Dirty Red (Love Me With Lies)
Author:Fisher, Tarryn

“I don’t care what those spoiled voids do with their children. You are her mother, and you will raise her, not a stranger.”

 

I bite my lip to keep from crying. By the look on his face, I know I’m not going to win this battle. I should have known someone like Caleb Drake stands over what he owns, teeth bared, not allowing anyone to touch it.

 

“I don’t know anything about babies. I just thought I could have someone to help…” I throw my last straw … pout a little. Pouting usually works in my favor.

 

“We’ll figure it out,” he says coolly. “The rest of the birthing world does not get the option of a nanny — they figure it out. So will we.”

 

He is done swaddling Estella. He hands her to me, and a nurse comes in to wheel me to the car. I keep my eyes closed all the way, afraid to look at her.

 

When Caleb pulls my new ‘mommy’ car to the curb, we discover that you cannot get a swaddled baby into the car seat. I would have immediately turned sour. When things don’t go my way, I lose it. Instead, Caleb laughs, talks to the baby about how silly he is while he unwraps her. She is fast asleep, but he keeps up a dialogue. It’s silly, a grown man carrying on like that. When she is strapped, he helps me in. Before he closes the door, he kisses me softly on the lips. I close my eyes and savor it, tasting his attention. There are so few kisses that make me feel connected to him. He is always somewhere else … with someone else. If the baby can bring us together, then maybe I was right to do what I did.

 

It is my first time in my new car, which Caleb picked up from the dealership this morning. My friends all have less expensive SUVs. I got the best. It feels like a ninety thousand dollar prison sentence, despite my initial excitement to have it. He points things out as we drive. I listen intently to the sound of his voice, but not the actual words. I keep thinking about what's in the car seat.

 

 

 

At home, Caleb lifts Estella out of her seat and places her gently in her new crib. He is already calling her Stella. I laze on my favorite chaise lounge in our big living room, flicking through channels on the television. He brings me a breast pump, and I flinch.

 

“She has to eat, unless you want to do it the traditional way …”

 

I snatch the pump and get to work.

 

I feel like a cow being milked as the machine hums and purrs. How is this just? A woman carries a baby for forty-two grueling weeks, only to be hooked up to a machine and forced to feed it. Caleb seems to enjoy my discomfort. He has a strange sense of humor. He is always teasing and delivering some witty quip that I often fail to respond to, but now as he watches me with that little smile playing on his lips, I laugh.

 

“Leah Smith,” he says. “A mother.”

 

I roll my eyes. He likes those words, but they give me heart palpitations. When I am done, there is a large amount of watery looking milk in both bottles. I expect him to do the rest, but he returns with a wailing Estella in his arms and hands her to me. This is only the third time I have held her. I try to look natural to impress him, and it seems to work because when he hands me the bottle, he smiles and touches my face.

 

Maybe that is the key — pretending to love this motherhood deal. Maybe that's what he needs to see in me. I stare down at her as she sucks on the bottle. Her eyes are closed and she is making horrible noises like she’s half-starved. This isn’t terrible. I relax a little and study her face, looking for some trace of myself in her. Caleb was right; she has the makings of a redhead. The rest of her looks more like him — full, perfectly defined lips underneath a weird little nose. Surely, she will be beautiful.

 

“You remember I have a business trip on Monday?” he asks, sitting down opposite me.

 

My head snaps up, and I do nothing to disguise the panic on my face. Caleb is often away on business trips, but I thought he would take a few weeks off to let me settle in.

 

“You can’t leave me.”

 

He blinks at me slowly and takes a sip of something in a snifter glass.

 

“I don’t want to leave her yet, Leah. But, she came early. No one else can go, I've already tried to find someone.” He leans down in front of me, kissing my palm. “You’ll be fine. Your mother is coming in on Monday. She can help you. I’ll only be gone for three days.”

 

I want to wail at this bit of information. My mother is a drama addict on top of being an insufferable narcissist. A day with her feels like a week. Caleb sees the look on my face and frowns.

 

“She’s trying, Leah — she wanted to come. Just go easy on her.”

 

I bite my lip to keep from saying something really nasty. I have a malicious side to me that Caleb finds offensive, so I curb it when he is around. When he is not around, I swear like a sailor and throw things.

 

“How long is she staying?” I grumble.

 

“Burp her …”

 

“What?” I am so distracted by my mother’s imminent visit; I do not notice Estella is half choking, milk bubbling from between her rosebud lips.

 

“I don’t know how.”