I wipe the napkin beneath my eye, soaking up more tears. “Sometimes . . . when I’m really missing him . . . I tell myself that maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe I could put up with him when he’s at his worst just so I can have him when he’s at his best.”
She puts her hand on top of mine and rubs her thumb back and forth. “I know exactly what you mean, Lily. But the last thing you want to do is lose sight of your limit. Please don’t allow that to happen.”
I have no idea what she means by that. She sees the confusion in my expression, so she squeezes my arm and explains in more detail.
“We all have a limit. What we’re willing to put up with before we break. When I married your father, I knew exactly what my limit was. But slowly . . . with every incident . . . my limit was pushed a little more. And a little more. The first time your father hit me, he was immediately sorry. He swore it would never happen again. The second time he hit me, he was even more sorry. The third time it happened, it was more than a hit. It was a beating. And every single time, I took him back. But the fourth time, it was only a slap. And when that happened, I felt relieved. I remember thinking, ‘At least he didn’t beat me this time. This wasn’t so bad.’ ”
She brings the napkin up to her eyes and says, “Every incident chips away at your limit. Every time you choose to stay, it makes the next time that much harder to leave. Eventually, you lose sight of your limit altogether, because you start to think, ‘I’ve lasted five years now. What’s five more?’ ”
She grabs my hands and holds them while I cry. “Don’t be like me, Lily. I know that you believe he loves you, and I’m sure he does. But he’s not loving you the right way. He doesn’t love you the way you deserve to be loved. If Ryle truly loves you, he wouldn’t allow you to take him back. He would make the decision to leave you himself so that he knows for a fact he can never hurt you again. That’s the kind of love a woman deserves, Lily.”
I wish with all my heart that she didn’t learn these things from experience. I pull her to me and hug her.
For whatever reason, I thought I would have to defend myself to her when I came over here. Not once did I think I would come over here and learn from her. I should know better. I thought my mother was weak in the past, but she’s actually one of the strongest women I know.
“Mom?” I say, pulling back. “I want to be you when I grow up.”
She laughs and brushes the hair from my face. I can see in the way she looks at me that she’d trade spots with me in a heartbeat. She’s feeling more pain for me in this moment than she ever felt for herself. “I want to tell you something,” she says.
She reaches for my hands again.
“The day you gave your father’s eulogy? I know you didn’t freeze up, Lily. You stood at that podium and refused to say a single good thing about that man. It was the proudest I have ever been of you. You were the only one in my life who ever stood up for me. You were strong when I was scared.” A tear falls from her eye when she says, “Be that girl, Lily. Brave and bold.”
“What am I going to do with three car seats?”
I’m sitting on Allysa’s couch, staring at all the stuff. She threw me a baby shower today. My mother came. Ryle’s mother even flew in for it, but she’s in the guest room sleeping off her jet lag now. The girls from the floral shop came and a few friends from my old job. Even Devin came. It was actually a lot of fun, despite the fact that I’ve been dreading it for the past several weeks.
“That’s why I told you to start a registry, so none of the gifts would be duplicated,” Allysa says.
I sigh. “I guess I can have Mom return hers. She’s bought me enough stuff as it is.”
I stand up and start gathering all the gifts. Marshall already said he’d help me carry them down to my apartment, so Allysa helps me throw everything inside trash bags. I hold them open while she picks everything up from the floor. I’m almost thirty weeks pregnant now, so she doesn’t get the easier job of holding open the trash.
We have everything bagged up and Marshall is on his second trip down to my apartment when I open Allysa’s front door, prepared to drag a trash bag full of gifts to the elevator. What I’m not prepared for is Ryle, who is standing on the other side of the door looking back at me. We both look equally as shocked to see each other, considering we haven’t spoken since our fight three months ago.
This encounter was bound to happen, though. I can’t be best friends with my husband’s sister and live in the same building as him without eventually running into him.
I’m sure he knew I was having the shower today since his mother flew in for it, but he still looks a little surprised when he sees all the stuff behind me. It makes me wonder if him showing up just as I’m leaving is a coincidence or a suitable convenience. He looks down at the trash bag I’m holding and he takes it from my hands. “Let me get this.”
I let him. He takes that bag and another one down to the apartment while I gather my things. He and Marshall are walking back inside the apartment as I’m preparing to walk out.
Ryle grabs the last bag of stuff and begins to head toward the front door again. I’m following behind him when Marshall gives me a silent look, asking me if I’m okay with Ryle going downstairs with me. I nod. I can’t keep avoiding Ryle forever, so now is as good a time as any to discuss where we go from here.