She slept most of the way to Dublin, and it was early morning when she got there. Finn was waiting for her with the broad slow smile she knew so well and loved so much. The moment she saw him, she knew that all was well in their world. He drove her home to Blaxton House, and ten minutes after they got there, they were in bed. He was more passionate toward her than ever, and more loving. They stayed in bed, whispering and talking and making love till noon, and then he took her downstairs to see how beautiful the house looked now that it had been painted. She was pouring a fortune into it, and they both agreed that it was worth it.
It felt wonderful being back there again, and she felt like the mistress of the manor. Michael was coming to visit them in a few days. And she was happy to have some time alone with Finn before that. She was beginning to think that he was right, and being alone was better. Every moment they shared was loving and romantic. It was impossible to complain about that. And by the end of the afternoon, after surveying their domain with pleasure, they walked back up the stairs hand in hand and went back to bed.
When Michael arrived, Finn went to pick him up at the airport, and Hope decided to wait at the house. She didn’t want to intrude on them, they had so little time together. And she was happy to have him there. She had arranged one of the newly painted guest rooms for Michael, with an enormous bowl of yellow flowers. She’d bought some magazines in town for him, and tried to think of everything he might like. She knew how much he and Finn loved each other, after their years alone while Michael was growing up, and she was looking forward to getting to know him better. Finn was taking him to fish at the Blessington Lakes for a few days, he had made arrangements for hang gliding, and was planning to rent some horses. He wanted him to have a good time, and Hope was willing to do anything possible to help them, even if that meant keeping out of their way, but Finn had told her not to worry about it.
And this time, they were going to tell Michael about their wedding plans in December. Since it had turned out to be a winter wedding after all, Hope had agreed that it might be better in Ireland, although she also liked the idea of getting married in London, to make it easier for people like Mark to come. Finn loved the idea of doing it at the tiny church in Russborough, with a reception at the house, and said he didn’t care if they did it all alone. Finn wasn’t sure if Michael would come from Boston, and said it didn’t matter to him. The only one important to him at the wedding was Hope. He didn’t need a single other soul to be there. This was a far cry from the highly social animal she had believed him to be when they met. In reality, Finn was nearly a hermit. And the only person he wanted to be with was her. He said it was a sign of the immensity of his love for her, and she believed him. The ultimate tribute of Finn’s love was that he wanted to devote every waking moment to her.
When Michael arrived from the airport with his father, he gave Hope a friendly hug, and commented on the changes in the house. He was enormously impressed.
“What happened? Did you win the lottery, Dad?” Michael teased him. There was always a faint edge to their exchanges and Michael’s comments, but they were harmless. They were the kind of things said between men, one growing into power and manhood, the other trying to hold on to it for dear life. And as Hope watched them, she wondered if that was why Finn was so desperate to have a baby. It was a way of hanging on to his virility and his youth, and proving to himself and the world that he was young. Hope thought that there were other ways to prove it.
She showed Michael around, through all the changes and restorations they’d done. The painting that had been done over the summer was a vast improvement over the dingy walls. She had finally gotten rid of the rugs and had the beautiful old floors redone. It looked like the same house, but so much better, and Michael complimented her politely on everything he saw.
The two men left for the lake the next day, and were gone for three days. After that, Michael wanted his father to go to London with him for two days, and Hope stayed home to work. She didn’t really get the chance to spend time with Michael until the day before he left. He had to get back to MIT for the beginning of his junior year, and Finn was in the village buying the newspaper when she sat down to breakfast with Michael. Katherine had made them both eggs, sausages, and tea, and Michael seemed to like it. He was quiet at first as they both ate their breakfast. Finn had told her that he hadn’t mentioned their upcoming marriage yet, and she didn’t want to be the one to do it. It wasn’t her place. It was up to Finn, and she wondered when he was going to tell him. His son was leaving the next day.
“Your father misses you terribly,” she said to open a conversation with him. “After all those years of living together, it must be a big change for you too, to be away from him.” Michael looked up from his sausages and stared at her blankly, but didn’t comment. “I’m sure all those years alone with each other made you very close.” It was a little awkward talking to him, and Michael was pleasant and polite with her, but not really chatty. She wondered if mother figures made him uncomfortable, since he hadn’t had one, which made her sad for him. “Your father has told me how much fun it was when you two lived in London and New York.” She was struggling for conversation, as Michael sat back in his chair and looked Hope in the eye.
He summed it up in one sentence for her. “I didn’t grow up with my father.” He didn’t sound angry when he said it, or disappointed. He said it as simple fact, and Hope was stunned.
“You didn’t? I… he told me… I’m sorry. I must have misunderstood.” She felt as though she sounded like a moron, and she did. Michael looked unconcerned.
“My father says a lot of things that sound good to him at the time, or make him look good. He rewrites history, like in his books. He gets confused between fact and fiction. It’s just the way he is,” he said without condemnation, but it was an incredibly damning statement about Finn, and Hope didn’t know what to say in response, nor what to think.
“I’m sure I’m the one who’s confused,” she said, backing down in a panic. But they both knew she was covering up the awkward moment and making excuses for Finn.
“No, you’re not,” Michael said, as he finished his sausage. “I grew up with my grandparents in California. I hardly ever saw my father until I went to college.” That was only two years before, and that meant that their years together in London and New York were a lie, or a fabrication, or wishful thinking, or something. She didn’t understand, and tried not to let Michael see how upset she was. “I know my father cares about me, and he wants to make it up to me now, but we’ve been strangers for most of my life, and in some ways we still are.”
“I’m sorry,” Hope said, looking devastated. “I didn’t mean to bring up a painful subject.” She felt terrible, but the boy across the table from her didn’t even look upset. He was used to Finn with all his quirks, and apparently telling stories was one of them, according to his son.
“That’s why he’s such a good writer. I think he actually believes the stuff he says, once he says it. From that moment on, it’s true for him. It’s just not true for anyone else.” He was amazingly understanding about it, and Hope couldn’t help thinking that his grandparents had done a good job with him. He was a healthy, whole, sane, well-balanced young man, not because of Finn, as it turned out, but in spite of him.
“I assume these were your mother’s parents?” She decided to check that out, and he nodded. “Your mother died?”
“When I was seven,” he confirmed, fairly unemotionally, which surprised her. At least that much was true, but the rest of his childhood was a fantasy of Finn’s. And then she thought of something.
“If you don’t mind, Michael, I hate secrets, but I think this would be embarrassing for your dad. I’d rather we not tell him we had this conversation. I don’t want him to be upset at you for telling me.” But she was extremely upset herself, with good reason. It was a very important subject to lie about, the entire youth and childhood of his son, and his relationship with him. She wondered why Finn had done it, and had no idea how she’d ever broach the subject with him. She didn’t want him to feel cornered, but she knew that at some point, they’d have to clear it up. But Michael nodded easily at her suggestion.
“This isn’t the first time it’s happened,” he said simply. “My father usually tells people I grew up with him. I think it’s embarrassing for him to admit I didn’t, and he never saw me, or not often.” She agreed with him, but still, it was disturbing. “Don’t worry about it. I’m fine. I won’t say anything to him.” And almost as soon as he had said the words, Finn walked in with a broad smile. In spite of herself, Hope found herself staring at him, and then roused herself from her reverie and stood up to kiss him, but it didn’t feel quite the same. She knew now that he had lied to her, and nothing would be comfortable between them until he told her why.
The three of them went to the local pub for dinner that night, and over beer Finn said something about he and Hope planning to get married sometime. Michael nodded and seemed pleased for them in a remote way. He thought Hope was a nice woman, and he didn’t have a lot invested in his relationship with Finn, or her, and now she knew why. Finn and his son hardly knew each other, if what Michael said was true. And she had no reason to disbelieve it, it had the ring of truth when he said it. One of them was lying, and she had the sinking feeling it was Finn.
He didn’t invite his son to the wedding, or even say there was one planned, and for the moment, there wasn’t. But Hope had wanted a small ceremony, attended by their closest friends, and surely Finn’s son. She realized then that Finn really wanted to do it alone, just as he had said. That sounded sad to her, but she didn’t comment. She had very little to say that night, and she and Michael avoided looking at each other. She hugged him the next day before he left, and thanked him for coming to see them.
“I hope you come back to visit us anytime,” she said, and meant it.
“I will,” Michael said politely, and thanked her for the hospitality. Finn drove him to the airport then, and she realized how strange his visit had been. It did have the feeling of strangers or casual acquaintances getting together, and not father and son. Given what Michael had told her the day before, she was surprised that he came at all.
She was still thinking about it when Finn came back from the airport, and she looked at him strangely. Finn picked up on it and asked her what was wrong. She was about to say nothing, and then decided to be honest with him. She felt she had no other choice. She needed to know why he had told her the story he had. If she was going to spend the rest of her life with him, she had to know and believe that he was telling her the truth, and he hadn’t.
“I’m sorry…,” she said, apologizing in advance, “I hate to bring this up, and I don’t want to get Michael in trouble. We were talking yesterday and I said how much you loved him, and how much it meant to you that he grew up alone with you.” She took a breath and went on. “And he told me he grew up with his mother’s parents in California. Why didn’t you tell me that before?” She looked into Finn’s eyes, and he looked immediately sad.
“I know. I lied to you, Hope.” He came right out and admitted it, without stalling or hesitating. “I felt terrible about it. I can tell from all your stories about Mimi what a wonderful mother you were to her. I didn’t think that you would understand that I had given my son to my ex-wife’s parents. I tried to take care of him,” he said, as he sat down with his head in his hands. They were outside, and he was sitting on the stump of the tree that had fallen, and then he looked up at her. “I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t up to it, and I knew I wasn’t enough for him. They were good people and they loved him, so I let them take him. They were threatening to take me to court at the time, for their daughter’s son, and I just didn’t want to go through that and fight them, or put Michael through it, so I let him live with them. It was agony for me, but in the long run, I think it was better for him. He’s a great kid. They did a good job.” He looked up at her miserably then. “I thought if I told you that, you’d think less of me, and I didn’t want that to happen.” He reached up and put his arms around her waist and drew her to him, as she looked down at him, in sadness for him. “I just wanted you to love me, Hope, not disapprove of me.” He choked on a sob as he said it, and a tear rolled down his cheek. She felt terrible for him.
“I’m sorry,” she said, holding him close to her. “You don’t have to win my approval. I love you. You can tell me whatever the truth is. It would have been hard for you to bring up a child all alone.” Others had done it, but she could see how difficult it might have been for him. And she felt bad that he had felt he had to lie to her so she would love him. “I love you, whatever you’ve done. Believe me, I’ve made my share of mistakes too.”
“I don’t think so,” he said, holding her tightly, his face pressed against her stomach, and then he remembered something, and looked into her eyes. “Aren’t you supposed to be ovulating today?” She laughed, he never seemed to lose track of her cycle now, but she could better understand his desperation for a baby. He had missed all of Michael’s childhood, and after what he had just said to her, she could forgive him for lying about it. Particularly since he was so remorseful once she knew the truth.
“Will you promise me something?” Hope said, and he looked at her intently. “Whatever the truth is, just tell me. The truth is never as bad as a lie.” He nodded. “A lie can unravel the whole tapestry of a relationship. The truth only hurts for a minute.”
“I know. You’re right. I believe that too. It was cowardly of me.” He had lied to her twice now, once about owning the house, and now about bringing up Michael, and both times because he was embarrassed by the truth. She couldn’t understand it. But she felt much better having talked to him about it. He was easy to forgive, and she loved him, clay feet and all.
He stood up then, put his arms around her and held her, and then he kissed her, and then asked her about ovulating again.
“I don’t know, you tell me. You seem to know better than I do. I always lose track. Maybe we should just wait until we’re married. It’s only a few months.” She was still disappointed that he hadn’t invited Michael to the wedding, and wanted to get married alone. She had promised Mark Webber he could come, and he would be sad if he couldn’t, and she would too.
“You don’t have time to wait until we’re married, to get pregnant,” Finn said somewhat unkindly. “We’re not getting any younger.”
“You mean I’m not,” she said bluntly. But at least she understood his rush now. He was making up for lost time, and he was right. At her age, her biological clock was booming, not just ticking. “Let’s see what happens,” she said vaguely. She was afraid of another outcome like the one in June, whatever the reason, although she knew how important it was to him, so she hadn’t ruled out getting pregnant again. And a tiny part of her was afraid that if she didn’t cooperate, he might find a younger woman who could far more easily give him babies, but she didn’t say that to him.
“Maybe we should go back to the doctor in London and let her work her magic,” he suggested, as they walked up the front steps.
“We did fine on our own last time,” Hope reminded him. “I’m sure we can again.” Finn didn’t seem as sure and had more faith in science, although white wine and champagne had served them well six months before. He made her check with the ovulation kit that night, but she wasn’t ovulating. They made love anyway, just for the fun of it, which she thought was better. Finn was still the best lover she’d ever had, and the incident with Michael was forgotten. She was sure Finn would be honest with her in future. He had no reason not to. She loved him, and that was all.
They went to London in October, but not to the fertility doctor. They stayed at Claridge’s, checked out the antique shops, and went to two auctions at Christie’s. Hope was a little taken aback when Finn bid on a spectacular armoire and a partner’s desk, each of which went for close to fifty thousand pounds. He had gotten carried away in the auction, and apologized profusely for it later when they went back to the hotel. He offered to sell them again at Christie’s, if she didn’t want to spend that much money. But she loved them too, so they went to pay for them the next day and she didn’t really mind, although she’d been stunned by the price at first. She had never bought furniture that expensive before. He was remorseful for the rest of the day. But they had gotten two beautiful pieces. They had them shipped home, and flew back to Dublin that night. It was a beautiful October night when they got there, and they were both happy to get home. The house was quiet and peaceful, and they figured out where they would put the new antiques. They agreed on everything. And the only damper to the evening was that she discovered she’d gotten her period, and Finn was bitterly disappointed. He got morose about it that night, and had too much to drink, and then he got angry at her and told her it was her fault she wasn’t pregnant, and she wasn’t trying. But there wasn’t much she could do, unless she started taking fertility drugs, which she didn’t want to do, and even the London doctor had said she didn’t need. He just had to be patient.
The following day she was relieved that he was in better spirits. He said his new contract had come from his publisher, for a hell of a lot of money. He signed it, and drove to the DHL office to send it, and then took her out for a nice dinner that night in Blessington. He said the contract was a major one for him, for three books. It put him in a festive mood, and he seemed to forgive her for not getting pregnant. That was becoming a major issue between them. It had been four months since the miscarriage, and he was more anxious than she was about it. But she was still ambivalent, and Finn wasn’t. He wanted a baby. Now!
Their new antiques arrived from London a few days later, and they looked fabulous when the movers placed them. Finn said they were worth every penny she had spent on them and she had to agree. And as they both knew, she could afford it.
She was talking to Mark on the phone the next day about the three shoots she had lined up for November, and the future show at the Tate Modern, and he made a comment about Finn.
“That’s too bad about his contract. He must be upset about it.” Hope was confused the minute he said it. They had celebrated his signing it only a few days before.
“What do you mean?”
“I hear they dropped him. He failed to deliver his last two books, and his sales have plummeted. I guess people think the subjects are too weird. They scare the hell out of me,” he added. “There was an article about it in The Wall Street Journal yesterday. They dropped him, and they’re even threatening to sue him to recover monies for the two books he didn’t deliver. It’s amazing how people can fuck things up for themselves, not having discipline and living up to their contracts.” Hope felt sick as she listened, and wondered if he was embarrassed again about what had happened. But he could have shared it with her, and celebrating a new contract was pushing it. She wondered what he had signed and sent back.
From what Mark was saying, it certainly wasn’t a new contract. Maybe it was legal papers. Or nothing. She didn’t want to admit to Mark that Finn hadn’t told her. And she never saw The Wall Street Journal in Ireland. Finn knew that, so theoretically, he was safe. She hardly read the papers at all, except the local ones. They were living in a bubble at the foot of the Wicklow Mountains. Finn had counted on that. But it was a pretty shocking story, and if it was true, she knew he must be in dire financial straits, and even more so if they sued him, which was probably why he hadn’t told her. He was like a kid hiding a bad report card from his parents. But Hope also realized this was far more serious. He was lying to her about what was happening in his life, not just the past. And all he wanted to talk to her about was getting pregnant.
She thought of something else then, and checked the bank records after she talked to Mark. Finn hadn’t paid the rent he owed her monthly since they bought the house in April. She didn’t care about the money, and she never mentioned it to him so as not to embarrass him, but it was a clear sign that he was having money troubles and hadn’t told her. She knew that if he had the rent money, he would have paid. And he hadn’t. She had never thought to check, since it was just a token payment anyway.
She used it as a way of opening the topic of conversation that night, and asked him if everything was all right, since she had noticed that he hadn’t paid his rent. He laughed when she asked him.
“Is my landlady getting impatient?” he asked as he kissed her, and sat down to dinner with her in the kitchen. “Don’t worry about it. The signing money for my new contract should be here in a few days.” He didn’t tell her how much it was, but her heart sank. He was lying to her again. She didn’t know whether to be angry with him, or frightened, but his ability to skirt the truth, distort it, or just fabricate it, was beginning to unnerve her, and a red flag went up in her head. She didn’t ask him about it again, but he had just flunked the test, and it remained an obstacle between them for the next several weeks while she worried about it, and then packed for her trip to New York.
Finn walked in while she was closing her suitcases and instantly looked like an abandoned child.
“Why do you have to go?” he asked petulantly, as he pulled her onto the bed with him. He wanted her to stop and play, and she had a lot to do before she left in the morning. But she was upset with him anyway. He still hadn’t told her the truth about his contract, and if everything Mark said was true, his current publishing situation was disastrous. He was still working on his book, but she had never realized, when she saw him do it, that he was already two books late. He never told her, and seemed almost cavalier about it. It was stressful for her knowing he wasn’t telling her the truth, and she didn’t want to confront him yet again. His publishing life really wasn’t her business, but knowing he was truthful was important to her. And for the moment, he clearly wasn’t. “I want you to cancel your trip,” Finn said as he held her down on the bed and tickled her. And in spite of herself, she laughed. He was like a child sometimes, a big, beautiful boy, but he was also lying to his mommy, and they were man-sized lies and getting bigger. The current one was huge. And she was sure that he was lying to her out of shame. There had never been any real competition between them. They both had successful careers, in different fields, and were stars in their own right. But if he had been fired by his publisher and was getting sued, it put him at a disadvantage, and probably hurt his ego, in the face of her steady, solid, constantly rising career. She didn’t know what to say, and he wasn’t talking about his publishing problem at all.
“I can’t cancel my trip,” she told him. “I have to work.”
“Fuck it. Stay here. I’m going to miss you too much.” She almost asked him to come with her, and then realized that she needed a break. They were always together. And it was hard to work with him around. He needed constant attention, and wanted her to himself. That was fine at the house in Ireland, but it was impossible when she was trying to work in New York, and she was actually looking forward to a few weeks in her SoHo loft. She had promised Finn she would be back in Ireland by Thanksgiving, which was three weeks away.
“Why don’t you finish your book while I’m gone?” The weather was depressing in Ireland that time of year, and it sounded like he needed to do that. Maybe it would keep him from getting sued by his publisher. She had looked up the Wall Street Journal article on the Internet after talking to Mark Webber, and the situation sounded frightening to her. In his shoes, she would have been panicking, and perhaps he was, and so hiding it from her to save face. They were suing him for more than two million dollars, and interest, three million in all. It was a very, very big deal, and he had no way to pay for it, she knew, if he lost. Fortunately, the house was in her name. She had thought of putting it in his, and was planning to as a wedding present, but now she was glad she hadn’t, and she would keep it in her name if he was still being sued by the time they got married. But she was feeling uneasy about the marriage too. He had told too many lies, and it was hard to put it out of her mind. She also knew how unusual it was for a publisher to sue an author, and not handle it behind closed doors. They had to be truly furious with him to have it go that far.
Finn was in a black mood the next day when he took her to the airport, and for the first time since she had met him, she was relieved when the plane took off. She put her head back against the seat and spent the rest of the flight trying to figure out what was happening. She was feeling confused. Most of the time, he was the most lovable man she had ever known. But then there had been his viciousness when she lost the baby, his anger, and blaming her unfairly. His obsession with getting her pregnant again, his sudden willingness to spend her money, the lie he had told her about owning the house, the one about bringing up Michael, and now this huge mess he was in with his publisher that he hadn’t said a word about. There was a knot in her stomach the size of a fist, and she was relieved to get back to her comfortable apartment and her own life, just for a few weeks. She suddenly needed space and air.
It was too late to call him when the flight got in, and for once she was relieved about that too. Their exchanges seemed dishonest to her, because there was so much he wasn’t saying, and that she couldn’t say, because he had no idea what she knew. The dream was turning into a nightmare, and she needed to sort it out before it irreparably destroyed what they had.
She had given herself two days to get organized before she had to do the first shoot, and she went to see Mark Webber the next day. He was surprised to see her in his office. She never dropped in without calling first, and he could see she was upset. He led her into his private office and closed the door behind him. She sat down across the desk from him, and looked at him with worried eyes.
“What’s up?” Mark always cut to the chase, and so did she. She didn’t beat around the bush. And she was way too worried to do so now.
“Finn never told me about the lawsuit with his publisher, or the canceled contract. In fact, he told me he just signed one, which is apparently bullshit. I think he’s embarrassed to tell me, but it makes me nervous when people do that.” Listening to her made Mark nervous too. He had always been uneasy about Finn. He had only met him once or twice. He thought he was very charming, and a little slick. “I’ve never done this in my life,” Hope said, looking apologetic. “But is there some way we could get some kind of investigation, to tell us everything, past, present, whatever? Some of it is none of my business, but at least I’d know what’s true and what isn’t. Maybe there are other things he’s not telling me. I just want to know.” Mark nodded, and he was relieved to hear her say it. He had always meant to suggest it to her, ever since she said she was in love with him and planning to get married. Mark thought an investigation was a good idea in some circumstances, and in her case essential.
“Look, Hope, you don’t need to apologize to me,” he reassured her. “You’re not being nosy, you’re being sensible. You’re a very rich woman, and I don’t care how nice the guy is, you’re a target. And even the nicest guys in the world run after money. Let’s just find out what kind of shape he’s in, and what he’s done with his life.”
“He doesn’t have any money,” Hope said quietly. “Or at least, I don’t think so. Maybe he does. I just want to know everything, right from the beginning. I know he grew up in New York and Southampton, and then he moved to London. He has a house there, and he moved to Ireland two years ago. The house we live in was his great-great-grandfather’s. And he was married about twenty-one years ago, he has a twenty-year-old son named Michael. His wife died when Michael was seven. That’s about all I know. Oh, and his parents were Irish. His father was a doctor.” She gave Mark Finn’s date of birth. “Do you know someone who could check all this stuff out, so no one ever knows?” It was still embarrassing for her to be prying into the life and history of someone she loved as much as Finn, and wanted to trust. She had in the beginning, but less so now, because of his lies. Finn had an explanation for each one, but she was uneasy about it.