“Come here, ya little rugrat,” Carl said as he slowly followed his giggling infant son across the living room floor. He pretended he was too slow to catch the 9-month-old as he crawled over carpeted floors. Mason thought he was getting one over on his father and giggled with unfettered glee as his chubby arms and legs propelled him across the carpet.
“Stop playing around. He needs to eat,” Violet told Carl, frowning. She didn’t know who was worse, the baby or Carl. Both were difficult to pin down in any situation. Bath times, mealtimes, bedtimes- well, maybe not so much bedtimes with Carl. Beds meant sex to him and he took advantage- at every juncture- of a nice, soft bed.
“Five more minutes, Mom,” Carl told Vi as he folded himself to the floor to crawl after Mason. It seemed to light a fire under the baby and his limbs spraddled as he tried to get away.
Violet watched as the two of them crawled away on all fours.
“Be honest,” Leila said with a giggle. “Which is the bigger child, Mason or Carl?”
“Physically, it’s Carl,” Violet told her as she set down a dish of pasta for them to all eat. “Mentally... still Carl.”
Leila hooted with laughter at her friend. With Violet’s budding career as a Family and Marriage Counselor and Leila’s work as an architect, it was hard for the two of them to make time to see each other. Add on a fiancee and a baby, and it was almost an impossibility.
“Oh, did I tell you that my brother is back in the states?” Violet asked as she twirled a bit of fettuccine on her fork.
“No, you didn’t,” Leila said with a frown. “You only live within twenty minutes from me and yet you are the world’s worst correspondent.”
“I know, I know,” Violet groaned and placed the food in her mouth.
“Is he here for the wedding or will he become a permanent fixture in our lives?”
“I’m here for good, if you’re talking about me,” Carl spoke. He had a wriggling Mason in his arms and bent over with the child to kiss Violet’s temple.
“Why would we talk about you?” Violet asked. “You’re here and you’ve got my anchor to you in your arms.”
Carl placed Mason in his high chair and laughed. “Yes, I sure did trap you with this little guy, didn’t I?”
“Isn’t it the female that’s supposed to trap the unconquerable man?” Leila asked with a smirk.
“Not in this case,” Carl told her. “I had to impregnate her before she got smart and realized she could do better than a recovering manwhore. Plus, I didn’t even have to try. I have super sperm to spare.”
“Little ears,” Violet warned him, pointing to Mason.
“What? It’s not a curse,” Carl told her and sat down next to Mason who had a bottle in front of him and some baby food in a tray. “If it makes you feel better I can call it ejaculate.”
“What would make me feel better is if we dropped the subject of your baby batter while I’m eating,” Leila told him. “Talking ejaculate while eating fettuccine alfredo is making me want to gag.”
“Fine, consider the topic of my super swimmers to be dropped,” he told Leila and bent to take up a tiny little spoon so he could feed Mason. Leila wanted to laugh since his hands were almost too large for the task.
“So... back to my bro-” Violet began.
“Ah, my second favorite topic of conversation,” Leila interrupted. “My gag reflex is hereby maxed out.”
“I don’t know why you and Nate don’t get along,” Violet stated.
“It’s because he is an insolent little prick whose arrogance knows no bounds,” Leila reminded her. “Vi, Nate and I haven’t gotten along since we were 15. That’s when he got involved in a different crowd. The country club crowd. The rest of the school just wasn’t good enough for him then.”
“Most of the school was country club,” Violet reminded her.
“Ah yes, but there are even echelons amongst the wealthy country club elite,” Leila stated. “You have the hierarchy within a hierarchy. It’s ridiculous.”
“Agreed, but maybe he’s changed since living in London,” Violet said, defending her older brother.
“When pigs fly,” Leila retorted. She stabbed some noodles on her fork, irritated at the topic of conversation. Nathan Charles always seemed to bring out the bitch in her.
“Regardless of the prick my brother can be,” Violet said. “We are having a welcome home dinner for him next weekend and this is me officially inviting you.”
“Then this is my official refusal,” Leila said. “‘No, thank you’.”
“Come on LaLa,” Violet whined. Leila had to laugh when Mason looked at his mother and looked like he was going to cry.
“No way,” Leila said. “And what’s with that face that Mason’s got on? Is he gassy?”
“Either he’s about to fart, poop, or he just plain doesn’t like your answer to my offer,” Violet told her.
“Too bad he doesn’t have a say then,” Leila said while lifting her fork to her mouth again.
“Yeah,” Carl said, his nose crinkling. “We have our answer. It was poop.”
“Take him away, Carl!” Violet told him, shooing him into another room. The smell of Mason’s dookie had been known to kill wildlife and fauna hundreds of feet away from his soiled diapers. It could be a catalyst in the ever-expanding hole in the ozone layer.
“This is your fault for feeding him that organic crap,” Carl told her as he lifted Mason out of his high chair. “I was fed on that regular corn-syrupy deliciousness and look at me- I turned out fine.”
“Well, he is right,” Leila said after Carl left. “He is still ‘fine’.”
In the three years since Carl and Violet had been together, Leila had seen her share of new faces cross her threshold. While her friend was playing house and family with Carl and Mason, Leila was the same old love ’em and leave ’em girl she always had been.
Come to think of it, she was almost the female version of what- or rather, who- Carl used to be, though in not such dramatic terms. She wasn’t anti-relationship, she just didn’t find anyone entertaining or enjoyable enough to try to make a real go of it.
Before she had left Violet and Carl’s place in the Hayward hills, Violet had cajoled and coaxed her until she had finally given in. In one week’s time, she would be at dinner with Charles’ and their friends, celebrating the return of Nate. Or at least everyone else would celebrate. Leila had no love for Nathan Charles.
It hadn’t always been the case though. She’d had a fleeting crush on him when she was 16. He was the cute older brother of her best friend. It was almost cliche that she would have had a crush on the 19-going-on-20-year-old.
But as all fleeting crushes went, it burned bright before fizzling out slowly. By the time Nate had turned 20, she had decided his arrogant ways were less appealing than his beautiful exterior.
Nate had been quite popular when he went to business school and there wasn’t a time when he didn’t bring some lady friend back with him when he visited his home in the south bay. They may have stayed a couple weeks or the whole summer, but he never kept one with him for long, a few months at the most.
Unbeknownst to Leila, it wasn’t due to Nate being fickle. It was exactly the opposite. He hated fickle women and he was always the one to fall headfirst in love while his girlfriend wanted something a little less steady. And something more than what Nate could give them.
Danger. Many women wanted the dangerous bad boy and not the steady, down-to-earth academic. It was an irritating fact of life and love. No woman wanted the man they could have a future with. They wanted to be the one to tame the bad boy, make him kneel to their beauty and wit. No woman wanted a relatively friendly, kind-hearted man who thought with his head as much as his heart.
The women Nate had brought home as a college student dwindled when he had moved to England and Leila lost touch. Not that there was much touching or talking anyway. Leila only heard about Nate when Violet mentioned him, which was relatively rare. Vi knew there was no love lost between the two. She had only mentioned him that night because she had invited her to the dinner to welcome Nate home. Mathilde saw Leila almost as one of her own children.
If it was up to Leila, she wouldn’t go anywhere near Nate. They were like siblings with their rivalries and antics. They fought like cats and dogs and it was always bound to get heated when the two were in the same room.
Maybe it would be different this time. Nate was now 26 and an adult. At least more of an adult than the last time Leila had seen him. And that had been quite a few years ago. It was easy to ignore a man who was thousands of miles away and rarely came home to the West Coast.
As soon as Leila walked into the upstairs apartment of the duplex she owned, her cell phone rang.
Checking the phone, she recognized the name of her friend and personal assistant, Jared.
“Hey, Jare,” Leila said as she searched for a place to set her purse down. She really needed to clean up around here. It was starting to look like the seasonal aisles of Target the day after Christmas. Utter mayhem.
“Lovely lady, I call bearing bad news,” Jared told her, his lilting voice 1 part angelic, 1 part fiendish.
“Oh God, what now?” Leila asked, cringing.
“That new tenant you have lined up just called and stated she’s moving back to Texas or something,” Jared told her. “Her mother has cancer.”
“She was from Kansas,” Leila said.
“Kansas, Texas, the same thing really,” Jared told her, sighing. “Those middle states are full of cowboys and homophobes.”
“Not true,” Leila told him. “Reggie’s from Texas and he’s gay.”
“Not the point but bless you for thinking of Reggie. I now have enough fodder for tonight’s spank bank,” he told her.
“Anyway, so Lisa or Leslie or whoever can’t come to sign the contract and will be exiled to the midwest until either her mother goes toes up or falls into remission,” Jared said, powering on. “Would you like me to put another advert out? I can head to Craiglist or contact the realtor again. Your choice, Love.”
“Sit on it for now,” Leila said, sighing. It’s not like she was in a hurry to rent out the bottom floor of her duplex and she definitely wasn’t hurting for money at any rate. “I have too many appointments and meetings in the next two weeks so I won’t be able to meet with anyone anyways.”
“Good thing too,” Jared said sarcastically. “I was getting so bored working my normal 60 hours per week.”
“You get overtime for those extra hours, Jare,” Leila reminded him. “I don’t see you complaining when you get those fat checks deposited to your bank account on paydays.”
“True, I do love to spend my extra dough,” he said. “Mama needs her bling.”
Rolling her eyes, Leila found an empty space on her kitchen table to lay her purse down.
“Is that all you called about, or is there drama in your dating life again?”
“You know me so well, Sugar,” Jared told her and he was off.
His on-again-off-again boyfriend whom Jared sometimes lived with and sometimes not, was not off-again. This time he was making noises about it being for good. Mickey could be a real prick when he wanted to be.
“Then leave him for good,” Leila told him. “Pack your shit up in that lonely little Louis Vuitton bag you carry back and forth from his place and call it quits. The guy is a douche.”
“Mickey is... he’s complicated,” Jare defended.
“Life is complicated,” Leils spat back. “That doesn’t give him a free pass to Asshole Island.”
“Now that’s a place I might like to see one of these days.” Of course, her gay friend would focus on the word ‘asshole’ in the most literal sense of the word.
“Listen, Dr. Phil here has to go get ready for bed,” Leila said, giving up on talking any sense into the man. “Mama needs her beauty rest for tomorrow.”
“Okay, Sugar Bear,” Jared said. “Let me know if you need to put that bottom level up on the market again.”
“Can’t you just call me Leila like a normal friend?” Jared never called her anything other than a term of endearment unless they were at the office.
“Now, Pookie! Whyever would I do such a thing?”