caribbean. Lucky you.”

Hearing her say that gave me a little boost. Melanie was right. I was getting a free trip to the British Virgin Islands for my job. I should enjoy this time, particularly when I might have to leave it shortly and find another analyst position.

I took the armload of clothes that Melanie offered and headed into the curtained dressing area. I was just pulling up the bottoms of a blue bathing suit when I heard Melanie say, “Where's your friend today?”

I stopped moving, the bikini bottoms in a twist around my thighs. “What's that?” I said, although I'd heard her perfectly.

“Your friend. Laney, was it? How is she?”

I absently tugged the bathing suit up, slipping the tank-style top over my head. “She's okay.”

I'd been itching to call Laney ever since Cole had told me about the shoot. What was a free trip to the Caribbean if you couldn't brag about it to someone? But I wanted to respect her need for time, even though I didn't understand it, and so I'd stayed away. And she hadn't called.

“You two seem very tight,” Melanie said. “Have you been friends long?”

“Yeah. High school.” My voice was flat. I wondered if Laney and I would be friends for much longer.

BOOK: A Clean Slate
7.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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