The Nest - Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney Page 0,1

who were always keen to discover new talent. He moved in again and if she was alarmed when he stumbled a little and seemed to need to keep a palm on the wall to maintain balance, her worry evaporated when he asked if she had a demo, something of hers they could listen to in his car.

“Because if I like it,” Leo said, taking Matilda’s slender fingers in his, “I’d want to get on it right away. Help you get it to the right people.”

AS LEO DEFTLY MANEUVERED MATILDA past the parking valet, she glanced back at the kitchen door. Her cousin Fernando had gotten her this job, and he would be furious if he found out she’d just up and left. But Leo had said Columbia Records. He’d said, Always looking for new talent. When did she ever get opportunities like this? She would only be gone for a little bit, just long enough to make a good impression.

“Mariah was discovered by Tommy Mottola when she was a waitress,” she said, half joking, half trying to justify her behavior.

“Is that right?” Leo hustled her toward his car, scanning the windows of the beach club above the parking lot. It was possible that Victoria could see him from the side terrace where everyone was gathering and quite probable she’d already noticed his absence and was stalking the grounds looking for him. Furious.

Matilda stopped at the car door and slipped off her black-canvas work shoes. She took a pair of silvery stilettos from a worn plastic shopping bag.

“You really don’t need to change shoes for this,” Leo said, resisting the urge to put his hands around her tiny waist right then and there in plain sight of everyone.

“But we’re getting a drink, right?” Matilda said.

Had Leo said something to her about a drink? A drink was not possible. Everyone in his tiny hometown knew him, his family, his mother, his wife. He finished off his martini and threw the empty glass into the bushes. “If the lady wants a drink, we’ll find the lady a drink,” Leo said.

Matilda stepped into the sandals and gently slid one slender metallic strap over the swell of her left heel, then her right. She straightened, now eye level with Leo. “I hate wearing flats,” she said, tugging her fitted white blouse a little lower. “They make me feel flat all over.” Leo practically pushed Matilda into the front seat, out of sight, safely behind the tinted glass.

SITTING IN THE FRONT SEAT OF THE CAR, Matilda was stunned to hear her tinny, nasal voice coming through the car’s obscenely high-quality speakers. She sounded so different on her sister’s ancient Dell. So much better.

As Leo listened, he tapped his hand against the steering wheel. His wedding ring glinted in the car’s interior light. Married was most assuredly against Matilda’s rules. She could see Leo struggling to summon an interest in her voice, searching for something flattering to say.

“I have better recordings. I must have downloaded the wrong version,” Matilda said. She could feel her ears flush with shame. Leo was staring out the window. “I better get back,” she said, reaching for the door handle.

“Don’t,” Leo said, placing his hand on her leg. She resisted the impulse to pull away and sat up a little straighter, her mind racing. What did she have to sustain his attention? She hated waitressing, but Fernando was going to kill her for disappearing during dinner service. Leo was boldly staring at her chest. She looked down at her lap and spotted a small stain on her black trousers. She scraped at the spot of balsamic vinaigrette with a fingernail; she’d mixed gallons of it. Everyone inside was probably plating the mesclun and grilled shrimp now, squeezing the dressing from bottles around the edge of each plate into a pattern that was supposed to approximate waves, the kind a child would draw to indicate a sea. “I’d like to see the ocean,” she said, quietly.

And then, so slowly she wasn’t sure what was happening at first, Leo took her hand in his (for a foolish moment she thought he was going to kiss it, like a character in one of her mother’s telenovela shows) and placed it on his lap. And she would always remember this part, how he never stopped looking at her. He didn’t close his eyes or lean his head back or lunge in for a sloppy kiss or fumble with the buttons on her blouse; he looked hard