Tonight’s the night. I can’t take it anymore. A million lousy apologies won’t make up for the lies and betrayal. I glance over at my bastard husband and flash a smile an angel would envy.
“You’re sure you wanna go, babe?” Timothy asks, his grating voice interrupting my thoughts.
“Yes. Stop asking.” I sink into the passenger seat of our cobalt-blue Honda Accord and slam the door shut. God, I’m going to need a drink to survive this dinner.
The setting sun paints the Washington sky an array of peach and orange shades. The linen-scented freshener dangling from the rearview mirror suffocates me, so I roll the window down halfway and inhale the warm autumn air. My hair whirls around in the breeze like a tattered brown kite on a windy day.
Timothy slides his hand over to mine, squeezes, and smiles at me. “We’re gonna have a great night.”
He still doesn’t know I plan on leaving him. Over the past ten months, I have bawled my eyes out, trying to figure out what I should do. He has me right where he wants me, though, and he knows it. But how can I just throw away nine years of marriage like this? I mean, Timothy had no problem doing the same thing, so why can’t I? Fair is fair.
The two of us sit in silence for several minutes with no sound except for the steady hum of the car and the occasional thump of tires on the pockmarked road.
For background noise, I turn the satellite radio to my favorite jazz station. Ella Fitzgerald’s voice blares through the speakers, prompting Timothy to jump.
He takes his eyes off the road and studies me. “Are you okay, Audrey? You only listen to jazz when you’re stressed.”
My body stiffens. He has no right to know how I feel. Not after all the shit he’s put me through. “I’m fine.”
“What are you thinking about in that little head of yours?”
Little head, Timothy? You want to talk about a little head? I swallow the words. “I’m worried about this book deadline. I only have four more days to send it to Rebecca, and I’m so far behind. Ugh. I shouldn’t have waited, because it’s catching up to me now.”
Well, at least I didn’t have to lie to him since writing stresses me the hell out. I will never learn to meet deadlines. I’m always late with everything.
The jerk flashes an adorable grin at me. “If you want, we can go home, and you can work on your book instead. I’ll understand if you wanna do that. Maybe we can sneak away to Portland this weekend, just you and me. Would you like that?”
Oh wow, look at him considering my feelings for the first time in years. What a fucking gentleman.
“No. I won’t be able to focus on writing tonight. Besides, we need this dinner,” I say, my irritated tone failing to disguise my frustration.
Timothy’s eyes widen. “Whoa, calm down. You’re just hangry. We’ll be there soon.”
Oh, if you only knew the things I want to say to you. Soon.
Timothy swerves to miss roadkill along I-90, stopping the internal bitchfest going on inside my head. He clutches the wheel so tight, it squeaks. “Son of a …”
“Good save,” I say, looking out the window again. I like this part of I-90, with the mountains and the trees. It almost helps me forget about how depressing my life is.
I wonder how I should break the news to him. I need to be direct and honest—I don’t want to be with him anymore, I can’t trust him, and nothing he says will ever change my mind. I haven’t followed through on my plans to leave him in the past, but tonight’s the night. It has to be. I’m tired of fighting for his attention and always falling short. This time tomorrow, I’ll be a free woman. Timothy won’t go down easy, though. I should have packed my bags before tonight, but I knew he would figure it out and try to stop me.
Once I get that first drink, I’ll be able to tell him everything I’ve held inside for months. I didn’t always need liquid courage to work up the nerve to tell him how I feel, but his indiscretions ruined that part of me.
Timothy opens the passenger-side door for me like the perfect gentleman everyone thinks he is—the one I thought he was until last year. If only they knew the real Timothy Nielsen.
“Thanks,” I say, stepping out of the car. I straighten out my burnt-orange, knee-length dress, picked out just for the occasion. Since I might finish the night a single woman, I want to show Timothy what he’ll miss out on when I leave him. If I leave him. No, I’m really leaving this time.
The supposed love of my life grins at me and winks. “You look amazing, babe. I’m the luckiest guy on earth.”
Oh, we’ll see if he still feels that way in about an hour. Though I hate to admit it, he looks handsome tonight. I mean, really handsome. He wore my favorite suit combination: a hunter-green dress shirt and navy suit jacket and pants. Damn, why is he so attractive?
I flash my fakest smile to him. “Thanks. You do too.”
He grabs my hand, and we walk toward the entrance of Café Confidante. In our happier days, this was our date night spot. But this is our first time here since the betrayal. I picked it for a reason. It’s symbolic.
He opens the door, and a flood of warm light blinds me. The beautiful, etched, black-and-white herringbone wallpaper catches my eye, and the blend of savory food smells sends a wave of shivers down my back.
The hostess smiles from behind a black podium. “Good evening. Do you have a reservation?”
“Yes, under Timothy Nielsen,” Timothy says, his voice smooth, controlled, and almost flirty.
Oh, shut up. She’s just your type, isn’t she? Beautiful, young, impressionable. Your perfect, destroyable girl, huh? I hope she never ends up with someone like you. She deserves better. Everyone deserves better.
She escorts us behind the floor-to-ceiling velvet curtain, a gorgeous shade of deep blue. As I enter the dining area, the jazz music on the radio loudens. Bennie Goodman, my favorite.
The hostess waits for us to sit and places two menus in front of us. “Your server, Amira, will be right with you.”
Timothy smooths out his tie and locks eyes with me. “So, babe, tell me about the book you’re working on.”
“You can read it when I’m finished.”
He rubs his fingers over his scruffy chin. “Oh, come on. You always keep your books a secret from me while you’re writing them. Just tell me what it’s about.”
You want to talk about keeping secrets, Timothy?
“No, it’s stupid.”
He leans in and clasps my hand in his. “Please, talk to me. What does Emily do in this one?”
“She rescues a puppy,” I say with defeat.
“Ooh, sounds like fun. How many more words do you have left to write?”
“And how much have you written so far?”
“Less than two hundred.”
It’s a little more embarrassing than I would like to admit, but I’m just not passionate anymore. Everyone talks about how easy children’s books are to write, but not when your main character shares a name with your dead daughter.
He smiles and squeezes my hand again. “You can do it. You’ve written more with shorter deadlines.”
I smile. God, I still love this man, and I hate myself for it. I can’t stand how supportive he is. It makes hating him all the more difficult. “Thanks.”
His expression softens. “I’m so proud of my little best-selling author. How long did you have to work on it?”
“A few months, but I was working on other things. It was irresponsible of me, I know.” I give a self-deprecating chuckle to cushion my excuse.
“When are you going to publish real books?” he asks, his cheeks flushing as the words leave his mouth. “Wait, no. I don’t mean ‘real’ books. What I meant was when do you think you’ll push those thrillers you wrote? That’s what you enjoy writing, and I’m sure you’d sell a ton of ’em, babe.”
“No, you’re right. I’m not sure how much longer I can continue writing these kids’ books. It’s exhausting. But I keep getting rejected by agents and publishers because they want me to focus on those stupid fucking children’s stories. I’m trapped. I don’t think anyone will let me do anything else.”
The truth is, I’m always insecure when introducing myself as a children’s author. The number of books I’ve sold over the last three years doesn’t even matter because it’s not something I’m proud of. Shit, I’m not proud of much these days.
He frowns. “Well, tell them to shove it. Do what makes you happy.”
His words echo in my head. I wring my hands under the table. No, it’s too early. I’m not ready to tell him. “How’s work going for you? Anything exciting in the accounting world?”
“It’s good. The firm is doing well. Annalise is considering giving me a—”
A tan woman with dark-brown hair approaches the table, wearing a black pencil skirt and white button-up shirt with the top button undone. “Welcome to Café Confidante. My name is Amira, and I’ll be your server this evening. Can I get you started with something to drink?”
“I’ll take a Manhattan, please,” I say, eyeballing her. Why do all the employees have to be so much prettier than me? It isn’t fair. My ego is taking a beating tonight, and I need all the confidence in the world if I’m going to leave this scumbag.
Timothy points to the drink menu and looks up at her. “What’s the special tonight?”
Amira smiles. “The Confidante Cosmopolitan. It’s delish. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”
“No, thanks,” Timothy says. “I’ll take a Bulleit Bourbon on the rocks.”
Amira jots our order on a slip of gold-lined paper. “Okay. Would you like a few minutes to read over the menu?”
Timothy’s eyes dart up at mine, and before he can say anything, I nod. “A few minutes would be great,” I say.
“No problem,” Amira says, walking away.
Timothy rests his arms on the table and leans forward. “So, I was gonna wait until after dinner to tell you this, but they asked me to fly to Chicago this weekend for an audit.”
This excuse again? I roll my eyes, fighting to keep the words muzzled inside of me. “Hell no. Are you kidding me? Not after what happened last time.”
He sighs and does his best puppy dog face—the same one I always fall for. “Listen, I understand why you don’t trust me. I’m so sorry. I was stupid, and I regret it every day of my life. But this is for work, and they need me to do it. I don’t know how to prove myself to you, but I’ll do whatever it takes. Trust me on this one.”
I pull my hand away from his. “Well, can you blame me for not trusting you? Tell them to find someone else. I can’t let you go.”
He shrugs. “Babe, I can’t. None of the others were able to go on such short notice because they have kids.”
The insinuation leaves my stomach burning. “Are you really going to throw that in my face?”
“No, I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just I’m the only one with a wife who values me having a job and understands it sometimes requires me to travel.”
I release the breath I held inside and stare at him. “Clearly not enough if she’s saying no to you. Final answer. I’m sorry, but if you love me, you won’t go. I still can’t trust you. It hasn’t even been a year yet, and I can’t believe you’re trying to make me feel guilty. Considering everything you put me through, you shouldn’t question my decision.”
He reclines away from me. “Fine. I’ll tell Annalise that something came up with your family.”
“My family? Why do you have to use my family as an excuse? Tell the truth. Tell her you cheated on your pregnant wife, and she’s a bitter bitch who won’t let you do whatever the hell you want. Ask if Julia can go instead so she can fuck some other pregnant woman’s husband.”
Well, damn, I didn’t mean to go there so early in the evening, but the words feel better than they should.