Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt
A devastating break-up—
Yes, I'm ready to be your wife after five years together. I'm ready to marry you, to do laundry together, to have kids with you and wake up in the middle of the night when they cry, and try to find time for sex, and laugh about it when we can't. I'm ready for all of it, Daniel.
Katy McNamara is ready, but Daniel, her devoted but commitment-wary boyfriend, isn't. When her thirtieth birthday comes and goes without a marriage proposal, she leaves the dull safety of an east coast freelance job for an assignment in Costa Rica, hoping the distraction of writing about yoga and surfing in a tropical paradise will help her heal.
Enter Carson Richardson—tanned, tall, and handsome, a world-class surfer who also happens to be smart, wealthy, and a very nice guy.
A breathtaking new love—
Carson the surf god teaches me how to ride the waves. Carson sits with me on a surfboard, and we kiss as the sun sets behind us. Carson looks on with approval as I send a postcard home with one sentence that reads: I'm not coming back.
Loving Carson opens a world of adventure for Katy, though the dangers of his sport always lurk at the edges of their happiness. If the unthinkable happens, will the fantasy be enough?
Falling in love means trusting, hoping, sharing—and learning to live for today. Falling in love means realizing that life is as fragile and as beautiful as beach glass.
Suzan Colón is the author of young adult novels based on the TV series Smallville. Suzan has contributed to O, the Oprah Magazine, Good Housekeeping, and many other publications. She has been practicing yoga for nearly twenty-five years, is a twice-certified yoga instructor, and has taught at the world-renowned Integral Yoga Institute in New York City. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, Nathan. Visit the author at SuzanColon.net.
"ARE YOU READY, Katy?"
Daniel asks me this question as he embraces me, and being in his arms feels the way it always does. Like home, a place I want to stay forever. I push back the flop of dark hair on his forehead and gaze into his eyes, a comforting shade of dependable brown, and I think, Yes. Yes, I'm ready to be your wife after five years together. I'm ready to marry you, to do laundry together, to have kids with you and wake up in the middle of the night when they cry, and try to find time for sex and laugh about it when we can't. I'm ready for all of it, Daniel.
But I don't say any of this, because we're standing at the doorway that leads to the garden of my favorite Italian restaurant in the village, and because Daniel must know how I feel. Besides, that answer doesn't seem to match his question, and before I can ask ready for what? he gives me a quick kiss, shmushing my carefully-applied lip gloss, and leads me out the door.
"Happy birthday, Katy!" That would be the sound of ten of our friends shouting at us.
Daniel turns and beams at me. "Surprised?"
Totally surprised, because this isn't what I was expecting. I love Daniel for planning this thirtieth birthday party for me, but he was so good at keeping it a secret that I was convinced he'd arranged a romantic dinner for two, something quiet and private. Something where he could get down on one knee and finally, finally ask me to marry him.
But hey, this is great, too! Maybe he's going to make this a public proposal, a combination birthday and engagement party? Well, that's not really like my shy guy. My guess is he'll do it privately, when we go home—I mean, back to my place—and hopefully before midnight. I really don't think I'm going to have to stick to that silly vow I made on my last birthday, when I promised myself that if Daniel and I weren't at least engaged, if not married, by the time I was thirty, I'd have to move on. Being a mom is one of my lifelong dreams, after all, right up there with being a writer. And as hard as it is to get my foot in publishing's door, I might have an equally tough time getting pregnant. It took my mother a few years to have me and then my sister, and the same thing happened to my sister with my niece. I don't want to wait too long. But I'm sure, I'm totally super-certain that Daniel won't make me wait past tonight. I have faith in him. He's going to propose. I just know it.
Thrilled that I'm so surprised, though not knowing the whole reason why, Daniel gives me an impishly handsome grin, the one where the dimples that embarrass him come out in full force. Our friends hug us hello and wish me a happy birthday, and someone hands me a glass of champagne. Then Daniel leads me to our seats at the middle of the long, candlelit table under the white-tented garden. Small bouquets of iceberg roses decorate the white-clothed tables. Daniel pushes his hair away from his eyes and asks, with a smile so eager to please, "Are you happy, Katy? I wanted this to be special."
"It is special. I love it. I love you." Our kiss is soft, sweet. This little PDA gets a round of applause from our friends, all couples who are engaged, married, married and pregnant, married with kids, married to their second spouses and expecting their second kids. I look around and think: Soon, Katy. Possibly within hours.
No, I mean definitely. We'll be like them. Really soon. I stop myself from rubbing my ring finger, a nervous tic that started a few months ago. Or maybe a year ago, on the night of my last birthday, when the expected proposal didn't come and I made the stupid vow. I never, ever wanted to be one of those engagement ring-obsessed women who feels she has to strategically place magazines open to ring ads, hint heavy-handed hint, where her boyfriend can see them. Or worse, the kind who makes ultimatums. I used to be one of those optimistic idealists who thought love was way more important than a piece of paper, blah blah happy blah. But people like that usually have some tangible sign of commitment, like living together, starting a family, and oops, we were just having so much fun we forgot to get married. But Daniel and I don't have any of those things.
Yet, I remind myself. All that could change in the next few hours, even though right now that seems like a lot to ask for. Maybe I should've had a talk with him about it, as unromantic as that might have been.
"Hey, pretty Katy." Daniel is looking at me over his menu, as he always does.
"Hey, Darniel," is my automatic answer, his nickname a result of me mixing Darn you with Daniel during a long-ago argument. The mashup made us laugh so hard we forgot what we were fighting about. He crosses his ankles behind mine and pulls my feet toward him. I look down and shake my head. "You've got to get rid of those sneakers," I say, even though they kind of go with his drainpipe jeans, button-front shirt, tie, and leather jacket, his mix of rock n' roll dressed-down dress up.
"Why?" he asks. "I've had 'em forever."
"That's no reason to keep them."
"Sure it is. You don't toss something that still works just 'cause it's been around for a while." He nudges my brand-new rose-colored patent leather pumps, my sister's birthday gift to me, and nods at his menu. "What do you want, birthday girl?"
I bite my lips until I can answer the question he's really asking. "Will it bug you if I have the steak pizzaiola?"
"'Course not. Just means we can't share," he says, shrugging in a good-natured way. He gives the server our orders, making sure there's no meat, fish, chicken stock, dairy, or slightest hint of animal in his because he's vegan, and no avocado in mine because I'm allergic. He always does this for me. Daniel is so thoughtful, in addition to being a hot nerd with a cool job at a recording studio, and an animal rescuer. I'd be crazy to break up with him, and I quickly shake the thought from my head. What am I so worried about? I know I won't have to. Before I can stop myself, I glance at Daniel's watch, noticing that we're only a few hours away from midnight. I feel like Cinderella, in danger of turning into a permanent spinster at midnight if my punk rock prince doesn't propose.
After dinner, which sits in a clump in my nervous stomach, Daniel excuses himself to talk to a friend from work. "Hey," says my friend Marisa, patting my hand. Her diamond-studded wedding ring twinkles in the low garden lighting. "Were you really surprised about the party?"
"Totally," I say. "I was expecting something else."
"Aw, look at that," Marisa says, nodding toward Daniel, who's dancing with her five-year-old daughter. He holds both her hands as he does a funny dance with her, making her giggle. Then he lifts her up to twirl her around, and she throws her arms around his neck. "He's going to be good with kids," Marisa says with a knowing smile.
Daniel comes back with a glass of champagne. "For the birthday girl," he says, touching my back affectionately. His hand feels so warm and smooth, and my skin drinks it up. I look up at him. "This is all amazing, Daniel. Thank you."
He sits, turning so that we're knee to knee. "It's not over yet."
Calm voice, Katy. Don't ruin his big surprise. "Really? There's more?"
He nods and gazes at me intently. "Katy, I just want to tell you—"
"How's everything over here?" asks our waitress, who has magically appeared at exactly the moment we don't need her.
"We're good, thanks," says Daniel.
"Great!" she says, smiling at us like we're her BFFs. "And how was dinner?" she asks me. "No avocado, right?"
"Fine," I say, shooting Go away! rays from my eyes. And yet, she lingers. Oh, God, at probably the precise moment that Daniel was going to restore my faith in him and humanity, the waitress lingers. She's not only lingering, she's grinning, like she's in on some great secret.
Wait, maybe she is. Maybe Daniel is going for some sort of public proposal! Hey, if this interrupting waitress turns out to be part of my engagement, I'll forgive her. She can be my new BFF for real. She can be one of my freakin' bridesmaids if there's going to be a question popped right now.
Daniel leans toward me and whispers, "Classic case of Server Interruptus," our code phrase for the phenomenon of wait staff checking on you only when you're in the middle of a serious discussion. "Never mind her," I say. "What were you going to—" Suddenly, the lights are dimmed, and Daniel smiles. I take a deep breath. This is it!
"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you . . ." A cadre of servers leads the song as they approach our table, holding a big platter of cake. Sparklers and candles fizz and glow. All of our friends join in the song, everyone focused on me. And all I can focus on is what Daniel was going to say.
Until, that is, I see the cake. The giant slab of tiramisu, my favorite, has been decorated with a perfect replica of my first major writing triumph, a blog on Now News. My story about my friend Annabelle's fishing family struggling after the hurricanes in Louisiana, right down to my byline, has been recreated in cinnamon. It's beautiful. I look at Daniel with tears ready to spill. He grins back at me, thrilled that I'm pleased. "Go ahead," he says, "make a wish."
I squint my eyes closed and hold my breath, the same way I have for the past five years. In my mind, I see so clearly how handsome Daniel will look in a tux, me in a poufy dress my mother and sister helped me pick out, the matching wedding rings on our joined hands, and that I'll be able to stay in the home of Daniel's arms forever. I've made this wish so many times I can see every detail of our wedding.
Then I realize that this is the last time I'll be making this same wish . . . For better or worse.
The sparklers fizzle just as I blow out the candles. For a moment, the world seems darker. Then the lights are turned up again, and everyone applauds. "Speech!" someone yells. "Speech!" For a writer, I'm surprisingly without words, partially because I'm choked up and partially because I'm so nervous. What can I say? I love Daniel. He's the best boyfriend in the world. And I hope I'll be calling him the best fiancé in the world before midnight.
Thankfully, Daniel rises from his chair. "Before Katy says anything, I'd like to say a few words." Just four, I think, gulping my champagne. A split-second thought: I didn't look in the glass, where Daniel might have put the ring! But I'm not choking on anything, and I'm so birthday-engagement-ring-obsessed that I'm actually disappointed that my ring isn't being Heimliched out of me by a life-saving server. Then again, if our theory about waiters only showing up when you don't want them to holds true, my ring would choke me to death. But I'd die happy, dammit.
"Thanks, everyone, for coming out to celebrate Katy's birthday, which I think is one of the most important days of the year," Daniel says. "Besides Halloween, of course, because there's more candy." Mild laughter; my normally shy Daniel, who tends to mumble when he's nervous, has just enough champagne in him to be able to make a speech in front of an audience.
"Most of you know I'm already Katy's biggest fan," Daniel continues. "And if you're here, you know why. She's the best friend a person could have. She makes me laugh harder than anyone can—intentionally," he adds, to a smattering of chuckles. "She can almost beat me at chess, she's smart, and I don't think I have to mention that she's really hot."
"You don't deserve her!" hoots one of Daniel's friends. Everyone laughs, and Daniel nods and blushes in a way that sends a tremor through my heart. "I probably don't," he mumbles, "but she's kind enough to put up with me." When he touches my cheek, I press his hand to my face and kiss his palm. The women at the table make Awww sounds.
"Anyway," he continues, "among the many things I love about Katy is that she's a really talented writer. And as most of you know, she just got her first Now News blog." Everyone starts applauding. "On the homepage!" Daniel adds, and the applause gets louder, with shouts and whistles.
"So everyone, please raise a glass," Daniel says, holding his champagne up high. "To Katy, my favorite writer, my best friend, and my beautiful girlfriend."
Everyone says, "To Katy." At least, I think they do. All I can hear is the word girlfriend.
HOURS LATER, I am a combination of slightly drunk and really, really full. I ate two pieces of birthday cake, carefully pressing each bite into the roof of my mouth as I scanned for baked-in jewelry. I let this go after Daniel looked at me strangely and asked, "Do your teeth hurt or something?" After that, I shoveled cake in with dejected abandon.
Now, back at my apartment, Daniel comes up behind me, takes my coat off, and starts massaging my shoulders. "Wow, birthday girl, you're really tense," he says.
"I'm happy-tense," I answer, glancing at the clock. Less than two hours left.
"Can I make you a little happier and less tense?" he says.
His full, soft lips touch my neck. Instantly, my shoulders relax. I love making love with Daniel. After five years together, we know each other so well, but maybe because we don't live together and see each other every day, sex is still really exciting. I'm sure it'll be even more exciting when we're engaged and newly married. And, just like what happened to my friends and my sister, the moment things get a little, well, predictable, there will be a baby to shake it all up. I can't wait to experience that. But now I have to lasso my mind back from my imagined future and return Daniel's kisses, which are becoming insistent because I'm kind of ignoring him while I fantasize about, ironically, him. The husband and father version of him, that is.
Daniel walks me to the bed, a very short walk considering the size of my studio apartment, but as usual, we don't lie down yet. We have a sweet pre-sex ritual where I stand before him and he slowly undresses me. He loves doing this. It's part visual stimulation, I'm sure, but the bigger feeling I get from it is nurturing. Somewhere along the way, two pieces of our puzzle fit naturally together; I like being cared for, and he likes taking care of me.
Daniel unzips my peach-hued silk dress, a designer souvenir from my days of working at a fashion magazine before I was laid off. He caresses it off my shoulders, letting it fall to the floor. He unhooks my bra, his maple syrup-colored eyes locked with mine and filled with love. I put my hands on his shoulders for balance as he pulls off my panties. We kiss as he takes off his clothes with a lot less care than he removes mine, and then we're on my bed, our mouths sensual and slow, our hands hungry but taking their time.
I know how this will feel, how Daniel will kiss me as he holds my body against his, how we'll touch each other. Somewhere along the way there will be a giggle as one of us makes an intimate joke whose origin we can't even remember. Our lovemaking is familiar and comforting. I always take that as a sign that our love will withstand time. I know it will. It has to.
Daniel breaks away from me. "Katy . . . oh, my sweetheart, why are you crying?"
I felt it coming, a combination of love and hope that started in my chest and rose up. The hope is the part that hurts. I hate that I have to hope. "It's just," I sniffle, "I love you, Daniel."
"I love you too, Katy. I love you so much." He pulls me closer, the two of us becoming one.
"DID YOU HAVE a nice birthday?" Daniel asks.
I don't lift my head from his chest, where the beating of his heart drowns out the ticking of my antique Kit-Kat clock, its rhinestone eyes and tail moving back and forth in a way that should be cute but is becoming ominous. Twenty to midnight. "I did," I tell him, my throat tight.
Daniel kisses the top of my head. "Well, it's not over yet."
Fireworks! Suddenly that was the best sex we've ever had because it's the last time we had sex before we got engaged. My tiny apartment is a palace, the kitty clock is a treasure, that garbage truck outside is music. It's not over yet!
Daniel gently extracts himself from my arms and walks over to his messenger bag in my hallway. I regard his naked form, lean and wiry-muscular, and think he is the cutest he's ever been. He will only be cuter when he's wearing a wedding tux. Or maybe a vintage suit—that would go better with his rock n' roll aesthetic. I'm straining to see what he's holding, but he quickly puts it behind his back. "No way, close your eyes!" he says.
I do, and my teeth ache from grinning. Oh me of little faith. How could I have doubted my Daniel, my sweet boyfriend, my moments-away fiancé? He is going to propose. He is going to marry me. And I will love him 'til the day I die, which might be only seconds away because I may combust from joy.
I feel Daniel sit back on my bed. "No peeking," he admonishes. "Hold out your hands."
Uh, shouldn't he be taking one of my hands? Like, the left one, which I was already holding out? I should cut him some slack. It's his first proposal. In fact, this is the first big, long-term relationship for both of us. The way he's doing this only makes the story cuter.
I hold out both my hands. My face hurts from squinting my eyes shut tightly and smiling so wide. Then Daniel places something in my palms and says, "Happy birthday, Katy."
My heart thuds, I open my eyes, and—it's a jewelry box!
It's . . . kind of a large jewelry box. Not huge, but definitely more velvet-covered real estate than an engagement ring would need. Confused, I keep my happy face on as I open the lid. The look crashes and burns when I see what's inside.
Tiny diamonds wink mockingly at me from each number on the mother-of-pearl face that tells me it's ten minutes to midnight. It's a beautiful watch, probably expensive, and definitely the worst gift Daniel could possibly have given me. It's so mind-numbingly wrong I can barely wrap my brain around it: The man I want to marry has given a watch to me, a woman who feels like her marriage-and-baby clock is ticking.
Daniel's looking at me with a big schmoopie smile, waiting for approval like a loyal dog that's just performed an excellent trick. And I could still perform the trick I've perfected over the years, which is quietly accepting everything, even though I want more. I can squeal It's gorgeous! put it on, make love with him again. And wait until tomorrow morning, after he leaves to go back to his apartment, to cry.
"Well? What do you think?" He's still beaming at me.
"Daniel," I sigh, "I don't know what to say."
"Do you like it?"
"It's . . . it's beautiful."
But when I close the box, he looks at me with confusion. "Katy, what's the matter? Is something wrong?"
The truth and I are not friends. We haven't been on speaking terms for years, not since the time I said something honest and horrible to someone I loved more than anyone in the world. Once it was out I couldn't take it back, and one day it was too late to try. But the truth, having been repressed for too long, comes flying out of my mouth. "I was hoping for an engagement ring."
"An engagement ring?" Daniel repeats.
He says it like this is so totally shocking that I get angry fast. "Yes, an engagement ring," I repeat. "As in, you asking me to marry you and me jumping up and down and saying ‘Yes! Yes, of course I'll marry you, Daniel North!' As in us having kids and spending the rest of our lives together."
Part of me hears this as though I'm standing across the room, and if I were, I'd be frantically mouthing Katy, no! Stop talking, you'll ruin everything again! But the words are out, and I can't put them back.
There is a pause that makes me sick to my stomach, still too full of birthday tiramisu and nerves. Then Daniel looks away from me, his hair falling like a curtain to shield his eyes. "Jeez, I'm sorry I didn't get the script. I thought the party and the cake and the champagne and the love and all that was going to be acceptable. If I'd known—"
"If you'd known?" I'm incredulous. "You know how I feel about you!"
"And I thought you knew how I feel about you," he shoots back before climbing off my bed. He grabs his grey boxer briefs off the floor and puts them on hastily. "Katy, where is this coming from all of a sudden?"
"Five years together isn't all of a sudden." I gather up the sheet in front of me because I feel more than naked. I feel bare, like I'm peeling my own skin off.
"Five amazing years," Daniel counters, "five years of me thinking everything's the best it could ever be! You never said anything about wanting to get married, Katy."
"I shouldn't have had to." I can't look at him because this sounds weak, even to me. "I just thought it would happen."
He blinks at me. "After everything I've told you about my parents' horrible marriage and their even worse divorce. Years of them arguing, my college fund freakin' devoured by their lawyers' fees, them tossing me back and forth across the country with every custody battle. Katy, you knew all of that, and you still figured I'd be up for marriage and kids?"
"Well, why not? My parents divorced, and I'm up for a do-over."
Daniel is slowly shaking his head. "You didn't go through what I did. And I told you I'd never put a kid through that either." He starts picking his clothes up off the floor and putting them on haphazardly.
I climb off the bed, itchy from the desperation that's starting to crawl all over me. I shouldn't have told him the truth, or I should have found a way to ease into the subject. Now everything's spinning out of control too fast. I hold the sheet around my body, lifting it to keep from tripping on it. The white fabric billows around me, a little girl's make-believe wedding dress. "Daniel, we can do better. We're not your parents or mine."
He won't look at me. "Right. Your parents may not have been playing Death By Divorce like my folks with me as the chew-toy in the middle, but your mom hated your dad for years and years after he left you."
I swallow the sting of the words He left you. Daniel looks immediately repentant, knowing how talk of my father's departure hurts. "Katy, I'd never leave you that way. You know that. This is the best relationship I've ever had. We're amazing together."
"We're not really together," I say carefully, "And it's the only relationship you've ever had."
"That's another thing," Daniel says, a pleading tone in his voice. "This is my first serious relationship. And the only one I ever want to be in," he adds, his eyes going all buttery at me. "But Katy, I can't picture getting married and becoming a dad now. I'm only twenty-seven."
I hardly felt the three years of difference in our ages when Daniel and I met, him a sweet twenty-two, me a not-exactly-worldly twenty-five. But now, at thirty, I feel like I'm looking at him from across an ocean. Was I ready to settle down at his age?
I know the answer in my bones. "Daniel, I want to start a family. You know how long it took my mother to have me and my sister to have Celia. And that was with help."
"There's no guarantee you'd have trouble getting pregnant," he mumbles nervously.
"I will if you're putting off having kids or don't want them at all." I stop when he clutches his head, looking like I'm battering him. "Daniel," I say, trying to find words that aren't sharp, that won't harm either of us. "I love you. I want to be with you."
"And I want to be with you," he says, framing my face with his hands. "Always, Katy. Always." He leans forward to kiss me.
Before he can, I say it. "Then let's get married."
Daniel stops. I can feel his defeated exhalation on my chest. His hands slowly fall away from my face, and he takes a step away, looking at me like he doesn't know me, and I have to say I don't know this truth-spitting woman too well either. He finds his T-shirt and pulls it on. "Katy, let me make sure I understand you now, because apparently I've been a total freakin' idiot for the past five years."
I sigh with pain for him. He's not exactly the most confident man in the world to begin with, and this isn't helping. "Daniel, you're not an idiot. Okay, I didn't say anything. I thought this would, I don't know, happen organically."
"But it didn't, because I thought you understood me."
"I do understand you. I understand you don't think you're good enough for almost anything. Not to be a husband or the great, caring father you would be, or to be a record producer instead of just an assistant engineer, like you've been since you started working at the studio years ago."
"I'm definitely not good enough for that yet," he murmurs.
"Yes, you are! Daniel, why can't you see yourself the way I do?"
"I could say the same to you," he counters. "I always told you to write more, like you wanted to, instead of spending all your time doing proofreading jobs. I was the one who told you to blog for Now News. And I've been saying for ages that you have a book in you, and you always say, ‘Some day.'"
"I will write a book some day!" I try to ignore the ream of blank paper Daniel gave me that's been sitting by my desk for years. "And that is so not the point. Can't you see how much I love you?"
His earthy eyes finally meet mine. "And again, I could say the same to you. Katy, if we love each other, can't we compromise?"
Oh, great. The chess player has shown up for negotiations. "Define ‘compromise'," I say, folding my arms.
"Move in together," he says. "See how we do living together, day in, day out."
It's a sideways maneuver, but I see where it's going. We'll live together, everything will be fine for a while, but when I bring up the subject of marriage again, he'll give me the classic argument: If it ain't broke, why fix it? "No," I say. "I want to get engaged and set a date. Then I'll move in, we'll get married, and we can start working on having kids." There. The plan is simple. And, from the look on Daniel's face, about as subtle as a baseball bat.
"That's your idea of a compromise?" he says.
I sigh and sit back on the bed. "Daniel, we could move in together, but you know I hog the blankets, and I know you never screw the caps on anything." I'm starting to feel drained. "What are we waiting for?"
He looks equally exhausted. "Maybe for both of us to be ready?"
"I'm afraid you're never going to be ready, Daniel," I state. "That's why I had to set a deadline. I can't wait for my life to begin anymore. I can't spend another year wondering when, or if, you're going to decide that I'm the one."
"Katy, of course you're the one." Then his face falls. "Wait, what deadline? Katy, what are you saying?"
"I—" I have to force the words out. "I want to marry you, Daniel. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, and for you to be the father of my children. But if you won't do this with me . . . I have to move on."
Daniel's eyes cloud over. "A deadline. And I'm guessing that's tonight." He nods and looks at the watch he gave me, still in the box. "So technically, I already blew it. And it doesn't matter that I love you and that I want to spend the rest of my life with you, too. I either propose to you now, or you'll go find someone who will."
"Oh, Daniel, don't make it sound like—"
"So I'm not special at all," he says, his voice breaking as he picks up his jeans off the floor. "It's not, ‘I want to be with you, Daniel, so we'll figure this out.' It's, ‘I want to get married and have kids now, and if you're not ready, don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.' I get it, Katy."
"No!" I jump up and go to him. "Damn it, I want to marry you!"
"That's not what it sounds like," he says, grabbing his jacket and thrusting his arms through the sleeves. "It just sounds like you have an agenda and your deadline." He looks up at me as he pulls on his sneakers, not even bothering to put on his socks, which he shoves in his jacket pocket. "I'm sorry I wasted so much of your time," he snaps, but his harsh tone doesn't match with the hurt pooling in his eyes.
I stand there, mute, realizing that everything has gone so horribly wrong, not knowing where, not knowing what to say as Daniel gives me one last look, or how to keep him from walking out the door and out of my life.
2.THEORETICALLY, I'VE done the right thing by letting Daniel go if he won't commit. But right now, doing the right thing feels like I just got hit by the breakup truck. And dragged a few miles. I haven't sobbed like this since my dad died, so hard that I can't even call my sister Bethany yet, and she made me swear to call her at midnight to share what we'd both thought would be the good news. Well, she didn't make me swear to call her with the bad news.
Crying hard into my pillow, curled up on my double bed where just an hour ago Daniel and I made love—for the last time, a thought that makes me sob harder—my life feels shrunken without him, and it wasn't exactly huge to begin with. My family is just me, Mom, and my sister, who increased our little clan by two when she married her high school sweetheart, Ray, and had my niece, Celia, the world's most adorable kid, at least until I have a baby. Looks like she's going to hold that title for a while longer.
And I guess I won't be leaving this tiny apartment to live with Daniel. I moved in here when I got laid off from the biggest magazine in the country, the one for women who live their lives to the fullest. I lived vicariously through their life-changing adventures in my job as assistant researcher until I was downsized out, another statistic who suddenly couldn't afford Manhattan rent. I didn't want to move in with Daniel just to save money, preferring romance to finance, and besides he'd already told his roommate he could renew for another year. But I'd always figured my tiny cocoon would be temporary.
From my bed, which is at the far end of a short space, I can see my whole world. My small antique desk and chair, where I thought I'd become a good writer. My dining table with two mismatched vintage chairs, my loveseat-masquerading-as-a-couch, my coffee table that fits two plates and coffee cups.
Above my bed, a constellation of photos smiles down at me. There are a lot of photos, but they're of the same people. My sister and her family, my parents, both together and apart, and me with Daniel. My small world. I've got friends, but the two people I'm closest with are Daniel and my sister, and now one of them is gone. Actually, now both of them are gone.
Bethany and I used to hang out constantly and talk every day, sometimes being on the phone together for an hour before we hung out. Our sign off was, "I'd better get going, or I'm going to be late to meet you." Two years ago, Bethany's husband, Ray, got transferred to Santa Monica, not far from Long Beach, where our father moved after Mom divorced him. I was thirteen and Bethany was nine, and we stuck a pin in the heart of his new city, which was two whole feet away from New York on our poster-sized map, and wrote "Daddy." Pathetic, I know, but we were just kids.
Dad was so far away. Bethany is so far away. My mother has always been emotionally distant. And even though Daniel's not technically that far from me, just a few trains between Jersey City and Brooklyn, the distance between us now seems incalculable. I'm the girl on the moon, alone.
I used to go out to California to visit Bethany almost every other month until I got laid off. Unemployment checks and sporadic freelance assignments don't buy many plane tickets, and Bethany's so busy being a mom that we don't talk as much as we used to. I don't know if I've ever needed to talk to her as much as I do now. Besides, the only other person I could talk to about this situation is my mother, and if I hear her say, "I told you so," I may hurl myself out the window. And I live on the ground floor, so that's not going to do much. I speed-dial my sister's number, my agony making each ring hellishly long.
"Hey, it's the birthday girl!" says my brother-in-law when he answers the phone. When he hears nothing but sniffling and sobbing on the other end of the line, Ray utters a clumsy, "Uh-oh. Katy, are those tears of joy, possibly, hopefully?"
"N-no," I choke out.
"Oh jeez, Katy, you didn't do that birthday deadline thing to Daniel, did you?" In the background, I hear my sister hiss, "Let me talk to her!"
In the two seconds between Ray surrendering the phone to Bethany and her taking it, I realize that everyone who signed off on the Thirtieth Birthday Ultimatum—sister, mother, friends—was a woman. I never asked a man. Is my brother-in-law, a fair and stand-up guy, siding with Daniel in male solidarity, or was this a really bad idea, and I've just screwed up my entire life?
"Talk," my sister orders, sensing we're in relationship DefCon 4. "Everything. Go."
"Oh, Bethy," I whimper, using my childhood nickname for her.
"OMG," she says. "Not on your birthday. Oh no, he didn't."
"No," I croak, "he didn't."
Bethany knows enough about my history with Daniel to be able to fill in the blanks between my fish-gaspy sobs and the annoying hiccups that have come on. "Oh, Katy," she sighs, "I'm so sorry. No wonder you had to say ‘Check please.' He's such a child."
"I know," I say. "It's like he took a vow of puberty or something."
My sister laughs uproariously, which makes me start to laugh, too. And then cry again. When Bethy realizes this, she makes soothing noises at me over the phone. She's such an excellent mom, which is odd considering how un-mommy-like our own mother was when we were growing up. "Oh, Katy. I wish you lived here so you could come over and we could gorge on Fluffernutters until we went into sugar comas," Bethy says.
"M-me too," I sniffle.
"Are you coming to LA any time soon, maybe for work?" she asks.
"I don't have any work," I say, wiping my eyes and seeing slashes of black mascara on my hands. Oh, what I must look like. But what does it matter? There's no one here to see me, not even a cat. I've been wanting to adopt one but held off because I thought I'd be moving in with Daniel and his rescued pit bull, Finster. Well, I can go ahead and get a kitty now. I can get twelve. Hell, I can be the Crazy Cat Lady of Jersey City because no one will know or care. I can do anything I want.
Wait a minute . . .
"I'm coming out," I tell my sister.
"Really?" she says. "Do you have a freelance assignment? Can you afford it?"
"No and no, and I don't care. I can't stay in this apartment and wait for Daniel to call. I want to see you and Celia and Ray. I want out of here."