Besides, how can I ever learn to fix the mistakes I made with Karl if I jump right back into a relationship with another guy? I know Nick is nothing like Karl, but I’m still me. And I can see all the old traps looming in front of me. I’ve spent a long time blaming Karl for our divorce—and yes, he is the one who cheated on me and he is the one who’s trying so hard to screw me over financially—but I’m the one who let him do that to me.
I’m the one who gave him my power. I’m the one who spent all those years swallowing my tongue, not rocking the boat, letting him have his way because it was easier, even when I knew it was wrong.
Is that on Karl?
Hell yeah, the man is an asshole who wouldn’t know how to shoot straight if his life depended on it. But it’s also on me and I’m willing to own it. But owning it means I have to work on it. I have to solve the problem. I can’t just jump into another relationship unless I want to make the same mistakes with Nick that I did with Karl.
And I don’t. I really, really don’t.
All evidence to the contrary, though. Hell, even ordering dinner that one night, I let him choose what we ordered. I mean, yeah, I was fine with Indian, but honestly, I’d had a craving for something else. Why hadn’t I said something then? What is it about me that’s so willing to make everyone else happy over myself?
Nick deserves someone who can stand up for herself, who is treated like an equal because she is an equal. Nick deserves better than a doormat. And honestly, so do I.
Giving up on my side, I roll onto my back again and stare at the sky above me. In Manhattan, there are way too many lights on at all times to ever be able to see the stars. But out here at night, when the whole neighborhood is in bed around me, it’s hard to miss them up there.
They’re bright and beautiful and shiny, and I want nothing more than to reach up and grab one. Obviously, I know that’s impossible for about ten million different reasons—the first and foremost one being science—but knowing that doesn’t make me want to do it any less.
Aunt Maggie used to tell me falling stars were falling because they’d lost heart and that’s what made them drop out of the sky. She warned me never to do that, made me promise to never give up, to never fall, to stay burning bright in the sky forever.
I tried, but I failed. And now, here I am, with a perfect view of the stars and no way to get back among them.
If I give up now, if I just fall for Nick, how am I ever going to find my way back to the sky—back to the stars—again? Even more important, how will I ever find my way back to myself? He’s a great guy. I have absolutely no doubts about that. But am I the great woman he needs by his side when I’m still such a work in progress?
It’s a question I’m still contemplating when the stars begin to disappear and dawn streaks across the sky. And I still have no answer. To that question or what I’m going to say when I see Nick at work again today.
I wake up to the sound of a throat being cleared above me, and I freeze before I even regain consciousness, convinced Nick has found me and that I’m going to have to explain everything.
But when the throat clearing comes again, my galloping heart gets a reprieve because I would recognize that exasperated, disappointed sound anywhere.
My dad is here.
I open my eyes slowly, feeling like I passed out a minute ago. A quick glance at my phone proves the feeling isn’t completely inaccurate. It’s barely six o’clock, and I only fell asleep about an hour ago.
My dad is standing over me, arms crossed at his suited chest and a distinct frown of disapproval on his face. I brace myself for the worst when our eyes meet.
But all he says is, “Rough night?”
“You have no idea.” I sit up slowly and try to get my shit together.
Matching wits with my father is always a dangerous affair—he isn’t one of the tristate area’s best litigators for nothing—but doing it when you’re half asleep and groggy as fuck is guaranteed to be a disaster. Then again, so is showing any kind of weakness, so I refuse to shake my head or rub my eyes or do anything that will tip him off as to how tired I actually am.
“Obviously not you,” he answers acerbically. “Despite the new job your mother says you started recently.”
“Wait a minute. You talked to Mom?”
“I’ve talked to your mother every single day of our thirty-eight-year marriage. You didn’t think I was actually going to stop just because she moved out, did you?”
“Actually, that’s exactly what I thought,” I tell him. “I mean, isn’t that the point of her moving out?”
He shakes his head as he walks over to the patio table and takes two paper coffee cups out of the cupholder he must have placed there. He holds one out to me, and I nearly cry with relief as I wrap my hands around it and breathe in its heady aroma.
“For a woman who likes to pretend she has everything all worked out, you’ve still got a lot to learn,” my father says after a few seconds.
My laugh is harsh when it comes. Is he really going to lecture me on having my life together? We haven’t spoken since I learned of Sarah, so it doesn’t take long for me to dig back into that raging cesspool of hurt. “I think you’re confused. I’m the first one to admit that I have nothing worked out.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.” He takes a sip of his coffee as he sits down on the lounge chair next to mine and kicks up his legs. “You like to say that you don’t know what you’re doing, but the truth is you’ve made very conscious decisions that have gotten you to this point in your life, Mallory. You decided to quit law school to support Karl. You decided to help him build that law firm into what it is today without taking any credit for yourself. You decided to leave your husband without so much as consulting me before you did it—”
“So you could try to sell me on the sanctity of marriage as you see it?” I snipe before I can stop myself.
“No, so I could have helped you protect yourself. Karl is a bastard, no doubt about it, but he’s a damn good lawyer. Instead of remembering that, you went off half-cocked, and look at where that got you.”
“It’s pretty hard not to go off half-cocked,” I tell him, “when you walk in on your husband giving oral sex to another woman. It’s one of those situations designed to make people go off half-cocked.”
“Maybe so. But you should have known better. You’re the daughter of a lawyer, the wife of a lawyer. I could have helped you protect yourself.”
“Maybe I didn’t want or need your protection,” I say. “Did you ever think of that? Maybe I needed to do this on my own.”