I open my eyes and take my first conscious breath for the day. The scent of Dove’s cinnamon coffee floods my nostrils. Dove always smells of cinnamon, and so does our house and everything in it.
I hear footsteps coming from the hall, nearing my door. “Trin, do you want some coffee?” he asks, poking his head in.
I open my eyes and squint against the shockingly bright light of my bedroom. “Dove, I can’t stand cinnamon.”
“I know, love, that’s why I made yours first. I assure you, it’s one hundred percent cinnamon free. Come join me, won’t you?”
I rub my already aching head and sit up. Judging by Dove’s sloppy grin, I must look a mess. “What time is it?”
“Just past noon. Come on, Trin, I waited for hours so we could have our first cup of coffee together this morning.”
I nervously eye the tattoo on my wrist. Hold On. Hold on to what? For what? I can hardly remember anymore.
“Let me get dressed.”
He nods and walks out, and I drag myself from my bed. I can’t stop myself from looking into the full-length mirror hung on the back of my door.
I start with my feet. They’re bare and bright red from the cold. Then my legs. Shaky and wrapped in tattooed vines. A pair of silk shorts hang about my narrow waist, and my torso is hidden in a roomy teal sweater. The neckline rests around my shoulders, and I see the murder of small crows tattooed across my collarbones. The tree that grows up the side of my thin neck, touching the bottom of my left ear. My face is blank and sleepy; there’s no color to be seen except the soft purple beneath my deep-set, muddy brown eyes. A smattering of freckles rests on each cheek and across the bridge of my nose; a few have even sneaked onto my small forehead. My red hair is cropped short; so short it doesn’t look messy though I haven’t tended it in days.
I wonder what Dove thinks when he takes in this view.
Though I had implied I would, I don’t bother with readying myself for the day. I slip on a ridiculous pair of dinosaur slippers and scoot my feet down the hallway until I reach the dining room, where Dove is already waiting for me at the bar. There’s a little, steaming mug in front of him. A small vat waits for me in the space beside him.
He smiles at me as if I’ve made his day. “Good morning, beautiful! Come sit.”
I hop onto the barstool beside him and take up my coffee in both hands, greedily chugging the scalding liquid. One hundred percent cinnamon free, as promised. I feel awake for the first time all morning as the warmth spreads down my throat and into my chest.
“Trin, are you all right?”
I consider beating around the bush. I could give him a vague answer that would easily get him off my case, and we could keep plugging along as we always have. But something within me pressures me to spit it out. So, I do.
“I think I want a divorce,” the words plummet through the cinnamon air like they’re made of lead.
As I thought he would, he looks shocked. “What? Where did that come from?”
“I guess it’s just been hanging around in the back of my mind.”
“Oh. Okay, well, what do you mean by, ‘I think?’”
I put my face in my hands, which are nice and warm from the mug of coffee. In the darkness and safety of my hands, I can think again. I rush through my words before I lose them.
“I’ve played out both possible actions in my head a million times, and I can’t pick one.”
I hear him take a deep breath. “Well, maybe I can help you. What are the scenarios you’ve come up with?”
I press my hands more firmly into my face. I’m sure there will be red marks there once I free myself. “Well, obviously, I could stay. If I do, I will still have you. I will have your tight hugs when I’m sad, and your noisy laugh when we joke around, and your beautiful mind when we get lost in conversation. But I will also have this immense heaviness weighing me down, making every breath a chore and threatening to crush me into a million tiny pieces.
“Then, I could leave. I won’t have to face what I’ve done anymore. I will be free, and the weight will be gone, and I will know you’re happy. But I will lose my person. I will lose the strong scent of cinnamon and the ungodly amount of coffee,”—this draws a laugh out of him—"not to mention the last five years of my life.”
“Trin… I don’t know what more I can do than to forgive you for…you know.”
I finally let go of my face and stare straight into Dove’s shining eyes. “Say it. I want you to say what I did. You act like you’ve forgotten.”
He reaches toward me but knows better than to touch me. He rests his hands on the counter between us. “That’s because I’ve forgiven you, Trin. As far as I’m concerned, it never happened.”
“What never happened? I want to hear it from your mouth.”
“Fine,” he says calmly. “So far as I’m concerned, you never ran off for that weekend with my brother. You never filled your body with whatever toxic substances he had on hand. You never—Jeez, Trin, you really want me to keep going?”
I shake my head. “No, I guess I don’t. I’m sure you see my dilemma.”
I can see all over him that he wants to grab me in a hug, and we can cry it out like we have a hundred times. But thank God, he respects that that is the last thing I want right now. He holds back and presses the conversation further instead.
“I suppose I do. You love me, but you feel like you don’t deserve to.”
I nod, relieved. He used to argue and try to prove me wrong instead of accepting how I view our predicament.
“I respect that you feel that way, Trin. But my opinion carries some weight in this decision, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, of course, it does.”
“I love you, Trin. I have since we met. I did when we got married, and I did when I found out what you did that weekend, and I do right now. You made a mistake. It was stupid, and harmful, and I’ll be the first to admit that it took me some time to be ready to forgive you. But I got there. I have forgiven you over and over and I’ll do it as many times as I have to.”
“But I can’t forgive me,” I whisper. My stupid voice breaks, and I’m worried I may cry. Thankfully, I’m able to hold it together.
“I know… But there are things we can do to help that. We can try therapy again.”
“Dove, we’ve already gone through three therapists, and none of them were a good fit. Remember the one that talked me into shaving my head because it could be ‘healing’? I still look ridiculous because of that!”
Dove makes a face. “Trin, you don’t look ridiculous. You’re beautiful.”
As always, his timing is perfect as he grabs my small hands in his. I close my eyes and lean forward, resting my forehead on his shoulder. He shakes gently and I’m sure he’s crying, but I can’t figure out why.
When I look at him again, his eyes are glossy and reddened. “What did I do this time?”
“It’s nothing you did. I just…really love you, that’s all.”
I look over his warm, familiar face. For five years, I’ve cherished this man. That wild, awful weekend with his brother was only just after our wedding. I pretended it never happened for a while, but the guilt lingered like a dense fog. It ate away at me until Dove broke and asked me what was wrong.
I told him every little detail—it was engraved in my mind so vividly that I felt I was there all over again. I think it was made worse by his reaction. Or, really, lack thereof. I could have accepted if he screamed at me or stormed out and left me right then and there. But he didn’t do anything like that. He just sighed and asked if I was sorry, and when I said yes, he said he forgave me.
He never brought it up again, but my mind wouldn’t let me let it go. Every time he held me or kissed me or told me he loved me all I could think about was how I had betrayed him.
I think the worst part is that he never found out why I did it. He never even asked. I hate myself for what I did, sure, but perhaps even more so for why.
Even after the wedding, I was terrified of being married. Dove was so wonderful, and I just knew I was going to mess up somehow. So, I beat myself to it.
I knew Dove’s brother, Jonathan, had a thing for me. He had since before he introduced me to Dove. Up until the wedding, it made me feel uneasy; so much so that I told Dove to keep him away from me. He almost didn’t invite Jonathan to the wedding at all, but I convinced him it was okay.
I took my opportunity during the dinner after the ceremony. Telling Dove I had to go freshen up, I slipped Jonathan a note before ducking into the ladies’ room. That weekend, Dove was helping his sister move, and I opted to stay home. Jonathan picked me up the night Dove left, and I spent the weekend doing everything I could think of that would drive Dove away.
It has been years since then, yes. I’m not scared anymore. But I know in the back of my mind that it’s too late; that I destroyed what we could have had way back then. Dove thinks differently, I know, but what does he know? He probably thinks Jonathan pressured me into it.
But as I study his kind face, I forget that for a moment. I lean toward him, and I’m just about to close my eyes when his features shift. It’s like I can see the idea forming in his mind.
“Trin, why don’t you just do what they did in that book you like!” he says surprisingly excitedly.
“You know, that book you’re always reading. Gray Moon?”
It takes me a moment to remember what he’s talking about. I haven’t read it in months, but it is my favorite book. I’ve probably read it a hundred times by now.
In the book, the main character has to choose between sacrificing himself in front of the love of his life or living on to watch her in the arms of his nemesis. He knows that he could never make up his mind for himself, especially in so little time. In an adrenaline-filled moment of chaos and indecision, he closes his eyes and spins. He decides that, if he’s looking at his nemesis when he stops, he’ll sacrifice himself; if he’s looking at his love, he lives.
“You want me to choose between throwing myself off a cliff or watching you love someone else?” I chuckle weakly. I wouldn’t blame him for genuinely wanting that.
He shakes his head. “No, no, but I think the concept could work. You don’t know what to do, and I can’t help you, so why not leave it up to blind chance?”
I have to admit, it’s not the worst idea. I really can’t decide for myself. I’ve been contemplating asking for a divorce for months now; I only just got up the courage to ask, let alone to go through with it. I’m sure chance would do an infinitely better job of making a decision, albeit with less care.
“Well? What do you think?” he asks, hope in his pretty eyes.
“How would that work? I can’t exactly look at a divorce.” The way he cringes at the word divorce makes me sad.
He sighs. “I guess we could modify it. Choose between me and…the door! If you look at me, you stay. If you look at the door, you go.”
It’s a good idea, but it seems wrong to determine our future in such a haphazard way. Still, it’s better than making Dove wait and torturing him with my indecision.
“Do you think that’ll work?”
I nod. “I guess. But I need some time first. I want to see something.”
One of the reasons I love Gray Moon so much is that you get to choose how it ends. You can decide whether the main character opens his eyes to death, life, or neither. I always chose life when I read it, but I need to see how it ends the other two times. I don’t explain this to Dove, I just run to my room and grab my worn copy of Gray Moon. I jump into my bed and flip straight to the page where you choose your ending.
I feel exhausted once I’ve finally read the last page of the third ending. I emerge from my room to find Dove curled up asleep on the couch. His hair falls over his eyes and his mouth is curved downward in an inexplicably peaceful frown. I can’t bring myself to wake him, so I sit on the couch beside him and wait.
He stirs only a moment later and the first thing he says is my name.
“I’m ready,” I say as he sits up.
He tries to rub the sleep from his eyes. I wonder how late he stayed up last night.
“Well, do you want to wait any longer?”
He thinks for a moment. “No, I guess not. Where should I sit?”
“You can just stay where you are.”
I position myself between Dove and the door, and a sense of panic washes over me. No matter what happens, things won’t get better immediately. I’m still going to be miserable and Dove will be, too, at least at first. Maybe it would be better to wait…
But no. That wouldn’t really be better. No matter how this ends, it’s the only way to guarantee change. Dove and I can’t just keep going around in circles, something has to give. This may be the only way that’s going to happen.
I clamp my hands over my eyes, just like the main character in the book. I spin counterclockwise until I lose all sense of direction, and then count to five before stopping. I stagger a moment before steadying myself. Then, I freeze. I can’t convince myself to free my hands from my eyes.
Dove, who knows the results, pipes up, “Are you going to open your eyes?”
Frustratingly, I can glean nothing from his tone. I can’t even tell from which direction his voice is coming. “I can’t. I’m scared.”
“Scared that it won’t be me?” he asks. Then, after a pause, “Or that it will?”
I shock myself when I answer aloud, “I don’t know. I’m just scared.”
“Can I come to you?”
I wish that had some implication as to whether I’m facing him, but I still can’t make anything of it. “Won’t that give away the answer?”
“It may. Would you like to just open your eyes, then?”
I’m just about to pull my hands away when Dove’s voice stops me.
“Yeah?” my voice is shaking as badly as I am.
“Before you open your eyes. What’s your favorite ending in your book?”
I don’t have to think for a second before quoting it, though I just read it earlier today. “Briar came to an abrupt stop and wasted no time in pondering the results. He dropped his hands and huffed out a sigh of relief. In the end, he looked not.”
I feel as if I can hear him thinking. “What do you suppose that means?”
“I guess that he was free to make up his own mind. He wasn’t looking at the villain or the damsel.”
“Doesn’t it bother you, not knowing which one he chose?”
I shake my head and look at Dove. “Not really, no. It’s freeing to—”
I stop dead. I’m looking at Dove! I’m facing him! I feel an instant rush of relief so potent I burst into tears before I know what’s happening. He jumps to his feet.
“Trin, are you okay?” he asks in a panic. “You can—”
I cut him off. “Get over here!”
I open my arms and he falls into them, as if he’s the mess. We hold onto each other like we have many times before, but it feels different somehow. Lighter.
I don’t know whether I’ll ever forgive myself for what I did to Dove. But, at least in this moment, I am confident that I want him. I can only hope that we can fix me together.
“I love you, Trin,” he sobs.
His voice cracked on my name and I hold back a laugh. “I love you, too.”