It surprises me because I never thought of Ethan as genuine. There was always a part of me that felt his seeming perfection was part of an act. Like he had been taught how to say all the right things but it wasn't inherent with him. It was as if he studied how to be the version of himself he presented to everyone.
But with Graham, I have a feeling he's been who he is all his life.
I wonder if I'll learn to trust him. After what I went through with Ethan, I've felt like that would never happen.
When I'm finished in the shower, I dry off and pull on a T-shirt and a pair of yoga pants. I have no idea if Graham has intentions of hanging out today, but until I find that out, I'll be dressing for comfort.
When I walk back into the bedroom, I grab my phone off the nightstand and notice several missed texts.
I saved my contact in your phone. This is Graham. Your soul mate.
What do you want for breakfast?
McDonald's? Starbucks? Donuts?
Are you still in the shower?
Do you like coffee?
I can't stop thinking about you in the shower.
Okay, then. I'll get bagels.
I'm in my bedroom hanging up laundry when I hear Graham walk through the front door. I walk to the living room and he's at the table, laying out breakfast. A lot of breakfast.
"You didn't specify what you wanted, so I got everything."
My eyes scan the box of donuts, the McDonald's, the Chick-fil-A. He even got bagels. And Starbucks. "Are you trying to replicate the breakfast scene from Pretty Woman when Richard Gere orders everything off the menu?" I smile and take a seat at the table.
He frowns. "You mean this has been done before?"
I take a bite of a glazed donut. "Yep. You're gonna have to be more original if you want to impress me."
He sits down across from me and pulls the lid off a Starbucks cup. He licks the whipped cream. "I guess I'll have to cancel the white limo that's supposed to pull up to your fire escape this afternoon."
I laugh. "Thank you for breakfast."
He leans back in his seat, placing the lid back on his coffee. "What are your plans today?"
I shrug. "It's Saturday. I'm off work."
"I don't even know what you do for a living."
"I write for an advertising firm downtown. Nothing impressive."
"Nothing about you is unimpressive, Quinn."
I ignore his compliment. "What about you?"
"Nothing impressive. I'm an accountant for a company downtown."
"A math guy, huh?"
"My first choice was an astronaut, but the idea of leaving the earth's atmosphere is kind of terrifying. Numbers don't really pose a threat to my life, so I went with that." He opens one of the bags and pulls out a biscuit. "I think we should have sex tonight." He takes a bite of the biscuit. "All night," he says with a mouthful.
I almost choke on the bite I just swallowed. I pull the extra coffee toward me and take a sip. "You do, huh? What's so different about tonight than last night?"
He tears off a piece of the biscuit and pops it into his mouth. "I was being polite last night."
"So your politeness is just a facade?"
"No, I really am a decent guy. But I'm also extremely attracted to you and want to see you naked again." He smiles at me. It's a shy smile and it's so cute, it makes me smile.
"Some men get cheated on and they become revengeful. You get cheated on and become brutally honest."
He laughs, but he doesn't bring up the potential sex again. We both eat in silence for a minute and then he says, "What'd you do with your engagement ring?"
"I mailed it to Ethan's mother."
"What'd you do with the one I left here?"
A reserved smile creeps across my lips. "I kept it. Sometimes I wear it. It's pretty."
He watches me for a moment and then he says, "You want to know what I kept?"
It takes me a moment before I realize what he's talking about. "From the Chinese food and infidelity?"
"You kept those?"
"Because." He looks down at his coffee and moves the cup in small circles. "If you saw what was on the back of them, you wouldn't be questioning it."
I lean back in my seat and eye him suspiciously. Ethan and I got those fortune cookies all the time. I know exactly what's on the back of them because I always thought it was odd. Most fortunes have a set of numbers, but this place only puts a single number on the fortunes. "The backs of those fortune cookies just have a number on them."
"Yep." He has a mischievous gleam in his eyes.
I tilt my head. "What? Did they have the same number or something?"
He looks at me seriously. "The number eight."
I hold his stare and think about that for a few seconds. Last night he asked me the date. August 8.
The day we reconnected.
"Are you serious?"
Graham holds his resolve for a moment, but then he relaxes and lets out a laugh. "I'm kidding. Yours had a seven on the back of it and mine had like a five or something." He stands up and takes his trash to the kitchen. "I kept them because I'm a neat freak and I didn't like littering on the floor of the hallway. I forgot they were in my pocket until I got home that night."
I wonder how much of that is true. "Do you really still have them, though?"
He steps on the trash can lever and the lid pops open. "Of course." He walks back to the table and pulls me out of my chair. He slides his arms around my waist and kisses me. It's a sweet kiss and he tastes like caramel and sugar. He moves his mouth to my cheek and kisses it, then pulls me against his chest. "You know I'm only teasing you, right? I don't actually believe we'll spend the rest of our lives together. Yet."
I kind of like his teasing. A lot. I open my mouth to respond to him, but his phone rings. He holds up a finger and pulls it out of his pocket, then immediately answers it. "Hey, beautiful," he says. He covers his phone and whispers, "It's my mother. Don't freak out."
I laugh and leave him to his phone call while I walk to the table to gather all the breakfast he brought. I don't think it'll all fit in the fridge.
"Not much," Graham says. "Is Dad golfing today?" I watch him chat with his mother. He does it with such ease. When I chat with my mother, I'm tense and on edge and rolling my eyes through most of the conversation. "Yeah, dinner sounds good. Can I bring a date?" He covers his phone and looks at me. "Get your scuba gear ready, Quinn."
I don't know whether to laugh at his joke or start freaking out. I don't even know the guy's last name yet. I don't want to meet his parents. I just mouth, "No" very firmly.
He winks at me. "Her name is Quinn," he says, answering his mother's question. He's watching me while he continues the conversation. "Yeah, it's pretty serious. Been seeing her for a while now."
I roll my eyes at his lies. He's unrelenting.
"Hold on, I'll ask her." He doesn't cover his phone this time. Actually, he yells louder than he needs to because we're just a few feet apart. "Babe! Do you want pie or cobbler for dessert?"
I step closer to him so he can hear the seriousness in my voice. "We haven't even been on a date yet," I whisper. "I don't want to meet your mother, Graham."
He covers his phone this time and motions at the table. "We just had like five dates," he whispers. "Chick-fil-A, McDonald's, donuts, Starbucks . . ." He pulls his phone back to his ear. "She prefers pie. We'll see you around six?" There's a pause. "Okay. Love you, too."
He ends the call and slides the phone into his pocket. I'm glaring at him, but it doesn't last long because he walks up to me and tickles me until I laugh. Then he pulls me against him. "Don't worry, Quinn. Once you taste her cooking, you won't ever want to leave."
I sigh heavily. "You are nothing like I expected."
He presses a kiss to the top of my head. "Is that good or bad?"/> "I honestly have no idea."
* * *
When I pull onto Caroline's street, I see Graham's car parked in her driveway. But it looks like other than his sister and her husband, we're the only ones here. I'm relieved by that.
Caroline had her baby boy yesterday morning. A home birth. It's the first boy born in Graham's family since him, actually.
Caroline is the only sister of Graham's who lives in Connecticut. Tabitha lives in Chicago with her wife. Ainsley is a lawyer and lives all over. She travels almost as much as Ava and Reid do. Sometimes I'm a little envious of their carefree lifestyles, but I've always had other priorities.
Graham and I are very involved in the lives of Caroline's two daughters. Outside of the time we spend with them on Sundays, we also occasionally take them for outings or to the movies to give Caroline and her husband time alone. I suspect with the birth of their son, we'll be spending even more time with the girls.
I love watching Graham with them. He's playful and loves to make them laugh. But he's also very invested in their mental health and well-being. He answers every "but why" question with patience and honesty. And even though they're only three and five, he treats them as equals. Caroline jokes that when they return home after spending time at our house, they start every sentence with, "But Uncle Graham said . . ."
I love the relationship he has with his nieces so much, seeing him with his baby nephew makes me even more excited to see him as an uncle. I do occasionally let the thoughts get to me in moments like this about what a great father he would make, but I refuse to let our depressing situation dampen Graham's experience with his family. So, I plaster on my happy face and make sure to never allow the sadness to show.
I practice smiling in my rearview mirror. Smiling used to come naturally to me, but almost every smile that appears on my face nowadays is a facade.
When I reach the front door, I don't know whether to ring the bell or just walk in. If the baby or Caroline are sleeping, I'd feel terrible for waking them up. I push open the door and the front of the house is quiet. No one is seated in the living room, although there are unwrapped gifts lining the sofa. I walk to the living room and place Graham's and my gift on the coffee table next to the couch.
I make my way through a quiet kitchen and toward the den where Caroline and her family spend most of their time. It was an add-on they completed right after Gwenn was born. Half of the room serves as a living room and the other half serves as a playroom for the girls.
I'm almost to the den, but I pause just outside the door when I see Graham. His back is to me and he's standing near the couch, holding his new nephew. He's swaying from side to side with the newborn cocooned in a blanket in his arms. I suppose if our situation were different, this would be a moment where I would have nothing but pure adoration for my husband--watching him hold his newborn nephew. Instead, I ache inside. It makes me question the thoughts that might be going through his head right now. Does a small part of him resent that I haven't been able to create a moment like this for him?
No one can see me from where I'm standing since Graham has his back to me and I'm out of the line of sight of his sister, who is probably seated on the sofa. I hear her voice when she says, "You're such a natural."
I watch Graham's reaction to her words, but he has none. He just continues staring down at his nephew.
And then Caroline says something that makes me grip the wall behind me. "You would make such a good father, Graham." Her words fly through the air and reach me all the way in the next room.
I'm convinced she wouldn't have said what she said if she knew I could hear her. I wait for Graham's response, curious if he'll even have one.
"I know," he says quietly, looking over at Caroline. "It devastates me that it still hasn't happened yet."
I slip my hand over my mouth because I'm scared of what might happen if I don't. I might gasp, or cry, or vomit.
I'm in my car now.
I couldn't face him after that. Those few sentences confirmed all of my fears. Why would Caroline bring it up? Why would he respond to her with such bluntness, but never tell me the truth about how he feels?
This is the first moment I've felt like I'm disappointing his family. What do his sisters say to him? What does his mother say? Do they wish he could have children more than they wish he would stay married to me?
I've never thought about this from their perspective. I don't like how these thoughts are making me feel. Ashamed. Like maybe I'm not only preventing Graham from ever having a child, but I'm preventing his family from being able to love a child that Graham would be perfectly capable of creating if not for me.
I pull into a parking lot to gather myself. I wipe my tears and tell myself to forget I ever heard that. I pull my phone out of my purse to text Graham.
Traffic is terrible. Tell Caroline I won't be able to stop by until tomorrow.
I hit send and lean back in my seat, trying so hard to get their conversation out of my head, but it plays over and over again.
"You would make such a good father, Graham."
"I know. It devastates me that it still hasn't happened yet."
* * *
I'm standing at the refrigerator two hours later when Graham finally returns home from Caroline's. I know I'm stressed when I clean out the refrigerator and that's exactly what I've spent the last half hour doing. He lays his things on the kitchen counter. His keys, his briefcase, a bottle of water. He walks over to me and leans in, kissing me on the cheek. I force a smile and when I do, I notice this is the hardest I've ever had to force a smile.
"How was the visit?" I ask him.
He reaches around me into the refrigerator. "Good." He grabs a soda. "The baby is cute."
He's acting so casual about it all, like he didn't admit out loud today that he's devastated he isn't a father.
"Did you get to hold him?"
"No," Graham says. "He was sleeping the whole time I was there."
I snap my eyes back to his. Why did he just lie to me?
It feels like the inside walls of my chest are being torched as I try to keep my emotions from surfacing but I can't let go of his admission that he's devastated he hasn't become a father yet. Why does he stay?
I close the refrigerator door even though I haven't cleaned out the side drawers. I need to get out of this room. I feel too much guilt when I look at him. "I'll be up late tonight. I have a lot of work to catch up on in my office. Dinner's in the microwave if you're hungry." I walk toward my office. Before I close the door all the way, I glance back into the kitchen.
Graham's hands are pressed against the counter and his head is hanging between his shoulders. He stays like this for almost an entire minute, but then he pushes off the bar with force, as if he's angry at something. Or someone.
Before I can close the door to my office, he looks in my direction. Our eyes meet. We stare at each other for a few seconds and it's the first time I've ever felt like he was a complete stranger. I have absolutely no clue what he's thinking right now.
This is the moment when I know I should ask him what he's thinking. This is the moment when I should tell him what I'm thinking. This is the moment I should be honest with him and admit that maybe we should open that box.
But instead of being brave and finally speaking truth, I choke on my inner coward. I look away from him and close the door.
We resume the dance.
* * *
Every minute I've spent with him today surprises me more than the last.
Every time he opens his mouth or smiles or touches me, all I can think is, "What would possess Sasha to cheat on this man with Ethan?"
Her trash, my treasure.
His childhood home is everything I imagined it would be. Full of laughter and stories and parents who look at him like he was sent straight from h
eaven. He's the youngest of four kids and the only boy. I didn't get to meet any of his sisters today because two of them live out of state and one of them had to cancel dinner.
Graham gets his looks from his father. His father is a solid man with sad eyes and a happy soul. His mother is petite. Shorter than me, but carries herself with a confidence even bigger than Graham's.
She's cautious of me. I can tell she wants to like me, but I can also tell she doesn't want to see her son get his heart broken again. She must have liked Sasha at one point. She tries to pry about our "relationship" but Graham feeds her nothing but fiction.
"How long have you two been seeing each other?"
He puts his arm around my shoulders and says, "A while."
"Has Graham met your parents yet, Quinn?"
Graham says, "A few times. They're great."
Never. And they're terrible.
His mother smiles. "That's nice. Where did you meet?"
"In my office building," he says.
I don't even know where he works.
Graham is having fun with this. Every time he makes up a story about us, I squeeze his leg or nudge him as I try to stifle my laughter. At one point, he tells his mother we met at a vending machine. He says, "Her Twizzlers were stuck in the machine, so I put a dollar in and bought Twizzlers so that hers would get unstuck. But you wouldn't believe what happened." He looks at me and urges me to finish the lie. "Tell them what happened next, Quinn."
I squeeze his leg so hard he winces. "His Twizzlers got stuck in the machine, too."
Graham laughs. "Can you believe it? Neither one of us got Twizzlers. So I took her to lunch in the food court and the rest is history."
I have to bite my cheek to keep from laughing. Luckily, he was right about his mother's food, so I spend most of the meal with my mouth full. His mother is an amazing cook.
When she goes to the kitchen to finish the pie, Graham says, "You want a tour of the house?"
I grab his hand as he leads me out of the dining room. As soon as we're in private, I shove him in the chest. "You lied to your parents like twenty times in under an hour!"
He grabs my hands, pulling me to him. "But it was fun, wasn't it?"
I can't deny the smile that's breaking through. "Yeah. It really was."