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I loved Verity by Coleen Ho over. It was proof of a great mind
01 August 2020 (21:16)
underrated book but THIS IS A MASTERPIECE. NEEDS MORE ATTENTION!! I LOVE COHO ALWAYS AND FOREVER
17 February 2021 (09:38)
Colleen hoover keeps making it difficult to decide which of her books is your favourite. Beautiful piece that will keep your heart racing and mind alert till the end. Favourite character is Graham
20 February 2021 (04:24)
I love this book. So educative
04 April 2021 (19:18)
THIS BOOK IS AMAZING. really, it put me on such an emotional rollercoaster. i loved it, i recommend it 100%
18 April 2021 (16:23)
I love all Collen Hoover's books especially Verity, ugly love and maybe someday
11 May 2021 (01:38)
This is most definitely my favourite book. Literally read it multiple times and it just never gets old tbh.
26 May 2021 (04:27)
This is one of my all time favourite books.. its a 4.5 - 5stars for me. Just read it
27 May 2021 (10:12)
Please, PLEASE, read it.
Please, PLEASE, read it.
04 June 2021 (00:47)
absolutely a MUST read
14 June 2021 (21:21)
Read it, loved it. 10/10 recommend
15 June 2021 (08:55)
My God, I've read your books Hoover, and I swear what you do. I just hope one day you can see what I do too
20 June 2021 (00:39)
PLEASE READ. Such an amazing story well written and explained, made me cry and get teary-eyed the whole book. One thing I did not like was how it kept switching between Then and Now, it wasn't as bad as I thought tho but otherwise it was AMAZING!!!
27 June 2021 (16:26)
I don't know why I felt so much with this book but I felt the pain from the beginning till the end.
30 June 2021 (11:36)
Love this book! It put me deep in my feels, I cried, sobbed, smiled, and giggled. I recommend!
05 July 2021 (01:13)
I've just finished this book and wow...?its such an emotional rollercoaster. Def recommend!
10 July 2021 (16:14)
Want to read this for my passtime
10 July 2021 (22:21)
Um I've read alot of good reviews and i was exited to read this book... But i didnt rlly understand it, like the first chapter she says shes marrying eithan the next month, but the second chapter shes now married to graham??! I didnt understand a thing, somone explain pleaseee
29 July 2021 (00:16)
this book broke me in so many ways, i was so thrown back by how realistic it was. Falling out of love with someone scares the hell out of me but in some weird way this book perfectly reassured me that true love and affection will be enough.
30 July 2021 (02:58)
i love this book so much. Must read !
11 August 2021 (07:35)
loved the books...makes you believe in unconditional love
12 August 2021 (09:34)
Who's here after watching booktok in tiktok! Nabudol tayo! HAHAHAHAHHA
26 August 2021 (04:11)
here bcs of tiktok recommendation
31 August 2021 (09:52)
After reading a lot of heartbreaking romance books, my biggest takeaway is DON'T GET INTO A RELATIONSHIP!!
After reading a lot of heartbreaking romance books, my biggest takeaway is DON'T GET INTO A RELATIONSHIP!!
19 September 2021 (15:17)
I have never cried before while reading a book but this one made me to cry, beautiful story
16 October 2021 (17:59)
I loved it,it is a great book and colleen is such a great writer.I love how she tackles serious issues in her novels and still makes it very intriguing to read
27 October 2021 (22:16)
You must include it in you already read books it is so good
30 October 2021 (21:59)
Graham's letter got me sobbing for hours
03 November 2021 (12:57)
Loveeeee ittttttt! Definitely recommended!
17 November 2021 (00:54)
Wow, Graham is what dreams are made of. Put into perspective what ppl facing infertility face and our insensitivity towards them. And how she almost lost what she had in pursuit of being a mother. Motherhood is overrated, period.
17 November 2021 (05:33)
Thank you for downloading this Simon & Schuster ebook. * * * Get a FREE ebook when you join our mailing list. Plus, get updates on new releases, deals, recommended reads, and more from Simon & Schuster. Click below to sign up and see terms and conditions. CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP Already a subscriber? Provide your email again so we can register this ebook and send you more of what you like to read. You will continue to receive exclusive offers in your inbox. To Heath. I love you more today than any day that has come before it. Thank you for being legit. Chapter One * * * Then The doorman didn’t smile at me. That thought plagues me during the entire ride up the elevator to Ethan’s floor. Vincent has been my favorite doorman since Ethan moved into this apartment building. He always smiles and chats with me. But today, he simply held the door open with a stoic expression. Not even a, “Hello, Quinn. How was your trip?” We all have bad days, I guess. I look down at my phone and see that it’s already after seven. Ethan should be home at eight, so I’ll have plenty of time to surprise him with dinner. And myself. I came back a day early but decided not to tell him. We’ve been doing so much planning for our wedding; it’s been weeks since we had an actual home-cooked meal together. Or even sex. When I reach Ethan’s floor, I pause as soon as I step out of the elevator. There’s a guy pacing the hallway directly in front of Ethan’s apartment. He takes three steps, then pauses and looks at the door. He takes another three steps in the other direction and pauses again. I watch him, hoping he’ll leave, but he never does. He just keeps pacing back and forth, looking at Ethan’s door. I don’t think he’s a friend of Ethan’s. I would recognize him if he were. I walk toward Ethan’s apartment and clear my throat. The guy faces me and I motion toward Ethan’s door to let him know I need to get past him. The guy steps aside and makes room for me but I’m careful not to make further eye conta; ct with him. I fish around in my purse for the key. When I find it, he moves beside me, pressing a hand against the door. “Are you about to go in there?” I glance up at him and then back at Ethan’s door. Why is he asking me that? My heart begins to race at the thought of being alone in a hallway with a strange guy who’s wondering if I’m about to open a door to an empty apartment. Does he know Ethan isn’t home? Does he know I’m alone? I clear my throat and try to hide my fear, even though the guy looks harmless. But I guess evil doesn’t have a telling exterior, so it’s hard to judge. “My fiancé lives here. He’s inside,” I lie. The guy nods vigorously. “Yeah. He’s inside all right.” He clenches his fist and taps the wall next to the door. “Inside my fucking girlfriend.” I took a self-defense class once. The instructor taught us to slide a key between our fingers, poking outward, so if you’re attacked you can stab the attacker in the eye. I do this, prepared for the psycho in front of me to lunge any second now. He blows out a breath and I can’t help but notice the air between us fills with the smell of cinnamon. What a strange thought to have in the moment before I’m attacked. What an odd lineup that would be at the police station. “Oh, I can’t really tell you what my attacker was wearing, but his breath smelled good. Like Big Red.” “You have the wrong apartment,” I tell him, hoping he’ll walk away without an argument. He shakes his head. Tiny little fast shakes that indicate I couldn’t be more wrong and he couldn’t be more right. “I have the right apartment. I’m positive. Does your fiancé drive a blue Volvo?” Okay, so he’s stalking Ethan? My mouth is dry. Water would be nice. “Is he about six foot tall? Black hair, wears a North Face jacket that’s too big for him?” I press a hand against my stomach. Vodka would be nice. “Does your fiancé work for Dr. Van Kemp?” Now I’m the one shaking my head. Not only does Ethan work for Dr. Van Kemp . . . his father is Dr. Van Kemp. How does this guy know so much about Ethan? “My girlfriend works with him,” he says, glancing at the apartment door with disgust. “More than works with him, apparently.” “Ethan wouldn’t . . .” I’m interrupted by it. The fucking. I hear Ethan’s name being called out in a faint voice. At least it’s faint from this side of the door. Ethan’s bedroom is against the far side of his apartment, which indicates that whoever she is, she isn’t being quiet about it. She’s screaming his name. While he fucks her. I immediately back away from the door. The reality of what is happening inside Ethan’s apartment makes me dizzy. It makes my whole world unstable. My past, my present, my future—all of it is spinning out of control. The guy grips my arm and stabilizes me. “You okay?” He steadies me against the wall. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have blurted it out like that.” I open my mouth, but uncertainty is all that comes out. “Are you . . . are you sure? Maybe those sounds aren’t coming from Ethan’s apartment. Maybe it’s the couple in the apartment next door.” “That’s convenient. Ethan’s neighbor is named Ethan, too?” It’s a sarcastic question, but I immediately see the regret in his eyes after he says it. That’s nice of him—finding it in himself to feel compassion for me when he’s obviously experiencing the same thing. “I followed them,” he says. “They’re in there together. My girlfriend and your . . . boyfriend.” “Fiancé,” I correct. I walk across the hallway and lean against the wall, then eventually slide down to the floor. I probably shouldn’t plop myself on the floor because I’m wearing a skirt. Ethan likes skirts, so I thought I’d be nice and wear one for him, but now I want to take my skirt off and tie it around his neck and choke him with it. I stare at my shoes for so long, I don’t even notice that the guy is sitting on the floor next to me until he says, “Is he expecting you?” I shake my head. “I was here to surprise him. I’ve been out of town with my sister.” Another muffled scream makes its way through the door. The guy next to me cringes and covers his ears. I cover mine, too. We sit like this for a while. Both of us refusing to allow the noises to penetrate our ears until it’s over. It won’t last long. Ethan can’t last more than a few minutes. Two minutes later I say, “I think they’re finished.” The guy pulls his hands from his ears and rests his arms on his knees. I wrap my arms around mine, resting my chin on top of them. “Should we use my key to open the door? Confront them?” “I can’t,” he says. “I need to calm down first.” He seems pretty calm. Most men I know would be breaking down the door right now. I’m not even sure I want to confront Ethan. Part of me wants to walk away and pretend the last few minutes didn’t happen. I could text him and tell him I came home early and he could tell me he’s working late and I could remain blissfully ignorant. Or I could just go home, burn all his things, sell my wedding dress, and block his number. No, my mother would never allow that. Oh, God. My mother. I groan and the guy immediately sits up straight. “Are you about to be sick?” I shake my head. “No. I don’t know.” I pull my head from my arms and lean back against the wall. “It just hit me how pissed my mother is going to be.” He relaxes when he sees I’m not groaning from physical illness, but rather from the dread of my mother’s reaction when she finds out the wedding is off. Because it’s definitely off. I lost count of how many times she’s mentioned how much the deposit was in order to get on the waiting list at the venue. “Do you realize how many people wish they could get married at Douglas Whimberly Plaza? Evelyn Bradbury was married there, Quinn. Evelyn Bradbury!” My mother loves to compare me to Evelyn Bradbury. Her family is one of the few in Greenwich who is more prominent than my stepfather’s. So of course my mother uses Evelyn Bradbury as an example of high-class perfection at every opportunity. I don’t care about Evelyn Bradbury. I have half a mind to text my mother right now and simply say, The wedding is off and I don’t give a fuck about Evelyn Bradbury. “What’s your name?” the guy asks. I look at him and realize it’s the first time I’ve really taken him in. This might be one of the worst moments of his life, but even taking that into consideration, he’s extremely handsome. Expressive dark brown eyes that match his unruly hair. A strong jaw that’s been constantly twitching with silent rage since I walked out of the elevator. Two full lips that keep being pressed together and thinned out every time he glances at the door. It makes me wonder if his features would appear softer if his girlfriend weren’t in there with Ethan right now. There’s a sadness about him. Not one related to our current situation. Something deeper . . . like it’s embedded in him. I’ve met people who smile with their eyes, but he frowns with his. “You’re better looking than Ethan.” My comment takes him off guard. His expression is swallowed up in confusion because he thinks I’m hitting on him. That’s the last thing I’m doing right now. “That wasn’t a compliment. It was just a realization.” He shrugs like he wouldn’t care either way. “It’s just that if you’re better looking than Ethan, that makes me think your girlfriend is better looking than me. Not that I care. Maybe I do care. I shouldn’t care, but I can’t help but wonder if Ethan is more attracted to her than he is to me. I wonder if that’s why he’s cheating. Probably. I’m sorry. I’m usually not this self-deprecating but I’m so angry and for some reason I just can’t stop talking.” He stares at me a moment, contemplating my odd train of thought. “Sasha is ugly. You have nothing to worry about.” “Sasha?” I say her name incredulously, then I repeat her name, putting emphasis on the sha. “Sasha. That explains a lot.” He laughs and then I laugh and it’s the strangest thing. Laughing when I should be crying. Why am I not crying? “I’m Graham,” he says, reaching out his hand. “Quinn.” Even his smile is sad. It makes me wonder if his smile would be different under different circumstances. “I would say it’s good to meet you, Quinn, but this is the worst moment of my life.” That is a very miserable truth. “Same,” I say, disappointed. “Although, I’m relieved I’m meeting you now rather than next month, after the wedding. At least I won’t be wasting marriage vows on him now.” “You’re supposed to get married next month?” Graham looks away. “What an asshole,” he says quietly. “He really is.” I’ve known this about Ethan all along. He’s an asshole. Pretentious. But he’s good to me. Or so I thought. I lean forward again and run my hands through my hair. “God, this sucks.” As always, my mother has perfect timing with her incoming text. I retrieve my phone and look down at it. Your cake tasting has been moved to two o’clock on Saturday. Don’t eat lunch beforehand. Will Ethan be joining us? I sigh with my whole body. I’ve been looking forward to the cake tasting more than any other part of the wedding planning. I wonder if I can avoid telling anyone the wedding is off until Sunday. The elevator dings and my attention is swept away from my phone and to the doors. When they open, I feel a knot form in my throat. My hand clenches in a fist around my phone when I see the containers of food. The delivery guy begins to walk toward us and my heart takes a beating with every step. Way to pour salt on my wounds, Ethan. “Chinese food? Are you kidding me?” I stand up and look down at Graham who is still on the floor, looking up at me. I wave my hand toward the Chinese food. “That’s my thing! Not his! I’m the one who likes Chinese food after sex!” I turn back toward the delivery guy and he’s frozen, staring at me, wondering if he should proceed to the door or not. “Give me that!” I take the bags from him. He doesn’t even question me. I plop back down on the floor with the two bags of Chinese food and I rifle through them. I’m pissed to see that Ethan simply duplicated what I always order. “He even ordered the same thing! He’s feeding Sasha my Chinese food!” Graham jumps up and pulls his wallet out of his pocket. He pays for the food and the poor delivery guy pushes open the door to the stairwell just to get out of the hallway faster than if he were to walk back to the elevator. “Smells good,” Graham says. He sits back down and grabs the container of chicken and broccoli. I hand him a fork and let him eat it, even though the chicken is my favorite. This isn’t a time to be selfish, though. I open the Mongolian beef and start eating, even though I’m not hungry. But I’ll be damned if Sasha or Ethan will eat any of this. “Whores,” I mutter. “Whores with no food,” Graham says. “Maybe they’ll both starve to death.” I smile. Then I eat and wonder how long I’m going to sit out here in the hallway with this guy. I don’t want to be here when the door opens because I don’t want to see what Sasha looks like. But I also don’t want to miss the moment when she opens the door and finds Graham sitting out here, eating her Chinese food. So I wait. And eat. With Graham. After several minutes, he sets down his container and reaches into the takeout bag, pulling out two fortune cookies. He hands one to me and proceeds to open his. He breaks open the cookie and unfolds the strip of paper, then reads his fortune out loud. “You will succeed in a great business endeavor today.” He folds the fortune in half after reading it. “Figures. I took off work today.” “Stupid fortune,” I mutter. Graham wads his fortune into a tiny ball and flicks it at Ethan’s door. I crack open my cookie and slip the fortune out of it. “If you only shine light on your flaws, all your perfects will dim.” “I like it,” he says. I wad up the fortune and flick it at the door like he did. “I’m a grammar snob. It should be your perfections.” “That’s what makes me like it. The one word they misuse is perfects. Kind of ironic.” He crawls forward and grabs the fortune, then scoots back against the wall. He hands it to me. “I think you should keep it.” I immediately brush his hand and the fortune away. “I don’t want a reminder of this moment.” He stares at me in thought. “Yeah. Me neither.” I think we’re both growing more nervous at the prospect of the door opening any minute, so we just listen for their voices and don’t speak. Graham pulls at the threads of his blue jeans over his right knee until there’s a small pile of threads on the floor and barely anything covering his knee. I pick up one of the threads and twist it between my fingers. “We used to play this word game on our laptops at night,” he says. “I was really good at it. I’m the one who introduced Sasha to the game, but she would always beat my score. Every damn night.” He stretches his legs out. They’re a lot longer than mine. “It used to impress me until I saw an eight-hundred-dollar charge for the game on her bank statement. She was buying extra letters at five dollars a pop just so she could beat me.” I try to picture this guy playing games on his laptop at night, but it’s hard. He looks like the kind of guy who reads novels and cleans his apartment twice a day and folds his socks and then tops off all that perfection with a morning run. “Ethan doesn’t know how to change a tire. We’ve had two flats since we’ve been together and he had to call a tow truck both times.” Graham shakes his head a little and says, “I’m not looking for reasons to excuse the bastard, but that’s not so bad. A lot of guys don’t know how to change a tire.” “I know. That’s not the bad part. The bad part is that I do know how to change a tire. He just refused to let me because it would have embarrassed him to have to stand aside while a girl changed his tire.” There’s something more in Graham’s expression. Something I haven’t noticed before. Concern, maybe? He pegs me with a serious stare. “Do not forgive him for this, Quinn.” His words make my chest tighten. “I won’t,” I say with complete confidence. “I don’t want him back after this. I keep wondering why I’m not crying. Maybe that’s a sign.” He has a knowing look in his eye, but then the lines around his eyes fall a little. “You’ll cry tonight. In bed. That’s when it’ll hurt the most. When you’re alone.” Everything suddenly feels heavier with that comment. I don’t want to cry but I know this is all going to hit me any minute now. I met Ethan right after I started college and we’ve been together four years now. That’s a lot to lose in one moment. And even though I know it’s over, I don’t want to confront him. I just want to walk away and be done with him. I don’t want to need closure or even an explanation, but I’m scared I’ll need both of those things when I’m alone tonight. “We should probably get tested.” Graham’s words and the fear that consumes me after he says them are cut off by the sound of Ethan’s muffled voice. He’s walking toward the door. I turn to look at his apartment door but Graham touches my face and pulls my attention back to him. “The worst thing we could do right now is show emotion, Quinn. Don’t get angry. Don’t cry.” I bite my lip and nod, trying to hold back all the things I know I’m about to need to scream. “Okay,” I whisper, right as Ethan’s apartment door begins to open. I try to hold my resolve like Graham is doing, but Ethan’s looming presence makes me nauseous. Neither of us looks at the door. Graham’s stare is hard and he’s breathing steadily as he keeps his gaze locked on mine. I can’t even imagine what Ethan will think in two seconds when he opens the door fully. He won’t recognize me at first. He’ll think we’re two random people sitting on the hallway floor of his apartment building. “Quinn?” I close my eyes when I hear Ethan say my name. I don’t turn toward his voice. I hear Ethan take a step out of his apartment. I can feel my heart in so many places right now, but mostly I feel it in Graham’s hands on my cheeks. Ethan says my name again, but it’s more of a command to look at him. I open my eyes, but I keep them focused on Graham. Ethan’s door opens even wider and a girl gasps in shock. Sasha. Graham blinks, holding his eyes closed for a second longer as he inhales a calming breath. When he opens them, Sasha speaks. “Graham?” “Shit,” Ethan mutters. Graham doesn’t look at them. He continues to face me. As if both of our lives aren’t falling apart around us, Graham calmly says to me, “Would you like me to walk with you downstairs?” I nod. “Graham!” Sasha says his name like she has a right to be angry at him for being here. Graham and I both stand up. Neither of us look toward Ethan’s apartment. Graham has a tight grip on my hand as he leads me to the elevator. She’s right behind us, then next to us as we wait for the elevator. She’s on the other side of Graham, pulling on his shirtsleeve. He squeezes my hand a little harder, so I squeeze his back, letting him know we can do this without a scene. Just walk onto the elevator and leave. When the doors open, Graham ushers me on first and then he steps on. He doesn’t leave room for Sasha to step on with us. He blocks the doorway and we’re forced to face the direction of the doors. The direction of Sasha. He hits the button for the lobby and when the doors begin to close, I finally look up. I notice two things. 1) Ethan is no longer in the hallway and his apartment door is closed. 2) Sasha is so much prettier than me. Even when she’s crying. The doors close and it’s a long, quiet ride to the bottom. Graham doesn’t let go of my hand and we don’t speak, but we also don’t cry. We walk quietly out of the elevator and across the lobby. When we reach the door, Vincent holds it open for us, looking at us both with apology in his eyes. Graham pulls out his wallet and gives Vincent a handful of bills. “Thanks for the apartment number,” Graham says. Vincent nods and takes the cash. When his eyes meet mine, they’re swimming in apology. I give Vincent a hug since I’ll likely never see him again. Once Graham and I are outside, we just stand on the sidewalk, dumbfounded. I wonder if the world looks different to him now because it certainly looks different to me. The sky, the trees, the people who pass us on the sidewalk. Everything seems slightly more disappointing than it did before I walked into Ethan’s building. “You want me to hail you a cab?” he finally says. “I drove. That’s my car,” I say, pointing across the street. He glances back up at the apartment building. “I want to get out of here before she makes it down.” He looks genuinely worried, like he can’t face her at all right now. At least Sasha is trying. She followed Graham all the way to the elevator while Ethan just walked back inside his apartment and closed his door. Graham looks back at me, his hands shoved in his jacket pockets. I wrap my coat tightly around myself. There’s not much left to say other than goodbye. “Goodbye, Graham.” His stare is flat, like he’s not even in this moment. He backs up a step. Two steps. Then he spins and starts walking in the other direction. I look back at the apartment building, just as Sasha bursts through the doors. Vincent is behind her, staring at me. He waves at me, so I lift a hand and wave back to him. We both know it’s a goodbye wave, because I’m never stepping foot inside Ethan’s apartment building again. Not even for whatever stuff of mine litters his apartment. I’d rather him just throw it all away than face him again. Sasha looks left and then right, hoping to find Graham. She doesn’t. She just finds me and it makes me wonder if she even knows who I am. Did Ethan tell her he’s supposed to get married next month? Did he tell her we just spoke on the phone this morning and he told me he’s counting down the seconds until he gets to call me his wife? Does she know when I sleep over at Ethan’s apartment that he refuses to shower without me? Did he tell her the sheets he just fucked her on were an engagement gift from my sister? Does she know when Ethan proposed to me, he cried when I said yes? She must not realize this or she wouldn’t have thrown away her relationship with a guy who impressed me more in one hour than Ethan did in four years. Chapter Two * * * Now Our marriage didn’t collapse. It didn’t suddenly fall apart. It’s been a much slower process. It’s been dwindling, if you will. I’m not even sure who is most at fault. We started out strong. Stronger than most; I’m convinced of that. But over the course of the last several years, we’ve weakened. The most disturbing thing about it is how skilled we are at pretending nothing has changed. We don’t talk about it. We’re alike in a lot of ways, one of them being our ability to avoid the things that need the most attention. In our defense, it’s hard to admit that a marriage might be over when the love is still there. People are led to believe that a marriage ends only when the love has been lost. When anger replaces happiness. When contempt replaces bliss. But Graham and I aren’t angry at each other. We’re just not the same people we used to be. Sometimes when people change, it’s not always noticeable in a marriage, because the couple changes together, in the same direction. But sometimes people change in opposite directions. I’ve been facing the opposite direction from Graham for so long, I can’t even remember what his eyes look like when he’s inside me. But I’m sure he has every strand of hair on the back of my head memorized from all the times I roll away from him at night. People can’t always control who their circumstances turn them into. I look down at my wedding ring and roll it with my thumb, spinning it in a continuous circle around my finger. When Graham bought it, he said the jeweler told him the wedding ring is a symbol for eternal love. An endless loop. The beginning becomes the middle and there’s never supposed to be an end. But nowhere in that jeweler’s explanation did he say the ring symbolizes eternal happiness. Just eternal love. The problem is, love and happiness are not concordant. One can exist without the other. I’m staring at my ring, my hand, the wooden box I’m holding, when out of nowhere, Graham says, “What are you doing?” I lift my head slowly, completely opposite of the surprise I’m feeling at his sudden appearance in the doorway. He’s already taken off his tie and the top three buttons of his shirt are undone. He’s leaning against the doorway, his curiosity pulling his eyebrows together as he stares at me. He fills the room with his presence. I only fill it with my absence. After knowing him for as long as I have, there’s still a mysteriousness that surrounds him. It peeks out of his dark eyes and weighs down all the thoughts he never speaks. The quietness is what drew me to him the first day I met him. It made me feel at peace. Funny how that same quietness makes me uneasy now. I don’t even try to hide the wooden box. It’s too late; he’s staring straight at it. I look away from him, down at the box in my hands. It’s been in the attic, untouched, rarely even thought of. I found it today while I was looking for my wedding dress. I just wanted to see if the dress still fit. It did, but I looked different in it than I did seven years ago. I looked lonelier. Graham walks a few steps into the bedroom. I can see the stifled fear in his expression as he looks from the wooden box to me, waiting for me to give him an answer as to why I’m holding it. Why it’s in the bedroom. Why I thought to even pull it out of the attic. I don’t know why. But holding this box is certainly a conscious decision, so I can’t respond with something innocent like “I don’t know.” He steps closer and the crisp smell of beer drifts from him. He’s never been much of a drinker, unless it’s Thursday, when he goes to dinner with his coworkers. I actually like the smell of him on Thursday nights. I’m sure if he drank every day I’d grow to despise the smell, especially if he couldn’t control the drinking. It would become a point of contention between us. But Graham is always in control. He has a routine and he sticks to it. I find this aspect of his personality to be one of his sexiest traits. I used to look forward to his return on Thursday nights. Sometimes I would dress up for him and wait for him right here on the bed, anticipating the sweet flavor of his mouth. It says something that I forgot to look forward to it tonight. “Quinn?” I can hear all his fears, silently smashed between each letter of my name. He walks toward me and I focus on his eyes the whole time. They’re uncertain and concerned and it makes me wonder when he started looking at me this way. He used to look at me with amusement and awe. Now his eyes just flood me with pity. I’m sick of being looked at this way, of not knowing how to answer his questions. I’m no longer on the same wavelength as my husband. I don’t know how to communicate with him anymore. Sometimes when I open my mouth, it feels like the wind blows all my words straight back down my throat. I miss the days when I needed to tell him everything or I would burst. And I miss the days when he would feel like time cheated us during the hours we had to sleep. Some mornings I would wake up and catch him staring at me. He would smile and whisper, “What did I miss while you were sleeping?” I would roll onto my side and tell him all about my dreams and sometimes he would laugh so hard, he would have tears in his eyes. He would analyze the good ones and downplay the bad ones. He always had a way of making me feel like my dreams were better than anyone else’s. He no longer asks what he misses while I sleep. I don’t know if it’s because he no longer wonders or if it’s because I no longer dream anything worth sharing. I don’t realize I’m still spinning my wedding ring until Graham reaches down and stills it with his finger. He gently threads our fingers together and carefully pulls my hand away from the wooden box. I wonder if his intention is to react like I’m holding an explosive or if that’s truly how he feels right now. He tilts my face upward and he bends forward, pressing a kiss to my forehead. I close my eyes and subtly pull away, making it appear as though he caught me while I was already mid-movement. His lips brush across my forehead as I push off the bed, forcing him to release me as I watch him take a humbling step back. I call it the divorce dance. Partner one goes in for the kiss, partner two isn’t receptive, partner one pretends he didn’t notice. We’ve been dancing this same dance for a while now. I clear my throat, my hands gripping the box as I walk it to the bookshelf. “I found it in the attic,” I say. I bend down and slide the box between two books on the bottom shelf. Graham built me this bookshelf as a gift for our first wedding anniversary. I was so impressed that he built it from scratch with his bare hands. I remember he got a splinter in the palm of his hand while moving it into the bedroom for me. I sucked it out of his palm as a thank-you. Then I pushed him against the bookshelf, knelt down in front of him, and thanked him some more. That was back when touching each other still held hope. Now his touch is just another reminder of all the things I’ll never be for him. I hear him walking across the room toward me so I stand up and grip the bookshelf. “Why did you bring it down from the attic?” he asks. I don’t face him, because I don’t know how to answer him. He’s so close to me now; his breath slides through my hair and brushes the back of my neck when he sighs. His hand tops mine and he grips the bookshelf with me, squeezing. He brings his lips down against my shoulder in a quiet kiss. I’m bothered by the intensity of my desire for him. I want to turn and fill his mouth with my tongue. I miss the taste of him, the smell of him, the sound of him. I miss when he would be on top of me, so consumed by me that it felt like he might tear through my chest just so he could be face-to-face with my heart while we made love. It’s strange how I can miss a person who is still here. It’s strange that I can miss making love to a person I still have sex with. No matter how much I mourn the marriage we used to have, I am partly—if not wholly—responsible for the marriage it’s turned into. I close my eyes, disappointed in myself. I’ve perfected the art of avoidance. I’m so graceful in my evasion of him; sometimes I’m not sure if he even notices. I pretend to fall asleep before he even makes it to bed at night. I pretend I don’t hear him when my name drips from his lips in the dark. I pretend to be busy when he walks toward me, I pretend to be sick when I feel fine, I pretend to accidentally lock the door when I’m in the shower. I pretend to be happy when I’m breathing. It’s becoming more difficult to pretend I enjoy his touch. I don’t enjoy it—I only need it. There’s a difference. It makes me wonder if he pretends just as much as I do. Does he want me as much as he professes to? Does he wish I wouldn’t pull away? Is he thankful I do? He wraps an arm around me and his fingers splay out against my stomach. A stomach that still easily fits into my wedding dress. A stomach unmarred by pregnancy. I have that, at least. A stomach most mothers would envy. “Do you ever . . .” His voice is low and sweet and completely terrified to ask me whatever he’s about to ask me. “Do you ever think about opening it?” Graham never asks questions he doesn’t need answers to. I’ve always liked that about him. He doesn’t fill voids with unnecessary talk. He either has something to say or he doesn’t. He either wants to know the answer to something or he doesn’t. He would never ask me if I ever think about opening the box if he didn’t need to know the answer. Right now, this is my least favorite thing about him. I don’t want this question because I don’t know how to give him his answer. Instead of risking the wind blowing my words back down my throat, I simply shrug. After years of being experts of avoidance, he finally stops the divorce dance long enough to ask a serious question. The one question I’ve been waiting for him to ask me for a while now. And what do I do? I shrug. The moments that follow my shrug are probably why it’s taken him so long to ask the question in the first place. It’s the moment I feel his heart come to a halt, the moment he presses his lips into my hair and sighs a breath he’ll never get back, the moment he realizes he has both arms wrapped around me but he still isn’t holding me. He hasn’t been able to hold me for a while now. It’s hard to hold on to someone who has long since slipped away. I don’t reciprocate. He releases me. I exhale. He leaves the bedroom. We resume the dance. Chapter Three * * * Then The sky turned upside down. Just like my life. An hour ago, I was engaged to the man I’ve been in love with for four years. Now I’m not. I turn the windshield wipers on and watch out the window as people run for cover. Some of them run inside Ethan’s apartment building, including Sasha. The rain came out of nowhere. No sprinkles to indicate what was coming. The sky just tipped over like a bucket of water and huge drops are falling hard against my window. I wonder if Graham lives close by or if he’s still walking. I flip on my blinker and pull out of my usual parking spot at Ethan’s for the very last time. I head in the direction Graham began walking a few minutes ago. As soon as I turn left, I see him duck into a restaurant to take cover from the storm. Conquistadors. It’s a Mexican restaurant. One I’m not too fond of. But it’s close to Ethan’s apartment and he likes it, so we eat here at least once a month. A car is pulling out of a space in front of the restaurant, so I patiently wait for them to leave and then I ease my car into their spot. I get out of the car without knowing what I’ll say to Graham once I walk inside. “Need a ride home?” “Need company?” “Up for a night of revenge sex?” Who am I kidding? The last thing I want tonight is revenge sex. That’s not why I’m following him, so I hope he doesn’t assume that’s the case once he sees me. I still don’t know why I’m following him. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to be alone. Because like he said, the tears will come later, in the silence. When the door closes behind me and my eyes adjust to the dim lighting in the restaurant, I spot Graham standing at the bar. He’s removing his wet coat and laying it over the back of the chair when he sees me. He doesn’t appear at all shocked to see me. He pulls out the chair next to him with the confident expectation that I’ll walk over to him and take it. I do. I sit right next to him and neither of us says a word. We just commiserate in our silent misery. “Can I get you two any drinks?” a bartender asks. “Two shots of whatever will help us forget the last hour of our lives,” Graham says. The bartender laughs, but neither of us laughs with him. He sees how serious Graham is being, so he holds up a finger. “I have just the thing.” He walks to the other end of the bar. I can feel Graham watching me, but I don’t look at him. I don’t really want to see how sad his eyes are right now. I almost feel worse for him than I do for myself. I pull a bowl of pretzels in front of me. They’re a mixture of shapes, so I begin to pull out all the sticks and I lay them on the bar in the shape of a grid. Then I pull out all the O-shaped pretzels and scoot the bowl of the traditionally shaped pretzel knots toward Graham. I lay my pretzel in the center of the grid. I look at Graham and wait quietly. He looks at the pretzels I’ve strategically placed on the bar and then he looks back at me. A very slow and guarded smile makes its appearance. Then he reaches into the bowl, pulls out a pretzel knot and places it in the square above mine. I pick the spot to the left of the center square, placing my pretzel carefully in my square. The bartender lays two shots down in front of us. We pick them up at the same time and swing our chairs so that we’re facing each other. We sit in silence for a good ten seconds, waiting for the other to make the toast. Graham finally says, “I have absolutely nothing to toast to. Fuck today.” “Fuck today,” I say in complete agreement. We clink our shot glasses together and tilt our heads back. Graham’s goes down a lot smoother than mine. He slams his glass on the counter and then picks up another pretzel. He makes the next move. I’m picking up the next pretzel when my phone starts buzzing in my jacket pocket. I pull it out. Ethan’s name is flashing across the screen. Graham then pulls his phone out and sets it on the bar. Sasha’s name is flashing across his screen. It’s comical, really. What must the two of them think, walking out and seeing both of us sitting on the floor together, eating their Chinese food. Graham places his phone on the bar, faceup. He puts his finger on his phone, but instead of answering it, he gives his phone a shove. I watch as it slides across the bar and disappears over the edge. I hear his phone crash against the floor on the other side of the bar, but Graham acts as if he isn’t at all fazed with the idea of having a broken phone. “You just broke your phone.” He pops a pretzel into his mouth. “It’s full of nothing but pictures and texts from Sasha. I’ll get a new one tomorrow.” I lay my phone on the bar and I stare at it. It’s silent for a moment, but Ethan calls for a second time. As soon as his name flashes across the screen, I have the urge to do exactly what Graham just did. I’m due for a new phone, anyway. When the ringing stops and a text from Ethan comes through, I give my phone a shove. We watch as my phone slips over the other side of the bar. We go back to playing tic-tac-toe. I win the first game. Graham wins the second. Third is a draw. Graham picks up another one of the pretzels and eats it. I don’t know if it was the shot I took or if I’m just confused by the turmoil of today, but every time Graham looks at me, I can feel the look trickle down my skin. And my chest. Everywhere, actually. I can’t tell if he makes me nervous or if I just have a buzz. Either way, this feeling is better than the devastation I would be feeling right now if I were at home alone. I replace the piece of pretzel grid that Graham just ate. “I have a confession,” I say. “Nothing you say can beat the past couple of hours of my life. Confess away.” I lean my elbow against the bar and prop my head on my hand. I give him a sidelong glance. “Sasha came outside. After you walked away.” Graham can see the shame in my expression. His eyebrows raise in curiosity. “What did you do, Quinn?” “She asked which way you went. I refused to tell her.” I sit up straight and swing the chair so that I’m facing him. “But before I got in my car, I turned around and said, ‘Eight hundred dollars on a word game? Really, Sasha?’ ” Graham stares at me. Hard. It makes me wonder if I crossed a line. I probably shouldn’t have said that to her, but I was bitter. I don’t regret it. “What’d she say?” I shake my head. “Nothing. Her mouth kind of fell open in shock, but then it started raining and she ran back inside Ethan’s apartment building.” Graham is staring at me with so much intensity. I hate it. I wish he’d laugh or get angry that I interfered. Something. He says nothing. Eventually, his eyes lower until he’s staring down between us. We’re facing each other, but our legs aren’t touching. Graham’s hand that’s resting on his knee moves forward a little until his fingers graze my knee, just below the hem of my skirt. It’s both subtle and obvious. My entire body tenses at the contact. Not because I don’t like it, but because I can’t remember the last time Ethan’s touch sent this much heat through me. Graham traces a circle over the top of my knee with his finger. When he looks up at me again, I’m not confused by the look in his eyes. It’s very clear what he’s thinking now. “You want to get out of here?” His voice is both a whisper and a plea. I nod. Graham stands and pulls his wallet out of his pocket. He lays some cash on the bar and then slips into his jacket. He reaches down and threads his fingers through mine, leading me through the restaurant, out the door and hopefully toward something that makes this day worth waking up for. Chapter Four * * * Now Graham once asked me why I take such long showers. I don’t remember what my excuse was. I’m sure I said they were relaxing, or that the hot water was good for my skin. But I take such long showers because it’s the only time I allow myself to grieve. I feel weak for needing to grieve since no one has died. It doesn’t make sense that I grieve so much for those who never even existed. I’ve been in the shower for half an hour now. When I woke up this morning, I incorrectly assumed it would be a quick, painless shower day. But that changed when I saw the blood. I shouldn’t be shocked. It happens every month. It’s happened every month since I was twelve. I’m standing flat against the shower wall, allowing the spray of the shower to fall over my face. The stream of water dilutes my tears and it makes me feel less pathetic. It’s easier to convince myself I’m not crying that hard when most of what’s falling down my cheeks is water. I’m doing my makeup now. Sometimes this happens. One second I’m in the shower, the next second I’m not. I lose myself in the grief. I get so lost that by the time I climb my way out of the dark, I’m in a new place. This new place is me, naked, in front of the bathroom mirror. I slide the lipstick over my bottom lip and then my top. I set it down and stare at my reflection. My eyes are red from the grief but my makeup is in place, my hair has been pulled back, my clothes are folded neatly on the counter. I look at my body in the mirror, covering both breasts with my hands. From the outside, I look healthy. My hips are wide, my stomach is flat, my breasts are average and perky. When men look at me, sometimes their eyes linger. But inside, I am not at all attractive. I am not internally appealing by Mother Nature’s standards, because I do not have a working reproductive system. Reproduction is why we exist, after all. Reproduction is required to complete the circle of life. We are born, we reproduce, we raise our offspring, we die, our offspring reproduce, they raise their offspring, they die. Generation after generation of birth, life, and death. A beautiful circle not meant to be broken. Yet . . . I am the break. I was born. That’s all I’m able to do until I die. I’m standing on the outside of the circle of life, watching the world spin while I am at a standstill. And because he is married to me . . . Graham is at a standstill. I pull on my clothes, covering up the body that has repeatedly failed us. I walk into our kitchen and find Graham standing in front of the coffeepot. He looks up at me and I don’t want him to know about the blood or the grief in the shower so I make the mistake of smiling at him. I quickly wipe the smile away but it’s too late. He thinks it’s a good day. My smiles give him hope. He walks up to me because, like an idiot, I’m not holding any of my usual weapons. I normally make sure I have both hands full with either a purse, a drink, an umbrella, a jacket. Sometimes all those things at once. Today I have nothing to shield myself from his love, so he hugs me good morning. I’m forced to hug him back. My face fits perfectly between his neck and shoulder. His arms fit perfectly around my waist. I want to press my mouth against his skin and feel the chills that break out against my tongue. But if I do that I know what would follow. His fingers would be skimming my waist. His mouth, hot and wet, would find mine. His hands would be freeing me from my clothes. He would be inside me. He would make love to me. And when he stopped, I would be filled with hope. And then all that hope would eventually escape with the blood. I would be left devastated in the shower. And then Graham would say to me, “Why do you take such long showers?” And I would respond, “Because they’re relaxing. The hot water is good for my skin.” I close my eyes and press my hands against his chest, easing myself away from him. I push away from him so often now, I sometimes wonder if my palms have imprinted against his chest. “What time is dinner at your sister’s house?” My questions ease the rejection. If I push away as I’m asking a question, the distraction makes it seem less personal. Graham moves back to the coffeemaker and picks up his cup. He blows on it as he shrugs. “She gets off work at five. So probably seven.” I grab my weapons. My purse, a drink, my jacket. “ ’K. See you then. Love you.” I kiss his cheek with my weapons safely separating us. “I love you, too.” He says the words to the back of my head. I rarely give him the opportunity to say them to my face anymore. When I get to my car, I send a text to Ava, my sister. Not this month. She’s the only one I discuss it with anymore. I stopped talking to Graham about my cycle last year. Every month since we started trying for a baby years ago, Graham would console me when I’d find out I wasn’t pregnant. I appreciated it in the beginning. Longed for it, even. But month after month, I grew to dread having to tell him how broken I was. And I knew if I was growing to dread him having to console me, that he was more than likely already tired of the disappointing routine. I decided early last year to only bring it up if the outcome were ever different. So far, the outcome is always the same. Sorry Babe, my sister texts back. You busy? I have news. I back out of my driveway and set my phone to Bluetooth right before I call her. She answers in the middle of the first ring. Instead of hello, she says, “I know you don’t want to talk about it, so let’s talk about me.” I love that she gets me. “What’s new with you?” “He got the job.” I grip the steering wheel and force my voice to sound excited. “Did he? Ava, that’s great!” She sighs, and I can tell she’s forcing herself to sound sad. “We move in two weeks.” I feel the tears threaten my eyes, but I’ve cried enough for one day. I really am happy for her. But she’s my only sibling and now she’s moving halfway across the world. Her husband, Reid, is from a huge family in France, and before they even got married, Ava said they would eventually move to Europe. The thought of it has always excited her so I know she’s holding back her giddiness out of respect for my sadness over the distance this will put between us. I knew Reid applied for a few jobs last month, but a small part of me was selfishly hoping he wouldn’t receive an offer. “Will you guys be moving to Monaco?” “No, Reid’s job will be in Imperia. Different country, but it’s only an hour drive to Monaco. Europe is so tiny, it’s weird. You drive an hour here and you end up in New York. You drive an hour in Europe and you end up in a country that speaks a whole different language.” I don’t even know where Imperia is but it already sounds like a better fit for her than Connecticut. “Have you told Mom yet?” “No,” she says. “I know how dramatic she’s going to be, so I figured I’d tell her in person. I’m on my way to her house right now.” “Good luck with that.” “Thanks,” she says. “I’ll call you and let you know how thick she lays on the guilt. See you at lunch tomorrow?” “I’ll be there. And it’ll give her a whole day to calm down.” When we end the call, I find myself stuck at a red light on an empty street. Literally and figuratively. * * * My father died when I was only fourteen. My mother remarried not long after that. It didn’t surprise me. It didn’t even upset me. My mother and father never had a relationship worth envying. I’m sure it was good in the beginning, but by the time I was old enough to know what love was, I knew they didn’t have it. I’m not sure my mother ever married for love, anyway. Money is her priority when it comes to seeking out a soul mate. My stepfather didn’t win her over with his personality. He won her over with his beach house in Cape Cod. Contrary to her wardrobe and attitude, my mother isn’t rich. She grew up in a meager life in Vermont, the second of seven children. She married my father when he was moderately wealthy, and as soon as they had my sister and me, she demanded he buy her a home in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. It didn’t matter that he had to work twice as hard to afford her lavish spending. I think he liked being at work more than he liked being home. When my father passed away, there were assets, but not enough to afford my mother the same lifestyle she was used to. It didn’t take her long to rectify it, though. She married my stepfather in a private ceremony within a year of burying my father. She barely had to go eight months on a budget. Even though my sister and I grew up in a wealthy lifestyle, we were not, and are not wealthy. Our mother has long spent anything my father left all those years ago. And my stepfather has biological children of his own who will receive his wealth when he dies. Because of all these factors, Ava and I have never considered ourselves wealthy, despite growing up and being raised by people who were. It’s why, as soon as we both graduated college, we immediately started working and paying our own bills. I never ask my mother for money. One, because I think it’s inappropriate for a grown, married woman to have to ask her parents for help. And two, because she doesn’t give freely. Everything comes with stipulations when it’s given by my mother. She will occasionally do things for Ava and me that we’re both very grateful for. She paid off our vehicles for Christmas last year. And when I graduated college before meeting Graham, she helped me find an apartment and paid the first month’s rent. But mostly, she spends her money on us in ways that benefit her. She’ll buy us clothes she thinks we should wear because she doesn’t like the ones we buy ourselves. She’ll buy us spa days for our birthday and force us to spend it with her. She’ll visit our homes and complain about our furniture and two days after she leaves, a delivery person will show up with all new furniture she picked out herself. Graham absolutely hates it when she does this. He says a gift is a nice gesture, but an entire couch is an insult. I’m not ungrateful for the things she does for me. I just know that I have to make my own way in life because even though money surrounds me, it doesn’t line my pockets. One of the things I’ve always been grateful for is our weekly lunches. Without fail, Ava and I join her for lunch at the country club near her house. I absolutely hate the place, but I enjoy time with Ava and we tolerate our mother enough to be able to look forward to our weekly lunches. However, I have a feeling all that is going to change now that Ava is moving to Europe. She’ll be preparing to move for the next week, which makes this our last lunch. The fullness that was just added to her life has made mine feel even emptier. “Can’t you fly home for lunch every week?” I ask Ava. “How am I supposed to entertain your mother all by myself?” We always refer to our mom as your mother when we’re discussing her. It started as a joke in high school, but now we say it so often, we have to watch ourselves in front of her so that we don’t slip up. “Bring an iPad and Skype me in,” she says. I laugh. “Don’t tempt me.” Ava picks up her phone and perks up when she reads a message. “I have an interview!” “That was fast. What’s the job?” “It’s for an English tutor at a local high school there. Doesn’t pay shit but if I get the job, I’ll learn how to cuss in French and Italian a lot faster.” Reid makes enough money that Ava doesn’t have to work, but she’s always had a job. She says the housewife role isn’t a fit for her and I think that’s what drew Reid to her. Neither of them want kids and Ava has always liked staying busy, so it works for them. There are moments I envy her lack of desire for children. So many issues in my life and marriage would be nonexistent if I didn’t feel so incomplete without a child. “It’s going to feel so weird without you, Ava,” my mother says, claiming her seat at the table. I ordered her usual, a martini with extra olives. She sets her purse down in the chair next to her and pulls an olive from the toothpick. “I didn’t think your move would bother me this much,” my mother continues. “When are you coming home to visit?” “I haven’t even left yet,” Ava says. My mother sighs and picks up her menu. “I can’t believe you’re leaving us. At least you don’t have kids. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if you whisked grandchildren away from me.” I laugh under my breath. My mother is the most dramatic person I know. She hardly wanted to be a mother when Ava and I were little and I know for a fact she’s in no hurry to be a grandmother. That’s one aspect of her personality I’m able to find relief in. She doesn’t nag me about having a baby. She only prays I never adopt. Ava brought up adoption at one of our lunches with my mother two years ago. My mother actually scoffed at the idea. “Quinn, please tell me you aren’t pondering the idea of raising someone else’s child,” she said. “It could have . . . issues.” Ava just looked at me and rolled her eyes, then texted me under the table. Yes, because biological children never have issues. Your mother needs to take a look in the mirror. I’m going to miss her so much. I already miss you so much, I text her. Still here. “Honestly, girls, do neither of you know table etiquette by now?” I look up and my mother is glaring at our phones. I lock mine and shove it in my purse. “How is Graham?” my mother asks. She only asks out of courtesy. Even though Graham and I have been married for over seven years, she still wishes he were anyone else. He’s never been good enough for me in her eyes, but not because she wants the best for me. If it were up to my mother, Graham would be Ethan and I’d be living in a house as big as hers and she’d be able to brag to all her friends about how much richer her daughter is than Evelyn Bradbury. “He’s great,” I say, without elaborating. Because honestly, I’m only assuming Graham is great. I can’t tell anymore what he’s feeling or thinking or if he’s great or good or miserable. “Really great.” “Are you feeling okay?” “I feel fine. Why?” “I don’t know,” she says, giving me the once-over. “You just look . . . tired. Are you getting enough sleep?” “Wow,” Ava mutters. I roll my eyes and pick up my menu. My mother has always had a knack for direct insults. It never bothers me much because she jabs both Ava and me an even amount. Probably because we look so much alike. Ava is only two years older than me. We both have the same straight brown hair that reaches just past our shoulders. We have the same eyes that are identical in color to our hair. And according to our mother, we both look tired a lot. We order our food and make small talk until it arrives. Lunch is almost in the bag when someone approaches our table. “Avril?” Ava and I both look up as Eleanor Watts adjusts her baby blue Hermès bag from one shoulder to the other. She tries to make it appear subtle, but she might as well hit us over the head with it while screaming, “Look at me! I can afford a fifteen-thousand-dollar purse!” “Eleanor!” my mother exclaims. She stands and they air kiss and I force a smile when Eleanor looks at us. “Quinn and Ava! Ladies, you are as beautiful as ever!” I have half a mind to ask her if I look tired. She takes an empty seat and cradles her arms around her bag. “How are you, Avril? I haven’t seen you since . . .” She pauses. “Quinn’s engagement party to Ethan Van Kemp,” my mother finishes. Eleanor shakes her head. “I can’t believe it’s been that long. Look at us, we’re grandparents now! How did that even happen?” My mother picks up her martini glass and sips from it. “I’m not a grandmother yet,” she says, almost as if she’s bragging about it. “Ava is moving to Europe with her husband. Children interfere with their wanderlust,” she says, waving her hand flippantly toward Ava. Eleanor turns to me, her eyes scanning my wedding ring before they move back to my face. “And what about you, Quinn? You’ve been married a while now.” She says this with ignorant laughter. My cheeks burn, even though I should be used to this conversation by now. I know people don’t mean to be insensitive but the intention doesn’t make the comments hurt any less. “When are you and Graham going to have a baby?” “Do you not want children?” “Keep trying, it’ll happen!” I clear my throat and pick up my glass of water. “We’re working on it,” I say, right before taking a sip. I want that to be the end of it, but my mother ensures it isn’t. She leans in toward Eleanor like I’m not even here. “Quinn is struggling with infertility,” my mother says, as if it’s anyone’s business other than mine and Graham’s. Eleanor tilts her head and looks at me with pity. “Oh, honey,” she says, placing her hand over mine. “I’m so sorry to hear that. Have the two of you considered IVF? My niece and her husband couldn’t conceive naturally, but they’re expecting twins any day now.” Have we considered IVF? Is she serious right now? I should probably just smile and tell her that’s a great idea, but I’m suddenly aware that I have a limit and it was just reached. “Yes, Eleanor,” I say, pulling my hand from hers. “We’ve been through three unsuccessful rounds, actually. It drained our savings account and we had to take out a second mortgage on our home.” Eleanor’s face reddens and I’m immediately embarrassed by my reply, which means my mother is probably mortified. I don’t look at her to validate my assumption, though. I can see Ava taking a swig of her water, trying to hide her laughter. “Oh,” Eleanor says. “That’s . . . I’m sorry.” “Don’t be,” my mother interjects. “There’s a reason for everything we go through, right? Even the struggles.” Eleanor nods. “Oh, I believe that wholeheartedly,” she says. “God works in mysterious ways.” I laugh quietly. Her comment is reminiscent of the many comments my mother has said to me in the past. I know she doesn’t mean to be, but Avril Donnelly is the most insensitive of anyone. Graham and I decided to start trying for a baby after only one year into our marriage. I was so naïve, thinking it would happen right away. After the first few unsuccessful months, I started to worry. I brought it up to Ava . . . and my mother, of all people. I told them my concerns before I even brought them up to Graham. My mother actually had the nerve to say that maybe God didn’t think I was ready for a child yet. If God doesn’t give babies to people who aren’t ready for them, He’s got a lot of explaining to do. Because some of the mothers He chose to be fertile are very questionable. My own mother being one of them. Graham has been supportive throughout the entire ordeal, but sometimes I wonder if he gets as frustrated as I do with all the questions. They get harder to answer over and over. Sometimes when we’re together and people ask why we haven’t had children yet, Graham blames it on himself. “I’m sterile,” he’ll say. He’s far from sterile, though. He had his sperm count tested in the beginning and it was fine. Actually, it was more than fine. The doctor used the word lavish. “You have a lavish amount of sperm, Mr. Wells.” Graham and I joked about that forever. But even though we tried to turn it into a joke, it meant the issue was all me. No matter how lavish his sperm count was, they weren’t any good to my uterus. We had sex on a strict ovulation schedule. I took my temperature regularly. I ate and drank all the right foods. Still nothing. We pinched every penny we had and tried IUI and then IVF and were met with unsuccessful results. We’ve discussed surrogacy, but it’s just as expensive as IVF, and according to our doctor, due to the endometriosis I was diagnosed with at twenty-five, my eggs just aren’t very reliable. Nothing has been successful and we can’t afford to keep repeating things we’ve already attempted, or even trying new techniques. I’m starting to realize it might never happen. This past year has been the absolute hardest of all the years. I’m losing faith. Losing interest. Losing hope. Losing, losing, losing. “Are you interested in adoption?” Eleanor asks. My eyes swing to hers and I do my best to hide my exasperation. I open my mouth to answer her, but my mother leans in. “Her husband isn’t interested in adoption,” she says. “Mother,” Ava hisses. She dismisses Ava with a flip of her hand. “It’s not like I’m telling the whole world. Eleanor and I are practically best friends.” “You haven’t seen each other in almost a decade,” I say. My mother squeezes Eleanor’s hand. “Well, it certainly doesn’t feel like that long. How is Peter?” Eleanor laughs, welcoming the change of subject as much as I do. She starts telling my mother about his new car and his midlife crisis, which technically can’t be a midlife crisis because he’s well into his sixties, but I don’t correct them. I excuse myself and head to the restroom in an attempt to run away from the constant reminder of my infertility. I should have corrected her when my mother said Graham isn’t interested in adoption. It’s not that he’s not interested, we just haven’t had any luck in getting approved with an agency due to Graham’s past. I don’t understand how an adoption agency won’t take into consideration that outside of that devastating conviction when he was a teenager, he’s never so much as had a parking ticket. But, when you’re only one of thousands of couples applying to adopt, even one strike against you can rule you out. My mother is wrong. Neither of us is opposed to the idea, but we just can’t get approved and we can no longer afford to keep trying. The treatments drained our bank account and now that we have a second mortgage on our home, we wouldn’t even know how to afford the process if we were approved. There are so many factors, and even though people think we haven’t considered all of our options, we’ve considered them many times. Hell, Ava even bought us a fertility doll when she went to Mexico three years ago. But nothing—not even superstition—has worked in our favor. Graham and I decided early last year to leave it up to chance, hoping it will happen naturally. It hasn’t. And to be honest, I’m tired of swimming upstream. The only thing holding me back from giving up completely is Graham. I know deep down if I let go of the dream of children, I will be letting go of Graham. I don’t want to take the possibility of becoming a father away from him. I’m the infertile one. Not Graham. Should he be punished by my infertility, too? He says kids don’t matter to him as much as I matter to him, but I know he says that because he doesn’t want to hurt me. And because he still has hope. But ten or twenty years from now, he’ll resent me. He’s human. I feel selfish when I have these thoughts. I feel selfish every time Graham and I have sex because I know I’m clinging to a hope that isn’t there, dragging him along in a marriage that will eventually become too dull for either of us. Which is why I spend hours every day online, searching for something that might give me an answer. Anything. I’m in support groups, I read all the message boards, the stories of “miracle conceptions,” the private adoption groups. I’m even in several parenting groups just in case I do eventually have a child. I’ll be well prepared. The one thing I don’t participate in online is social media. I deleted all my accounts last year. I just couldn’t take the insensitive people on my timeline. April Fools’ Day was the worst. I lost track of how many of my friends think it’s funny to announce a fake pregnancy. They have absolutely no compassion for people in my situation. If they knew how many women have spent years dreaming of a positive result, they’d never even think to make light of it. And don’t get me started on the number of my friends who complain about their children on their timeline. “Evie was up all night crying! Ugh! When will she sleep through the freaking night?” or “I can’t wait for school to start back! These boys are driving me insane!” If those mothers only knew. If I were a mother, I wouldn’t take a single moment of my child’s life for granted. I’d be grateful for every second they whined or cried or got sick or talked back to me. I’d cherish every second they were home during the summer and I’d miss them every second they were away at school. That’s why I deleted social media. Because with every status I saw, I became more and more bitter. I know those mothers love their children. I know they don’t take them for granted. But they don’t understand what it’s like not to be able to experience the things that bring them stress. And rather than despise every person I’m friends with online, I decided to delete my accounts in hopes it would bring me a small semblance of peace. But it hasn’t. Even without social media, not a single day goes by without being reminded that I might never be a mother. Every time I see a child. Every time I see a pregnant woman. Every time I run into people like Eleanor. Almost every movie I watch, every book I read, every song I hear. And lately . . . every time my husband touches me. Chapter Five * * * Then I’ve never brought a guy to my apartment who wasn’t Ethan. In fact, Ethan rarely came here, either. His apartment is nicer and much larger, so we always stayed there. But here I am, about to have rebound sex with a complete stranger just hours after I caught my fiancé having an affair. If Ethan is capable of an affair, I am certainly capable of revenge sex with an extremely attractive guy. This entire day has been one bizarre event after another. What’s one more? I open the door and make a quick scan of the apartment in case there’s anything I need to hide. In doing so, I realize I’d have to hide everything and that’s not possible with Graham one step behind me. I step aside and allow him to enter my apartment. “Come in,” I say. Graham walks in after me, taking in my apartment with his sad eyes. It’s a small one-bedroom, but all the pictures of Ethan and me make it feel even smaller. Suffocating. Leftover wedding invitations are still spread out over the dining room table. The wedding dress I bought two weeks ago hangs from the entryway closet door. Seeing it makes me angry. I pull it down, fold the wedding bag over, and shove it in the closet. I don’t even bother to hang it. I hope it gets wrinkled. Graham walks over to my bar and picks up a photo of Ethan and me. In the picture, Ethan had just proposed and I said yes. I was flashing my ring at the camera. I stand next to Graham and look at the photo with him. His thumb brushes over the glass. “You look really happy here.” I don’t respond, because he’s right. I look happy in that photo because I was happy. Extremely happy. And oblivious. How many times had Ethan cheated on me? Did it happen before he even proposed to me? I have so many questions but I don’t think I want the answers enough to eventually subject myself to an interrogation of Ethan. Graham sets the photo down on the bar, facedown. And just like we did with our phones, he presses his finger against it and gives it a shove across the bar. It flies over the edge and shatters when it hits my kitchen floor. Such a careless, rude thing to do in someone else’s apartment. But I like that he did it. There are two more pictures on the bar. I take the other one of Ethan and me and place it facedown. I push it across the bar and when that one shatters, I smile. So does Graham. We both stare at the last photo. Ethan isn’t in this one. It’s a picture of me and my father, taken just two weeks before he died. Graham picks it up and brings it in closer for inspection. “Your dad?” “Yeah.” He sets the photo back on the counter. “This one can stay.” Graham makes his way to the table where the leftover wedding invitations are laid out. I didn’t choose the invitations. My mother and Ethan’s mother did. They even mailed them out for us. My mother dropped these off two weeks ago and told me to look on Pinterest for crafts to make out of leftover invitations, but I had no desire to do anything with the invitations. I’ll definitely be throwing them away now. I don’t want a single keepsake from this disaster of a relationship. I follow Graham to the table and I take a seat on it, pulling my legs up. I sit cross-legged as Graham picks up one of the invitations and begins reading it aloud. “The honor of your presence is requested at the nuptials of Quinn Dianne Whitley, daughter of Avril Donnelly and the late Kevin Whitley of Old Greenwich, Connecticut, to Ethan Samson Van Kemp, son of Dr. and Mrs. Samson Van Kemp, also of Old Greenwich. The event will take place at the prestigious Douglas Whimberly Plaza on the evening of . . .” Graham pauses reading and looks at me. He points at the wedding invitation. “Your wedding invitation has the word prestigious in it.” I can feel the embarrassment in my cheeks. I hate those invitations. When I saw them for the first time, I threw a fit at the pretentiousness of the entire thing, but my mother and pretentious go hand in hand. “My mother’s doing. Sometimes it’s easier to just let her get her way than put up a fight.” Graham raises an eyebrow and then tosses the invitation back onto the pile. “So, you’re from Greenwich, huh?” I can hear the judgment in his voice, but I don’t blame him. Old Greenwich was recently rated one of the wealthiest cities in America. If you’re a part of that wealth, it’s commonplace to assume you’re better than those who aren’t. If you aren’t part of that wealth, you judge those who are. It’s a trend I refuse to be a part of. “You don’t come across as a girl who hails from Old Greenwich,” he adds. My mother would find that insulting, but his comment makes me smile. I take it as the compliment he meant it to be. And he’s right . . . my microscopic apartment and the furnishings herein in no way resemble the home I grew up in. “Thank you. I try very hard to separate myself from the dredges of high society.” “You’d have to try even harder if you wanted to convince people you’re a part of high society. And I mean that in a good way.” Another comment my mother would be insulted by. I’m starting to like this guy more and more. “Are you hungry?” I glance into the kitchen, wondering if I even have food to offer him. Luckily, he shakes his head. “Nah. I’m still kind of full from all the Chinese food and infidelity.” I laugh quietly. “Yeah. Me too.” Graham scans my apartment once more, from my kitchen, to the living room, to the hallway that leads to the bedroom. Then his eyes land on me so hard I suck in a breath. He stares at me, then at my legs. I watch him as his eyes take in every part of me. It feels different, being looked at this way by someone who isn’t Ethan. I’m surprised I like it. I wonder what Graham thinks when he looks at me. Is he just as shocked as me that he ended up here, in my apartment, staring at me, rather than in his own apartment, standing by his own table, staring at Sasha? Graham slips a hand inside his jacket pocket and pulls out a small box. He opens it and hands it to me. There’s a ring inside of it. An obvious engagement ring, but it’s significantly smaller than the one Ethan bought for me. I actually like this one better than mine. I wanted something a little subtler, but Ethan went with the most expensive one his father could afford. “I’ve been carrying it around for two weeks,” Graham says. He leans against the table next to me and stares down at the ring in my hand. “I haven’t had the chance to propose because she kept blowing me off. I’ve been suspicious for a while now. She’s such a good liar.” He says the last part of that sentence like he’s impressed. “I like it.” I take the ring out of the box and slide it onto my right hand. “You can keep it. I don’t need it anymore.” “You should return it. It was probably expensive.” “I got it off eBay. It’s nonrefundable.” I hold both hands out in front of me and compare the two rings. I look at my engagement ring and wonder why I never thought to tell Ethan beforehand that I didn’t need something ostentatious. It’s like I was so desperate to marry him, I lost my voice. My opinions. Me. I slide my engagement ring off my left hand and put it in the box, replacing the one that Graham bought Sasha. I hand the box to Graham, but he won’t take it. “Take it,” I say, shoving it at him in an attempt to trade rings. He leans back on his hands so that I can’t offer it to him. “That ring could buy you a new car, Quinn.” “My car is paid for.” “Then give the ring back to Ethan. He can give it to Sasha. She’d probably like it better than the one I bought for her.” He won’t take the ring, so I place it on the table. I’ll mail it to Ethan’s mother. She can decide what to do with it. Graham stands up and shoves his hands in his jacket pockets. He really is better looking than Ethan. I wasn’t saying that to flatter him earlier. Ethan’s good looks derive mostly from confidence and money. He’s always been well groomed, well dressed and a little bit cocky. If a person believes they’re good-looking enough, the rest of the world eventually believes it, too. But Graham’s attractiveness is more sincere. He doesn’t have any spectacular features that stand out individually. His hair isn’t a unique shade of brown. His eyes are dark, but they don’t verge on black or unusual. If anything, the flat chestnut makes his eyes look even more sad than they would if his eyes were blue or green. His lips are smooth and full, but not in a way that would make me think about their distinctiveness if they weren’t right in front of me. He’s not extremely tall to where his height would be something one would point out. He’s probably right at six feet tall. His attractiveness comes from the combination of all the many pieces of him. His unspectacular features somehow come together to create this pull in my chest. I love the way he looks at the world through a pair of calm eyes when his life is in complete turmoil. I’m completely drawn in by the way he smiles with only half of his mouth. When he speaks sometimes, he pauses and runs a thumb over his bottom lip. It’s unintentionally sexy. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so physically attracted to someone I know so little. Graham looks at the front door and I wonder if he changed his mind. Did I do something to turn him off? Is he still thinking about Sasha? He looks like he’s about to call it a night. He pushes off the table and I remain seated, waiting on him to give me all the reasons why this isn’t a good idea. He moves his body so that he’s standing directly in front of me. It’s like he doesn’t know what to do with his hands before he tells me goodbye, so he just shoves them in the pockets of his jeans. His gaze falls to my neck before traveling back up to my face. It’s the first time his eyes have looked more intense than anything else. “Where’s your bedroom?” I’m shocked by his forwardness. I try to hide my internal conflict because I would love more than anything to get back at Ethan by fucking his lover’s hot boyfriend. But knowing that’s also why Graham is here makes me wonder if I want to be someone else’s revenge sex. It beats being alone right now. I slide off the table and stand up. Graham doesn’t step back, so our bodies touch briefly before I move past him. I feel it everywhere, but mostly in my lungs. “Follow me.” I’m still nervous, but not nearly as nervous as when I was putting the key into the front door. Graham’s voice calms me. His entire presence calms me. It’s hard to be intimidated by someone so sad. “I never make my bed,” I admit as I open the door to my messy bedroom. I turn on a lamp and Graham’s frame fills the doorway. “Why not?” He takes a couple steps into my bedroom and it’s the strangest sight. This guy I don’t know at all, standing in my bedroom. The same bedroom where I should be wallowing on my bed in brokenhearted anguish right now. And what about Graham? Does this feel just as strange to him? I know he’s had doubts about Sasha or he wouldn’t have been following her to Ethan’s apartment building with an engagement ring burning a hole in his pocket. Has Graham been looking for an out? Have I? Am I just now realizing it? Because right now, I’m nervous and anxious and everything I shouldn’t be just hours after my life took a turn for the worse. I’m staring wordlessly at Graham when I realize I haven’t answered his question about why I don’t make my bed. I clear my throat. “It takes approximately two minutes to properly make a bed. That means the average person wastes an entire thirty-eight days of their life making a bed they’re just going to mess up.” Graham looks amused. He gives me one of his half smiles and then glances at my bed. Watching him take in my bed makes me feel unprepared for this. I was prepared for a reunion with Ethan tonight. Not for sex with a stranger. I don’t know that I want the lights on. I don’t even know that I want to be wearing what I’m wearing. I don’t want Graham to have to take clothes off my body that were intended for another man. I need a moment to collect myself. I haven’t had a moment yet and I think I need one. “I need to . . .” I point toward the bathroom door. “I need a minute.” Graham’s lips curl up into a slightly bigger smile and I realize in this moment that those incredible lips are about to be touching mine and I suddenly don’t feel worthy. It’s a weird feeling because I am a confident woman. But Graham sets a standard for confidence that I’m not used to. His confidence makes mine feel like uncertainty. I shut myself in the bathroom and stare at the closed door. For a moment, I forget what I’m even doing in here, but then I remember I’m about to have sex with a guy who isn’t Ethan for the first time in four years. I kick it into high gear. I open my closet door and sift through it to find the most unassuming thing I can find. It’s a blush-colored nightgown with spaghetti straps. It isn’t see-through, but he’ll be able to tell I’m not wearing the bra I’m currently ripping off. I pull the gown on and walk over to the bathroom sink. I pull my hair up into a loose bun to get it out of my face and then I brush my teeth and my tongue until I’m convinced my mouth won’t remind him of the Chinese food we stole earlier. I check myself in the mirror and stare for a little too long. I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around the fact that today is ending this way. Me . . . anticipating sex with a man who isn’t my fiancé. I blow out a calming breath and then open my bathroom door. I’m not sure what I expected, but Graham looks the same. He’s still standing in front of the bathroom door, still wearing his jeans and his T-shirt. And his jacket. And his shoes. I’m looking at his shoes when he whispers, “Wow.” I look back up at him. He’s closer. His face is so close to mine and I really want to reach up and touch his jaw. I don’t usually pay attention to a person’s jaw, but his is strong and covered in stubble, leading all the way up to his mouth that looks as sad as his eyes. I think he notices our proximity because he immediately takes a step back and waves his hand toward my bed. My pillows are all lined up and my duvet is tucked under the mattress and completely wrinkle-free. The corner of it is neatly folded over, revealing the sheet beneath it. “You made my bed?” I walk toward the bed and take a seat on it. This isn’t how I envisioned this starting, but it’s only because I’ve been stuck in an Ethan routine for the last four years. Graham lifts my duvet and I pull my legs up and climb into my bed. I scoot over far enough for him to join me, but he doesn’t. He just pulls the covers over me and sits down on the bed, facing me. “It’s nice, huh?” I adjust my pillow and roll over onto my side. He tucked the end of my blanket beneath the mattress, so it doesn’t give way. It feels snug and tight around my feet and legs. I actually kind of like it. And somehow even the top of the blanket seems to be snuggling me. “I’m impressed.” He reaches a hand to a loose strand of hair and tucks it behind my ear. The gesture is sweet. I don’t know Graham very well at all, but I can tell he’s good. I could tell he was good the second Ethan opened the door and Graham didn’t physically attack him. It takes someone with a healthy amount of confidence and self-control to walk away quietly from a situation like that. Graham’s hand comes to rest on my shoulder. I’m not sure what changed in him since we walked out of the bar, or even since walking into my bedroom. But I can tell his thoughts are no longer where they were earlier. He slides his hand down the blanket, coming to rest on my hip. His entire expression seems rife with indecision. I try to ease the conflict a little. “It’s okay,” I whisper. “You can go.” He sighs heavily with relief. “I thought I could do this. Me and you. Tonight.” “I thought I could, too, but . . . it’s way too soon for a rebound.” I can feel the heat of his hand through the duvet. He moves it up a little and grips my waist as he leans forward. He kisses me softly on the cheek. I close my eyes and swallow hard, feeling his lips move to my ear. “Even if it wasn’t too soon, I still wouldn’t want to be your rebound.” I feel him pull away. “Goodnight, Quinn.” I keep my eyes closed as he lifts off the bed. I don’t open them until he turns off my lamp and closes my bedroom door. He wouldn’t want to be my rebound? Was that a compliment? Or was that him saying he’s not interested? I mull over his parting words for a moment, but I soon shove them to the back of my mind. I’ll think about Graham’s words tomorrow. All I feel like thinking about in this moment is everything I’ve lost in the past few hours. My entire life changed today. Ethan was supposed to be my other half for the rest of my life. Everything I thought I knew about my future has been derailed. Everything I thought I knew about Ethan has been a lie. I hate him. I hate him because no matter what happens from this point forward, I will never be able to trust someone like I trusted him. I roll onto my back and stare up at my ceiling. “Fuck you, Ethan Van Kemp.” What kind of last name is that, anyway? I say my name out loud and add his last name to it. “Quinn Dianne Van Kemp.” It’s never sounded as stupid as it sounds right now. I’m relieved it will never be my name. I’m relieved I caught him cheating. I’m relieved I had Graham to walk me through it. I’m relieved Graham decided to leave just now. In that heated moment with Graham in the restaurant, I felt revengeful. I felt like sleeping with him would somehow ease the pain Ethan caused me today. But now that Graham has left, I realize nothing will cushion this feeling. It’s just one huge, inconvenient, painful wound. I want to lock my front door and never leave my apartment. Except for ice cream. Tomorrow I’ll leave for ice cream but after that, I’m never leaving my apartment again. Until I run out of ice cream. I toss the covers away and walk to the living room to lock the front door. When I reach up to the chain lock, I notice a yellow Post-it stuck to the wall next to the door. There’s a phone number on it. Beneath the phone number is a short message. Call me someday. After your rebound guy. Graham I have a mixed reaction to his note. Graham seems nice and I’ve already established my attraction to him, but at this point, I’m not sure I can stomach the thought of dating again. It’s only been a couple of hours since my last relationship. And even if I got to a point where I felt like dating again, the last person I would want to date would be the ex-boyfriend of the girl who had a hand in ruining everything good in my life. I want as far from Ethan and Sasha as I can get. And sadly, Graham would only remind me of them. Even still, his note makes me smile. But only for a second. I go back to my room and crawl under my covers. I pull them over my head, and the tears begin to fall. Graham was right when he said, “You’ll cry tonight. In bed. That’s when it’ll hurt the most. When you’re alone.” Chapter Six * * * Now The day Ava left for Europe, she left me a gift. It was a bag of exotic tea that’s supposed to help with infertility. The problem was, it tasted like I had ripped open a bag of tea and poured it straight on my tongue, then washed it down with coffee beans. So . . . the miracle fertility tea is out of the question. I’m leaving it up to chance again. I’ve decided I’ll try for one more month. Maybe two, before I tell Graham I’m finished trying. Two more months before I tell him I really am ready to open that wooden box on my bookshelf. I’m sitting on our kitchen counter in one of Graham’s T-shirts when he walks through the door. My bare legs are dangling, feet pointing toward the floor. He doesn’t immediately notice me, but once he does, I become his entire focus. I grip the counter between my legs, opening them just enough to let him in on my plans for the night. His eyes are locked on my hands as he pulls at his tie, sliding it from his collar, dropping it to the floor. That’s one of my favorite things about him working later than me. I get to watch him take his tie off every day. “Special occasion?” He grins as he takes me in with one fell swoop. He’s walking toward me and I give him my best seductive smile. The one that says I want to put all the pretending behind us for the night. Pretending we’re okay, pretending we’re happy, pretending this is exactly the life we’d choose if the choice were ours. By the time he reaches me, his jacket is off and the first few buttons of his shirt are undone. He slips off his shoes at the same time his hands slide up my thighs. I wrap my arms around his neck and he presses against me, ready and eager. His lips meet my neck and then my jaw and then he presses them gently against my mouth. “Where would you like me to take you?” He picks me up and secures me against him as I lock my legs around his waist. I whisper in his ear. “Our bedroom sounds nice.” Even though I’ve all but given up on the chances of becoming pregnant, I’m obviously still clinging to that small sliver of hope on at least a monthly basis. I don’t know if that makes me strong or pathetic. Sometimes I feel I’m both. Graham drops me on the bed, our clothes covering the distance from the kitchen to our room like scattered breadcrumbs. He settles himself between my legs and then pushes inside me with a groan. I take him in with silence. Graham is consistent in every possible way outside of the bedroom. But inside the bedroom, I never know what I’m going to get. Sometimes he makes love to me with patience and selflessness, but sometimes he’s needy and quick and selfish. Sometimes he’s talkative while he’s inside me, whispering words that make me fall even more in love with him. But sometimes he’s angry and loud and says things that make me blush. I never know what I’m going to get with him. That used to excite me. But now I tend to want only one of the many sides of him in the bedroom. The needy, quick, and selfish side of him. I feel less guilt when I get this side of him because lately, the only thing I really want out of sex is the end result. Sadly, tonight is not the selfish version of Graham in the bedroom. Tonight he’s the exact opposite of what I need from him right now. He’s savoring every second of it. Pushing into me with controlled thrusts while he tastes all the parts of my neck and upper body. I try to be as involved as he is, occasionally pressing my lips to his shoulders or pulling at his hair. But it’s hard to pretend I don’t want him to get it over with. I turn my head to the side so he can leave his mark on my neck while I wait. He eventually begins to pick up the pace and I tense a little, anticipating the end, but he pulls out of me unexpectedly. He’s lowering himself down my body, drawing my left nipple into his mouth when I recognize this pattern. He’s going to make his way down, slowly tasting every part of me until he eventually slides his tongue between my legs, where he’ll waste a precious ten minutes and I’ll have to think too much about what day it is, what time it is, what fourteen days from now will be, what I would do or say if the test is finally positive, how long I’ll cry in the shower if it’s negative again. I don’t want to think tonight. I just want him to hurry. I pull his shoulders until his mouth is back near mine and I whisper in his ear, “It’s okay. You can finish.” I try to guide him back inside of me but he pulls back. I make eye contact with him for the first time since we were in the kitchen. He brushes my hair back gently. “Are you not in the mood anymore?” I don’t know how to tell him I was never in the mood to begin with without hurting his feelings. “It’s fine. I’m ovulating.” I try to kiss him, but before my lips meet his, he rolls off me. I stare at the ceiling, wondering how he can possibly be upset with me for that comment. We’ve been trying to get pregnant for so long now. This routine is nothing new. I feel him leave the bed. When I look at him, his back is to me and he’s pulling on his pants. “Are you seriously mad because I’m not in the mood?” I ask, sitting up. “If you don’t recall, we were just having sex less than a minute ago, regardless of my mood.” He spins around and faces me, taking a pause to gather his thoughts. He pulls a frustrated hand through his hair and then steps closer to the bed. The clench of his jaw reveals his irritation, but his voice is quiet and calm when he speaks. “I’m tired of fucking for the sake of science, Quinn. It would be nice if just one time I could be inside you because you want me there. Not because it’s a requirement to getting pregnant.” His words sting. Part of me wants to lash out and say something hurtful in return, but most of me knows he’s only saying it because it’s true. Sometimes I miss the spontaneous lovemaking, too. But it got to a point where all our failed attempts at getting pregnant began to hurt too much. So much that I realized the less sex we had, the less disappointment I would feel. If we only had sex during the days I was ovulating, I would be disappointed a fewer number of times. I wish he could understand that. I wish he knew that sometimes the trying is harder for me than the failing. I try to empathize with his feelings, but it’s hard because I don’t know that he truly empathizes with mine. How could he? He’s not the one failing every time. I can be disappointed in myself later. Right now, I just need him back on this bed. Back inside me. Because he’s right. Sex with my husband is definitely a requirement to getting pregnant. And today is our best chance this month. I kick the covers off me so that I’m sprawled out on the bed. I press one of my hands against my stomach and pull his attention there. “I’m sorry,” I whisper, trailing my fingers upward. “Come back to bed, Graham.” His jaw is still clenched, but his eyes are following my hand. I watch his struggle as part of him wants to storm out of the room and part of him wants to storm me. I don’t like that he’s not convinced I want him yet, so I roll over onto my stomach. If there’s one thing about me physically that Graham loves the most, it’s the view of me from behind. “I want you inside me, Graham. That’s all I want. I promise.” I lie. I’m relieved when he groans. “Dammit, Quinn.” And then he’s on the bed again, his hands on my thighs, his lips against my ass. He slips one hand beneath me and presses it flat against my stomach, lifting me enough so that he can easily slide into me from behind. I moan and grasp the sheets convincingly. Graham grips my hips and lifts himself up onto his knees, pulling me back until he’s all the way inside me. I no longer have the patient Graham. He’s a mixture of emotions right now, thrusting into me with impatience and anger. He’s focused on finishing and not at all focused on me and that’s exactly how I want it. I moan and meet his thrusts, hoping he doesn’t recognize that the rest of me is disconnected to this moment. After a while, we somehow move from both being on our knees, to me being pressed stomach first into the mattress as all his weight bears down on me. He grips my hands that are gripping the sheets and I relax as he releases a groan. I wait for him to fill me with hope. But he doesn’t. Instead, he pulls out of me, pressing himself against the small of my back. Then he groans one final time against my neck. I feel it meet my skin, warm and wet as it slides down my hip and seeps into the mattress. Did he just . . . He did. Tears sting at my eyes when I realize he didn’t finish inside me. I want to climb out from under him, but he’s too heavy and he’s still tense and I can’t move. As soon as I feel him begin to relax, I attempt to lift up. He rolls over onto his back. I roll away from him, using the sheet beneath me to wipe myself clean. Tears are streaming down my cheeks and I swipe at them angrily. I am so angry I can’t even speak. Graham just watches me as I try to conceal the anger I’m feeling. And the embarrassment. Graham is my husband, but tonight he was a means to an end. And even though I tried to convince him otherwise, he just proved that to himself by not giving me the only thing I wanted from him tonight. I can’t stop the tears from falling, but I try anyway. I pull the blanket up to my eyes and Graham rolls off the bed and grabs his pants. My quiet tears begin to turn to sobs and my shoulders begin to shake. It’s not like me to do this in front of him. I usually save this for my long showers. As Graham grabs his pillow off the bed, part of him looks like he wants to console me while the other part looks like he wants to scream at me. The angry part wins out and he begins to walk toward the door. “Graham,” I whisper. My voice stops him in his tracks and he turns around and faces me. He seems so heartbroken, I don’t even know what to say. I wish I could say I’m sorry for wanting a baby more than I want him. But that wouldn’t help, because it would be a lie. I’m not sorry. I’m bitter that he doesn’t understand what sex has become to me over the last few years. He wants me to continue to want him, but I can’t when sex and making love have always given me hope that it might be that one in a million chance I’ll get pregnant. And all the sex and lovemaking that leads to the hope then leads to the moment all that hope is overcome by devastation. Over the years, the entire routine and the emotions it brings started running together. I couldn’t separate the sex from the hope and I couldn’t separate the hope from the devastation. Sex became hope became devastation. SexHopeDevastation. Devastation. Devastation. Now it all feels devastating to me. He’ll never understand that. He’ll never understand that it isn’t him I don’t want. It’s the devastation. Graham watches me, waiting for me to follow his name up with something else. But I don’t. I can’t. He nods a little, turning away from me. I watch the muscles in his back tense. I watch his fist clench and unclench. I can see him release a heavy sigh even though I can’t hear it. And then he opens the bedroom door with ease before slamming it shut with all his strength. A loud thud hits the door from the other side. I squeeze my eyes shut and my whole body tenses as it happens again. And then again. I listen as he punches the door five times from the other side. I listen as he releases his hurt and rejection against the wood because he knows there’s nowhere else it can go. When everything is silent again . . . I shatter. Chapter Seven * * * Then It’s been difficult getting over Ethan. Well, not Ethan per se. Losing the relationship was harder than losing Ethan. When you associate yourself with another person for so long, it’s difficult becoming your own person again. It took a few months before I finally deleted him from my apartment completely. I got rid of the wedding dress, the pictures, the gifts he’d given me over the years, clothes that reminded me of him. I even got a new bed, but that probably had more to do with just wanting a new bed than being reminded of Ethan. It’s been six months now and the only reason I’m on my second date with this Jason guy is because the first one wasn’t a complete disaster. And Ava talked me into it. As much as my mother loved Ethan and still wishes I’d forgive him, I think she would like Jason even more. That should probably be a positive but it isn’t. My mother and I have very different tastes. I’m waiting for Jason to say or do something that my mother would hate so that I can be drawn to him a little more than I am. He’s already repeated several questions he asked me last Friday. He asked how old I was. I told him I was twenty-five, the same age I was last Friday. He asked me when my birthday was and I told him it was still July 26. I’m trying not to be a bitch, but he makes it difficult when it’s clear he didn’t pay attention to a single thing I said last week. “So you’re a Leo?” he asks. I nod. “I’m a Scorpio.” I have no idea what that says about him. Astrology has never been my thing. Besides, it’s hard to pay attention to Jason because there’s something much more interesting behind him. Two tables away, smirking in my direction, is Graham. As soon as I recognize him, I immediately look down at my plate. Jason says something about the compatibility of Scorpios and Leos and I look him in the eyes, hoping he can’t see the chaos I’m feeling right now. But my resolve is broken because Graham is standing now. I can’t help but look over Jason’s shoulder and watch as Graham excuses himself from his table. He locks eyes with me again and begins to head in our direction. I’m squeezing the napkin in my lap, wondering why I’m suddenly more nervous at the sight of Graham than I’ve ever been around Jason. I make eye contact with Graham right before he approaches the table. But as soon as I look at him, he looks away. He nods his head once, in the direction he’s walking. He passes our table, his hand just barely touching my elbow. A one second graze of his finger across my skin. I suck in air. “How many siblings do you have?” I lay my napkin on the table. “Still just the one.” I push my chair back. “I’ll be right back. I need to use the restroom.” Jason scoots back, half standing as I push my chair in. I smile at him and turn toward the restrooms. Toward Graham. Why am I so nervous? The bathrooms are at the rear of the restaurant. You have to make a turn behind a partition to find the hallway. Graham has already disappeared around the corner, so I pause before I make the turn. I put my hand on my chest, hoping it will somehow calm what’s happening inside of it. And then I blow out a quick breath and walk into the hallway. Graham is leaning casually against a wall, his hand in the pocket of his suit. The sight of him both excites me and comforts me, but I’m also nervous because I feel bad for never calling him. Graham smiles his lazy half smile at me. “Hello, Quinn.” His eyes still frown a little with his smile and I’m happy to see that. I don’t know why. I like that he always looks to be battling some inner perpetual turmoil. “Hey.” I stand awkwardly a few feet away from him. “Graham,” he says, touching his chest. “In case you forgot.” I shake my head. “I didn’t. It’s kind of hard to forget every detail of the worst day of your life.” My comment makes him smile. He pushes off the wall and takes a step closer to me. “You never called.” I shrug like I haven’t given his phone number much thought. But in reality, I look at it every day. It’s still stuck to the wall where he left it. “You said to call you after my rebound guy. I’m just now getting around to the rebound guy.” “Is that who you’re with tonight?” I nod. He takes a step closer, leaving only two feet between us. But it feels like he’s suffocating me. “What about you?” I ask. “Are you with your rebound girl?” “My rebound was two girls ago.” I hate that answer. I hate it enough to be done with this conversation. “Well . . . congratulations. She’s pretty.” Graham narrows his eyes as if he’s trying to read all the things I’m not saying. I take a step toward the women’s restroom and put my hand on the door. “It was good to see you, Graham.” His eyes are still narrowed and he tilts his head a little. I’m not sure what else to say. I walk into the women’s restroom and allow the door to swing shut behind me. I let out a huge sigh. That was intense. Why was that so intense? I walk over to the sink and turn on the water. My hands are shaking, so I wash them in warm water, hoping the lavender soap helps calm my nerves. I dry them and then look at them in the mirror, trying to convince myself I wasn’t that affected by Graham. But I was. They’re still shaking. For six months I’ve wanted to call him, but for six months I’ve talked myself out of it. And now, knowing he’s moved on and he’s with someone else, I might have blown my chance. Not that I wanted one. I still hold fast to the belief that he would remind me too much of what happened. If I do decide to start something up with someone, I’d want it to be someone brand-new. Someone completely unrelated to the worst days of my life. Someone like Jason, maybe? “Jason,” I whisper. I should get back to my date. When I open the door, Graham is still in the same spot. Still looking at me with his head tilted. I stop short and the door hits me in the back when it swings shut, pushing me forward a step. I glance toward the e