I try not to look too concerned, but I am. His words rush through me, and I think back to our conversation tonight, the conversations that came before it. “You lied about what?”
“Verity never read your book.”
I want to take a step back, to mask my disappointment in the darkness. But I stay put, squeezing the doorknob with my left hand. “Why would you say that if it wasn’t true?”
He closes his eyes for a brief moment while inhaling. When he opens them, he stands up straight through his exhale. He raises his arms and grips the top of the doorframe. “I’m the one who read your book. And it was good. Phenomenal. Which is why I suggested your name to her editor.” He lowers his head a little, looking me firmly in the eye. “Your writing matters to me, Lowen.”
He lowers his arms, grips the doorknob, and closes the door. I hear him latch the lock before his footsteps disappear upstairs.
I fall against the door, pressing my forehead against the wood.
And I smile, because for the first time in my career, someone outside of my agent has given me validation.
I cozy up in the bed with the chapter I brought with me. Jeremy made me feel so good just now, I don’t even mind being a little disturbed by his wife before I fall asleep.
So Be It
Chicken and dumplings.
It was the fifth meal I cooked after living in our new house for two weeks.
It’s the only meal Jeremy ever threw against the dining room wall.
I’d known for several days that he was upset with me. I just didn’t know why. We were still having sex almost every day, but even the sex felt different. Like he was disconnected. Fucking me because it was our routine and not because he craved me.
That’s the reason I decided to cook the goddamn dumplings in the first place. I was trying to be nice by making one of his favorite meals. He was having a hard time adjusting to his new job. To make matters worse, he was upset with me for putting the girls in daycare without consulting him first.
Back in New York, we hired a nanny as soon as my books started selling. She would show up every morning when Jeremy left for work so that I could retreat to my office and write every day. Then she’d leave when Jeremy came home, and I’d come out of my office and we’d cook dinner together.
It was a great setup, I’ll admit. I never had to care for them when Jeremy wasn’t around because we had the nanny. But out here, in the middle of nowhere, nannies are hard to come by. I tried watching them myself the first two days, but that was beyond exhausting, and I wasn’t getting any writing done. So, one morning last week, I was so fed up, I drove them into town and enrolled them into the first daycare I came across.
I knew Jeremy didn’t like it, but he realized we had to do something if we both wanted to continue to work. I was more successful than he was, so if anyone was going to stay home and care for them during the day, it certainly wasn’t going to be me.
But the girls being in daycare wasn’t what was bothering him. He seemed to like the interaction they were getting with other children, because he couldn’t shut up about it. But we had discovered a few months earlier that Chastin had a severe allergy to peanuts, so Jeremy was cautious. He didn’t want anyone caring for her but us. He was afraid the daycare would be careless, even though Chastin was the kid I actually liked. I wasn’t stupid. I made sure they knew all about her allergy.
Whatever it was that had him irritated with me, I was positive it was something a bowl of dumplings and a good fuck would help him forget.
I intentionally started dinner late that night so the girls would be in bed when we ate. They were only three, so luckily, they were tucked in by seven. It was almost eight when I set the table and called Jeremy to come and eat.
I tried to make it as romantic as possible, but it’s hard to make chicken and dumplings sexy. I lit candles on the table and set up my playlist through the wireless speakers. I had on clothes, but underneath them, I was wearing lingerie. Something I didn’t do often.
I tried to make small talk with him as we ate.
“I think Chastin is fully potty trained now,” I said to him. “They’ve been working with her at daycare.”
“That’s good,” Jeremy said, scrolling through his phone with one hand and eating with the other.
I waited a moment, hoping whatever it was on his phone would take a back seat to us. When it didn’t, I adjusted myself in my seat and attempted to grab his attention again. I knew conversation about the girls was his favorite subject.
“When I picked them up today, the teacher said she’s learned seven colors this week.”
“Who?” he said, finally making eye contact with me.
He stared at me, dropped his phone flat on the table, and took another bite.
What the fuck is his problem?
I could see the anger he was trying to stifle, and it made me nervous. Jeremy never got upset, and when he did, I almost always knew why he was. But this was different. It was coming out of left field.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I sat back in my chair and dropped my napkin on the table. “Why are you mad at me?”
“I’m not mad.” He said it too fast.
I laughed. “You’re pathetic.”
He narrowed his eyes and tilted his head. “Excuse me?”
I leaned forward. “Just tell me, Jeremy. Enough of this bullshit silent treatment. Be a man and tell me what your problem is.”
His fists clenched and then unclenched. Then he stood up and slapped his bowl, sending it across the table and all over the dining room wall. I had never seen him lose his temper. I stiffened, wide-eyed, as he stomped out of the kitchen.
I heard him slam our bedroom door. I looked at the mess and knew I’d have to clean it up after we made up so he’d know how much I appreciated him. Even if he was being a major fucking douche.
I shoved my chair under the table and walked to the bedroom. He was pacing back and forth. When I closed the door behind me, he looked up and paused. He was trying so hard in that moment to put his words in order—everything he needed to say to me. As angry as I was at him for throwing the meal I had worked so hard making for him, I felt bad that he was upset.
“It’s constant, Verity,” he said. “You talk about her constantly. You never talk about Harper. You never tell me what Harper learned in school or how Harper’s doing with potty training or all the cute things Harper said. It’s Chastin, all the time, every day.”
Shit. Even with how much I try to hide it, he still sees it. “That’s not true,” I said.
“It is true. And I’ve tried to keep my mouth shut, but they’re getting older. Harper’s going to notice that you treat them differently. It isn’t fair to her.”
I wasn’t sure how to get out of that predicament. I could have gotten defensive, accused him of something I didn’t like. But I knew he was right, so I needed to find a way to make him think he was wrong. Luckily, he turned away from me, so it gave me a moment to think. I looked up, like I was turning to God for advice. Stupid, girl. God won’t help you out of this one.
I stepped forward, cautiously. “Baby. It’s not that I like Chastin more. She’s just…smarter than Harper. So she accomplishes things first.”
He spins around, angrier than before I even opened my mouth. “Chastin isn’t smarter than Harper. They’re different. But Harper is very intelligent.”
“I know that,” I said, taking another step toward him. I kept my voice low. Sweet. Unoffended. “That’s not what I meant. I meant…it’s easier for me to have a reaction to what Chastin does because Chastin likes that. She’s animated, like me. Harper isn’t. I give her silent affirmation. I don’t make a show of it. She’s like you in that way.”
His stare was unwavering, but I was almost certain he was buying it, so I continued.
“I don’t push Harper when she’s in those moods, so yes, I do talk about Chastin more. Sometimes I focus on her more. But only because I realize they’re two different children with two different sets of needs. I have to be two different mothers to each of them.”
I was good at spewing bullshit. It’s why I became a writer.