Isn't She Lovely Page 30

“Ah, lovely. And your mother?”

“She’s dead.”

Stephanie says the word so quietly, so easily, that it takes the rest of us at the table a second to register it.

Holy shit.

I’d sort of figured she wasn’t from one big happy family, but I didn’t realize we were dealing with death. Suddenly I feel like the worst kind of ass for going on about my parents. At least I have both of them.

I sort of forget about my dad’s naïveté and my mom’s affair as my eyes lock on Stephanie’s face. Her eyes are sad but also resigned, and I’ve got this crushing urge to wipe that haunted look from her face.

I also have a billion questions. Like was it her mother’s death that started the whole hate-the-world thing she has going on? I also kind of want to ask why she didn’t tell me.

Shit. And now I’m asking myself why I even care that she didn’t tell me.

But the questions will have to wait until after this hellish dinner. Because this is definitely the sort of thing I should already know about my “girlfriend.”

“You poor thing,” my mom says, giving Stephanie a sad smile.

Stephanie lifts one shoulder, and for a second it’s like she’s the old Stephanie again: angry, defensive, and sullen. No, not the old Stephanie. The real Stephanie. She’s so damn good at this nice-girl routine that I keep forgetting that beneath the soft clothing and makeup she’s hard as nails.

My parents exchange a glance, and by silent agreement my dad swiftly changes the subject back to his favorite topic: work. His work.

Stephanie’s polite, asks all the right questions, and laughs at the right spots in his tired stories. And somehow we get through dinner and dessert without my parents catching on to the fact that we’re not exactly in love.

I think we’ve made it successfully through the first round of our Pygmalion experiment, but it’s like my mom secretly knows we need more villainess material for our screenplay, because she follows me into the foyer when I go to fetch Stephanie’s bag.

“I just wanted to let you know I won’t tell the Middletons about this,” she says in a quiet undertone.

“Tell the Middletons about what?” I play dumb.

She presses her lips together. “About your new fling.”

I shrug. “Go ahead and tell them. Also, I’m bringing her to Paige’s wedding, so maybe by then you can stop bringing up Olivia in front of her.”

Mom studies me. “Paige’s wedding isn’t for a couple of weeks.”


She gives a brittle smile. “Well, how do you know that you and Stephanie will still be seeing each other?”

“I just know.”

“Ethan …” My mom places a hand on my arm and I look away, because she really does look distressed, and deep down I know she wants me to be happy. “This Stephanie seems like a nice enough girl, but you and Olivia—”

“Are over, Mom.”

“But why? You were always so happy together.”

Were we?

I mean, we were content, sure. Up until the end, we were also drama free, and I know enough other females to be aware how unusual that was. So yeah, I guess we were happy. Enough.

But then things imploded. And does my heart feel like it belongs in a boy-band ballad about being brokenhearted?


I start to head back toward the living room, where Stephanie’s talking with my dad, but I stop and turn back to my mom.

“Why is it so important to you that I reconnect with Olivia? What’s it even have to do with you?”

My mom blinks, as though surprised by the question. “I just … I thought … I want you to be happy.”

“I am happy, Mom. With Stephanie.”

Apparently I’m better at this whole charade thing than even I knew, because the words are out before I even have a chance to think them.

My mom holds up her hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. You’re young; I guess I should expect that you’d want to play the field.”

I meet her eyes. “Is playing the field limited to the young?”

Her back stiffens slightly as she squares her shoulders. “What is that supposed to mean, Ethan?”

“You know what it means,” I mutter.

And then I walk away.

I know I should have the balls to just talk to her about it. To confront her about what I saw.

But I don’t know how to have the conversation. Don’t know how to tell her I saw her with Mike senior that day. Don’t know how to tell her that I know she’s having an affair with my best friend’s dad.

Someday maybe I’ll be able to laugh at the farcical fortuity of learning about my mother and Olivia in the same day. Hell, in the same hour.

That someday is not today.

Today I do not feel like laughing.

“You ready?” I ask Stephanie, itching to get out of this house.

My dad winks at Stephanie. “My boy wants to get you home.”

I search my dad’s expression, trying to determine if his choice of words is intentional. I haven’t exactly told them that Stephanie and I are living together, and although they’re not prudes, they’re old-school enough that I don’t exactly want to advertise the fact that we’re shacking up. Although this is the first time in my life that I actually hope my parents mistakenly believe that I am sleeping with a girl, rather than her being a 110 percent platonic roommate—a living arrangement that I suspect is going to be the death of me.

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