She leaves the condo soon after, backpack slung over one shoulder. She doesn’t say goodbye, doesn’t even look my way. It’s as though I’m dead to her.
My phone beeps. I pick it up listlessly, then notice a text from my best friend Traci. She’s from Lincoln City, like me, and her family lost everything because of my dad’s Ponzi scheme. It’s a miracle that she’s gotten over the betrayal and anger, and I’m grateful. I can use a friend.
Are you okay? I saw the articles about you and Elliot. You know I’m here for you if you need a shoulder or sounding board or anything.
Suddenly it seems like a great idea to see her. Traci’s smart and discreet. If nothing else, she’ll cheer me up and help figure out what to do about Nonny.
I text her back. I’m okay, but I could use a friendly person to talk to. You have any free time?
Her response is almost instant. Of course. Today or tomorrow? I can take an early lunch.
I look at the closed door to Elliot’s office. Today is good. Time?
Eleven thirty at Galore? It’s a sandwich shop not too far from the office.
I remember that place. Elliot took me there after our courthouse wedding because I was nearly fainting with hunger. Has it been only two months since we got married? I know the place. See you there.
I check the time. Almost ten. I write a short note for Elliot, then go back to the bedroom to put on some makeup. Traci won’t care, but I don’t want to run into any acquaintances of Elliot’s and cause embarrassment by looking so haggard and tired. Everyone already knows about my stripper past and will have drawn whatever conclusions they’re going to draw. I don’t want to look pathetic over it. I haven’t done anything illegal or unethical.
I carefully apply concealer and foundation to hide the dark circles under my eyes, then put some color onto my cheeks. The lip-gloss adds a nice shimmer to my mouth, and I pull my hair back in a ponytail and put a pair of big sunglasses over my face. I’m not ashamed of what I’ve done, but at the same time I don’t really want to deal with people recognizing me either.
By the time I step inside Galore, it’s only eleven twenty. I shrug mentally. Being early never killed anyone.
The sandwich shop is nice and cool inside, A/C running low and ceiling fans doing the rest. The dark wooden tables and chairs are empty now, but soon they’ll be crowded. I get an order of a ham and cheese sandwich plus chips and Coke Zero and take a table in the back, thinking it’ll give us the most privacy. Traci shows up at eleven thirty five.
She struts in like a model, dark brown curls bouncing around her shoulders. Her carefully mascaraed hazel eyes are bright on her round face. She’s dressed in a fashion similar to before—her tight skirt a little too short to be professional but long enough to pass muster. The deep purple sleeveless top has a plunging V-neck, but again, it covers just enough to be okay for an office setting. Her stilettos look like something Torquemada might have designed, but she seems perfectly fine in them.
She spots me easily in the nearly empty shop and joins me with a bowl of chicken and veggie soup, a half sandwich and an iced coffee. I stand up, and we hug tightly before taking our seats.
“That’s all you’re eating?” I ask.
“Yeah. Don’t have time to work out these days, so I gotta cut calories.”
“I had no idea you were so busy.”
“Hey.” She reaches over and squeezes my hand. “I always have time for my best friend.”
“Thanks, Traci. It really means a lot to me.”
“I’m just worried about you, that’s all. But you seem to be taking the…well, you know, the news pretty well.”
“I don’t care what the tabloids say.”
She peers at me while sucking her coffee up through a straw. “Is Elliot okay?”
“I…” I hesitate. Elliot is okay with my past as a stripper, just not the other stuff. But something holds me back, and I can’t tell her the whole truth. I don’t know if it’s because of the way she abandoned me when I was at my lowest or if it’s something else, but my gut tells me to keep my mouth shut. “I mean, he already knew, so…” I shrug, not wanting to lie outright to her face.
“But it’s one thing for him to know, another for it to go public.”
“I honestly don’t think it matters to him that much.” His siblings and parents, on the other hand… I have no clue what they think about all this. Oh no…Elizabeth. His saintly sister is probably scandalized.
“Probably not,” Traci muses out loud. “It’s not like he’s a choirboy. I mean, he has that sex tape in his past, so I can’t see how he’d be upset with you about this. His family, either. They should be thanking you for marrying a guy with a reputation as wild as Elliot’s.”
“Right.” Except his family knows why we married in the first place, so they probably aren’t feeling all that much gratitude. Not that I would ever tell Traci. It’s strictly Elliot’s family’s issue, and I can’t make an executive decision to share something that isn’t mine to begin with.
“The problem is Nonny,” I say, not wanting to talk more about Elliot. “She’s really upset.”
“Oh no. The poor kid. She didn’t know?”
“Well, no, of course not. It’s not something I wanted to tell her.”
“Is she being bullied because of your…previous job?”
I pause for a moment. I’ve never thought of that. I just assumed she was embarrassed, but maybe other kids in school are teasing her. Even though she seemed to have gotten some cool points for being related to Ryder Reed—distantly, through marriage—kids can turn on one another so fast. Lord of the Flies isn’t a classic for nothing.
“I don’t know,” I finally answer.
Traci sighs. “You might want to find out. See if you can do some damage control.” She taps the rim of her glass. “But I think that the biggest thing that can fix the situation—if she’s being bullied or something—is for you and Elliot to make up and put on a good public show as a loving couple. Maybe, I don’t know, go to some kind of Hollywood party together or something? Once people see that you guys aren’t bothered by your past, maybe the kids in her school will leave Nonny alone too. It’s not any fun to pick at a wound that doesn’t exist.”