In episode #8, Carter and her father enjoyed an early morning fishing expedition, but it’s Carter that got caught on the hook when her father reeled her in with news she didn’t see coming, not from him anyway: he wanted to divorce her mother.
In this episode, Carter, while working as her alter ego Cassie Deckart, runs into Cynthia Stevenson, and the two clash, but it’s nothing compared to the news she receives from her girl: someone’s in love with her.
If I have an alter ego, she has to have a job: enter ONE BODY. After dealing with my dad’s news, both Cassie and I needed a workout, so I went to my most favorite fitness center, one I happened to co-own with Daria.
ONE BODY wasn’t just a fitness center; it was a state of mind. Everything about it, from its brown, earthy exterior to its meditation and music rooms was meant to put all the women who entered it into a tranquil and relaxed mood. In the end, it was that mood that made the women willing to work hard to attain their weight goals.
I walked into the dark, double doors and ran into Daria at the receptionist desk.
“Hey girlie,” I said.
“Girlfriend,” Daria dragged out. One thing I learned about myself from having friends like Suzie, Raven, and Daria is I have a strong constitution. I must know I’m the shit because these women, in looks and brains, were elite. If you didn’t at least think you could compete in those two categories, you would be eaten alive by low self-esteem.
Daria was one of them chicks you could hate on the spot because she was every man’s eye candy. She had beautiful, thick, dark hair that hung past her shoulders, flawless skin, and perky breasts. Not that those are the only things a woman needs, but they ain’t a bad start. Her Latina ancestry was in full display with her hips that flared out wide and proud. She had enough junk in her trunk to fill up a tiny landfill.
Today, she wore a cute pink sweat suit that clung to every curve.
She hugged me tight.
I tilted my head toward the empty receptionist chair. “Where’s Alaina?” I asked.
“Sent her on a quick trip to the bank,” Daria said. “Guess what?”
I shook my head. “What, ma’am?”
“Loverboy came in here today,” she said in a hushed voice. Her black eyes were wide and waiting for some juicy bit of gossip.
“Loverboy?” There were only three guys I thought would even show up here—Vince, Rico, and Kenneth.
“You know who I’m talking about, girl.” Her hands flailed about her. “That sexy ass man.” She hit the desk with her hand. “Kenneth.”
As much as I didn’t want to, I smiled.
“What did you tell him?” I asked.
A few ladies came into ONE BODY and signed in before saying hi to us and going into the center.
“The obvious thing. You were not here. I asked if he wanted to leave a message.”
“Did he?” I knew I sounded overly eager and from the smirk on Daria’s face, I also knew I had to wrangle in my emotions.
“Just that he enjoyed the game and hopes to hear from you soon.” Daria’s full lips broke into a wide grin. “He looked very love-sick, chica.”
For his wife, yeah, I thought.
I shrugged. “Yeah, well, there’s no one looking love-sick for me these days.”
“Well, if he saw you today, he would. When do you wear tight clothing to the center?”
I faced one of the mirrors in the center. Instead of my usual gear, a baggy sweat suit, I had put on the only clean gym outfit I had: a blue pair of leggings and a matching leotard. A white wife-beater was loosely worn over the leotard.
“I wear this when clothes need to be washed.”
“You know I would not be so anxious to show all my extra stuff to the world,” I added, lovingly patting my full hips, rump bottom before shaking my arms to reveal the slight jiggle in my biceps.
“Girl, shut up,” Daria said, smacking me. “You are muy caliente, sexy mama.”
“Uh, okay,” I said. “I’m about to get muy caliente up in that gym and sauna.” I chuckled.
Daria’s laughter died when she looked toward the glass front doors.
“Oh my goodness,” she said. “She really does look like you.”
I followed Daria’s stare and saw Cynthia walking into ONE BODY.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. I raced to the door and looked up and down the street. I turned to face her again. “What if your husband was here? He was here earlier today, you know.”
Cynthia removed her sunglasses and slipped them into her hair.
“I know where he was,” she said. She looked me up and down before saying, “I just came from meeting Vince. Don’t worry. Kenneth didn’t follow me. I told him and the kids I had to make a quick grocery run. It’s the only way a mom can get out of the house some days.”
Daria patted my back and went into the center.
“So why are you here?” I crossed my arms.
Cynthia flicked her hair off her shoulders, and I caught a whiff of her perfume.
“What fragrance is that?” I asked. “Smells like Sunflowers.”
She smiled. “It is. It’s one of my favorites.”
“Mine, too,” I muttered. I would have taken her for someone who bought Creed Love in White or Quelques Fleurs.
“Anyway,” I said, shaking my head, “What are you doing here, Mrs. Stevenson?”
She fidgeted for a while. “Well, Vince asked me to stop by the office today,” she began. The faint smile she had widened. “He thinks very highly of you.”
“I think the same of him,” I replied, wondering where this line of conversation was going.
“At first, I thought he was interested in you.”
I leaned against the desk. Alaina returned and began typing on the laptop though I could feel her stare our way every few seconds.
“At first?” I asked.
“Well,” she said, shrugging her shoulders lightly. “It was a little obvious that he’s not interested in you that way.”
Before I could stop it, my neck rolled. “Why would you say that?”
“Don’t get me wrong,” Cynthia added. She lifted her right hand and placed it on my shoulder. She gave it a light squeeze before adding, “You are a very beautiful girl, Miss Devlin. I’m not just saying that because we look-alike.”
A heat resonated from Cynthia’s hand, burning into my shoulder. I felt awkward, but made no move away from her or the touch.
“Mrs. Stevenson,” I said, “could you please tell me why you’re here?”
She pouted, then asked, “I didn’t see a ring on Vince’s hand. Is he married?”
I looked toward Alaina who had stood and asked the question at the same moment I did. She sat back down and lowered her gaze to the laptop.
Cynthia dropped her hand from my shoulder. A slight red coloring brushed her cinnamon colored cheeks. She actually looked embarrassed for her question, but then she said, “He seemed much too interested in me while I was there. I was just wondering.”
Hit her. Hit her hard. Hit her until she can never get back up. My brain kept sending these words to my fists, but I wouldn’t hit her. I think that’s what she wanted me to do. She moved closer to me. Her chest was higher, like she was puffing up, showing she had me.
“No,” I finally responded. “Vince isn’t married. Oddly enough, you are.”
“That hasn’t stopped you from trying to get my husband.”
I dropped the bag I had in my hand and said a little too loudly, “What? Lady, are you freaking crazy or what?” I closed my eyes and willed myself to breathe again. In a lower voice, I added, “Didn’t you contact F.A.C.E. to help you, not the other way around? Seems like you’re the one that needs to be checked out.”
Cynthia chuckled, and I wanted to rip the sound from her throat. “I told Vince that I wanted to keep the investigation open a while longer.”
“Why?” I asked. “Your husband doesn’t want to have an affair.”
“You’re what, 25, 26?”
Though I despised her right now, Cynthia did win a cool point for making me younger than my real age.
“A little over thirty,” I answered.
“Well, I had learned it by then,” she said. “Maybe you’re lucky.”
I sighed and looked from Alaina who had returned her attention to us, to Cynthia.
“What are you talking about, Cynthia?” I asked.
“All men, at some point, have affairs. Right now, Kenneth’s just making you think he cares about you and your reputation, and about his marriage. Give it time.”
I stared at Cynthia for a moment. I felt this urge to take her by the hand and walk her into one of the meditation rooms to talk. Don’t get me wrong; I still wanted to hit her and I hated this whole arrogant, ignorant, bitch mode she was in, but I couldn’t help but think there was still a vulnerable Cynthia underneath all the bullshit. I wanted to talk to that Cynthia for a minute.
I touched her arm, and her eyes flashed wide at me.
“You know you may be hurting your marriage far more than it may already be,” I warned.
“Besides, we’ve done surveillance on your husband, in and outside of work. He typically goes from work to home. Maybe once or twice he had a beer with the guys, or went to a poker game with them. I appear to be the first woman he’s ever approached.”
“That’s because you look so much like me.”
“Then why can’t you just be the Cynthia he wants?” I asked, exasperated. “What happened to the woman he fell in love with?”
Cynthia’s bottom lip quivered—but only slightly and only for a second. She steeled up quickly, pivoted on her brown heels, and walked away.
Just as she reached the door, I yelled, “You never told me why you came, Mrs. Stevenson.”
Cynthia turned, smiled, and answered, “Nothing really, Miss Deckart. I just wanted to say hello.”
I rushed to the door and watched Cynthia walk across the street and into Calvenio’s 24-Hour Dry Cleaners. After a few minutes, I made note that she didn’t come back out.
Alaina came rushing up to me, followed by a returned Daria.
“Where is she?” Alaina asked.
“Kenneth’s wife?” Daria asked.
I nodded. “I’m betting she had a car behind the dry cleaners,” I answered. “She didn’t have a bag with her, and it doesn’t take that long to pick up clothes.”
“Why would she park over there to come here?” Daria asked.
I retrieved my cell phone from the bag I dropped on the floor. After a few rings, Vince answered, “On the Spot Security.”
“It’s me, Mr. Stevenson,” I said, trying to muster as much sarcasm as possible.
“What are you talking about, crazy girl?”
“Oh nothing. I just saw your latest love interest.”
“Cynthia Stevenson. She just left ONE BODY, and just raved about you. Asked if you were single.”
He laughed. “Jealous?”
“Why would I be? You’re so devastated that you can’t have me that you’re settling for her.”
Daria hit me.
“What?” I whispered to her.
When Vince didn’t respond, I said, “You still there?”
“Yeah, so what’s up?”
I looked at the phone, then asked, “Are you okay?”
Vince didn’t sound cool, but I wasn’t about to argue with him.
“Well, I was wondering if we could put somebody on Cynthia.”
“Why? She’s the client.”
“One, she came here today knowing damn well her hubby could have been here. Two, she parked behind Calvenio’s instead of in front of the gym. Three, she is crazy. Seems like she wants to control and know everything, and she’s using us as her puppets. I want the strings cut. I want to know what’s up with her.”
“Okay,” Vince said. “I’ll do it today.”
“Thank you, Sweetie. I’ll talk to you later.”
I hung up and quickly asked Daria, “Why the hit, girl?” She just continued to stare at me with her big brown eyes, looking like a deer caught in headlights.
Alaina quietly lifted her hands and stepped away and back to the desk.
“So you’re not going to tell me?” I asked.
She shook her head and threw an arm over my shoulders. “You are beautiful,” she began. “You are witty. You have intelligence coming out of all orifices…”
I put a hand up to her mouth. “Daria, cut to the quick. What’s up?”
“For all your intelligence, you have no common sense.”
“Common sense about what?”
She hugged me and then walked into the center. I was torn. I wanted to hop into my ride and find out what was up with Cynthia. Another part of me wanted to know why Daria was being so mysterious. Neither of the two seemed willing to shed light, and I was left leaning against the glass door in a confused stupor.
If the girls and I weren’t drinking margaritas and martinis at Satisfaction, we were at our favorite place drinking espresso. The Book Bin was a hip, almost chic little bookstore café that managed to somehow stay afloat amidst the land of three-floor, book-entertainment megastores. It was probably the fantastic coffee and great local artists who performed a few days a week that kept it going. Or, it could have easily been my almost daily purchase of coffee, books, journals, and pens that kept them in business.
Daria, Raven, Suzie, and I sat around a table close to the counter so that we could get easy access to more coffee.
“I can’t believe your father is going to ask your mother for a divorce,” Suzie said.
I took a taste of my mocha macchiato and said, “Yep. That was a twist I didn’t see coming. Well, I saw the divorce coming. I just thought it would have been years ago.”
“Sad thing is this ain’t unusual,” Daria said. “I mean my mama and father have been married for years, and I know my father has slept away from home, if you get my drift. Mama knows, too. They should have gotten a divorce, but Mama is quick to tell my grandmamma that she’d kill ‘em both before she divorce his ass.”
“I can’t get behind that,” Raven said. She leaned in and added, “If you’re not happy, why do you stay?”
“Some stay for the children,” Suzie said. She held her cup with one hand and fingered the crispy tips of her hair with the other.
“That’s not even a good idea,” Raven said.
“You telling me,” I added. “Then you and your kids moping and looking unhappy. And the poor kids. They have to live with that forever. It can change them.”
“Daria,” Suzie began, “how did you get past your parents’ relationship to let Rico in?”
Daria smiled and my heart fluttered in my chest. Just the mention of Rico made everything about her lighten up. I took in the faces of Suzie and Raven, and I could tell that they wished to have some of that light. If I was honest, I guess I wanted some of it, too.
“It never dawned on me that my mama and father’s issues had anything to do with me,” Daria answered. “To me, Father cheated on Mama, but he loved me. I didn’t always like him for what he did, but I never thought all men were like him. And besides, somewhere inside me, I always felt they loved one another despite the insanity.”
“That’s deep,” Raven said.
“Too deep for coffee at The Book Bin,” I agreed. “I need something a wee bit stronger.”
We all laughed.
“But really, Daria,” I said, “that’s cool to think like that. Everything I’ve dealt with has made me bitter toward relationships. And if I had to be honest, I would tell y’all that right now, I wish I had someone to be with.”
“Man,” Suzie said.
“I’ll second that,” Daria added.
“Carter,” Raven said, “why can’t you put some of those psych degrees to good use? You help so many other people with it, but you never help yourself. You know that one way to help yourself is to get all your anger and emotions out, whether it’s to your mother, to another psychiatrist, or on paper. How are you going to fill yourself with love if you’re full of… the past?”
“You were going to say ‘full of shit,’ weren’t you?” I asked.
Raven grinned and smacked my hand. “I’m just saying. You deserve to be happy. You can be happy if you want to be.”
“It might be too late soon,” Suzie said.
I stopped drinking to look up at Suzie. “What you mean by that?” I asked.
Suzie stared at Raven who was smoothing her already smooth locks, then to Daria, who was busy reading the small plastic stand on the table that advertised an upcoming book.
“Um,” I began. “What gives? What might be too late?”
Daria placed her cup on the table. “Remember when I told you that you didn’t have any common sense?”
“At the center, yeah. So?”
Daria nodded her head to Raven who wiped her mouth with a napkin, then cupped her slender hands upon the table.
“If you don’t know that Vince is in love with you,” she said, “you are the dumbest chick on the whole damn planet.”
My hand went numb just as I placed the cup to my lip. When it fell, Raven was quick to get it from the table so that it would not waste all over. I could see her wipe the table, slide the cup back in front of me, pat my hand and ask if I was okay, but all sound was gone. I shook my head and heard muffled voices. Saw the girls’ mouths moving. Suzie, I think, asked if I needed a doctor. Daria, I think, was laughing, and asked if they should call Vince to help me.
I could hear fully when Raven said, “We need to get her back to normal before she sees Vince.”
“What was normal for her?” Daria asked.
“Aww, fuck you, girl,” I muttered. “Who around this table is normal?”
None of them responded.
“That’s what I thought. So when was anyone going to tell me about this?”
Vince was in love with me. It was hard to wrap my brain around it. We had literally done everything but have sex, and we tried it once, but we were both beyond drunk and wound up passing out in bed together—him with his boxers on, me with bra and panties.
When we first met, I crushed on Vince hard. Who wouldn’t? He was sexy and intelligent and funny and he dug me. He understood me. But I never said anything and then this great friendship came about, and so I had pushed all those other feelings aside. I didn’t know if I could bring those feelings back. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that. Why ruin a good thing?
“He has never not loved you, Carter,” Daria said. “Even in college, he loved you.”
“How did I not know this? I just don’t understand.”
“You wouldn’t,” Suzie said. “You’ve been so, I hate love for so long, you don’t even know the signs anymore.”
I finished the rest of my coffee and asked, “So what do I do? Seriously, what should I do with this information?”
“I think the question you have to ask is what do you want to do?” Raven asked.
I looked at each of my friends, wishing one of them could give me the answer to this million dollar question because I sure as hell didn’t want to be the one to make such an important decision. Instead of advice, the three of them began discussing a whole new topic, leaving me to field this on my own. Lord help me.