He's so handsome. As many times as I've turned away from him in the past, it's not because I'm not attracted to him. That's never been the issue. Even now after a full day of travel, he looks better than he did the day I met him. It always works that way with men, doesn't it? They somehow look manlier into their thirties and forties than they did in the pinnacle of their youth.
Graham has always taken good care of himself. Still, like clockwork, he wakes up every day and goes for a run. I love that he stays in shape, but not because of the physical attributes it's given him. My favorite part of him is that he never talks about it. Graham isn't the type to prove anything to anyone or turn his fitness routine into a pissing match with his friends. He runs for himself and no one else and I love that about him.
He reminds me a lot in this moment of how he looked the morning after we got married. Tired. Neither of us got much sleep the night of our wedding and by morning, he looked like he'd aged five years overnight. His hair was in disarray; his eyes were slightly swollen from lack of sleep. But at least that morning he looked happy and tired.
Right now, he's nothing but sad and tired.
He presses his palms and fingertips together and brings his hands against his mouth. He looks nervous, but also ready to get this over with. "What are you thinking?"
I hate the feeling I'm experiencing right now. It's like all my worries and fears have been bound together in a tight ball and that ball is bouncing around inside of me, pounding against my heart, my lungs, my gut, my throat. It's making my hands shake, so I clasp them together on the table in front of me and try to still them.
"I'm thinking about everything," I say. "About where you went wrong. Where I went wrong." I release a quick rush of air. "I'm thinking about how right it used to feel and how I wish it was still like that."
"We can get back to that, Quinn. I know we can."
He's so hopeful when he says it. And naive. "How?"
He doesn't have an answer for that question. Maybe that's because he doesn't feel broken. Everything broken in our marriage stems from me, and he can't fix me. I'm sure if he could somehow fix our sex life, that would be enough to appease him for a few more years.
"Do you think we should have sex more often?" Graham almost looks offended by my question. "That would make you happier, right?"
He traces an invisible line on the table, looking down at it until he begins to speak. "I won't lie and say I'm happy with our sex life. But I'm also not going to pretend that's the only thing I wish were different. What I want more than anything is for you to want to be my wife."
"No, what you want is for me to be the wife I used to be. I don't think you want me as I am now."
Graham stares at me a moment. "Maybe you're right. Is it so bad that I missed it when I was convinced that you were in love with me? When you would get excited to see me? When you wanted to make love to me because you wanted to and not because you just wanted to get pregnant?" He leans forward, pegging me with his stare. "We can't have kids, Quinn. And you know what? I'm okay with that. I didn't marry you for the potential kids we might have had together one day. I fell in love with you and I committed to you because I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you. That's all I cared about when I said my vows. But I'm starting to realize that maybe you didn't marry me for the same reasons."
"That's not fair," I say quietly. He can't insinuate that I wouldn't have married him if I'd known he couldn't have kids. And he can't say he still would have married me if he'd had that knowledge prior to our marriage. A person can't confidently proclaim what they would have done or how they would have felt in a situation they've never been in.
Graham stands up and walks to the kitchen. He grabs a bottle of water out of the fridge and I sit silently as he drinks it. I wait for him to come back to the table to continue the conversation, because I'm not ready to speak again. I need to know everything he's feeling before I decide what to say. What to do. When he takes his seat again, he reaches across the table and puts his hand over mine. He looks at me sincerely.
"I will never put a single ounce of blame on you for what I did. I kissed someone who wasn't you and that was my fault. But that's only one issue out of a dozen issues we have in this marriage and they are not all my fault. I can't help you when I don't know what's going on in your head." He pulls my hand closer and cradles it between both of his. "I know that I have put you through hell these past few weeks. And I am so, so sorry for that. More than you know. But if you can forgive me for putting you through the worst thing imaginable, then I know we can get through the rest of it. I know we can."
He's looking at me with so much hope in his expression. I guess that's easy to do when he honestly believes him kissing someone else is the worst thing that's ever happened to me.
If I weren't so outraged, I would laugh. I pull my hand away from him.
I stand up.
I try to suck in a breath, but I had no idea anger settled in the lungs.
When I'm finally able to respond to him, I do it slowly and quietly because if there's anything I need for Graham to understand, it's everything I'm about to say. I lean forward and press my palms against the table, staring directly at him.
"The fact that you think what you did with that woman was the worst thing that could possibly happen to me proves that you have no idea what I've been through. You have no idea what it's like to experience infertility. Because you aren't experiencing infertility, Graham. I am. Don't get that confused. You can fuck another woman and make a baby. I can't fuck another man and make a baby." I push off the table and spin around. I planned to take a moment and gather my thoughts, but apparently, I don't need a moment, because I immediately turn and face him again. "And I loved making love to you, Graham. It's not you I didn't want. It was the agony that came afterward. Your infidelity is a walk in the park compared to what I experienced month after month every time we had sex and it lead to nothing but an orgasm. An orgasm! Big fucking deal! How was I supposed to admit that to you? There was no way I could admit that I grew to despise every hug and every kiss and every touch because all of it would lead to the worst day of my life every twenty-eight fucking days!" I push past the chair and walk away from the table. "Fuck you and your affair. I don't give a fuck about your affair, Graham."
I walk into the kitchen as soon as I'm finished. I don't even want to look at him right now. It's the most honest I've ever been and I'm scared of what it did to him. I'm also scared that I don't care what it did to him.
I don't even know why I'm arguing issues that are irrelevant. I can't get pregnant now no matter how much we fight about the past.
I pour myself a glass of water and sip from it while I calm down.
A few silent moments go by before Graham moves from the table. He walks into the kitchen and leans against the counter in front of me, crossing his feet at the ankles. When I work up the courage to look at his eyes, I'm surprised to see a calmness in them. Even after the harsh words that just left my mouth, he somehow still looks at me like he doesn't absolutely hate me.
We stare at each other, both of us dry-eyed and full of years' worth of things we should never have kept bottled up. Despite his calmness and his lack of animosity, he looks deflated by everything I just yelled at him--like my words were safety pins, poking holes in him, letting all the air out.
I can tell by the exhaustion in his expression that he's given up again. I don't blame him. Why keep fighting for someone who is no longer fighting for you?
Graham closes his eyes and grips the bridge of his nose with two fingers. He cycles through a calming breath before folding both arms over his chest. He shakes his head, like he's finally come to a realization that he never wanted to come to. "No matter how hard I try . . . no matter how much I love you . . . I can't be the one thing you've always wanted me to be, Quinn. I will never be a father."
A tear immediately falls from my eye. And then another. But I remain stoic as he steps toward me.
is what our marriage is . . . if this is all it will ever be . . . just me and you . . . will that be enough? Am I enough for you, Quinn?"
I'm confounded. Speechless.
I stare at him in utter disbelief, unable to answer him. Not because I can't. I know the answer to his question. I've always known the answer. But I stay silent because I'm not sure I should answer him.
The silence that lingers between his question and my answer creates the biggest misunderstanding our marriage has ever seen. Graham's jaw hardens. His eyes harden. Everything--even his heart--hardens. He looks away from me because my silence means something different to him than what it means to me.
He walks out of the kitchen, toward the guest room. Probably to get his suitcase and leave again. It takes everything in me not to run after him and beg him to stay. I want to fall to my knees and tell him that if on our wedding day, someone had forced me to choose between the possibility of having children or spending a life with Graham, I would have chosen life with him. Without a doubt, I would have chosen him.
I can't believe our marriage has come to this point. The point where my behavior has convinced Graham that he's not enough for me. He is enough for me.
The problem is . . . he could be so much more without me.
I blow out a shaky breath and turn around, pressing my palms into the counter. The agony of knowing what I'm doing to him makes my entire body tremble.
When he emerges from the hallway, he's not holding his suitcase. He's holding something else.
He brought our box with him?
He walks into the kitchen and sets it beside me on the counter. "If you don't tell me to stop, we're opening it."
I lean forward and press my arms into the counter, my face against my arms. I don't tell him to stop, though. All I can do is cry. It's the kind of cry I've experienced in my dreams. The cries that hurt so much, you can't even make a sound.
"Quinn," he pleads with a shaky voice. I squeeze my eyes shut even harder. "Quinn." He whispers my name like it's his final plea. When I still refuse to ask him to stop, I hear him move the box closer to me. I hear him insert the key into the lock. I hear him pull the lock off, but instead of it clinking against the counter, it crashes against the kitchen wall.
He is so angry right now.
"Look at me."
I shake my head. I don't want to look at him. I don't want to remember what it felt like when we closed that box together all those years ago.
He slides his hand through my hair and leans down, bringing his lips to my ear. "This box won't open itself, and I sure as hell am not going to be the one to do it."
His hand leaves my hair and his lips leave my ear. He slides the box over until it's touching my arm.
There have only been a handful of times I've cried this hard in my life. Three of those times were when the IVF rounds didn't take. One of those times was the night I found out Graham kissed another woman. One of those times was when I found out I had a hysterectomy. Out of all the times I've cried this hard, Graham has held me every single time. Even when the tears were because of him.
This time feels so much harder. I don't know if I'm strong enough to face this kind of devastation on my own.
As if he knows this, I feel his arms slide around me. His loving, caring, selfless arms pull me to him, and even though we're on opposite sides of this war, he refuses to pick up his weapons. My face is now pressed against his chest and I am so broken.
I try to still the war inside me, but all I hear are the same sentences that have been repeating over and over in my head since the moment I first heard them.
"You would make such a great father, Graham."
"I know. It devastates me that it still hasn't happened yet."
I press a kiss to Graham's chest and whisper a silent promise against his heart. Someday it'll happen for you, Graham. Someday you'll understand.
I pull away from his chest.
I open the box.
We finally end the dance.
* * *
It's been five hours since we said I do on a secluded beach in the presence of two strangers we met just minutes before our vows. And I don't have a single regret.
I don't regret agreeing to spend the weekend with Graham at the beach house. I don't regret getting married five months before we planned to. I don't regret texting my mother when it was over, thanking her for her help, but letting her know it's no longer needed because we're already married. And I don't regret that instead of a fancy dinner at the Douglas Whimberly Plaza, Graham and I grilled hot dogs over the fire pit and ate cookies for dessert.
I don't think I'll ever regret any of this. Something so perfect could never become a regret.
Graham opens the sliding glass door and walks onto the balcony. It was too cold to sit up here when we were here three months ago, but it's perfect tonight. A cool breeze is coming off the water, blowing my hair just enough to keep it out of my face. Graham takes a seat next to me, tugging me toward him. I snuggle against him.
Graham leans forward slightly and places his phone next to mine on the railing in front of us. He's been inside breaking the news to his mother that there won't be a wedding.
"Is your mother upset?" I ask.
"She's pretending to be happy for us but I can tell she would have liked to have been there."
"Do you feel guilty?"
He laughs. "Not at all. She's been through two weddings with two of my sisters and she's in the middle of planning the last one's wedding. I'm sure a huge part of her is relieved. It's my sisters I'm worried about."
I didn't even think about them. I texted Ava on the way here yesterday, but I think she's the only one who knew. Ava and all three of Graham's sisters were going to be bridesmaids in the wedding. We had just told them last week. "What did they say?"
"I haven't told them yet," he says. "I'm sure I won't have to because ten bucks says my mother is on the phone with all three of them right now."
"I'm sure they'll be happy for you. Besides, they met my mother on Easter Sunday. They'll understand why we ended up doing it this way."
My phone pings. Graham reaches forward and grabs it for me. He naturally glances at it as he's handing it to me. When I see the text is from my mom, I try to pull the phone from him, but it's too late. He pulls it back to him and finishes reading the text.
"What is she talking about?"
I read the text and feel panic wash over me. "It's nothing." Please just let it go, Graham.
I can tell he isn't, because he urges me to sit up and look at him. "Why did she text you that?"
I look down at my phone again. At her terrible text.
You think he jumped the gun because he was excited to marry you? Wake up, Quinn. It was the perfect way for him to avoid signing.
"Sign what?" Graham asks.
I press my hand against his heart and try to find the words, but they're somehow even harder to find tonight than they have been the last three months I've avoided talking about it.
"She's talking about a prenuptial agreement."
"For what?" Graham says. I can already hear the offense in his voice.
"She's concerned my stepfather has changed the will to add me to it. Or maybe he already has, I don't know. It would make more sense, since she's been wanting me to talk to you about it so bad."
"Why haven't you?"
"I was going to. It's just . . . I don't feel like I need to, Graham. I know that's not why you're marrying me. And even if my mother's husband does leave me money in the future, I don't care that it would go to both of us."
Graham hooks his thumb under my chin. "First, you're right. I don't give a damn about your bank account. Second, your mother is mean to you and it makes me angry. But . . . as mean as she speaks to you sometimes, she's right. You shouldn't have married me without a prenup. I don't know why you never talke
d to me about it. I would have signed one without question. I'm an accountant, Quinn. It's the smart thing to do when assets are involved."
I don't know what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting him to agree with her. "Oh. Well . . . I should have brought it up to you, then. I didn't think the conversation would be this easy."
"I'm your husband. My goal is to make things easier on you, not more difficult." He kisses me, but the kiss is interrupted by my phone going off.
It's another text from my mother. Before I can finish reading it, Graham takes the phone from me. He types out a text to her.
Graham agreed to sign a postnup. Have your lawyer draft it up. Problem solved.
He sets the phone on the railing and, similar to the first night we met, he pushes the phone over the edge of the balcony. Before my phone lands in the bushes below, Graham's phone receives an incoming text. And then another. And another.
Graham leans forward and gives his phone a shove, too. When we hear it land in the bushes below, we both laugh.
"Much better," he says. He stands up and reaches for my hand. "Come on. I have a present for you."
I grab his hand and jump up with excitement. "Really? A wedding present?"
He pulls me behind him, walking me into the bedroom. "Have a seat," he says, motioning to the bed. "I'll be right back."
I hop onto the center of the bed and wait giddily for him to get back with the gift. It's the first gift I've ever received from my husband, so I'm making a way bigger deal out of it than it probably needs to be. I don't know when he would have had time to buy me something. We didn't know we were getting married until half an hour before we came here.
Graham walks back into the room holding a wooden box. I don't know if the box is my present or if there's something inside of it, but the box itself is so beautiful, I wouldn't mind if the actual box was my present. It's a dark mahogany wood and it looks hand-carved, with intricate detailing on the top of the lid.
"Did you make this?"
"A few years ago," he says. "I used to build stuff in my father's garage. I like working with wood."
"I didn't know that about you."
Graham smiles at me. "Side effect of marrying someone you've known less than a year." He takes a seat across from me on the bed. He won't stop smiling, which excites me even more. He doesn't hand me the present, though. He opens the lid and pulls something out of the box. It's familiar. An envelope with his name on it.