She says things that make me feel like marriage is nothing more than a loan to her, rather than a commitment of love. She's brought up the idea of a prenuptial agreement so many times, she forgets that as it stands, I have no assets to protect. Besides, I know Graham isn't marrying me for the money or property my stepfather may or may not leave me one day. Graham would marry me even if I were up to my eyeballs in debt.
I feel myself starting to resent the whole idea of a lavish wedding. I would vent my frustration to Graham, but if I did that, I'd have to tell him why my mother is frustrating me. The last thing I want to do is share with Graham all the underhanded things my mother says about him.
I look down at my phone as another text comes through from my mother.
You should rethink the buffet, Quinn. Evelyn Bradbury hired a private chef for her wedding and it was so much classier.
I roll my eyes and flip my phone over so I won't be subjected to more of her texts.
I hear the front door to my apartment close, so I grab my brush. I pretend I'm just brushing my hair rather than moping in the bathroom when Graham walks in. The sight of him alone instantly calms me. My frustration is now long gone and replaced with a smile. Graham wraps his arms around me from behind and kisses me on the neck. "Hey, beautiful." He smiles at me in the mirror.
He spins me around and gives me an even better kiss. "How was your day?"
"Fine. How was yours?"
I push against his chest because he's staring at me too hard and I might accidentally let my true emotions out and then he'll ask me what's wrong and I'll have to tell him how much this wedding is stressing me out.
I turn around and face the mirror, hoping he'll go to the living room or the kitchen or anywhere that isn't somewhere he can stare at me like he's staring at me right now.
"What's bothering you?"
Sometimes I hate how well he knows me.
Except during sex. It comes in handy during sex.
"Why can't you be oblivious to a woman's emotional state like most men?"
He smiles and pulls me to him. "If I was oblivious to your emotional state, I would merely be a man in love with you. But I'm more than that. I'm your soul mate and I can feel everything you're feeling." He presses his lips to my forehead. "Why are you sad, Quinn?"
I sigh, exasperated. "My mother." He releases me and I walk to the bedroom and sit on my bed. I fall backward and stare up at the ceiling. "She's trying to turn our wedding into the wedding she had planned for me and Ethan. She's not even asking me what we want, Graham. She's just making decisions and telling me after the fact."
Graham crawls onto the bed and lays beside me, propping his head up on his hand. He rests his other hand on my stomach.
"Yesterday she told me she put down a deposit at the Douglas Whimberly Plaza for the date of our wedding. She's not even asking what we want, but because she's paying for everything, she thinks it earns her the right to make all the decisions. Today she texted and said she ordered the invitations."
Graham makes a face. "You think that means our wedding invitations will have the word prestigious in them?"
I laugh. "I'd be more shocked if they didn't." My head flops to the side and I give him the most pathetic look, short of pouting. "I don't want a huge wedding in a fancy plaza with all my mother's friends there."
"What do you want?"
"At this point I don't even know that I want a wedding." Graham tilts his head, a little concerned by my comment. I quickly rectify it. "I don't mean I don't want to marry you. I just don't want to marry you in my mother's dream wedding."
Graham gives me a reassuring smile. "We've only been engaged for three months. We still have five months before the wedding date. There's plenty of time to put your foot down and make sure you get what you want. If it'll make things easier for you, just blame everything on me. Tell her I said no and she can hate me for ruining her dream wedding while keeping the peace between the two of you."
Why is he so perfect? "You really don't care if I blame you?"
He laughs. "Quinn, your mother already hates me. This will give her a little more justification for her hatred and then everyone wins." He stands up and slips off his shoes. "We going out tonight?"
"Whatever you want to do. Ava and Reid are ordering some kind of fight on Pay-Per-View and invited us over."
Graham undoes his tie. "That sounds fun. I have some emails I need to send but I can be ready in an hour."
I watch as he leaves the room. I fall back onto the bed and smile because it feels like he just might have come up with a solution to some of my issues in less than two minutes. But even though the solution sounds like a good one--just blame Graham for everything--my mother will never go for it. She'll just point out that Graham isn't paying for the wedding, so Graham doesn't get a say.
But still. He tried to solve my issues. That's what counts, right? He's willing to take the blame for something just to keep the peace between my mother and me.
I can't believe I get to marry that man in five months. I can't believe I get to spend the rest of my life with him. Even if that life together will start in the Douglas Whimberly Plaza, surrounded by people I barely know and food that's so expensive, it guarantees ample trays full of raw meat and ceviche that no one actually likes to eat, but pretends to because it's fancy.
Oh, well. The wedding may not be ideal, but it will only be a few painful hours, followed by a lifetime of perfection.
I drag myself off the bed, committed to somehow remaining sane for the next five months. I spend the next half hour getting ready for our night out. Graham and I have a handful of friends we sometimes spend time with on the weekends, but we mostly spend our time with Ava and Reid. They got married just before I met Graham. Ava was smart. She married Reid on a whim in Vegas. My mother wasn't able to order her invitations or book her venue or even choose which cake tasted best to her. I was the only one who knew they were jetting off to Vegas to get married and I've secretly been envious of their decision.
I'm buttoning my jeans when Graham walks into the bathroom. "Are you ready?"
"Almost. Let me grab some shoes." I walk to my closet and Graham follows me in there. He leans against the doorway and watches me while I look for a pair of shoes. I have to dress up for work every day, so a lazy night at Ava and Reid's is a nice respite from the heels and business attire I wear daily. I'm looking through all the shoes on my shelf, trying to find my favorite comfy pair. Graham is watching me the whole time. I glance at him a couple of times and I can't help but think he's up to something. There's a smirk on his face. It's barely there, but it's there.
"What is it?"
He unfolds his arms and slides his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "What if I told you I just spent the last half hour reworking the plans for our wedding?"
I stand up straight. He definitely has all my attention now. "What do you mean?"
He inhales a breath, like he's trying to calm his nerves. Knowing he's nervous about whatever he's about to say makes me nervous for what he's about to say.
"I don't care about the details of our wedding, Quinn. We can have whatever kind of wedding you want as long as the final result is that you'll be my wife. But . . ." He walks into my closet and pauses a foot away from me. "If the only thing you want from this wedding is me, then why are we waiting? Let's just go ahead and get married. This weekend." Before I can speak, he grabs my hands and squeezes them. "I just booked the beach house through next Monday. I spoke to a minister who is willing to come marry us there. He'll even bring a witness so we don't have to tell anyone. It'll just be you and me. We'll get married by the ocean tomorrow afternoon and then tomorrow night we can sit by the fire where I proposed to you. We'll spend the whole night eating s'mores and asking each other questions, and then we'll make love and fall asleep and wake up married on Sunday."
I'm almost as speechless as I was the moment he proposed to me. And just
like three months ago when I was too excited and shocked to say yes, I nod. Profusely. And I laugh and I hug him and I kiss him.
"It's perfect, it's perfect, I love you, it's perfect."
We grab a suitcase out of my closet and start packing. We decide we aren't telling anyone. Not even his mother.
"We can call them tomorrow, after we're married," Graham says.
I can't stop smiling, even though I know my mother is going to completely lose it when I call her tomorrow night and tell her we're already married. "My mother is going to kill us."
"Yes, she probably will. But it's a lot easier to ask for forgiveness than permission."
* * *
Tomorrow will mark three weeks since I've been at Ava's and I haven't heard Graham's voice since the day he dropped me off at the airport.
He called me once last week but I didn't answer my phone. I texted him and told him I needed time to think. He responded and said Call me when you're ready. He hasn't texted me since then and I'm still not ready to call him.
As miserable as I feel inside, I really do like it here at Ava's. I can't determine if I like it because it's new and different or if I like it because I feel further away from all of my problems. I haven't done a lot of sightseeing because of the recovery. My body is still sore and weaker than what I'm used to. But Ava and Reid's home is beautiful and relaxing, so I don't mind spending most of my time here. It's been so long since Ava and I had quality time together, I've actually been enjoying myself despite the circumstances of my marriage.
I do miss Graham, though. But I miss the Graham that was married to the happier version of myself. We fit together better in the beginning than we do now. I know that's because my piece of the puzzle has changed shape more than his. But even though I feel more at fault over the downfall of our relationship, it still does nothing to change the trajectory.
This trip has been exactly what my soul was craving--a much-needed change of pace. I spoke openly to Ava about everything going on with Graham for the first time. The thing I love most about Ava is that she listens more than she gives advice. I don't really want advice. Advice won't change how I feel. Advice won't change the fact that I can't get pregnant. Advice won't change the fact that Graham said he was devastated he hasn't become a father yet. The only thing advice is good for is to pad the esteem of the person giving it. So instead of advice, she's just given me distraction. Not only from Graham, but from our mother. From work. From infertility. Connecticut. My whole life.
"What about this color?" Ava holds up a swatch of yellow paint.
"Too . . . canary," I say.
She looks down at the swatch and laughs. "That's actually what it's called. Canary."
Reid walks to the stove and lifts a lid from a pot, taking a whiff of the sauce he's been cooking. I'm sitting on the bar with Ava, looking through possible wall colors for their nursery. "If we'd just find out what we're having, it would make this process a lot easier," Reid says, putting the lid back on the pot. He turns off the burner.
"Nope," Ava says, sliding off the bar. "We decided we aren't finding out. We only have ten weeks left. Be patient." She gathers three plates from the cabinet and walks them to the table. I take silverware and napkins to the table while Reid brings the pasta.
Neither of them have made me feel as if I'm overstaying my welcome, but I'm starting to worry that I might be. Three weeks is a long time to host someone. "I'll probably fly home this week," I say as I spoon pasta onto my plate.
"Don't leave on our account," Reid says. "I like having you here. Brings me a little peace of mind while I'm traveling."
Reid spends two or three nights a week away from home and with Ava being pregnant, he worries about leaving her alone more than she wants him to. "I don't know why my presence brings you peace of mind. Ava is braver than I am."
"It's true," she says. "One time we went to a haunted house and Freddy Krueger jumped out at us. Quinn pushed me toward him and ran back to the entrance."
"Did not," I say. "I pushed you toward Jason Voorhees."
"Either way, I almost died," Ava says.
"Do you think you'll fly back in two months when Ava has the baby?"
"Of course I will."
"Bring Graham this time," Reid says. "I miss the guy."
Graham and Reid have always gotten along well. But I can tell by the look Ava gives me that she hasn't told Reid about Graham's and my issues. I appreciate that.
I twist my fork in the pasta, reflecting on how lonely I've felt since Ava and Reid moved away from Connecticut, but this is the first time I've realized how much their move probably affected Graham, too. He lost a friend in Reid with their move. Probably his closest friend since Tanner. But he's never once talked about it because my sadness fills our house from wall to wall, leaving no room for his sadness.
For the rest of dinner, all I can think about are all the things Graham probably doesn't tell me because he doesn't want to put his sadness onto me. When we're finished eating, I offer to do the dishes. Reid and Ava are sitting at the table, poring over more color options for the nursery when their doorbell rings.
"That's weird," Ava says.
"Really weird," Reid agrees.
"Do you two never have visitors?"
Reid scoots back from the table. "Never. We don't really know anyone here well enough yet for them to come to our house." He walks to the door and Ava and I are both watching him when he opens it.
The last person I expect to see standing in that doorway is Graham.
My hands are submersed in suds and I remain frozen as Reid and Graham hug hello. Reid helps him with his suitcase and as soon as he walks through the door, Graham's eyes go in search of mine.
When he finally sees me, it's as if his whole body relaxes. Reid is smiling, looking back and forth between us expectantly, waiting on the surprised reunion. But I don't run to Graham and he doesn't run to me. We just stare at each other in silence for a beat. The beat is a little too long. Long enough for Reid to sense the tension in this reunion.
He clears his throat and takes Graham's suitcase. "I'll um . . . put this in the guest room for you."
"I'll help you," Ava says, quickly standing. When they've both disappeared down the hallway, I finally break out of my shocked trance long enough to pull my hands out of the water and dry them on a dish towel. Graham slowly makes his way into the kitchen, eyeing me carefully the whole time.
My heart is pounding at the sight of him. I didn't realize how much I missed him, but I don't think that's why my heart is pounding. My pulse is out of control because his presence means confrontation. And confrontation means a decision. I'm not sure I was ready for that yet. It's the only reason I've still been hiding out at my sister's house halfway across the world from him.
"Hey," he says. It's such a simple word, but it feels more serious than anything he's ever said to me. I guess that's what almost three weeks of not speaking to your husband feels like.
"Hi." My reply comes out cautious. But not as cautious as the hug I eventually give him. It's quick and meaningless and I want a redo as soon as I pull away from him, but instead I reach toward the sink and remove the drain. "This is a surprise."
Graham shrugs, leaning against the counter next to me. He gives the kitchen and living room a quick once-over before bringing his eyes back to mine. "How are you feeling?"
I nod. "Good. I'm still a little sore, but I've been getting plenty of rest." Surprisingly, I do feel good. "I thought I might be sadder than I am, but I've realized I had already come to terms with the fact that my uterus was useless, so what does it matter that it's no longer in my body?"
Graham stares at me in silence, not really knowing how to respond to that. I don't expect him to, but his silence makes me want to scream. I don't know what he's doing here. I don't know what I'm supposed to say. I'm angry that he showed up without warning and angry that I'm happy to see him.
my hand across my forehead and press my back into the counter next to him.
"What are you doing here, Graham?"
He leans in to me, looking at me sincerely. "I can't take this another day, Quinn." His voice is low and pleading. "I need you to make a choice. Either leave me for good or come home with me." He reaches for me, pulling me to his chest. "Come home with me," he repeats in a whisper.
I close my eyes and inhale the scent of him. I want so bad to tell him I forgive him. That I don't even blame him for what he did.
Yes, Graham kissing someone who wasn't me is the single worst thing he's done during our relationship. But I'm not completely innocent in this situation.
Forgiving him isn't even what I've been worried about.
I'm worried about what happens after I forgive him. We had issues before he kissed another woman. We'll still have those same issues if I forgive him. That night in the car, before the miscarriage, Graham and I fought about the affair. But as soon as we open this floodgate tonight . . . that's when the real fight will happen. That's when we'll talk about the issues that caused all the other issues that lead to our current issues. This is the talk I've been trying to avoid for a couple of years now.
The talk that's about to happen because he just flew halfway around the world to confront me.
I pull away from Graham, but before I can speak, Reid and Ava interrupt us, but only momentarily. "We're going out for dessert," Ava says, pulling on her jacket.
Reid opens the front door. "See you two in an hour." He closes the door and Graham and I are suddenly alone in their house, half a world away from our home. Half a world away from the comfort of our avoidance.
"You must be exhausted," I say. "Do you want to sleep first? Or eat?"
"I'm fine," he says quickly.
I nod, realizing just how imminent this conversation is. He doesn't even want food or water before we do this. And I can do nothing but stand here like I'm trying to decide if I want to talk it out or run from him so we can continue to avoid it. There's never been so much tension between us as we contemplate our next moves.
He eventually walks to the table. I follow him, taking a seat across from him. He folds his arms over the table and looks at me.