Authors: Francine Pascal
Mme Dechamps placed a bowl of steaming bouillabaisse in front of Elizabeth in Bruce's formal dining room.
Since there was no red meat in it, it was actually something she could eat, and yet ironically, she had no appetite.
“Bon appÃ©tit!” Mme Dechamps sang, then retreated to the kitchen.
Elizabeth could feel Bruce's gaze on her as she pushed mussels and bass listlessly around her bowl.
“Did you want to go out?” Bruce asked. “I could ask her to wrap this up for later. We could try.”
Elizabeth shook her head.
It wasn't likely that the two of them could make a clean getaway with the paparazzi lining up outside his gate, and they both knew it. Not that Elizabeth minded a quiet night in, but the air was thick with questions she needed to ask Bruce. Yet she was afraid of the answers he'd give.
“Elizabeth. Is something wrong?”
“I interviewed the bartender,” Elizabeth said, still staring at the bouillabaisse. “He said you'd had more than one drink.”
“I'm pretty sure it was one,” Bruce said. He paused as if remembering.
Elizabeth didn't like the uncertainty in Bruce's voice. Why did it seem like his story was shifting? Or was she just imagining that?
“He said you were hitting on this girl,” Elizabeth said, and then instantly tried to talk herself out of it. “But then, bartenders see pickups all the time. They probably assume all conversations between strangers are pickups.”
“Impossible,” Bruce said, sounding firm and certain again. “The girl was obviously frantic. And I suggested she call a shelter. There wasn't anything sexual about it.”
“To you, maybe. And you still aren't certain how many drinks you had.”
“Okay, I wouldn't swearâ¦”
“And you were dizzy.”
“From the food poisoning,” Bruce said, raising his voice a little.
“Okay, so you weren't feeling quite yourself,” Elizabeth said. “And you were just being friendly and she misinterpreted.”
“No, it wasn't that way at all. She was upset. I was just trying to help.”
Elizabeth opened her mouth to tell him she'd interviewed the girl, but something stopped her. Somehow, she knew, if she told Bruce, he'd insist on talking to Robin or on releasing her name to the public. She wasn't ready to do that to Robin. Not yet. But she still needed to know about some of the things she'd said.
“You were overheard talking about me that night.” Elizabeth glanced down at her uneaten dinner.
“You?” Bruce said. “Why on earth would I be talking about you with this girl?”
“You supposedly said I wasâ¦” Elizabeth swallowed. She couldn't quite get out the words
boring in bed.
“You weren't happy with me.”
“Elizabeth.” Bruce turned three different shades of red. Was he angry? Or was he just trying to figure out how to lie his way out of being caught? Elizabeth couldn't help remembering the Bruce Patman of high school: the arrogant, entitled Bruce who believed he could get away with anything. “You know me. Do you really think I'd talk about you to a stranger? Where are you getting this stuff?”
Elizabeth glanced up at him, hoping she'd regain her trust and confidence in the new Bruce, the thoughtful and caring man who wasn't an arrogant kid anymore. That was the Bruce who had helped her through the most difficult period in her life, after Todd left her for Jessica.
All she wanted was to believe him. Why was she having such trouble?
“Maybe because of the alcohol and being dizzy you don't remember what you said,” Elizabeth said. She wanted an excuse. If he admitted to drinking, maybe this would all make sense.
“No.” Bruce shook his head.
“The bartender was sure he'd served you more than one drink.”
“Well, he's wrong.” Bruce put down his spoon and it landed with a tight
in his bowl. “You don't believe me.”
His voice sounded hard like steel and there was a flash of anger in his eyes. For a second, Elizabeth tensed, remembering a flash from the past.
It had been after she'd been in that motorcycle accident in high school. She'd had a concussion so severe it put her into a temporary coma. A few weeks after the accident, she'd been at the Patman's beach house, and Bruce had been plying her with wine. She'd been flirty with him at the time, she remembered, which, in high school, since she didn't like him then, was proof of just how much the concussion had affected her.
At some point, Elizabeth wanted to leave. She remembered that. But then Bruce had grabbed her and forced her to kiss him. His lips had been so rough and his hands tight on her shoulders.
She didn't remember his words, only the fear she felt.
Even now she could feel the chill that had gone down her spine. Was he threatening her then?
She shook her head. No. Was that even right? She couldn't be remembering that right. She'd had the concussion and hadn't felt like herself. Plus, she'd just been a kidâthey were both kids thenâand she'd been making out with him and they were drinking wine. Too much wine.
Besides, that was the old Bruce. This was the new. The new Bruce had already apologized for being a jerk in high school, blaming it on being shortsighted and immature. The new Bruce was responsible and caring and would never do anything like that. Right?
But now, looking at the simmering anger in his eyes, Elizabeth couldn't be completely sure. Doubt blossomed in her brain, taking root like a stubborn weed, choking out the trust she thought she had with Bruce.
“No, I do, Bruce. I believe you.” She tried to meet his eyes, but she couldn't quite. Elizabeth truly wasn't sure she did, after all.
The next day, early in the morning, before Bruce was awake, Elizabeth snuck out. She wanted to talk to Robin before she was due at work. Somehow, she knew she was missing something. If she could just ask Robin the right questions, she could find out the truth.
On the way over, she turned up news radio and heard another report about Bruce. Jessica's PR campaign was working like a charm. Two more celebrities had come out in favor of him, both of them women. He was fast becoming a more popular cause than climate change.
“Frankly, Bruce is the most honest, forthright, and socially responsible person I know,” said one of the actresses on the radio. Elizabeth remembered her for being a big fund-raiser for the American Theatre Wing. “I do think that once all the facts come out, he'll be exonerated. It's a shame that some people will do anything for a little fame or money.”
Elizabeth leaned forward and switched off the radio. She should've been cheering the woman on, grateful for the support for Bruce, and yet she just felt a little nauseous.
She turned down Robin's street and pulled into a nearby space.
When Elizabeth knocked on the door, it took a few minutes for Robin to answer. She saw movement by the front curtain, as if the girl was peering out. She heard two bolts slide open and then Robin was at the door.
“Thank God it's you, Laura,” she said, relief visible on her face. Elizabeth felt a pang of guilt about continuing the lie that she was Laura Christer, a counselor from Robin's church. But if Robin had known Elizabeth's true identity, she would have never opened her doorâmuch less talked. “Hurry. Come inside.”
Robin ushered Elizabeth in and then glanced out the door right and left, as if double-checking to see if Elizabeth had been followed. Inside, the lower level of her town house was as shabby as Elizabeth remembered, and yet now it seemed even more in disarray. There were takeout containers littering the table and even an empty pizza box on the floor. Robin herself wore a pair of stained yoga pants and a worn sweatshirt, her hair up in a hasty knot on top of her head. She looked like she hadn't left her place in days. It had the feel of a bunker.
The television was tuned to the news in her living room. Another actressâan Oscar winnerâsat talking on some morning show.
“I know the truth will come out,” she was saying. “I've known Bruce Patman a long time. I know he's innocent.”
Robin looked at the television and then back at Elizabeth.
“Everyone thinks I'm a liar,” she said, her eyes wide and bright, tears visible in them. “Even Oscar-winning actresses. Nobody is going to believe me now. They all just think I'm an opportunist. Andâ¦Lauraâ¦I'm so scared. I'm starting to get phone calls.”
“What kind of calls?”
“Reporters, I think. I'm not sure. They keep hanging up. I think they've found me.”
Elizabeth wondered if Andy, her colleague at the
who was officially covering Bruce's story, had dug up Robin's name. After all, Elizabeth had found her. Andy could, too. Except a reporter would want to
to her. Still, obviously
had found her. The question was who?
“It's okay, Robin. We'll figure something out.”
“I justâ¦I don't know what to do, Laura. I haven't left my house in days. I'm justâ¦I'm scared. Really scared. If reporters find me, then maybe Mr. Patman, will, too. And after what he didâ¦”
Tears brimmed in her eyes and then slid down Robin's cheeks. She buried her face in her hands. Almost without thinking, Elizabeth laid a comforting arm on her shoulders. Instantly, Robin convulsed in sobs.
“It's okay. It will be okay.” Elizabeth's heart broke for this young girl who was so clearly frightened. If she was telling the truth, she was victimized not just once with the near rape but again with the public smear campaign. Elizabeth gave herself a mental shake. If she believed this girl, that meant Bruce was guilty.
And yetâ¦Robin seemed so sincere. How do you fake tears like that? And the fear in her eyes was real. Elizabeth knew that. And she seemed so shaky.
Standing in the girl's shabby living room, Elizabeth knew she wouldn't be able to decide right now. Seeing Robin only brought up more questions than answers. She needed time to think. But she also knew she had to protect Robin. From everyone. And that meant Bruce, too.
Then she remembered the for-rent sign in front of a house near Robin's church. She had enough money to cover the girl's rent for a few months, and if she used her own name on the lease, no one would find her.
“I have an idea,” she told Robin. “How do you feel about moving?”
Lila Fowler had been plucked, waxed, and spray-tanned to perfection. Her favorite stylist had worked her usual magic with makeup and hair, and she looked killer in her new Jason Wu micromini, so short that she was pretty sure she couldn't sit down without giving away the show. Her sparkling, platform Jimmy Choo stilettos were sky-high, and everything about her outfit screamed sex.
She looked good enough to eat, and she knew it.
Getting past security at the stadium had been a breeze. Her name was still on the players' private guest list. She took it as a good sign that Ken hadn't yet thought to strike her name. It wasn't exactly an offer of reconciliation, but Lila chose to see it that way.
She waited outside the men's locker room in her dangerously high heels, feeling a bit overdressed in the concrete-encased hallway leading to the showers. She was also starting to feel a tad bit nervous. The longer she stood outside the locker room, the more she started to doubt her plan. What if Ken left by a different door? Was there another door to the locker room? Honestly, she couldn't remember. Lila had only ever gone to two other games before. She'd barely taken an interest in his career before now, much less the layout of the stadium.
Now she began to worry that maybe there was another exit on the other side, closer to the parking lot. Every so often, a coach or player would pass by and give her the eye. Even the married ones couldn't quite keep their eyes off her.
“Can I get you something, Mrs. Matthews?” asked a red-faced intern who was probably in college but looked like he was a freshman in high school. His face burned bright red and he couldn't look Lila in the face. His eyes landed in a fixed position about six inches lower.
“No, I'm fineâ¦. Actually, it is drafty out here. Do you think I could go in and look for my husband?”
“Actually, women who don't have press credentials aren't allowedâ¦”
Lila batted her eyelashes and arched her back a little. That was all it took. The intern swung the door open and Lila walked into the locker room that smelled vaguely of soap, dirty uniforms, and man sweat. Men in various states of undress, more than a few completely naked, walked past her.
Nearly all of them were in prime physical condition. Washboard abs jumped out at her from every direction, at least among the non-linemen. Lila tried to focus and look for Ken, but it was a little like trying to find a zebra in a herd. Everywhere she looked, she saw a chest that looked like hisâbroad and packed with muscle.
The men in the locker room took note of her appearance, too, and followed her with their eyes. Lila caught a glimpse of her reflection in a nearby mirror, along with those of the men who were staring at her as she walked, and she got a new boost of confidence. She could have any man in this locker room, and she wanted Ken. Ergo, he would be hers.
Then she saw him. He was fully dressed in flat-front khakis and a crisp Oxford shirt, looking his adorable, puppy-dog self, his hair still damp from the shower. He had a ring of reporters around him, the bright lights of the cameras in his face, and yet he handled them with ease.
Lila watched, realizing she'd forgotten how good Ken was on camera, how he shared credit with his teammates naturally and how he always came across as the affable, approachable Mr. All-American. He ended the impromptu press conference with a self-deprecating joke, and the reporters laughed. He smiled good-naturedly, then met Lila's gaze from across the room. His smile disappeared and his eyes turned hard.
“Okay, well, that's enough for today,” he said to the reporters, who seemed satisfied with what they had. Ken shut his locker and turned his back on her.
“Ken!” Lila called. “Ken, wait!” But Ken was already on the move. Lila knew Ken heard her, and yet he didn't even bother to turn around. He slung his black duffel bag over one shoulder and kept walking. She began moving in his direction, but one of the reporters stepped in front of her, halting her progress.
“Lila Matthews?” he asked. He was hardly taller than she was, but he had a bright white smile and friendly eyes. She'd seen him on one of the networks, but she couldn't remember which one. “It is you! Guys, we have a real celebrity here. This is the beautiful Lila Fowler Matthews from
. Heyâwould you say a few quick words for your fans?”
A cameraman appeared by the reporter's side and the lens fixed on her. For a second, Lila forgot all about Ken. She couldn't help it. The cameraâand what it promisedâwas too hypnotic.
It was one thing to flirt with any of the half-naked guys in the locker room. She could resist them. But the camera? That was a whole other story.
Two other cameras appeared before her. She had to say something.
“Well, it's been
a treat to be on the show,” she began. She arched her back a little and flipped her newly dark, flat-ironed hair off one shoulder.
“We hear there might be trouble between you and Ken. Any truth to that?”
“No, we're working things out,” Lila said as she stood up a little bit straighter. No sooner had the words popped out of her mouth than she realized she'd been sidetracked from her mission. She glanced around the locker room but saw Ken had already made it to the exit. She saw him walk straight through the door.
For a second, she couldn't decide: Stay and flirt with the cameras or go after her husband. Eventually, Ken won out. But it was a close call.
“Sorry, guys. Gotta go,” she said as she shimmied from them and tottered away on her sky-high heels. She pushed open the heavy metal door and found herself in the parking lot bathed in the pink and orange glow of the recent sunset. She found Ken standing by his car, a brand-new black Porsche 911 convertible.
But he wasn't alone. Ashley Morgan, unabashed husband-stealer and her costar from
stood next to him. Scratch that. She wasn't so much standing as she was hanging on him. Literally. She had a hand on his forearm and her chest was brushing against his elbow. If he took a step backward, she would fall on her face.
Yet Ken didn't seem to mind. In fact, he flashed his sweet, aw-shucks smile. As much as Lila hated to admit it, Ashley looked good. She had squeezed her ample, Kim Kardashianesque figure into a very tight yet surprisingly flattering Stella McCartney mini. She flicked a long blond hair extension off her shoulder, and Lila felt a twinge of jealousy. That's how she knew that Ashley might actually be some serious competition.
Not that Lila had ever let a little thing like a rival get in the way of winning before. She stood up a little straighter and walked with purpose across the parking lot, her stilettos clacking with determination against the asphalt.
“Ken,” she purred as she squeezed herself in between her husband and Ashley, all but shoving Ashley out of the way. Ashley stumbled backward and let out a small squeal of protest. “We need to talk.”
“No, we don't,” Ken said, his eyes growing hard again as he looked at her. “We have nothing to talk about, Lila.”
“But, Kenâ¦” Lila arched her back in a move that she knew put her cleavage in the most mouthwatering light, and pursed her lips in a kissable pout. Lila knew Ken couldn't resist her sexy sad face. At least, he never had before.
Ken waved a hand in front of her, dismissing both her sexy sad face and her sexyâ¦everything.
Lila. I told you that. I'm done trying to make you happy when you don't care about me at all. I'm done bending over backward trying to please you. What do I get for it? Insults on national television. I swear, Lila, you're so selfish, you can't even see the truth right in front of your face. I'm done
The words cut through Lila like a cold wind. Beside her, she could feel Ashley gloating, which made this situation a thousand times worse. Lila's face burned with humiliation and shame for being rejected by Ken, and even worse, having it witnessed by Ashley.
Lila stood, frozen to the spot, speechless. She couldn't figure out why this wasn't working and why Ken didn't seem to want her at all. It was as if someone had changed the locks on her house without telling her. Why didn't her old keys work?
“Come on, Ashley,” Ken said, ignoring Lila's flushed face as she stood as still as a statue and watched Ashley curl her arm around Ken's. He led her to the passenger-side door, and she showed most of her leg and nearly everything else as she slid into the front seat.
As Ken came around, Lila found her voice again. This time on a different tack. An unusual one for Lila.
“I don't want this to be over, Ken.” It was true enough to take her by surprise. But his answer was even more shocking.
“Well, I do.” Ken turned, slipped into the driver's seat, and slammed his car door. Seconds later, he backed out of the parking space, spun the car around, and drove swiftly away from her.
Lila watched his taillights flicker and decided so much for honesty. It never was her style. She needed to shift gears. She needed a strong plan B that would get him back, even if she had to play dirty.
She glanced around the parking lot and saw one of the other players and his wife and kids climbing into a silver Cadillac Escalade. The wife carried a telltale belly bump. Clearly baby number three was on the way.
That was it, Lila thought. Her plan B.
She waited until the perfect moment later that evening, right in the middle of an on-camera cocktail party at fellow
star Devone Waters's house. Lila waited until all the housewives had arrivedâall but Ashley, who was most likely with Ken at that very momentâbefore she announced the news.
As Devone offered her a glass of wine, Lila demurely refused and asked for club soda. Then she positioned herself in the center of the living room, at the best possible camera angle, and turned to Devone, whom she knew had three kids already. Devone would be the first one on her side.
“Devone,” she said, her voice quavering just a little. “Marina,” she added, glancing at the other Housewife. “I need help.” She grasped both their hands and held them. That would look particularly good on camera, she knew. Devone and Marina exchanged surprised glances.
Lila sniffed, letting the perfect tear form on her eyelash before it dropped down her cheek.
“Lila! What's wrong?” gushed Devone, taken aback by Lila Fowler Matthews's tears. Lila usually shouted; she never cried.
“K-Ken left me for Ashley.” She waited for the surprised intakes of breath all around. Even some of the camera crew appeared surprised by the dramatic turn of events.
“Oh, Lila, I'm so sorry,” said Devone.
“But that's not all.” Lila inhaled deeply, building the drama. She released Marina's hand to put her own delicately on her lower belly.
“I'm pregnant,” she said. She could feel the camera lenses zoom in on her, and she could also sense across the room a subtle but substantial shift in feeling. It was the same shift that would no doubt happen nationwide as soon as this episode aired.
Lila wasn't going to be Public Enemy/Bitch #1 anymore.
Now it was Ashley's turn.