“Don’t run!” I shout to Meredith as I step out into the backyard.
Edith isn’t far behind me with the shotgun. She hands it off and I scan the area, trying to spy any animals that don’t belong. When the coast looks clear, I check the tree line, narrowing my eyes and listening for the sound of snapping twigs or shuffling paws.
“Where are they?” I snap.
I turn to where she’s pointing and spot my golden retriever standing a few yards away from her.
“You mean Alfred?”
He trots closer to her and she unleashes a barrage of Hollywood-style karate kicks and chops at the air between them. “No, no—don’t come any closer!”
Alfred doesn’t listen.
“No!” she demands. “I said NO! Sit!”
Edith laughs, yanks the shotgun out of my hold, and tromps back inside, mumbling something under her breath.
“It’s just a dog,” I point out.
Alfred hops back up and starts to stroll toward her again, tail wagging. He gets right to her and starts lapping at her legs in between flails.
“Nope—golden, as in retriever.”
She squats and her hands cover her face. “Please don’t eat me!”
I try to make myself feel bad for how amusing I find this situation. I really ought to do something, but Alfred is the most harmless animal in the world. He’s beloved by everyone…except, I guess, Meredith.
“Are you afraid of dogs?”
“No!” she declares emphatically while trying to wiggle away from Alfred’s licks.
“You sure seem like you are.”
“I’m afraid of strange shapeless forms charging toward me in the dark!” she explains before turning and pointing her finger at Alfred. “And you—can’t you take a hint?! I do not consent to this!”
I emit a short, high whistle and Alfred jerks to attention then trots toward me. Meredith coolly drops her hands and presses her hair back into its high ponytail. She’s trying to play it off like she didn’t just beg for her life, but when our gazes lock, I can tell she’s pissed.
“Did you order that attack? Is this more of your hazing?”
I try not to find her amusing. “I think you’ve spent too much time in that shack. Alfred was just happy to see you.”
“Well, he just—I just—wasn’t quite ready for that level of intimacy, but I forgive you, Alfred.”
I glance down to where Alfred is sitting politely at my feet. He is the picture of docile innocence, unlike the brunette Barbie standing a few yards away from me.
“My life just flashed before my eyes.”
“I bet that was a riveting little highlight reel.”
At that, her eyes narrow into two slits. It seems I’ve really pissed her off this time. Her arms cross over her chest. Her chin juts out. Her brows knit together. I should be shaking in my boots, but it feels like I’m staring at an angry kitten.
She takes a few steps closer to me to me and props her hands on her hips. That’s when I finally notice what she’s wearing: the same tight jeans as yesterday, but she’s traded in the white blouse for a t-shirt. It’s tied off in a knot at her midriff and the sleeves are rolled up as best as possible. It’s way too big for her, and well, it should be considering it’s mine.
“Where the hell did you get that shirt?”
Her eyes go wide and her cheeks flush, but she tries to cover the embarrassed reaction as best as possible.
“Edith gave it to me,” she says confidently.
“She had no right to do that.”
“It was in a bag of clothes meant for charity.”
Well that explains why all my t-shirts were missing this morning.
“Don’t you have enough fancy designer clothes to wear?”
“Not while I clean your toilet.”
It makes no sense. Her tone isn’t any softer than it was yesterday. I wonder if this is how she always acts—proud and pissy, even when she clearly has no right or reason to back it up. She’s the one who slept in a spider-infested shack, and yet she’s still walking around like she’s the Queen of England.
“I want my clothes back.”
She grits her teeth and reaches for the t-shirt as if to pull it over her head right here and now.
“You really want me to take the shirt off my back?”
I’m quiet. Her hands drop and there’s a tiny smirk at the corner of her lips. She’s pleased with herself for winning this round. Little does she know that if we were alone, I would have let her strip down as far as she wanted to go, but my ranch hands are starting to arrive for work and a few of them are watching our exchange from over by the barn. I’d have to replace the whole staff, because they’d never let me hear the end of it. If I’m just patient, she’ll break, and the problem will solve itself. She won’t be here for much longer.
Although, I’m less sure of that today than I was yesterday. Helen convinced me to hire Meredith with the assumption that she wouldn’t last very long, but here we are, day two, and I’m not getting the impression that Meredith is all that eager to head back to California.
In fact, she’s up early and dressed (in my clothes), seemingly ready to get to work. I decide to test the boundaries of her resolve.
You know those California tourism commercials? The ones where they show celebrities sunbathing or doing yoga or teeing off or parasailing or shopping on Rodeo Drive? That was my life—well, minus the parasailing. I don’t have many rules in life, but a nonnegotiable one is to never entrust my safety to a high schooler tying knots in a rope for minimum wage. I know, it’s a very specific rule.
Everything else in the commercial, though, was eerily similar. I had a maid, a gardener, and a house manager. I drove a pearl white Range Rover and carried the last name of a man who mattered. I was invited to glamorous parties and exclusive red carpet events. I schmoozed with movie stars (I would never name names, but let’s just say Jennifer Janiston actually does have incredible skin in person) and they hung on my every word, assuming if they cozied up to me, Andrew would want to work with them on his next project.
To the world, I had it all.
That’s how it works when you build a life from the outside in—it ends up hollow.
Strangely enough, Andrew and I were happy once, riiiiight in the very beginning. We were so happy, in fact, I was blind to the subtle changes taking place between us. When we first met, Andrew was a fledgling associate producer at a production company. He made okay money, worked semi-normal hours, and acted the part of the doting husband. We were that couple with a standing date night every Wednesday. Mexican food this week, babe? How about Italian, babe? He brought me flowers once a week. Yellow roses, my favorite! He was older, handsome, successful. Enough people, including my parents and Helen, told me he was the best thing that had ever happened to me, and I believed them.
The problems began once Andrew started the corporate climb. The more impressive his job title became, the more stress he carried on his shoulders. The execs were tough on him. All day he’d absorb their poison like a sponge, and at night, he’d wring it all out on me.
I still remember the first time he snapped. I’d just returned from a yoga class and was in the kitchen making us dinner when he walked in the door. My sweaty appearance set off something in him.
“You sit around all day and you can’t even look presentable when I come home?”
I stood frozen in place, absolutely shocked that he’d have the audacity to say something so hurtful. It wasn’t like him to act that way and he apologized right after, said he was out of line, it was the stress talking, but a few weeks later, it happened again. This time it was because I didn’t feel up to going out to a Hollywood party with him.
“Thousands of women would give anything to be invited, to be with me. You don’t know what you have anymore.”
When I called him out for being unreasonable, he went for blood.
“You might be a pretty face, but in this town, there are a million women who look just like you. You’re nothing without me—remember that.”