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The Interview: Chapter 39

MIMI

“I never liked the opera anyway,” Whit murmurs as he traces a lock of hair across my back.

“Was it supposed to be part of the Julia Roberts’s experience?” I say, not quite able to lift my head. Orgasm number three has taken the strength from my limbs as I lie on my front, one arm under my pillow, the other dangling from the edge of the bed.

“Yeah, I suppose so, though the opera was Beckett’s suggestion. He got me the tickets to Madame Butterfly in the opera house that inspired Phantom of the Opera, apparently.”

“Nice.”

“I’m just not that cultured,” he says with a chuckle.

“You’re more a couple of pints down the boozer with your brothers?”

He chuckles. “I’d say I’m more the stay-at-home type, the type to adore his beautiful girlfriend.” My head is awash of thoughts. Pleasure at hearing such a small thing. Worry of all the things I haven’t told him. Secrets I’ll have to share now. And that’s when my worries will become his. Like he doesn’t have enough on his plate right now. Like his heart isn’t already stretched to capacity.

“We can term it some other way if you don’t like the sound of being my girlfriend.”

I chuckle because there was no insecurity in that offer.

“A girlfriend by any other name is just as sweet?”

“There is no one sweeter than you.” The bed dips with his weight as he drops closer and slides his mouth over the back of my neck. As though that’s not close enough for his satisfaction, he hooks his arms around my waist, pulling me into him, the big spoon to my smaller one. We lie quiet for a beat, just satisfied to be near, but when he begins to speak again, my eyes make puddles on the pillow.

“I know there are probably things you need to tell me, and that’s okay. I’m here when you’re ready, okay?” His lips brush my shoulder as light as a butterfly’s wing. “Whatever it is, we’ll face it together. I’m in your corner now, darling.”

How will I ever survive this? Wanting Whit. Will it ever go away? I don’t think so because haven’t I always loved him? Loved him without realizing, without him knowing what it really meant. It’s like he knows me better than I know myself. My love for him feels clean and untouched by worry and fear. By anxiety. It feels like that stuff is all separate, like it can’t touch me. I don’t know how he does it. I don’t know how he makes me feel so free because most of the time I’m just pretending. Faking it until I make it. Going through the motions until I have to face the inevitable.

Make it. The thought is a scathing voice in my head. A mutter from my subconscious. I have to make it because the alternative is just like the saying goes: a fate worse than death.

If there is a fate worse than death, I think as I reach for the diamond pendant around my neck, it would been missing this. Missing my chance to love Whit.


“Maybe we should go to the Amalfi coast next,” Whit suggests, taking the bag from my hand. That’s the bag he packed for me without telling me. “I’ll take a few days’ vacation, and we won’t be so rushed.”

“We don’t need to go anywhere. I still have so much of London to discover, not to mention the rest of England, Wales, and Bonny Scotland. And I still need to go back to Florida.” His brow draws down, his expression darkening. “We’ll talk about it later,” I say, reaching for the bag, though his hand just tightens around it. “I have a thing I need to be back for.” I release a worried breath, my words spilling like fast-flowing tears. “Can we talk about it when we get back?”

He waves off Jacques’s tentative offer of help as he throws both back into the trunk of the Mercedes. He pivots to face me, taking my shoulders in his hands. “Of course,” he murmurs, pressing his lips to my head. “Whenever you’re ready.”

It’s not like I want to confess to this ridiculousness. It’s not like I want to admit that the Mimi he knows and loves is not who she seems to be. But the truth should come out sooner rather than later. It looks like today I’ll be ripping off this emotional Band-Aid.

The roads in Paris are quieter on Sunday mornings, and it isn’t too long before we’re back at the private airport terminal.

“Should we have bought a gift for your mom?” I ask as the thought suddenly occurs to me. It’s a little too late, considering we’re already making our way across the tarmac.

Whit just chuckles and tightens his grip on my hand. “She doesn’t even know we’re here.”

“Really.”

He slides me a look. “We are adults, you know.”

I make an uncomfortable gesture. “Old habits die hard.”

“Well, it’s time to make new ones,” he returns, kissing the back of my hand. “Anyway, it serves Polly right for pushing me in the bloody Serpentine.”

“She was just trying to help,” I say doubtfully. If she’d pushed me in, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because I’d be dead. The water was so cold.

“She’s going to gloat, you know. Say this is all her doing, you and me, I mean. She’ll say that she pushed me in the boating lake, that you appreciated my entry in the wet T-shirt contest and fell for me on the spot.”

“As explanations go, I think we could do worse.”

Whit angles a puzzled look my way.

“You want to tell people how we really got together?”

“Yeah. I’ll tell them you were relentless in your pursuit of me.”

“Would that be before you fingered me?”

His feet halt, and he sucks in a sharp breath. “Mimi Valente, you little hussy!

“I was about to say you’ve rubbed off on me, but I guess I already did.”

His delighted chuckle follows me all the way up the steps.

“I have news,” he announces happily a few minutes later as he slides into the cream leather seat opposite mine. “Jody just had the babies. Polly sent me a text.”

“Oh.” My heart melts a little at the news. Babies are such a blessing, as my mother always says. “And everything went okay?”

“I think so. Polly sounded pretty ecstatic, so I imagine they have ten fingers and ten toes apiece. I’m just waiting to see where her mind goes from here.”

“Gosh, Whit. She’s only just had her babies. She won’t be thinking about coming back to work.”

“I wasn’t talking about Jody,” he scoffs. “I was talking about Polly and her granny lust. Jody’s husband is from up north somewhere,” he adds contemplatively as he fastens his seat belt. “I’m banking on his parents not being around so much. Which, in turn, will give Polly a foot in the door. Everyone loves pseudo granny. She’ll be another willing pair of hands. Because the alternative,” he says, fixing me with a look, “isn’t pretty. Especially when we tell her we’re together.

“Polly is a granny without grandchildren. I am her eldest son, and you are my girlfriend and she loves you, so don’t think it’ll be just me she makes puppy dog eyes at.”

“But you don’t want children.”

“I never said that.” His reply bypasses my brain and drops to my stomach like a lead weight.

“But you never wanted a girlfriend.”

“I never said that I wasn’t interested in settling down, just that I wasn’t making much effort to.” His mouth twists humorously. “There you go sprinkling glitter on red flags again.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about?”

“What kind of thirty-six-year-old man says he has no interest in settling down? Not everyone wants kids, but everyone wants to be loved, don’t they?”

I didn’t set out to be loved by Whit. I should have allowed it. Just a few moments ago, I was basking in his attention, feeling happy and lucky and all kinds of blessed. Terrified too, because of the things I have to confess. But I told myself it was worth it. More than that, I told myself to be worthy of him. There was no other way. And now I’m looking at him and wondering if my chance is about to slip away. Wondering if I’m brave enough to ask him.

“I know it’s early in our relationship, but do you want kids?”

I’m not the girl for him. It was good to fool myself for a little while.

My heart suddenly breaks. It’s not a misfiring of electrical signals like I’d been led to expect, but a snap, clean and loud like the break of a stem.

“I’ve never really given it any thought.” My answer is rote, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the jet drops out of the sky.

Karma.

There was a short period just recently when I thought of little else, a time I’d investigated all that science had to offer, including gene therapy. Ultimately, if I struggled to accept my fate, then…

No. I can’t go through this again.

“You seem deep in thought.”

At Whit’s concerned words, I lift my head and pray my smile is more bright than brittle. “I guess this weekend was a lot to take in.”

“Is this where I’m supposed to say that’s what she said?”

Is it wrong to be hurt that he doesn’t see through me? I guess I’m being unfair because I’ve never been the real me with him.


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