Chapter 33:  A House Is Not a Home

Alex came home to their new apartment and was stunned to see the furniture.  This isn’t what we agreed upon, she thought. 


“Robert,” she called out, setting her briefcase down on the coffee table.  Her voice echoed throughout the vast apartment.  When he didn’t answer her, she assumed that he hadn’t gotten home yet.


She was livid.  She tried to calm down and tell herself that maybe it was a simple mix-up on the store’s end.  Robert wouldn’t deliberately choose another set of furniture, would he?  Even the draperies were another color.  They were taupe instead of the light blue they’d chosen.


As she walked from the living room to the other rooms of the two-story apartment, she noticed the same thing.  Every piece of furniture was different from what they had picked out together—from the dining room set to the bedroom suites. 


“I can’t believe this!” she exclaimed.  She walked back to the master bedroom and started to unpack the wardrobe boxes.  As she hung her clothes up in one of the walk-in closets, she tried to think about how she would broach the subject with him.


Within 45 minutes, she would have her chance.  “Honey, you home?” Robert’s voice boomed from downstairs.


Alex pushed a box out of the way and made her way down the spiral staircase.  He was standing next to the marble island in the kitchen and drinking a glass of water.  “Sweetie,” she began, “why wasn’t the furniture we picked out delivered?”


Robert put his glass down and gave her a suave smile.  “Oh, well, I made a change of plans at the last minute.  It just seemed like this fit in much better with the surroundings here.”


“Shouldn’t you have consulted me?” she asked.


“Well…I figured you were busy at work and I didn’t want to call and bug you over something so trivial.  Besides, we have the same tastes, so I didn’t think you’d mind a change.”


Alex was disappointed that he would think that a mutual decision they had made could so easily be written off as something “trivial.”  After all, they both had to live in the apartment.  “I do like the traditional look but I thought we both liked the modern décor better.”


Robert shrugged.  “I went back and forth, but I finally decided that the traditional look was more elegant and appropriate for entertaining important guests.”


“I thought this apartment was for us,” Alex said through gritted teeth.  She was even more annoyed by his nonchalant attitude.


“Of course it is, dear,” he replied.  “But we want to make a good impression, do we not?”


Is that all you care about? she wanted to ask.  But she didn’t want to incite an argument, so she just decided to let it drop.  However, she mentally kicked herself because she knew that the old Alex would’ve made him return every piece of furniture and get what they had both chosen.  “I suppose.  When should we have a housewarming party?”


“Next weekend sounds nice,” Robert replied.  “We’ll get the RSVPs out.  Be sure to invite Olivia.”


Alex’s heart did a flip inside her chest.  “What?”


Robert gave her an amused look.  “The nice detective you introduced to me?  She’s a close friend, isn’t she?”


“Yes…” Alex began hesitantly.  “I’ll send her an invite, but I don’t know if she’ll be able to make it.  She often gets caught up on cases and sometimes works all night.”  However, she really had no intention of doing anything of the sort.


“I understand.  But I really hope she can make it.  Any friend of yours is a friend of mine.”


Alex gave a soft laugh.  I’m not so sure about that, she thought.  Changing the subject, she said, “Well, let’s first worry about where we’ll eat dinner tonight.  Then we need to pick up groceries on the way back here.”


“Sounds good to me,” Robert agreed.  He wrapped his arms around her waist and softly kissed her lips.  “And I can’t wait to try out our new bed.”


Alex was less than excited but smiled at him nonetheless.  “Then we should get a move on,” she replied, pulling back from him and going to get her coat and purse.


“I’ll call our driver,” Robert said, proud that he could refer to Stefan as their collective driver now.  “Oh, and honey…”


Alex turned around.  “Yes?”


He walked up to her.  “Since we’re living together, I think we should ride to work together.”


“But I have my car,” Alex replied.  “And I don’t mind taking the subway or a taxi either.  Besides, we don’t always go into work at the same time.”


“No need for that anymore,” Robert said with a smile.  “You’ll always have a driver, even when we’re not together.”


Is he being controlling or just protective? Alex asked herself.  Again, she decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.  “Ok,” she responded, lightly touching his arm.  Still, she had an unsettling feeling inside her, but she brushed it off as a result of her anger about the furniture instead of something deeper.  However, in the back of her mind she wondered how many more decisions he’d try to make for her as time passed.  Have I bitten off more than I can chew?




“Good?” Alex asked as she watched Serena devour her shrimp canapé.


Serena nodded and patted the side of her mouth with her napkin.  “Delicious.”


Alex smiled.  “Glad you think so.  How do you like the place?” she inquired nervously.


“It’s um…big,” Serena commented, glancing around and taking a sip from her glass of wine.  “It gives ‘luxury’ a whole new meaning.  And the views of the city are breathtaking.  You’re in one of the best high-rises in Manhattan.”


“Thanks,” Alex replied.


“Although I have to admit I was a bit surprised when you told me you’d moved in,” she continued.  “You don’t think it’s too soon?”


“Believe me, Serena…I thought the same thing when he asked.  But in the end I decided I had nothing to lose,” Alex answered.


“Sure about that?” Serena asked, raising an eyebrow.


Before Alex could answer, Robert came over to join them.  He put a hand on Serena’s back and greeted, “Welcome to our humble abode.  Enjoying yourself?”


Humble?  This guy wouldn’t know humble if it hit him in the face, Serena thought.  She politely smiled.  “Yes, thank you for inviting me.”


“Our pleasure.  There’s plenty of food and drink, so don’t be shy,” he replied.


“I’ll keep that in mind,” Serena responded.


“Well, I’m off to socialize with some of the other guests,” Robert said, winking at Alex and taking his leave.


“I like your place much better,” Serena said when she was sure he was out of earshot. 


I do, too, Alex thought.   “Why?” she asked anyway.


“It actually looks like you can live in it instead of being a display mansion.  You aren’t planning on selling it, are you?”


“No, of course not.  It has sentimental value.”


“Because of your parents or Olivia?” Serena asked.


Although they both knew it was both, Alex sighed and answered, “Let’s not talk about her.  I’m trying to move on.”


“From what?  Yourself?”


Alex frowned.  “I refuse to do this here.”  She took a glass of champagne off a passing waiter’s tray and said, “I need to join Robert.”


Serena continued to sip her wine as Alex returned to her spot at her boyfriend’s side.  She carefully observed them as they stood under one of the crystal candle chandeliers.  To anyone else, Alex would’ve looked the picture of happiness—throwing her head back and laughing, clinging to Robert’s arm, staring into his eyes like he was her knight in shining armor—but she knew differently.


Suddenly, her phone began ringing.  It was her girlfriend Kay.  “Hello?”


“Hey, sexy,” Kay replied.  “Sorry I’m running late; I got caught up with a client.  But I should be there in ten minutes, ok?”


“Good!” Serena said, a smile curling her lips.  “I need to be rescued anyway.”


“You’re not having fun?”


“Let’s just say I don’t think there are too many likeminded people here.”


Kay laughed.  “Well, what did you expect, sweetie?  The Cabot-Shelton housewarming party isn’t exactly the Isle of Lesbos.”


Serena chuckled.  “Ha, that’s an understatement.  Just hurry and get over here.  This is almost as boring as a bar association gala—and just as pompous.”


“You used to call me a snob,” Kay reminded her playfully.


“You still are,” Serena teased.  “These types should be right up your alley since you happened to have one foot on Wall Street from the first day of law school.”


“Well, you used to date a CPA, so it seems you love us snobs.  And if I recall, you summered with a firm on Wall Street.”


“Oh, don’t remind me.  But I give you a pass since you’re a sexy snob.”


“Who sweeps you off your feet,” Kay added.


“Since I’m taller, it would probably be the other way around.”


“What are you doing next weekend?” Kay asked abruptly.


“That depends.  Do you have an offer?”


“Actually, I do.  I have a cabin upstate that is tired of being lonely.  So what do ya say?”


Serena smiled.  “I think a vacation sounds nice.”


Kay grinned on her side of the line.  “Now what was that crack about you sweeping me off my feet again?”


“Sure know how to woo the ladies, Kay.”


“But you’re more than worth it,” she replied.


After she got off the phone, Serena focused her attention on Alex once again.  Look at her.  Making the rounds to greet her guests.  She’s the perfect society woman with the perfect society boyfriend.  But she’s not Alex, she thought.  She was sad to think that her suspicions of Alex morphing into someone new were confirmed.  For her sake, all she could hope was that she wouldn’t reach the point of no return.




Victor gave his sister a big hug.  “I’m so happy for you two.”


Julie smiled.  “You know it’s true love if you’re moving in after a few months!”


Robert put his arm around Alex’s waist.  “What can I say?  I’m head over heels.”


Alex grinned.  “Seems Robert was the one thing you were right about, Victor.”


Victor smirked.  “Have to be good for something, huh?”


“I love what you two have done with the place,” Julie said.  “It’s beautiful.”


“Thank you,” Robert replied.  “I like it much better than my own.  I always thought of getting a place like this to share with my special someone.”


“Well, I certainly wish you both the best,” Victor said.  He focused on Alex.  “In any other circumstance, I’d think you were insane for moving in with a guy after only three months.  But as you know, Robert Shelton is no ordinary guy.”


Robert laughed.  “Glad I can be the exception.  But I can also say that Alexandra Cabot is no ordinary woman.”


Alex blushed lightly at his flattery.  “Thank you,” she said, giving him a kiss on the cheek. 


Victor and Julie grinned from ear to ear.  “Come on, sweetie,” Victor said, gently placing a hand at the small of his wife’s back.  “We don’t wanna hog all their attention.”


“I agree,” Julie replied as they started walking away.  “Besides, I think I have a craving for some foie gras.”


Victor laughed.  “Our son is going to be hooked on it.”


“You mean our daughter,” Julie said sternly.


Victor leaned down to kiss her.  “Hey, who am I to argue with the mother?”


Julie linked her arm through his.  “You’re learning, Mr. Cabot.”




Kay entered the room and scanned it for Serena.  When she spotted her, she began making her way over to her.  Heads turned as her heels clicked across the hardwood flooring and her dark brown hair bounced on her shoulders.  “Hey, baby,” she greeted, snugly wrapping her arms around her waist and capturing her lips.


Serena brushed a lock of hair out of Kay’s face and replied, “Hey yourself.”


Gasps and several whispers circulated around them.  Alex’s mouth dropped open in awe.  She felt a twinge of jealousy at how fearless and comfortable they were. 


Robert followed Alex’s line of sight.  “How distasteful,” he muttered.


Alex shot him a warning look, which he missed.  He continued, “They have no respect for our home.”


“Robert—” she started to protest.


Luckily for him, two guests approached them.  Alex plastered a smile on her face and played the role of ideal hostess.


Kay grabbed Serena’s hand and led her over to the sofa.  With a smug smile and steely eyes, she challenged her onlookers to say a word to them.  People tore their eyes away and pretended to be deeply enthralled with whatever it was they were previously doing.


Serena smirked, although she loved the boldness of Kay’s actions.  “Trying to stir up trouble?”


“Like I give a shit what any of these morons think,” Kay replied.  Looking at Alex and Robert, she leaned over and whispered, “Alex gives me a gay vibe.”


Serena laughed and tried not to spit out her wine.  “Why do you think that?”


“I dunno…just a feeling, I guess.  I’ve always had it about her.  Besides, there doesn’t seem to be any chemistry between them.  The whole thing just seems to be for appearances on both their parts.”


“You think Robert’s gay, too?”


Kay laughed.  “No.  I just think it’s the typical case of two affluent people dating because it looks ‘perfect,’ not because they really care that deeply for each other.  It reminds me of the power couple setups at my firm.”


Serena playfully rolled her eyes and crossed her legs.  “You’re such a skeptic.”


Kay affectionately started rubbing her knee.  “One who’s often right.”


As Robert became engaged in conversation, Alex looked at Serena and Kay again and felt her mind drifting.  She imagined herself in Serena’s place as Olivia rubbed her knee instead of Kay.  She imagined walking into a room holding hands with Olivia without giving a damn what anyone else thought.  Lastly, she imagined that instead of standing next to Robert, she was standing next to Olivia and entertaining guests at their housewarming party.


Robert’s voice brought her back to reality.  “Maybe those two need a private room.”


“I’ll say,” Peter Mason, one of his colleagues, answered. 


His wife Sandy pursed her lips and shook her head in disgust.  “Are those your friends?”


“Alex’s,” Robert answered quickly.


“They are both very successful lawyers,” Alex explained, shocked that Robert was so quick to deflect the blame onto her to save face.


“I see,” Sandy replied.  “Well, I hope their sense of decorum in the courtroom is much better than it is at social affairs.”


Alex gave her an icy smile.  “Judging by their win-loss ratios, I’d say their courtroom decorum is spot on.”  She glanced at Peter and Robert and continued, “Excuse me.”


“Sounds like you’ve got a feisty one,” Peter said once she was out of earshot.


Robert watched Alex walk over to Serena and Kay.  “I got her to move in with me, didn’t I?  Don’t worry, I’ll rein her in.”


“Sure about that?” Peter teased.


Robert smiled.  “I’m always up for a challenge.”




Kay looked up and smiled at Alex.  “Tired yet?”


Alex sat down across from them and replied, “Not quite.”


“You have a beautiful place,” she continued.


“Thank you,” Alex responded.  “I see that you two are enjoying yourselves.”


“Can’t help it when I’m around her,” Serena said, placing her hand over Kay’s.


Alex felt another strong twinge of jealousy.  “I guess you have some plans for an afterparty,” she joked.


Serena laughed.  “I plead the fifth.”


Kay kissed her cheek.  “I don’t.”  She observed Alex’s reaction, which she noticed was not one of disgust but of intrigue.  She also thought she saw a bit of longing in her eyes.


Alex smiled.  “I think you make a striking couple.”


Kay chuckled.  “Why, thank you.  I guess all those years of pursuing her finally paid off.”


“You certainly have good taste,” Alex replied.  “Serena’s a keeper.”


Kay noticed the faraway look that had settled in her eyes.  Who’s she thinking of? she wondered.


Alex again thought back to Olivia.  She missed the closeness when they sat together, when they cuddled at night, when they kissed…  She quickly blinked away the thoughts.  You have to stop giving in to what your heart wants, she scolded herself.  Besides, you’re a new woman now.  Like Pompeian lovers who were frozen in ash after the eruption of Vesuvius, the memories of being with Olivia would have to remain frozen in their respective time period.  They absolutely could not keep traveling forward with her.  She stood up and announced, “I should check with the wait staff.  Have to make sure we have plenty of hors d’oeuvres left.”


“See you around,” Serena said.


“Thanks for having us,” Kay added.


Alex gave her a bright, sincere smile.  “It was nothing.  You’re welcome here anytime.”  Her eyes caught Serena’s in a bit of guilt mixed with pride before she walked away.


“Yep, she’s a total lesbian,” Kay said after she had left.


Serena laughed.  Hmm, Alex is a lot more transparent than she thinks, she thought.  Still, she felt it her duty to keep her secret.  “Oh come on, she is not.”


Kay smiled at her.  “I know she’s your best friend, but everyone has their secrets.”


“If she had any attraction to women, she would’ve told me.”


“I was out for years before a close friend of mine told me she was a lesbian.  Just because your friends are accepting of your life doesn’t mean they are equally accepting of their own.”


“You’re not gonna let this theory go, are you?” Serena asked with a wicked grin.


“No amount of denials from you will convince me that woman is straight.”


“Why?  Because she didn’t recoil in horror at seeing two women be affectionate with each other?”


“She looked like she wanted to join in,” Kay commented.


“It’s nice to dream, isn’t it?” Serena said.


Kay gave her a look.  “I could tell she was turned on.”


“I’m sure you’d say that about a couple guys in this room,” Serena retorted, enjoying their banter.


Kay rolled her eyes.  “These prudes?  Hardly.”  She took some beef Wellington offered to her by a waitress and nodded her thanks. 


“Still, I think your gaydar may need a little retuning on Alex,” Serena whispered, although the waitress had moved on to serve other guests.


“Her eyes came alive when she saw us together, Serena,” she said matter-of-factly.  “I rest my case.”


“You’re such a lawyer,” Serena replied.  “Although I don’t think your experience with antitrust litigation can help you out much here.”


Kay poked her thigh.  “Hey, as I’m sure you know by now, I have many talents—both inside and outside the letter of the law.”


Serena shook her head and laughed.  “Somehow I knew you’d say that.”




On her way to the kitchen, Victor grabbed her arm and pulled her aside.  “Hey, I hope you told Juliet and Juliet over there to take a breather.”


Alex wrinkled her forehead.  “What do you mean?”


“The two lesbians making a scene.  I don’t know why gay people always feel the need to shout it from the rooftops.”


Alex glared at him.  “One of those ‘Juliets’ is my best friend and I resent your prejudice against her.  And for your info, they are no more shouting it from the rooftops than any straight couple here.  Their affection for each other has been very tasteful.”


“Well, if that’s the case, you should be careful.  Next she’ll try to make a move on you and cause discord between you and Robert.”


Alex laughed scornfully.  “Do you know how paranoid you sound?  She hasn’t hit on me in all the years I’ve known her!”


“I’m just staying on the lookout.  You should be careful of the rumors that having such an open lesbian friend could create for you.  Soon people will be saying you’re in a secret relationship with her.”


Alex rolled her eyes.  “That is absurd.”


“You’re an attorney, Alex.  I’m sure you know what guilt by association means.”


Alex folded her arms.  “I will not alienate my friends based on conjectures other people might make.”


“People don’t care about the truth—only what appears to be.  Besides, our family cannot afford a scandal like that.”


Alex scoffed.  “So that’s what this really is about?  Not my reputation, but your reputation?  Victor, maybe you’re used to treating people like lepers, but I refuse to do that.  And just because you set me up with Robert doesn’t mean you get to make decisions in my life.  Butt out,” she ordered, angrily storming off.


Victor stood there dumbfounded.  What’s gotten into her? he wondered.




After the final guests had left, Robert said, “You know, Alex…I have no problem with homosexuals, but I don’t think your friend Serena was setting off a good image.  Some of our guests informed me that they were uncomfortable with their displays of affection.”


“You mean some of your guests,” Alex snapped.


Robert was surprised at her tone with him.  “Alex, dear…”


“Serena and I have been friends a long time.  I’m not going to do anything to make her feel unwelcome no matter what anyone thinks,” she responded.


“I’m just saying—”


“What happened to ‘a friend of yours is a friend of mine’?” Alex interrupted.


“Sweetheart, I have no contempt for her or her lady friend.”


“Then stop singling her out,” she ordered.  He and Victor were certainly peas in a pod, and they were both getting on her last nerve.  She looked at her watch.  “I’m exhausted.  I think I’ll turn in.”


Robert nodded regretfully.  “I’ll be up soon.  Listen, I didn’t mean to upset you.”


“Night,” was all she replied. 


As she got ready for bed, she thought about the comments that had been made.  She was disgusted that seemingly intelligent people could be so homophobic.  She admired the courage that Serena and Kay had exhibited, but she wondered at what price that would come.  Even though she’d brushed off Victor’s warnings, part of her did question if their behavior would make people gossip about her.  After entertaining the thought briefly, she forced it out of her head.  In fact, she was ashamed of herself for even thinking that way.  She had almost lost Serena once before and she certainly wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.  Only a true friend would stand by her side and go along with her whole charade, and she appreciated that she could always depend on her.  Besides, she knew that as long as she was with Robert or another man, any rumors would be squashed before they even started.


After turning off the lights in the bathroom, she pulled back the covers and slipped into bed.  She turned on her side and stared out the window.  It wasn’t her first time sleeping in their new bed so while she was comfortable, something was off.  How could she share a new home with someone but yet feel so lonely?  Starting a new life with Robert was supposed to fill the voids in her life in ways that other methods had failed.  So why did she still feel so empty?