He made salmon and scrambled eggs, coffee, English muffins and screwdrivers. I wondered how I was going to eat all of it when mornings find me mainlining a sixteen-ounce coffee and little else until I am fully awake. I was aware that my hairpins were far too tight, digging into my neck from a low chignon but he seemed pleased that I am beginning to look like myself again. I find that so interesting seeing as how the haircut was his spontaneous freakout and he has since removed the scissors, purchasing a better, downright dangerous letter opener and a set of box cutters to replace them.
Caleb invited me for a business breakfast, an annual tradition in which he sets holiday bonus amounts on an individual basis, and I lobby him upward, fairly detailing each person's contribution from a wider perspective, taking into account work ethic, hours spent and a host of other factors (including the budget). Today's was more difficult, after a year of the boys working for themselves and each other, with calculations that found me standing up and reaching over to grasp the pen from his shirt pocket so I could scribble notes on the palm of my hand. He frowned, going to fetch a notebook from the desk.
By the time we'd arrived at a concrete set of numbers the table was covered with balled-up pages from the notebook with my teenage block-print postmodern penmanship scribbled over everything. My champagne and orange juice remained untouched. Warm. Caleb finished it while he cleaned away the dishes. I had already taken over his computer to begin to input the figures, feeling tiny, swallowed up by his giant monolith of a desk.
And then he told me we had reservations for lunch and would I please go wash off all of the writing on my hands? Remember the facial expressions I have? I bet this one was epic, a blend of what the fuck and how dare you drag my day out any longer. The numbers on the screen were swimming. Ben and I managed a whole four hours of sleep last night. And where in the hell did I put my coffee tumbler?
I waited and waited for him to be ready, too. He was
My grand plan was just to have lunch with John instead and freeze Caleb out, only I wasn't about to let John in on my plan until we arrived and then I approached the host to let him know half the party had arrived (the little half) and was led to a beautiful little table in the corner, by the window. John wisely declined to join me. I waited, watching the rain bathe the glass in sheets of bright misery and wonder how I wound up here, in a place where I can admire the greenery and wear an unlined raincoat in the middle of December.
My admiration of the trees was cut short with Caleb's arrival. Or rather, I finally noticed he was standing there watching me. I smiled (whoops, he grows on me sometimes, like moss or it's the brainwashing. You choose.) and he sat down across from me. Without opening the menu he ordered for both of us (mushroom soup for me, baked halibut for himself), asking that the kitchen put a rush on it.
Then the interruptions ceased and we found ourselves without witnesses and without a looming workload once again. We never do well in these predicaments. It always seems to end badly.
He reached into his suit jacket breast pocket, pulling out an envelope which he placed on the table in front of me.
What is this?
Your bonus, princess.
I didn't bring any profit to the company this year.
You keep everything together. If it falls apart there's no company to be had. You have earned it. And there's something else.
What do you mean? What else?
Do you want your pictures?
What pictures? (I am not playing coy with him, don't misunderstand. There are Cole's pictures, and then there are Caleb's pictures. One set makes me sad, the other blackens my mail, if you get my drift.)
Cole's portrait studies of you, plus the ones I took.
What will I have to do to get them?
His whole face fell. The monster in the mirror, only aware of the true magnitude of his wickedness when the helpless twelve-year old points it out.
I'll bring them over on the weekend. They'll have to be couriered in from Toronto or I would do it sooner, Bridget.
What do you want for them? I'm repeating myself because if there's a catch, I don't want it.
Nothing. I didn't know how badly you wanted them. I was simply making sure Cole's work was properly archived and cataloged and I figured you didn't want to deal with it. You were sort of destructive with his things, except for the items you kept for me. Did I ever tell you how much I appreciated that? Well, I did, and if I can return the favor then I'd like to. And as a show of good faith, I will give you the other ones.
Why didn't you give them to me when I asked, Caleb? I've asked you a thousand times for those photos.
I didn't want you to be rash and destroy them. Cole's work is the children's legacy. Somehow I think you won't ruin anything now.
What makes you think that?
You seem different somehow. And I don't want to ruin anything for you.
Yes. In a good way. You seem calmer. More focused. Happier, almost. It's a contagious happy, and I forgot how incredibly good it makes me feel. All of us, actually. Not just me.
I am suspicious. Those photos are incredible leverage. There's no way in hell he's going to give them up so easily.
Oh, here we go.
You chose wisely. You chose interestingly. Ben was everyone's longshot, but he definitely makes you happiest. But he also doesn't cut you off from Lochlan, from the others, from me. That says a lot. That means a lot. So maybe this is for him, too.
You like him.
I always have.
Any love for Lochlan?
No. Not today, princess. On that note, I'll have John take you home. You can let them know I'm giving the photos back because you asked me too. They'll be suspicious, Bridge, but time will show them I'm less of a monster as time goes by. I'm getting older. I have a son who is beginning to become a man in his own right, I have no desire to make his mother unhappy.
A kiss on my forehead, a quick, strong hold and he was gone. I turned to look for John and he was right there. I never understand how Caleb does that.
He was right about the reactions.
Ben lifted his eyebrows right to the top of his head when I told him about my lunch. Lochlan was all words and outrage and mistrust to the point where Ben had to shout over him to get him to stop for just a minute.
While they continued the debate over Caleb's intentions right through dinner preparations, the meal itself and cleanup, I retired to my bedroom to change out of the dress and into my pajama bottoms and one of Ben's t-shirts. I won't be up late tonight, I'm exhausted. It was only then that I remembered the envelope with my Christmas bonus in my handbag. I figured it was a token amount, maybe enough for a very good haircut or a keychain from Chanel. Maybe even enough for a weekend pass for Whistler.
I slit the envelope with my thumb, giving myself a paper cut. Where is the eight-inch-long razor-sharp letter opener when I need it?
He gave me everything. All of it.