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You Deserve Each Other: Chapter 7

Nicholas and I are one for two. I won Sunday, ruining the Roses’ dinner.

He won Monday by making me think I was going to die, even if that wasn’t his intention. He won again yesterday by forcing me to smell his pizza through the wall and not offering to share.

It’s fitting that today happens to be Halloween, because I’m so focused on breaking this man’s spirit that my scary eyes are like those little electricity balls in science centers that make your hair floof when you touch them. I’m going to zap everybody in a fifty-foot radius.

When a Jeep Grand Cherokee sidles into Nicholas’s parking spot, I’m settled on the porch, clutching a plastic cauldron of goodies for trick-or-treaters. Nicholas climbs out of the Jeep and wears a smug expression as he trots up the walkway. He’s hoping I’ll ask what the hell he’s up to, but I’m committed to figuring it out on my own. Last night I found his keys and noticed that the Maserati fob was missing. I plugged an unfamiliar key into the Jeep experimentally and sure enough, it’s Nicholas’s. What a bizarre purchase for him. According to the Carfax in the glove compartment, the Jeep’s not even new—it’s like ten years old and has had two previous owners. Harold would be rolling in his tanning bed.

Where’s the Maserati? I have no idea. I’m dying to know but I would rather lick a fiberglass lollipop than ask and give him the satisfaction of not telling me.

There are a couple things amiss about Nicholas today. For one, he’s wearing his old glasses instead of his contacts. I like the glasses because they fit his face well and they make him seem sophisticated and down-to-earth at the same time. Whenever I tell him this, he scrunches up his nose and shakes his head self-consciously.

Also, he’s wearing jeans and sneakers, which are outlawed at Rise and Smile.

“Skipped work again?” I surmise.

He just pats me on the head and skirts around to go inside the house.

Cool. I have no idea what my fiancé has spent the past couple of days doing. He’s lording his secrets over me like a Scrooge. This is a totally normal, functional relationship we’re in.

I think about Seth and a dental hygienist going at it in the back of his car and my eyes narrow to slits.

Nicholas joins me on the front porch right as the trick-or-treaters start to arrive and doesn’t say a single word in relation to my latest effort to tick him off: I’ve added his business card to every single Ziploc bag of candy with the highest sugar content I could find. Pixy Stix. Sour Patch Kids. Candy corn. Fun Dip.

The concept of a dentist handing out teeth-rotting substances to children will look vulgar to the parents rummaging through their kids’ bags and buckets tonight. What a gross move, they’ll mutter. Turpin Family Dentistry, here I come.

But Nicholas isn’t fazed as he passes candy into tiny hands, bowing to the princesses and pretending to be scared of the monsters. Maybe he doesn’t notice the business cards because he’s too busy remembering a romp in his back seat with a dental hygienist. In my mind she looks like the hot nurse from that old Blink-182 album cover.

I look at him and think I’ll kill you. It shows on my face.

He raises his eyebrows and smiles. I recognize it straight away as his polite liar smile, the one he puts on when we visit my parents twice a year and they ask how well we’re liking living in sin. The smile he gives my brother when Aaron corners him for a presentation of Please Give Me Rent Money; I’ve Spent My Paycheck On Another PlayStation. The smile he gives my sister, Kelly, when she stands too close and stares too long, winding a lock of hair around her finger in a way she imagines is seductive.

I want to hiss Where were you all day. I grind my teeth together to keep the words trapped. Don’t ask, don’t ask, don’t ask. It’s what he’s waiting for, lounging in jeans and glasses, hands interlocked behind his head.

That’s the beginning and end of his focus right now: Ask, ask, ask. I hear the telepathic chant.

Children come and go in thin herds, makeup smeared, half their costumes covered up with coats and hats. The temperature drops with the sun, and I go inside to get myself a throw blanket. As I pass him, traces of some aroma I’ve smelled before greet me. The answer to my déjà vu sits in a locked drawer, just vague and faded enough that I can’t pinpoint where I’ve come across it in the past. I wouldn’t ask him even if he tortured me. When I return, he exhales loudly, then goes inside for his own blanket.

What’d you do with the Maserati.

Where in the hell have you been.

We ignore each other. I take keen stock of every virile man who happens by and wonder what else is out there. I’m surely settling.

I think maybe I’ve won this round, because I’ve decided on my own to hand out candy instead of asking him if he wanted to go to one of his friends’ parties. But he’s so at peace right here next to me in his chair, telling every kid he loves their costume and increasing the odds that their parents will pay him to drill holes in their small mouths, that you’d think this was his plan instead of mine. He has a way of making me feel like that, like I’m just tagging along.

“I have a surprise for you,” he says finally. I look over to see that his eyes are closed. The tips of his ears and nose are red from the cold, and I watch his Adam’s apple work down a swallow.

He’s going to say something nasty next, so I don’t reply.

“Did you hear me?”

“Mm-hmm.” I stand up. I don’t want to hear what his surprise is. It’s a horse head in the sheets. He’s put asbestos in the sandwich I’m taking to work with me tomorrow. He’s gotten the dental hygienist pregnant. He’s breaking up with me. I’ve won, but he’s still kicking me out of the house. I have five minutes to gather my things before he calls the police.

“I’ll show you the surprise Friday after work.”

I go inside without responding. There’s no way I’m coming home Friday after work.

It’s November second. Friday. “Text me every hour,” Brandy urges. “If I don’t hear from you, I’m going to assume the worst, so Do. Not. Forget.”

It’s just Brandy and Leon with me here today. Zach has quit. He peered into his crystal ball weeks ago and saw the end was nigh, so he already had a new job lined up ready to go. Melissa has today scheduled off, and I bet it’s for a job interview. I’m a moron for not taking any precautionary measures.

The atmosphere is subdued. We’re scouring help wanted ads and promising to refer each other to our new bosses if we find anything good.

Morris is a dead town, commercially speaking. Not bad for living in, but you’re going to have to commute to a better town to literally make your living. Half of us are going to end up moving to Beaufort, the next town over, to work at a dog food factory. The other half will move back in with their parents. None of us can decide which camp we’d rather fall into.

Brandy’s very emotional. She’s worried we’re all going to drift apart after this, and she’s probably right. I’ll stay in touch with Brandy, but I’m not sad about letting go of Melissa now that we aren’t friends anymore.

Zach will likely move on at an offensive rate and forget any of us ever existed. He’s funny and whip-smart, but he’s also a prick half the time and uses his best qualities to be mean-spirited. He plays keep-away with my purse and will spend hours mimicking everything I say, even if I’m trying to ask him something important. Whenever I leave my phone sitting on the counter unlocked, he sends texts to my mom that say I’ve joined the army or I’m pregnant and don’t know who the father is.

Leon’s expressed an interest in buying the shop from the Howards and turning it into an outdoorsy restaurant. He’ll put a stuffed grizzly bear in the doorway where Homer Elvis used to stand sentry. “If either of you wants a job, I’ll hire you,” he tells us. “I want to get the restaurant up and running by spring.” We nod and say, “Sure, sure,” knowing it won’t happen.

“If I could afford it, I’d take the plunge now and move,” Brandy laments, toying with her choker necklace. “I wouldn’t even take anything with me. I’d just go.”

“When I win the lottery, I’ll buy you an island off the coast of Alaska,”

I promise her. “With a guest suite for me to stay in when I visit.”

“Win the lottery as soon as you can, please. Half of my savings dried up this summer when my refrigerator broke and I had to loan my sister money for her school books.”

I lay my head on her shoulder. “You’ll get there. Before you know it, you’ll be shivering in negative-sixty-degree weather, wearing snowshoes and talking to me on the phone while you drive a team of sled dogs to the grocery store.”

“I heard you guys all thought you were going to die on Monday,” Leon announces, transplanting jars of pickled rattlesnake eggs and BBQ weevil larvae into boxes for Mr. Howard to pick up later. Mr. Howard’s going to ferry half the merchandise away to Tenmouth and dramatically clearance the rest. There are fluorescent blue signs stapled to every telephone pole on Langley: GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE. EVERYTHING AT THE JUNK YARD

MUST GO! Including the people who’ve made a life here.

“It was a close call,” I sniff.

“Death by jasmine.”

Brandy and I give him questioning looks for knowing my flowers were jasmine, but he shrugs and smiles. Goddamn it, Zach. This is just like him.

I wish he were here so I could yell at him for knowing it was jasmine and letting us believe otherwise. Instead he is somewhere else, ensuring his own financial security like a total jerk.

I think about moving to Tenmouth, which would suck. I think about staying in Morris and not being able to find another job, which would suck. I gaze miserably at Leon’s grizzly-filled lifeboat, which is already pooling with water. The only thing that could make this day worse is if I spontaneously started my period, so that’s exactly what happens.

“I’m going to miss you guys so much.” Brandy trumpets into a Kleenex.

“I hate this.”

“It’s the end of an era,” I say gravely. The lights have been on the fritz for two days, but we don’t bother changing the bulbs. There’s hardly anything left to sell, so lasting even another week would be a miracle. I examine my surroundings and hope I wake up from this nightmare. The blank shelves are particularly depressing.

One of my favorite parts of the job has been rearranging our displays, setting up elaborate live tableaus with marionettes playing Frisbee or re-creating iconic movie scenes with pop culture figurines. I’d dress our faithful old stuffed raccoon, Toby, in dog sweaters and berets and place him in a new position every day: by the register, reading a magazine; smoking a pipe on top of the jukebox; on the windowsill, peering outside through a pair of small binoculars. Brandy and Leon love looking for Toby when they clock in, and say my talent for devising full scenes out of the merchandise is being wasted somewhere we don’t ever get customers.

That talent is useless now, since all the merchandise is gone.

“I don’t think I’m ready for the next era,” Brandy sighs.

Me neither.

“You’re going to forget all about me by January and won’t invite me to the wedding.”

“Of course you’re invited to the wedding!” There will never be a wedding.

She blows her nose again. Her hair looks fantastic and I hate myself for not asking her a week ago which salon she goes to. I could have bangs as cute as Brandy’s right now if it weren’t for my impulsiveness.

“I’ve been keeping an eye out for your invitation,” she tells me as we put our jackets on. It’s not quite six yet, but staying here any longer is useless. “Maybe it got lost in the mail?”

“Oh.” I try not to squirm. “Haven’t sent them out yet.”

“Don’t you need to do that, though? To give people time to RSVP? Your caterer will want to know how many heads to expect.”

Leon saves me from answering. “She’s still got time. Anyway, what do you think the surprise is, Naomi?”

I open my mouth and can’t think of a single nice thing this surprise could be. Whatever it is, Nicholas has the edge on me. I’m racked with nerves.

“Dinner,” I say. “He’ll serve me to a mountain lion.” In a boiling cauldron of lettuce and carrots, like a Bugs Bunny bit.

Leon laughs. “I think that’s a little dramatic.”

Maybe so, but Nicholas has a dramatic streak as well. He got it watching daytime television in grade school, pretending to be sick so he could stay home and avoid bullies who called him Four-Eyes and made fun of the ascot his mother made him wear. Nicholas knows precisely what he would say to his childhood bullies if he ever came across one of them now. He’s perfected his speech in the shower, which he must think is soundproof. Too much One Life to Live in his formative years turned him into a vindictive diva.

To be honest, I hope he gets the opportunity to deliver that speech someday. It’s incredible.

“I’m going to put off going home for as long as possible,” I tell them.

Brandy nods sagely. “I might go see a movie. Then grab something to eat.

Then see another movie. By the time I get home, the mountain lion will have gotten so impatient that it’ll have already eaten Nicholas. We’ll watch Netflix together on the couch. A wildlife documentary.”

I laugh at my own joke, but the noise lodges in my throat when the door opens and a version of Nicholas from the Upside Down strolls into the Junk Yard. He’s wearing hiking boots and a secondhand jacket the color of the woods. It’s so wrong on him that it takes me ten whole seconds to process that it’s camo. Nicholas Rose is wearing camo.

My jaw drops when my eyes reach the top of his head. His hair is stuffed under one of those old-fashioned winter caps that has fleece-lined earflaps. Its colors are ugly orange and brown plaid. It’s hideous. The whole ensemble has proved fatal to a handful of my brain cells and maybe my retinas.

“Oh my god,” I say in a hoarse whisper. “You’re going to drag me into the woods and shoot me, aren’t you?”

I’m not being dramatic. He’s dressed like one of Morris’s many avid hunters.

Nicholas rolls his eyes, but I sense a shift in his mood. There’s a calmness about him that unsettles me. “I’m picking you up. Remember that surprise I told you about?”

Brandy clutches my arm, and I can almost hear her thinking It’s more oleander!

I don’t know why, but I lie. “No. What surprise?”

He frowns, which must be why I lied to him. My subconscious is cruel and wants him to think I don’t listen to anything he says, which is only true half the time. I feel bad about it until I remember that he completely checked out of wedding planning the second his mother stuck her interfering nose in, and he didn’t stop her from trampling my every piece of input. We’re all invited to Deborah’s wedding in January.

I have been taught not to get into cars with strangers, so I wisely say,

“My car’s here. I’ll just drive home.”

“Nope.” He takes me by the arm and leads me outside before I can blink SOS at Brandy and Leon in Morse code. I drag my feet on purpose, but he holds me against his side and lifts so that he can kind of glide me over the blacktop. I kick my dangling feet to leave scuff marks. This is how I’ll die: slightly unwilling but ultimately lazy.

I throw a pleading glance at my car across the way, but it doesn’t spur to life like Christine and avenge me. Soon enough I’m locked in the passenger seat of his Jeep, which he still hasn’t explained, and I’m split down the middle between curious and pissed.

“You’re pushy.”

He buckles me up and starts the engine. The Jeep smells like his Maserati’s crazy uncle. It drinks too much and plows over mailboxes. It had Taco Bell for lunch.

“What about my car?”

The question emerges as a whine, and he rewards my surrender of dignity with an indulgent smile that doesn’t make it to his eyes. “We’ll come back for it.”

“But why don’t I just …”

There’s no use finishing my sentence. He’s grit and steel now and won’t give me a straight answer. The weird outfit has toppled my grasp of him irrevocably. I don’t know this man. I’m at a severe disadvantage. If this bewilderment tactic is retaliation for my pancake makeup and Steelers hoodie, it’s working.

“Are you having a midlife crisis?” He’s a bit young for one, but then again he reads all the boring parts of the newspaper and there are usually Werther’s candies in his pockets. He mentions his 401(k) a lot.

The corner of his mouth tilts. “Maybe.”

We pass the turn to the street we live on and keep going. I desperately hope Deborah drives by and gets an eyeful of what her son is wearing.

Actually, she wouldn’t recognize him right now. She’d assume I’m having an affair, which, I’ve got to admit, is what this is starting to feel like.

There’s no way this is Nicholas. A thousand-year-old witch has hijacked his body.

Nicholas’s placid body language is freakish next to the apprehension seeping from my pores. I don’t know this car at all. I knew where everything was located in the Maserati, napkins and sunglasses and a mini bottle of Advil. For whatever reason I’m hung up on a bottle of sweet tea in the cup holder closest to the dashboard rather than the one close to the center console. That’s backward for him. Such a tiny detail, but it fascinates me. Why? Also, he never drinks cold tea. Only hot.

I tap the lid. “Whose is this?”


My jaw unhinges. He feels me gawping at him and can’t hold a smile back. He tries, though, sinking his teeth into his bottom lip.

There’s an umbrella on the floor I’ve never seen before. I open the console and find Tic Tacs, a case of old CDs, and a plastic fork from Jackie’s still in its wrapper. Jackie’s is a tiny hamburger place with no drive-thru and barely any sitting room, so customers have to walk inside and order their food to go. The only item on the menu worth a second look is the fries, but their fries are legendary. Hands down, best I’ve ever had, and we used to swing by and grab dinner there before heading to the drive-in to watch movies. I haven’t eaten Jackie’s in nearly a year, ever since Nicholas and I stopped being a perfect couple. It’s blasphemous that he’s still able to enjoy our favorite date food without me.

The cup holder not cradling anomalous tea is occupied with wadded-up mail, one envelope incorrectly addressed to both of us: Nicholas and Naomi Rose. I want to toss it out the window. His regular jacket is an ivory lump in the middle of the back seat, the same color as his flesh. It makes me think of the witch who shucked him from his skin and is wearing him like a bodysuit.

He just got this car and already there’s a full life he’s lived in here that I haven’t been part of. I don’t think I like it.

I repress a demand to know where we’re going. Outside my window the houses have stopped whirring by in dense packs and pare down to sparse flickers every quarter mile. Brown fields rear up taller and wilder. The sky is a white mist that stretches for eternity, unnaturally bright given that it’s evening. The road careens right, swallowing us up between walls of towering maple, scarlet leaves ablaze. We rumble over a potholed bridge and my teeth chatter.

This is it, then. He’s going to drive us both off a bridge. Voldemort and Harry Potter’s quandary pops into my head: Neither can live while the other survives.

Nicholas slows down and leans forward just a hair, paying close attention. I don’t even see the driveway until after we’ve made the turn, it’s so obscured by woods. Gravel crunches under the tires of Upside Down Nicholas’s car, leading us along a winding path to a house on a hill.

It’s surrounded by a forest of blue spruce and Eastern white pine, which I bet looks like a pretty Christmas wonderland when it snows. The front yard hasn’t been raked in a century, layers upon layers of dead maple leaves rising flush with a pile of chopped wood carefully stacked. There’s an ancient car with a tarp pulled over it, tires half sunk into the earth.

“That’ll be gone in a couple days,” Nicholas tells me when he sees what I’m looking at after we both exit the car. “He has to find someone with a hitch to help him haul it.”


I don’t think he hears me over the crunch of leaves underfoot. It’s firmly packed in some areas and loose in others, so I have to choose my steps wisely or I’ll break my ankle. I catch my balance on a little evergreen sapling. It’s a runt of a thing, malnourished and crooked.

“Aww.” I brush the needles. “It’s a Charlie Brown tree.”

He makes an indulgent sound. Hum. I want to pinch him. He’s doing that thing again, where he belittles what I’m saying even if I’m right.

“Before we go in,” he says, halting my stride with a hand on my sleeve,

“what do you think of it from the outside?”

“What?” I blink up at him.

His arm gestures to the house. I follow the swing. It’s … a house. Old, probably. Dark brown strips of horizontal wood and spring green shutters, one hanging crookedly. A deep front porch with tipsy steps illumined by the pinprick of a glowing doorbell. The chimney’s a column of lumpy round stones and the windows are the merry orange squares of a Tiffany lamp. A high tide of leaves swells up against the siding on the eastern wall, all the way up to a wide leaded glass window that must be the living room.

“It’s fine, I guess. Whose is it?”


Ours. It echoes. Insensible gibberish. Undeniably false.

I snap my fingers and freeze time. Wheel to face him dead-on. The creature inhabiting Nicholas’s body looks down at me with the most peculiar mixture of pleasure and solemnity, and I get the feeling he is wide, wide awake while I am just beginning to stir from my hibernation.

He’s skipped his contacts again, eyes sparking with intensity behind slate-gray frames. The ends of his hair curling out from his hat are so soft-looking, I almost want to touch but snatch my hand back because it feels too forward. He’s my fiancé, but not. I don’t know what we are. Who we are.

I unfreeze time and he smiles. “Welcome home.”


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