The prenup a love story, p.11

The Prenup: a love story, page 11

 

The Prenup: a love story
 


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  But in all of those tense exchanges, we’ve never once mentioned that day. The day I’d defiantly shown her the plain wedding band on my left hand and proclaimed that I had the funds I needed to get out from under her thumb and “build my empire.”

  Yeah, I do believe those were the exact words I used, and no, I am not proud of them. In hindsight, I don’t even know that I can really blame her for responding the way she did, which was with ice-cold rage and that whole don’t bother coming back business.

  So, while on some level, we both seem to have tactically agreed to chalk that day up to temper and pride (her) and temper, pride, and a side of immaturity (me), the scars are still there. Scars that I know won’t fade until we air out the wound, but …

  I can already feel today is not that day. I’ll need my full armor for that conversation, and right now I so do not have my full armor.

  “Mom, did you know Colin was seeing someone?” I say, deciding to get right to it.

  My mom’s Champagne flute had been halfway to her mouth, but she sets it carefully down without taking a sip, the slight clink of the base of the glass brushing her bread plate the only signal that she’s rattled.

  “A woman came by yesterday,” I babble on. “Her name’s Rebecca, and they work together, and—”

  “Yes, I know Rebecca.”

  My mom’s tone doesn’t give me much information, and I try to play it cool as I fiddle with my spoon. “You’ve met her?”

  “Many times. As you said, they work together, and she’s been his companion on several occasions at various functions.”

  Companion. Such a polite word.

  “Has she ever been to dinner? Family dinner, I mean, on Sundays?”

  “Goodness, no.” My mom seems genuinely affronted by the suggestion. “Why would she?”

  I’m surprised by the depth of my relief. I don’t know why, but I don’t think I could bear the mental image of Rebecca and Colin laughing across my family dinner table from my parents.

  Though, who are we kidding? There’d be no laughing with that foursome, just long dreary talks about the electoral college, Plato, and the stock exchange.

  “Do you think—” She sips her drink, and I notice it’s a big sip. “Do you suspect she and Colin …”

  “Yes,” I say quietly, saving her from having to come up with a phrase polite enough to meet her standards. “Yes, I think they definitely.”

  She huffs. “Well, that hussy.”

  I choke on my drink. So much for polite phrasing. “Mother.”

  “Well, honestly, Charlotte, he’s a married man.”

  “Yes,” I say slowly. “But you know—you have to know that he and I—” I flounder for words. “Didn’t you and Dad talk about this? After the party?”

  “We did, but I see no reason why the initial circumstances of your marriage and the distance of the past few years have to dictate what happens between you and Colin now.”

  I pretend to clean out my ears. “I’m sorry. Are you suggesting that the fact that our marriage was fake and we literally haven’t spent a single moment together in a decade, shouldn’t affect us?”

  “Hush,” she says with a frown, as she picks up her menu. “That isn’t the sort of thing you want someone overhearing.”

  I roll my eyes and pick up my own menu, mostly because I’m starving. Colin and I did a hell of a job avoiding each other after Rebecca’s appearance yesterday, and since he was hogging the kitchen last night, I skipped dinner and am thus starving.

  I order the French toast, and Mom gets some healthy-sounding quiche before she surprises me by asking a blunt question.

  “Why me?”

  “What do you mean, why you?” I ask, smiling in thanks as the server tops off my mimosa from a crystal carafe.

  “You’re upset about this Rebecca situation, and you came to me. Why?”

  “Honestly? That’s a good question,” I admit. “I didn’t really think about it. I was just up all night thinking about it, I needed to talk to someone, and next thing I knew, I was on your front porch.”

  It’s a lame answer, but the one I try to tell her with my eyes is the real one. The better one. Because you’re my mom.

  I hope she understands. And I think she does because her eyes seem just a little misty before she turns and gives the server a chiding look for dropping a minuscule amount of mimosa onto the white tablecloth.

  “So, about this Rebecca woman,” she says.

  I make a grunting noise and slump down a little in my chair. But instead of telling me to sit up straight the way she used to, she simply studies me for a moment.

  “It matters,” she says softly.

  I look up. “What?”

  “His relationship with her bothers you. It shouldn’t, but it does. Do I have that right?”

  “Unfortunately,” I say, my voice quiet as I sit up straighter once more. “I know I shouldn’t be upset. That I have no right to be upset. Our marriage isn’t a real one; I don’t even know the man, not really. And yet I’ve gotten to know him a little in these few weeks, and when she showed up, I felt …”

  I take a breath, not quite sure how to explain. “I don’t know what I felt, or what I’m feeling, but whatever it is, I feel it here,” I say, placing my fist just below my boobs. “It’s just like … a knot.”

  My mother says nothing as she takes a sip of her mimosa.

  “She’s all wrong for him,” I babble on. “I think that’s my problem with the situation.”

  She gives a slight knowing smile. We both know that’s not my problem with the situation—not my only problem, anyway.

  “Well,” she says, finally. “What are you going to do about it?”

  “Well, if I knew that, I wouldn’t be here,” I say in exasperation. Then I backpedal. “No, that’s not what I mean, I just … I could really use some advice here.”

  She nods in understanding. “What did Colin say about the situation when you discussed Rebecca?”

  “We didn’t discuss it. I mean he started to, but then I tried to be the bigger person by suggesting he resolve things with her first. I figured after that was over, we would talk, but instead, he refuses to even look at me.”

  “Hmm. That does sound like a man, doesn’t it? They like to pace around like caged animals when they have something on their mind that they don’t want to deal with.”

  “Okay, so … what do I do?” I ask, leaning forward, a little desperate. “You’ve been married for nearly forty years. Any advice?”

  “Space,” she says immediately. “Give the man a bit of space. Especially that man. He’s more complicated than most.”

  “Space,” I repeat. “Okay, that sounds simple enough. I can do that.”

  My mom nods. “Of course you can. Though, if I might suggest …”

  “By all means …”

  “Put a time limit on how much space you give him. You never know when a little space can turn into a decade. The damage is harder to undo then.”

  “But not impossible to undo the damage,” I say softly, knowing we’re no longer talking about Colin and me. “Right?”

  She gives me a little smile. “No, dear. Not impossible.”

  CHAPTER 20

  SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 12

  I take Mom’s advice and give Colin some space.

  I also take her advice and put a time limit on it. One week. One week is how long I give Colin to come out of his sulk on his own.

  For the past seven days, he’s done an impressive job of pretending I don’t exist. He skipped Sunday dinner after my mom and I went to church under the guise of having to work—I think we both know who he was “working” with. And since then, every time I’ve been in the apartment, he finds a reason not to be.

  I’ve been understanding; in fact, I’ve even tried to help him out. I’ve made a point of longer days at my rented office, happy hours with girlfriends I’ve wanted to reconnect with, and I’ve done more shopping in the past week than in the past year.


  But a full week after Rebecca rang our doorbell, he’s still pretending I don’t exist, and … time’s up. I take control of the situation.

  The Saturday morning following church with my mom, I find Colin on the couch in the living room reading a William McKinley biography all casual-like, as though he’s not a man with a wife and a fiancée.

  “Can we talk?” I ask.

  He looks up, his gaze going slightly wary as he carefully places a bookmark between the pages and sets the book on the coffee table before gesturing for me to sit in the chair across from him.

  “So,” I say, sitting and crossing my legs. “Do you want to go through the whole song and dance of me explaining what I want to talk about, or do you want to just skip that part and dive in?”

  “She’s my partner at the firm,” he says, apparently going with option number two. “Her name is Rebecca Hale, and we’ve been working together for four years.”

  “And sleeping together for how much of that time?” Whoops. That didn’t come out quite how I meant it to, but I don’t backtrack. I really want to know the answer.

  “We became, ah, involved, about a year and a half ago.”

  Nope, I lied. I didn’t want to know.

  “Involved,” I repeat. “That’s a nice euphemism.”

  “Don’t,” Colin says a little sharply. “Don’t pretend that you and I have a real marriage and that we haven’t had an agreement since the very beginning.”

  “I wasn’t!” I say. “I know we never promised fidelity in this whole arrangement. But I don’t understand why you wouldn’t have just told me that you’re engaged. Isn’t that sort of a crucial detail in your life? In our life, since—like it or not—you’re stuck with me in a big way for two more months.”

  He sighs and drops his head forward, and in spite of myself, I feel almost bad for him, especially when he lifts his head and looks a little … lost.

  “Honestly? I didn’t know for certain that I was engaged.”

  “That’s …” Huh? I search for words. “That’s definitely not what I expected you to say.”

  “I know. None of this is expected.” He crisscrosses his fingers and looks at the floor.

  When he lifts his head, he looks calmer. Slightly.

  “Rebecca’s known about the arrangement between you and me from the beginning. After we became … close, I told her the full story. About my green card, about your inheritance, everything. I wanted—needed—her to understand why she and I needed to be discreet. She was fine with it. Things were fine. Until a couple of months ago.”

  “What changed?” My reigning theory is possession by a dark spirit, though evil twin body swap is also a contender.

  “Her birthday. She turned thirty.”

  Ah. I hate to have anything in common with her, but I have to admit I sort of understand. I’d be lying if I didn’t have some pretty intense my eggs are rotting and my life has been a total waste moments when I came up on my thirtieth.

  Many of those thoughts, interestingly enough, had to do with this man here, and the worry that I’d given the prime of my life to a man I didn’t even know at the expense of finding The One.

  But at least Colin and I, on some level, can take some accountability for our situation. We got ourselves into this mess when we said our vows and again when we signed that damn prenup without reading it carefully.

  Poor Rebecca—yeah, I hear it, and I can’t believe I’m saying it either. She simply made the mistake of falling in love with an Irish guy, and not at the time in his life when he’d been hard up for a green card.

  “Let me guess,” I say with a small smile. “Rebecca’s biological clock started ticking louder, and with it her marriage timetable?”

  “That about sums it up. She told me I could marry her, or she’d find someone who could.”

  “Whoa,” I say, my sympathy for Rebecca evaporating. “She gave you an ultimatum.”

  “Come on,” he says, giving me a look. “You can’t blame her. In a year and a half, I couldn’t even take her on a proper date. Any time we went to a restaurant, we had to pretend we were colleagues.”

  “Yes, I’m sure everyone bought that.” I don’t even try to hide my sarcasm.

  “Look,” he snaps. “I tried. I’ve been trying to do right by her, and by you—”

  “By me! You’ve treated me like a pesky fly since I walked into the apartment, and you didn’t even tell me the entire situation!”

  “You’re right,” he says, digging his hands through his hair. “But it’s like I said, I haven’t known where she and I stand. She barely speaks to me at work unless she has to.”

  “What changed? How’d she go from ‘put your babies in me’ to not speaking?”

  He looks right at me. “You.”

  “But you said she knew about me. Our arrangement.”

  “She did. But then, when I realized I had to marry her or lose her, I started looking into the divorce process. Read through the prenup, learned about your brother’s little game …”

  “Ah,” I say, everything clicking into place. “Rebecca was okay with you having a wife you never saw. Not so much a wife you live with.”

  “Well, actually, she was okay with it. At first. And then she looked you up, and it all sort of went to hell.”

  “Looked me up?”

  “I hadn’t told her anything about you prior to the prenup situation, and she made it a point to know as little about you as possible. I suppose I thought it would be easier for her if you weren’t a real person in her mind. No offense.”

  “None taken.” I wish she weren’t a real person in my mind either.

  “Then,” he continues, “when we realized what the next three months would hold, you suddenly became real. She Googled you.” He glances up. “You were apparently not what she was expecting.”

  “What was she expecting?”

  “I don’t know. We got into it a little after she saw your photos online. Even more so after she saw some picture on Facebook of the two of us at your mom’s party. I just wish … I wish … I wish you didn’t look like that,” he says, dropping his hands and giving me an exasperated look.

  My lips twitch. “Like what?”

  “Shut up,” he says irritably. He flops back on the couch, looking so boyish and out of sorts that I feel myself softening.

  I stand and move around the coffee table to sit beside him on the couch, pulling one leg beneath me so I can face him.

  “Colin.” My voice is gentle. “Are you engaged to Rebecca, or not engaged?”

  He lightly runs his palm over his jaw, and I notice that he still hasn’t shaved today, which is all the proof I need of how far off his game he is.

  “Engaged,” he says slowly. “It’s why she was so upset, I think. It hurts. It hurts knowing I’m with someone else, even platonically.”

  I let out my breath on a huff, hating this situation. For me. For him. Even for Rebecca.

  “So where do things stand now?” I ask.

  “She’ll cool off. You and I will get through the next two months. Somehow.”

  “Two months in which I’ll be stuck wearing your bathrobe,” I grumble.

  “You could get your own robe,” he points out. “Or get something to sleep in that doesn’t show so much … skin.”

  I bite my tongue to keep from pointing out that the morning before Rebecca had rung our doorbell, he hadn’t seemed to mind all my skin. At all.

  “All right,” I say, giving him a sisterly pat on the knee. “What do you need from me other than to keep my skin to myself?”

  “Well, you can start by getting rid of all the dead flowers all over the apartment. When I said I didn’t have any vases, I did not mean to fill every single cup in the house with flowers that are now dead.”

  I wave my hand. “What else?”

  “Well, actually,” he says slowly, “Rebecca brought up a good point last week—”

  “In between the screaming?”

  “Yes, in
between the screaming,” he says, refusing to rise to my bait. “And quite frankly, it’s something I should have thought of before now.”

  “Okay …”

  “Well, we’re following the prenup’s stipulation that we live together—”

  “Oh, trust me. I’m well aware of all those joys.”

  He continues. “The problem is, when these months are up, it’s not going to be enough for us to say we lived together for the required amount of time. We’ll have to prove it.”

  “I don’t know how we can. Your place is already paid for, so we can’t cosign a lease. I guess we could put my name on the utility bills.”

  “What’s the address on your driver’s license?”

  I wince. “My old address in San Francisco. I tried to keep it as my parents’ address for as long as possible, but eventually I needed a California driver’s license.”

  “I thought as much.” He sighs. “How do you feel about a trip to the DMV?”

  CHAPTER 21

  SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 12

  “So. The DMV on a Saturday. Not one of your better ideas, hubby.”

  “No,” Colin says grimly as he shifts in the uncomfortable folding chair where we’ve been sitting for the better part of an hour. “No, it was not. But it’s either this or take time off work.”

  “Cutting into your precious Rebecca time?” I say to needle him.

  But he doesn’t look up from his iPhone, much less respond.

  “Not that you aren’t fabulous company,” I ramble on, “but you realize you didn’t have to come with me, right? I’m the one with the California driver’s license that needs to get updated.”

  “Actually, we both need new IDs,” he says, putting his phone away. “Mine still has my old address. I need it to match yours.”

 
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