For a host of reasons I’ve decided that, after this week, I’m only going to post new Sophie every Wednesday (forgive me!). But I do promise I will be consistent with that until I have an imminent release date. Today is also my son’s 18th Birthday! Not gonna lie, I have mixed feelings about that one. Where has my baby gone?! Ah well, I’ll deal with it Sophie style: with laughter, angst and Starbucks😋☕️
Remember, you can find all 4 chapters together of the upcoming Sophie book, Chaos, Desire & A Kick-Ass Cupcake here. But if you’re already caught up, enjoy chapter 4 here!:
“I want a man who will pour me champagne and distract me from my problems and girlfriends who will buy me shots while I wallow in them.”
–Dying to Laugh
Dena’s text came in while I was sitting at a stoplight contemplating how all those poems and songs about the heart are completely off base. Whether it’s the excited butterflies of love or the cramps of anxiety it’s clear that all our emotions live in or around our intestinal tract. It was going to take a bottle of Tums to deal with all the emotions currently swirling around down there. Nothing about my exchange with Anita or her husband before her was sitting well.
I picked up my phone and read the text noting for the first time the three missed calls from Anatoly. Dena’s text read:
Is everything okay?
I texted back: sort of yes, sort of no.
As the light turned green Dena called. “Are you okay or not?” she asked, skipping the hellos and filling my car with her Kathleen-Turneresque voice.
“I’m fine,” I reassured her. “Sorry I stood you up. But I mean, you will not believe what went down this afternoon!”
“You really think you can still surprise me with the messes you get yourself into?”
“It’s been some time since I’ve been in a mess.”
She paused for half a second before conceding in a more conciliatory tone, “Fair enough. Lunch might have been hard anyway. A new shipment came in a day early and one of my salespeople called in sick. But Mary Ann’s stopping by at six. We’re going to try to catch one of the Happy Hours around here. Join us. You can test the limits of my belief.”
The invitation sounded extraordinarily appealing. I had known Dena and her younger cousin, Mary Ann since high school. Mary Ann never failed to make me smile and Dena…well, I could always count on Dena to give it to me straight without ever judging me. I needed that because at the moment I wasn’t thinking straight and I was feeling a little judgmental of myself.
“Or do you have to smooth things over with Anatoly tonight?” she asked before I had even given her an answer to the last question.
“Smooth things over?” I repeated. “We’re fine.” I braked for a bicyclist who was trying to use the entire street as a bike lane. “We’re totally and completely, disconcertingly fine.”
“Oookay,” Dena replied. “Sounds—“
But her next few words were cut off with the beep of another incoming call. Anatoly.
“That’s him. I’ll be at Guilty Pleasures at 6.” I switched over as I maneuvered up one of San Francisco’s ninety-degree hills. “Anatoly? Oh my God, you’ll never believe this but London might actually have a stalker!”
“Anatoly?” I asked, a little more tentatively this time. “Is that you?”
“I called you three times,” he finally replied, his voice even lower than normal.
“Oh, I saw that, sorry. But I mean, I’m talking about a really evil stalker,” I clarified. “The kind that poisons someone and then sends him cryptically poetic texts. Of course it’s possible…maybe even probable that it was coincidence, but still, it was all so weird! Am I making sense?”
“No,” Anatoly said coolly. “Would you like to start now?”
“I was just walking London to his car and he collapsed into a coughing fit. Now the doctors are saying there’s fluid around his heart and lungs. It’s a mess.” As I reached the top of the hill I decided to turn on my headlights for extra visibility. The fog was so low and thick it was like driving through a cloud.
“Sounds like pneumonia,” Anatoly noted.
“Oh don’t be so mundane,” I retorted. “I told you, he got a text. It said, Confusion hath made its masterpiece.”
“Crazy people get crazy texts. I’m sorry the man is sick, but that was obvious the minute he walked into my office. And you should have called me back.”
“I told you, things got out of control.”
“None of this was yours to control to begin with,” he replied, more forcefully now. “You’re my lover and my girlfriend but you are not my business partner.”
I blanched, stopping a second too long at the stop sign. “You said you didn’t mind my assisting you on this case.”
“When exactly did I say that?”
“You implied it.” I looked to my left to see one of Google’s driverless cars.
“By raising your eyebrows!” It was disturbingly tempting to try to run the car and its passenger off the road just to see what it would do.
“My eyebrows don’t speak for me,” Anatoly said, slowly, “And I don’t insert myself into your work.”
“Don’t you?” I snapped. “I have missed infinite number of deadlines because of you.”
“You’ve missed two deadlines because of me,” Anatoly growled.
“People have tried to kill me because of you!” I continued. “That has interfered with my work.”
“I was shot because of you.”
“Please. It was a flesh wound.” I waved at a pedestrian, signaling that it was okay to cross in front of me.
“You didn’t pick up your phone!” he said again, raising his voice. Anatoly never raised his voice.
I tilted my head to the side. “Are you okay?”
“You walked out of my office arm in arm with a very troubled man and when I called you three times it went to voicemail. I called Dena but you didn’t tell her where you were going. You didn’t tell me where you were going. If you had been in my shoes what conclusion would you have jumped to?”
“You were worried about me?”
“Of course I was worried about you!”
“That’s so sweet!”
“Sophie,” he said, warningly.
“I’m sorry,” I added, quickly. “I got distracted, but I should have picked up.”
There was a long silence on the other end of the line. “You’re apologizing,” he said, carefully.
“I am,” I confirmed. “I know I haven’t done that in a while but if you think about it, we haven’t argued in a long time either.”
“Now, can we get back to the stalker?”
“London doesn’t have a stalker.” The edge crept back into his voice. “He’s obviously suffering from some untreated psychiatric condition and possibly from substance abuse.”
I chewed gently on my lower lip. I could tell Anatoly that I saw a Zipcar but he’d only point out that wasn’t exactly unusual in San Francisco. I could tell him about London’s wife and daughter but he would tell me his personal relationships weren’t any of my business and certainly didn’t support any suspicions that London’s health issues were brought on purposely by another. He’d be right about that too. Anatoly was being infuriatingly logical. “I may visit him in the hospital,” I said instead.
“Don’t. He might take your presence as validation of the merit of his convoluted story. The best case scenario would be for him to spend a few months in a psychiatric facility.”
“I think you have to attempt an assassination before the insurance companies will agree to keep you in one of those places for more than two weeks,” I pointed out. And yet maybe Anatoly was right. That might be the best outcome.
But it didn’t feel right.
“I still think I might visit him,” I pushed.
“It’s a bad plan, Sophie,” Anatoly sighed. “But if you have to, it should only be to give him back his wedding ring.”
“When he washed his hands it must have slipped off his finger. I just found it in the sink, halfway under the drain stopper. Since his wife is at the hospital maybe you can just give it to her and be done with it.”
I told the hospital I was his girlfriend and when his wife goes to his bedside he won’t be wearing his wedding ring. Fuck!
“Are you still at the office?” I asked, hopefully.
“Yes, but only for another hour. I have a potentially cheating husband I need to be tailing. I’m afraid I won’t be done until at least nine so you’ll have to get dinner without me.”
“No worries, I’m meeting Dena and Mary Ann for drinks tonight anyway. But I’m coming over right now for the ring, okay?”
“Fine. If you over do it on the drinks give me a call and I’ll pick you up.”
“Well in that case I’m doing shots,” I joked.
“Don’t get so drunk I’ll feel guilty about taking advantage of you later.”
I laughed and agreed to stay sober enough for consensual sex before ending the call and turning the car around. I had no idea how I was going to get that ring back to London, but I would figure out a way, a subtle way, so as not to make things worse for him. “I am going to help you, London,” I whispered as I drove down the narrow streets. “This time, for real.”