by Jessica Knoll
The saleswoman gestured to a display of tiered, velvety curtains, red as the lining of a coffin. I made a face.
"Swag and valence?" Constance laughed, bitchily. "We're picking out window treatments for a twenty-five year old supermodel and her smoking hot boyfriend. Maybe something a little more modern?"
The saleswoman gave me a once over. "I thought you looked familiar." She turned on her heel and beckoned for me to follow her deeper into the store.
"I wasn't aware I had a contract with IMG," I whispered to Constance.
"They'll give us a discount if they think you're famous." She winked at me. Rich people love a good discount.
Constance Morrison was my father's thirty-four year old girlfriend, which made her less than ten years my senior. She had buttery blond highlights and was forever swaddled in her cashmere camel Max Mara overcoat (which she treated herself to seven years ago after redecorating the Connecticut mansion of J.P. Morgan's great-great grandson—her first big project after she struck out on her own as an interior designer). I know I should hate her, on principle. And when my mother asks about her I always say she's nothing but a conniving gold digger, and not even that pretty. But it couldn't be farther from the truth. Constance was not only a knockout, but she had transformed my father in the year they'd been together, softened him, made him laugh, hard, and in doing so, she had transformed my relationship with a man I used to despise.
But let me back up, because I've skipped a few years, haven't I? You want to know what happened after that night in my hotel room, when I rubbed my fist over Campbell's last words to me. Well, I behaved like your typical angsty spoiled brat: sulked my year through the rest of senior year, graduated with no job prospects, no aspirations. In my defense, I was sort of preoccupied with family drama. The stress of the whole Bridget ordeal did nothing to alleviate my mother's health problems, and too many sleepless nights and self-medicating the WASP way eventually triggered another heart attack. Bigger than the last one, though not debilitating. Still, she didn't listen to the doctors when they told her that if she continued to drink and smoke and worry like she did that there would be another, and then after that none, because she would be dead.
My mother didn't listen, of course, but the doctors were wrong, anyway. Because the next time she fell to her knees it was a stroke that brought her there, and she didn't die, she just became incapacitated to the point that she required round the clock medical care. And my father, sensitive, emotionally open and vulnerable modern man that he is, waited all of a month before he served her the divorce papers. I will give him this—it had been a long time coming. I love my mother, but that's because I have to. My father just realized he didn't have to anymore.
I continued to sulk for the year after I graduated, hardly ever getting out of bed until that night when Biz weaseled her way into my bedroom and forced me into the shower, my sheerest fuck me sweater, and into a cab to meet her new boyfriend and his friend, Peter, who had just come back from Vail. He had those rich boy flushed cheeks and that winter tan that I'd always loved. It's different than a summer tan: wind-whipped and a little raw, the contrast between the jaw that had weathered the elements and the suit that had weathered the trading room floor, his starched shirt collar picking up the scent of power and testosterone, impossible to resist. Mmm, he was good. For a time.
I didn't think about Campbell much. I really didn't. Especially not when Peter and I were in bed, his hands on my body—oh, Campbell wouldn't have stroked me there, he would have squeezed until my breath came out in a grunt. You know one time? I actually spit in Peter's face while I was on top of him. Just to see what he would do, if he would flip me over and fuck me like he hated loving me, the way Campbell had. Instead, he wiped his face in a frenzied outrage, squinting and gasping, "What the fuck is wrong with you, Elizabeth?" while I felt him go soft inside of me. I had nothing to say for myself because I didn't have the answer. No, the only person who knew what the fuck was wrong with me was Campbell, but that was okay! It's probably not healthy to be with someone who can smell your rot, know exactly where it's coming from, right?
Of course, there was that one night I saw him in New York. Peter and Campbell had become inadvertent colleagues, after all. Campbell worked for the Chicago branch of my father's firm, and after just a few months of knowing Peter, my father had offered him a job in the New York office. "Don't lose this one," my father had said one night, after a lovely, lovely dinner at Del Posto with Constance and Peter, perhaps the most twisted double date ever. "He's a keeper," he tapped Peter's glass with his own and laughed then, but I knew he wasn't joking. Seeing me with Peter made him happy. Seeing me with Peter made my ailing mother happy. Biz loved him, and so did the rest of my friends. This was the person I was meant to be with.
In any case, Campbell was in New York for business about a year ago. I had been headed to Dorrian's with Biz and Isabel, our little coke-sniffing Grey House refuge, when Peter called and told me he had just finished up dinner with a guy he was vetting for a position in the New York office and the two of them wanted to meet up.
The guy he was vetting for the New York office had turned out to be Campbell. Biz had of course recognized him right away and kept her mouth shut for once, but Isabel didn't remember him. She had flirted with him shamelessly, while I knocked back beer after beer, trying to put out the hot boil in my stomach. I had excused myself to go to the bathroom, knowing, hoping that what had happened next would.
It was a weekday night, so there was no line, and the women's bathroom was empty, save for me...and then Campbell, when he followed me inside. The bathrooms at Dorrian's are abusively bright, something I wouldn't have the courage to step into past the age of twenty-eight, which Campbell was by then. 29, was he? It had been two years since I'd seen him last. He didn't need to worry about the lights anyway. He'd always teetered on the edge of sickly and strong, it was a combination even more devastating than Peter's rugged polish.
He stared down at me, the hollows under his eyes purple as ever, and there was that expression on his face that always drove me nuts, like he was just so fucking amused.
"This is the women's," I said, rinsing my hands in the sink, avoiding eye contact, "though I guess you've always been a pussy."
"Don't pretend like yours isn't dripping wet right now," he said, and I only got my knee halfway to connecting with his balls before he had my back up against the probably barf stained wall and he was kissing me. And oh God, to touch him again, rip my fingers through his hair and hold him to me. It felt so good that from that moment on I would only ever see Peter as someone who kept me from my happiness. Because Campbell was the home in which I could never live.
Campbell disappeared as soon as he had appeared, and it took me several minutes to collect myself. By the time I made my way back to the group, he was gone.
"Where'd your friend go?" I asked Peter as casually as I could.
"He has an early flight back to Chicago tomorrow," Peter said over the rim of his Bud Lite.
I put my purse on the bar and slid onto a stool. "Do you think you'll poach him from the Chicago office?" I could feel Biz's eyes on me.
Peter wrinkled his nose. "It's weird. I really like the guy, and he comes highly recommended. He's apparently the wunderkind of the Chicago office. For whatever reason your father wants to look outside the organization. Bring in someone entirely new. But we have to consider him because he's in house and he applied for the position. You know, legally."
"You should hire him," Isabel said, with a loud, obvious sniff that made me want to rip her nose right off her face, "so I can marry him."
Peter laughed. "I think he's spoken for, Izzy."
I felt like my spine had been replaced with a cold steel rod. "Why do you say that?" I asked, and felt Biz's finger dig into my side.
Peter shrugged. "I asked if there would be any sort of personal conflict with him moving here—like family or relationships he'd have to leave behind—and he said no, because the love of his life actually already lives here."
Biz's fingers were still in my side. It was winter, we were still bundled up in our coats and scarves, and no one saw as my hand met hers and squeezed.
Of course, the New York job went to someone else. I'm sure my father saw to that personally.
I felt a finger poke my side, again. "Hello, Elizabeth?" It was Constance. "I said, 'what do you think of these?'"
The curtains were white linen. Airy and light. Exactly the clean, luxe palette we were going for. I smiled at her. "You nailed it."
Outside of the fabric store, Constance and I hailed a cab. "Two stops," she said, giving the driver my home address first, the address of my new apartment second. Peter and I hadn't moved in yet, but he had told me to meet him there after I was finished downtown. The contractor wanted to get our opinion on bathroom tiles.
Peter and I had decided to move in together a few months ago. We'd been together two years now, and I was tired of trekking all the way down to his place in Tribeca to see him. My father happily bought us a two and a half bedroom ("The half would work well as a nursery," Constance had teased me.) in a blue haired building on 86th and 5th, right on the park. He would do anything to see us live happily ever after together.
The cab dropped Constance on 79th. "See you later, Leels," she said, using her pet name for me and tossing an air kiss my way. We were meeting for drinks at The Carlyle at 7, to "celebrate."
"Celebrate what?" I'd asked.
"Your new place. This new stage in your life." She'd clasped her hands together. "You have to celebrate these things, Elizabeth!"
I pursed my lips back as she shut the door, then settled into the backseat. It was winter, nearing 4pm, the city's collection of shadows nearly complete, and I closed my eyes, running through a few options of what to wear later. I had decided on a white silk Lanvin tunic and black suiting pants when the cab slowed to a stop at the corner of my new building.
I paid the driver and hustled my way through the cold. My new doorman, Leonard, held the door open for me. "Hurry, Miss Elizabeth!" he teased, and I picked up the pace.
"Whew!" I gasped once I was ensconced by the warm lobby. What is it about the cold that always leaves you out of breath? "Peter already here?" I asked Leonard, and he nodded.
I rode the elevator to the 16th floor, in such a good mood that I didn't even roll my eyes when we stopped at floors 8, 10, and 14 to let off other tenants. Nothing irritates me more than a local fucking elevator.
I pulled my hat off my head as I stepped off the elevator, fluffing up my hair at the roots, then went to work wiggling my hands out of my gloves. I was still working the left out of its lambskin binding when I bumped open the door of our new apartment with my hip, found Peter on one knee, really needing my left hand, as it turned out.
And I swear, when I looked past the six carat estate Cartier ring that had belonged to my late grandmammy, Peter offering it up to me like a sacrifice, that I shuddered with joy, not disappointment. That I didn't think, Oh. I wish it were Campbell.