4. Stepping Out
“In here, Dear.”
Leila walked into the kitchen to see her mother stirring some sort of sauce in a pan. It was white and fragrant and made her mouth water. But it looked too thin and Leila knew it would be a while until the Alfredo sauce was thick enough for the noodles.
“Dad home yet?” Leila asked, almost wincing at the question. Her mother sighed, shaking her head slightly.
“No, he had to work late,” her mother told her, an edge to her voice.
Leila knew what that meant. The only ‘work’ he stayed late for was getting under one of the females in the secretary pool’s skirts. Most likely his latest conquest, Veronica Plant, his latest in a line of P.A.’s.
Her mouth set, Leila gave her mother a kiss on the cheek before sitting down at the table and placing her purse on the top of it.
“Did he say when he’d be here?” Leila’s voice was tight with frustration. Why wouldn’t her mother just leave the philandering fucker already? Leila would have in a heartbeat were she in her position.
“He said he’d ‘be here when he’d be here’,” Mrs. Winters told her daughter and took a moment to stir the thick, flat noodles in the larger pot on the stove.
Though the Winters had enough money for help around the house, Mrs. Winters always insisted she needed no help cleaning house or cooking. Most other wives in their social circle had housekeepers to do these chores, but Leila had a feeling that her mother’s need to do these things herself stemmed from a deeper issue.
Her husband. Who wanted to add another female to the household that her father could possibly find attractive and fuck? He had his other dalliances at work and her mother was not one to add fuel to a fire.
Angelica Winters had married Stephen Winters at the age of 23 and by the time she was 24 was pregnant with their only child, Leila. After giving birth, Stephen seemed to find less time for his wife and Angelica had always wondered if the once flat tummy, now saggy and stretch-marked, had something to do with his disinterest in her after giving birth. Mrs. Winters had wanted at least two children, but Stephen had gotten snipped on the sly a couple of years after Leila was born. They had almost divorced over that. In hindsight, Leila thought, it probably would have been best.
Leila didn’t mind being an only child. For a while she had envied Violet for having an older sibling. That was until the aforementioned older sibling had turned into a downright pain in the ass.
“Well, maybe it’ll be just you and me then tonight,” Leila said, feigning a chipper tone. “It’ll be like girls night in. We can watch crap reality TV and gossip like teens.”
“Or like two old biddies at Bingo Night,” her mother said as she smiled slightly. She was forever making jokes about feeling old and past her prime. Leila blamed her father for her mother’s downtrodden demeanor. If the man gave his wife half the attention he gave his secretaries, Angelia wouldn’t have been the quiet, almost submissive creature she was.
Though Leila got her spunk from her father, she did not carry too many of his other traits. In fact, the only other trait was probably their healthy sexual appetites. Whereas Leila’s could be seen as normal, her father’s was nothing short of two-timing and vile.
Ironically enough, her father was the one that always bothered her about settling down. Or at least dating one man for longer than a week or two. Her mother knew her better though, and knew deep down why Leila didn’t settle for just one man. With a father like her’s, who would?
“Did you pick out a dress for the wedding?” Leila settled on a safe topic of discussion.
“Yes, I did,” her mother told her, a true smile curving her lips finally. “I’ll show you after dinner and maybe we can catch up over a couple glasses of wine.”
Leila didn’t let her smile falter, but it was close. Her mother took solace with a few glasses of wine each night, hoping it would blot out the fact that her husband all but ignored her, for the most part.
“Sure, that sounds nice.” Horrendous. It sounded horrendous. She hated to see her mother drink away her feelings. It was always as painful as dealing with her own.
Leila described the bridesmaids dresses which were all the same color, though different in styles. Not surprisingly they were all purple, Violet’s favorite color.
Since Leila was Violet’s Maid of Honor, she had a few of her own tasks to deal with, the most pressing being the bachelorette party. Violet had begged that Leila not go too crazy and her friend was having a hard time dealing with even that small of a task.
“I mean, what’s the big deal if we go to a strip club?” Leila whined. “It’s not like Carl won’t probably have something of the same type for his bachelor party. It’s practically a foregone conclusion with Aiden as his best man.”
“I think Aiden will try to keep his wife happy and stick with something a little less risque,” her mother told her. “Constance might never let that man touch her again if he gets strippers and such.”
“We could just combine the two parties and have the groom and groomsmen be the strippers,” Leila said, smirking a little bit. “I don’t think any of the women would mind that.”
“It might turn into an orgy if you do that,” Angelica said, winking at her daughter.
“Ew, Mom!” The word orgy should never leave a mother’s mouth, Leila thought. And now that it had, Leila was pretty sure she was scarred for life.
“Oh, come on,” the older woman said with a scoff. “With the likes of Aiden, Ramon and that brother of Carl’s, you know the odds are in favor of sexual deviance.”
Though Leila silently agreed, it still bothered her. Mathilde and her own mother would be there and she couldn’t imagine her ogling the groom. Or the married groomsment. Since Carl wasn’t close to Stephen Winters, he would not be invited to the stag party, though he might try to con his way into getting an invite.
“You’re just afraid to stare at half-naked men in front of your mother,” Angelica told her wisely. “Though I wouldn’t mind one bit.”
The topic was throwing Leila off. What had sounded like a splendid idea was turning into a horror show of epic proportions.
“I’m thinking maybe we could do something else then,” Leila said, warily. “I am not all that keen on watching my mother lick the abs of a baby-oiled stud in only a speedo and a smile.”
“You’re no damned fun!” her mother bit out, smiling. “Why do all you young ladies get to have all the fun? The only time I ever see your father’s chest is when he’s changing and it’s not as pretty a sight as it used to be.”
Though Leila’s father wasn’t well-defined in the mucles department, he was not flabby either. Still, this conversation had gone from bad to worse. She didn’t want to think of her father in the same conversation as male strippers.
“I don’t need to hear about your sex life- or lack thereof, thank you very much,” Leila told he mother, wincing. This was so awkward.
Leila and Angelica were honest to a fault, though they had their boundaries. This conversation was skirting the line and Leila wanted back on solid ground. Pronto.
“Taste this sauce and see if you think it’s ready.”
Though her mother liked to complain about cooking, Leila knew it was one of her few true passions. When she had stopped working over twenty years ago, Mrs. Winters had taken to watching the cooking channel during her days instead of the soap operas many women indulged in. She had become quite an accomplished cook in that time, though her favorite things to make were always the meals that her daughter and husband liked best. Like chicken fettucine alfredo and lasagna. The Winters may have had money, but their culinary tastes were simple.
“Too runny,” Leila told her. She knew how the alfredo sauce should taste just as well as her mother and wasn’t afraid to stick her oar in when it came to seasoning and such. Leila had learned a lot about cooking from her mother, after all.
As they chatted in the kitchen, Leila’s mind began to wander. It had been over a week since Nate’s Coming Home party and she had yet to speak with Violet about it. Leila had amost been as irritated with her best friend as with Nate. Violet always wanted to include her in her family activities, even when Leila was uncomfortable doing so. She had a good mind to yell at her for making her have to endure a night with the prodigal son with the venomous tongue.
Leila’s face snapped to her mother’s and she was jolted from her thoughts. She honestly didn’t understand why she was bothering to dwell on Nate’s hurtful words, but she did. They gnawed at her mind until she was doubting herself and her way of life.
“Sorry, just thinking about work,” Leila told her mother, forging a small smile on her face with some difficulty.
“Geez, girl. I thought you had gone deaf I called you so many times.”
“Nope, still not deaf. Dumb maybe, but not deaf.”
“You are a smart, gorgeous girl.” Angelica smiled at her daughter and gave her a small kiss on the temple.
“What the fuck, Nate?” Violet bit out at her brother. “Why would you say some shit like that?”
Anthony couldn’t hold water, the bastard. He had come over to Chez Charles and had been chatting with Nate when Violet had come over to them to listen to what they were talking about. Her best friend’s name had caught her attention and being the good friend she was, she had to eavesdrop in on their conversation. She had heard Anthony and Nate describing the little battle that Nate had had with Leila at the dinner welcoming him home.
“Please- that woman has nerves of steel,” he told her. “She probably didn’t even think twice about what I said.” Not that he meant them. They had actually come out unbidden. Before he could think. For someone usually so cautious, Leila seemed to bring out the worst in him. She always had.
“You’re an asshole,” Violet stated, eyes narrowing on her brother. “You would think you’d have better sense than to be such a dick to my best friend.”
“You would think that you’d have better sense than to be best friends with... with someone like her.”
“She’s caring and generous and you’re too fucking stupid to realize that,” Violet told him. “You two may not get along, but that doesn’t mean she talks badly about you behind her back. She hasn’t even mentioned what you talked about to me. But you’re here gabbing away with Tony like a bunch of fucking teens in a locker room.”
Nate’s jaw twitched as he tried to think of a good comeback.
“It was water off a duck’s back,” Nate objected finally. “Didn’t even bother her.”
“Says you,” Violet told him, voice gritty with irritation. “And you know nothing about why she is the way she is. Don’t judge what you don’t know.”
“There’s never a good reason to sleep around the way she does,” Nate said, adamant.
“Again, says you,” she told him and started to walk away. If she didn’t leave now, she knew she’d end up with her knuckles buried in Nate’s jaw.
Nate was surprised to see the hurt look on his sister’s face. It was usually reserved for bouts of utter frustration and he couldn’t help himself when he called out to her.
“Enlighten me, Vi,” he told her. “What’s a good reason to see men as mere objects, tissues to be disposed of once you’ve use them up.”
“As if you deserve to know,” she tossed back at him, her stride not faltering as she walked away.
Looking back at Anthony, the other man shrugged his shoulders. Anthony knew the Winters, but he couldn’t say he knew them all that well. Their parents moved within the same circles, but only just. Still, it was irritating that Violet wouldn’t spill... whatever it was she was hiding about Leila. Maybe if he had known more, he wouldn’t have been so quick to be judge and jury.
Or maybe just being an asshole was something he thrived at.