When we reach my bedroom, I push open the door and let him walk in first. As soon as I flip on the light, I'm filled with disappointment. This experience won't be the same as the one we had in Graham's old bedroom.
My mother has boxed up everything. There are empty designer shoe boxes stacked up against two of the walls, floor to ceiling. Empty designer purse boxes cover a third wall. All of my things that once covered the walls of my bedroom are now boxed up in old moving boxes with my name sprawled across them. I walk over to the bed and run my hands over one of the boxes.
"I guess she needed the spare bedroom," I say quietly.
Graham stands next to me and rubs a reassuring hand against my back. "It's a tiny house," he says. "I can see why she'd need the extra room."
I laugh at his sarcasm. He pulls me in for a hug and I close my eyes as I curl into his chest. I hate that I was so excited for him to see my old bedroom. I hate that it makes me this sad to know my mother will never love me like Graham's mother loves him. There are two guest bedrooms in this house, yet my mother chooses to use my old bedroom as the storage room. It embarrasses me that he's witnessing this.
I pull back and suck up my emotions. I shrug, hoping he can't tell how much it bothers me. But he can. He brushes my hair back and says, "You okay?"
"Yeah. I just . . . I don't know. Meeting your family was an unexpected quality about you. I was kind of hoping you could have the same experience." I laugh a little, embarrassed I even said that. "Wishful thinking."
I walk over to my bedroom window and stare outside. I don't want him to see the disappointment on my face. Graham walks up behind me and slips his arms around my waist.
"Most people are products of their environment, Quinn. I come from a good home. I grew up with two great, stable parents. It's expected that I would grow up and be relatively normal." He spins me around and puts his hands on my shoulders. He dips his head and looks at me with so much sincerity in his eyes. "Being here . . . meeting your mother and seeing where you came from and who you somehow turned out to be . . . it's inspiring, Quinn. I don't know how you did it, you selfless, amazing, incredible woman."
A lot of people can't pinpoint the exact moment they fall in love with another person.
It just happened.
And maybe it's coincidence or maybe it's something more, but Graham chooses this exact moment to press his forehead to mine and say, "I love you, Quinn."
I wrap my arms around him, grateful for every single part of him. "I love you, too."
* * *
I turn off my car and scoot my seat back, propping my leg against the steering wheel. The only light on inside the house is the kitchen light. It's almost midnight. Graham is probably sleeping because he has to work tomorrow.
This morning when I woke up, I expected Graham to still be outside our bedroom door, knocking, begging for forgiveness. It made me angry that he left for work. Our marriage is crumbling, he admitted to seeing another woman, I holed myself up in our bedroom all night . . . but he woke up, got dressed, and traipsed off to work.
He must work with Andrea. He probably wanted to warn her that I knew in case I flew off the handle and showed up at his office to kick her ass.
I wouldn't do that. I'm not mad at Andrea. She's not the one who made a commitment to me. She has no loyalty to me or I to her. I'm only mad at one person in this scenario and that is my husband.
The living room curtain moves. I debate ducking, but I know from experience what a clear view it is from the living room to our driveway. Graham sees me, so there's no point in hiding. The front door opens and Graham steps outside. He begins to head toward my car.
He's wearing the pajama pants I bought him for Christmas last year. His feet are covered in two mismatched socks. One black, one white. I always thought that was a conflicting personality trait of his. He's very organized and predictable in a lot of ways, but for some reason, he never cares if his socks match. To Graham, socks are a practical necessity, not a fashion statement.
I stare out my window as he opens the passenger door and takes a seat inside the car. When he closes the door, it feels as though he cuts off my air supply. My chest is tight and my lungs feel like someone took a knife and ripped a hole in them. I roll down my window so I can breathe.
He smells good. I hate that no matter how much he hurt my heart, the rest of me never got the memo that it's supposed to be repulsed by him. If a scientist could figure out how to align the heart with the brain, there would be very little agony left in the world.
I wait for his apologies to start. The excuses. Possibly even the blame. He inhales a breath and says, "Why did we never get a dog?"
He's sitting in the passenger seat, his body half facing me as his head rests against the headrest. He's staring at me very seriously despite the unbelievable question that just fell from his lips. His hair is damp, like he just got out of the shower. His eyes are bloodshot. I don't know if it's from lack of sleep or if he's been crying, but all he wants to know is why we never got a dog?
"Are you kidding me, Graham?"
"I'm sorry," he says, shaking his head. "It was just a thought I had. I didn't know if there was a reason."
His first I'm sorry since he admitted to having an affair and it's an apology unrelated to his infidelity. It's so unlike him. Having an affair is so unlike him. It's like I don't even know this man sitting next to me. "Who are you right now? What did you do with my husband?"
He faces forward and leans back against his seat, covering his eyes with his arm. "He's probably somewhere with my wife. It's been a while since I've seen her."
So this is how it's going to be? I thought he'd come out here and make this entire ordeal a little easier to bear, but instead, he's giving me every reason in the world to justify my rage. I look away from him and focus my attention out my window. "I hate you right now. So much." A tear slides down my cheek.
"You don't hate me," he says quietly. "In order to hate me you'd have to love me. But you've been indifferent toward me for a long time now."
I wipe away a tear. "Whatever helps you excuse the fact that you slept with another woman, Graham. I'd hate for you to feel guilty."
"I never slept with her, Quinn. We just . . . it never got that far. I swear."
I pause with his confession.
He didn't sleep with her? Does that make a difference?
Does it hurt less? No. Does it make me less angry at him? No. Not even a little bit. The fact is, Graham was intimate with another woman. It wouldn't matter if that consisted of a conversation, a kiss, or a three-day fuck-a-thon. Betrayal hurts the same on any level when it's your husband doing the betraying.
"I never slept with her," he repeats quietly. "But that shouldn't make you feel any better. I thought about it."
I clasp my hand over my mouth and try to stifle a sob. It doesn't work because everything he's saying, everything he's doing . . . it's not what I expected from him. I needed comfort and reassurance and he's giving me nothing but the opposite. "Get out of my car." I unlock the doors, even though they're already unlocked. I want him far away from me. I grip the steering wheel and pull my seat up straighter, waiting for him to just go. I start the engine. He doesn't move. I look at him again. "Get out, Graham. Please. Get out of my car." I press my forehead to the steering wheel. "I can't even look at you right now." I squeeze my eyes shut and wait for the door to open, but instead, the engine cuts off. I hear him pull my keys out of the ignition.
"I'm not going anywhere until you know every detail," he says.
I shake my head, swiping at more tears. I reach for my door but he grabs my hand. "Look at me." He pulls me toward him, refusing to let me out of the car. "Quinn, look at me!"
It's the first time he's ever yelled at me.
It's actually the first time I've ever heard him yell.
Graham has always been a silent fighter. The strength of his voice and t
he way it reverberates inside the car makes me freeze. "I need to tell you why I did what I did. When I'm finished, you can decide what to do, but please, Quinn. Let me speak first."
I close my door and lean back in my seat. I squeeze my eyes shut and the tears continue to fall. I don't want to listen to him. But part of me needs to know every detail because if I don't get the facts, I'm scared my imagination will make it even worse. "Hurry," I whisper. I don't know how long I can sit here without completely losing it.
He inhales a calming breath. It takes him a moment to figure out where to start. Or how to start. "She was hired on by our firm a few months ago."
I can hear the tears in his voice. He tries to keep it steady, but the regret is there. It's the only thing that helps ease the pain--knowing he's suffering, too.
"We interacted a few times, but I never looked at her as anything more than a coworker. I've never looked at any woman how I look at you, Quinn. I don't want you to think that's how it started."
I can feel him looking at me, but I keep my eyes shut. My pulse is pounding so hard, I feel like the only thing that could make it stop is getting out of this claustrophobic car. But I know he won't let me until I hear him out, so I focus on breathing steadily while he speaks.
"There were things she would do sometimes that would catch my attention. Not because I found her intriguing or attractive, but because . . . her mannerisms reminded me of you."
I shake my head and open my mouth to speak. He can tell I'm about to interrupt, so he whispers, "Just let me finish."
I close my mouth and lean forward, crossing my arms over the steering wheel. I press my forehead against my arms and pray he gets this over with.
"Nothing happened between us until last week. We were assigned to work on a job together Wednesday, so we spent a lot of the day together. I noticed as the hours passed that I was . . . drawn to her. Attracted to her. But not because she had something you didn't. I was drawn to her because of how much she reminded me of you."
I have so much I want to scream at him right now, but I hold back.
"Being around her all day Wednesday made me miss you. So I left work early, thinking maybe if I just took you out for a nice dinner or did something to make you happy, you would smile at me like you used to. Or you'd be interested in my day. Or me. But when I got home and walked through the front door, I saw you walking out of the living room. I know you heard me opening the door. But for some reason, instead of being excited to see me come home an hour early, you went to your office so you could avoid me."
I'm not only full of anger now. I'm also full of shame. I didn't think he noticed all the times I try to avoid him.
"You spoke one word to me Wednesday night. One. Do you remember what it was?"
I nod, but I keep my head buried against my arms. "Goodnight."
I can hear the tears in his voice when he says, "I was so angry at you. Figuring you out is like a fucking riddle sometimes, Quinn. I was tired of trying to figure out how to be around you the right way. I was so mad at you, I didn't even kiss you goodbye when I left for work Thursday."
"When we finished up the project on Thursday, I should have come home. I should have left, but instead . . . I stayed. And we talked. And . . . I kissed her." Graham runs his hands down his face. "I shouldn't have done it. And even after it started, I should have stopped it. But I couldn't. Because the whole time I had my eyes closed, I pretended it was you."
I lift my head off my arms and look at him. "So it's my fault? Is that what you're saying?" I turn my whole body toward him in my seat. "You don't get the attention you want from me, so you find someone who reminds you of me? I guess as long as you pretend it's your wife, it shouldn't count." I roll my eyes and fall back against my seat. "Graham Wells, first man in the world to find an ethical way around an affair."
I don't let him speak. "You obviously didn't feel very guilty if you had the entire fucking weekend to think about it, but then went back to work and did it all over again."
"It was twice. Last Thursday and last night. That's it. I swear."
"What if I wouldn't have caught on? Would you have even stopped it?"
Graham runs his hand over his mouth, squeezing his jaw. His head shakes a little and I'm hoping it's not an answer to my question. I'm hoping he's just shaking it in regret.
"I don't know how to answer that," he says, looking out his window. "Nobody deserves this. Especially you. Before I left tonight, I swore to myself that it would never happen again. But I also never believed I would be capable of something like this to begin with."
I look up at the roof of the car and press my palm to my chest, blowing out a quick breath. "Then why did you do it?" My question comes out in a sob.
Graham turns to me as soon as I start crying. He leans across the seat and grips my face, silently pleading for me to look at him. When I finally do meet his desperate stare, it makes me cry even harder. "We walk around inside that house like everything is okay, but it's not, Quinn. We've been broken for years and I have no idea how to fix us. I find solutions. It's what I do. It's what I'm good at. But I have no idea how to solve me and you. Every day I come home, hoping things will be better. But you can't even stand to be in the same room with me. You hate it when I touch you. You hate it when I talk to you. I pretend not to notice the things you don't want me to notice because I don't want you to hurt more than you already do." He releases a rush of air. "I am not blaming you for what I did. It's my fault. It's my fault. I did that. I fucked up. But I didn't fuck up because I was attracted to her. I fucked up because I miss you. Every day, I miss you. When I'm at work, I miss you. When I'm home, I miss you. When you're next to me in bed, I miss you. When I'm inside you, I miss you."
Graham presses his mouth to mine. I can taste his tears. Or maybe they're my tears. He pulls back and presses his forehead to mine. "I miss you, Quinn. So much. You're right here, but you aren't. I don't know where you went or when you left, but I have no idea how to bring you back. I am so alone. We live together. We eat together. We sleep together. But I have never felt more alone in my entire life."
Graham releases me and falls back against his seat. He rests his elbow against the window, covering his face as he tries to compose himself. He's more broken than I've ever seen him in all the years I've known him.
And I'm the one slowly tearing him down. I'm making him unrecognizable. I've strung him along by allowing him to believe there's hope that I'll eventually change. That I'll miraculously turn back into the woman he fell in love with.
But I can't change. We are who our circumstances turn us into.
"Graham." I wipe at my face with my shirt. He's quiet, but he eventually looks at me with his sad, heartbroken eyes. "I haven't gone anywhere. I've been here this whole time. But you can't see me because you're still searching for someone I used to be. I'm sorry I'm no longer who I was back then. Maybe I'll get better. Maybe I won't. But a good husband loves his wife through the good and the bad times. A good husband stands at his wife's side through sickness and health, Graham. A good husband--a husband who truly loves his wife--wouldn't cheat on her and then blame his infidelity on the fact that he's lonely."
Graham's expression doesn't change. He's as still as a statue. The only thing that moves is his jaw as he works it back and forth. And then his eyes narrow and he tilts his head. "You don't think I love you, Quinn?"
"I know you used to. But I don't think you love the person I've become."
Graham sits up straight. He leans forward, looking me hard in the eye. His words are clipped as he speaks. "I have loved you every single second of every day since the moment I laid eyes on you. I love you more now than I did the day I married you. I love you, Quinn. I fucking love you!"
He opens his car door, gets out and then slams it shut with all his strength. The whole car shakes. He walks toward the house, but before he makes it to the front door, he spins around and points at me angrily. "I
love you, Quinn!"
He's shouting the words. He's angry. So angry.
He walks toward his car and kicks at the front bumper with his bare foot. He kicks and he kicks and he kicks and then pauses to scream it at me again. "I love you!"
He slams his fist against the top of his car, over and over, until he finally collapses against the hood, his head buried in his arms. He remains in this position for an entire minute, the only thing moving is the subtle shaking of his shoulders. I don't move. I don't even think I breathe.
Graham finally pushes off the hood and uses his shirt to wipe at his eyes. He looks at me, completely defeated. "I love you," he says quietly, shaking his head. "I always have. No matter how much you wish I didn't."
* * *
I never ask my mother for favors for obvious reasons. Which is precisely why I called my stepfather to ask permission to use his beach house in Cape Cod. He only uses it as a rental property now and it stays booked up in the summers. But it's February and the house has been sitting empty for most of the winter. It took a lot to swallow my pride and ask him, but it was a lot easier than if I'd asked her. She has stated numerous times since she met Graham that she thinks I could do better. In her eyes, better means meeting someone with his own beach house so that I'll never have to ask to borrow theirs for the weekend.
Graham walked around for an hour after we got here, pointing things out with the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning.
Quinn, come look at this view!
Quinn, come look at this bathtub!
Quinn, did you see the fire pit?
Quinn, they have kayaks!
His excitement has waned a little since we got here earlier today. We just ate dinner and I took a shower while Graham built a fire in the fire pit. It's an unusually warm day for a February in Massachusetts, but even on a warmer winter day, it barely tops out in the fifties during the day and the thirties at night. I bring a blanket to the fire pit with me and curl up next to Graham on the patio sofa.