So you may have heard that Jacinta Howard, Rae Lamar, Lily Java and I released a compilation of novellas, under the title ‘Because My Heart Said So’ this spring. Well, this winter, we’re each releasing the full-length novels for the stories started in that book. My contribution, ‘Acceptable Losses’ is excerpted here. Check it out, and if you haven’t already, check out ‘Because My Heart Said So’.
About ‘Acceptable Losses’:
Quentin is in the middle of a separation from his wife that seems to have no conclusive end in sight, while Lena is stuck in Single Girl Hell. The only respite either of them have is their regular coffee dates, while working on shared projects at a very demanding job. Sick of hearing about Lena’s semidisastrous attempts to couple-up, Quentin decides to fix her up. With his brother. Seems like a perfect solution; after all, his brother is a decent enough guy and Lena deserves that. Perfect … until it appears that the fix-up might actually work.
From ‘Acceptable Losses’:
Mara looked amazing.
She had colored her hair a reddish-copper shade that complemented her dark skin and gave it a subtle, bronze glow. When Quentin first saw her a couple nights earlier, it was a surprise. It was still short, the look she favored to accentuate her high cheekbones and full lips, but in a different, more modern style. And as always, Mara looked flawlessly chic. Sitting across the table from her in Kapnos, their second dinner date in three days, Quentin recalled what he used to feel like being the man with her on his arm. Ten feet tall, that’s how.
Now, he observed her as though she was a beautiful stranger.
“What’re you thinking of having?” She was looking down at the menu, chewing on the corner of her lip in the way she always did when she was concentrating on something.
“Those phyllo pies sound amazing,” Quentin said. “You?”
“Something with lamb,” Mara said, still not looking up. “Can’t do Greek food and not have lamb.” Finally, she put her menu down and gave him her full attention.
Quentin instinctively smiled, but part of him wasn’t even there.
After their first successful dinner at Filomena, they were both relieved and maybe even a little over-exuberant because the evening had been a good one. By avoiding talk of their marriage and separation, they actually managed to have some semblance of a good time. And when they parted in front of the restaurant, Quentin kissed her on the cheek and felt Mara lean into it. For a few moments, he considered making the kiss something more, maybe even inviting Mara back to the house. She was his wife, after all, and he hadn’t gotten any in months. But the thought that the same might not be true of her held him back.
The next day they talked again—still pleasant. So they planned, tonight, to go to the restaurant owned and operated by a celebrity chef they had watched together years earlier on a television cooking reality show. Taking baby steps, they might somehow, soon, get to a place where they could talk about the big pink elephant in the room. Without trying to use it to trample each other to death.
“So how’s work been?” he asked. “We didn’t talk about that Monday.”
“The same. Lots of travel. But this year, thankfully, I might get to go someplace more exciting than Chicago or L.A.”
Mara was a corporate event planner. When they first met, when Quentin was in law school, she was already well established in her career, putting together high-end events for Washington DC’s movers and shakers. She had even done a few events for the firm after they were married, but now, for obvious reasons, someone else in her company handled the Fox Cheatham account.
Quentin couldn’t say that the frequent trips she had to take were responsible for the cracks in their marriage, but they sure hadn’t helped. After having a knock-down, drag-out fight with your spouse, it was generally better if they were around so the apologies could be made, and the make-up sex could be had. Instead, many of their fights ended with Mara having to get on a plane the next day, widening the distance between them, both literally and figuratively.
“So where to this year?”
“I might get to go to the UAE.”
“Yeah. Really excited about that one.”
“Going alone?” Quentin asked.
Mara’s face fell. “It’s for work, Quentin. So, yes, I’m going alone.”
“And if it weren’t for work?”
Mara leaned back, folding her arms. “There’s a question buried in there.”
“Does it sound buried? I thought I was being very direct.”
“So you want to know if I’m seeing anyone.”
“I do want to know that, yes.”
“We’re not in court, Mara. You don’t have to worry about saying anything self-incriminating. This is just me, just you. Talking.”
“And we were doing so well,” she said, almost to herself.
She picked up her glass of water and took a slow sip.
Then their waiter arrived and for a few minutes, they both busied themselves with asking questions about the menu, placing their orders and getting a wine recommendation. When they were alone again, the mood was different— taut and more than a little tense.
“You can ask me the same if you like,” Quentin offered.
“I already know the answer,” Mara said, squeezing her lips together in a tight purse.
“You do? How?”
“Because I know you. You wouldn’t bring up seeing other people unless you were certain you had the moral high-ground. You haven’t been seeing anyone, so you can’t waste the opportunity to show how comparatively … dirty my hands are.”
Mara looked up at him, and her eyes had hardened into the look that he became familiar with as their marriage began to fall apart.
“That’s your thing—being the good guy compared to everyone else. Your whole life is defined by that. Even with your family.” She shook her head. “You’re the ‘good son’, and Darius is the fuck-up, isn’t that how it works? You’re so used to being in relationships where the other party is cooperative about playing that role that you can’t stand it that I won’t fall in line.”
“That’s interesting psychoanalysis, Mara. But you haven’t answered the question.”
“Off the record, counselor?” she asked sarcastically.
“Yeah. Off the record.”
“I am seeing someone. Yes. There. Are you happy now? Did that adequately feed your righteous indignation?”
Quentin leaned in closer. “Did you honestly expect me to not want to know if my wife has been fucking someone else?” he asked.
Mara looked down at her lap. “Why are you doing this?”
“Starting this fight with me. Quentin, by the time I left, you wanted out of our marriage so badly, I could practically hear you hyperventilating every minute we were together. But you had to cast me as the villain to make yourself feel good about it.”
“Is it? You need to feel like you’re justified to want out, but you also want me to be the one to pull the trigger. So after we got along so well a couple nights ago, I guess I should have seen this coming—you orchestrating this argument to …”
And for a moment, she stared at him and Quentin was shocked to see that there were tears in her eyes.
“You fell out of love with me, Quentin. I could almost feel when it happened. And then after that, you set about making sure I fell out of love with you … you just …” She stopped and took another sip of water. “Look, we’ve already been separated for nine months. In three more, we can get divorced without there being any admission of fault on either side. I suggest we agree to make that the plan.”
“You want a divorce.”
“Yes,” Mara said.
But what was curious about it was that she didn’t look resolved; she almost looked … defeated. Tired, even. For a fleeting moment, Quentin wondered whether any of what she said was true, that maybe he wanted out before she did, that he might have fallen out of love with her first.
“But what you said on the phone? That meant something to me. I want that,” Mara continued. “For us to not hate each other when all is said and done. So, yes, Quentin. You can have your divorce.”
“I don’t recall asking for …”
His wife looked him directly in the eyes and offered a small, sad laugh. “Oh yes you did,” she said. “Maybe not in words, but yes. You did.”
Read more about Quentin and Mara in the full-length novel, ‘Acceptable Losses’, coming this winter.