• Chapter 37

    This Love

    When we entered the bedroom, I anxiously wondered if it would break the spell. Maybe being back in this room would remind Samuel what happened, what I did to him.

    But he just kept kissing me, almost aggressively, and I wanted him to never stop.

    He pushed me down on the bed, slowly, his eyes searching my face. I recognised that look, knew he was worrying about being too much for me, too intense. But I wrapped my legs around him and pulled him closer, begged him to let himself go, to stop holding back on me.

    He groaned and threw me onto the middle of the bed, pinning me down with his body.

    Samuel had been right about me all along. I had been keeping him at arm’s length because I hadn’t loved him and he had felt it, known me better than I knew myself. It made sense, now, that he had been so restrained around me, that our marriage had felt so fragile.

    But now the restraints were off and we both threw ourselves into whatever this was with wild abandon, barely managing to keep quiet so we wouldn’t wake up the girls.

    That night we slept in each other’s arms and nothing had ever felt so right.

    The next morning, Samuel left before the girls woke up. I could feel myself starting to worry. What if this changed everything? Or worse – what if it didn’t? But he smiled reassuringly.

    “See you tonight. I love you.”

    “I love you too.”

    Then he kissed me goodbye and it felt like a promise.

    Samuel spent every night with me for weeks and every morning I was amazed to see him there and slightly afraid of doing something that would make him disappear again.

    This morning I woke up to him smiling at me, but he made no move to get up and head to the hospital.

    “Good morning. I took the day off.”

    “You can do that?”

    He laughed.

    “Don’t sass me, woman! We need to talk.”

    “Sorry. You’re right.”

    “I’ve been thinking about where we go from here. I mean, we should probably decide what we’re doing and what’s going to happen next. What we even are now. Because I can tell you’re scared, and honestly, so am I.”

    You’re scared?”

    “Of course I am. Freya, I love you. I’ve loved you for half my life. But you hurt me more than anyone else ever could. Divorcing you was the hardest thing I’ve done but you left me no choice. And now we’re here and I am terrified of giving you back that sort of power over me.”

    I was afraid to ask, but I had to.

    “Do you… do you want to stop this? Wait and see if you can trust me again? Because I can understand if you need more time. I love you, I really do, but I’m struggling to see how you can ever love me again after what I did.”

    “Freya, I don’t get to choose whether I love you. I just do. I always did. You hurt me, yes. It was horrible, and it definitely left a scar. But I didn’t stop loving you. I can’t. I can, however, choose whether to trust you again or not.”

    “But how can you simply trust that I’d never cheat on you again?”

    He arched an eyebrow.

    “Are you planning on cheating on me again?”

    “No! No, of course not!”

    “Then I guess I’ll just have to trust that.”

    “Do you also trust that I love you?”

    I almost added ‘this time’, but stopped myself. Samuel just smiled and hugged me to his chest.

    “I don’t have to trust that, I can feel it.”

    I kissed him, desperately wanting him to understand how serious I was about never hurting him or letting down again.

    He kissed me back before reluctantly pulling away.

    “Dammit, don’t get me too excited, we need to finish this conversation first. Freya, my love may be unconditional, but my boundaries are not. I am making the choice to trust you, but I need you to promise me that if anything ever changes, if you find that you don’t love me any more or if you want out of this relationship, you will tell me instead of self-destructing and taking me and the girls with you in the fallout.”

    “I promise. I’m sorry. And I also promise not to be all resentful and passive-aggressive and shit.”

    “Good. And I promise not to be condescending and belittle your feelings just because I disagree or don’t understand them. Because I wasn’t handling you very well either.”

    “Samuel, you shouldn’t have to ‘handle’ me at all.”

    “Well, whatever you want to call it, I should still be more mindful of what you need instead of just assuming I know better. At least if we want to give this another try.”

    “I do. Do you?”

    “Yeah, I do.”

    The next summer, Jessica and her fiancé Nicolas were getting married, and they had invited us to their destination wedding in Sulani. Griffin and Daria were coming too, even though their daughter Myra was only a few months old.

    We had all landed in Sulani in the evening and found our bungalows. Now we were unpacking and getting ready for bed.

    “Do you need to call your dad, check in on the girls?”

    “No. This vacation is for adults only. If there was a problem, he would call us.”

    “I’m really proud of you, Freya. You used to be a mess of anxiety every time the girls left your sight, and now you’re putting them on planes all by themselves.”

    “If Daria and Griffin can leave a tiny baby with her relatives for a few days, I can send my kids to Brindleton Bay. I refuse to get all hysterical about these things anymore.”

    “Freya, I told you, hysteria is not a thing.”

    “I know, I’m just teasing you.”

    Samuel lowered his voice and spoke quietly into my ear.

    “Actually, do you know how doctors used to treat hysteria in the 19th century?”


    I felt his body pressed close to my back, his breath on my shoulder as he kissed it.

    “Pelvic massages.”

    “Oh? Then maybe I am feeling a little bit hysterical. I should probably see a doctor about it.”

    “Maybe we should finish unpacking first.”

    “As you wish, sir.”

    Samuel didn’t laugh.

    “… Say it again.”


    “Say it again.”

    “… As you wish, sir.”


    Samuel mouthed the word, and I felt how he reached down and adjusted himself slightly behind me.

    I finally caught on and turned to him. This was new territory.

    “What seems to be the problem, sir?”

    “You are. You have always been my biggest fucking problem, woman.”

    “Oh, I am a problem, am I?”

    He sat down on the bed, but before he could react, I quickly kneeled between his legs while I undid his belt.

    I looked up at him as I took him into my mouth, enjoying the look of surprise on his face. It didn’t take long before his breathing became erratic.

    “Freya… You have to stop, I’m so close.”

    I briefly let go of him.

    “Is that an order, sir?”

    His only reply was a sharp intake of breath as I continued.

    A few minutes later, we were lying on the bed together, suitcases still not unpacked.

    Samuel chuckled.

    “Definitely a vacation for adults only.”

    I hadn’t met Nicolas in person before this trip, but from all the things Jessica had told me, they seemed perfect for each other.

    Jessica was gorgeous, dressed in one of her own designs, and the way Nicolas looked at her made me tear up.

    I was so happy for her, for them, and thankful that I got to see my best friend this happy, that our long friendship had survived the harsh truths I needed to hear.

    The reception was full of people, many of them friends or relatives of Nicolas that I didn’t know.

    Thankfully, we were seated with Griffin and Daria, and I was happy to catch up. They had been busy for the least few months since their daughter was born, and I was still impressed that they had decided to come.

    “I wish I’d been as chill about becoming a mother as Daria is.”

    “Daria and Griffin are just special like that, Freya. Nothing seems to trouble them.”

    “That’s not entirely true. Daria told me that Griffin is really struggling at work lately. Apparently his new boss is horrible and his colleagues are quitting left and right.”

    “Really? I should talk to him about it, we could always use a good surgeon in Copperdale if they’re willing to relocate. And I’d love having our friends closer for purely selfish reasons.”

    “It would be nice. And maybe you can ask Daria for some tips.”

    “Tips? For what?”

    “Your newly discovered tendencies… sir.”

    “Woman, you are going to be the death of me.”

    We had decided to stay in Sulani for almost a week after the wedding to make it a proper vacation. We had never really had the chance to travel together before and we wanted to make the most of it.

    The days flew by, and I felt closer to Samuel than ever as we spent every moment enjoying each other’s company.

    I thought about last summer, how far we’d come since Hailey started school. And now Samuel and I were back together and Ivy was about to start school as well. It almost felt unreal.

    We took a long walk on the last afternoon of the trip. The Sulani sunsets were truly gorgeous. The islands became bathed in an orange glow as the sun slowly disappeared behind the mountains.

    Samuel put an arm around me and looked at the horizon thoughtfully.

    Tomorrow we would be flying back to Copperdale, back to our jobs, our house, our daughters. I wondered what the future would look like as the waves gently lapped at our feet.

    “You’re very quiet, Freya. What are you thinking about?”

    “Going home. You?”

    He sent me a mischievous smile.

    “I’m thinking I want us to get married again.”

    “Samuel… was that another accidental proposal?”

    He laughed and picked me up.

    “No, it was very much intentional this time. But you didn’t answer.”

    “Yes, of course!”

    “Great, follow-up question – how do you feel about another baby?”

    “Samuel, you’re crazy. I love you, but you’re crazy.”

    “I am. Crazy enough to marry you twice.”


  • Chapter 36

    Out Of The Woods

    “Daddy, did you see how fast I was? Did you see me?”

    “I saw you, you did so well! Ivy and I were cheering for you all the time.”

    Hailey had placed second in her first track run. I worked as a coach for the track & field teams now, so Samuel had been sitting with Ivy while she ran.

    We went to the pier, all four of us together, and got ice cream. Hailey was excitedly telling Samuel all about her track times.

    It made my heart swell, not so much because she seemed to have a talent for running, but because I hadn’t seen her so proud of herself before, and I was happy that Samuel was here to experience it too. I didn’t want him to miss too many of the girls’ milestones just because we were no longer together.

    The girls ran off to try the ferris wheel and we were alone. Samuel awkwardly scooted over to where Hailey had been sitting. We rarely spent any time together. Ever since that uncomfortable Winterfest a year and a half ago, we had mostly kept to administrative texts and taking turns picking up the girls from kindergarten.

    Finally, Samuel cleared his throat.

    “So, uh. You look… well.”

    I couldn’t help but smile. I was sweaty and Ivy had wiped some ice cream on my sleeve, but I did feel better than I had in a long time.

    “Thanks. You too. The beard suits you.”

    We talked for a while, carefully sticking to safe subjects. I told him about Jessica getting into fashion design, how she was planning to move to Del Sol Valley with her boyfriend. Samuel updated me on Daria and Griffin who just found out they were expecting a baby.

    Then, his expression turned serious.

    “Do you ever… have you talked to Charlie?”

    I realised that it was the first time either of us had spoken his name for almost two years.

    “No. I wouldn’t pick up if he called, but he hasn’t tried.”

    “He actually called me when he heard about the divorce. But we didn’t speak for long. I may have said that I would personally castrate him without anaesthesia if he ever contacted you again.”

    “Samuel -“

    “With a dull scalpel. I was pretty angry at the time, and he said some really cruel things, and… I just don’t know who he is anymore. I haven’t heard from him since.”

    I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to give him a hug, but I couldn’t imagine Samuel would ever want me to touch him again.

    “Samuel, I’m really sorry that I screwed things up for everyone. Not just us, but you and Charlie too.”

    Samuel sighed and attempted to smile.

    “Hey, he wasn’t exactly blameless. He was supposed to be my brother. He should never have – anyways, you said you wanted to discuss the girls’ living arrangement? Are you not happy with the split?”

    I was grateful for the change of subject.

    “I am, but I’ve been asked to volunteer to coach the track & field team for seniors. And I would like to accept, but it’s in the evenings and I’d need you to have the girls a bit more often. I know your schedule can be difficult, so I only want to do it if you can find the time.”

    He looked relieved.

    “Sure, we can figure something out. For a moment I wondered if you, you know… Found someone.”

    “Oh, no. It’s nothing like that. I just figured I should be doing something worthwhile with my time now that the girls are getting older, instead of being stuck in the house all the time.”

    “You do know that was always an option, right?”

    “Sorry, Samuel, I don’t mean to sound like I was a prisoner. It was my own choice to stay at home, I know. And you did try to talk me out of it.”

    “Maybe I should have tried harder.”

    “Samuel, don’t. I doubt you could have convinced me back then. I was pretty out of reach, I think. You were right, there was nothing you could have said that would have made me listen.”

    We were both quiet. I wanted to ask him if he was seeing someone, ask why he cared if I was. But suddenly the girls were back and begged for more ice cream and the moment had passed.

    In the fall, Hailey started school which meant less flexibility. She needed help with homework, she needed to have her school things with her whether she stayed with me or Samuel at night, and he struggled to make his work hours fit her new schedule. It was a hassle.

    To make it all easier, we agreed that she should stay with me on weekdays until she’d settled in, just to get some stability.

    Samuel was frustrated. He missed her, and Hailey was jealous that Ivy still got to visit daddy on weeknights and she didn’t. It was a few weeks of absolute chaos, and everyone was miserable.

    Samuel had just dropped off Ivy and was about to leave when I stopped him.
    “Samuel, before you go – this isn’t working. Hailey cries at night when Ivy isn’t there, and she misses you.”

    “I know. It’s not really working for me either. I don’t like treating them so differently.”

    “I have an idea, just as a temporary solution, but… it’s a bit unusual, I guess.”


    “I was thinking you could just come here after work. I would pick up the girls, take them home, make dinner. You could eat with us whenever you can make it, help Hailey with homework, hang out a bit, maybe put them to bed. You’d still be able to spend time alone with them when I coach in the evenings, and your work schedule would matter less. There would be some sort of routine. And you’d see them more, both of them.”

    “Wait… You’d have me come by every day and make me dinner?”

    “… You’re right, it’s too weird. It was just a suggestion.”

    “No, I mean, what’s the catch? I am not turning down your cooking and seeing the girls every day for a while.”

    “No catch. I just want everyone to be happy.”

    He looked at me thoughtfully.

    “You really do, don’t you? Well, no harm in trying it, I guess.”

    “See you for dinner tomorrow then?”

    “Sounds great.”

    The new arrangement worked surprisingly well. I had never seen Samuel so relaxed. Even when he had a long shift, he was all smiles when he walked through the door and Hailey and Ivy were on him immediately.

    I found myself looking forward to that moment every day, seeing him laugh as he hugged and kissed the girls, teased them, asked them about their day. They all looked so happy.

    He would help Hailey with homework while I cooked dinner for all of us. He always managed to make it fun and interesting for her, and he even made sure Ivy felt included.

    I loved listening to him patiently explain things to them. It made me happy to see. I might have done everything else wrong, but at least I picked an amazing father for my children.

    I was almost sad that I had to scarf down my food before leaving them to go coach the senior team. I would rather have spent the evening with them, but I also knew it was good for me to get out, and I wanted to give Samuel time with the girls alone, without me hovering in the background.

    “Hey, I’m back. And none of them broke a hip, so no extra work for your colleagues tomorrow.”

    “Hey. The girls are asleep. I must admit, I wouldn’t have expected you to get into volunteering.”

    I plopped down at the other end of the couch.

    “Me neither. Jessica teases me relentlessly. But I just needed to feel useful, you know? I mean, outside of just working and being a mom. Do something nice for other people, something selfless for once. I’ve been stuck in my head for so long and this keeps me grounded.”

    “That’s good. I should probably find a hobby myself. Just never had the time between the girls and residency and…”

    “And your hysterical wife?”

    “Come on, Freya! I would never call you hysterical.”

    I laughed.

    “Only because it’s medically inaccurate! I was the worst and I know it. I should have gone to therapy when I was like, twelve or something.”

    He shrugged, smiling.

    “Better late than never? And therapy is no joke. I had a few sessions myself to deal with the divorce and it was hard work.”

    “Yeah? Do you want to talk about it? It’s fine if you don’t, and I probably wouldn’t enjoy hearing what you had to say about me, but…”

    He smiled.

    “I’ll skip the parts about you. It wasn’t much I haven’t said to your face anyway. But I ended up talking a lot about my family. I always felt like there was a lot of pressure on me to do better than Charlie, to never fuck up in any way. You know, to spare our parents, try to make up for all the grief he was causing them. It made me rethink a lot of things, and it made me very aware of how I parent Ivy and Hailey so I don’t end up creating some sort of unhealthy dynamic between them.”

    “That’s good. I don’t want them to end up fighting each other.”

    Samuel sent me a mischievous grin.

    “Or stealing each other’s husbands.”


    “Sorry. I went too far.”

    “No, it’s OK. Also, you don’t know, they could be stealing each other’s wives!”

    He laughed.

    “True. Shame on me for assuming.”

    “For what it’s worth, I still wish I had tried therapy sooner. Maybe I wouldn’t have hurt you like that.”

    “Freya, you would have hurt me sooner or later. I fell in love with you when we were fifteen, and you never did.”

    “But if I hadn’t been such a mess, we wouldn’t have gotten married in the first place, and then I wouldn’t have…”

    “And then I wouldn’t have my daughters. Would you take that away from me?”

    “Not when you put it like that, no.”

    “Good. See you tomorrow?”

    “Yeah. Tomorrow.”

    I followed him to the door and he turned to smile at me as I watched him walk to the car. It almost felt like I had my old friend back.

    Everything was going great for a while. Samuel was happy, the girls were happy. We settled into a routine.

    Samuel would often hang out for a bit in the evenings. We would talk about our day during dinner, but he would wait until the girls were asleep if he needed to vent after a rough day or worried about one of his patients.

    Even if the guilt of how I had treated him would never go away, I was happy to be allowed to be there for him now. I knew I hadn’t done a very good job of that before, and if he was giving me a second chance to be his friend, I wanted to do better.

    I also really enjoyed his company, almost feeling a bit sad when he had to leave at night.

    That evening was really no different from so many others. Not at first. He came in and got swarmed by the girls as usual. He stomped around and made dinosaur noises. I couldn’t help but laugh with them.

    We were still joking and laughing during dinner, and I said something funny.

    And Samuel sent me a brilliant smile, and my heart skipped a beat and somehow everything changed.

    He continued eating and talking to the girls like nothing had happened, like the entire world hadn’t just been completely shattered and rebuilt a million times in the instant of that smile as I struggled to breathe normally, desperately wishing and fearing that he would look at me again.

    I was a mess during dinner, but thankfully I had coaching to do that night, so I quickly said goodbye and almost fled out the door, into the cool autumn breeze.

    Over the next weeks that first spark turned into a roaring flame and I had no idea what to do with myself. What was happening? Was this what being in love felt like? It was horrible, and yet I didn’t really want it to stop.

    Samuel was constantly on my mind, but not like back in university when I just wanted him to notice me. Now, I both obsessed about making him happy and feared that he would realise how I felt.

    I lived for his laugh, died a little when he left, cried myself to sleep at night.

    Whenever we were together, I found myself stealing glances at him. I tried to act normal, but every time he looked away I was staring at him, at the lines of his face, his body, his hands. Why had I never seen him before? I had always found him attractive, but he wasn’t just sexy as fuck, he was so much more. He was strong and brilliant, a great father. Kind. Funny.

    Was this how Samuel had felt all those years? Suffering in silence, painfully in love with someone he could never quite reach?

    When he left in the evenings, I would take out one of our old wedding photos and stare at it for hours, imagining what it would be like if we had never gotten divorced. If only I had never fucked up, never hurt him so deeply. If only I had loved him the way he deserved all along. If only…

    How had he survived this? How did anyone survive this?

    How could I ever have done this to him?

    I knew I was torturing myself, but I couldn’t stop.

    It was getting colder, the leaves would be turning brown soon. I had started staying out a bit later after coaching, just so I wouldn’t have to face Samuel. Being near him was almost painful, and I didn’t trust myself not to reveal everything, throw myself at him and beg for forgiveness. But sooner or later I had to go home.

    Samuel had to leave as soon as I returned that evening, and I immediately took out the wedding picture as usual and put it on the table in front of me.

    I had looked at it so many times in the last few months and I still didn’t recognise the two people staring back at me from the photo. It felt like a dream. I could barely remember half the wedding, I had been too anxious. Had I even been happy? Had Samuel been happy when we said the wows? Had he believed in us, believed in me?

    I looked at the smile in his eyes, his smooth face. How had it only been seven years since this? We looked so painfully young. So stupid. The whole thing had been a fairytale, dreamt up in our minds with no basis in reality. Samuel hadn’t known me at all, I hadn’t even know myself. And I certainly hadn’t known or even cared who he really was.

    And now it was too late. I saw the future stretch out in front of me, years and years of…


    I spun around. I hadn’t even heard the door.

    “Sorry, I forgot my phone… Why are you looking at that?”

    I scrambled to my feet.

    “Oh! It’s nothing. I was just…”

    My voice faltered.

    He hesitated for a second. Then he came closer, and it felt like he was looking right through me. I was frozen in place, had no idea what to say.

    “I’ve seen the way you look at me, you know. At first I thought I was imagining things. I figured it couldn’t possibly mean anything. After all, you said you never loved me… But you also never looked at me like this before.”

    He put his arms around me.


    I saw the question in his eyes and felt the solidity of his body against mine.

    Unlike the photo, this Samuel was real, not fiction. And I loved him.

    The first kiss was brief, tentative. My nose bumped into his and I felt his lips form a smile against mine. We began kissing with an intensity that had never been there before until we both had to stop for breath.

    Fuck,” he mumbled. “I am probably the biggest idiot who ever lived, but fuck if I don’t want you back.”

    Tears started running down my cheeks and Samuel held me close.

    “I’m so, so sorry”, I whispered.

    “I know.”

    He held me until I stopped crying. I wanted to burrow into his chest and never leave.

    “Freya, my eyes. Look into my eyes. There. Tell me, what do you want?”

    His eyes were almost black in the low light and it felt like I was standing on the edge of the edge, the abyss only a heartbeat away.

    There’s a way out of everything, but there’s rarely a way back.

    “You, Samuel. I want you back. I love you.”

    His lips met mine again and I surrendered myself to him completely.

  • Chapter 35

    This Is Me Trying

    When I found the rose, I knew that Samuel had been there. I could imagine all too well what he’d seen.

    I never meant for it to happen like this. I knew that what I did was the end of my marriage, knew that I was giving up on it the moment I kissed Charlie back instead of pushing him away, but I obviously hadn’t meant for Samuel to witness any of it.

    I should have given up a long time ago. Then none of this would have happened.

    It took two days before Samuel came home. The girls were asleep by the time he walked into the house after work, almost as if he hadn’t been gone at all.

    I fully expected him to yell at me, to be furious. It would only have been fair. But he never even raised his voice. I would have preferred if he did, if he’d punished me somehow.

    Instead, his voice was calm. Resigned.

    “Freya, we’re done. I’m done. I’ve filed for divorce.”

    “Samuel, I -“

    “Shut up. Just shut up. I am no longer interested in anything you have to say. For once, just listen to me.”

    I was taken aback. For once? It felt like I had done nothing but listen to Samuel’s lectures throughout our marriage. I was about to protest, but he continued.

    “It’s finally clear to me that you don’t love me. Maybe you never did. You’ve told me again and again that I don’t care, and nothing I said or did could ever convince you. It was never enough, because nothing is ever enough for you. You just take.”

    “The way I see it, there are two options. Either you don’t fully realise what you’ve done, or you did it on purpose. You’ve ruined our marriage, you’ve robbed me of any chance I ever had of having any kind of relationship with my brother, and whatever happens, you will have hurt Hailey and Ivy.”

    “If you did this without realising the consequences, I worry about you. If you did this fully realising the consequences, I worry about you even more. But either way, I’m done with you.”

    “We should never have been together in the first place, never have gotten married. I’m merely correcting a mistake.”

    “I’ll come by tomorrow after work and spend some time with my daughters. Meanwhile, consider getting help.”

    “No, wait, that’s an order. Get help, Freya, get your shit together. For my children’s sake.”

    “Or I will have to keep them safe from you.”

    Then he left. Somehow, the quiet click from the door closing behind him was louder than if he had slammed it in my face.

    I had finally seen a Samuel that no longer cared about me, and it chilled me to the bone.

    I called Jessica after he left, told her everything. She was my best friend, and I halfway hoped that she could somehow help me figure out what to do. But when I stopped explaining, she was quiet for a long time.

    “Freya, if you’re calling so I can make you feel better about what you did, you have the wrong number, honey. Because that was a really, really shitty thing to do, and I can’t even begin to imagine what Samuel must be feeling. And what saddens me is that I’m not even that surprised.”

    “What? What do you mean?”

    “I mean that you’re incredibly selfish, Freya. I’m sorry, but this has been a long time coming. You are one of the luckiest people I know. I mean, I know your parents had some problems when you were little, but have you looked at them lately? They’re doing great, they’ve moved on. But you haven’t. You’re gorgeous and privileged and your parents love you. Samuel loves you. Well, probably not anymore, but he clearly did, everyone could see that. And all you ever did was complain and take things for granted and feel sorry for yourself. And now you pull this shit, and I’m just… Frankly, I’m disappointed. I was hoping you’d get over it at some point, mature a little, start seeing the big picture.”

    I was completely stunned. Hurt. Angry.

    “Jessica! I didn’t call you to be attacked like this, I thought you were my friend…”

    “I am your friend, Freya! Or are you going to doubt my word as well? But I am also done trying to coddle you, and I’m telling you this because I care about you. You need to get your head out of your ass and think about someone but yourself, because you’ve already lost Samuel and I am honestly not sure I’m going to last if you keep this up either.”

    I spent all night on the couch. I couldn’t make myself go back to the bedroom, not after Charlie. I felt like burning the bed, maybe burning the entire house down. Start over from the ashes.

    I didn’t sleep.

    People had yelled at me for most of my life. Coaches, teammates, teachers, my parents, all of them telling me to do better, make fewer mistakes. Be more perfect. Samuel had yelled at me. And now Jessica. And I had been listening, hadn’t I? Hadn’t I always tried to correct the mistakes they all pointed out?

    Or had I just stubbornly kept doing whatever I wanted? Because I knew better?

    Shit. Maybe I hadn’t been listening.

    The next couple of weeks were strange, to say the least. Slowly, we settled into a routine. Samuel would arrive after work like before. He had picked up a few personal things and was looking for an apartment. For now, he stayed in a hotel somewhere.

    He wouldn’t speak to me unless it involved the girls or the proceedings of the divorce. It was understandable, but still slightly surreal to see him smiling and playing with them like before, while he ignored me completely or gave me short, disinterested answers if I tried to talk to him.

    If he managed to arrive early enough, he’d take over the task of getting them ready for bed, but if he had a late shift and the girls were already asleep when he arrived, he’d spend a few minutes in their room, tucking them in and just sitting there for a while before leaving.

    I was hurting, but not the way I had expected. I only cried a little when I took down all our wedding pictures. They felt like lies now.

    The guilt was crippling, but I thought I’d be sadder about my marriage being over. Instead, it was almost a relief.

    I found that I could accept losing Samuel. Maybe he was right when he said that I never really loved him. Either way, I no longer worried about him leaving me, about screwing everything up. That ship had sailed.

    But there was still Hailey and Ivy. Samuel had made it pretty clear that I had to get my shit together or there would be consequences – and the thought of losing my girls made the anxiety flood back in, strangled me. I had to do something.

    He was sitting in their bedroom as usual, watching them sleep. I opened the door quietly.


    He didn’t look up.

    “What do you want?”

    “Sorry, just… I wanted to ask if you mind if I start telling people… what happened. Like, my parents and such.”

    “Why would I care?”

    “I don’t know… maybe you’d be embarrassed or something.”

    He just shrugged.

    “Tell people whatever you want. You’re the one who should be embarrassed.”

    As if I wasn’t. As if I didn’t think about it every day, about how stupid I had been. I still couldn’t sleep in the bedroom. I tried to summon up some anger at his remark, but all I felt was shame. And worry.

    But this time I was worrying about Samuel.

    He was as tired as always, but it felt like the fight had gone out of him. I had always assumed that he was frustrated with me because I wasn’t good enough, because I annoyed him with my constant insecurity and neediness, but I was starting to wonder if he’d just been worried about me.

    I wanted to ask him if he was OK, but that would be ridiculous. Of course he wasn’t OK. And it was my fault. I no longer had any right to ask him how he felt about anything.

    I called both of my parents a few days later, told them about the divorce. Admitted that I had cheated, but didn’t mention Charlie. My mother mostly tried to convince me that it wasn’t all my fault, that a happy marriage took two people. Of course she would say that, she cheated on her first husband too.

    My father simply asked if there was anything he could do for me, but I said no. After all, no one could undo what I had done. He told me that he was sorry to hear about the divorce, that he loved me no matter what. He also asked if I was seeing a therapist, someone to talk me through it all.

    “You should really give it a try, monkey.”

    It always made me smile that he still insisted on using my old nickname.

    “I was actually going to ask you for some therapy tips, dad. I’m not sure where to start, or who to call, and I’m still getting used to the thought of being divorced. But I guess it’s karma, right? Remember how much shit I gave you and mom for not making things work?”

    He laughed.

    “Oh, you were harsh. Especially when you were a teenager. But I always felt like I probably deserved it.”

    “You didn’t deserve it, dad. I get it now, parenting is hard. Relationships are hard. No one is perfect.”

    “Middle ground, monkey. It’s not a matter of being either perfect or a failure. We’re all doing the best we can. You, me, your mom. Knowing Samuel, he’s definitely doing his best at all times. And hopefully, before you know it, you two will be getting along just fine like me and your mom does. Who knows, maybe you’ll even be friends again one day. Remember that old musical?
    It’s things like using force together,
    Shouting till you’re hoarse together,
    Getting a divorce together,
    That make perfect relationships.

    “Didn’t that woman also sing that she’d been married three or four times?”

    He laughed again.

    “Like I said, middle ground. It took me a long time to figure out, but perfection is not the goal. Progress is.”

    My father gave me a name and a number, someone his own therapist had recommended here in Copperdale. I wondered how long he’d had that number ready, if he’d been planning to suggest it for a while.

    I was on my way to bed that night when I heard a knock on the front door.

    “Samuel? What are you doing here?”

    He was swaying and looked dangerously close to falling over.

    “Why, Freya? Why did you do it? Please tell me. Was I not good enough? Was that it?”

    I stepped back to let him in and he stumbled almost immediately. I barely managed to catch him.

    “How could you? And Charlie? That fucking…”

    “Samuel, what the hell? Please tell me you didn’t drive here like this.”

    “No, I walked! Because I am the responsible one!”

    He was slurring his words, but the bitterness was unmistakable.

    Somehow I managed to drag him to the living room and he collapsed on the couch.

    “Why, Freya?”, he mumbled.

    Before I could find an answer, he was snoring softly, tears drying on his cheeks.

    I gently rolled him over in case he threw up and sat with him for a while, making sure he was sleeping peacefully.

    Why, Freya?

    I had no answers. There was no excuse for the amount of pain I had caused him.

    The next morning I called the number from my father and set up an appointment.

    The therapist, who asked me to just call her Kristin, was a kind woman with a dry sense of humour. I quite liked her. But she was also merciless. She asked hard questions, pointed out the flaws in my arguments, and I left each session feeling both butchered and reborn.

    I talked to her about the things I had taken for granted. Jessica was right when she said that I had been given everything. Yes, my parents made mistakes. All parents did. But I had happy, loving parents and I didn’t appreciate them, I just resented them for mistakes they made two decades ago. Mistakes I barely remembered any more.

    Kristin made me reexamine everything I thought I knew, and she cut through all my excuses. It was hard, and I suddenly had an entirely new appreciation for what my father must have gone through to battle his own demons. And he did it for me, just like I was doing this for Hailey and Ivy.

    Kristin also wanted me to try to deal with the anxiety by observing it. Like it wasn’t part of me, but merely something around me, like sitting in water.

    I tried to imagine the worst. The first thought that came to mind was Hailey and Ivy getting hurt, but that was too much. I couldn’t do it.

    Kristin suggested I start with something slightly less intense.

    I thought about Samuel’s threats. That he’d take the girls away from me if I didn’t get things under control. What would happen? What would it look like? The anxiety simmered around me, but I forced myself to sit in it instead of trying to escape or push it away. I had spent years imagining the worst scenarios that I could come up with, but I had never tried to think them all the way through. I prepared myself. Kristin reminded me that it wouldn’t be pleasant, but that the anxiety itself couldn’t hurt me.

    Deep breaths.

    I imagined Samuel taking the girls away from me. Imagined how he’d come in and pack up their things.

    How the girls would cry as I said goodbye, how they would be trying to hold on to me.

    My throat closed up and I felt like I was drowning.

    “Freya, remember to breathe. You’re safe. You can do this, breathe.”

    I wanted to stop, to run, to think about anything else, but I fought the urge to quit.

    A shuddering breath.

    Then another.

    And then, in my mind, I saw Samuel. Samuel, crying as he took away the girls, trying to comfort them because they didn’t understand. They couldn’t possibly understand that daddy wasn’t doing this to be mean. He wasn’t doing it to punish me, but out of love. For them.

    Because he cared so very much.

    A racking sob shook my entire body.

    How could I have ever fooled myself into thinking that he didn’t care about his family? How many times had he told me that he loved me, tried to soothe me, put up with my unreasonable demands for reassurance?

    Samuel was right. All I did was take.

    And now I finally tried to listen, but no one was speaking.

    I kept seeing Kristin every week all through the fall.

    Leaving one of my sessions I thought about the incredible stress Samuel must have been under while I was too busy worrying about what I wasn’t getting from him. He had a demanding job, a demanding wife, and two demanding toddlers, and I had never cut him any slack. All I cared about was all the times I had been wronged, oblivious to the stress I was causing him.

    I had been so stuck in the past, in all the perceived slights, that I didn’t see the present. And now I had no idea what the future would bring.

    All I knew was that it would never be the same again.

    They say the first holiday after a divorce is the hardest. But Samuel and I had been co-parenting pretty well for a few months now, surely we could handle being in the same room for Winterfest. For the girls. Right?

    It started fine. The girls were thrilled to have us together instead of alternating between the house and Samuel’s new apartment. They were playing happily while Samuel set the table and I prepared dinner.

    “Would you like some wine, Samuel?”


    “I found a bottle from when you still lived here. Do you want any?”

    He came into the kitchen.

    “Sure? It’s just… very out of character for you to offer me alcohol.”

    “True. But you’re not going to be kissing me later, so I don’t mind.”

    He didn’t respond.

    “Fuck. I’m sorry, Samuel. That was insensitive of me.”

    “Uh, yeah. Too soon.”

    I nodded and poured a glass of wine, handed it to him.

    “Sorry. A peace offering. I’m trying, Samuel, I really am.”

    “I know. Thank you.”

    It took ages to get the girls to fall asleep after dinner, they were too excited about the presents tomorrow. By the time we managed, we were both tired as well. Samuel was nursing his third glass of wine, sitting next to the pile of duvets and pillows I had brought him.

    “Samuel, you don’t have to sleep on the couch, you know. The girls are going to wake you up at dawn, demanding presents. Do you want to switch? I stay here and you can take the bed?”

    No! I mean, no thanks.”

    I was startled by the force of his reply.

    “Sorry, Freya. I don’t think I could ever sleep in that bed again to be honest.”

    “Oh. If it helps, neither could I, so I got a new bed. You’re welcome to it. I promise no one but me and Hailey and Ivy ever touched it.”

    “Thanks, but I’m fine with the couch.”

    I was about to leave when he spoke again, his back turned to me.

    “Freya, I need to know. Did you ever love me?”

    The truth will set you free.

    “No, Samuel. I’m sorry, but no. I really thought I did. You were my best friend, and you were – you are – very attractive. We seemed so perfect together and I guess I didn’t want anyone else to take you away from me. I wanted to be the one who got you, to… win. And before I knew it, we were married and…”

    “I see. I guess I should be flattered to be considered a trophy husband.”

    “Sorry. I think I loved the idea of you, of us, but not…”

    “Not the reality. I get it. I think I always knew. Or suspected.”

    He sighed.

    “You know, in a way, that makes it easier. It would be so much harder for me to understand how you could ever have done this to me if you loved me the way I love you. Goodnight, Freya.”

  • Chapter 34

    So It Goes…

    It was Saturday morning and things were becoming predictable.

    I had just gotten out of bed as Samuel entered the room. He came straight from the shower after sleeping on the couch again.

    I missed him. Even when he was home, he just seemed so far away. By the time he came back from the hospital, he was exhausted. Every second of sleep was precious.

    We barely talked. I couldn’t remember when we last had sex. A couple of months, at least.

    He was in an even worse mood than usual today. He glared at his phone before going to the closet to get dressed.

    “Samuel? Something wrong?”


    Even with his back to me, his entire body radiated annoyance.

    “Charlie? What’s with Charlie?”

    “He’s in Copperdale and he wants to visit us.”

    There was venom in his voice as he pulled the belt through the loops of his pants with angry movements.

    “Oh. But isn’t that a good thing?”

    “I guess. I guess I should be thankful that my brother finally deigns to grace us with his presence. Do you know how often I’ve heard from him since the wedding? Twice. To congratulate us on Hailey and Ivy. That’s all.”

    “I know, but aren’t you still happy that he wants to visit?”

    Samuel sighed heavily.

    “Sure. It just pisses me off that everything has to be on his terms. Always. He’s practically been gone since he moved out, doing whatever the fuck he wanted while someone had to be the responsible one. And then he thinks he can just walk back in like nothing happened and be all, hey bro, care for me to drop by for dinner?”

    “Admit it, Samuel, you miss him. And he’ll get to meet the girls.”

    “I know. And of course I want him to meet my family. He suggested dinner tomorrow. And he even invited us to see his band play at the old warehouse tonight.”

    “Tonight? We should go. I could ask Amelia to look after the girls, make it a date. We haven’t gone out forever.”

    “You know we can’t do that, Freya. I have another long shift, I won’t be home until early morning.”

    I said nothing. Of course. All he ever had was long shifts, and he didn’t even take the time off he was technically allowed to. I only saw him when he slept, and lately he didn’t even come to bed.

    My husband was slowly becoming a stranger in the house, just dropping by for the occasional nap.

    “Freya? Are you mad? If you really want me to come home early, just say so.”

    He always said that. But it was a risk-free offer. He knew that I’d never demand it. I tried to rearrange my face into something less pouty.

    “No. You know I can’t do that, your job is important. I just… I wish you felt that your family was just as important.”

    Samuel sighed.

    “Ah, yes, because you always seem to think that I’m putting my job over my family. Of course you and the girls are more important to me than my job! But as you very well know, my job is also important, I have a lot of patients depending on me.”

    “Whereas we are fine without you, I guess.”

    I regretted it immediately. I was stepping onto a well-trodden path and I didn’t have the energy to have this particular argument again.

    Neither did Samuel. He just turned away from me as he finished tucking in his shirt.

    “You know what, I don’t have time for your shit right now. I need to be at the hospital in half an hour. And if family is really the issue here, why don’t you go see Charlie’s band? You’re his family too. Then you can ask His Highness what he would like for dinner tomorrow.”

    He stalked off. Less than a minute later I heard the car start.

    The sun was barely up and my husband had already left in a huff. Great.

    I wondered if he’d come back.

    I wondered if I wanted him to come back.

    As I dressed and fed the girls, I thought about what he’d said. I would have liked to see Charlie’s band. I would have liked to go out and have some fun with my husband for once, the two of us, seeing other grownups.

    As much as I loved Hailey and Ivy, they didn’t make for very stimulating conversation. At best, I got some hot gossip about which farm animals said what, or endless strings of “Why?”. And then I had Amelia over for tea every once in a while, but I hadn’t actually gone out for years.

    Fuck it. I had decided. I was going to see Charlie’s band play, be around other people, have actual conversations. Even if it had to be without Samuel.

    Luckily, Amelia was able to babysit despite the short notice.

    I spent the day tidying the house. If Charlie was coming for dinner tomorrow, I wanted everything to be perfect.

    Or rather, I needed someone to look at my life and tell me that everything was perfect. I wasn’t sure I believed it myself any longer.

    After feeding the girls dinner, I went to the closet to find out what to wear. I’d never been to one of Charlie’s concerts. I wasn’t even sure exactly what kind of music his band played. I did, however, remember how Charlie used to dress. He was all black and leather, skulls and chains. Edgy.

    Not exactly the kind of stuff I had in my closet. Everything I owned was either old athletic wear or screamed stay-at-home mom.

    I could definitely have used Jessica’s help for this, she’d come up with something. I missed her. We talked on the phone sometimes, but I hadn’t seen her in ages.

    I finally settled on some worn out jeans and found an old black shirt in Samuels’s side of the closet. He hadn’t worn it in years, it was too small. I just never got around to getting rid of it.

    I still didn’t look like a forgotten band member of The Shrieking Llamas, but it was the best I could do.

    I hung back when I arrived at the concert, feeling very out of place. Everyone looked like they were used to going out, except me.

    Zᴀᴅᴅɪsʟᴀᴜs Sᴛʀᴀᴜᴅ ʜᴀs ᴇɴᴛᴇʀᴇᴅ ᴛʜᴇ ᴄʜᴀᴛ

    And maybe except the extremely pale man I suddenly noticed standing next to me. He ignored me, his gaze focused unblinkingly on the stage. Something about him made me itch.

    I moved away slightly. At least I wasn’t the only one rocking a dress shirt tonight.

    Their music was good. I knew Charlie wrote most of the songs, and he definitely had talent.

    He hadn’t changed much since I saw him at the wedding, but he still looked different. Like he enjoyed himself. As if he was in his true element here, and just slightly uncomfortable everywhere else.

    When they were done, I intercepted him as he got off the stage.

    “Charlie! You were great up there.”

    “Freya! Where’s Sam, is he not with you?”

    I shook my head.

    “He says to tell you he’s very sorry, but he had to work.”

    A shadow crossed Charlie’s face.

    “Always so dutiful, my brother. Come inside and hang out with us for a bit. You’ve got to say hi to Caleb as well, and meet Kari.”

    He led me to a room on the first floor of the building, and I talked to Kari for a bit. She seemed nice, if slightly intimidating. I’d never be that effortlessly cool, not in a million years.

    Docs and sitting like a dumbass. Charlie confirmed for bi?!

    Charlie offered me a beer, but I declined and just listened as he and Kari discussed the concert.

    Caleb joined us a little later.

    He didn’t look like he’d aged a day since the last time I saw him.

    Charlie barely looked up from his phone.

    “There he was at last. Caleb Babyface Vatore, we call him.”

    Kari rolled her eyes.

    “And it’s equally hilarious every single time, Charlie.”

    I tried to follow their small talk. It was interesting to get a glimpse of a life so different from my own.

    I wondered if I had missed out on something by choosing the path I did, but I also felt extremely out of place.

    An hour later, both Kari and Charlie were getting a bit drunk and smoking something.

    I was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable, like a spectator. Caleb was just brooding in a corner. I wanted to go home.

    “Charlie, it’s getting late and I have my neighbour watching the girls. Will we see you for dinner tomorrow?”

    “Sure! Actually, I should walk you home, you never know what kind of people might be lurking in the dark.”

    He gave Caleb a pointed look.

    Caleb scoffed.

    Charlie quickly changed into a less ridiculous shirt and we left.

    It was nice being outside in the cool night air after sitting in the stuffy room. My clothes smelled like whatever he and Kari had been smoking. I felt a little lightheaded as well.

    As we walked back to the house, Charlie told me about touring, about trying to make it big. He told me about getting into trouble and running from the police. It was still baffling to me that he could laugh about things like being arrested, like it was all a joke to him.

    He also talked a little about Samuel. It felt like he was trying not to, but couldn’t stop himself. It sounded like his feelings about Samuel were just as complicated as Samuel’s feelings about him. There was definitely the same mix of resentment and envy.

    After we got back to the house and I thanked Amelia for watching the girls, Charlie followed me upstairs to get a glimpse of his nieces. They were both sleeping peacefully.

    In the hallway outside their room, he turned and looked at me with those mismatched eyes, one brown, one green.

    “Cute kids. I know I haven’t been much of an uncle, but I’ll meet them properly tomorrow. My brother has always been the lucky one.”

    I felt the lump in my throat. Tell that to him, maybe he would be here now. Maybe he would still care.

    “Is something wrong? Freya? Hey, what’s up?”

    There was actual concern in his voice. A voice that sounded so much like Samuel’s, except Samuel’s voice was causing me nothing but pain lately. I felt the tears coming.

    “I’m sorry, Charlie, I’m a mess these days. It’s just – I don’t know if Samuel and I are going to last, and…”

    He put his arms around me, and I leaned into him as I tried not to cry. It felt good. Samuel rarely held me when I was upset, he just explained why I shouldn’t be.

    Charlie lifted my chin.

    “My brother has also always been a fucking idiot.”

    Then he kissed me. Hard. Insistent.

    This was nothing like Samuel’s gentle kisses, bore no resemblance to his constant restraint. Or to his complete absence lately.

    My knees buckled as Charlie continued kissing my neck, his other hand slowly, deliberately, untucking my shirt.

    I should have pushed him away, told him to stop. But I didn’t.

    Somehow we reached the bed.

    I had never felt this wanted, this desirable. All my frustration, doubt and hesitation obliterated.

    As I wrapped my legs around Charlie, I knew this was wrong, this was a disaster. But all it did was turn me on more.

    Charlie demanded instead of asking, ordered instead of suggesting.

    Praised instead of criticising.

    I let go of everything, lost myself completely in his arms, my mind blank, my body frenzied.

    He looked up at me, eyes shining in the dark, as I moved my hips furiously, my nails digging into his skin.

    Fuck. If only my perfect little brother could see what his perfect little wife is doing right now.”

    His harsh words cut through me without mercy, slicing through all the ties that had ever bound me.

    They say the truth will set you free.

    I had spent my life running from the truth, telling myself that everything would be fine if only I could find a way to be perfect.

    I guess there’s nothing as freeing as accepting that you’re just a horrible human being.

    Or maybe I was just human.



    Never meant to be perfect.

    This is my first attempt at making a machinima. Be advised that it contains explicit lyrics and somewhat suggestive images. If you’re fine with that, enjoy!

  • Chapter 33

    Forever & Always

    I had hoped the constant worrying would go away after we got married. After all, wasn’t that what I had been waiting for? And then we had Hailey, and a year later we had a mortgage in Copperdale, far away from everyone we knew. I was also pregnant again.

    I loved my little family with an intensity that scared me, and it made my anxiety even worse.

    Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and go to Hailey’s room, just to check that she was still breathing, and hadn’t been taken or hurt somehow.

    I couldn’t go back to bed until I felt certain that she was fine.

    In the mornings I woke up next to Samuel, wondering how much longer it would take before he was tired of me.

    Or maybe he would fall in love with someone else. Or get in some sort of horrible accident or get sick and die, leaving me all alone.

    I was constantly on edge.

    Some days it felt like my anxiety sucked all the air from the house and even Samuel was struggling to breathe around me.

    On those days, the fights got bad.

    “I am not asking for much, Samuel, I just want you to spend a little time with your family sometimes! But you always put work first, like Hailey and I aren’t important! Like you don’t even care about us!”

    “You’re being ridiculous, this has nothing to do with my work. This is about you and your own fucked up issues, Freya. Just like no amount of medals or trophies were ever going to make you feel good enough, there’s nothing I can do or say to convince you that I care.”

    “You keep expecting me to manage all these feelings you’re having about random shit. You don’t just wear your emotions on your sleeve, you make them other people’s problem. My problem. And I can’t bring my bad mood to work, people depend on me. I’m a doctor, I have a responsibility to my patients, and -“

    “I am aware that you’re a doctor, Samuel – because you never ever let me forget it! But you’re also a husband and a father and you have certain responsibilities here too!”

    Yesterday had been pretty bad.

    Samuel was quiet the next morning. I walked up to him as he was getting ready to leave for work.

    “I’m sorry about last night. It’s just hormones. Promise you’ll come back.”

    “Dammit, Freya, why are you so afraid that I’m going to leave you? Do you really think I’d give up on my wife, my daughter and my unborn child just because of a stupid argument? Do you not trust me at all?”

    “You did once leave me for several years just because I wouldn’t kiss you.”

    “Are you serious? That was a decade ago! We were fifteen, Freya!”

    “I know, I’m sorry. I guess I’m just having my stupid feelings as usual. I’ll try not to bother you with them.”

    “Freya, don’t. Please. Not now.”

    “Listen, I promise that I will be back tonight, but right now I really need to get to the hospital. I’m already late.”

    “I know. I’m sorry. I love you.”

    “I love you too.”

    Everything I did wore Samuel down, and I knew I was doing it, but I couldn’t stop myself. I needed him to stop me, to calm me down. I’d argue with him about things I didn’t even care about, just to have him look at me and tell me that everything was fine. To make him remind me, just once more, that he wasn’t going anywhere.

    Only in bed were we in perfect sync. By now it was like a precisely choreographed dance, the same every time. We’d go to bed, turn off the lights. Most nights, we would kiss and say goodnight and then turn around, falling asleep with our backs to each other.

    Occasionally, maybe once or twice a month, one of us would make the kiss linger ever so slightly, and then Samuel would move his hands down my body, making sure I was ready before entering me. On those nights, we’d fall asleep with our bodies pressed close. It was nice. And it was a break from the reality of what we had become.

    But as I got close to my due date, even that stopped.

    When Ivy arrived, I tried my best to curb the anxiety, fought to just enjoy my family.

    I devoted all of my energy to Hailey and Ivy, did everything I could to be cheerful and shower them both with attention, making sure that Hailey didn’t get too jealous of her new sister.

    Samuel doted on the girls as well, but by now the lack of sleep was really getting to us.

    Everything in our life revolved around Hailey and Ivy.

    At least the arguments died down.

    We were simply too tired, often falling asleep in front of the TV at night before staggering to bed.

    It was the closest we got to sleeping together these days.

    I missed Samuel terribly. Even if our sex life had never been as… exciting as I had once hoped for, it had still been better than nothing.

    But between the constant nightly diaper changes and feedings, his crazy work hours, and the lack of sleep, neither of us were really in the mood.

    Often, both girls would be awake at dawn, and I’d take Hailey to our bed before going to feed Ivy. If we were lucky, Hailey would fall asleep again and Samuel would get a few more minutes as well.

    When I came back to wake him up for work, I would sometimes just look at them for a minute. I loved them so much that it made my heart ache, but my mind kept racing with all the bad things that might happen to them.

    I wanted to make it stop, but the harder I tried to ignore the thoughts, the more intrusive they became.

    I was still trying to settle into Copperdale, it didn’t quite feel like home yet. But I wanted to make an effort, so I invited our closest neighbour, Amelia, over for tea.

    She was a retired teacher whose husband had passed away a few years ago. Now she lived alone in a small house on the outskirts of the town, not too far from us.

    Amelia was easy to talk to, and it was nice to have some grownup company for once.

    She had three kids of her own, and several grandchildren, although they all lived pretty far away now.

    She asked me how I felt about living in Copperdale.

    I told her that I loved the nature and living near the water, much like where I grew up in Brindleton Bay, but I also told her a little about my frustrations, about how I felt lonely this far away from my friends and family, especially since Samuel was so rarely home.

    Amelia clearly picked up on some of the things I didn’t say.

    “Freya, listen. Sometimes marriage gets tough. My husband and I had 35 years together. And some of those years were hard, especially while he was enlisted and the kids were little.”

    “But even if we had maybe as much as ten difficult years, that still means that 25 of them were wonderful. And those are the ones I remember.”

    She was right, of course.

    As we were saying goodbye, she took my hands.

    “Freya, you have a beautiful family. It will get easier, you just need to hang in there. And call me if you ever need to talk, or need someone to watch the girls for a while, I would be happy to help.”

    “Thank you, Amelia. It really means a lot.”

    I tried to stay positive, telling myself that it would get better. But as the months passed, things didn’t improve.

    Samuel was understandably drained when he came back from the hospital after yet another 16 hour shift. Sometimes he didn’t even reheat the leftovers I’d saved for him, but just ate his dinner cold in the kitchen at 2 AM.

    On nights like that he would just pass out on the couch instead of coming upstairs.

    On the days he managed to make it to bed, it probably wasn’t much better. The girls would often get up during the night and it was easier to just let them sleep in our bed instead of wasting time making them go back to their own.

    The vegetables are strictly ornamental.

    Not only were we exhausted, but we also kept running into another one of what Samuel simply referred to as my issues.

    “Do you really have to, Samuel?”

    “It’s just a glass of wine, Freya.”

    “You say that, but why do you have to drink it?”

    “Because I enjoy it. And this one pairs well with steak.”

    “There are other enjoyable beverages in the world, why does it have to be alcohol?”

    “It’s not like I drink it to get drunk, Freya! A single glass of wine every other week will hardly put me at any risk for alcoholism!”

    “I just don’t see why it’s necessary…”

    “It’s not, Freya, that’s the point. If it was necessary, I would have a problem. Can’t I have just one thing that I enjoy for no reason around here?”

    I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to cling to him, keep him in my arms forever and set everything right, but instead I found myself pushing him further and further away.

    Samuel was the logical one, the rational one, the one asking if we could please not do this in front of the girls.

    I knew that I was pushing his buttons to get a reaction, to see his cool and collected façade finally crack, but it never did. Even when I felt myself dissolving into desperation and tears, he kept it up.

    He would look at me like I was a patient and he was my physician, calmly explaining to me that I was hysterical and things would be fine if only I would trust him to help.

    Always so professional when he put on the doctor face. I hated it.

    He didn’t understand the problem. Having a bit of wine often made him flirty, and I just… couldn’t. I missed him terribly, needed his touch, but when he came to bed with the combination of toothpaste and alcohol on his breath, I wanted to throw up. Sex was definitely not happening.

    The rejection always frustrated him, of course. I had tried to explain that I just didn’t like the smell of alcohol on his breath, that it made me not want to kiss him, but he accused me of overreacting as usual.

    He seemed to suspect that I was withholding intimacy as some form of punishment and started preemptively sleeping on the couch after having a drink. As if he wasn’t allowed in our bed just because I wouldn’t kiss him.

    Who is withholding intimacy now, Samuel?

    Some days the thoughts would assault me the minute I heard the car leave the driveway in the mornings. He was going to leave me, I just knew it. Any day now. He said he loved me, but did he really? He felt so distant, closed off. I could never quite reach him.

    Had he actually stopped loving me during those seven years after I first rejected him? Or had he maybe fallen out of love with me after we got married? As the days became filled with work and diapers, the nights too filled with crying babies to risk making any more?

    Maybe he was just going along with it. Out of pity? Or for the kids?

    I thought back to the women he had dated before me. Did he ever lie awake at night and wish he’d picked one of them instead? Maybe someone less neurotic. Less emotional.

    Once more I found myself wondering if he would have chosen me, given a second choice. We said ‘I do’, we made a promise to each other – forever and always.

    But if he could start over, knowing what would happen to us, would he still be my husband?

    Or would he be happily married to someone else right now?

    Someone who had their shit together.

    Someone who wasn’t me.

    It felt like I knew the answer.

  • Chapter 32

    Never Grow Up

    Less than a year later, Samuel and I were married.

    The wedding was everything I’d dreamed of. I’m sure our parents would happily have paid for an enormous wedding if we’d asked them to. But that wasn’t our style.

    Focus, Jessica!

    All I wanted was a small, intimate affair with our closest friends and family while I said ‘I do’ to the love of my life. We rented the Myshuno Observatory. It almost felt like my grandma Cora was with us in spirit.

    Even Charlie showed up. I knew it meant a lot to Samuel, although his brother couldn’t stay for long.

    At least he was there for the ceremony, and he came over to congratulate us afterwards.

    He said he had a flight to catch, his band was on tour at the moment. I suspected that he was also trying to avoid talking to Colten and Kailani.

    I wondered if Charlie actually preferred his solitude, or if he secretly wanted to be a bigger part of his family than he was.


    I was grateful that I got along with my own family, especially my sister Grace. I couldn’t believe that she would be starting high school after the summer, it felt like yesterday that I’d taught her how to cross the monkey bars in our backyard.

    By the time Grace and I headed inside for the reception, Charlie was gone and Kailani was talking to Jessica. Jessica had volunteered to do the decorations, beautiful blush-coloured roses everywhere, my favourite.

    Daria’s aesthetic is Whimsical Dominatrix.

    We kept the wedding alcohol-free for my dad, and Griffin and Daria had offered to do all the food for us as a wedding gift. It was impressive, the entire menu was vegan since Griffin had also stopped eating meat after his first visit to the cadaver lab during medical training. I didn’t blame him, it sounded horrific. Samuel hadn’t seemed as bothered.

    Over by the cake, Conrad was making my dad and Cecilia crack up with outrageous anecdotes. It was strange to see my parents interact with each other. It had happened before, of course, they had celebrated my birthday together a few times when I was younger, but I couldn’t remember if they had been in the same room since my mom and Conrad moved to Del Sol Valley.

    Looking at the four of them now, it was impossible to tell that things had ever been bad between my parents. Still, I couldn’t imagine two people less likely to work out. They both had a certain desperation to them, and they both needed someone to temper them, not stoke the flames.

    Conrad, with his extravagant approach to life, gave my mother a safe outlet, a way to release all that intensity so she didn’t blow up.

    Cecilia, kind but unwavering, calmed my father down and turned his particular brand of chaos into something less destructive.

    But who was I?

    Was I like my dad, prone to holding on in an attempt to do the right thing until I finally self-destructed?

    Yes, hello, this is Conrad’s fanbase. We would like to formally request that Conrad stops ageing immediately, please. PLEASE.

    Or was I more like my mother, desperately trying to make people love me until I gave up and left them in the dust?

    I needed to do better than both of them. I wanted everything to work out. I shook my head lightly, trying to chase away the dark thoughts. This was my wedding day, why was I only thinking about disaster?

    I went to find Samuel. He pulled me close and kissed me.

    This was what I needed. My husband.

    Samuel would temper me, like Conrad and Cecilia tempered my parents.

    We would be fine.

    By the time we were back in our bed that night, I was both exhausted and deliriously happy.