“It’s not that bad.”

Except it was. Her publisher had stopped returning her calls, and ticket sales for her summer lecture tour had tanked so badly she’d been forced to cancel. Not only was she losing her material possessions to the IRS, but she had lost the reputation it had taken her years to build.

She took a deep breath against the panic that kept threatening to overwhelm her, and tried to look toward the positive. Soon she’d have all the time in the world to plan her wedding. But how could she marry Michael knowing that he’d be supporting them until she got back on her feet? If she got back on her feet…

She was too committed to the principles of the Four Cornerstones to let negative thoughts paralyze her. This was something they needed to discuss. “Michael, I know it’s getting late, and you said you were tired, but we have to talk about the wedding.”

He fiddled with the volume on her sound system. He’d been under a lot of stress at work, and her own troubles weren’t helping. She reached out to touch him, but he stepped away. “Not now, Isabel.”

She reminded herself that they’d never been a touchy-feely couple, and tried not to take his rejection to heart, especially since she’d put him through so much lately. “I want to make your life easier, not harder,” she said. “You haven’t mentioned anything lately about the wedding, but I know you’re upset with me for not having set a date. Now I’m bankrupt, and the fact is, I’m having a hard time dealing with the idea of someone else supporting me. Even you.”

“Isabel, please…”

“I know you’re going to say it doesn’t make any difference-that your money is my money-but it makes a difference to me. I’ve been supporting myself since I was eighteen, and-”

“Isabel, stop.”

He hardly ever raised his voice, but she was coming on like a bulldozer, so she didn’t blame him. Her assertiveness was both her strength and her weakness.

He turned toward the windows. “I’ve met someone.”

“Really? Who?” Most of Michael’s friends were lawyers, wonderful people but a little boring. It would be nice to add someone new to their circle.

“Her name is Erin.”

“Do I know her?”

“No. She’s older than I am, nearly forty.” He turned back to her. “And, God, she’s a mess-a little overweight, and she lives in this crazy place. She doesn’t care about makeup or clothes, and nothing ever matches. She doesn’t even have a college degree.”

“So what? We’re not snobs.” Isabel picked up the wineglass Michael had left on the coffee table earlier and carried it into the kitchen. “And let’s face it, you and I can be a little uptight.”

He followed her, speaking rapidly and with a kind of energy she hadn’t heard in months. “She’s the most impulsive person I’ve ever met. She cusses like a sailor and likes the worst movies. She tells terrible jokes, and she drinks beer, and… But she’s comfortable with herself. She”-he took a deep breath-“she makes me comfortable, too, and… I love her.”

“Then I’m sure I will, too.” Isabel smiled. Smiled hard. Smiled forever. Smiled until her jaw froze, because as long as she smiled, everything would be all right.

“She’s pregnant, Isabel. Erin and I are going to have a baby. We’re getting married at City Hall next week.”

The wineglass dropped into the sink and shattered.

“I know this isn’t a good time, but…”

Her stomach cramped. She wanted to stop him. Stop time itself. Turn back the clock so none of this was happening.

He looked pale and miserable. “We both know this hasn’t been working out.”

The air wheezed in her lungs. “That’s not true. It’s been- It’s-” She couldn’t breathe.

“Except for business meetings, we barely see each other.”

She sucked in air. Clamped her fingers around the gold bangle she wore at her wrist. “We’ve been… been busy, that’s all.”

“We haven’t had sex in months!”

“It’s just- That’s only temporary.” She heard the same edge of hysteria in her voice that she’d heard so frequently in her mother’s, and she struggled to hold herself back, to stay in control. “Our relationship has… It’s never been based just on sex. We’ve talked about that. This is- It’s temporary,” she repeated.

He took a short, swift step forward. “Come off it, Isabel! Don’t lie to yourself. Our sex life isn’t programmed into your fucking PalmPilot, so it doesn’t exist.”

“Don’t talk to me about PalmPilots! You take yours to bed at night!”

“At least it gets warm in my hand!”

She felt as if he’d slapped her.

He wilted. “I’m sorry. That was unnecessary. And untrue. Most of the time it was all right. It’s just…” He made a small, helpless gesture. “I want passion.

She grasped the side of the counter. “Passion? We’re grown-ups.” She tried to steady herself, tried to breathe. “If you’re not happy with our sex life, we can… we can get counseling.” But there’d be no counseling. This woman was carrying Michael’s baby. The baby Isabel had someday planned on bearing.

“I don’t want counseling.” His voice dropped. “It’s not my problem, Isabel. It’s yours.”

“That’s not true.”

“It’s… You’re schizo when it comes to sex. Sometimes you get into it. Other times it feels like you’re doing me a favor and you can’t get it over with fast enough. Even worse, sometimes it feels like you’re not there at all.”

“Most men would appreciate a little variety.”

“You need to control everything. Maybe that’s why you don’t like sex that much.”

She couldn’t bear the look of pity he gave her. She should pity him. He was running off with a badly dressed older woman who liked awful movies and drank beer. And wasn’t schizo about sex…

She heard herself falling apart. “You’re so wrong. I crave sex! I live for it! Sex is all I think about.”

“I love her, Isabel.”

“It’s not really love. It’s-”

“Don’t tell me what I’m feeling, damn it! You always do that. You think you know everything, but you don’t.”

She didn’t think that. She only wanted to help people.

“You can’t control this, Isabel. I need a normal life. I need Erin. And I need the baby.”

She wanted to curl up and howl from the pain of it. “Then take her. I don’t ever want to see you again.”

“Try to understand. She makes me feel-I don’t know… safe. Sane. You’re too much! You’re too much of everything! And you make me crazy!”

“Good. Get out.”

“I’d hoped we could do this civilly. Stay friends.”

“We can’t. Get out of here.”

And he did. Without another word. He just turned his back and walked out of her life.

She began to choke. She stumbled to the sink and turned on the water, but she couldn’t breathe. She staggered to the kitchen window and struggled with the latch, then pushed her head out into the air shaft. It was raining. She didn’t care. She gulped in air and tried to find the words to pray, but they weren’t there. And that’s when it hit her.

Healthy Relationships

Professional Pride

Financial Responsibility

Spiritual Dedication

All Four Cornerstones of a Favorable Life had crashed in on top of her.

Вы читаете Breathing Room
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