It makes me feel naive. More, it makes me feel tired. And small. And sad.

I worked so hard to make him happy, worked so hard to make it work, and now it’s just…over. A phone call, a swipe of a pen, done. And all I can think about is that if I’d worked so hard at my marriage only to have it fail so completely, what makes me think I have any chance at all of keeping Aunt Maggie’s house?

I slide down the kitchen wall while Karl’s voice pours into my right ear, then land with a hard thud on the linoleum floor, all the fight extinguished that damn fast. All I can hear—all I can think about—is him saying that I need him. And maybe, just maybe, he’s right.

I have a list of repairs I can’t afford. A shitload of junk that needs to be sorted through and thrown away. Property and inheritance taxes that I don’t have the money for. And reality starts to really seep in—like it always does when I’m around Karl.

It absolutely sucks, but my father was right. I need to move back in with my parents, sell the house, and use the money from the sale to pay the inheritance taxes and get back on my feet.

Is it what I want to do? Not in the slightest.

Is it what I have to do? Yeah, it is.

It’s the only logical solution. And I’m nothing if not logical—isn’t that what Karl always said about me? Boring, logical Mallory who doesn’t have an exciting bone in her body? It’s exciting to think about keeping this place, about building a life worthy of the great-aunt who used to pick me up at school on a random day once a year and take me to Bloomingdale’s to pick out an un-birthday present.

The great-aunt who used to take me to the Strand bookstore and demand that I pick out no less than three or five or seven books to read, depending on what she considered her lucky number that day.

The great-aunt who used to take me for cheesecake at Junior’s or hot dogs at Gray’s Papaya and then up to the top of the Empire State Building to make a wish as big as the city.

And now I’m such a failure that I can’t even afford to keep her house. I can’t live the life she tried to give me or the life she wanted for me. All I can do is just…fold.

“Are you even listening to me?” Karl’s voice booms through the phone, bringing me back to our conversation. “I need you to sign the papers tomorrow morning.”

“I’d like to read them first.” Not I have to read them first or I’ll have a lawyer read them first, just “I’d like to read them first.” So much for my wine-induced badassery.

“You don’t need to read them. They’re exactly like we discussed, and I really need to get this done tomorrow.”

Anger flares inside me again, and this time there is no sadness for it to get buried in. “Yeah, well, I need a lot of things, Karl. Including twenty-four hours to read the damn papers—which I don’t think is too much to ask. What’s your rush anyway?”

“I want this mistake over and done with,” he says, his voice cold in that way it always gets when I do something to displease him. “You know how you are, Mallory. If I don’t push, it won’t get done.”

“Well, I have no need to set a record for fastest paper signing in history, like you apparently do. Something tells me there’s more going on here.”

Maybe it’s the wine making a comeback or I’ve just finally reached my tipping point, but I’m not about to be bullied by this man. Not anymore.

A long silence follows my statement, and for a second, I think he might have actually hung up. But then he sighs heavily. It’s a long-suffering sound meant to remind me just how difficult and irrational I’m being—per usual. He employed it regularly during our marriage—every time I had the nerve to disagree with him on anything—and the sound of it now, when he’s clearly being the irrational one, sets off a wave of anger inside me like nothing I’ve ever felt before.

Even walking in on him mid-lick didn’t make me this angry. Nothing has. It’s lava hot and practically sentient, ready for action, to decimate the dick who sparked it.

We are getting divorced because he’s a cheating asshole, and he still thinks he has the right to order me around? To demand that I do things his way simply because that’s the way he wants it done? Simply because I’ve always bent over backward to make him happy before, no matter how unreasonable his demands were?

“I’m not signing anything until you tell me the real reason you’re trying to rush me, Karl.”

My God, I actually made my own demand. I fist-pump the air. Sure, it took an entire bottle of wine to muster up the courage, but it’s a victory nonetheless.

Karl must be as shocked as I am at my tone because for once in our miserable marriage, he tells me the bald-faced truth and leaves out the side order of gaslighting.

“Sasha and I are planning on getting married,” he says. “We want to set up an appointment for a marriage license, and we can’t do that until the divorce papers are signed.”

Chapter Eleven

   It takes a second for his words to sink in—probably because my mind went into full-on red-haze mode the moment the words “marriage” and “license” left his mouth. Because what. The. Hell?

I mean, seriously. What the hell?

All the years I spent shaving twice a day so my legs never even held a hint of a five o’clock shadow flash in front of me like a horror movie. And this shithead thinks he can tell me to jump and I ask how high? I swear, at that moment, I hear a lightning bolt in my kitchen and the air crackles around me. Any latent feelings I might have had for him, any tiny hope that maybe deep inside his shriveled black heart he might actually have a shred or two of decency dies right then. I can feel them literally withering inside me.

It isn’t that I want him back. I don’t and I didn’t, not from the moment I got over the shock that he was cheating on me. My sadness at the divorce always stemmed more from my own naivete in staying as long as I did coupled with my abject hatred of failure than it ever did from regret over losing Karl. Which says everything, I know.

But still, no matter how low he goes in this divorce—and he’s gone low—a part of me still hoped he wasn’t a complete and total asswipe. Not for him but because it really stings to think about how many years of my life I wasted on a guy who has no redeeming qualities besides his wardrobe and his law degree, both of which I helped pay for.

How could I be so clueless? How could I tell myself over and over again that his self-absorption was just brilliance? That his overinflated ego was just well-deserved pride in his accomplishments even as I subverted my plans to make sure that he achieved everything he wanted to?

Yeah, well, that stops now. The sadness, the self-doubt, and most definitely the regret evaporate in the heat of my ire. I may have let him bully me our entire marriage—and pretty much our entire divorce, for that matter—but I’m not about to let him bully me about these papers.