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You Deserve Each Other: Chapter 8

A Renaissance painting of us invents itself in midair, capturing my bafflement and Nicholas’s triumph. The second hand trickles at the slow drip of two million years, and then—

“What do you mean, ‘ours’?”

“I bought it.” His eyes never leave mine.





The world flips as Nicholas turns our mind game on its head. I’m lost. It makes no sense whatsoever that he would buy a house and expect me to move in. We’ve been fighting for custody of the squat white rental. We’ve been fighting to push the other one to wave a white flag and get lost forever.

“Are you malfunctioning?” he asks, mildly entertained.

He’s twelve steps ahead of me. He’s twelve steps above. Behind.

Everywhere. I don’t know where to turn and I don’t know what his objective is. He’s right, I’m malfunctioning. My circuit board is smoking.

I have a house.

No, I don’t. I hastily remind myself that I don’t have anything that’s part Nicholas. He doesn’t belong to me, so neither does this. He’s termite Midas. Everything he touches turns to rot.

The only lucid thing I can think to say is, “I take it you won the coin toss.”


“But.” Speech is not coming easily. My brain is continuously rejecting messages coming in from my eyes and ears as impossible. “A whole house?”

“I tried to buy half of one, but couldn’t find any that are gaping open on the side or missing a roof.”

I barely hear the joke. “How. Why. I don’t—”

“I bought it from one of the guys you work with. Leon. I ran into him a few days ago and got to talking about the sort of place I wanted to live in, and he told me about wanting to move out of the place he’s in now, and we realized we both wanted the same thing and could help each other. Turns out, he’s actually pretty cool. He let me play with his bow saw and we’ve got plans to build a couple of chairs.”

“Leon?” That’s what I’m stuck on right now. “You bought this house from Leon? Leon Duncan?”

He chuckles. “I’ll let him know you haven’t forgotten his last name yet.

He’ll be shocked.”

Great, they’ve been swapping stories about how rude I am. Maybe blanking on Leon’s last name is the reason he didn’t say a word to me about this all day. What a Judas.

“He knew this was the surprise and he let me think I was about to get murdered!”

“You really need to stop telling your coworkers I’m out to murder you.”

Irritation flits across his features. “Doesn’t give me a good rep.”

“We’ve never discussed the kind of house we’d buy together,” I sputter.

“I wasn’t involved here at all.”

“I wanted it to be a surprise.”

You wanted.”

He just stares, not getting it. “This isn’t the sort of surprise you spring on your fiancée! Couples do this shit together, Nicholas! One of them doesn’t go behind the other one’s back to do something of this magnitude.

First you get rid of your car and bring home that—that behemoth over there—” He’s laughing, which exasperates me even more, but I forge on:

“I’ve asked you where you’ve been. You’ve refused to tell me. Do you have any idea what that’s like?”

“Yeah!” he cries. “I do. I don’t know where you’ve been all year, Naomi. Your body’s here, but your head’s somewhere else. You’ve gone and left me all alone.”

If anyone’s been left alone, it’s me, fighting the War of the Roses all by myself. No way am I vaulting into that pool of lava, so I pick a milder topic to complain about instead. “We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

He shrugs. “So?”

I cast around for another complaint. What comes out of my mouth boggles even me. “I’ve always wanted a front door that’s painted purple.

The color of magic.”

“That’s a terrible reason to reject a house. Naomi, I bought us a house!

Take a beat here and let that sink in. How many of your friends can say their boyfriend bought them a house?”

1. He’s not my boyfriend, he’s my fiancé. (Sort of.) 2. He didn’t buy this house for me. He bought it for himself, without asking or wanting me to be a part of that process. Am I supposed to be grateful that he’s letting me tag along after he made all the decisions? If we’re supposed to spend our life together as equal partners, this doesn’t bode well.

3. My only real friend is Brandy, and at this moment in time she thinks I’m bleeding out in a ditch.

This is madness. I should go back to the white rental house now that he’s apparently living here, but I can’t give in yet. The war’s still on. He’s trying to pull the wool over my eyes, but I know we’ve simply relocated to a different battlefield. I’m not going to tell myself what I’ve been inwardly repeating for months now: It could be worse.

That’s what I’ve been doing. Justifying staying with him by reminding myself it could be worse. Look at her. Look at him. Look at those people.

They’re alone and have nobody. They’re in terrible relationships. They’re so unhappy. It could be worse. That could be me.

Except, it is me. I’ve been unhappy. “Okay,” he huffs. “Except for the front door, which isn’t purple, what do you think?”

Truthfully? There are a lot of dead, dirty leaves and it’s out in the middle of nowhere and I so badly want it to be mine. I barely registered there was a house here when we pulled up, but after hearing him say the word ours, it was like the lights of a stage washed over the scene and made it all so beautiful I could cry.

It’s the sort of place I’d like to settle down with my one true love—that is, somebody who isn’t Nicholas. I want Leon to take back the house and save it for me to buy myself someday when I’m in a relationship that’s loving and healthy. With a man I love at least eighty percent. Sharing it with Nicholas now will spoil it, the same way that some of my favorite movies we’ve watched together are now tainted, and so is the band we used to listen to together, Generationals. One of their songs was playing on the radio during our first kiss and after that, it became “our band.” We’ve even seen them in concert. Now I can barely stand to listen to their music without resurrecting a thousand unwelcome feelings.

This property will forever be known as the house my ex-fiancé bought without my participation. It’s the future Mrs. Rose’s house, not mine.

Which chafes a little.

“I don’t want to live here.”

He’s losing patience. “I don’t really care what you want, to be honest. I don’t like you again yet. But I’m going to. And you’re going to like me again, too. This house is going to save us.”

“Save us?” I don’t bother downplaying the ghastliness of his assertion.

“I thought we were trying to kill this thing?”

His expression is so scornful, I flinch. “Naomi, if the point were a meteor hurtling straight toward the earth with the power to destroy us all, you’d still miss it somehow.” He turns his back on me and marches determinedly inside the house. He’s going to be a mountain man, come whatever, and I’m just along for the ride.

I think I see his new angle. It’s even more disturbing than trying to get me to leave him.

It’s cheaper and easier to mold me into the kind of woman he can stomach marrying rather than break up with me. If he does, he’ll have to field a hundred surprise dates his mother sends him on to find the next broodmare contender.

My baby oven and I have been primed and vetted. I’m already familiar with his odious parents, who haven’t managed to run me off yet. A compartment of my brain reluctantly hosts a glossary of dental terminology. I tolerate his satanic ritual of removing a banana wholly from its peel and laying the banana on the bare table without a plate, touching everything with his fingers and setting it down between bites.

I’m an investment. If he pulls his stock now, he’ll bleed money and lost time all over the place. He’ll be starting over, two years of his youth down the drain. But I’ve got news for Nicholas Benjamin Rose: if he thinks I’m not the biggest waste of time that’s ever happened to him, he’s got another think coming.

For long moments, I merely stare at the part of the house that ate him up. Details I still haven’t noticed properly are swimming to the forefront for attention—the wooden roof shingles all bowing at their centers; the dingy welcome mat with a Scottie dog on it; the silhouette pacing behind the wide leaded window. He wanted nature? He’s got it. English ivy swarms the chimney, trying to work its way down inside the house. The air is fresh and crisp. I don’t hear any traffic, any sound of human civilization.

The house he’s bought on his own, guaranteeing it will never feel like ours, sits up on a crest between two gently sloping valleys, and I think he’s picked a hell of a hill to die on. We’ll both be buried here. Our ghosts will haunt it, torturing each other and any misguided home buyers hoping for a country experience.

I’m still trying to orchestrate plan A, and Nicholas is subverting my efforts with plan C. Only one of us can win, but I’m no longer certain what the winner keeps and what they lose.

My favorite thing about the house that’s mine but not mine is that it’s dim and small and cozy, which doesn’t sound appealing when I put it that way, but each room has a very particular feel to it, which makes my imagination go bonkers.

The living room is exactly where you’d want to relax in a comfy armchair with grandchildren strewn at your feet in a semicircle as you read them old stories of faraway lands. Swashbuckling pirates and flying trains, masked bandits and elvish royalty. The books are leather-bound, spines crackling in your aging hands. You sit quietly in front of a flickering fire with your soul mate as raindrops patter the glass, more contented than a cat stretched out on a windowsill.

The living room is where your grandchildren’s fondest memories of you will be born, and that’s where they’ll always picture you long after you’re gone. Every time they smell wood smoke or hot chocolate, it will pull them back in time to the sound of your voice rising and falling like a melody as you read to them.

“What do you think?” Nicholas asks.

“Hmm.” I saunter past him into the kitchen, dissolving him with my mind powers so I can take it all in without his hovering.

The kitchen is airy and light, with exposed wood beams traversing the ceiling. Copper pots and pans and watering cans dangle from them like wind chimes. Green explosions of ivy burst from planters. The fragrance of freshly baked bread and sun-kissed linens on a clothesline perfume the air. In the summer, this is where you bite into a blackberry and feel the ripe flavors rupture on your tongue. In the spring, you lean over the sink and water the tulips kept in the window planter.

A kitchen witch lives here. She keeps a cauldron in the hearth and lays bundles of dried herbs across the overhead beams. There’s a scrubbed wooden table and mismatched chairs painted all the colors of St. Basil’s Cathedral. Toenails of the family dog go clack-clack-clack on the pine floors and everything about this room makes your heart lift into a smile.

“Doesn’t come with any appliances,” Nicholas says, “but that’s fine.” I stop walking and he accidentally bumps into me from behind. “Whoops.


“You wanna give me some space?”

“Well, you’re not saying anything.”

“I’m talking to myself right now. Give us a minute.”

It’s his turn to mutter “Hmm.” I’m glad when he ducks into the (one and only) bathroom, giving me a break from him.

The drawing room contains three tall, magnificent windows facing the woods out back. The yard beyond grades steeply, providing an excellent view of a pond with a long dock. This is the best room for stargazing. You part the luxurious red velvet curtains and watch a sickle moon arc over the forest, reflecting off the pond. This is where you keep your Christmas tree and a family of nutcrackers on the mantel. The walls are papered in midnight blue with silver foil stars and birch trees. Everything washes gold when the fire’s lit.

A replica of Grand Central Station’s clock is mounted to the newel post of the stairway right outside the drawing room, and in the middle of the night when you pad through the hushed house to curl up in a rocking chair on a thick woven rug, you pass the glowing face of the clock and hear its hands tick. The world is quiet save for the ticking of that clock, and the soft snores of your one true love sleeping upstairs, the rustling toss-and-turn of your small children, and the whispering of branches in the forest.




I can envision all of it so vividly and I want it. I want it bad.

Nicholas enters the drawing room while I’m mentally placing where my stash of sugar cookie and peppermint candles would go and jars me out of my own little world with his voice. “I think I’ll take this room for my office.” He spreads his fingers at the bank of glittering windows. “I’ll put a big-screen TV right there, so I won’t have to divide my time between working and watching football.”

The nutcrackers in my fantasy topple off the mantel and into the fire.


“What?” He does a double take at me, then the mantel, which was where my gaze had been fixated. “You don’t like the fireplaces? I figured that’d be one of your favorite parts. There’s forced air, too. We won’t need to light an actual fire to get heat if we don’t want to.”

“The fireplaces are fine,” I reply blandly. I’m surprised my nose doesn’t shoot across the room like Pinocchio. I love those fireplaces more than my blood relatives. I want to nail two mother- and father-sized Christmas stockings over them, next to two child-sized ones. I want to buy a flock of flameless candles and take three hours tediously arranging them just so while a pained Nicholas looks on.

Nicholas studies me, and whatever he sees in my face makes his eyes soften. “Come upstairs?”

“Sure, whatever.”

There are three bedrooms upstairs, largely the same in size and layout.

Plain walls, wood floors. The center one’s half a foot narrower than the other two, and a lightbulb goes off in my brain before I can smash it: Nursery.

I’ll never forgive myself for the thought.

“Which room’s mine?” I ask, mostly to provoke him. He’s seen the whole house before, so he doesn’t look at any of it now, keeping his focus pinned on my every reaction. It’s why I’m straining not to react: I can’t let him see how much I love this place. When I enter a room, I think it’s all right. By the time I’m walking out of it, it’s become the best room I’ve ever seen. I’m going to be devastated when I inevitably have to leave. I’ve been living in that white rental all this time like a total idiot.

“Take your pick.”

I can’t discern by his tone whether he’s agreeing to sleep in separate bedrooms. I haven’t slept in our bed since the coin toss, and I’m not about to change that now. I don’t know what would be worse: sleeping with him when I’m trying so hard to push him away, or making a move on him and then having him reject me because he’s trying to push me away. I’m still confused about Nicholas’s endgame here. His strategy’s fuzzy.

“A house like this is full of stories. It should have a name.”

He gives me a delighted smile. “Name it.”

Wind batters the roof like we’re in the eye of a tornado. We’re so far removed from everything we’ve experienced as a couple. I shouldn’t love it. We’re Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s ghosts, marooned in the wilds of Morris. I blurt out the one thing I can think of. “Disaster.”

His smile slips. “I’m not living in a house called Disaster. That’s inviting bad luck.”

“Buddy, we’ve got that already.”

He sighs through his nose, a trait he picked up from Harold. I used to think all of his little mannerisms were cute until I saw the broader template they were cut and pasted from. Watching Nicholas push his drinking glass three inches to the right of his dinner plate stops being adorably quirky after you’ve seen his mother do it. Being acquainted with Deborah has killed so much of what I loved about her son.

“I’m getting a U-Haul over here tomorrow.”


“That’s right.” He looks so pleased with himself.

I think he’s testing me. Trying to break me, maybe, with all these unexpected changes happening at once. I decide to test him, too. “And if I don’t want to move?”

“The U-Haul place is closed on Sundays, but if you want to rent a truck for Monday, be my guest. Until then, all our stuff’s coming here.”

There’s that misleading word again— our.

Unfortunately, neither of us held on to much of our belongings from our single days. My old furniture is long gone, as well as his. We’d wanted to pick out everything together for our joint life, test-driving every couch at Furniture Outlet and bouncing on mattresses until we found The One.

There are exceptions, like his desk and my toaster, but by and large our collection was curated as a couple. It’ll be a bitch to divvy it up.

I can’t afford to replace these possessions. He can. Or could, anyway. I don’t know what the situation is now that he’s bought a fricking house.

“And if I stay?” I prompt. “Do I get my name on the deed, too? Or is this the place you’ll share with whichever woman you happen to be with? There’s no guarantee you won’t toss me out in a month.”

“This house is ours, Naomi. Why would I toss you out?”

“Why wouldn’t you? I would, if I were in your shoes. I’d leave you at the old house and say adios.”

Nicholas glares at me. He turns and stomps down the stairs. I’m still standing in the bedroom when he stomps back up, complexion a shade redder. “If you want to stay at the old house, fine. I’m not going to force you to come live here. But I know the Junk Yard’s closing. Leon told me.

So good luck paying your rent without me, sweetheart.”

“I don’t want your money. I’d rather sell my own liver. I’d rather work at one of the brothels your dad used to go to before your mom melted his brain with Dr. Oz supplements.”

It’s a kill shot, but he raises a laugh like a shield and my blow glances right off. “Am I supposed to be shocked? I’ve known about that for years.”

It’s inane, but I’m mad he knew about this and didn’t tell me. It’s such a juicy tidbit to hog all to himself. I’m supposed to be his fiancée! He should share these humiliating stories about his parents with me.

“You’re the reason we’re still living in Morris,” he rants. “If it weren’t for your ludicrous attachment to a gas station gift shop trying to be Ripley’s Believe It or Not, I would’ve accepted that job offer in June.

Bigger city, better pay. More opportunities for both of us. But no-o-o, you didn’t want to move. You said your minimum-wage job was every bit as important as mine. Outright refused to even consider moving. Made me give up what is basically my dream job, so now I’m stuck out here forever.

I knew at the time that the Junk Yard was dying, and I was throwing everything away over you. Well, now you’re going to throw away something for me, too. You’re going to throw away a little bit of your pride and give this house a chance for one goddamn minute before making a decision about whether you want to stay or leave. You will at least give me that.”

The last string of civilized feeling between us snaps.

“So you’ve been pissed off since June about not taking that job, then,” I shoot back. “I’d only been working at the Junk Yard since February and I was just starting to feel settled into my new routine. I loved my job. Why should I be the one to sacrifice?”

He’s breathing fire. “Why should I?”

“I don’t get what you’re doing.” I throw my arms up. “Why’d you bring me here?”

“I thought this would be a nice surprise. I thought you’d love it. Just like with the flowers you complained I never get for you. But then when I do get you flowers, you SET THEM ON FIRE.”

“That’s ancient history! How dare you bring that up. You already admitted you don’t care what I want.”

He lets out a savage, animalistic roar and stomps back down the stairs again. I hear him banging doors and nearly yell at him not to bang the beautiful doors in my beautiful new house. “Let’s go!” he calls up after a few minutes. “We have to go get your car! What the fuck do you want for dinner?”

“I fucking want pizza!” I holler. I’ve wanted some since the son of a bitch got it delivered.

“Fine! I’ve got a fucking coupon for Benigno’s, anyway!”

“Great! I fucking love Benigno’s!”

We pile into his car as angrily as we can muster and don’t speak until we’re inside the pizza parlor. When a lady comes over to seat us, a different Naomi and a different Nicholas smile our in-front-of-other-people smiles and our tone is so calm it’s scary, but our insides are boiling.

When I’m in the bathroom, he orders me a Dr Pepper, which he knows is my favorite.

Before we leave, I wipe all the crumbs and used napkins from the table onto our plates and stack them, which I know he appreciates because he tries to be helpful to the busboys.

When we get back out to the car, we plot how to ruin each other’s lives.

I don’t know how Nicholas can expect me to take him seriously.

I mean.

It’s just.

A pop of laughter bursts in my mouth before I can swallow it.

I woke up to three strange men in my living room this morning and squawked, flailing to cover myself, but luckily a blanket had found its way over me while I was asleep on the couch and no one saw my bare legs in boy shorts. When I stood up, I kept the blanket wrapped around me and almost tripped over it, yelping when Nicholas gave me an unexpectedly playful swat on the bottom to get me moving.

“Hurry up!” he said cheerfully. “Got lots to do today!”

That was hours ago, and I still don’t know what mood I’m supposed to be in. Moving has been a real bitch, and I’m avoiding helping as much as I can. Lots of time has been spent hiding in the bathroom, pretending it takes ten minutes to change a tampon. After my third faked tampon run in an hour, I emerge to find that Nicholas has made a daring wardrobe change. When he sees the evil smile on my face, his expression gets prickly and defensive, but I can’t be held accountable here.

Nicholas is wearing this ridiculously baggy … I don’t even know what to call it. Coveralls? He’s head-to-toe khaki, which he must be loving, and his brand-new work boots probably weigh twenty pounds each. I think he’s going for hale, rough-hewn man of the wilderness, but instead he looks like a Ghostbuster.

The plaid hat with earflaps is back, even though he must be hot what with all the refrigerator lifting and shelf maneuvering and anything else I’m pretending I wouldn’t be any good at because I’m a fragile-boned female whose delicate knees buckle from carrying a box of tissues. If he wants to buy a house without my help, he can very well move everything into it without my help. I think he’s waiting for me to throw that in his face, which is why he bites his tongue whenever he sees me sitting down, doing nothing.

This new look is unnatural on Nicholas. He’s trying so hard to fight his own genes, bless him.

No matter what he wears to disguise it, Nicholas was bred to host balls at Pemberley. He’s got an aristocratic, pretty-boy face, all sharp angles and quiet allure with pale skin, delicately disheveled dark chocolate hair, and a widow’s peak. His gaze should be wicked to reflect the type of man lurking beneath, but instead it projects wide-eyed innocence, an inborn predatory trait to allow the wolf to roam among sheep undetected.

The architecture of his face is intriguing when he smiles: skin stretching over enviable cheekbones with hollows carved beneath, making him look like he’s perpetually sucking in his cheeks. It’s a pouty, prissy sort of beauty that screams drape me over a leather chaise to contemplate ennui.

The idea of him strutting into a forest to chop firewood makes me choke.

Rugged, this man is not.

“Are you Nicholas’s evil twin?” I ask. “Or are you the good one?”

He scowls.

“Seriously, why are you dressed like that?”

“Shh.” He glances at the doorway to the adjacent room where the movers are loading up the washer and dryer onto dolly carts. Their work boots are scuffed and dirty, whereas Nicholas’s gleaming kicks emit a fresh-from-the-box chemical odor. “Can you just be cool? God.”

“Nope. Are you trying to impress those guys or something?”

He changes the subject before the cool kids hear us. “Why do you keep running into the bathroom?”

I waffle between two disgusting possibilities, trying to decide which he’d find more repulsive. “Period stuff.”

He looks skeptical.

“Do you want details? If you prefer, I won’t flush next time and you can see for yourself what I’m doing in there.”

“What is wrong with you?”

“You. You’re what’s wrong with me.”

He stalks off and I’m feeling pretty great, I have to say. One of the movers clomps heavily my way and I rethink my strategy to slink off to a hidey-hole. The air is buzzing with testosterone, and I’m starved for a hit of it. Have I mentioned how excellent it is to have professional manly men come do physical labor right in front of you? Strapping men with sun damage and large, coarse hands and veiny forearms with hair. One’s got a tattoo on his leathery bicep of a pinup girl reclining on the hood of a convertible.

Supervising is a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. I stand in positions where their lifting, bending, and groaning is most advantageous, watching their muscles bulge and strain. Back muscles! Who knew there could be so many muscles in a person’s back? I do now. Forget Tinder; after Nicholas throws in the towel I’m going to hire a batch of movers and find my next boyfriend that way.

Nicholas has a nice body. It’s elegant and toned—the sort of body you could see mastering a piano as well as running across a rugby field.

Currently, I’m not privileged enough to enjoy the benefits of his nice, elegant body, so men who were not previously my type are all hot to me now. I’m in a bad way. Boulder-size men with ZZ Top beards and face tattoos. Balding mad scientists. Count Chocula. The silhouette from Mad Men’s credits. If this drought goes on any longer I’ll be lusting after the featureless figure on men’s restroom signs.

I watch one of the men with a little too much interest and feel the heat of Nicholas’s glower. I clear my throat and excuse myself from the room.

Later, he tracks me down and throws dirty looks in my direction until I give in and sigh. “What?”

“Could you be a little less conspicuous, please? How would you feel if you saw me ogling other women?”

I assume he ogles other women on the daily. I know they ogle him.

“I wasn’t ogling anyone. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He rolls his eyes. “Please. I’ve never seen a human go so long without blinking.”

“I was … observing,” I say primly. “Don’t make something out of nothing. Anyway, no one could blame me even if I was looking, which I wasn’t. It feels like it’s been forever since I’ve gotten properly laid by someone who wants it.”

Nicholas’s mouth is a thin line. His stare is unwavering. I start to get a little apprehensive and break the silence with another “What?”

His shake of the head is curt. “Nothing.”

Nicholas is lying. When he says Nothing, what he really means is I need time to come up with something devastating to say.

I’m all braced for it after the movers have left and we’re standing outside our new house that’s actually his house, which I’m still calling Disaster.

I’m watering the Charlie Brown tree because I have love to give and nowhere meaningful to dump it. This tree needs me. I’ll feed him and sweep away his dead needles and he’ll grow to be the best and biggest tree in the yard. He’ll give pollination-birth to a hundred new trees, which I’ll string with tinsel. He’ll be the patriarch and general of my new tree army.

His name is Jason. Right now he’s my number one priority on this earth.

Nicholas watches me closely as I pat Jason and murmur affirmations.

I’ve heard from science that it helps the plants if you talk to them.

When I’m certain Jason is taken care of, I march up to the house. I haven’t even taken off my shoes when Nicholas starts in on me.

“There’s a difference between being needed and wanted. In some things, I like to be needed. With sex, I need to be wanted. I can’t be just some guy in your bed getting the job done. I’m not having disconnected, going- through-the-motions sex with you. Not you. You’re supposed to be the person I connect with the most deeply.”

“We do connect.” Oh god, is that my voice? I sound so blah. My lying skills are taking a beating from all the brutal honesty we’ve been engaging in the past few days.

“You stopped seeing me, Naomi. You stopped wanting me. You’re going to figure out one of these days that I can tell when you’re starting to disassociate, and it’s the most heartbreaking experience I’ve ever had. It’s nonstop. It keeps on happening. I try to bring you back to me every time you go to leave, off into your own head where I’m not allowed.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I feel deeply uncomfortable, and the intensity with which he’s speaking makes my skin burn hot.

Nicholas continues as though I never interrupted. “I can’t be intimate with you when you disassociate because I can’t let that become our new normal. But being distant from you as punishment for being distant from me doesn’t seem to motivate you to change. So I don’t know where that leaves us. All I know is that it’s a bad idea to fulfill your physical needs if you won’t fulfill my emotional ones.”

I’m not going anywhere near the subject of emotional needs. I cross my arms and rush straight to the defensive. “Motivate me to change how?

What exactly would you like for me to change about myself, Nicholas?”

I can see he’s shutting down. Of course, now that he’s said his piece he wants to turn tail and flee, but I’m not letting him.

“I just want you to care about me,” he implores, gesturing with both hands to the space between us. “I want you to listen. I want you to give a shit about my feelings.”

Guilt knocks at my door, one single tap, before I remember what we were originally arguing about: Him going behind my back to buy a house.

Him low-key resenting me because he didn’t take a job offer in Madison, assuming it was a no-brainer that I give up my job here in deference to his superior profession and superior goals. Him showering his heinous mother with gifts while neglecting me, and never taking my job or my friends seriously, and not standing up for me when his friends and family belittle me. This man gazing into my eyes with such torment, who looks so genuinely aggrieved, has been pushing me to leave him for months.

He’s reframed the dialogue to make me the bad guy, and I almost tripped and fell for it.

“Two can play it that way,” I hiss. “You think there aren’t any changes I’d make to you?”

He flinches. “What changes?”

“Figure it out,” I say, turning and heading up the stairs to the right-hand bedroom. I’ve given him the box spring and directed the mattress to what will be my bedroom for the duration of my visit. “You have until January twenty-sixth.”


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