by Jessica Knoll
Peter put his hand on my shoulder and I elbowed him the in the side.
"Watch it, Elizabeth!" Peter cried, outraged.
I turned the key in the door and shoved it open so hard I heard the handle gut the wall on the other side.
"Elizabeth!" Peter cried again. I glanced over my shoulder at him long enough to see him examining a golf ball sized chip in the fresh coat of Ralph Lauren paint. Eggshell, I remembered Constance calling it, the memory only enraging me more. It was fucking beige. Beige. Just call it like it is, without all the pomp and circumstance.
When I walked into that restaurant earlier, Peter had stumbled back, out of the cocoon of his pert blond companion's thighs, and actually knocked over the stool behind him. He'd righted himself and ran his hand through his hair. His palms must have been sweaty, because his part obeyed the direction of his hand for long after he brought it back down to his side. He looked so nervous, so caught, I almost laughed. You don't even know what it is to be caught, I wanted to tell him. For as long as I knew Peter, through all our separations and second, third, fourth, and fifth chances, through the good times and the really, really bad ones, I would never tell him about Bridget. Not even later, when telling him about her would have saved me, would have absolved me in his eyes.
That moment on the stairs with Bridget was my most private North Star, guiding me through the rest of my life. Every decision I made after that split-second could be traced back to it, and I was fiercely protective of this intimacy. Perhaps because only two people knew the whole story, the true story, which was that I'd pushed her, not just in self-defense, but in a rage, and I hadn't helped her when I could have. Those two people were Biz, who already loved me when I did what I did, and Campbell, who grew to love me even after he found out what I'd done. You don't get that lucky twice. My secret emanated at my core like a finely tuned radar, beeping faster the closer I got to someone who would understand. Next to Peter, the beeping stopped all together. Next to Campbell, I felt like I had to cover my ears.
Oh, but Peter had such a spectacular excuse when I finally reached his side. "Elizabeth," he gestured to the blond ponytailed girl across from him. She was pretty, fine, basic. I don't even remember what her face looks like anymore. In my mind's eye, she's a ghost devoid of eyes and a nose and a mouth, her blond ponytail streaming behind her as she floats around the room. "This is Rebecca. We, uh, well," Peter cleared his throat, "I don't want to ruin the surprise for you."
"Hi, Elizabeth," Rebecca stuck her tiny hand in mine, its size belying her strength. My arm pumped up and down in its socket as she shook. Jesus, I get it, you want me to know you're an alpha. I squeezed her toddler hand even harder and gave her a withering smile that said, I hunt your kind for dinner.
"Oh, Peter," I said, without taking my eyes off Rebecca, "you know how much I hate surprises."
Rebecca laughed, a throaty, fake sound. "A girl after my own heart."
I laughed too, louder than she had. "You probably don't want someone like me after your heart."
"Um," Peter said, "well, what we were doing was"—
"Planning your bridal shower!" Rebecca had a thick binder in her lap, I realized, flipped open to show a color scheme of pink and gold and brown. Ew. Did Peter not know me at all? "Peter and I work together but I have this event planning business I'm trying to get off the ground. Hopefully strike out on my own one day."
I glanced at Rebecca's hand. No ring. "Those who can't do, teach, right?"
I could see that hit her where it hurt, and I stood up straighter, feeling like I'd regained some of the ground I'd lost. I reached out and closed the binder on her lap, realizing suddenly that must have been why Peter had been standing so close to her, to page through her reel. Rather, he'd used that as an excuse to get so close to her. There was no reason for him to be standing between her thighs. A part of me was impressed—Peter, ya old dog, I didn't know you had it in you. Another part, a much bigger slice of the pie, constituted my bruised ego. Yeah, yeah, I'm in love with another guy. I have to think about Campbell in order to come with Peter. I have no right to punish him for innocently flirting with another woman! Clutch those pearls, ladies! I don't care. Love isn't logical, love isn't kind. It's a broken spring that unhinges even the most sane suckers, and I'm far from sane.
"Let me give you a tip," I said, when the binder clapped shut. "White. I like all white. With pops of earthy green mixed in with my peonies." I cocked my head at Peter and said, sweetly, "Shall we, darling?"
Now, back at the apartment, Peter was pleading with me to calm down. "Nothing is going on between us, Elizabeth."
"Why the hell are you planning my shower anyway?" I demanded. "That's Biz's job."
"Biz is working on it," Peter said, "but I offered to help. She seemed a little overwhelmed, or like having to plan it was bumming her out."
I was impressed that Peter picked up on that. Biz was still "off" from Bradford, Peter's roommate from boarding school, and I knew she was concerned about having a date for the wedding. "There is nothing more humiliating than being a maid-of-honor without a date!" she had sobbed into her pillow just a few weeks ago.
I'd gently taken the bag of potato chips out of her lap. Biz was one of those types who pigged out when she was stressed, and if she was trying to get Bradford back, carbs weren't doing her any favors. Though I couldn't imagine going through the rest of my life married to someone named Bradford. And the guy went postal if you ever tried to call him Brad. "My mother will never let me live it down if I don't have a date for your wedding. She's already on my case about getting married. Like, 'maybe you would find a nice guy like Elizabeth if you went to the gym more.'" Biz's mom was a bitch. A nasty, insecure, social climbing piece of work.
I admit—it was touching that Peter was looking out for Biz. I did always love that about him. He stuck his neck out for my friends like they were his own. But I wasn't a total fool. That day, I saw a side of Peter that was weak, easily flattered. And I wouldn't soon forget it.
The other matter at hand, during this time, was Peter's burgeoning friendship with Campbell, and Izzy's increasing obsession with him. It was the only reason I was relieved that Campbell had a girlfriend, even if Lydia was a little tacky tart. The only thing worse than Campbell having a girlfriend was having one of my friends as his girlfriend. I'd take the lesser of two evils, for now.
Peter and Campbell had a standing basketball date. Every Saturday morning, at 11am. If it was nice out they played on the courts near the Great Lawn in Central Park. When it snowed, they went to the New York Athletic Club, where Peter was a member.
I knew exactly why Campbell wanted to be friends with Peter. It wasn't some great mystery. Peter was exactly the sort of guy Campbell wanted to be, and Campbell was closely monitoring him, I knew. His mannerisms, his dress, his work ethic. I'm sure it was just the cherry on top that the friendship irritated me. That was how Campbell, twisted puppy that he was, got his kicks.
Some Saturdays Campbell came up to the apartment to meet Peter, sometimes he didn't. A few weeks after I caught Rebecca cradling my fiancé with her warm thighs, Campbell showed up at our door, much earlier than usual.
I was naked under my white robe, cashmere and thin as tissue paper. Let's just say that very, very little was left to the imagination. "Elizabeth," Peter said, after letting Campbell in, "why don't you cover up?"
I took a sip of my coffee. "Why? We're all friends here, aren't we?"
Peter rolled his eyes and told Campbell he'd be right back, he just had to get changed quickly. Campbell had showed up so early Peter was still in his pajamas.
When it was just the two of us, I turned and stared at Campbell, daring him to look at me.
Campbell sighed. "I didn't come here early to see something I've already seen before."
I instantly felt like a moron. Fuck him.
"Have you checked your mail today?" Campbell said, his voice hushed.
I looked over his shoulder, at the stack that had piled up on the kitchen counter. I hadn't gone through the mail in a few days. "Why?" I asked.
We heard Peter's footsteps nearing then, and Campbell hissed, "Just look. I got one too."
Before I could ask him what he'd gotten, Peter was by my side. "Bye, babe," he said, giving me a kiss on my cheek. Campbell looked away.
The second the door closed behind them, I ravaged the stack of mail, throwing anything that didn't seem important on the floor, unopened. I figured I would just know by the return address what I was looking for, and I was right. I came upon a thin envelope, addressed to me, sent to me from the Geneva Police Department, 255 Exchange Street, Geneva, New York, 14456.
I tore it open. It was an official summons to appear in court. And evidently, Campbell had gotten one too.