Chapter no 25

It Ends with us

I smell toast.

I stretch out on my bed and smile, because Ryle knows toast is my favorite.

My eyes flick open and the clarity smashes down on me with the force of a head-on collision. I squeeze my eyes shut when I realize where I am and why I’m here and that the toast I smell is not at all because my sweet and caring husband is making me breakfast in bed.

I immediately want to cry again, so I force myself off the bed. I focus on the hollowness in my stomach as I use the bathroom, and tell myself I can cry after I eat something. I need to eat before I make myself sick again.

When I walk out of the bathroom and back into the bedroom, I notice the chair has been turned so that it’s facing the bed now instead of the door. There’s a blanket thrown over it haphazardly, and it’s obvious Atlas was in here last night while I slept.

He was probably worried I had a concussion.

When I walk into the kitchen, Atlas is moving back and forth between the fridge, the stove, the counter. For the first time in twelve hours, I feel an inkling of something that isn’t agony, because I remember he’s a chef. A good one. And he’s cooking me breakfast.

He glances up at me as I make my way into the kitchen. “Morning,” he says, careful to say it without too much inflection. “I hope you’re hungry.” He slides a glass and a container of orange juice across the counter toward me, then he turns and faces the stove again.

“I am.”

He glances back over his shoulder and gives me a ghost of a smile. I pour myself a glass of orange juice and then walk to the other side of the kitchen where there’s a breakfast nook. There’s a

newspaper on the table and I begin to pick it up. When I see the article about the best businesses in Boston printed across the page, my hands immediately begin to shake and I drop the paper back on the table. I close my eyes and take a slow sip of the orange juice. A few minutes later, Atlas sets a plate down in front of me, then claims the seat across from me at the table. He pulls his own plate

of food in front of him and cuts into a crepe with his fork.

I look down at my plate. Three crepes, drizzled in syrup and garnished with a dab of whipped cream. Orange and strawberry slices line the right side of the plate.

It’s almost too pretty to eat, but I’m too hungry to care. I take a bite and close my eyes, trying not to make it obvious that it’s the best bite of breakfast I’ve ever had.

I finally allow myself to admit that his restaurant deserved that award. As much as I tried to talk Ryle and Allysa out of going back, it was the best restaurant I’d ever been to.

“Where did you learn to cook?” I ask him.

He sips from a cup of coffee. “The Marines,” he says, placing the cup back down. “I trained for a while during my first stint and then when I reenlisted I came on as a chef.” He taps his fork against the side of his plate. “You like it?”

I nod. “It’s delicious. But you’re wrong. You knew how to cook before you enlisted.”

He smiles. “You remember the cookies?”

I nod again. “Best cookies I’ve ever eaten.”

He leans back in his chair. “I taught myself the basics. My mother worked second shift when I was growing up, so if I wanted dinner at night I had to make it. It was either that or starve, so I bought a cookbook at a yard sale and made every single recipe in it over the course of a year. And I was only thirteen.”

I smile, shocked that I’m even able to. “The next time someone asks you how you learned to cook, you should tell them that story. Not the other one.”

He shakes his head. “You’re the only person who knows anything about me before the age of nineteen. I’d like to keep it that way.”

He begins telling me about working as a chef in the military. How he saved up as much money as he could so that when he got

out, he could open his own restaurant. He started with a small café that did really well, then opened Bib’s a year and a half ago. “It does okay,” he says with modesty.

I glance around his kitchen and then look back at him. “Looks like it does more than just okay.”

He shrugs and takes another bite of his food. I don’t talk after that as we finish eating, because my mind wanders to his restaurant. The name of it. What he said in the interview. Then, of course, those thoughts lead me back to thoughts of Ryle and the anger in his voice as he yelled the last line of the interview at me.

I think Atlas can see the change in my demeanor, but he says nothing as he clears the table.

When he takes another seat, he chooses the chair right next to me this time. He places a reassuring hand on top of mine. “I have to go in to work for a few hours,” he says. “I don’t want you to leave. Stay here as long as you need, Lily. Just . . . please don’t go back home today.”

I shake my head when I hear the concern in his words. “I won’t.

I’ll stay here,” I tell him. “I promise.” “Do you need anything before I go?” I shake my head. “I’ll be fine.”

He stands up and grabs his jacket. “I’ll make it as quick as I can.

I’ll be back after lunch and I’ll bring you something to eat, okay?”

I force a smile. He opens a drawer and pulls out a pen and paper. He writes something on it before he leaves. When he’s gone, I stand up and walk to the counter to read what he wrote. He listed instructions for how to set the alarm. He wrote his cell phone number, even though I have it memorized. He also wrote down his work number, his home address, and his work address.

At the bottom in small print, he wrote, “Just keep swimming, Lily.”

Dear Ellen,

Hi. It’s me. Lily Bloom. Well . . . technically it’s Lily Kincaid now.

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve written to you. A really long time. After everything that happened with Atlas, I just couldn’t bring myself to open up the journals again. I couldn’t even bring myself to watch your show after school, because it hurt to watch it alone. In fact, all thoughts of you kind of depressed me. When I thought of you, I thought of Atlas. And to be

honest, I didn’t want to think of Atlas, so I had to cut you out of my life, too.

I’m sorry about that. I’m sure you didn’t miss me like I missed you, but sometimes the things that matter to you most are also the things that hurt you the most. And in order to get over that hurt, you have to sever all the extensions that keep you tethered to that pain. You were an extension of my pain, so I guess that’s what I was doing. I was just trying to save myself a little bit of agony.

I’m sure your show is as great as ever, though. I hear you still dance at the beginning of some episodes, but I’ve grown to appreciate that. I think that’s one of the biggest signs a person has matured—knowing how to appreciate things that matter to others, even if they don’t matter very much to you.

I should probably catch you up on my life. My father died. I’m twenty-four now. I got a college degree, worked in marketing for a while, and now I own my own business. A floral shop. Life goals, FTW!

I also have a husband and he isn’t Atlas. And . . . I live in Boston.

I know. Shocker.

The last time I wrote to you, I was sixteen. I was in a really bad place and I was so worried about Atlas. I’m not worried about Atlas anymore, but I am in a really bad place right now. More so than the last time I wrote to you.

I’m sorry I don’t seem to need to write to you when I’m in a good place. You tend to only get the shit end of my life, but that’s what friends are for, right?

I don’t even know where to start. I know you don’t know anything about my current life or my husband, Ryle. But there’s this thing we do where one of us says “naked truth,” and then we’re forced to be brutally honest and say what we’re really thinking.

So . . . naked truth. Brace yourself.

I am in love with a man who physically hurts me. Of all people, I have no idea how I let myself get to this point.

There were many times growing up I wondered what was going through my mother’s head in the days after my father had hurt her. How she could possibly love a man who had laid his hands on her. A man who repeatedly

hit her. Repeatedly promised he would never do it again. Repeatedly hit her again.

I hate that I can empathize with her now.

I’ve been sitting on Atlas’s couch for over four hours, wrestling with my feelings. I can’t get a grip on them. I can’t understand them. I don’t know how to process them. And true to my past, I realized that maybe I need to just get them out on paper. My apologies to you, Ellen. But get ready for a whole lot of word vomit.

If I had to compare this feeling to something, I would compare it to death. Not just the death of anyone. The death of the one. The person who is closer to you than anyone else in the whole world. The one who, when you simply imagine their death, it makes your eyes tear up.

That’s what this feels like. It feels like Ryle has died.

It’s an astronomical amount of grief. An enormous amount of pain. It’s a sense that I’ve lost my best friend, my lover, my husband, my lifeline. But the difference between this feeling and death is the presence of another emotion that doesn’t necessarily follow in the event of an actual death.


I am so angry at him, Ellen. Words can’t express the amount of hatred I have for him. Yet somehow, in the midst of all my hatred, there are waves of reasoning that flow through me. I start to think things like “But I shouldn’t have had the magnet. I should have told him about the tattoo from the beginning. I shouldn’t have kept the journals.”

The reasoning is the hardest part of this. It eats at me, little by little, wearing down the strength my hatred lends to me. The reasoning forces me to imagine our future together, and how there are things I could do to prevent that type of anger. I’ll never betray him again. I’ll never keep secrets from him again. I’ll never give him reason to react that way again. We’ll both just have to work harder from now on.

For better, for worse, right?

I know these are the things that once went through my mother’s head. But the difference between the two of us is that she had more to worry about. She didn’t have the financial stability that I have. She didn’t have the resources to leave and give me what she thought was a decent shelter. She didn’t want to take me away from my father when I was used to living with both parents. I have a feeling reasoning really kicked her ass a time or two.

I can’t even begin to process the thought that I’m having a child with this man. There is a human being inside of me that we created together. And

no matter which option I choose—whether I choose to stay or choose to leave

—neither are choices I would wish upon my child. To grow up in a broken home or an abusive one? I’ve already failed this baby in life, and I’ve only known about his or her existence for a single day.

Ellen, I wish you could write back to me. I wish that you could say something funny to me right now, because my heart needs it. I have never felt this alone. This broken. This angry. This hurt.

People on the outside of situations like these often wonder why the woman goes back to the abuser. I read somewhere once that 85 percent of women return to abusive situations. That was before I realized I was in one, and when I heard that statistic, I thought it was because the women were stupid. I thought it was because they were weak. I thought these things about my own mother more than once.

But sometimes the reason women go back is simply because they’re in love. I love my husband, Ellen. I love so many things about him. I wish cutting my feelings off for the person who hurt me was as easy as I used to think it would be. Preventing your heart from forgiving someone you love is actually a hell of a lot harder than simply forgiving them.

I’m a statistic now. The things I’ve thought about women like me are now what others would think of me if they knew my current situation.

“How could she love him after what he did to her? How could she contemplate taking him back?”

It’s sad that those are the first thoughts that run through our minds when someone is abused. Shouldn’t there be more distaste in our mouths for the abusers than for those who continue to love the abusers?

I think of all the people who have been in this situation before me. Everyone who will be in this situation after me. Do we all repeat the same words in our heads in the days after experiencing abuse at the hands of those who love us? “From this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.”

Maybe those vows weren’t meant to be taken as literally as some spouses take them.

For better, for worse? Fuck.

That. Shit.


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