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You Deserve Each Other: Chapter 2

I’m on the sofa watching something that will rot my brain, half listening to Nicholas complain about a friend of a friend who joins his soccer games at the park a few times a month. It’s the one who thinks he’s a better player than Nicholas, the one who thinks he knows more about the game than Nicholas, and Nicholas is going to give him a piece of his mind one of these days. He’s been saying that the whole time I’ve known him. At least he bought my story for why I walked to work: I’m taking steps to lead a healthier lifestyle and walking is my newest passion. Nicholas should follow my example and walk to work, too, instead of destroying our planet with greenhouse gases. Honestly, he could learn a thing or two from me.

I let him blow off steam. I nod and agree like the good little fiancée I am, but I am not a good fiancée at all because I feel like I might fall apart at any moment.

I’m a good actress. It’s a point of pride. Nicholas’s point of pride is that he thinks he knows every little thing there is to know about me. He tells people all the time that I can’t hide anything from him. I’m transparent as air and intellectually just as substantial. The fact that he can look into my eyes and believe I am totally in love with him is proof that I’m a fantastic actress and he does not know everything about me, or even most things.

Ratio-wise, I would say that I’m forty percent in love with Nicholas.

Maybe I shouldn’t say I’m in love. There’s a difference. Being in love is frantic. Fluttery. Falling. It’s nervous sweats and pounding heartbeats and a feeling of tremendous rightness, or so I hear. I don’t have that. I love him forty percent.

It’s not as bad as it sounds, if you think about the couples you know. If they’re being honest, a lot of them would list a lower number than the one they’d declare out loud. The truth is that I don’t think any two people both feel one hundred percent in love with each other at the same exact time, all the time. They might take turns being seventy-five, their personal high, while the other clocks in at sixty.

I’m a miserable cynic (a newer development) and a dreamy romantic (always have been), and it’s such a terrible combination that I don’t know how to tolerate myself. If I were only one of those things, perhaps I would be nodding and agreeing with Nicholas, smiling brightly, rather than drumming up one of my favorite daydreams to focus on when I don’t want to live in reality. In this dream, it’s my wedding day and I’m standing at the altar next to Nicholas. The priest asks if anyone objects to this union and someone in the audience stands up, boldly proclaiming, “I do.”

Everyone gasps. It’s Jake Pavelka, controversial season 14 star of The Bachelor.

In real life, Jake Pavelka isn’t going to interrupt my vows, and Nicholas and I will be stuck with each other. I revisit my mental calendar and feel sick at how little time I have left. Right now, the thought of saying I do makes my pulse gallop like a runaway train.

I am falling apart and Nicholas doesn’t even notice.

This is happening with snowballing regularity. Just when I think the odd feeling’s gone and I’m complacent again, all feelings of dissatisfaction suppressed, the pendulum swings back at me. Sometimes the feeling hits me when I’m about to fall asleep. It happens when I’m driving home from work and when I’m eating dinner, which means I lose my appetite immediately and have to make up an acceptable explanation as to why.

Because of my excuses, Nicholas thinks I have a sensitive stomach and my PMS lasts three weeks. We frequently discuss my gluten intake and I pretend to consider cutting sugar out of my diet. This is what happens when you date a guy for eleven months, then get engaged six hours before finally moving in together and learning who the other person truly is on a day-to-day basis. Signing up for Boyfriend Nicholas and inheriting Fiancé Nicholas later on was some legitimate bait-and-switch business, let me tell you. I thought I’d won big-time when I landed him, but after sliding a ring onto my finger he relegated me to Eternal Second Place.

When I’m alone or when I might as well be because he’s ignoring me in favor of spending quality time with his computer, I at least have the reprieve of letting my smile fall. I don’t have to waste energy pretending I’m fine. I don’t let myself indulge the dark, intrusive thoughts for too long, even though I want to, because I’m afraid once I start going full Morrissey, fixing the wall with a thousand-yard stare and reflecting on what exactly makes me unhappy, it will become impossible to fold those thoughts up and put them neatly in a drawer to reexamine another day.

I tune in to Nicholas’s tangent long enough to grasp a few keywords: Stacy, khaki ban, gas gauge. He has found a way to combine his three favorite gripes into one blustery rant. He hates the new uniform policy his coworker Dr. Stacy Mootispaw is trying to implement, which is black slacks only and forbids his darling khakis. He hates Stacy. He hates his fancy car’s gas gauge, which has been wrongfully blamed for not warning him when he ran out of gas last week while driving out of town.

I make a sympathetic expression and assure him Stacy is the scum of the earth and the khaki ban is discrimination. I’m a loyal fiancée, indignant on his behalf, ready to go into battle against his every grievance.

I think about how actress is another way of saying professional liar.

I’m lying to both of us all the time now, and I don’t know how to stop.

Our wedding is in three months and if I spill my guts to Nicholas about these mini bursts of panic he’ll attribute them to cold feet, which is said to be normal. He’ll write off everything I’m feeling with those two words. I haven’t been excited about this wedding since it was taken away from me, all the decisions yanked from my hands, and knowing I’m not excited makes me anxious. If I’m not excited to get married, then what the hell am I doing?

But my problem is bigger than his interfering mother now; more than the age-old argument about where to go on our honeymoon and the size of the cake, which I no longer care about because I didn’t get my way with lemon. No one likes lemon, Naomi. I’ve been stewing in all the ways I’ve been wronged for so long now that my simmering resentment has outgrown itself to taint everything about him, even the innocent parts. In spite of everything, I’m such a caring person that I bottle up my negative feelings and don’t share them with him. He’d never understand, anyway.

If he asks me what’s wrong and my issue isn’t one he can make go away with a few reassuring words, Nicholas gets frustrated. It reminds me of my mother once saying that you can’t tell men about your unfixable problems, because they’ll want to fix them and not being able to do so fries their wiring.

Is my problem unfixable? I don’t know what my problem is. I’m the problem, probably. There are a lot of good things about Nicholas, which I have typed up in a password-protected document on my computer. I read it whenever I need to be reminded that Everything Is Okay.

I want to swallow a magic pill that makes me feel perfectly content. I want to gaze lovingly at Nicholas while he haplessly searches the bowels of our kitchen cabinets. We’ve cohabited for ten months and he still doesn’t know where we keep anything.

Our names look so romantic together on paper. Nicholas and Naomi Rose. Have you ever heard anything lovelier? We’d give our children romantic N names, too, and make it a theme. A son named Nathaniel. His grandparents will call him Nat, which I’ll hate. A daughter named Noelle.

Her middle name will have to be Deborah after Mrs. Rose, because apparently it’s a tradition going back exactly one generation. Nicholas’s sister has been told the same thing, so if we all fall in line there’s going to be a dynasty of small Deborahs someday.

I close my eyes and try to imagine growing up as that woman’s biological daughter, and the picture is so horrific that I have to bleach it with happy thoughts of another contender for my heart—Rupert Everett in character as Dr. Claw from the 1999 Inspector Gadget movie—bursting through the doors of St. Mary’s and fighting Jake Pavelka to decide who gets to marry me. One of them has a robotic claw, so it isn’t a fair fight.

“Not so fast!” shouts another voice. I look up to see Cal Hockley, Titanic’s misunderstood hero, rappelling down from the ceiling with the Heart of the Ocean clamped between his teeth. “This is for you, Naomi! The only woman worthy of it!” Nicholas shouts in protest, turning away from the altar, and promptly falls through a trapdoor.

With conscious effort, I look at Nicholas and try to make myself feel butterflies. He’s responsible. We like the same movies. He’s a good cook. I love these things about the man.

“Naomi,” he’s saying now, banging cupboards. “Where do we keep the Tupperware? I’m going to run to the store and get some cookies to drop off at the office tomorrow. How nice is that? I’m not even working.

Nobody else swings by just to drop off snacks.” Rise and Smile is usually closed on weekends, but once a month on a designated Saturday a few of them have to come in. To take out the sting of working on their day off, they all bring in snacks. “I want to make it look like I baked them myself,”

he continues, “or I’ll never hear the end of it. Stacy says I never go the extra mile. I’ll show her an extra fucking mile.”

I do an unforgivable thing here and privately agree with Stacy. Nicholas does not go the extra mile, especially when it comes to me. He didn’t get me flowers this past Valentine’s Day, and that’s okay because flowers are stupid, I guess. He reminded me that they’re just going to die. On Valentine’s Day we sat in separate rooms and tagged each other in gushing Facebook posts. We don’t need to say sweet words in person because we know what Real Love is.

We have smarter things to spend our money on than overpriced jewelry (if the jewelry’s for me) and plants that will slowly wilt for a week before turning to sludge (again: if they’re for me). We could be putting that money toward something better, like a tennis bracelet and an entire garden for his mother.

He didn’t get me flowers for our anniversary, either, and that’s okay because we know what Real Love is and we don’t have to prove ourselves to each other. He buys flowers for his mother while she recovers from a facelift because she expects it, but I’m reasonable. I understand. I know I don’t need them, whereas Mrs. Rose does need them. He’s so glad we’ll never be like his parents.

On our anniversary, we don’t even have to go out on a real date or take the day off work to be together, not marking the occasion in any way.

We’re relaxed and laid-back, nothing like his parents. Our love is so Real that we can sit on the couch and watch football like the day is no big deal, like it’s just any other day. Every day is the same. Every day is like our anniversary.

Words are bubbling up in my throat. I push them down, struggle to find different ones. “Cabinet over the microwave.”

“Thanks. Actually, do you have time to make cookies tonight? Stacy’ll be able to tell if I haven’t made them. I don’t want to hear her bitch.”

I give him a contemptuous look he doesn’t see. “No. I’m going to Brandy’s.”

“So am I, but we’ve got plenty of time until then, don’t we? And I need to jump in the shower, while you’re not doing anything but sitting on the couch. Can you just whip up some cookies real quick?”

“Can’t you just do it yourself tomorrow? Why do you need them right this minute, anyway?”

He’s preheating the oven. He doesn’t even know if we have all the right ingredients. He assumes I’ll cobble it together from scratch like Cinderella’s mice. “I’m not getting up at the crack of dawn to make three dozen cookies. It’s easier to do it tonight.” His voice lowers to a grumble.

“Stacy’s lucky I’m even doing this much, since I’m not even scheduled for tomorrow … we’ll see how she likes taking her Saturday turn, for once.”

I stare at Nicholas and my intestines boil because he thinks I don’t know what he’s doing. The only reason he’s choosing to shower right now is so that he has an excuse to ask me to do this for him. It’s like whenever we get home from a trip to the grocery store and he pretends he’s getting an important phone call so that he doesn’t have to help put groceries away.

He’s pulling out mixing bowls, and that man is even more deluded than I am if he thinks I’m filling a sink up with mixing bowls I’ll have to wash in order to feed someone he despises, while he takes the credit. Stacy can choke on store-bought sugar cookies like the rest of us. Why’s he even bringing them? They’re dentists. They should be eating celery.

I consider trying to persuade him to stay home tonight, but it occurs to me that I need him to drive me to Brandy’s. I won’t be able to take a crack at changing my tire until he leaves the house for a considerable period of time. I’m miffed with him for being such an I-told-you-so kind of person, which prevents me from coming clean. I’m forced to be just as stubborn as he is irritating.

“I bet if you told your mom you needed cookies, she’d have them ready for you in twenty minutes,” I reply lazily. “In the shape of big red hearts, with your initials written in the icing.”

“Speaking of Mom,” he says, clearing his throat. “She was telling me how she talked to the seamstress about the flower girl’s dress, making sure the measurements were right. And we were both so glad, we were just so glad, that they’re able to help us out.” I feel my soul shrivel up like dust and go poof. “Everyone knows it’s usually the bride’s parents who pay for everything, so we’re lucky Mom and Dad have been so helpful.”

Yes, so helpful. An image of my wedding dress pops into my head, one size too small because my future mother-in-law wants me to be ambitious, A-line and starchy, whiter than her husband’s new veneers. I wanted cream and rose with an empire waist, which she said made me look four months pregnant. Nicholas told her we’re saving ourselves for marriage because she’s ridiculously old-fashioned and has to be coddled and lied to, and when she told me I looked pregnant I was sorely tempted to say it was twins.

I walked out of the bridal shop that day traumatized and broke, three thousand dollars charged to my credit card. To keep my integrity I insisted we split the costs, so Mrs. Rose paid the other three thousand. Six thousand dollars for one dress. I’m haunted by the scarlet word stamped in bold on the plastic sack that suffocates six thousand dollars’ worth of material that will make it impossible for me to eat during the reception (which was the part I was most looking forward to): NON-REFUNDABLE.

Also, they offered their daughter Heather, who lives out of state and who I will meet for the first time on the day of my wedding, the role of maid of honor. When this made me upset, I was told that she’s going to be my sister-in-law, so who else should the role go to? Brandy, my closest friend, was crushed when I told her.

Something else Heather gets for my wedding is a cream-and-rose empire-waist gown, just like all the other bridesmaids who hail from his side of the family.

Nicholas wants me to suck it up and endure being trampled just like he’s learned to do, and raising a stink even to defend myself would be inconvenient for him. I’ve endured so much awfulness for the sake of keeping the peace that I ought to qualify for sainthood. I haven’t voiced my resistance or my anger but I know he feels it, because he sure does love to avoid me these days. He dawdles at work after hours. He’s at his parents’ house more than our own. When he is home, it’s like he can’t wait for our minimal togetherness time to be over so he can scurry off to his study and hunch over the computer until bedtime. In my head I’ve named his computer Karen, after Plankton’s computer wife on SpongeBob.

Nicholas’s parents have money out the wazoo and they’ve thrown a lot of it at this wedding. I don’t care what Nicholas says, they’re not doing it to be nice or because they like me. I’m the uterus that will be carrying future Roses, interchangeable with Nicholas’s ex-girlfriends.

Every step of the way, his parents have reminded me of how lucky I am to have their help, and how high the costs have been. I don’t need the best champagne in the country served at my wedding. I’d be fine with wine from a box. No, no, only the best for their Nicky.

Don’t you worry, Nicky. Mommy and Daddy will take care of it. I know Naomi’s parents can’t. Mr. Westfield was pushed out of his job, wasn’t he?

And Mrs. Westfield is just a school-teacher! How quaint. Mr. and Mrs.

Westfield can barely afford the gas and the cost of their plates, the poor dears. Now remember, Naomi, don’t slouch. Find a different expression, please. Maybe you should change your face altogether. Is that the color eyes you’re going with? You’re sure? You’re wearing heels, aren’t you?

No, not those heels. Those are stripper heels. You’re going to be a Rose, dear. That name means something. Sit up straight. Don’t fidget with your ring. You’re just like a daughter to us, we love you so much. Come stand directly behind us in this family portrait and suck in your stomach.

There’s a smorgasbord of bullshit here to detest, but I think the thing I hate the most about Mr. and Mrs. Rose is that they still call their son Nicky. He won’t even let me call him Nick. When they’re not calling him Nicky and kissing his cheeks like he’s five years old, they’re calling him Dr. Rose and photocopying his dentist certificates to hang in their own study. They’re vicarious dentists and lecture their friends about gum disease.

I can’t possibly back out now. Everyone would be gossiping about me, spreading rumors. I’d look like a failure and an idiot. I’d have wasted thousands of dollars. There’s no exit strategy, so I’m holding my breath and winging it.

I look at Nicholas and realize I am actually marrying this man. Forty percent because I love him and sixty percent because I’m too afraid to call it off. Everyone, including his parents, said we’d never make it down the aisle. I have so much pride that I’ll do it just to prove them wrong.

“Fine, then, don’t help me,” Nicholas huffs, hurling an irritated look at me. I’ve ruined his evening. Stupendous. “I’ll be rushed for time and I’m already stressed out, but what else is new?”

“Preach, sister,” I mutter under my breath. He grumbles and bangs more cabinets, which gives me an oddly satisfying feeling. Misery loves company, after all. If I’m going to be thinking vindictive thoughts all night, I might as well drag him down into the trenches with me.


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