I sob into his chest. It’s not a choice. My body has taken over. I’m barely audible as I say, “If you loved me you should have told me to stop. The fact that you didn’t scares me.”
“The fact that we are still together is a testament to how much I love you! That I have been able to work through this with you, to still find you the most amazing woman I have ever met should show you how insanely in love with you I am!”
“Or just insane,” I mumble. “Jesus, Reid.”
I pull away and he lets me.
Time passes as we stand facing each other, hovering over the broken pieces of our marriage and wondering if we can even begin to put it back together again. If my affair doesn’t end us, then surely this knowledge will.
I think back over the weeks past and judge Reid’s actions when he knew I was at The Nest, and then when he banned me from going, and the argument with James. It all starts fitting together in a sordid jigsaw of our betrayals.
Then the last piece slots into place.
I gasp at the realization.
“When you thought I was pregnant, you knew.” I don’t wait for a reply because his shifting step and downward eyes tell me everything. “You were willing to raise another man’s child?”
He shrugs. “I’d do anything to keep you.”
Tears return with a heavy sob. I feel like I have taken all the blows I can and that I am now on my very last legs. One half of me tells me that I should be blessed to have someone who is willing to ignore my terrible mistakes, but the other part, the part so easily confused by his motives, finds it all just too bizarre.
With the weight of these revelations on my weak shoulders I stumble to the chair behind me. I cling to some control, swallowing back the crying that burns my throat and eyes. Working on my breathing, I don’t see Reid come to kneel before me.
“I wanted to tell you, just like I know you wanted to tell me. But it’s all out in the open now. We can learn from this and move on,” he says, his voice gentle and cautious as his hands reach for mine.
I shake my head at his optimism but accept his hands, cherishing them. Little circles are drawn over my knuckles, eliciting another chorus of sobs. My heart is wrung of all emotion, squeezed until all I am left with is empty breaths. These last few weeks have been spent climbing toward our happy ever after and now, so close to the top, I feel like I have jumped off. I’m freefalling with no idea where I will land and whether I will even survive.
Without the sobs there is silence and a need to fill it. Reid and I both race to talk but he beats me to it. “We’ll be okay. I promise.” Lifting one of his hands, he holds it upright, a gesture of the promise he speaks of, and waits for mine. I can’t. I wrap my hand around his fingers and bring them back to my lap.
“Don’t promise that. You can’t know that.”
“I can. I can learn to trust you again.”
I blanch back. “What if I can’t trust you? You’ve lied too, Reid. The lie may not have been as extreme but it only adds to the list of reasons why we’re not working.”
Those green eyes are clouded with pain as they widen at my words. “We are working,” he insists, his grip tightening around mine. “You have to see the good in this. Without this affair we would have carried on as we were. You remember how bad that was? Not talking, not touching,” he kisses my hand and when he backs away I notice another tear fall. It kills me to see him cry. “I hate what you did, but what if your actions saved us? It’s like we’ve been recharged.”
I can’t deny that things have been better than ever lately. We have reconnected and learned to love each other with more feeling than we ever have before. It’s been heaven. But knowing how that happiness was built on lies makes it hard to accept.
My mind has run a marathon and my body has followed. The extreme crying has taken it out of me. Reid looks just as spent. After many minutes, maybe an hour of sitting with his head on my lap and my own head dropped back against the couch my eyes feel heavy and I can’t possibly work through this anymore.
My mind is too clouded and my heart too battered to think through this.
We need a moment.
“I’m tired,” I sigh, releasing my hands from his and standing. “We’ll talk tomorrow.”
“Are we still going away?”
Shit. I completely forgot about this weekend’s plans. How can we go and pretend that all is okay? “I think this changes things, don’t you?”
“It’ll give us the perfect chance to work through this.” Inching closer, he takes my hands again. I slip free, backing away with my eyes down.
“We’ll see. I’m going to take a shower. I stink of rain.”
“You still want me to order food?”
“Ya’ know, it’s funny, but I’m not hungry anymore. I just want to go to sleep,” and forget this whole thing ever happened.
Darlene didn’t come to bed last night.
It took everything I had not to go and collect her from that damn chair, but for once I thought that maybe a little thinking room would do her good. It took hours for sleep to claim me. I naturally wanted to be with her, to feel comforted by her presence and warmed by her body. Without her I felt cold and naked.
Sensing the loss, even in my sleep, I wake early and decide to fix us breakfast before our long journey today. Maybe I’ll go for a run and collect those bagels I know she likes.
Feeling optimistic, I get changed into my running gear and slip on my shoes. Yesterday was a monumental disaster, but in its wake I can see a fresh start for Darlene and me. Our secrets have been bared and we have navigated the hurt. We can find our way back to our happy ever after.
Relationships can survive an affair, just like one can survive a gunshot. While the initial pain is excruciating, the damage can be repaired. Through time and understanding you can forgive, and maybe one day forget.
After using the bathroom I pad down the hallway to the living area. My empty stomach drops the second I turn the corner.
She’s not here.
She can’t be gone.
I check the apartment, all the while knowing my efforts are in vain. There is nowhere to hide. With hesitancy I check our loaded bags and when I find hers missing I know for damn sure what I was reluctant to believe. My face heats with rage. How could she just leave like that? Unbelievable!
Pacing the apartment like a fucking animal, I find reminders of my anger everywhere; her photos, her art, her damn books on MY shelf. I throw it all to the floor. I punch through any emotions that can’t be fixed with my fists. Grief is so much more painful than anything I could feel physically. The frames shatter under my knuckles but I feel nothing. Cloaked by adrenaline, I am numb.
The vase screams as it hits the wall, its splinters showering the carpet. The perfectly arranged flowers are a colored mess against the beige floor, disorganized and ruined; a sham of their previous beauty. Now that’s a metaphor.
Breathless, I collapse on the sofa. The pain is forcing its way into both my body and mind as I see that even Cash has gone. My eyes fall to a folded piece of paper on her chair. It takes me a long time to have both the energy and the courage to pick it up and read it.
I’m sorry that my leaving has come down to this, but what choice did I have? I can’t stay and pretend that all is okay. We’ve been doing that all along and where has it gotten us? I understand that it is I who is truly in the wrong, but I can’t help but feel betrayed by you. I feel like I have been in love with a lie. You were attentive out of desperation, generous out of jealousy. Everything you did was for a competition and I was the prize. When the novelty of your winning has worn off will your love follow? I don’t think I can go through that again.
In all of this mess, I realized that I never truly said I’m sorry. I am sorry, more than you could ever imagine. It must be hard to accept that, but I need you to know that my cheating had no reflection on my love for you. You can still love and cheat, just like you can still have faith in God and still sin. You can have the best of intentions and fail to achieve them. I accept that without excusing myself. I failed you and brought down this marriage. That regret will die with me.
I still love you, and I know I always will, but right now that love is tainted with the hurt that last night’s revelations brought me. Maybe time will fix that or maybe it will allow us both to move on. Either way, time is our only option.
I’ll call, I guess.
He fucking won.
Walking in these damn heels is hard enough without the jelly legs that come with nerves. I don’t get nervous. Apparently though, I do when it comes to him. This will be the first time I have seen him in months. He contacted me out of the blue and despite working so hard to distance myself from him I found myself agreeing to dinner. I don’t know why. Suppose I’m just glutton for punishment.
He’s gone all out choosing this restaurant to meet up and that’s only adding to my nerves. As I travel up the forty floors my stomach feels weightless, rising to push the air from my lungs. I’m a little giddy, but excited. I’ve missed him.
A suited gentleman dirtily looks over my little black dress, chosen to exude confidence that I don’t completely feel. With a sharp cough from myself he escorts me to our table, which he informs me my date is already seated at. So he is. Rising in my presence he allows me a look at his sharp suit. He’s dressed in head-to-toe grey with an open collared black shirt. It’s slim fitting, showing off how in shape he is. His smile blows me away and his eyes look darker than ever. They don’t move from my face.
“Darlene,” he breathes, my name from his lips provoking many memories. I push them back, wanting to focus on here and now.
The suited not-so-gentleman leaves with a tight smile as Reid rounds the table. Stepping close enough that I can smell his glorious aftershave, he kisses me on the cheek. I respond a little awkwardly, thrown by the heat that comes with his nearness.
As he helps me into my seat I can feel the burn of his focus on my exposed back. “You look beautiful, Darl. Better than ever.”
“I could say the same for you. You shaved,” I say, pointing to his smooth jaw. He looks great.
“New me.” He shrugs.
I take a sip from my water as Reid sits opposite, his eyes continuing their examination as if I am to be marveled. A waiter interrupts the silent staring with a wine list offered to Reid. He gestures for it to be given to me and I feel my cheeks flush in embarrassment. “Umm, I won’t be drinking any wine, but you’re more than welcome to.”
Reid narrows his eyes curiously before dismissing the waiter with a request for more water. “You’re not drinking?”
“I don’t drink anymore. I’m kind of on a health kick.”
His smile is telling. “Are you still running?”
“Every day.” I can’t help return his smile. I’m pretty proud of myself.
“It’s not for you,” I reply, a little defensively.
“That’s why I’m impressed.”
We order food and converse about the restaurant, the weather and his grandparents, before working on the important subjects. He’s shocked to hear that I stayed in Chicago. He just assumed that I would find my way back to LA or perhaps to see my mama, wherever she may be. No, I wanted to teach and a great position had been offered to me and I took it. It’s early days, but I really love it.
In return, I’m delighted that Reid has taken over James’ job, freeing up some time, bumping his paycheck and allowing him the freedom he wanted to work closely with authors. The pride I feel is unnerving. I care way too much for someone I’ve been trying to detach myself from.
“Are you still at the apartment?” I ask, finally managing to eat something. We have been far too busy talking to remember the food.
“It’s on the market.”
“Oh?” A trace of upset pools in my stomach. The apartment was in his name and he was the only one who ever paid toward it, but still. I miss that place.
“Too many memories, ya’ know. I’m hoping to get a house down by the water.”
“My apartment overlooks the water, it’s beautiful.”
With no hesitation or shame he asks, “Do you share it with anyone?” I almost choke on my food.
“It’s just that I noticed you don’t wear your wedding ring.” He eyes my hand with obvious hurt. I reach to my neck and toy with the delicate chain, pulling out the white gold ring and the songbird pendant from my bracelet. “I got sick of answering questions about my husband and his whereabouts.”
“Right,” he sighs. “The songbird?”
“The chain broke. I cried for days.”
“It looks nice at your neck.” His eyes travel over my jaw, my neck, my chest, but unlike the attention received by the suited pervert, I welcome this. I respond to it with warmed cheeks and a throbbing pulse.
Reid fills up my glass and I allow myself a glance at his hand. Happiness swarms me when I see his ring, where it always has been.
“I saw you performing.”
“What?” I ask, thrown off guard.
“At the little country bar up from the park. I was walking past and heard your voice. I thought I’d imagined it. Thought my grieving for you had turned me insane and I was hallucinating.” He chuckles weakly, staring down at his food. “Then I stepped inside and there you were, blowing everyone away with your Faith Hill.”
“You should have said something.”
“I wanted to, but I was a mess. My beard was out of control and I hadn’t worked out in weeks. I’d lived off pizza and had to take time off work. But you...you looked amazing. I decided at that moment to get my shit together, for you.”
“I know, I know. I don’t expect you to agree to be my wife again, in mind, not just on paper. I’m not trying to force the happy ever after anymore. I am, however, asking you to consider, maybe one day in the not so distant future...coming on a date with me.”
I’ve never seen him look so nervous, not even on our wedding day. I can see a bead of sweat forming on his forehead and he’s now worrying his bottom lip between his perfect teeth.
I smile at both his honesty and his stupidity. “A date? And what do you call this?”
A light laugh leaves his lips, relieving a little tension. He gifts me that precious, longed for, lopsided smile. “This, this was to test the waters. I didn’t even think you’d show.”
Toying with the food on my plate, I fight the warmth that is spreading over my entire body under his scrutiny. “I couldn’t not.”
After our main course we order dessert and coffee. Neither of us finishes any of it but I guess we both want to prolong the evening. Conversation has flowed effortlessly and the chemistry that has crossed the table has been so strong that I’m struggling to remember why we are no longer together. I’m delighted with how tonight has gone and intrigued to where it leaves us.
Reid and I share the elevator down, the tension never leaving us as we walk to our cars. I can’t help the regret that comes with the close of this evening. I could live forever in this moment.
“Nice ride,” he says, eyeing the silver Porsche.
“Can I tell you a secret?”
“It’s not mine.” My cheeks blush and so I try to cover them. Reid catches my hands before they can hide my embarrassment. Narrowing his eyes he wordlessly tells me to explain. “I wanted you to think I’d done well for myself, and I have, but I thought this car, this dress, the fact that I have spent the entire day in the salon, would hide how I have been in hell without you. I told you that time heals, and it has. I have been shown what my life can be without you and it’s not the life I want. I’m proud of my job, my home, but I can’t enjoy any of it without you at my side.”
I watch him watching me with an unreadable expression and feel like I am going to burst from his silence. “And if you don’t say something soon I’m just going to die of embarrassment and then I won’t be able to give this Porsche back to my boss.”
He exhales heavily. “I’ve never seen you blush so much. You’re never this nervous. You don’t have to be nervous with me.”
“Well, telling the love of your life how you made the world’s biggest mistake in leaving is pretty mortifying.”
Cupping my face in his hands, he smiles another lopsided smile. I can see his eyes sparkle as they sweep over my features and fall on my lips. “No, it’s not. Not when I felt it all too. But we’re here now, it doesn’t matter how we got here.”
We are so close that either one of us would only have to angle our lips to be kissing, but for some bizarre reason this feels even more intimate. I can feel his breath. I can smell the coffee that coats his tongue and the aftershave that I brought him for his last birthday. The memories are there but there’s something so fresh about the connection between us. I could explore that connection with a simple lift of my lips.
But I don’t.
I don’t want to rush anything. I want the nerves that will build until our next date. I want to miss him and be eager to be with him. I want to treasure us how I failed to treasure us before.
I want a fresh start.
Reid assists as I lower myself into the car. He makes no effort to move as we say a regretful goodbye. I start the engine and offer a wide smile through the closed window. Mimicking a phone at my ear, I mouth the words ‘you’ll call?’
With that precious lopsided smile, he gently presses his palm to the glass and mouths back, ‘I promise.’
A lot has happened since I first began to write. Many friendships have been made and my existing relationships strengthened. I’m incredibly lucky to have such wonderful people in my life, however big or small a part they play.
Huge thanks go to my partner, Nath. You know why I’m grateful for you. That you have allowed me to pursue my dream instead of insisting I get a ‘real’ job makes me love you even more. Without you, this wouldn’t have been possible. Fact.
My children. You are too young to ever understand this, and by the time you are old enough I will forbid you to read this anyway. But you know I love you, more every day. Mummy promises to come out of her writing cave every once in a while to draw numbers and play cats.
My parents. Thank you for bailing me out more times than I can remember. “When I’m rich and famous.”
Monica Martinez and your seriously creative mind. Thank you for dressing my baby. I love it so much.
My beta-readers; Alexandra González, Theresa Loechner, Sara Fuller, Stephanie Cobbs, Anjuli Rivera, Kiomara Gonzalez, Diego Velasco, Faith Flores, Mia Kayla, Danielle Perkins, Christine Leota-Schwalger, and Angelica Alaniz. If I’ve forgotten you it’s because of my Dory-like memory, and nothing to do with you!
I’d love to thank each of my book bitches individually but seriously, there are so bloody many of you and you’re all fantastic! Your support has been immense! Everyone from SMI Book Club especially.
Special thanks need to go to the blogs. I never realized just how important bloggers were until writing Winter Blues and your support and love has been beyond anything I could have expected. You ladies go a long way to helping indie authors and I just hope you are thanked enough!
And last, but not least. Amy Miller AKA my SAL. Your friendship is so incredibly important to me. I thank you for putting up with my ranting, book related and otherwise. I thank you for being my ultimate book bestie and my screenshot slut. I thank you for the sprouts and the Shakespeare. Live you to the stars. And happy birthday Tim! (hehe!).
Please read on for a look at an unedited chapter of Life Of Fine, due for release Spring 2014
Life Of Fine
Today is going to be a bad day.
I step out of the glass dome of Canary Wharf Station and into harsh morning light that singes my eyes and highlights my hangover. I negated to wear my sunglasses this morning for fear of looking like a grade A tosser, and while I’d have been right – it’s January and classically so – I now wish I’d taken the risk.
It’s typical of this early hour, the streets already teaming with life. Through silver buildings, tall and proud, busy commuters rush to work, shoppers race to shop, and cars fight through thick traffic. It’s a comfort despite how crap I feel. I’ve lived here for almost two years now after moving from Ireland with just me, myself and I for support and I love it. I fit in fast and won more friends than I can count. Not real friends, but drinking friends, partying friends. Weekend friends, I guess. Which is fine by me. I couldn’t cope with this feeling through the working week.
As I walk towards work each step is a conscious effort and the very action is an ongoing punishment. However, I can only blame myself. A weekend on the town was my idea. Consider this hangover the cruellest form of karma.
Desperate for a cure, I find myself in my usual Starbucks. I come here almost every day having been brainwashed into believing that I need caffeine to survive, along with the rest of London. Sarah’s face lights up behind the counter as I walk in and I watch with a little too much ego as she straightens out her hair. She’s cute. No, she’s adorable. And she’s made it no secret that she wants me. If she was a few years older and a little less breakable then I’d be coming here for more than just coffee. Until then...
“Morning, gorgeous,” I say, laying my Irish accent on thick because she’s told me so often how much she likes it.
She beams in response. “Alright.”
“Yeah, it was okay. You?”
“Too good. I’m dying here,” I admit, running a hand over my crazy hair.
“You still look good,” Sarah says with a soft blush.
I tap my heart with my fist as if her words have deeply touched me. “Stop it, you tease.”
There’s an exaggerated huff beside me, someone with too little time and far too much attitude. I turn, expecting to see your standard busy business man, but I’m proven wrong.
And happily so.
The culprit is a pint-sized blonde with dark, dark eyes. Unfortunately, she permits me only a split second to look before sighing and cruelly turning away. I don’t know what it is that bothers me so much about her dismissal but I find myself unusually apologetic.
“Sorry,” I mutter and turn back to Sarah. “I’ll take a...”
“Venti latte, two pumps of vanilla with extra foam to go.”
I smile, impressed, although my order hasn’t changed in the two years I’ve been coming here so I shouldn’t be. “Thanks. Maybe an extra espresso shot today, yeah?” I turn to my new best friend and mouth ‘rough night’ by way of explanation. She raises her eyebrows and smiles a tight-lipped, fake smile.
If that’s her fake smile I bet her real one is killer.
Sarah silently takes my money before moving her attention to Huffer.
“Two grande chamomile teas and a signature hot chocolate, please. Oh, and a blueberry muffin. To go.” Her voice is soft, local. Nice.
Sarah bites, “Name?”
She’s shuffling around in her purse for shrapnel when she answers, “Maggie.”
Even in my head her name is spoken as a sigh. As she pays I look up and down her petite body, probably no more than five-three, five-four tops. She’s wrapped up for predictably cold weather, wearing a long coat and a thick red scarf. Beneath her coat is what is clearly a nurse’s uniform and you can imagine, as a guy, that’s pretty bloody hot.
Together we shift over to the side to wait for our drinks as Sarah continues to serve the sudden line of people. “You know, that’s my favourite name,” I blurt, still checking out the uniform, which just so happens to finish at her knees.
I quickly shift my gaze when I hear her snap, “Excuse me?”
I think back to what I said. Shit. “I mean song, that’s my favourite song. M-Maggie May is my favourite song.”
Get a grip, dickhead.
“Oh right. Hmm, never heard of it.”
Before my better judgement has kicked in I start singing. Like, actually singing. She is not the only customer watching me with equal measures of embarrassment and amusement, but I’m unable to stop. Not until she physically touches me on the shoulder and nudges me from my ridiculousness.
“Stop! I was kidding!” She’s fighting a smile. She’s amused. That’s something at least. “Kudos on the vocals though,” she adds, moving past me to grab a couple of napkins.
“Ha!” Check. Yourself. Man. “Thanks. You know, I actually...”
Sarah pushes our drinks to the very edge of the counter with a little more force than necessary. I offer her a wink but she gives nothing in return.
Maggie cups her drinks together in the holder and balances the muffin on the top before smiling weakly and turning to walk away. I all but race ahead of her so that I can open the door like a true gent. I bow gallantly...ridiculously, but she chuckles in response and I vow to push this.
“So, you’re local?” I ask when she immediately turns to walk in the opposite direction I need to go. I follow, naturally. I’m drawn to her and I can’t place why. She’s nothing like my usual type. Not that I have a type, per se, unless ‘easy’ is a type. But she’s not interested, clearly, and that is normally enough to disinterest me. Something keeps me going though. Maybe the fact that I’m suddenly awake, suddenly hangover-free, suddenly wishing I didn’t look like a tramp.
“Mmm hmm,” she replies half-heartedly. Whether purposely blasé or forced, I don’t know.
I match her stride and bump shoulders with her. “A conversationalist?”
She hides a smile. If she isn’t interested she really shouldn’t tease me like this. I won’t be happy until I see her true smile. And get her phone number.
We’re walking towards the pedestrian crossing and I’m probably already late for work. I need to wrap this up. “Maybe we could converse more over a coffee tomorrow? Same place, same time? Or dinner, if you want? Drinks, perhaps?”
I promise, I’m normally so much cooler than this.
“No, I’m sorry. No.”
“Really?” The disappointment in my voice is a tad embarrassing.
I’m crossing the road with her. I can’t turn back.
“Really. I can’t.”
“You can, you just want me to serenade you again,” I kid.
She smiles. Fully. Finally.
It’s breathtaking. I stop walking, cemented by wonderment.
When she turns to see where I’m at her eyes widen to my right and I follow her gaze to see a car speeding towards me. As if on fast forward it reaches me before I can even attempt to react and I’m struck hard and tossed over the bonnet like litter. Pain consumes me but I’m still aware that I’m falling with gravity-defying heaviness towards the hard floor. My head hits the ground and sends me into immediate blackness.
The last thing I hear is Maggie’s haunting scream.
About the author
Jade Goodmore is a total fangirl living in Shropshire, UK. She’s a book-pushing mother of two and a terrible housewife. What she is good at is reading, and writing. (Dependant on what you thought of this!).
Jade would seriously love to hear your thoughts – good or bad – and you can tell her a number of ways.