Authors: Margo Karasek
Copyright © 2012 by Malgorzata Karasek
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, distributed, transmitted, or stored in any printed or electronic form, using any means or method now known or hereafter devised, without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To my parents. Without your love and support, I wouldn’t be here.
Special thanks to Elizabeth Zack for her invaluable editing.
Thank you to Alexis Arendt for the proofreading.
Photography Copyright © 2012 by George Sierzputowski
Thank you to my wonderful husband—my go-to guy. Your contributions to this project are too long to list, but your patience and understanding have made this possible.
To the ladies of the Salon, you gals are the best.
And to Charles Salzberg and my fellow participants in the Writer’s Voice and New York Writer’s Workshop—without your push, I wouldn’t have written past the first chapter. Thanks.
At nine a.m. On a Saturday.
What the hell … ?
I burrowed my head in a pillow.
My mother. It had to be. Checking up on me after my night of partying. Calling to say she didn’t approve of sleeping late, even on weekends. She wasn’t going to mention that no well-bred young woman should be out until four in the morning, especially if she’s single and studying to be a lawyer.
Well too bad, Mom
, I yawned. I wasn’t going to answer. She could talk to the machine. Her monologue didn’t require my participation anyway.
The phone rang again. Its cry seeped into my brain and made me painfully aware of an oncoming headache.
God, for what sins are You punishing me with my mother’s early morning dose of parental concern?
Of course, if I didn’t pick up soon, my mother could possibly assume something horrible had happened to me on my one night out in more than a month, just as she’d predicted. Then she would spring into action, determined to find her baby. She would call my suitemate Lauren and drag
out of bed to come check on me.
That wouldn’t be good. Lauren had gotten in later than I had, and would probably be pissed about getting a wakeup call from someone else’s mother. And that’s assuming she even answered. If she didn’t, my mother would surely call the campus police to come and check on both of us. Then she would high-tail it into Manhattan after me. And I would have to live that embarrassment down for the rest of my law school career. I could just imagine the comments from my section mates.
“Hey, Tekla, how old are you that your
has to know your every move?”
, I groaned as I imagined their sneering faces—law students could be so vicious. I bolted up in bed despite the headache—it had arrived—and lunged for the phone, trying to avert social catastrophe.
Too late. The room went momentarily silent. Then the machine clicked to life. I stood suspended over it, uncertain what to do, my hand on the phone’s receiver as a female voice filled the quiet.
“Tekla? Tekla, this is Lisa.”
My hand dropped.
Thank you, God.
It wasn’t my mother. I contemplated returning to bed. It was early, and I had no classes. No work either. I could nap at least two more hours. And my feet were cold. Actually, now that I noticed, goose bumps dotted my entire body. Clearly, the tank top and shorts I had worn to bed were inappropriate for the cool New York fall weather.
My bed looked so warmly inviting. But the short sprint and the possibility of my mother had me wide-awake, so I stayed where I was.
“You know, Lisa Williams, Mr. Lamont’s assistant.”
I ran my tongue around my mouth. I needed a toothbrush. Bad. But later. Because I sure as hell knew Lisa. She was my employer’s current personal assistant, his children’s former nanny, and probably his latest mistress. She had managed to land a job at Mr. Lamont’s billion-dollar firm by first taking care of his two children while his wife trotted around the globe snapping pictures for glossy fashion magazines and schmoozing with celebrities.
Lisa was one of my least favorite people. Ever since I started working at the Lamont household as the children’s tutor she made my few hours there miserable with her nitpicking. So why the hell was she calling me at nine on a Saturday?
“Listen, you have to call me back as soon as possible. It’s very important. Gemma is missing and no one can find her.”
I frowned. How could Gemma, my student, be missing when I just saw her this Friday? I had worked on her biology homework while she told me all about her plans to go to her friend’s birthday party that night. Where would she be, if not at said friend’s house? And how could no one find a fourteen-year-old glued to her cell phone? I shook my head.
All you have to do, stupid, is call her instead of me.
“Call me back at the house. Please. Stephen and I are really worried.”
That’s “Mr. Lamont” to you, missy.
I walked away from the telephone towards the bathroom. If I couldn’t sleep, I could at least enjoy a long, hot shower. Still, I left the door open to hear the rest of the message. I might not have liked Lisa, but Gemma was okay.
“Monique’s on a shoot in Paris, but she’ll be flying to New York if we don’t find her soon.”
And wouldn’t that mess up your weekend plans: the wife coming home sooner than expected.
I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and examined the night’s damage. Dark circles made me look as if I had lost a round to a street brawler. Not that I hadn’t looked worse before. Law students weren’t known for their well-rested complexions. I turned away from the mirror and headed for the toilet. My bladder demanded immediate attention.
“Look, I’m embarrassed to say this, but it seems no one has Gemma’s new cell phone number. We were hoping maybe you do.”
I stopped dead in my tracks. She had to be kidding. Gemma had had that phone for more than a week! Her father had given it to her in apology for spoiling her mother-daughter night out, the one weekend in months that Monique Lamont had managed to find her way back to New York and her children. It had to be registered in Mr. Lamont’s name, then; why wouldn’t he have access to the number?
Still, I abandoned my shower and walked back to the phone, picking up my day planner along the way. Gemma’s cell number was prominently scrolled in her teenage script on the last page. She had insisted on writing it there herself.
“Please call and let us know if you do. Thanks.”
The machine clicked off. I stared at it. Gemma was missing, and her own father didn’t know her number.
The rich never ceased to amaze.
I dialed the Lamont home, and grumbled when Lisa hung up on me after I gave her Gemma’s number along with the name of the birthday friend.
I returned the receiver to its cradle and got on my knees to hunt for a pair of socks under the bed. My feet couldn’t stand the cold much longer. After I found socks and a dirty sweatshirt, I made coffee.
Gemma is not my problem
, I reassured myself as the aroma of coffee beans soothed my temper and helped the headache. Her grades were, but she was not. I only had to meet with her as her tutor for an hour a day on school nights, and Saturday morning calls didn’t figure in the agreement. No sense letting her issues spoil my weekend.
I had enough trouble dealing with the girl Monday through Friday anyhow; she was a difficult and lazy student at best. Only the $150 per hour her father dished out for my private tutoring made her behavior palatable. I sipped the coffee and took a second cup with me to the bathroom, where I soaked in the shower until my skin turned pink and I forgot all about mothers and unpleasant mistresses and misplaced teenagers.
But as I walked back to my room in search of clean clothing—the sweatshirt reeked of far too many study nights—the telephone rang again.
Oh, please, Lord, let it be my mother.
I barely recognized the whisper on the other end.
I plopped on my bed. No, no, no. This was not happening. Why did she have to call me?
Call your parents, or Lisa—anyone else but me. I don’t have time for this.
“Tekla? Are you there?”
I was tempted to pretend the phone had gone dead. It was Saturday and I was off duty. Instead, I sprawled on my back and stared at the ceiling. She was hardly more than a little girl, after all, and probably needed help.
“Yes,” I finally said.
“Tekla, I think I screwed up.”
No shit, Sherlock.
I closed my eyes and prepared for the inevitable teenage drama to unfold. I had law books to read, laundry to do, and cases to brief, but those would all have to wait.
“Where are you?” I asked.
“Pam?” I opened one eye and squinted. The name didn’t register. “I thought you were going to Kelly’s party. What happened?”
I got off my bed and took the telephone with me into the dorm’s kitchenette. I needed another cup of coffee. Fast.
“I was, but Pam’s parents went to the country for the weekend, and she was home alone. We thought it would be nice to have pre-party drinks at her house.”
Pre-party drinks? Good God, the girl was only fourteen.
“What exactly did you drink?”
I poured a fourth cup and wondered if the caffeine would permanently damage my stomach lining. Four cups before breakfast couldn’t be healthy.
“I don’t know. Everything. Pam’s parents left the liquor cabinet open. We thought it would be cool to get a taste from all the different bottles. I don’t really remember what happened after the fifth drink.”
I gulped half of my coffee in one swig. My throat burned.
More than five alcoholic drinks? At her age? Couldn’t that kill a fourteen-year-old, or at least destroy all her remaining brain cells?
“Are you all right?” I breathed out in total fear.
“Not really,” she said. “I’m throwing up, a lot. And Pam is still passed out. I tried to wake her, so I dragged her into the shower. She’s sleeping in the tub, even though I put the water on. I don’t know what to do.”
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. They both probably had alcohol poisoning, and I was no medical student to be handing out advice.
“Is Pam throwing up?” I asked.
“She was,” Gemma wailed, “but now she’s just sleeping.”
Could the girl have choked on her own vomit?
“Is she breathing?” I managed to get out.
“Are you saying she’s dead?” Gemma screeched into my ear. “Oh my God, I killed her, and I’m going to jail!”
Her hysterics snapped me out of my own rising panic. Someone had to be the adult here.
“Gemma, stop it,” I yelled into the phone. “Calm down, and tell me if you put her down on her back.”
“I did,” she sobbed, “but she rolled herself over on her side. Should I roll her back?”
“No! If she’s on her side then she’s probably okay.”
Right? Wouldn’t the vomit have had somewhere to go other than the girl’s esophagus?
I paced from the kitchenette to my room and back again.
“Listen, Gemma, you have to call 911 first, and then Pam’s parents to let them know what happened. They need to come back immediately. Do you know their number in the country?”
“Yes. I’ve called Pam there before.”
“Good,” I said, lowering my voice to almost a whisper. “And Gemma, you have to call your father. He’s been looking for you.”
“I know. Lisa called me. But I didn’t tell her where I was ‘cause she was just yelling. And she told me
is coming home. That she had to cancel the
shoot all because of me. Tekla, that shoot was very important. I’m going to be in so much trouble! Can you please come and get me and take me home? I swear, Daddy’ll pay you twice as much as normal; just come and get me so I don’t have to go home alone. Please. No one else will bother listening to
No one else understands.”