His cuff links on his stiff white dress shirt caught the early morning light streaming in from the front windows, flashing rays into the hallway. The sudden flicker darted up the wall and pulled me back to a time when those cuff links had made me swoon. I had loved how perfect Harry always was on the outside. It was the messy inside that was always the problem.
I grabbed myself a club soda and made Harry his gin and tonic from Sonny’s bar near the stone fireplace in the main room. I handed Harry his drink then sat down near him in on oversized leather chair. I wondered if I should play dumb and let Harry put on this little act he had cooked up, or get right to it. The bad girl got the better of me. I decided to let Harry gravel a bit before we talked about his antics with the intern.
“Harry, what can I do for you?” I started the discussion like a business meeting, waiting to see what direction he was going. He had told me yesterday that he still loved me.
“Blake, I know I did a lot of bad things. I just want you to know I’m really sorry. I was so stupid, you know, just caught up in the run for office. I meant what I said yesterday…”
I interrupted him. “What Harry? What did you say?” I wanted to watch his face when he said it--see him in person--see if he squirmed. I knew all of his looks and body language by heart. He could never fool me.
“You know-- what I told you yesterday on the phone. I meant it.” He wiggled out of it.
“What are you talking about?” I asked pushing him.
“Blake, come on. You know what I said.”
“You said so many things, Harry. Which thing are you talking about?”
“Blake, Listen to me. This is not a joke to me.”
He brought his gaze up to my face, and amazingly, looked me straight in the eyes nervously. He inhaled and exhaled deeply, then continued.
“What I said yesterday is true. I …I... well, I still love you.”
Then it was my turn to inhale. Wow! There it was. He said it again and he looked honest. But I knew what all the media were reporting. I couldn’t hold back any longer. He was making me mad now. How could he say he loved me while he was all over TV cavorting with his twenty-year-old college student intern? I dove in.
“Love? Hmm, Harry I don’t know. Did you tell your intern you loved her too?”
He was visibly startled. He stood up and fidgeted, straightening his tie, throwing his head back with a swig of his gin and tonic. “Ahem,” he cleared his throat. “I know that’s what’s out there now. It just …it really isn’t true. I was…I, uhm, I was set up.”
“Oh for God’s sake, Harry, you gotta be kiddin’ me. Set up? Now that’s a stretch even for you.” I was shocked at his explanation. “Seriously, who in the world could be after you—let alone why in the world would someone be after you?”
“I know, but it’s true. I mean--this girl was a set-up. She was sent to me to throw me off.” He kept digging his own grave, right there in the living room.
“Harry,” I shook my head and began to laugh. “Seriously just stop. I saw the paper yesterday and it was on the news at six o’clock last night too. Pictures don’t lie. You did what you did. Everybody in Tuscaloosa now knows it. In fact, it’s not even smart for you to be here. Your constituents are going to be calling for your resignation just like they did Clinton’s.”
“But the difference is I never had sex with her.”
“Yeah well, Billy boy said the very same thing.”
“No, I mean I never was even naked with her.” He was still digging.
I smirked at him and furrowed my brows. “Come on, please. You and I both know the clothes don’t have to come off. A dress? A cigar perhaps? Maybe sex, maybe not.”
“Blake, I swear. I need to clear my name and you are the best at that. You’ve been a genius with Vivi's problems over the years. Plus what I said is true. I mean-- the divorce will be final soon, and I still love you. I do.”
“Harry, look. I know if you are in the middle of reconciling with me, the intern story might lose its power. You’re using me for your own gain, just like you did last summer when we pretended to still be in love to get you elected. I’m not helping you again. What we had once was really good for a long time; and frankly, I find this little plea of yours quite disgusting. Also degrading.”
“No Blake…” I cut him off heaving myself up out of my chair.
“Stop right there. I’ve heard enough. You know I had high hopes for you. At one time you were such a wonderful man, Harry. Now you want to hide behind me to make the public believe we are reconciling? You're doing all this to try to cover up the fling with your sleazy little tart? That is an all time low, even for you. Now I need you to leave before you cause this baby to make an early arrival.”
“Blake, I don’t even have a car. I took a cab here.”
“I’ll call one for you,” I said grabbing my cell and making the appointment for Harry to be picked up.
“You can stand on the porch while you wait.” I pointed to the door as he hung his head moving back across the wooden floor.
“I’m sorry you made such a mess of your life, Harry, but I’m really happy. I can’t be a part of your incredible disasters anymore. I can’t continue to cover for you. If you could just keep little peter in your pants, your might reach your potential.”
“I’m sorry Blake. I’m sorry for hurting you. I’m sorry I came here. I-- just…I still mean it and I always will whether you believe it or not. That intern and I never shared anything more than that one kiss and the media ran wild with it. You have my word.”
“And we know what that’s worth,” I shot back. “Goodbye Harry.”
He slowly stepped outside into the chilly morning air as I hurriedly closed the door behind him. I hung my head in both anger and sadness, for him mostly. He really started out as a different man. Or had he been different? Maybe I never saw the real Harry. Maybe I had refused to see it. But I knew in that moment I had witnessed the unraveling of a brilliant lawyer and senator. It made me so sad.
Harry stood just on the other side of the door, waiting for his ride. I stood inside, my back against the cold beveled glass. We were on opposite sides, divided physically by thin pieces of glass and wood, but miles apart in how we had both moved on. Here I was on top of my world with Sonny and the baby coming and Harry was in a free fall from his perch atop the Capitol. God help us as I realized the mere inches that actually separated us. He could, in a heartbeat, take me right down with him.
I pulled into Vivi’s, my tires spitting gravel as I quickly came to a stop in front of the rose gardens, now dormant for the winter. I slid out of the warm leather seat of my little black BMW, having had the intoxicating seat heaters on full blast all the way. My backside was toasty warm as I made my way around the front of the car and walked to the base of the front steps. Vivi stepped out onto the wide front porch of her old plantation house, drying her hands on her apron.
“Hey honey! Get yer ass on in here outta this cold. Did you know they’ve predicted an ice storm this weekend? I miss the milder winters we used to have. What in hell is going on? Alabama gettin’ snow now nearly every year? Don’t make no sense to me.” Vivi was as warm and genuine as always, never worried one minute about what she said. She was in black leggings and a long crimson sweater setting off her copper wiry curls that framed her pale freckled face.
I smiled and waddled up the stairs, in through the formal dining room and back to Vivi’s huge oak kitchen table. Tallulah was in her bassinette asleep in the butler’s pantry near the back door. The TV was on in the corner of the counter top with some Hollywood entertainment show. It was on for background noise and maybe company. The warm room was splashed in a buttery yellow glow, a combination of the paint on the walls and the soft light of early morning dancing through the trees out the window. The house smelled like apple pies and hot cider. Vivi was nesting. And it suited her.
“Sit down, Honey and tell me everything,” she said poring cider into red ceramic cups with white snowflakes etched on the outside.
“Even in all this chaos, that damn fool swears he still loves me—and get this-- swears he didn’t sleep with that intern.” I took a sip of the warmed mulled liquid, swallowing slowly on purpose. I was soothing myself.
“He’ll say whatever it takes to get what he needs. You know that,” she said.
“I know it but he really looked sad, you know. I think he’s scared.”
“Of course he is! He may be thrown out of office before he’s barely even sworn in!”
“He said something else that really threw me though.” I shifted my weight.
“He said it was a set-up. That someone was out to get him.” I saw Vivi’s face curl in utter doubt and near embarrassment for Harry.
“Blake,” she shook her head as she talked, “he has really outdone himself this time. Now he’s invented a boogieman. God, where will that man get off the Looney train?”
“What if he’s telling the truth?” I pondered.
“Blake Elizabeth O’Hara Heart! There is no way anybody forced him to lip lock with that little hussy. We all saw the pictures. They were splashed from TV to newspaper. You’re just in a crazed state of pregnancy hormones. Now snap out of it.”
I laughed. She was probably right. But that look in Harry’s eyes stayed with me, hovering like a ghost in my head.
I sat with her catching up in the cozy warmth till our laughter finally woke precious Tallulah. Vivi was quick to get to her, but so calm and easy. She brought baby Tallulah to the table and sat with her, the baby nestling her little red head in the crook of her mother’s neck. Both of them were perfectly content.
“You’re such a natural at motherhood,” I said. “I hope I will be too.”
“You’ll be the best. You were raised by one of the best. Even though that Kitty is nuts, she was sure a good momma to you. And hey, if Dallas can turn into a good mother, you certainly can handle it.”
Dallas Dubois had at one time been my stepsister then we became life-long archenemies. But a few weeks back before Christmas, she fell in love, directed the Christmas play. Love seemed to do amazing things to her because she reached out to become friends with Vivi and me. She also found herself in the throws of her own maternal instincts with a little girl from the Christmas play. Sara Grace Griffin was a foster child that Dallas took in over the entire holiday period and now she had filed papers to adopt her.
Dallas is also pretty cozied up to Cal, Lewis’ best friend. Cal is a gorgeous University of Alabama professor and former quarterback for the Crimson Tide. Dallas, the local TV anchor, is a busty, leggy blonde who pretty much looks perfect all the time. I would have to hate her if I hadn’t decided to be friends with her. Underneath all that blonde hair was a girl with spunk and substance. Meridee always liked her and now I can see why myself.
“I know it. I’m happy for Dallas though. I’m praying everyday that the adoption with that little Sara Grace goes through like a dream. Those two need each other,” I said as I got up to pour Vivi and me a fresh cup.
“Yeah, and Sara Grace is already in elementary school and those sweet little older babies are so hard to adopt too. Plus, now that Dallas is engaged to Cal, they’re gonna make one gorgeous family. I think they’re already plannin’ the wedding.”
“I just worry, you know?” I said.
“About what, Honey?” Vivi suddenly looked concerned. I don’t usually let anyone know my vulnerabilities. I’ve always been the strong one. Vivi leaned on me, not the other way around.
“What I’m gonna do.” I shared with Vivi my anxiety. “I mean, is it normal to be like this? I don’t know how I’ll juggle the law practice and the baby. Part of me wants to stay home, play and teach this baby and just love on him all day long,” I said looking down at my tummy and rubbing it. “But the other part me shouts,
what in the world did you suffer through law school for if you just stay home?
I mean I don’t know if I can do all of it.”
“Listen to me, Blake. Those women who told us we could have it all were tellin’ a partial lie, you know?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, they preached like a Baptist minister on Sunday—
We are women here us roar, we can have it all,
right? Well the secret is-- we can-- just not all at one time.”
“That still doesn’t help. How am I gonna know which to do, stay home or keep my practice?”
“Sweetie, you’ll know. I was so scared too. I had no idea if I even had the mother instinct-- remember that talk we had before I got married? I was scared shitless. But you know what? The minute that baby was here, my inner momma bear kicked in and nothing would stand in my way. The little secret is so easy and you have more of it in high doses than you even know what to do with.”
“Really? What is it?” I suddenly felt like a child finding out the secret of Santa Claus.
“Love, sweetheart. Just love,” she said smiling sweetly. “It will act as a guide and it is never wrong. And I promise, when you get that baby boy in your arms, you’ll know.”
I let that float around in my head for a minute, my eyes stinging now with salty tears. I knew she was right, but the weeks before the baby comes were sure stressful. I remember Vivi, reading every book out there then shouting, “
I have no idea what this is even talking about!”
Then she’d throw the book down on the table in anxiety-filled huff. Now I knew just how she felt.
Suddenly the back door flung wide open and Bonita appeared. “Hey ladies! Y’all hungry for lunch? We got it ready to go and I saw your car up here Blake? How’s my little mama?” She stretched across the table to give me a big Bonita hug.
“She’s a nervous wreck,” Vivi answered for me. “But I just got Tallulah back to sleep and I’m starved.”
“Good. Arthur wants to bring it up himself. Says he hadn’t seen his Blake in far too long and so he’ll be up here in a jiffy,” she said with a smile. She turned her ample hips with a grin and headed back into the cold.
Arthur was wonderful and his new BBQ business was fixin’ to franchise all over town. The Moonwinx was a dream of his and he dove right in, with Bonita Baldwin by his side. Arthur was older, in his middle 50s and of African American descent. He had always been the gardener but at Christmastime, Vivi discovered he was her blood cousin and the real owner of the plantation. He deeded it back to Vivi for Christmas but she gave him back all the property for his business. So now, they were pretty much co-owners of the entire property.