"Eleanor!" my mother exclaims. She stands and they air kiss and I force a smile when Eleanor looks at us.
"Quinn and Ava! Ladies, you are as beautiful as ever!" I have half a mind to ask her if I look tired. She takes an empty seat and cradles her arms around her bag. "How are you, Avril? I haven't seen you since . . ." She pauses.
"Quinn's engagement party to Ethan Van Kemp," my mother finishes.
Eleanor shakes her head. "I can't believe it's been that long. Look at us, we're grandparents now! How did that even happen?"
My mother picks up her martini glass and sips from it. "I'm not a grandmother yet," she says, almost as if she's bragging about it. "Ava is moving to Europe with her husband. Children interfere with their wanderlust," she says, waving her hand flippantly toward Ava.
Eleanor turns to me, her eyes scanning my wedding ring before they move back to my face. "And what about you, Quinn? You've been married a while now." She says this with ignorant laughter.
My cheeks burn, even though I should be used to this conversation by now. I know people don't mean to be insensitive but the intention doesn't make the comments hurt any less.
"When are you and Graham going to have a baby?"
"Do you not want children?"
"Keep trying, it'll happen!"
I clear my throat and pick up my glass of water. "We're working on it," I say, right before taking a sip. I want that to be the end of it, but my mother ensures it isn't. She leans in toward Eleanor like I'm not even here.
"Quinn is struggling with infertility," my mother says, as if it's anyone's business other than mine and Graham's.
Eleanor tilts her head and looks at me with pity. "Oh, honey," she says, placing her hand over mine. "I'm so sorry to hear that. Have the two of you considered IVF? My niece and her husband couldn't conceive naturally, but they're expecting twins any day now."
Have we considered IVF? Is she serious right now? I should probably just smile and tell her that's a great idea, but I'm suddenly aware that I have a limit and it was just reached. "Yes, Eleanor," I say, pulling my hand from hers. "We've been through three unsuccessful rounds, actually. It drained our savings account and we had to take out a second mortgage on our home."
Eleanor's face reddens and I'm immediately embarrassed by my reply, which means my mother is probably mortified. I don't look at her to validate my assumption, though. I can see Ava taking a swig of her water, trying to hide her laughter.
"Oh," Eleanor says. "That's . . . I'm sorry."
"Don't be," my mother interjects. "There's a reason for everything we go through, right? Even the struggles."
Eleanor nods. "Oh, I believe that wholeheartedly," she says. "God works in mysterious ways."
I laugh quietly. Her comment is reminiscent of the many comments my mother has said to me in the past. I know she doesn't mean to be, but Avril Donnelly is the most insensitive of anyone.
Graham and I decided to start trying for a baby after only one year into our marriage. I was so naive, thinking it would happen right away. After the first few unsuccessful months, I started to worry. I brought it up to Ava . . . and my mother, of all people. I told them my concerns before I even brought them up to Graham. My mother actually had the nerve to say that maybe God didn't think I was ready for a child yet.
If God doesn't give babies to people who aren't ready for them, He's got a lot of explaining to do. Because some of the mothers He chose to be fertile are very questionable. My own mother being one of them.
Graham has been supportive throughout the entire ordeal, but sometimes I wonder if he gets as frustrated as I do with all the questions. They get harder to answer over and over. Sometimes when we're together and people ask why we haven't had children yet, Graham blames it on himself. "I'm sterile," he'll say.
He's far from sterile, though. He had his sperm count tested in the beginning and it was fine. Actually, it was more than fine. The doctor used the word lavish. "You have a lavish amount of sperm, Mr. Wells."
Graham and I joked about that forever. But even though we tried to turn it into a joke, it meant the issue was all me. No matter how lavish his sperm count was, they weren't any good to my uterus. We had sex on a strict ovulation schedule. I took my temperature regularly. I ate and drank all the right foods. Still nothing. We pinched every penny we had and tried IUI and then IVF and were met with unsuccessful results.
We've discussed surrogacy, but it's just as expensive as IVF, and according to our doctor, due to the endometriosis I was diagnosed with at twenty-five, my eggs just aren't very reliable.
Nothing has been successful and we can't afford to keep repeating things we've already attempted, or even trying new techniques. I'm starting to realize it might never happen.
This past year has been the absolute hardest of all the years. I'm losing faith. Losing interest. Losing hope.
Losing, losing, losing.
"Are you interested in adoption?" Eleanor asks.
My eyes swing to hers and I do my best to hide my exasperation. I open my mouth to answer her, but my mother leans in. "Her husband isn't interested in adoption," she says.
"Mother," Ava hisses.
She dismisses Ava with a flip of her hand. "It's not like I'm telling the whole world. Eleanor and I are practically best friends."
"You haven't seen each other in almost a decade," I say.
My mother squeezes Eleanor's hand. "Well, it certainly doesn't feel like that long. How is Peter?"
Eleanor laughs, welcoming the change of subject as much as I do. She starts telling my mother about his new car and his midlife crisis, which technically can't be a midlife crisis because he's well into his sixties, but I don't correct them. I excuse myself and head to the restroom in an attempt to run away from the constant reminder of my infertility.
I should have corrected her when my mother said Graham isn't interested in adoption. It's not that he's not interested, we just haven't had any luck in getting approved with an agency due to Graham's past. I don't understand how an adoption agency won't take into consideration that outside of that devastating conviction when he was a teenager, he's never so much as had a parking ticket. But, when you're only one of thousands of couples applying to adopt, even one strike against you can rule you out.
My mother is wrong. Neither of us is opposed to the idea, but we just can't get approved and we can no longer afford to keep trying. The treatments drained our bank account and now that we have a second mortgage on our home, we wouldn't even know how to afford the process if we were approved.
There are so many factors, and even though people think we haven't considered all of our options, we've considered them many times.
Hell, Ava even bought us a fertility doll when she went to Mexico three years ago. But nothing--not even superstition--has worked in our favor. Graham and I decided early last year to leave it up to chance, hoping it will happen naturally. It hasn't. And to be honest, I'm tired of swimming upstream.
The only thing holding me back from giving up completely is Graham. I know deep down if I let go of the dream of children, I will be letting go of Graham. I don't want to take the possibility of becoming a father away from him.
I'm the infertile one. Not Graham. Should he be punished by my infertility, too? He says kids don't matter to him as much as I matter to him, but I know he says that because he doesn't want to hurt me. And because he still has hope. But ten or twenty years from now, he'll resent me. He's human.
I feel selfish when I have these thoughts. I feel selfish every time Graham and I have sex because I know I'm clinging to a hope that isn't there, dragging him along in a marriage that will eventually become too dull for either of us. Which is why I spend hours every day online, searching for something that might give me an answer. Anything. I'm in support groups, I read all the message boards, the stories of "miracle conceptions," the private adoption groups. I'm even in several parenting groups just in case I do eventually have a child. I'll be well prepared./> The one thing I don't participate in online is social media. I deleted all my accounts last year. I just couldn't take the insensitive people on my timeline. April Fools' Day was the worst. I lost track of how many of my friends think it's funny to announce a fake pregnancy.
They have absolutely no compassion for people in my situation. If they knew how many women have spent years dreaming of a positive result, they'd never even think to make light of it.
And don't get me started on the number of my friends who complain about their children on their timeline. "Evie was up all night crying! Ugh! When will she sleep through the freaking night?" or "I can't wait for school to start back! These boys are driving me insane!"
If those mothers only knew.
If I were a mother, I wouldn't take a single moment of my child's life for granted. I'd be grateful for every second they whined or cried or got sick or talked back to me. I'd cherish every second they were home during the summer and I'd miss them every second they were away at school.
That's why I deleted social media. Because with every status I saw, I became more and more bitter. I know those mothers love their children. I know they don't take them for granted. But they don't understand what it's like not to be able to experience the things that bring them stress. And rather than despise every person I'm friends with online, I decided to delete my accounts in hopes it would bring me a small semblance of peace. But it hasn't.
Even without social media, not a single day goes by without being reminded that I might never be a mother. Every time I see a child. Every time I see a pregnant woman. Every time I run into people like Eleanor. Almost every movie I watch, every book I read, every song I hear.
And lately . . . every time my husband touches me.
* * *
I've never brought a guy to my apartment who wasn't Ethan. In fact, Ethan rarely came here, either. His apartment is nicer and much larger, so we always stayed there. But here I am, about to have rebound sex with a complete stranger just hours after I caught my fiance having an affair.
If Ethan is capable of an affair, I am certainly capable of revenge sex with an extremely attractive guy. This entire day has been one bizarre event after another. What's one more?
I open the door and make a quick scan of the apartment in case there's anything I need to hide. In doing so, I realize I'd have to hide everything and that's not possible with Graham one step behind me. I step aside and allow him to enter my apartment.
"Come in," I say.
Graham walks in after me, taking in my apartment with his sad eyes. It's a small one-bedroom, but all the pictures of Ethan and me make it feel even smaller. Suffocating.
Leftover wedding invitations are still spread out over the dining room table.
The wedding dress I bought two weeks ago hangs from the entryway closet door. Seeing it makes me angry. I pull it down, fold the wedding bag over, and shove it in the closet. I don't even bother to hang it. I hope it gets wrinkled.
Graham walks over to my bar and picks up a photo of Ethan and me. In the picture, Ethan had just proposed and I said yes. I was flashing my ring at the camera. I stand next to Graham and look at the photo with him. His thumb brushes over the glass. "You look really happy here."
I don't respond, because he's right. I look happy in that photo because I was happy. Extremely happy. And oblivious. How many times had Ethan cheated on me? Did it happen before he even proposed to me? I have so many questions but I don't think I want the answers enough to eventually subject myself to an interrogation of Ethan.
Graham sets the photo down on the bar, facedown. And just like we did with our phones, he presses his finger against it and gives it a shove across the bar. It flies over the edge and shatters when it hits my kitchen floor.
Such a careless, rude thing to do in someone else's apartment. But I like that he did it.
There are two more pictures on the bar. I take the other one of Ethan and me and place it facedown. I push it across the bar and when that one shatters, I smile. So does Graham.
We both stare at the last photo. Ethan isn't in this one. It's a picture of me and my father, taken just two weeks before he died. Graham picks it up and brings it in closer for inspection. "Your dad?"
He sets the photo back on the counter. "This one can stay."
Graham makes his way to the table where the leftover wedding invitations are laid out. I didn't choose the invitations. My mother and Ethan's mother did. They even mailed them out for us. My mother dropped these off two weeks ago and told me to look on Pinterest for crafts to make out of leftover invitations, but I had no desire to do anything with the invitations.
I'll definitely be throwing them away now. I don't want a single keepsake from this disaster of a relationship.
I follow Graham to the table and I take a seat on it, pulling my legs up. I sit cross-legged as Graham picks up one of the invitations and begins reading it aloud.
"The honor of your presence is requested at the nuptials of Quinn Dianne Whitley, daughter of Avril Donnelly and the late Kevin Whitley of Old Greenwich, Connecticut, to Ethan Samson Van Kemp, son of Dr. and Mrs. Samson Van Kemp, also of Old Greenwich. The event will take place at the prestigious Douglas Whimberly Plaza on the evening of . . ."
Graham pauses reading and looks at me. He points at the wedding invitation. "Your wedding invitation has the word prestigious in it."
I can feel the embarrassment in my cheeks.
I hate those invitations. When I saw them for the first time, I threw a fit at the pretentiousness of the entire thing, but my mother and pretentious go hand in hand. "My mother's doing. Sometimes it's easier to just let her get her way than put up a fight."
Graham raises an eyebrow and then tosses the invitation back onto the pile. "So, you're from Greenwich, huh?"
I can hear the judgment in his voice, but I don't blame him. Old Greenwich was recently rated one of the wealthiest cities in America. If you're a part of that wealth, it's commonplace to assume you're better than those who aren't. If you aren't part of that wealth, you judge those who are. It's a trend I refuse to be a part of.
"You don't come across as a girl who hails from Old Greenwich," he adds.
My mother would find that insulting, but his comment makes me smile. I take it as the compliment he meant it to be. And he's right . . . my microscopic apartment and the furnishings herein in no way resemble the home I grew up in.
"Thank you. I try very hard to separate myself from the dredges of high society."
"You'd have to try even harder if you wanted to convince people you're a part of high society. And I mean that in a good way."
Another comment my mother would be insulted by. I'm starting to like this guy more and more.
"Are you hungry?" I glance into the kitchen, wondering if I even have food to offer him. Luckily, he shakes his head.
"Nah. I'm still kind of full from all the Chinese food and infidelity."
I laugh quietly. "Yeah. Me too."
Graham scans my apartment once more, from my kitchen, to the living room, to the hallway that leads to the bedroom. Then his eyes land on me so hard I suck in a breath. He stares at me, then at my legs. I watch him as his eyes take in every part of me. It feels different, being looked at this way by someone who isn't Ethan. I'm surprised I like it.
I wonder what Graham thinks when he looks at me. Is he just as shocked as me that he ended up here, in my apartment, staring at me, rather than in his own apartment, standing by his own table, staring at Sasha?
Graham slips a hand inside his jacket pocket and pulls out a small box. He opens it and hands it to me. There's a ring inside of it. An obvious engagement ring, but it's significantly smaller than the one Ethan bought for me. I actually like this one better than mine. I wanted something a little subtler, but Ethan went with the most expensive one his father could afford.
"I've been carrying it around for two weeks,"
Graham says. He leans against the table next to me and stares down at the ring in my hand. "I haven't had the chance to propose because she kept blowing me off. I've been suspicious for a while now. She's such a good liar."
He says the last part of that sentence like he's impressed.
"I like it." I take the ring out of the box and slide it onto my right hand.
"You can keep it. I don't need it anymore."
"You should return it. It was probably expensive."
"I got it off eBay. It's nonrefundable."
I hold both hands out in front of me and compare the two rings. I look at my engagement ring and wonder why I never thought to tell Ethan beforehand that I didn't need something ostentatious. It's like I was so desperate to marry him, I lost my voice. My opinions. Me.
I slide my engagement ring off my left hand and put it in the box, replacing the one that Graham bought Sasha. I hand the box to Graham, but he won't take it.
"Take it," I say, shoving it at him in an attempt to trade rings.
He leans back on his hands so that I can't offer it to him. "That ring could buy you a new car, Quinn."
"My car is paid for."
"Then give the ring back to Ethan. He can give it to Sasha. She'd probably like it better than the one I bought for her."
He won't take the ring, so I place it on the table. I'll mail it to Ethan's mother. She can decide what to do with it.
Graham stands up and shoves his hands in his jacket pockets. He really is better looking than Ethan. I wasn't saying that to flatter him earlier. Ethan's good looks derive mostly from confidence and money. He's always been well groomed, well dressed and a little bit cocky. If a person believes they're good-looking enough, the rest of the world eventually believes it, too.
But Graham's attractiveness is more sincere. He doesn't have any spectacular features that stand out individually. His hair isn't a unique shade of brown. His eyes are dark, but they don't verge on black or unusual. If anything, the flat chestnut makes his eyes look even more sad than they would if his eyes were blue or green. His lips are smooth and full, but not in a way that would make me think about their distinctiveness if they weren't right in front of me. He's not extremely tall to where his height would be something one would point out. He's probably right at six feet tall.