(She definitely was.)
Clementine was fantastic. Open and bright and full of humor. It helped that she looked nothing like her grim father and gorgeous mother. A completely fresh entity, with different coloring, a constellation of freckles on her nose, and uneven teeth.
I got into bed early, avoiding all communication with my fake fiancé, and was delighted when I woke up in the morning and not only felt brand new but found Chase sleeping on the floor again. I took a moment to watch the frown between his eyebrows as he slept, the thick slash of his dark eyebrows pinched together. A pang of something warm and unwarranted unfurled in my chest.
I turned my back to him and slept through the morning, but not before writing him a note and leaving it exactly where he’d left his, on the nightstand.
Thank you for brushing my teeth Friday night.
Next time don’t use all the hot water.
You’d look ridiculous on a horse.
I crumpled Madison’s last note while she was in the shower before slam-dunking it into the trash can. I scribbled another one before she came out.
Can’t help but notice you failed to comment about the jasmines. No wonder we broke up. You’ve always been unappreciative (Xmas diamond earrings come to mind).
Re: me on a horse. Do I smell a bet?
I had trouble wrapping my head around the fact my convenient, timid ex-girlfriend had turned into a feisty, take-no-bullshit warrior.
There was a knock on the door.
“Come in.” I put the pen down. I expected Dad. We hadn’t had time to talk one-on-one during the weekend, and I wondered if he’d picked up on the tension between Jul and me. We hadn’t had many weekend-long family gatherings with Julian in the past three years. Not since Dad had announced I’d be chief operating officer of Black & Co., the second-in-command to his CEO and chairman position. He’d given Julian the CIO position—chief information officer—and the message was clear: I was to inherit the CEO seat when it was time for Dad to retire.
Julian had been resentful since then. He thought, considering he was the elder “son,” that he would be the natural successor. Only he didn’t feel so much like a son anymore and opted out of most family gatherings these days. In fact, I was surprised he’d come to the Hamptons. But of course he had—he’d wanted to see Madison, find out what kind of woman I’d decided to marry.
I looked up at the open door. It wasn’t Dad. It was Amber.
She wore a pair of leather pants tighter than a condom and a blouse she’d conveniently forgotten to button around her generous, surgically enhanced rack. Her dyed-blonde hair was freshly blown out, and her face was immaculately made up, including her painted-on eyebrows, which gave her a Bert-from-Sesame-Street edge. I jutted my chin out in hello but didn’t stop shoving Mad’s clothes into her suitcase. My fake fiancée’s unaccountability infuriated me. She had nonexistent organizational skills. I couldn’t trust her to be ready in time, and I wanted to be out of here before we hit traffic. Another prime reason we were a terrible fit.
And here was another one, in case I was tempted to dip into Madison’s jar ever again—she was a dreadful drunk. On a scale of one to Charlie Sheen, she was a solid Mel Gibson. Embarrassing to be associated with. Still, I applauded myself for being pleasant and supportive of her when she’d been about to pass out. Of course, I’d had to be. She was my fake fiancée, and tossing her to another room, letting her fend for herself, seemed cold, even by my arctic standards.
“Are you alone?” Amber pouted, crossing her arms over her chest to push her tits out. She was all class.
“Madison’s in the shower,” I supplied without looking up.
She took that as an invitation to waltz in and park her ass on the edge of the bed, on which the suitcase was open. I continued cramming burnable fabrics into the open jaw of the luggage, wondering who the fuck made the weird clothes Madison was purchasing with gusto. I tried to look at the labels, but there weren’t any. Very promising stuff.
“Clementine wanted to say goodbye.” Amber leaned toward me, pushing her chest even tighter. I really didn’t want it to burst. It would delay my trip back to New York by at least a few hours.
“I’ll come see her before we leave,” I tried to clip out, but I couldn’t help it. My voice came out softer than intended where Booger Face was concerned.
“We need to talk about her.” She put her hand on my arm. If she thought it’d stop me from moving, she was dead wrong.
“Booger Face or Madison?”
“I wish you wouldn’t call her that,” Amber huffed.
“Same,” I deadpanned.
I resented Julian and Amber for calling their daughter a name with zero nickname potential. Clemmy sounded like it was short for chlamydia, and Tinny made her sound like a mini can. I therefore referred to her as Booger Face, even though long were the days since she had sported actual boogers. When Clementine was born, Amber had asked me what I thought about the name. I’d said I didn’t like it. I was certain that was why she’d chosen it.
“Fine. Tough crowd. Let’s start with your fiancée. Is it real?” Amber glowered.
I zipped Mad’s overflowing suitcase wordlessly. What the heck kind of question was that?
“She’s a bit of an oddball.” Amber’s palm slid from my arm, her fingernail running circles on her thigh absentmindedly.
“She suits me.”
But she didn’t, and we both knew that. I hadn’t considered the fact that Madison wasn’t my obvious choice back when I had dated her, simply because I hadn’t thought there was anything to consider. She was supposed to be a fling. Nothing more. Now that Julian and Amber had pointed it out, I had to admit they weren’t wrong. I liked my women the same way I liked my interior design: impractical, obscenely expensive to maintain, with zero personality and frequent updates.
“About Clementine . . .” Amber stopped circling her fingernail over her thigh, digging it into the fabric. She was nervous.
“No,” I snapped, looking up. She reared her head back like I’d slapped her. “We’ve discussed it, and my demands were clear. Either you accept them or you zip it.”