Chapter 23: Toni
It was after 2:00 am when Toni was finally content with how the caterers had left the state of her kitchen. She didn’t cook, God Forbid, but the aesthetic charm of the room always gave her great pleasure. She ran her hand along the polished white marble island. Pearl imported the marble from Massa Carrara in Italy. Pearl had assured her this marble came from the same cave Michelangelo had used for his masterpiece, David. This was a fact that Toni loved to share when she gave tours of the Highwater to jealous socialites.
She took one last lap to assure herself the kitchen was spotless. The bugs of the tropics had no manners and didn’t recognize class. If they left so much of a speck of a crumb lying around, any house on the island would be open season to flying cockroaches. Finally satisfied, Toni turned off the lights and gracefully made her way through the dark to the main staircase. She knew this house like the back of her hand. She'd lose this house if Harold ever ran off with one of his many sweethearts and divorced her. It would kill her. Although Toni was the epitome of high maintenance in the rest of her life, she was as low maintenance as possible in her relationship with Harold. Almost invisible. She didn’t want Harold to think she was too much work. There were two main reasons Harold stayed by her side. Harold was lazy, and Harold loved making his father angry. And Toni made Ulysses furious.
At the door to the bedroom, Toni wrenched her arms behind her back to unzip her gown without success. She should have asked one of the help to do it before they left. The zipper came down most of the way, but she’d have some shimmying to do. She was about to switch on the light when she noticed the ceiling fan was already spinning, and a long lump was on her side of the bed. Harold was always so beautiful when he was sleeping. Sleep relaxed his wrinkles and the ever-present stress from his face. Even the ravages of his alcoholism were less visible in the dim light of the bedroom. A pang of longing surprised her. Why should it, though? Harold was her first and only love. The Harold he’d become was not the real Harold. In the beginning, right after Pearl’s death, she’d hoped one day, the real Harold would return. She didn’t hope anymore.
She lowered herself to the edge of the bed, careful not to disturb the single sheet Harold had pulled up as protection against the fan and the over-active air-conditioning. She placed a warm hand on Harold’s arm above the covers, and it bloomed into goosebumps. Toni stroked him until the goosebumps faded. She would get him a light blanket.
“Who’s the girl?” Harold was awake. He didn’t acknowledge her hand on his arm, just pulled himself up to a seated position and took his arm with it. There had been a time when she would have attributed the goosebumps to her touch, but she didn’t do it for him anymore. He preferred a younger model.
Toni pivoted on the bed and presented her half-zipped dress to Harold. He quickly unzipped her.
“I’m surprised to find you here, Harold. No party tonight?”
“Oh, don’t start at me already, dear. I have quite the headache coming on, so I didn’t feel like going out.”
She didn’t think asking a question qualified as ‘starting’ but ignored it. If he wanted an argument, he wouldn’t get one from her. Toni stood and dropped her arms to her sides. The dress slipped over her curves and puddled at her feet. She would retire to her closet to remove the slip. She couldn’t deal with his body commentary this evening. Toni worked hard to keep the figure expected of a Hanna woman, but Harold knew all the tiny errors and which buttons to push.
“Christopher brought her here. She’s a friend of a friend, apparently. But she’s lying. She’s only here to get what she can from the Hannas. I could see it immediately. Christopher, the poor thing, is so charmed by her beauty that he can’t see it. I’ll have to warn him.”
“Christopher and Ulysses both,” Harold said.
“And not you, Darling?” Toni sat back on the bed in her slip and motioned for Harold to pass her the water glass. He did.
“How could you even suggest that? You know I only have eyes for you.” He grinned at his own joke and swung his legs from the bed. She tried to keep her breath steady as he took the strap of her slip and lowered it. He leaned in and planted a quick kiss on her shoulder before walking into the ensuite.
Toni swallowed back tears. It had been so long since anyone had touched her but her masseuse. She’d taken to scheduling an extra monthly session so that she could feel hands on her bare skin. She didn’t crave sex. She craved the connection. Her children never touched her, and she never touched them. This was probably her fault. After being raised in a cold family with no hugs or words of affirmation, she didn’t know how to raise her children differently. Pearl had hugged the children as much as she’d cuddled and coddled Harold. Toni tried to follow Pearl’s example, but it didn’t happen. Did she even have a maternal bone in her body?
Harold climbed back into bed, and Toni realized he was remarkably sober. That was certainly suspicious.
“Did you have a business meeting tonight?” She asked. He could usually stay sober for those, but Ulysses or Brad didn’t ask him to attend many, just in case.
“Business meeting. Pah!” He said, rolling over to his side of the bed and pulling the sheet to his chin. “I’m not good enough for business, remember? My father has deemed that my son is better at business than I ever could be. How long was I CEO of Hanna Group? Five minutes?”
“A few years at least, Darling. Uly seems to prefer the younger generation; you’re right. As evidenced by this evening.”
“Well, all I can say is that this evening was good for me. I met someone today who wants to engage me in a major project. A project that would rival anything that the Hanna Group has ever completed. Things are going to change from now on, Toni. Make sure you look out for yourself.”
“A project? What kind of project? And what does that mean? Look out for myself? Don’t I always?”
“Oh, you do.” He snorted into the sheet. “Always have done. You look out for number one, and we all know who that is.”
“What do you mean?”
“You think I can’t see through your scheming? All that tete-a-tete with Felicity and pushing Christopher toward Jessica. You’re unhappy about that new girl because she might take your precious but useless baby away and give you nothing in return. Unlike Jessica, who will guarantee you’ll continue to live the life to which you’ve become accustomed. Felicity is as bad as you. She wouldn’t mind the joining of two powerful Bahamian families.”
“That’s…. That’s not… You’re a jerk. I’m not doing that.”
“Please, Toni, your desperation perfumes a room.” He lowered his voice, and Toni heard a little of the old Harold in his whisper. “I would have married you without that prenup, you know. Although a lot of good it would have done you. Your premonition that Uly will cut me out of everything is probably true.”
“Harold. That’s not true. I don’t think that.” She did think that. “I just want Christopher to marry well. You know that.”
“Sure, Toni.” He looked her directly in the eye then, and all the sadness he carried, all the regrets and anger built up between them like a sea wall… it was all there in his eyes, only for a moment, before they turned to steel.
“You’ll find out about the secret project soon enough. Everyone will.”
Harold turned his back to signify that the conversation was over. Screw the blanket. He could freeze for all she cared. This secret project talk had given her a headache. She didn’t know what he had up his sleeve, but he was never trustworthy. And his statement that everyone knew what she was up to with Jessica and Christopher irked her, too. Did anyone know every reason she was so intent on this Jessica match? No, she’d told no one. Ever. It was her secret. But perhaps it was time she shared it with someone to get help.
She would wash off her makeup, get into her comfy pajamas, and sleep in a guest room. She rarely shared a bed with Harold; when she did, she could never sleep anyway. He snored like a hedge trimmer.