Chapter One Chapter One
The doorman didn’t smile at me.
That thought plagues me during the entire ride up the elevator to Ethan’s floor. Vincent has been my favorite doorman since Ethan moved into this apartment building. He always smiles and chats with me. But today, he simply held the door open with a stoic expression. Not even a, “Hello, Quinn. How was your trip?”
We all have bad days, I guess.
I look down at my phone and see that it’s already after seven. Ethan should be home at eight, so I’ll have plenty of time to surprise him with dinner. And myself.
I came back a day early but decided not to tell him. We’ve been doing so much planning for our wedding; it’s been weeks since we had an actual home-cooked meal together. Or even sex.
When I reach Ethan’s floor, I pause as soon as I step out of the elevator. There’s a guy pacing the hallway directly in front of Ethan’s apartment. He takes three steps, then pauses and looks at the door. He takes another three steps in the other direction and pauses again. I watch him, hoping he’ll leave, but he never does. He just keeps pacing back and forth, looking at Ethan’s door. I don’t think he’s a friend of Ethan’s. I would recognize him if he were.
I walk toward Ethan’s apartment and clear my throat. The guy faces me and I motion toward Ethan’s door to let him know I need to get past him. The guy steps aside and makes room for me but I’m careful not to make further eye contact with him. I fish around in my purse for the key. When I find it, he moves beside me, pressing a hand against the door. “Are you about to go in there?”
I glance up at him and then back at Ethan’s door. Why is he asking me that?
My heart begins to race at the thought of being alone in a hallway with a strange guy who’s wondering if I’m about to open a door to an empty apartment. Does he know Ethan isn’t home? Does he know I’m alone?
I clear my throat and try to hide my fear, even though the guy looks harmless. But I guess evil doesn’t have a telling exterior, so it’s hard to judge. “My fiancé lives here. He’s inside,” I lie.
The guy nods vigorously. “Yeah. He’s inside all right.” He clenches his fist and taps the wall next to the door. “Inside my fucking girlfriend.”
I took a self-defense class once. The instructor taught us to slide a key between our fingers, poking outward, so if you’re attacked you can stab the attacker in the eye. I do this, prepared for the psycho in front of me to lunge any second now.
He blows out a breath and I can’t help but notice the air between us fills with the smell of cinnamon. What a strange thought to have in the moment before I’m attacked. What an odd lineup that would be at the police station. “Oh, I can’t really tell you what my attacker was wearing, but his breath smelled good. Like Big Red.”
“You have the wrong apartment,” I tell him, hoping he’ll walk away without an argument.
He shakes his head. Tiny little fast shakes that indicate I couldn’t be more wrong and he couldn’t be more right. “I have the right apartment. I’m positive. Does your fiancé drive a blue Volvo?”
Okay, so he’s stalking Ethan? My mouth is dry. Water would be nice.
“Is he about six foot tall? Black hair, wears a North Face jacket that’s too big for him?”
I press a hand against my stomach. Vodka would be nice.
“Does your fiancé work for Dr. Van Kemp?”
the one shaking my head. Not only does Ethan work for Dr. Van Kemp… his father is
Dr. Van Kemp. How does this guy know so much about Ethan?
“My girlfriend works with him,” he says, glancing at the apartment door with disgust. “More
than works with him, apparently.”
I’m interrupted by it. The fucking.
I hear Ethan’s name being called out in a faint voice. At least it’s faint from this side of the door. Ethan’s bedroom is against the far side of his apartment, which indicates that whoever she is, she isn’t being quiet about it. She’s screaming his name. While he fucks her.
I immediately back away from the door. The reality of what is happening inside Ethan’s apartment makes me dizzy. It makes my whole world unstable. My past, my present, my future—all of it is spinning out of control. The guy grips my arm and stabilizes me. “You okay?” He steadies me against the wall. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have blurted it out like that.”
I open my mouth, but uncertainty is all that comes out. “Are you… are you sure? Maybe those sounds aren’t coming from Ethan’s apartment. Maybe it’s the couple in the apartment next door.”
“That’s convenient. Ethan’s neighbor is named Ethan, too?”
It’s a sarcastic question, but I immediately see the regret in his eyes after he says it. That’s nice of him—finding it in himself to feel compassion for me when he’s obviously experiencing the same thing. “I followed them,” he says. “They’re in there together. My girlfriend and your… boyfriend.”
“Fiancé,” I correct.
I walk across the hallway and lean against the wall, then eventually slide down to the floor. I probably shouldn’t plop myself on the floor because I’m wearing a skirt. Ethan likes skirts, so I thought I’d be nice and wear one for him, but now I want to take my skirt off and tie it around his neck and choke him with it. I stare at my shoes for so long, I don’t even notice that the guy is sitting on the floor next to me until he says, “Is he expecting you?”
I shake my head. “I was here to surprise him. I’ve been out of town with my sister.”
Another muffled scream makes its way through the door. The guy next to me cringes and covers his ears. I cover mine, too. We sit like this for a while. Both of us refusing to allow the noises to penetrate our ears until it’s over. It won’t last long. Ethan can’t last more than a few minutes.
Two minutes later I say, “I think they’re finished.” The guy pulls his hands from his ears and rests his arms on his knees. I wrap my arms around mine, resting my chin on top of them. “Should we use my key to open the door? Confront them?”
“I can’t,” he says. “I need to calm down first.”
He seems pretty calm. Most men I know would be breaking down the door right now.
I’m not even sure I want to confront Ethan. Part of me wants to walk away and pretend the last few minutes didn’t happen. I could text him and tell him I came home early and he could tell me he’s working late and I could remain blissfully ignorant.
Or I could just go home, burn all his things, sell my wedding dress, and block his number.
No, my mother would never allow that. Oh, God. My mother.
I groan and the guy immediately sits up straight. “Are you about to be sick?”
I shake my head. “No. I don’t know.” I pull my head from my arms and lean back against the wall. “It just hit me how pissed my mother is going to be.”
He relaxes when he sees I’m not groaning from physical illness, but rather from the dread of my mother’s reaction when she finds out the wedding is off. Because it’s definitely off. I lost count of how many times she’s mentioned how much the deposit was in order to get on the waiting list at the venue. “Do you realize how many people wish they could get married at Douglas Whimberly Plaza? Evelyn Bradbury was married there, Quinn. Evelyn Bradbury
My mother loves to compare me to Evelyn Bradbury. Her family is one of the few in Greenwich who is more prominent than my stepfather’s. So of course my mother uses Evelyn Bradbury as an example of high-class perfection at every opportunity. I don’t care about Evelyn Bradbury. I have half a mind to text my mother right now and simply say, The wedding is off and I don’t give a fuck about Evelyn Bradbury.
“What’s your name?” the guy asks.
I look at him and realize it’s the first time I’ve really taken him in. This might be one of the worst moments of his life, but even taking that into consideration, he’s extremely handsome. Expressive dark brown eyes that match his unruly hair. A strong jaw that’s been constantly twitching with silent rage since I walked out of the elevator. Two full lips that keep being pressed together and thinned out every time he glances at the door. It makes me wonder if his features would appear softer if his girlfriend weren’t in there with Ethan right now.
There’s a sadness about him. Not one related to our current situation. Something deeper… like it’s embedded in him. I’ve met people who smile with their eyes, but he frowns with his.
“You’re better looking than Ethan.” My comment takes him off guard. His expression is swallowed up in confusion because he thinks I’m hitting on him. That’s the last thing I’m doing right now. “That wasn’t a compliment. It was just a realization.”
He shrugs like he wouldn’t care either way.
“It’s just that if you’re better looking than Ethan, that makes me think your girlfriend is better looking than me. Not that I care. Maybe I do care. I shouldn’t
care, but I can’t help but wonder if Ethan is more attracted to her than he is to me. I wonder if that’s why he’s cheating. Probably. I’m sorry. I’m usually not this self-deprecating but I’m so angry and for some reason I just can’t stop talking.”
He stares at me a moment, contemplating my odd train of thought. “Sasha is ugly. You have nothing to worry about.”
“Sasha?” I say her name incredulously, then I repeat her name, putting emphasis on the sha.
. That explains a lot.”
He laughs and then I
laugh and it’s the strangest thing. Laughing when I should be crying. Why am I not crying?
“I’m Graham,” he says, reaching out his hand.
Even his smile is sad. It makes me wonder if his smile would be different under different circumstances.
“I would say it’s good to meet you, Quinn, but this is the worst moment of my life.”
That is a very miserable truth. “Same,” I say, disappointed. “Although, I’m relieved I’m meeting you now rather than next month, after the wedding. At least I won’t be wasting marriage vows on him now.”
“You’re supposed to get married next month?” Graham looks away. “What an asshole,” he says quietly.
“He really is.” I’ve known this about Ethan all along. He’s an asshole. Pretentious. But he’s good to me. Or so I thought.
I lean forward again and run my hands through my hair. “God, this sucks.”
As always, my mother has perfect timing with her incoming text. I retrieve my phone and look down at it.
Your cake tasting has been moved to two o’clock on Saturday. Don’t eat lunch beforehand. Will Ethan be joining us?
I sigh with my whole body. I’ve been looking forward to the cake tasting more than any other part of the wedding planning. I wonder if I can avoid telling anyone the wedding is off until Sunday.
The elevator dings and my attention is swept away from my phone and to the doors. When they open, I feel a knot form in my throat. My hand clenches in a fist around my phone when I see the containers of food. The delivery guy begins to walk toward us and my heart takes a beating with every step. Way to pour salt on my wounds, Ethan.
“Chinese food? Are you kidding me?” I stand up and look down at Graham who is still on the floor, looking up at me. I wave my hand toward the Chinese food. “That’s my
thing! Not his! I’m
the one who likes Chinese food after sex!” I turn back toward the delivery guy and he’s frozen, staring at me, wondering if he should proceed to the door or not. “Give me that!” I take the bags from him. He doesn’t even question me. I plop back down on the floor with the two bags of Chinese food and I rifle through them. I’m pissed to see that Ethan simply duplicated what I always order. “He even ordered the same thing! He’s feeding Sasha my Chinese food!”
Graham jumps up and pulls his wallet out of his pocket. He pays for the food and the poor delivery guy pushes open the door to the stairwell just to get out of the hallway faster than if he were to walk back to the elevator.
“Smells good,” Graham says. He sits back down and grabs the container of chicken and broccoli. I hand him a fork and let him eat it, even though the chicken is my favorite. This isn’t a time to be selfish, though. I open the Mongolian beef and start eating, even though I’m not hungry. But I’ll be damned if Sasha or Ethan will eat any of this. “Whores,” I mutter.
“Whores with no food,” Graham says. “Maybe they’ll both starve to death.”
Then I eat and wonder how long I’m going to sit out here in the hallway with this guy. I don’t want to be here when the door opens because I don’t want to see what Sasha looks like. But I also don’t want to miss the moment when she opens the door and finds Graham sitting out here, eating her Chinese food.
So I wait. And eat. With Graham.
After several minutes, he sets down his container and reaches into the takeout bag, pulling out two fortune cookies. He hands one to me and proceeds to open his. He breaks open the cookie and unfolds the strip of paper, then reads his fortune out loud. “You will succeed in a great business endeavor today.” He folds the fortune in half after reading it. “Figures. I took off work today.”
“Stupid fortune,” I mutter.
Graham wads his fortune into a tiny ball and flicks it at Ethan’s door. I crack open my cookie and slip the fortune out of it. “If you only shine light on your flaws, all your perfects will dim.”
“I like it,” he says.
I wad up the fortune and flick it at the door like he did. “I’m a grammar snob. It should be your perfections
“That’s what makes me like it. The one word they misuse is perfects
. Kind of ironic.” He crawls forward and grabs the fortune, then scoots back against the wall. He hands it to me. “I think you should keep it.”
I immediately brush his hand and the fortune away. “I don’t want a reminder of this moment.”
He stares at me in thought. “Yeah. Me neither.”
I think we’re both growing more nervous at the prospect of the door opening any minute, so we just listen for their voices and don’t speak. Graham pulls at the threads of his blue jeans over his right knee until there’s a small pile of threads on the floor and barely anything covering his knee. I pick up one of the threads and twist it between my fingers.
“We used to play this word game on our laptops at night,” he says. “I was really good at it. I’m the one who introduced Sasha to the game, but she would always beat my score. Every damn night.” He stretches his legs out. They’re a lot longer than mine. “It used to impress me until I saw an eight-hundred-dollar charge for the game on her bank statement. She was buying extra letters at five dollars a pop just so she could beat me.”
I try to picture this guy playing games on his laptop at night, but it’s hard. He looks like the kind of guy who reads novels and cleans his apartment twice a day and folds his socks and then tops off all that perfection with a morning run.
“Ethan doesn’t know how to change a tire. We’ve had two flats since we’ve been together and he had to call a tow truck both times.”
Graham shakes his head a little and says, “I’m not looking for reasons to excuse the bastard, but that’s not so bad. A lot of guys don’t know how to change a tire.”
“I know. That’s not the bad part. The bad part is that I do
know how to change a tire. He just refused to let me because it would have embarrassed him to have to stand aside while a girl changed his tire.”
There’s something more in Graham’s expression. Something I haven’t noticed before. Concern, maybe? He pegs me with a serious stare. “Do not
forgive him for this, Quinn.”
His words make my chest tighten. “I won’t,” I say with complete confidence. “I don’t want him back after this. I keep wondering why I’m not crying. Maybe that’s a sign.”
He has a knowing look in his eye, but then the lines around his eyes fall a little. “You’ll cry tonight. In bed. That’s when it’ll hurt the most. When you’re alone.”
Everything suddenly feels heavier with that comment. I don’t want to cry but I know this is all going to hit me any minute now. I met Ethan right after I started college and we’ve been together four years now. That’s a lot to lose in one moment. And even though I know it’s over, I don’t want to confront him. I just want to walk away and be done with him. I don’t want to need closure or even an explanation, but I’m scared I’ll need both of those things when I’m alone tonight.
“We should probably get tested.”
Graham’s words and the fear that consumes me after he says them are cut off by the sound of Ethan’s muffled voice.
He’s walking toward the door. I turn to look at his apartment door but Graham touches my face and pulls my attention back to him.
“The worst thing we could do right now is show emotion, Quinn. Don’t get angry. Don’t cry.”
I bite my lip and nod, trying to hold back all the things I know I’m about to need to scream. “Okay,” I whisper, right as Ethan’s apartment door begins to open.
I try to hold my resolve like Graham is doing, but Ethan’s looming presence makes me nauseous. Neither of us looks at the door. Graham’s stare is hard and he’s breathing steadily as he keeps his gaze locked on mine. I can’t even imagine what Ethan will think in two seconds when he opens the door fully. He won’t recognize me at first. He’ll think we’re two random people sitting on the hallway floor of his apartment building.
I close my eyes when I hear Ethan say my name. I don’t turn toward his voice. I hear Ethan take a step out of his apartment. I can feel my heart in so many places right now, but mostly I feel it in Graham’s hands on my cheeks. Ethan says my name again, but it’s more of a command to look at him. I open my eyes, but I keep them focused on Graham.
Ethan’s door opens even wider and a girl gasps in shock. Sasha.
Graham blinks, holding his eyes closed for a second longer as he inhales a calming breath. When he opens them, Sasha speaks.
“Shit,” Ethan mutters.
Graham doesn’t look at them. He continues to face me. As if both of our lives aren’t falling apart around us, Graham calmly says to me, “Would you like me to walk with you downstairs?”
“Graham!” Sasha says his name like she has a right to be angry at him for being here.
Graham and I both stand up. Neither of us look toward Ethan’s apartment. Graham has a tight grip on my hand as he leads me to the elevator.
She’s right behind us, then next to us as we wait for the elevator. She’s on the other side of Graham, pulling on his shirtsleeve. He squeezes my hand a little harder, so I squeeze his back, letting him know we can do this without a scene. Just walk onto the elevator and leave.
When the doors open, Graham ushers me on first and then he steps on. He doesn’t leave room for Sasha to step on with us. He blocks the doorway and we’re forced to face the direction of the doors. The direction of Sasha. He hits the button for the lobby and when the doors begin to close, I finally look up.
I notice two things.
- 1) Ethan is no longer in the hallway and his apartment door is closed.
- 2) Sasha is so much prettier than me. Even when she’s crying.
The doors close and it’s a long, quiet ride to the bottom. Graham doesn’t let go of my hand and we don’t speak, but we also don’t cry. We walk quietly out of the elevator and across the lobby. When we reach the door, Vincent holds it open for us, looking at us both with apology in his eyes. Graham pulls out his wallet and gives Vincent a handful of bills. “Thanks for the apartment number,” Graham says.
Vincent nods and takes the cash. When his eyes meet mine, they’re swimming in apology. I give Vincent a hug since I’ll likely never see him again.
Once Graham and I are outside, we just stand on the sidewalk, dumbfounded. I wonder if the world looks different to him now because it certainly looks different to me. The sky, the trees, the people who pass us on the sidewalk. Everything seems slightly more disappointing than it did before I walked into Ethan’s building.
“You want me to hail you a cab?” he finally says.
“I drove. That’s my car,” I say, pointing across the street.
He glances back up at the apartment building. “I want to get out of here before she makes it down.” He looks genuinely worried, like he can’t face her at all right now.
At least Sasha is trying. She followed Graham all the way to the elevator while Ethan just walked back inside his apartment and closed his door.
Graham looks back at me, his hands shoved in his jacket pockets. I wrap my coat tightly around myself. There’s not much left to say other than goodbye.
His stare is flat, like he’s not even in this moment. He backs up a step. Two steps. Then he spins and starts walking in the other direction.
I look back at the apartment building, just as Sasha bursts through the doors. Vincent is behind her, staring at me. He waves at me, so I lift a hand and wave back to him. We both know it’s a goodbye wave, because I’m never stepping foot inside Ethan’s apartment building again. Not even for whatever stuff of mine litters his apartment. I’d rather him just throw it all away than face him again.
Sasha looks left and then right, hoping to find Graham. She doesn’t. She just finds me and it makes me wonder if she even knows who I am. Did Ethan tell her he’s supposed to get married next month? Did he tell her we just spoke on the phone this morning and he told me he’s counting down the seconds until he gets to call me his wife? Does she know when I sleep over at Ethan’s apartment that he refuses to shower without me? Did he tell her the sheets he just fucked her on were an engagement gift from my sister?
Does she know when Ethan proposed to me, he cried when I said yes?
She must not realize this or she wouldn’t have thrown away her relationship with a guy who impressed me more in one hour than Ethan did in four years.