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Authors: D.J. Palmer

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BOOK: The New Husband
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CHAPTER 17

Four hours later, Maggie was asleep. She and Nina had watched a movie together, some film with actors Maggie knew and adored but Nina had never heard of. They ate popcorn with too much butter, tried to keep Daisy from cleaning the floor of dropped kernels, and shared a couple laughs, but it was not light and breezy as usual. An invisible wall had come between them, and the reason for that wall was upstairs recuperating in bed.

“It'll be okay, sweetie,” Nina had said after giving a goodnight kiss to her daughter, trying to coax out whatever it was that Maggie wasn't sharing—some new feeling, a new issue, something she was holding on to the way Daisy would a bone.

“Sure, Mom,” Maggie said, sounding sure of nothing.

After lights out—and a text from Connor confirming that Luke's mom was fine with him spending the night—Nina went to check on Simon again.

He looked well, much better than at her last checkup. The color had returned to his cheeks; his eyes no longer had the glassy look of sickness. He sat upright in bed, wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt and reading, of all things, one of her glamour rags. It was not a magazine she remembered buying, but that wasn't so surprising. She had spent a good chunk of time this past year in a perpetual daze, and only now was she starting to feel like her former self. Thank you, therapy.

“Someone's looking better,” Nina said, coming to the side of the bed. She touched his forehead, and it was the perfect temperature.

“I was hoping for a fast-moving bug,” said Simon, offering a relieved smile. “Maybe I was sick at the thought of not being with you.”

Nina returned a playful eye roll. “You do know how to flatter,” she replied as she plopped down on the bed beside him.

“Thanks for sticking around tonight, and sorry again about ruining your dinner plans.” Simon sounded genuinely remorseful. “I'm sure Maggie appreciated it as well.”

“She did for sure,” Nina said, deciding not to get into her concern that Maggie's anger and resentment were building.

“Emma never would have put my needs above hers.”

Simon's comment caught Nina by surprise, especially because he delivered that remark quite nonchalantly. He seldom talked about his dead wife, Emma Dolan, and the reference to her, made as a passing thought, left her momentarily speechless. She opted to change topics rather than delve into his past.

“What are you reading that for?” Nina gave the
Vogue
magazine a gentle poke to indicate the object of her curiosity.

“TV was giving me a headache, and I couldn't concentrate on real reading,” Simon said.

Nina's look of indignation was intended to amuse. “Hey, I know many ladies who would take offense at that remark.”

Simon flipped the magazine around and pointed to an article featuring a photograph of a pristine aqua blue sea. “And I take it back. Here's a very well-written piece on great destination weddings.”

Simon said it slyly, implying that the content of the article, not the writing, is what piqued his interest. Nina crossed her arms as if in thought. “Are you asking me again, Mr. Fitch?”

Simon's return volley was a cat-got-the-cream smile.

“I'm an extremely patient man,” he said, flipping the pages before he became keenly interested in something else. He turned the magazine around to show Nina a picture of a model, tall and thin, with porcelain
skin and striking dark hair (close in color to Nina's natural shade) cut in a medium-length bob, angled at the sides with mod-looking straight bangs. It was sleek and chic, textured in layers, a classic look that could have been in vogue in the 1960s or '70s.

“This would be a great look on you,” he said, handing Nina the magazine. She studied the woman, thinking the model was twenty, if that, and a spaghetti strainer would look good on her head.

“I couldn't pull that off,” Nina said definitively.

“Nonsense,” said Simon. “I think you'd look amazing, absolutely amazing, with that cut. I swear.”

He leaned forward, cupping handfuls of Nina's hair in his hands, and then lifted them up to chin level, emulating the hairdo to some degree.

“Gorgeous,” he said, eyeing her with a hungry look, absorbing her, taking in each detail as though he were a painter analyzing his subject. “Absolutely gorgeous. Don't get me wrong. I think your hair looks great. I'm just not sure it's as flattering as this would be.”

He studied her some more, adjusting the length ever so slightly, perfecting his masterpiece. The desire she saw in his eyes sent tingles through her body, making her feel that perhaps she could be that twenty-something model.

“I like my hair,” Nina said, surprised at the slight catch in her voice. Did she like it as much as she thought?

“Maybe…” Simon paused, chewing on some thought. The box spring creaked as he shifted his weight. She smelled toothpaste and mouthwash on his breath. “Maybe you should do it,” he said.

“Do what?”

“Get your hair styled like this. Do it for your new job. A new look to celebrate a new beginning.”

Nina appraised Simon as though the flu, or bug, or whatever it was that had felled him, had also left him mad.

“That's nuts,” she said. “And even if I did want to do it, there's no way to get an appointment with my stylist. He's booked weeks in advance.”

Simon grinned strangely. “Actually, it was supposed to be another surprise of mine, but—”

He got up from the bed, went to the dresser where Glen's clothes once had been, opened the top drawer (socks and underwear, just as before), and took out an envelope. Inside, Nina found a gift certificate to Aiden James salon, along with a card indicating an appointment for Tuesday morning—the day before her start date.

“I asked Susanna and Ginny what to get you that would make you feel, you know, ready to take on the working world again. They suggested a mani/pedi, so I booked you an appointment for that along with a cut and color just in case you wanted it. So … the appointment is all set. What do you say?”

Nina was rendered speechless. The idea was so out of the blue, so completely outrageous, she simply didn't have the words. Eventually, she managed a polite thank-you that did not convey much thanks.

“I think I'll keep my hair the way it is,” she said.

Simon studied the magazine a few more beats before tossing it onto the floor as though he'd tossed the idea away with it.

“Yeah. It's kind of last-minute and pretty radical. It would take a lot of guts to really go for it,” he said.

Nina rose from the bed quickly, because it was the only way she could slug him on the arm as he made his way to the bedroom door.

“You take that back,” she said.

“Take what back?” he said, turning.

“You make it sound like I'm weak or something.”

Simon appeared to take offense at Nina's remark. “It is a big move. And I'm not surprised you don't want to go through with it, is all. I'm not blaming you. But I think a change like that would help separate you from Glen, from that time in your life. It would be like a metamorphosis of a sort, a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis. Anyway, no biggie. Your hair looks fine. I'm going to get some ginger ale from downstairs. You want anything?”

Nina eyed him indignantly.
Fine? Fine?!
How dare he put it back on
her like that. Why was her hair suddenly just “fine”? It was more than
fine
.

But Simon did not stick around to discuss it. He headed downstairs, leaving Nina alone to look in the mirror at herself, to lift her hair slightly, up to the same level Simon had done.

“A metamorphosis,” she said mockingly to her reflection as she adjusted the length of hair cupped in her right hand to make it more symmetrical with the length on the left.

Though she was still annoyed with Simon's remarks, he did make her wonder. Would a new hairstyle change how she felt? Would it help her forget what had been done to her? Would it be like making a statement:
I'm not the Nina from before. I'm not Glen's Nina. I've got a new look to go with this new person I've become.

Nina didn't like being pushed into anything, but if she were being honest with herself, she'd have to admit that Simon had planted a seed of sorts. As she contemplated the idea, tried to picture it—could she? would she?—Nina had to admit (if only to herself) that she liked the thought of coupling a dramatic change with her new start in life.

Yes, she suddenly found herself liking the idea very much. (
I'll show you “fine”!
) But she wouldn't commit to it under duress, so she'd talk it over with her stylist first. And she certainly wouldn't give Simon the satisfaction of mirroring his suggestion exactly.

For whatever reason—pride maybe, or unwillingness to let a man subjugate her (even with good intentions)—Nina had to call her own shots.

 

CHAPTER 18

It was T-minus one and counting until J-Day, Job Day, the start of her new life, and Nina had come eager for a session with Dr. Wilcox. But first Dr. Wilcox had to process the new Nina, because the person who entered the therapist's office did not look like the same woman of two weeks ago. Nina's hair was cut short to her shoulders, a clear nod to a style popular when the Beatles had dominated the airwaves, but decidedly more modern. It was a shaggy, long bob with choppy bangs, blown straight, and it looked fabulous—at least, that's what Dr. Wilcox had exclaimed when she'd set eyes on Nina.

“You like it?” Nina sounded uncertain.

“Like it? I love it!”

“It was Simon's suggestion,” Nina said, taking her usual seat. “He saw it in a magazine and thought it would look good on me.”

“Well, it does. You look like a model!”

Nina stifled a little laugh. “I'm not sure I can trust your judgment anymore,” she replied jokingly. “Anyway, I didn't get the exact style as that girl in the magazine. Her cut was a bit shorter, more layers, and swept forward on the sides with straight bangs. But I thought a new look would be good for my new job.”

“I think it's fabulous,” Dr. Wilcox said, still beaming as she picked up her notebook, a signal to Nina that the session had officially begun. “Speaking of jobs, how are you feeling about yours?”

Nina went into a lengthy oration about her apprehension, concerns about Maggie and Connor, fear of failure, a grab bag of insecurities and self-doubt, and eventually came to the conversation with Simon the night he gave her the Coach bag.

“Sounds like he was sending you mixed messages,” Dr. Wilcox said. “Part of him is proud of you for getting the job, but another part is feeling insecure about it. Why do you think that is?”

Nina gave it some thought before shrugging her shoulders. “I really don't know,” she said. “He's never been insecure before, at least not with me. He's actually quite self-assured. He has to be, to command a classroom.”

“Maybe it stems from something in his history. Many of our insecurities have roots in the past. Have you ever talked about it with him?”

“No, certainly not in this context. We've discussed his difficult relationship with his parents,” Nina offered. “His father was ex-military, very exacting and precise. Simon told me he was physically and verbally abusive to his mother.

“And his mom suffered from postpartum depression and had continued episodes of depression for years. To some degree I experienced depression as well after Maggie was born. So in that way I really can empathize with him and his mother. Simon's faced more personal challenges than most people I know.”

“In what way?”

Nina hesitated, unsure how much to share.

“Well … his first wife left him,” she eventually said. “They were very young, inexperienced, and, well, those things happen. Eventually he remarried, to a woman named Emma, who tragically committed suicide.” Nina felt guilty for revealing Simon's personal history. At the same time, their lives were conjoined now, which helped to offset her misgivings. “Pills of some sort, it was an overdose. He found her dead in the bathtub. He was at school, teaching, when it happened.”

Dr. Wilcox grimaced. “That's awful and deeply scarring for all,”
she said, sounding genuinely sorry. “Maybe your new job is bringing up repressed feelings for him. He's dealing with a lot of change, too.”

Nina had not thought about Simon's issues in those terms, but it made sense. One evening the previous summer, when she'd been at Simon's place for dinner, he had shared with Nina the diary Emma kept, detailing her profound depression. The entries described a private pain that had haunted her for years: her exhaustion, her overwhelming sadness, her inability to connect or to care.

Nina had read only a couple pages before Simon grew anxious, but it was enough to get a clear picture. Simon had found the diary while packing up Emma's belongings, and he blamed himself for not knowing the dire extent of his wife's suffering. In error, he had believed that love and Prozac would be enough to pull her out of the darkness.

On top of the hurt and guilt Simon still felt, he was trying to rebuild his life, trying to reach Maggie, stay connected to Connor, do his job, adjust to a new house, a new neighborhood—poor guy had had nearly as many upheavals as Nina. And she'd just added one more to the mix with this job of hers.

“Maybe he needs therapy,” Dr. Wilcox suggested. “I could certainly give you some referrals if that's of interest.”

“That would be great,” Nina said. “I'll talk it over with him.”

But Nina had no intention of talking it over, because Simon had no idea she was seeing a therapist. She didn't want him to think she wasn't perfectly happy with him.

Telling Simon the truth about Dr. Wilcox might open up a number of issues, but lying to him took a different sort of toll. She'd already made up several reasons to keep him in the dark about her therapist. One time, Nina had almost arrived home from a session, but had to turn around and go to the market because that had been the reason she'd given for coming home late.

In truth, a part of Nina was still with Glen. She thought of him constantly. If he were alive, why had he abandoned his family? Nina was well aware men do have midlife affairs, but they generally don't run
away, or strip the family of all security. Did she have a part to play in this? Or did it have something to do with why he got fired from the bank? She had no doubt that, alive or dead, Glen had taken these and other secrets with him, wherever he'd gone.

Simon made her happy, made it possible to love again, but below the surface Nina's heartache lingered. The slightest reminders of Glen—a movie on cable they had watched together, a photograph from a family trip, even something as mundane as seeing his brand of coffee on a supermarket shelf—could bring on the waterworks.

There was much to resolve, which reminded Nina to move on with the session so she could move past Glen and get on with her new life.

“I should talk about Teresa,” she said.

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