DON’T TURN AROUND
Start from Chapter 1 at A Little Book Problem.
Or find Chapter 13 at Shaz’s Book Blog.
TWO YEARS EARLIER
The cut and scrape of silverware on good china. The tinkling of champagne glasses clinking together in a toast. The murmur of polite conversation, gentle as a babbling brook.
The thrum of a headache pressing against her sinuses. The nipped-in waist of her dress digging into her rib cage. The bile rising in her throat.
“Excuse me,” Rebecca whispered as she pushed back from the table. Patrick barely noticed: he was elbow-deep in conversation with a major donor, some oil impresario whose name she’d already forgotten. The man’s wife— Sara, she thought, or maybe it was Tara— gave her a tight smile and went back to staring at her plate of langoustines. She seemed to have taken an immediate dislike to Rebecca, or maybe she was just exhausted by the thought of another evening of making small talk while the men flexed their muscles and did their deals. Rebecca could sympathize.
She asked a passing waiter for directions to the bathroom, and he pointed to a door across the ballroom. She plucked her way through the tables, pleasant smile slapped on her face, and hoped she’d make it before she passed out.
The bathroom was one of those strangely formal affairs, complete with velveteen armchairs and vanity mirrors lined with lightbulbs, like something out of a Marilyn Monroe film. The designer had misjudged his audience. None of the women frequenting this bathroom wanted to inspect their faces under harsh incandescents.
There were only three stalls, so the line felt interminable. The women smiled at one another and then tucked in their chin and stared at the floor or their phones. No one wanted to make conversation while waiting for the bathroom. It was too personal, too humiliating. Besides, there was enough conversation waiting for them back in the ballroom. This was meant to be an escape.
Rebecca leaned against the wall while she waited, checking first to make sure it wouldn’t smudge her dress. Another pastel number, high- necked and below-the-knee, and sprigged with spring flowers even though it was February. Rich had sent it over earlier, along with a note reminding her to wear hose. She’d rolled her eyes but had gone to her underwear drawer and double-checked that she had a pair without a run.
Four months. He’d been a congressman for four months. A minute and a lifetime. Long enough for her to have gotten the hang of being a politician’s wife, especially if you factored in the months of campaigning. Some things were easier. She knew how to navigate her way through an interview now, and where to stand onstage so that she was visible but didn’t overshadow Patrick. She had learned how to navigate these fund- raising dinners, even if they left her hollowed out with exhaustion.
Tonight was different, though. Tonight she’d felt exhausted before setting foot in the car. Her head was pounding. The bathroom smelled of intermingled perfumes and bleach and potpourri, and she could feel the bile rising in her throat again, her stomach cramping, something inside her bucking and twisting.
A gray-haired woman in a twinset emerged from a stall, and Rebecca pushed past the line of women and slammed the door behind her. She didn’t have time to twist the lock before she was on her knees, retching up the buttered dinner roll and the sparkling water and the half a langoustine she’d managed to choke down. Tears stung her eyes.
There was a knock on the door. “Are you all right? Can I get you something?”
“I’m fine,” she bleated, just before her stomach revolted again. She was spitting up bile now, nothing more. She pressed her forehead against the cool porcelain.
Another knock. “Would you like me to get your husband?”
“No, thank you.” She wondered briefly how they would know which husband belonged to her, but of course, all of them knew about her and Patrick. They had watched him onstage barely a half an hour ago. “My beautiful wife,” he had said, pointing toward her, and they had joined in the polite applause while she practiced her demure smile.
Humiliation swept through her like a wildfire. She needed to get up off the floor and get cleaned up and go back out there before the news spread. As quietly as she could, she spat one last time in the bowl and then flushed. She pulled herself up and wiped the sweat off her brow and straightened the neckline of her dress and sailed out of the stall as gracefully as she could. “I’m sorry about that,” she murmured apologetically. “There’s a stomach bug going around. I must have picked it up.”
The women cooed sympathetically as she dabbed water to her wrists and temples, but she could feel their eyes on her in the mirror, watching, weighing her up. She could feel the questions pressing inside them. Had they seen the waiter refill her wineglass more than once? Had she seemed unsteady on her feet or glassy-eyed? Worse: had the langoustines been bad? They had eaten them, too— did the same fate await them?
Rebecca checked her reflection in the mirror and tucked a stray hair back into place. She looked pale but not too bad. One of the women walked up to her and handed her a mint. “Your breath, dear,” she said, and Rebecca flushed with embarrassment but accepted it gratefully.
When she got back to the table, Patrick was watching her, eyes anxious. “You okay?” he whispered as she slid in beside him.
“Fine,” she said brightly. “Just a little upset stomach.”
But a thought had occurred to her on her walk back from the bathroom, and she was already doing the mental math.
Her mother had told her once that the term “morning sickness” was a misnomer. “When I was pregnant with you, it was more like all-the-damn-time sickness. I couldn’t keep down anything but saltine crackers for the first three months.”
Six weeks on Sunday. Usually, she was like clockwork.
She stared into the distance as the waiter whisked away her plate.
Check out the last stop on the tour at On the Shelf Book Blog from tomorrow.