Richard paused at his door. "Just wait in the hallway for a sec."
I leaned against the wall. "Why?"
Richard jammed his key in the lock. "Because I have to hide the dead body, Josie." He gave me a wink over his shoulder before he closed the door behind him. I felt my phone vibrate in my coat pocket and I pulled it out to see a text from Nina. 'Now you know why I wanted you to stay.'
I bit back a smile. The entire cab ride to Richard's apartment, I'd been toggling between giddiness and annoyance. I couldn't deny that I was happy that Richard had shown up, declared his love for me in his intense Richard way, but I was still bothered by the way he could so easily go radio silent on me. I'm realizing his volatility is part of what attracts me to him, but it's also not the most stable foundation on which to build a relationship. Still, the vagina wants what the vagina wants.
Richard opened the door and stuck his head out into the hallway. "Okay."
I stepped inside his apartment. There was a Patsy's pie and a bottle of wine on the ground, surrounded by candles. I stooped and opened the box. "And you even got me..."
"Extra sauce for dipping," Richard said.
I couldn't help it—my chin started to wobble.
Richard sighed and sat down next to me. "I'm a real shit sometimes."
I wiped underneath my eyes. "Five days, Richard." I looked at him. "I'm sorry I just showed up here like I did, but honestly, what the fuck?"
"I don't have an excuse for myself," Richard said. "I have an explanation, but not an excuse." He poured me a glass of wine and handed me a plate with a slice of pizza and a container of sauce for dunking. Nina once told me I use food as a vehicle to get condiments and sauces into my mouth, and she is absolutely right. Some people say everything is better with bacon, I say everything's better with dip.
I inhaled the slice of pizza, and then another. I had so much anxiety about Richard over the last few days that I'd been too worked up to eat, and I was suddenly ravenous. I was out of breath by the time I finished the second slice. I wiped my mouth with a napkin and took a beat. "So what is it?" I asked, finally. "What is it you need to tell me?"
Richard rubbed his hands on his knees. "The only people who know this about me are people who know me from home. And not because I told them, but because the grapevine on Long Island is fierce. It's part of the reason I hate going back there. I can't even walk down the street without people staring at me."
I took a sip of my wine. "Did you kill someone or something?"
One side of Richard's mouth twitched up. "No."
"Then whatever it is, I can handle it."
Richard took a deep breath, and then the truth came out. Every last ugly detail.
Richard's father made a killing on Wall Street in the 80s, and he was able to retire a very wealthy man in his early forties. Richard had a picturesque childhood. He lived in a beautiful old mansion in Oyster Bay, and he spent his summers at the family beach home in East Hampton and Christmas at the family lodge in Vail. Richard's father met his mother at a party in New York—she was a wild child who knew how to have a good time and throw a killer party. No one realized she had a drinking problem...until Richard's sister was born. "Abby just wasn't developing properly," Richard said, "and there was something off," he waved his hand over his face, "here."
When Abby was four years-old, she was diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome. "My mom was forced to come clean about how much she had been drinking during her pregnancies," Richard said. "And it wasn't just a glass of wine here and there, like her doctor said she could have. She was drinking every day, sometimes all day. I don't know how I'm okay, but thank God I am."
Richard's father filed for divorce upon learning the truth. "It was ugly," Richard said. "My dad," he sighed and put his head in his hands, "it's so complicated. My dad has every right to be angry and to feel betrayed and devastated for my sister and what her life could have been. But that wasn't what his anger was about. It was about my mom, that she dared to cross him like that." He traced his finger around the base of his wine glass. "My father is not a man you betray, or someone you say no to. He will ruin you, and that's exactly what he did to my mom. Because she caused bodily harm to my sister, his lawyers argued that she shouldn't receive alimony, and they also filed for sole custody—which my father got." Richard clenched his hands. "He hired the most powerful legal team in New York, and all my mom could afford was the local, small town divorce lawyer. She didn't stand a chance."
Richard was eleven when the divorce was finalized. "My mom moved into this crappy apartment and got a waitressing job." He smirked. "Lots of waitressing jobs, actually. She couldn't hold anything down. She was a functioning alcoholic when she met my dad, and she hid it well. She stopped trying to hide it after she lost custody of us though."
Richard didn't see his mom again until he was sixteen years-old, when he finally got his license and could sneak off to her place once a week. "My father would have killed me if he knew," Richard said. "Would have iced me out of my trust too."
I raised my eyebrows. "Your trust?"
Richard nodded. "It was set up in a way that I would receive monthly payments starting at the age of twenty-five—and only if I graduated from college, which I did, obviously. I would have liked to tell my father to go fuck himself, but, my mom...." he trailed off with a sigh.
"You wanted to help her," I guessed.
Richard looked at me. In the candlelight, his pupils were enormous and glossy. "I know I'm enabling her," he said, "but you don't even understand the conditions she was living in. I couldn't stand seeing her like that. So I sucked it up and played nice with my dad to get the money, and then I set her up in a new apartment." He shrugged. "I do use some of that money for myself, I'm not going to lie. After everything," his voice trembled, "I think I fucking deserve it."
"But you never even see your dad," I said, "I don't understand how this is playing nice with him."
Richard rolled his eyes. "My dad is remarried. I have two step brothers who are like your typical date rape-y former Princeton LAX bros. He loves them. He doesn't really want to be reminded of his life with my mom. Meaning the less he sees of me and Abby, the better. I just don't do anything to piss him off, like tell him what a massive asshole he is. That's all it takes to play nice with him."
I found his hand on the floor and squeezed it. "You could have told me this sooner, Richard."
Richard withdrew his hand from mine. "That's not all." He stared at the floor as he continued. "Last summer, I paid for my mom to enter an inpatient rehab program. We made a deal. If she completed the program, I would buy her a car. She was complaining that she couldn't get around, but I couldn't trust her with a car with the way she drinks." His jaw tightened. "I really thought she was better. I never would have gotten her that car if I didn't believe that."
Last week, Richard's mom swerved into oncoming traffic and collided head on with another car. "My mom was fine. Just bumps and bruises. But the woman she hit? They didn't know if she was going to make it. She was in a medically induced coma up until yesterday."
I put my hand over my mouth. "Have you been on Long Island all week?"
Richard nodded. "Dealing with this. Bailing my mom out of jail. Finding her a lawyer." He ran his fingers through his hair. "We still have a mess in front of us, but I am just so relieved that this woman is going to make it. I don't think I could live with myself if it had gone another way."
We sat in silence for a few moments. I had so many questions that I didn't even know where to begin. "So your sister? You said she's married and living in Florida? How is that...possible, if she's not all there?"
"It's hard to explain," Richard said. "Abby knows she's different. But she's not so mentally impaired that she can't live, like, an autonomous life."
"Does she hate your mom?"
"She doesn't know my mom," Richard said. "She was so young when the divorce happened, and my father kept her away. I never pushed for Abby to have a relationship with her because it didn't seem like it was my place."
I thought about that for a moment. "Does your mom want to have a relationship with her?"
Richard shook his head. "That's the other thing. I don't think she could handle seeing what she did to Abby. And everyone says she's so selfish," Richard balled up a napkin in his hand, "That she got what she deserved. But she's my mom." He looked at me. "She's not a monster, Josie, she's just sick."
There was so much anguish on Richard's face that I found myself welling up with tears. "Why didn't you think you could tell me this?"
Richard tilted his head at me. "I think you know."
I held up my hands, like I was coming up empty. "Because you're embarrassed? Because you feel responsible even though you're not?"
Richard flicked his eyes over me. "It's not just that."
I waited for him to explain, but he didn't say anything. "What then?"
"It's you," Richard said, very quietly. "It's everything about you. How perfect your life is. I just don't want you to look at me like I'm the fuck up who's dragging you down in a ditch with me."
"My life isn't"—
"Don't even say it isn't perfect." Richard shot me a warning look. "Your parents are the most loving, supportive people I've ever met. You have friends who would take a bullet for you, and a career that's on the upswing. If that's imperfect," he snorted, "I'll gladly fucking take it."
There was nothing I could say to that. He was right. "I can't understand," I conceded. "But I can be there for you. Can you believe that? And let me do it? No more pulling away when things get uncomfortable."
Richard shrugged. "You know everything that's ugly about me now."
"It's not ugly," I insisted. "The compassion you have for your mom, after everything she put you and your sister through. It..." I paused, wondering if I was ready to say the next thing. "It makes me love you more."
Richard smiled at the ground. "I'm sorry, what was that?"
I rolled my eyes. "You heard me."
"No," Richard held his hand to his ear, "I don't think I did."
Richard wrapped me in a bear hug, my back against his chest, and pressed his fingers into my sides. I shrieked when he hit a ticklish spot. "Shhh," Richard laughed into my ear, "Just say it and I'll stop."
I shrieked again as he went for my ribs. "Okay, okay," I half-gasped, half-laughed. "It makes me love you more."
Richard tucked his face into my neck and I felt his lips brush against my skin. "I love you," he breathed, "so much."
He turned me around so we were face to face, and then we were ripping each other's clothes off, kicking paper plates and plastic utensils out of our way until we'd carved out a space on the floor. Richard plunged inside of me, pressing his hips close to mine. I groaned when he sunk his fingers into my hair, tilting my head back and exposing my neck. He bit down on a spot just below my ear. Against my skin, he said, "I will ruffle every last one of your pretty feathers."
I dug my fingers into his back, holding on as tight as I could. Our movement was imperceptible to the naked eye, but we were rocking, ever so slightly, moaning and cursing. Someone above us pounded on their floor and screamed at us to shut the fuck up, but that only made us louder.