There is a part of me that wants to ask Nick what the hell just happened. There is another, bigger part that knows I should thank him. But then there is the biggest part—the one that is still reeling from everything. Everything I just found out. And that part wins.

My shoulders sag in defeat. I wanted to be a mother my entire adult life. I mean, yes, for a long time, I also wanted to be an attorney, but even then I wanted to be a mom, too. A mom like my aunt Maggie would have been, not my own mom. Fun and loving and full of life.

All those years with Karl, I let that dream fall by the wayside because he seemed so sure he didn’t want to start a family yet.

Except that was obviously not true. It wasn’t that he didn’t want kids; he just didn’t want them with me.

Could I possibly, possibly have been a bigger fool? I really don’t think so.

I am aware, in a very vague way, of something cold being pressed against my hand. I look down and am a little surprised to see my wineglass from earlier resting against my palm.

“Thank you.” I don’t know if I’m thanking him for standing up to Karl or for taking care of me or for handing me my wine. Maybe all three.

Either way, Nick doesn’t exactly seem inclined to ask me what I’m thanking him for. Instead, he just kind of nods before awkwardly sticking his hands in his suit pants pockets.

I can’t believe this. I just can’t believe this.

I know I should be grateful that I don’t have a kid with Karl, that I don’t have to try to co-parent through what looks like it’s going to be an incredibly contentious divorce.

But I’ll be grateful tomorrow. Tonight…tonight, I just want to grieve.

For what was and for what could have been if I’d just been a little bit stronger. If I’d just walked away all those years ago.

I gave away my youth, my hopes, my dreams to a man who would never appreciate the… I start to think sacrifice, but that isn’t right. Because at the time, I didn’t view it as a sacrifice. I willingly gave him everything he wanted, and when he didn’t seem fulfilled, I gave him more. I convinced myself if I just kept giving, eventually he would be satisfied. Eventually, he would love me enough to fill the gaping hole in our marriage that I couldn’t fill by myself.

“Mallory,” Nick says, still standing beside the table and obviously unsure whether to sit or sprint home as fast as he can. “I don’t know what to say.”

I laugh, a strange, broken sound that makes my ears hurt. “Then we’re even, because I don’t know what to feel.”

His big hand comes down on my shoulder. “What can I do?”

“You’ve already done far more than anyone else in my life ever has. Thank you.” I let out a shaky breath that’s already thick with unshed tears. “But right now, I need to soak my ovaries in wine. Alone.”

Nick gives my shoulder a squeeze and nods. “Absolutely.” But instead of walking out the gate, he walks into the house.

I know I should follow him, but I don’t have the energy right now. I don’t have the energy to talk, to think. Hell, if I’m honest, I don’t even have the energy to be. Keeping my heart beating and my lungs filled with oxygen seems like too much effort.

Nick comes back a minute later with another bottle of wine. He opens it in silence, then leaves it on the table next to me.

“I’m across the street if you need me.”

I nod, even as I answer, “I won’t.”

“I know.”

I close my eyes and rest my head on the edge of the table as I breathe. I just breathe.

I don’t know how long I sit there like that, just trying to survive the pain and the regret ravaging my soul with razor-tipped claws.

Long enough for night to settle around me completely.

Long enough for the still-unfamiliar sounds of the neighborhood to quiet down.

More than long enough for the pain to change to ice-cold rage. Ice-cold resolve.

When I finally open my eyes and lift my head, Nick is long gone, just as I thought he would be. I reach for the glass of wine I poured a lifetime ago and drain it in one long gulp.

A lot of people might have condemned Nick for leaving me alone when I’m this messed up, but not me. It’s been a lot of years since someone listened to a decision I made without questioning it or ignoring it. Nick not only listened to what I wanted, but he respected me enough to give it to me without question.

Right now, I think it’s probably the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.

Chapter Twenty-Three

   I should have just drunk the damn wine. It’s what a more rational person would have done, after all. They would have drunk themselves into bed and then fallen into a stupor. But oh no, not me. I sat in the backyard wallowing for a good half an hour. Then I just said fuck it. I wasted more than a decade of my life on that son of a bitch. I’m not wasting one second more.

And I’ve been cleaning ever since.

Because while I can choose not to waste my time getting drunk over him, I’m not quite evolved enough not to waste my time being pissed. And since I can’t sleep with all that angry energy, I use it to clean the entire laundry room, top to bottom.

My back may never forgive me, but on the plus side, I can now wash—and dry—my clothes, something that was impossible before because, it turns out, my aunt stored her rice and pasta in the dryer. Because that’s normal, right?

I finish hauling the last of the bags to the garage for the next monthly bulk pickup day—because my back totally needs the extra work—then promise myself the longest shower in existence after I fill out the HOA paperwork for the dumpster so I never have to do this again.

The paperwork isn’t hard, just time-consuming, because of course they have to know every little detail down to the kind of garbage that will end up in the dumpster. It takes two cups of coffee to finish it. All I need is a picture of the driveway, and then I can upload everything via digital documents and send it on its way.

Thank God.

I am so tired that it takes me a good minute to remember where my camera is on my phone, and I’m just snapping the first photo when a call comes in. My mom’s number pops up on the caller ID, and I let out a groan. No. Just no. After everything else I dealt with in the last twelve hours, there is no way I can deal with her, too.

I swipe Decline and head back inside, only to realize that my mom’s voice—her shouting “Mallory! Mallory!”—is coming from my phone.

Damn it! I must have swiped Accept instead. All the bleach fumes have clearly gotten to me.

I’m so tempted to hang up and pretend that I have no idea she called, but it’s too late. My mom has a special gift for torture, and if she thinks I am deliberately ignoring a phone call from her, she will absolutely find a way to make me suffer for a long time to come.