On Second Thought(6)

By: Kristan Higgins

Our place was my doing. Since my former career in television imploded, Eric funded 90 percent of our lifestyle, being the Wall Street wizard he was, but home was my domain. Every piece of furniture, every photo, every throw pillow, every paint color had been my decision, making this house our home.

Was our relationship a little retro? You bet. I liked it that way. And while Kate and Nathan’s house was more impressive, I liked to think ours was a little more welcoming, warmer, more colorful. Kind of like Kate and me—her always a little reserved, me always trying too hard.

The caterers zipped around with trays of pretty food and bottles of wine (good wine, too; Eric had a man-crush on Nathan and asked for some recommendations, since Nathan had an actual wine cellar). There was a martini bar on the deck, and everyone was laughing and smiling with good reason. Eric had beaten cancer, and this party was his way of thanking everyone for their love and support since that awful day when he’d found the lump.

As if reading my thoughts, Eric glanced over at me and smiled, and my heart melted and pulled like warm taffy. His dark hair was still short—it used to be longer, but after he shaved his head in anticipation of hair loss, he liked the cropped look. His black-framed glasses made him look attractively dorky, but the truth was, he was gorgeous, and since the diagnosis and his organic macrobiotic diet and exercise plan, his body was smokin’.

There was a velvet box-sized shape in his front pocket.

My fiancé. My husband.

The very first time I saw Eric Fisher, I thought, That’s the man I’m going to marry. It had never been a question of if, just a question of when.

That question would be answered tonight.

“Ainsley, the house looks amazing!” said Beth, my across-the-street neighbor, who’d been wonderful about bringing food and leaving little bouquets of flowers from her garden when Eric was sick. “What a happy day!”

“Thank you, Beth! You’ve been so great. We can’t thank you enough. Get a martini, quick!” She smiled and obeyed.

So many friends were here—Eric’s fraternity brothers, his coworkers from Wall Street, Eric’s parents and grandparents. My friends, too, from town and college and the magazine, though no one from my old job at NBC had even RSVP’d. My brother and his wife hadn’t been able to make it, but their older two kids were here, not by choice. I had the impression Sean and Kiara left Sadie with a sitter, dropped the teens off here and sneaked out to dinner rather than come to the party.

Esther, who was thirteen, was slumped in a chair, the only sign of life her thumbs moving over her phone. Matthias, at fifteen, was similarly slumped, eyeing the young female servers when he thought no one was looking.

“You guys can go down to the cellar if you want and watch TV,” I told them, stroking Esther’s curly hair. They jolted back to life and practically trampled each other in the race to the cellar door, Esther shielding her eyes as she passed the photo montage. Poor kid. No teenage girl should have to see that.

“Hello, Ainsley.”

I managed to catch my flinch at the sound of the voice. My boss was here—Captain Flatline, as we called him. Ollie trotted up to greet him, cheerfully sniffing his shoes, then putting his paws against Jonathan’s knee. Jonathan ignored him.

“Hi, Jonathan!” I said brightly, though almost everyone else at the magazine called him Mr. Kent. I didn’t. I had an Emmy, thank you very much (though I probably should’ve given that back after the debacle).

“Thank you for inviting me.” He looked like he was at a funeral, still in a suit and tie from work, face as cheerful as the grave.

“I’m glad you could come,” I lied. “Is that for us?” I nodded at the bottle of wine in his hand.

“Yes.” He handed it to me. “I hope you enjoy it.” Still no smile. “I’m sorry you couldn’t make your employee review this afternoon.”

I faked a frown. “Yeah. Me, too. That call with the pumpkin farmer went on longer than I thought.”

He lifted an eyebrow. We both knew I was dodging the review. The thing was, the job wasn’t that hard, and I did it well. Or pretty well, anyway. As the features editor, it was my job to assign articles to our vast army of freelancers, all of whom wanted to be the next host of This American Life and/or winner of the Pulitzer Prize.