Part 2 (1/2)

Her boss, Mindy, was very relaxed. She didnat care if they worked from home or in the office as long as they got their stuff done. Maggie went in all the same, afraid that too much time at home alone would make her depressed, or that shead watch nine hours of television every day and eat the entire contents of her cabinets by lunch.

Maggie enjoyed the job mostly, but some days when she sat around a table with those other bright, creative people, she thought for a moment or two of how they all dreamed of being somewhere else.

Other than her mother, no one in her family mentioned it when she published a short story in a literary journal, even if she told them about it in advance. But when they saw her name in the credits for Till Death, theyad call her immediately.

Her stepmother had been the last to call, breathless with excitement: aI just saw the one where the woman shoots the husband after she sees his Visa bill, and it turns out he wasnat even cheating. He really was sending all those flowers to her, but the florist got the address wrong. The poor guy! Your father says to tell you that thanks to you heas never buying me roses again.a On the weekends, Maggie worked from home, trying to finish her novel, and occasionally writing other peopleas online dating profiles for extra money. She had written one for a friend as a favor a year earlier, and then that friendas sister had asked her to do one, and then a co-worker of hers.

aYou could actually make some mad cash on this,a Gabe had said to her once, and she had told him to stop being crazy.

But she kept getting offers, and had even been asked by a friend at New York magazine to write a step-by-step guide to the perfect profile. (She had declined, as few things seemed more mortifying than being known as an authority on online dating.) Maggie had briefly joined Match.com before meeting Gabe. She went on four or five dates, but every one of them felt artificial, as if she and the guy were two characters going out to dinner in a play. Maggie could never remember their real names and thought of them exclusively by their screen namesa”they were always WarmLover10 or BookNerdSeeksSame, instead of Alex or Dave. And she quickly tired of translating their profiles: A guy who said he was six foot two was most likely five foot eight. If a guy actually claimed to be five-eight, it meant he was four and a half feet tall.

Now the door to the apartment opened and shut with a slam: the unmistakable sound of Cunningham arriving home. She cringed, wis.h.i.+ng she had gone into the bedroom so she wouldnat have to talk to him.

Maggie heard Gabe turning off the water in the shower. She was grateful at least that she wouldnat have to be alone with Cunningham for long.

aHey there,a he said. aWhatas happening, lady?a aJust hanging out,a she said.

aI thought you guys left for Maine already,a he said.

aNope. Tomorrow.a aCool cool. So, whatas the word?a aNot much,a she said, always unsure of how to answer that particular question. aHowas Shauna?a Her reliable fallback.

aSheas okay,a he said. aShe took a new nursing job in Westport.a aBut I thought she was moving here soon. Sheas going to commute to Westport from New York?a He shook his head. aNo maaam, and thank G.o.d for that. Iam not ready to give up our bachelor pad yet.a She started to say more, but Gabe appeared then, wrapped in a towel from the waist down.

aWhat up, my man!a he said, giving Cunningham a high five.

aHoney, Ben says Shauna got a new job in Connecticut,a she said, feeling her words heavy with implication.

aYeah? Good for her.a She tried again. aShaunaas not moving to New York then.a Gabe walked into the bedroom, and she followed behind. She closed the door. Her chest tightening, she said, aGabe, please tell me that youave already told him Iam moving in.a aKeep your voice down,a he whispered.

aYou havenat told him yet,a she said, weighing in her head whether this was simply bad or worse than that.

aI wanted to wait until after Maine to talk to you about this whole living together idea,a he said. aDo you really think weare ready?a She sat down on the bed. Heartburn rumbled up into her throat.

She pulled a couple of Tums from her purse on the floor and chewed them slowly. She wanted to tell him she was pregnant, then and there, but she knew she could say it only once and the moment needed to be perfect. Instead she said, aYou asked me to move in.a aWhoa,a he said. aAll I said was I had been thinking about it, and then you ran with the idea.a She breathed in deeply. aPlease tell me this isnat happening,a she said.

aBabe, chill out. You havenat given your landlord notice yet, right?a aRight. But Jesus, Gabe, I was just about to.a She wished that she already had.

aBut you didnat! So we live apart one more year. Whatas the big deal?a The big deal is that Iave already told everyone I knowa”every person at work, every friend, both my parents. Iave already started redecorating this G.o.dd.a.m.n apartment in my head, and told Allegraas cousin that she can have my place as of August first. The big deal is that in seven months, Iall be giving birth to your child.

aI donat understand,a she said. aWeave been talking about it all the time.a aYouave been talking,a he said. aI didnat want to ruin our vacation, but when I talked to Cunningham about it, he said he wasnat ready to move out yet, and I canat abandon him. Hey, youare always telling me to follow through on my commitments, right?a He could not follow through on finding steady work or taking care of her when she got sick as he had promised, but she was supposed to be dazzled by the fact that he felt compelled to keep living with Ben.

aSo Cunningham knew I wasnat moving in before I knew it,a she said.

Anger filled her, anger that she knew would turn to sadness and fear as soon as Gabe was out of her sight, and for that reason she wanted to fix this, to make some sense of it.

aI have my own place. Maybe you should come live at my apartment. Or we can find a brand-new place, and Cunningham can get a roommate off Craigslist,a she said.

aA total stranger?a Gabe said, as if most everyone in New York didnat live with total strangers. aWhy do you want to live together so bad anyway? Whatas the difference between that and what we have now?a Because Iam thirty-two years old. Because my cousin Patty is the same age and already has three kids and a house. Because I want to know when you come in at night. Because I love you.

aYouare the one who suggested it in the first place,a she said.

aI thought thatas what you wanted.a aIt was!a aBut itas not really what I want. I feel like a big part of the reason you want to live together is just to keep tabs.a She shook her head. Was this really happening?

ad.a.m.n right,a she said. aI thought maybe the possibility of living together meant youad stop being such a liar, but I guess I was wrong.a aGuess so,a he said. aHey, this time you didnat even need to go through my e-mail to find out.a She knew all her snooping was wrong, though it never felt wrong when she did it. It gave her a weird high, looking at his e-mails while he was in the shower or out for a run. Maggie told herself that she only wanted proofa”just oncea”that Gabe wasnat doing anything inappropriate. But shead always find something: acknowledgment that he had lied about where he was, or an overly friendly e-mail exchange with an ex. And then she would be devastated and unable to explain her sudden sorrow to Gabe.

aLike Ronald Reagan said, trust but verify,a she had told Allegra once to explain why she checked up on him this way, and Allegra had widened her eyes: aJesus, weare getting our moral relativism from Reagan now?a He was still wearing the towel. He let it drop to the floor and pulled on a pair of boxers and jeans.

aWeare done,a he said. aIam gonna go watch the game. Come out if you want.a aYouare gonna watch the game,a she said, feeling suddenly hysterical. aYouare going to watch the f.u.c.king game? I donat think so.a aI hate fighting like this,a he said. aI canat stand it.a aWe havenat fought like this in a long time,a she said, getting to her feet.

aYeah, because you got what you wanted,a he said.

aI thought it was what we both wanted.a aLook, you donat trust me,a he said. aThatas what this living together thing is really about. Maybe this needs to be over. Maybe we should take a break.a aA break?a She felt desperate. She wondered if there was someone else. aAre you kidding me?a aNope, starting now. So weare not together at the moment, and Iam gonna go watch the Yankees.a aG.o.d, youare horrible, Gabe. Youare so selfish.a aIf Iam so horrible, why donat you f.u.c.king leave?a he said.

aNo,a she said. aIam not leaving. Jesus. Letas calm down. We need to talk about this.a Sometimes this sort of fighta”the sort where she accused him of lying, and he got all hot and indignant over the accusation, even though he had, in fact, lieda”could fade quickly. But not today: He left the bedroom, and she trailed behind him into the kitchen. He screamed at her to go. She refused, and they were shouting louder and louder, until he actually grabbed her by the shoulders and shoved her toward the door leading to the outside hall.

aGabe, let go of me,a she gasped, her heart pounding. She thought of the baby. She wondered where Cunningham was hiding, that coward. Gabeas hands were too tight on her. She recalled the tender way he had touched her an hour before. Their most brutal fights always came on like this; quick, unexpected, and fierce.

aI donat want you here,a he said.

aToo bad. Thereas something I have to tell you. We need to talk.a aI donat need to do anything. This is my place. Now go.a aGabea”if you wonat talk to me now, then itas over,a she said, terrified.

aItas over,a he said. He let the door close, and she stood alone in the hallway for a moment. Then he reemerged, and her heart soared pathetically until she noticed the suitcase in his hand, her aunt Ann Marieas old Louis Vuitton. She thought of how all of this misery was their own constructiona”there was nothing stopping them from ending it now if they really wanted to, just going back inside and watching some baseball, and being happy, making a family together, making a life. And yet.

aHave a great trip,a he said, putting the suitcase on the ground at her feet and letting the door slam.

An old familiar feeling washed over her, the one shead get every time they had a fight and she walked out of his apartment, slamming the door behind her; or every time she gave him an ultimatum that he brushed aside by telling her to leave. The act of leaving felt empowering.

But then shead stand in the lobby of his building for ten minutes, make circles around his block for twenty, hoping head come after her, feeling the weight of her gesture, her penchant for the proud and the dramatic s.c.r.e.w.i.n.g her as usual.

aYouave got moxie, b.u.t.terfly,a her grandfather used to tell her when she was a teenager.

Yeah, well. In the end, moxie always seemed to come back and bite you in the a.s.s.

Kathleen.

Kathleen woke to the synchronized impact of a fat, speckled tongue running over her nose and a heavy weight pressing down against her right thigh.

aGet off me, you savages,a she said, opening her eyes. They kept at it, the tongue now s...o...b..ring across her chin, leaving behind a trail of drool. Kathleen wiped it away.

aOkay, Iam up.a Mack and Mabel were full-grown German shepherds. He weighed eighty-two pounds, she weighed sixty-eight. But they danced about the bed like a couple of puppies, scratching her bare arms, mussing up the sheets.

aCool it, you two,a she said in a fake stern voice. When it came to business matters she could be tough, but she had never had a knack for discipline, not with Maggie and Chris, and not with her dogs.

They calmed down after a bit, lying side by side in the now empty spot where Arlo slept. It was Sunday, but he had left at the crack of dawn to give an eight oaclock presentation to a townas worth of Junior Girl Scouts in Paradise Pines, two and a half hours north.

Mack and Mabel panted, despite the fact that the room was cool, a swivel fan aimed toward the bed. Kathleen felt momentarily sad. She had rescued them when they were days old, from a litter of pups someone found abandoned on the side of Route 128. What kind of person would do that? To this day, she couldnat fathom it. Now her babies were somehow fourteen years old and completely worn out from a few minutesa worth of play.

She rolled over and burrowed into Mack, who burrowed into Mabel, for a sort of three-way spoon. This was how they had slept every night before she met Arlo. When he came along, he insisted the dogs sleep at the far end of the bed or, preferably, on the floor. Which explained why Mack still snubbed him, even ten years later.