All I Ever Wanted

Page 23

Author: Kristan Higgins

“Yes,” he said.

“I also think you should hold a pet fair,” I said, warming to my subject.

“What’s a pet fair?” he asked.

“It’ll be like an open house at your practice. People bring their pets, you give away dog and cat and gerbil treats, maybe have a trainer there to give out tips.”

“That sounds good,” he said.

“And one of those agility courses. Bowie would rock that,” I said. “Maybe Noah could rig up a little cart, and Bowie could pull…nah, insurance issues, forget that. Oh! You could have a pet psychic, too!”

“I don’t believe in pet psychics,” Ian said.

“That doesn’t matter. It’ll be fun. Maybe we could get a state trooper to come with one of the K-9 dogs. We could do animal tattoos for the kiddies, face painting, have a balloon guy make those little poodles… This will be great, Ian!” I was practically bouncing in my seat, I was so excited. Ian could walk through the whole thing like a beneficent duke or something, and everyone could see that he wasn’t stiff and remote, just a little shy. “What do you think?” I asked.

“It sounds…” terrifying, I imagined him saying. “It sounds great, Callie,” he said, surprising me. “I never would’ve thought of something like that.”

Well! A flush of pride rushed to my cheeks. “We should do it soon. Winter comes fast up here.” At that moment, my phone buzzed. “Oh, sorry, let me get this,” I said. “It might be Noah needing something.”

It wasn’t. It was a text from Annie. Glad you’re feeling lustful toward the vet. Go get him, girl!

“Is it your grandfather?” Ian asked.

He was leaning forward, a small frown of concern on his face. He had beautiful hands, Ian McFarland did. Capable. Strong. Gentle. “He’s fine,” I said, my voice a bit breathy. I felt my heart roll over in a slow, pleasant wave. “Just…he’s great.” Wouldn’t mind feeling those hands on me, no sir. I sat up a little straighter and told my inner Betty to pipe down. “So, Ian, are you seeing someone?” I heard myself say. Michelle Obama sighed wearily.

Ian froze for a second, and well did I recognize that deer in the headlights look, oh, yes. “I’m not interested in a relationship at this time, but thank you,” he said, in what was clearly a much-rehearsed line.

“No, no! I’m not asking for myself…it was more of a PR thing. You know, if you had a girlfriend, I’d…but it’s a moot point, right? Okay. Moving on.” My face was broiling, of course.

Rescue came from an unlikely source.

“Callie! How lovely to see you! And how lucky, too, since you never come by anymore. We’ll sit right here. Near our daughter.”

My parents, led by Dave, stood in front of me.

“Hi, Mom. And Dad! Oh! Hi, you, guys!” I stood up and hugged my parents, Mom first so she wouldn’t kill me, then Dad, who felt a little damp. Mom looked the way she always did when Dad was around—cool, disdainful and mildly disgusted. Dad, on the other hand, twinkled desperately.

“How’s my Poodle?” he chortled, cupping my face in his hands, as in Clearly we did something right, Eleanor, so please don’t hurt me. “Isn’t she beautiful, Ellie?”

“Mom, Dad, this is Ian McFarland, the vet who took over for Dr. Kumar,” I said.

“A pleasure, young man, a pleasure,” Dad said, shaking Ian’s hand vigorously and slapping him on the shoulder. “Tobias Grey. Callie’s father.”

“Nice to meet you,” Ian said. He nodded at my mom. “Mrs. Grey.”

“I am not Mrs. Grey,” my mother said, narrowing her eyes. “Eleanor Misinski.”

“I’m sorry,” Ian said. “Nice to meet you, Ms. Misinski.”

“Call me Eleanor,” she said, as welcoming as a cuddly viper.

“So what are you guys doing here?” A date between the two of them? Nah. Too much to hope for.

“Your father and I are meeting a special someone,” Mom said in her silken voice.

Dad swallowed sickly.

“Oh…right.” I winced. The Tour of Whores, as Mom had called it during our last phone call.

“Here are your menus,” Dave said, pulling out a chair for my mom. “Can I get you something to drink, Mr. Grey? Ms. Misinski?”

“I’ll just take a bottle of Grey Goose,” my father said, slapping Dave’s solid shoulder. “No relation. Hahahahaha!”

Poor Dad. He was terrified, and rightly so. Sensing a sympathetic soul, he looked at me sharply. “Callie! Poodle! Why don’t you and your friend join us?”

“Oh, no. God, no. No, no. Nope. Never.”

“Callie, you should,” my mother said, slithering into her seat. “Stay and see what your father was doing while I was pregnant with your brother. Your…” she looked Ian up and down as if trying to determine his species “…companion is welcome, too, of course.”

“No! We can’t. It’s business. Business dinner. Sorry!” I chirped. “Ian, shall we sit back down? To discuss things? In more detail? We have so much more to…”

To my despair, Ian was checking his phone. “I’m sorry, Callie. I have to go. I’m on call at the hospital.”

“He’s on call. Must be an emergency. Drat! We have to go!”

“You don’t have to come,” Ian said.

“Shush!” I hissed. “Bye, Mom! Bye, Dad! Dave, I’ll just call you with my credit card number, okay?” With that, I grabbed my laptop and turned to my parents. “Bye!”

“Why can’t you stay, Calliope? He doesn’t need you,” Mom said, surveying the martini menu.

“Um…” I said, my heart sinking.

“Stay, by all means,” she said in an iron tone.

“I need to go, Callie,” Ian said. “Thank you for dinner.”

“Don’t abandon me!” I hissed. “Take me with you.”

“Callie, I need to leave. See?” He held up his phone, and I caught a glimpse of a text…emergency, dog, car. “It was nice meeting you both,” he said to my parents.

“Great to meet you, son!” Dad cried, looking over his shoulder to see what was taking so long with the booze.

“You’re a cruel man, Ian McFarland,” I muttered, but he was already halfway across the restaurant. Dammit. There went the cavalry, off to heal the wounded. So unfair! With a sigh, I surrendered and slid into the chair between my parents. “So,” I said. “I’m guessing this is round one in the Tour of Whores?”

“Exactly,” Mom said.

“Oh, gosh, that’s a good one!” Dad laughed, glancing around frantically, checking all possible exits.

Mercifully, Brittany, who’d just served Ian and me, bustled over at that moment. “I’ll have a huge dirty martini,” I said. “Very big.”

“Make it two,” Mom seconded. For an instant, something flickered through her eyes, but it was gone before I could tell what it was.

“It’s unanimous,” Dad twinkled desperately. “Three big-ass dirty martinis for our little family gathering.”

“How nice,” Brittany said. “Okey-doke, I’ll be right back with your drinks!”

I took a deep breath, mentally girding my loins. “So how did you get the…what’s her name, Dad?”

He looked at me blankly. “Who?”

“Your—the woman who’s coming today.”

“Oh.” He looked at Mom nervously, but she radiated calm, the same way a lizard does, cool, unblinking. “Her name is—”

“Tanya,” Mom interrupted. “Which I think is a fitting name. Tanya the Whore. It works just as well for a stripper or a drug dealer, don’t you think?”

“Mmm,” I murmured. “So, why did she agree to meet with you and Mom?”

“Oh, she doesn’t know I’ll be here,” Mom said.

“Where are those drinks?” Dad barked.

Ten minutes later, when I’d almost finished my martini and was feeling a bit better, Dad stiffened. Stood up. Glanced at Mom, who gave an imperious nod. “Tanya!” Dad called weakly. “Over here.”

She wasn’t what I expected in a home-wrecking trollop, that was for sure. Weighing in at well over two hundred pounds, her plump cheeks quite red, hair in a long, graying braid, Tanya wore a purple peasant dress that made her look like an extra in some dreadful Woodstock retrospective. She completed her look with Hobbitesque Birkenstocks and blue-tinted granny glasses.

“Well, well, well,” she said, thumping her way over. “Tobias Grey. You haven’t changed a bit.”

“And you!” Dad said, trying to hit his usual Clooney sparkle. “You…it’s… Hello!”

Tanya leaned in to kiss Dad’s cheek, but he flinched. Her gaze drifted to Mom and me. “Hello,” she said uncertainly.

“Hi,” I muttered, draining my drink.

“Hello,” Mom said, giving her a John Malkovich smile. You know the type. Sure, it’s a smile, but you just know some serious shit is about to rain down.

“Uh, Tanya, have a seat,” my father said, his face a little ashen. “This is my daughter, Calliope, and, um…my ex-wife. Eleanor.”

“Oh,” Tanya said. “Hi.” She gave Dad a dry look.

“Isn’t this nice,” Mom said, and if I’d had testicles, I’m quite sure they would’ve retracted in terror. Dad swallowed. “Tobias, tell Tanya…oh, isn’t that charming? Tobias and Tanya, Tanya and Tobias. So cute. Tobias, tell her why she’s here.”

Dad and Tanya sat down. It was beginning to dawn on Tanya that this was not going to be the evening she’d expected. Run, lady, I mentally urged her. Run fast.

“Well,” Dad said, trying to smile. “My wife here…she…back when we were, ah, married…”

“Who wants bread?” Brittany, our chipper server, plopped down a basket in front of us. Even though I’d just eaten with Ian, I pounced on it, tearing off a hunk of the still-warm sourdough and stuffing it in my mouth. Almost as good as cake batter.

“Would you ladies like some?” Dad asked, wiping the sweat from his brow. He pried the basket out of my hand and offered some to Mom, who shook her head, then to Tanya.

“Who wants to order? Oh, should I bring more menus?” Brittany asked.

“You know, Brittany,” I said, chewing, “we need a little privacy.”

“That’s fine! Call me when you’re ready! My name’s Brittany!”

“We know,” Mom said icily, staring at her nametag. Brittany backed away.

“So what’s going on here, Toby?” Tanya said. Mom’s eyes narrowed even more. “I take it you didn’t want to just catch up.”

“Well, see, Eleanor and I…we…well, we’re thinking about reconciling. But she wants a little…closure, might we call it, El?”

“We might,” Mom said. “You see, Tanya, is it? You were sleeping with my husband when I was pregnant with our third child. Which I found quite…unsettling.”

“You gotta be kidding me,” Tanya muttered, giving Dad an evil look. “You cheated on your pregnant wife? You shit.”

“Very bad of me, I realize that. I’m deeply sorry,” Dad babbled.

“Very bad, I’ll say. I would’ve strung you up by your balls,” Tanya said. Dad’s face drained of its last bit of color.

“But let’s not forget your own role in this,” Mom said. “You slept with a married man.” Each word was an acid-dipped razor. “Tobias said you knew he was married.”

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