Damn if she’s not panting. So am I.
‘Are you … are you wearing boxers, or briefs?’
I smile. ‘In the interest of fairness, let’s say no.’
I repress a laugh.
‘Um … what about …?’
I chuckle softly. ‘Dori, Dori – so responsible, even in the middle of our little fantasy. I’ll bring a whole strip of them. You’re protected. Now what?’
‘Reid … I want you.’ Her voice is pure frustration, and I love it.
My groan echoes her longing. ‘Baby, let me give your gifted little fingers a few suggestions to follow while I tell you the many, many ways I want you …’
Despite the fact that Reid had nothing useful to say, it helps to have someone to talk to about this. About him. Who better than his sperm donor?
I may have to stop referring to Reid like that, assuming he means to be a part of this, which isn’t a given. I can’t imagine him stepping up and admitting to anyone that he’s the father of this kid. Not really.
Earlier tonight, I learned my son’s name. River. Identical to the up-and-coming young actor who powerballed his way to a flatline on the sidewalk outside an LA club. A promising life cut short – by drugs, no less. Fabulous.
Bethany Shank brought an eight-by-ten print of the photo I’d been longing to get my hands on, rather than sending me a jpeg. I fully believe she just wanted to witness my reaction. That flagrant intrusion wasn’t a point in her favour with me. When she slid the photo across the glass tabletop in my kitchen, I stared, but couldn’t touch it. My first thought was No. This can’t be him. Hours later, that kneejerk reaction hasn’t changed, even though I know it’s wrong.
Staring at his likeness again now, alone, I don’t have to worry about my visible reaction. I can study every detail of him. He squats just inside a cyclone fence marred by patchy streaks of rust. There’s a stick in his hand, held like a tool, not a weapon – used, I think, to dig or draw in the dirt. In the background there are a couple of other children, a few pieces of ancient playground equipment, and a mousy middle-aged woman talking on a cell phone.
Compared to my stepbrother, who’s a few months older, this child looks slight. Undersized. His clothes are mismatched and his face is dirty, as are his small hands. His hair is shorn so close to his scalp that I can barely make out the colour – though given his DNA, it must be blond. Light brows endorse that guesstimate. His nearly bare head makes him look even more vulnerable than his size.
When I was young, I hid behind my hair. Tilting my chin forward, I watched the world slide by between the pale strands, pretending indifference to the resentful body language of my increasingly miserable parents and their half-heartedly cryptic conversations, so easily decoded. I anticipated their end before they saw it, and made plans to go with my father when they finally split.
But I was missing a few crucial pieces of the puzzle, and stupidly, so was my mother. Neither of us predicted that other woman – the soon-to-be third wife. The son she would give my father, beginning his third tiny empire, negating the second. Negating me.
Now, from the static image in my hand, River stares straight into my eyes as though he knows a high-powered zoom lens is trained on him. As though he knows I am on the other side of it. His eyes aren’t the ice blue I share with my father. They’re Reid’s deep blue. Dark, like the sky at dusk in that split second after the sun disappears for the day. His mouth, too, is Reid’s. His button nose is mine.
What an unfair trick God decided to play on me. This dirty, scrawny, ill-clothed child is mine, and the vision I’ve carried of the life I gave him – when I’ve thought of him at all – was a lie. I thought he’d be cared for. Wanted. Loved.
Sitting across from Bethany Shank four hours ago, I refused to cry no matter how my eyes stung. ‘I want to see him.’ I heard the words I said aloud, followed by her intake of breath. She was no more shocked at me than I was at myself.
‘Well, let’s not make emotional dec–’
‘I. Want. To. See. Him,’ I said, my sub-zero gaze freezing her in place. ‘Find out what we need to do to make that happen.’
She cleared her throat and smiled blandly. ‘Arranging meetings is not a function of my investigative services, Ms Cameron.’
A good decade older than me, Ms Shank is yet another woman who wrongly imagined me to be a vaporous young Hollywood plaything. I tend to allow the world to think I’m spoiled and gullible. Not only is it mildly amusing most of the time, it makes for satisfying expressions of shock on the opposite side of the table during contract negotiations. Behind closed conference-room doors, I am my father’s daughter. My agent and manager know this. A handful of studio execs know this too.
I cocked an eyebrow. ‘I suggest you make it part of your services, Ms Shank.’
She drew herself up in the chair, her mouth falling open slightly.
Leaning forward, I fixed her with a concentrated stare. ‘You’re an investigator. I’m asking you to investigate. Are you concerned about further compensation? Do you require an advance of some sort? I was assured you were the best in the business. I would hate to have to report otherwise to potential clientele.’
Her face took on the mottled appearance of someone newly disabused of unjustified superiority. Ten minutes later, she left my apartment after assuring me that she would be in touch tomorrow with more information.
Once she took off, I fell on to the sofa and dredged up memories I’d never intended to exhume.