I smell toast.
I stretch out on my bed and smile, because Ryle knows toast is my favorite. I lie here for a while before I even attempt to get up. It feels like it takes the effort of three men to roll me out of bed. I eventually take a deep breath, and then throw my feet over the side, pushing myself up from the mattress.
The ﬁrst thing I do is pee. It’s really all I do now. I’m due in two days and my doctor says it could be another week. I started maternity leave last week, so this is my life right now. I pee and watch TV.
When I make it to the kitchen, Ryle is stirring a pan of scrambled eggs. He spins around when he hears me walk in. “Good morning,” he says. “No baby yet?”
I shake my head and put my hand on my stomach. “No, but I peed nine times last night.”
Ryle laughs. “That’s a new record.” He spoons some eggs onto a plate and then tosses bacon and toast on it. He turns around and hands me the plate, pressing a quick kiss to the side of my head. “I gotta go. I’m already late. I’m leaving my phone on all day.”
I smile when I look down at my breakfast. Okay, so I eat, too. Pee, eat, and watch TV.
“Thank you,” I say cheerfully. I take my plate to the couch and
turn on the TV. Ryle rushes around the living room, gathering his stuff.
“I’ll come check on you at lunch. I might be working late tonight, but Allysa said she can bring you dinner.”
I roll my eyes. “I’m ﬁne, Ryle. The doctor said light bed rest, not complete debilitation.”
He starts to open the door, but pauses like he forgets something. He runs back toward me and leans down, planting his lips on my
stomach. “I’ll double your allowance if you decide to come out today,” he says to the baby.
He talks to the baby a lot. I ﬁnally felt comfortable enough to let him feel the baby kick a couple of weeks ago and since then, he stops by sometimes just to talk to my belly and doesn’t even say much to me. I like it, though. I like how excited he is to be a father. I grab the blanket Ryle slept on the couch with last night and wrap it over me. He’s been staying here for a week now, waiting for me to go into labor. I wasn’t sure about the arrangement at ﬁrst, but it’s actually been really helpful. I still sleep in the guest bedroom. The third bedroom is now a nursery, which means the master bedroom is available for him to sleep in. But for whatever reason, he chooses to sleep on the couch. I think the memories in that bedroom plague him just as much as they plague me, so
neither of us even bothers going in there.
The last several weeks have been really good. Aside from the fact that there’s absolutely no physical relationship between us at this point, things feel like they’ve kind of gone back to how they used to be. He still works a lot, but on the evenings he’s off, I’ve started having dinner upstairs with all of them. We never eat alone as a couple, though. Anything that might feel like a date or a couples thing, I avoid. I’m still trying to focus on one monumental thing at a time, and until this baby is born and my hormones are back to normal, I refuse to make a decision about my marriage. I’m sure I’m just using the pregnancy as an excuse to stall the inevitable, but being pregnant allows a person to be a little selﬁsh.
My phone begins to ring, and I drop my head into the couch and groan. My phone is all the way in the kitchen. That’s like ﬁfteen feet from here.
I push myself off the couch, but nothing happens. I try it again. Still sitting.
I grab hold of the arm of my chair and pull myself up. Third
time’s the charm.
When I stand, my glass of water spills all over me. I groan . . . but then I gasp.
I wasn’t holding a glass of water. Holy shit.
I look down and water is trickling down my leg. My phone is still ringing on the kitchen counter. I walk—or waddle—to the kitchen and answer it.
“Hey, it’s Lucy! Quick question. Our order of red roses was damaged in shipment, but we’ve got the Levenberg funeral today and they speciﬁcally wanted red roses for the casket spray. Do we have a backup plan?”
“Yeah, call the ﬂorist on Broadway. They owe me a favor.” “Okay, thanks!”
I start to hang up so I can call Ryle and tell him my water broke, but I hear Lucy say, “Wait!”
I pull the phone back to my ear.
“About these invoices. Did you want me to pay them today or wait . . .”
“You can wait, it’s ﬁne.”
Again, I start to hang up but she yells my name and starts ﬁring off another question.
“Lucy,” I say calmly, interrupting her. “I’ll have to call you about all this tomorrow. I think my water just broke.”
There’s a pause. “Oh. OH! GO!”
I hang up right when the ﬁrst sign of pain shoots through my stomach. I wince and start dialing Ryle’s number. He picks up on the ﬁrst ring.
“Do I need to turn around?” “Yes.”
“Oh, God. Really? It’s happening?” “Yes.”
“Lily!” he says, excited. And then the phone goes dead.
I spend the next few minutes gathering everything I’ll need. I already have a hospital bag, but I feel kind of gross, so I jump in the shower to rinse off. The second burst of pain comes about ten minutes after the ﬁrst. I bend forward and clench my stomach, letting the water beat down on my back. Right when I near the end of the contraction, I hear the bathroom door swing open.
“You’re in the shower?” Ryle says. “Lily, get out of the shower, let’s go!”
“Hand me a towel.”
Ryle’s hand appears around the shower curtain a few seconds later. I try to ﬁt the towel around me before pulling the shower curtain aside. It’s odd, hiding your body from your own husband.
The towel doesn’t ﬁt. It covers up my boobs but then opens like an upside-down V over my stomach.
Another contraction hits as I’m stepping out of the shower. Ryle grabs my hand and helps me breathe through it, then walks me into the bedroom. I’m calmly picking out clean clothes to wear to the hospital when I glance over at him.
He’s staring at my stomach. There’s a look on his face I can’t decipher.
His eyes meet mine and I pause what I’m doing.
There’s a moment that passes between us where I can’t tell if he’s about to frown or smile. His face twists into both somehow, and he blows out a quick breath, dropping his eyes back to my stomach. “You’re beautiful,” he whispers.
A pang shoots through my chest that has nothing to do with the contractions. I realize this is the ﬁrst time he’s seen my bare stomach. It’s the ﬁrst time he’s witnessed what I look like with his baby growing inside of me.
I walk over to him and take his hand. I place it on my stomach and hold it there. He smiles at me, brushing his thumb back and forth. It’s a beautiful moment. One of our better moments.
“Thank you, Lily.”
It’s written all over him, the way he’s touching my stomach, the way his eyes are looking back at mine. He’s not thanking me for this moment, or any moment that came before this one. He’s thanking me for all the moments I’m allowing him to have with his child.
I groan, leaning forward. “Fucking hell.” The moment is over.
Ryle grabs my clothes and helps me into them. He picks up all
the things I tell him to carry and then we make our way to the elevator. Slowly. I have a contraction when we’re halfway there.
“You should call Allysa,” I tell him when we pull out of the parking garage.
“I’m driving. I’ll call her when we get to the hospital. And your mom.”
I nod. I’m sure I could call them right now, but I kind of just want to make sure we make it to the hospital ﬁrst, because it feels like this baby is being really impatient and wants to make its debut right here in the car.
We make it to the hospital, but my contractions are less than a minute apart when we arrive. By the time the doctor scrubs in and they get me to a bed, I’m dilated to a nine. It’s only ﬁve minutes later when I’m being told to push. Ryle doesn’t even have a chance to call anyone, it all happens so fast.
I squeeze Ryle’s hand with every push. At one point, I think about how important the hand I’m squeezing is to his career, but he says nothing. He just allows me to squeeze it as hard as I possibly can, and that’s exactly what I do.
“The head is almost out,” the doctor says. “Just a few more pushes.”
I can’t even describe the next few minutes. It’s a blur of pain and heavy breathing and anxiety and pure, unequivocal elation. And pressure. Such an enormous pressure, like I’m about to implode, and then, “It’s a girl!” Ryle says. “Lily, we have a daughter!”
I open my eyes and the doctor is holding her up. I can only make out the outline of her, because my eyes are full of too many tears. When they lay her on my chest, it’s the absolute greatest moment of my life. I immediately touch her red lips and cheeks and ﬁngers. Ryle cuts the umbilical cord, and when they take her from me to clean her up, I feel empty.
A few minutes later she’s back on my chest again, swaddled in a blanket.
I can do nothing but stare at her.
Ryle sits on the bed next to me and pulls the blanket down around her chin so we can get a better look at her face. We count her ﬁngers and her toes. She tries to open her eyes and we think it’s the funniest thing in the world. She yawns and we both smile and fall even more in love with her.
After the last nurse leaves the room and we’re ﬁnally alone, Ryle asks if he can hold her. He raises the head of my bed to make it easier for both of us to sit on the bed. After I hand her to him, I lay my head on his shoulder and we just can’t stop staring at her.
“Lily,” he whispers. “Naked truth?”
“She’s so much prettier than Marshall and Allysa’s baby.” I laugh and elbow him.
“I’m kidding,” he whispers.
I know exactly what he means, though. Rylee is a gorgeous baby, but no one will ever hold a candle to our own daughter.
“What should we name her?” he asks. We didn’t have the typical relationship during this pregnancy, so the baby’s name hasn’t been something we’ve discussed yet.
“I’d like to name her after your sister,” I say, glancing at him. “Or maybe your brother?”
I’m not sure what he thinks of that. I personally think naming our daughter after his brother could be somewhat healing for him, but he may not see it that way.
He glances over at me, not expecting that answer. “Emerson?” he says. “That’s kind of cute for a girl name. We could call her Emma. Or Emmy.” He smiles proudly and looks down at her. “It’s perfect, actually.” He leans down and kisses Emerson on her forehead.
After a while, I pull away from his shoulder so I can watch him hold her. It’s a beautiful thing, seeing him interact with her like this. I can already see how much love he has for her just from the little time he’s known her. I can see that he would do anything to protect her. Anything in the world.
It isn’t until this moment that I ﬁnally make a decision about him.
About what’s best for our family.
Ryle is amazing in so many ways. He’s compassionate. He’s caring. He’s smart. He’s charismatic. He’s driven.
My father was some of these things, too. He wasn’t very compassionate toward others, but there were times we spent together that I knew he loved me. He was smart. He was charismatic. He was driven. But I hated him so much more than I loved him. I was blinded to all the best things about him thanks to all the glimpses I got of him when he was at his worst. Five minutes of witnessing him at his worst couldn’t make up for even ﬁve years of him at his best.
I look at Emerson and I look at Ryle. And I know that I have to do what’s best for her. For the relationship I hope she builds with her father. I don’t make this decision for me and I don’t make it for Ryle.
I make it for her. “Ryle?”
When he glances at me, he’s smiling. But when he assesses the look on my face, he stops.
“I want a divorce.”
He blinks twice. My words hit him like voltage. He winces and looks back down at our daughter, his shoulders hunched forward. “Lily,” he says, shaking his head back and forth. “Please don’t do this.”
His voice is pleading, and I hate that he’s been holding on to hope that I would eventually take him back. That’s partly my fault, I know, but I don’t think I realized what choice I was going to make until I held my daughter for the ﬁrst time.
“Just one more chance, Lily. Please.” His voice cracks with tears when he speaks.
I know I’m hurting him at the worst possible time. I’m breaking his heart when this should be the best moment of his life. But I know if I don’t do it in this moment, I might never be able to convince him of why I can’t risk taking him back.
I begin to cry because this is hurting me as much as it’s hurting him. “Ryle,” I say gently. “What would you do? If one of these days, this little girl looked up at you and she said, ‘Daddy? My boyfriend hit me.’ What would you say to her, Ryle?”
He pulls Emerson to his chest and buries his face against the top of her blanket. “Stop, Lily,” he begs.
I push myself up straighter on the bed. I place my hand on Emerson’s back and try to get Ryle to look me in the eyes. “What if she came to you and said, ‘Daddy? My husband pushed me down the stairs. He said it was an accident. What should I do?’ ”
His shoulders begin to shake, and for the ﬁrst time since the day I met him, he has tears. Real tears that rush down his cheeks as he holds his daughter tightly against him. I’m crying, too, but I keep going. For her sake.
“What if . . .” My voice breaks. “What if she came to you and said, ‘My husband tried to rape me, Daddy. He held me down while I begged him to stop. But he swears he’ll never do it again. What should I do, Daddy?’”
He’s kissing her forehead, over and over, tears spilling down his
“What would you say to her, Ryle? Tell me. I need to know what you would say to our daughter if the man she loves with all her heart ever hurts her.”
A sob breaks from his chest. He leans toward me and wraps an arm around me. “I would beg her to leave him,” he says through his tears. His lips press desperately against my forehead and I can feel some of his tears as they fall onto my cheeks. He moves his mouth to my ear and cradles both of us against him. “I would tell her that she is worth so much more. And I would beg her not to go back, no matter how much he loves her. She’s worth so much more.”
We become a sobbing mess of tears and broken hearts and shattered dreams. We hold each other. We hold our daughter. And as hard as this choice is, we break the pattern before the pattern breaks us.
He hands her back to me and wipes his eyes. He stands up, still crying. Still trying to catch his breath. In the last ﬁfteen minutes, he lost the love of his life. In the last ﬁfteen minutes, he became a father to a beautiful little girl.
That’s what ﬁfteen minutes can do to a person. It can destroy them.
It can save them.
He points toward the hallway, letting me know he needs to go gather himself. He’s sadder than I’ve ever seen him as he walks toward the door. But I know he’ll thank me for this one day. I know the day will come when he’ll understand that I made the right choice by his daughter.
When the door closes behind him, I look down at her. I know I’m not giving her the life I dreamed for her. A home where she lives with both parents who can love her and raise her together. But I don’t want her to live like I lived. I don’t want her to see her father at his worst. I don’t want her to see him when he loses his temper with me to the point that she no longer recognizes him as
her father. Because no matter how many good moments she might share with Ryle throughout her lifetime, I know from experience that it would only be the worst ones that stuck with her.
Cycles exist because they are excruciating to break. It takes an astronomical amount of pain and courage to disrupt a familiar pattern. Sometimes it seems easier to just keep running in the same familiar circles, rather than facing the fear of jumping and possibly not landing on your feet.
My mother went through it. I went through it.
I’ll be damned if I allow my daughter to go through it.
I kiss her on the forehead and make her a promise. “It stops here. With me and you. It ends with us.”