There's a dude in Denmark who can hold his breath for twenty-two minutes, but apparently that takes practice because Brie's been underwater for less than one and she could really use some air. When she resurfaces, Danny is yelling at his mother. "You said your flight landed at nine tonight! You could have warned me you were coming home early."
Brie pokes her head up to spy a stack of towels out of reach near their feet. "Quibbley," she whispers to the dog. Quibbley comes wagging over and begins to lick her face. She looks into his big brown, non-judgmental eyes and says, "Fetch me a towel. Do you know what towels are?"
The dog sits, panting his hot happy breath in her face.
"Well I'm sorry," Dolores is saying. "I wasn't aware I had to announce my arrival at my own house."
Brie pulls her elbows up onto the lip of the pool. There's no use in hiding.
"Well, this is Brie," Danny says, gesturing down at her. "I'm extremely disappointed this is how you had to meet her."
Brie waves at Dolores. "We've met before. At my work. You might not recognize me, I was wearing clothes." She waits for some charitable levity, but the joke bombs. "Can someone please hand me a towel?"
Dolores steps back, unwilling to participate, while Quibbley licks the pool water from Brie's arms. "Quibbley, off!" Dolores shouts, but the dog has rolled onto his back with his nose buried under Brie's chin, lapping lovingly at her. Danny lays a towel down beside Brie and she tries to meet his eyes with warmth, but he looks away.
"Well I suppose I'll give you your privacy," his mother says. "Danny, join me in the house."
He tells her that he'll be there in a minute, and sits with his back to Brie as she exits the pool in the buff. She feels like she is being made to feel guilty on account of her nakedness, as if he is her victim, not her accomplice. She wraps herself in the towel and goes to stand beside him, holding up her phone to watch the water drain away. "Uh oh, our sex tape just got leaked."
She cranes her neck to see his face. "I'm sorry that just happened," she says. "I know it sucked for you, but it sucked for me, too. I'm horrendously embarrassed. Don't think I'm not."
Danny looks up. "I know, I'm sorry. I just... it's like she did it on purpose. She knew you were staying here with me. I told her."
Brie sits down next to him. "What would you do if you accidentally walked in on your adult son in the midst of passion?"
Danny touches his toe to hers. "I'd turn around and hope he didn't see me."
"Exactly," she says. "It was a power play, and it's working. Look, I'm embarrassed, of course I am, but I'm not ashamed. I'm thirty-nine years old, I'm not a teenager and neither are you. If you look at things with a clear head you'll see that your mother's at fault here. She chose to make a scene."
Brie catches him wince, and she can see that she must tread lightly. He is not unconditionally on her team. He is seeing things through his mother's eyes right now, every byte of data he has stored on Brie available for scrutiny, starting with their first encounter in the parking garage. Brie feels squashed and smeared across the windshield. Now she is seeing herself through Danny's eyes seeing her through his mother's. You see how that happens? One minute you are centered in your own being and the next your confidence is corrupted by someone you don't even know. It's a trail of discontent and selfishness that begins well beyond your experience but still manages to affect you. Oh the deleterious effects of human relationships. This is why people get dogs.
"Look," Brie says. "I don't know your mother, but it's possible she's projecting. She fell in love with someone who was different than her family, and it didn't go well. I could see how she'd think she's protecting you by making sure you're with a woman just like her."
"Whoa..." he groans, interlocking his fingers behind his head and leaning forward. "That is way too insightful for me right now. I think you should go before things get any worse."
"Is that possible?"
He nods his head.
She puts her hand on his back and watches it rise and fall with his breath. "Will you come with me?"
"No," he says. "I need to talk to her while this is fresh. You're so right that this is her fault. She owes you an apology."
"Listen," she says, leaning down and burrowing her face close to his. "You can't shame her into liking me. The question is, can you still like me if she doesn't?"
He looks at her like he's just been slapped. "Of course I can. It's not her decision."
Brie lends him a gentle smile. "Okay, good. That's all that matters."
She redresses in her swimsuit and sundress and they make the long walk across the lawn, where the croquet wickets are still stuck like little reminders of heaven before hell arrived home early from Chicago.
In the house, Dolores is doing her best to seem busy. She is sitting at the mahogany writing desk that Brie's been admiring, sorting through her junk mail. Brie walks up and strokes the inlay. "Beautiful secretary. My mom has a similar one, but it's a roll-top. Napoleon, I think."
"Which Napoleon?" Dolores says, not looking up.
Brie bites her grin. "That, I'm not sure."
Quibbley jumps up on Brie, resting his front paws on her hip. "Quibbley, off!" Dolores says. "What were you, feeding him table scraps?"
"No," Brie lies. "Mrs. Blake, I'm afraid we had a bad start. May I take you to lunch one day this week so we can get to know each other properly?"
Dolores clacks a stack of envelopes against her desk and scowls across the room at Danny. "I'm susceptible neither to bribery nor flattery."
Brie says, "Good, then we have something in common. Well, I take that back. Flattery has been known to be effective on me, but I don't suspect you'll try it." Dolores purses her lips impatiently while Brie fights to maintain eye contact. "I just thought you might like the chance to form your own opinion of me."
Danny's mother opens her mouth to speak.
"Through conversation," Brie adds with her finger raised.
"Yes, well, thank you," Dolores says. "I appreciate the distinction, and I will consider it."
Danny seems impressed with her inroads with his mother. Brie lifts her chin, gratified, and turns back to Dolores. "Well I suppose I should thank you for your hospitality. Your home is beyond lovely. Truly, like something from a magazine."
Dolores pushes her eyeglasses onto her head. "I see that you have an arrest for driving under the influence. Is that a habit of yours?"
Brie bows her head and nods in acknowledgement, not of the question but of what she is up against. This bitch is out for blood. Brie looks up. "If it were a habit of mine, your background check would have yielded more results, I think. I'm going now."
"I think that's wise," Dolores quips, struggling to hold Quibbley by the collar as Brie departs so the dog doesn't follow her home. As for Danny, he seems to be heeling nicely.
YOU ARE READING
Brie Baggio thinks she's ready... for marriage, kids, the whole shebang. She's pushing forty, and even though she's the Senior Anti-Aging Ambassador at Los Angeles's hottest med spa, Botox can't paralyze that nagging feeling that it's now or never...