First of all, my new website design isn’t entirely finished yet, but I’m getting there. Please, bear with! 😉 Second: If you want a review copy of Once in a Lifetime in return for an honest Amazon and/or Goodreads review, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! And, last but not least: here’s a preview of my brand new novel. The first chapter is extremely dramatic (so is the rest of the book.) Enjoy!
Jodie has always looked too damn glam to be a social worker. Look at her. She’s only just gotten out of the shower, and already she seems to have this sheen to her. A sheen I used to find irresistible—all glossy and inviting and yes-I-will-let-you-do-that-to-me—but now it shrouds her in a distance I can’t seem to bridge anymore. As if she’s made her decision already.
On top of that, she knew I didn’t want to come here. Not to Gerald’s place, with all its man things, and a few of Troy’s toys always lingering, no matter how many times the cleaner comes before we arrive for the weekend—I guess even people who get paid to tidy get tired of the never-ending task of stowing a child’s toys.
Jodie has her arms wrapped around her body, clothed in the light-blue silk robe she always wears after taking a shower. She looks out over the beach, as if answers are there, in the sand that has been brushed clean overnight by the ocean. Answers to how to resolve this always-returning argument between us, the one that’s been wearing us down for months.
“Hey,” she says, finally, turning away from the window. “Did you manage to get some sleep?”
I wonder how I must look to her now. And how would Gerald feel about his ex-wife’s partner sleeping on his Chesterfield sofa in nothing but a t-shirt and panties?
“Some.” In the beginning, when Jodie and I had just gotten together, it was a thrill to come to her ex’s lavish Hamptons beach house for a dirty weekend. But now, six years down the line, when she suggested coming here as a sort of last resort it felt more like she was trying to tell me something. The way she also does sometimes without words. Her face all brooding and unreadable, although I don’t need to see her eyes anymore to know that it’s over.
I could have slept in Gerald’s room—or Troy’s—but deciding to sleep on the sofa last night felt like a defiant stand. Now, in the cold hard light of day, it feels like a decision made by someone foolish enough to put stubbornness before a good night’s sleep. At thirty-three, I’m not old by a long stretch, but, all the same, my bones prefer a soft bed.
It’s only Saturday morning, and already we’re in the middle of this fraught stand-off. How will we get through the next twenty-four hours without biting each other’s heads off?
“Coffee?” Jodie asks. Her expression is not unfriendly but it’s not exactly folded into a peace-making one either. And I can’t help myself. I suspect she’s naked underneath that robe, and I still feel it—I still want her—but too many ugly words have passed between us and neither one of us knows how to take them back.
“Sure.” I sit up straighter. Stare at the coffee table. I have to hand it to Gerald; he has excellent taste in furniture. If we got along better, I’d ask him where he got this table, as a way of making small talk and being civil and all that, but Gerald and I have been wrapped in a silent, mutually agreed upon mild hostility since we first met, and I never had the inclination to do anything about it. I’m not in a relationship with Gerald, so why bother?
“Can’t you try a bit harder?” Jodie used to ask me in the beginning. “If not for me then at least for Troy’s sake?” I can still see her shake her head at me. “You can be so ruthless sometimes.”
“My mother is called Ruth,” I would tell her. “And as long as she’s alive, I will never be Ruth-less.” The first few times I used that line Jodie actually giggled and dropped the subject.
I get up and sit at the breakfast bar, looking out over the ocean, which is savage this time of year, the waves loud and brash—the way I like it.
“The waves are like you,” Jodie once said, “they never know when to stop. They just keep on going and going. The tide may retreat twice a day, but it always—always—come back with full force.”
“That analogy does not add up at all, Jodes,” I’d said. “You’re just babbling.” And I had grabbed her, pushed her down on Gerald’s sofa, and shown her what it was like to just keep on going while she looked out over those waves.
“What would you like to do today?” I ask. Her hand trembles a bit as she pours me a mug of coffee and she spills a few drops on the counter. Neither one of us cares.
Disappear, her face seems to say. It’s so pale, it seems all pigment has drained from her body. Jodie’s always pale, what with her Irish blood and skin, but I can tell this… phase we’re going through has worn her out. If only it were just a phase. “Go for a walk, I guess.” She actually shrugs when she says that, as if it doesn’t matter anymore what we do. “Maybe have lunch at Gino’s.”
I shake my head before sipping. The coffee is strong, the way we both like it.
“What?” Jodie stopped bothering to keep the irritation out of her voice months ago.
“What are we even doing here?” I know she’ll blame me again for actually saying something, but I can’t stand this anymore. All the love I had for her, everything we’ve built between us over the years, is not enough anymore to bear this.
“You know why we’re here.”
I look up from my coffee. Try to find something inviting in her eyes. I come up empty. “It feels to me like we’re here for one thing only.” I pause, ignoring the nervous contractions in my stomach. Something I learned to do in my first year in court. It’s harder to do when a relationship is at stake. “To break up.”
Jodie’s eyes narrow. “If you want to leave me. You’re free to go.”
I purse my lips together and nod in mock understanding, my chin going up and down in the most passive-aggressive way I can muster. “Sure. Because if this ends, of course I’ll be the one leaving you and you will have nothing to do with that.”
Jodie just sits there shaking her head. “I can’t change you, Leigh,” she says after a while. “I want what I want, and you want what you want.” Her voice breaks a little. We’ve said these things to each other before—in different versions, with alternative words—a million times, as if they need to be said a certain number of times before a decision can actually be made. If we’re waiting for the pain that comes with them to go away, we’ll have to wait until that ocean outside freezes over.
“Let’s get out of here.” I don’t want to stay in this house with her. I don’t want to spend my weekend drowning in this tension and not finding my way to the surface. My lungs are full of spite and anger and resentment already. Maybe it’s better for her if she can hate me. After all, I’m the bad one here. I’m the woman who has the audacity to go through life without any apparent desire for motherhood. “Or better yet. I’ll go.” I’ll pack up my things and be out of our apartment by the time you get home tomorrow evening, I want to add, but I can’t say the words. “It’s time,” I say instead.
That she doesn’t burst into immediate, passionate protest is like a knife in my gut, but it’s not as if this was ever going to be pain-free.
“I think it is, as well. This is killing us one day at a time.” We don’t look at each other. In my case, for fear of seeing something in her face, her demeanor, or anything else, that I could latch onto. And I’m tired of fighting. Of coming up with arguments that won’t win her over, because some things are just how they are, and no reasoning stands up to them.
But can this really be how it ends? The pair of us drinking coffee in Gerald’s house? After all the shouting has been done, and the harshest words have been spoken, can it just be this calm conclusion that we draw?
“Okay. I’ll go.” I don’t get up though. How can I? How can I walk away from Jodie Whitehouse? The woman who has given me everything. Why can’t I be a bit more accommodating? After all, I don’t mind Troy being around. It’s not as if I detest children. It’s not as if Jodie expects me to become a full-time mother. But it feels as if I have to give up a crucial piece of myself to stay with her and honor her wishes. Her fierce desire to have another child clashes so ferociously with my own wishes and it’s laying bare a fundamental difference between us—one that can’t be overcome by a thousand conversations, or the best sex we ever had in our lives.
“Leigh.” Her leg touches mine for a split second, but is gone before I even get the chance to register her touch properly. “I—” But Jodie has run out of words, too. We knew months ago that words wouldn’t save us.
“It’s fine.” This time, I do get up. Gerald’s place has floor heating, so I don’t even get punished with cold tiles under my feet. On the surface, it may look like I’m walking away scot-free, all limbs intact, no skin broken. Beneath my ribs, though, my heart breaks because I know what I’m walking away from. I know all too well, yet, I can’t stay. Because staying would only mean more of this, more of this chipping away at what we once had, at each other’s confidence and essence. It has to stop sometime. It stops today. At 11.34 a.m. on Saturday, the twenty-second of April of 2006. The day Leigh Sterling and Jodie Whitehouse cease being a couple.
And we were a good one. We had it, that unidentifiable chemistry, that boundless passion, the knowledge that we saw each other for who we were and that, just maybe, this might be forever. But it wasn’t enough. And the mere fact that even a love like this, a love like ours, is not enough, scars my soul here and now. I head to Gerald’s guest room—the room Jodie and I have always used—where I left my bag last night, just to pretend that there might be a possibility of us sleeping in it together.
I don’t bother showering; just throw the few items that made it out of my bag back in, slip into a pair of jeans, a washed-out gray hoodie, and my trainers. I glance at the bed Jodie slept in. The sheets are twisted and the pillows scattered, indicating she had a rough night. Nights before break-ups usually are. It was a quick drive to get here last night, because no one goes to The Hamptons when the weather is gray and heavy like this, and the icy silence in the car was only broken by muffled radio voices and nostalgic songs from the oldies channel. I guess our break-up was already a done deal and coming here just a formality. As if we couldn’t breakup in our home, as though the many memories we made there would stop us. The sight of our bedroom door, some paint peeled off the upper right corner. The picture of us above the fireplace, of Jodie and me in Hawaii, when, perhaps for the last time, we looked immeasurably happy. I’d just left the D.A.’s office for Schmidt & Burke and we’d splashed out. Maybe I should never have left the District Attorney’s office. Perhaps me crossing over to the other side was what kick-started this entire process.
But I know I’m only fooling myself. I know very well what has brought me here, bag in hand, ready to leave this weekend place where we never really belonged anyway. It’s me, and the immutability of what I feel inside, of not being able to meet Jodie halfway in this—not even a quarter of the way really. I know what I’m walking away from, however, and it hurts so much I find it hard to put one foot in front of the other, to leave this room in which we haven’t slept together for a very long time. We came here to talk, to smooth things out, or, at least, that’s what we told ourselves. It’s not as if we could say, “Hey, let’s go to The Hamptons and finally get this break up over with, shall we?”
But then I somehow find it in myself to start walking. I descend the stairs for the last time—because why would I ever come here again? Jodie is in her robe, her hands clasped around that coffee mug that should be empty by now. What do we do? How do we say our final goodbye? I can’t just walk away. Not after six years with her. There needs to be a gesture of closure.
“This is it, then,” Jodie says, fingers wound tightly around the mug. Outside, the wind howls, and I feel its echo in my heart. My heart wants to scream. I want to cry. But I need to hold it together, need to make it to the car in one piece.
“Will you be okay getting back?”
But Jodie is a public transport girl, and she can train her way out of anywhere. She nods. Why am I prolonging this agony? Her hair is almost dry now. I always envied how she can wear it long and never has to do anything to make it look fabulous. “It just dries into perfection,” she used to say when she was feeling frivolous and overly confident.
Will she walk toward me? Or, because I’m the one who’s doing the leaving, should I make a detour? I’m by the door already, but only because the stairs end there. Again, I’m frozen in my spot. Am I doing the right thing? I recognize this last question as panic. Last-minute nerves. Fear. What am I going to do without her? Without our apartment to go home to? Where am I going to stay? And what will she tell Troy when he gets back from Gerald’s on Monday evening?
“Bye,” Jodie says, her voice a dagger in my heart.
“Yeah.” The way we’re doing this stands in such stark contrast to how we were as a couple that, perhaps, it’s fitting. Perhaps this is the only way.
I reach for the handle and open the door.
<end of preview>
If you enjoyed that and would like to review Once in a Lifetime, feel very free to email me at email@example.com and request a review copy! The book is scheduled for release on 15 June 2015.