I WALKED AWAY from the Malibu diner, the other Jeffs—who’d been in front of me as we left—going their separate ways: one to Manhattan and the other to Montclair. In the parking lot I spotted a silver car I remembered as Grainne’s Jetta. Jeff approached and turned off the alarm just as I passed. Behind me I heard the car door open and close. The Jetta started as I crossed the street and began to walk down Park, heading south, to the apartment I used to live in with my ex-wife.

The breakfast was a bit tense. I arrived first and picked a booth in the corner, separate from the tables lining the window and as far away as possible from the college kids nursing their hangovers. I was halfway through my second cup of coffee when the other Jeffs came in just a few minutes apart. Both were wearing the outfit we’d agreed upon yesterday: jeans, polo, sneakers. The waitress, when we were all finally gathered, froze when she saw us until one of the Jeffs simply said, “Triplets.” It was as if she’d been paused but with that one simple word we’d hit the play button. She unfroze and took our order. Ten minutes later she brought out three identical breakfasts. After setting them down on the table—pancakes with a side of bacon—she looked us over, winked, and said, “Triplets.”

At first we were lost without Dr. Schwartz to guide the discussion. No one knew what to say. We didn’t know where the boundaries were, didn’t know how to start a conversation. What was there to talk about except what had brought us together? And we still didn’t have a good grasp on exactly what that was. Since no one was speaking, I dug my keys out of my pocket, placed them on the table, and said, “Here. Seventy-third Street.” One of the Jeffs took the keys. Another of the Jeffs gave the keys to his house and a map on how to get there. A different Jeff gave me his keys to the apartment in Hoboken. It was a lot to keep straight, and we were halfway through the pancakes before we were done exchanging keys.

We finished the meal mostly in silence, chewing instead of speaking. When the food was gone, two of the Jeffs idly stared at the other customers while I turned over and over in my hands a yellow plastic holder advertising weekend brunch drink specials: mimosas and Bloody Marys for $2.00. The check came and rather than split it three ways—that seemed too ironic—one of the Jeffs paid, I’m not sure which.

As I walked down Park Avenue, cars passed me heading north toward Fourteenth Street. I dropped my head down, trying not to make eye contact with any of the drivers. I didn’t want to be recognized. After all, this was the town where my marriage had crumbled, where my wife had left me. We had friends here, people who would remember the fights and crying and one of us sleeping on the couch because neither of us could stand the sight of each other for another second. I glanced down at my watch, only to find it flashing twelve o’clock. As another car passed I thought, But then again, maybe someone will recognize me as Grainne’s husband, the man she’s still married to. I had yet to get that fact straight: in this world, we’d stayed together.

It was a cool morning and I pushed my hands into the pockets of my jeans for warmth. When we’d come up with our plan yesterday to meet at the Malibu—all of us agreeing to wear the same clothes—we hadn’t been smart enough to figure on including a light jacket. Now that it was mid-October, and the weather had finally turned, it was starting to get cold.

I took a left at Eleventh Street, heading west. The next block was Garden. The surrounding streets were some of the most quaint and quietest in the neighborhood, the best in Hoboken. Single-family brownstones, red brick townhouses, the occasional freestanding home decorated in Victorian splendor. Grainne and I, when a child was still something we were discussing, used to walk these blocks and imagine where we might live. It was hopelessly out of our budget, but still we pretended. “That one,” she’d say, pointing to a home that must have cost millions. “No—you’re crazy,” I’d insist, pointing at one that cost more. “That one.”

I passed Bloomfield. Farther down—I could almost see its purple awning—was where we’d gone for marriage counseling. We went for about three months, trying to talk out our problems. Trying to see if we were going to stay together or was I going to torpedo the marriage. The first few weeks we talked about petty things. She watched too much TV. I bought too many records and books. She wasted her time. I wasted my money. Finally, a few sessions in—after all of our dancing around the big subject—the therapist said, “Grainne, it sounds to me like if Jeff doesn’t want to have a child, then you’re going to want to leave. Is that correct?” After this there was just silence. I can’t even remember breathing. That was the first time the idea of ending the marriage had been mentioned.

The thought had made me ecstatic and terrified all at once. I would be a failure. I would be given a second chance. Nothing had turned out how I wanted. I had an opportunity to make everything turn out okay. It would be a mistake to stay. It would be a mistake to leave. On the walk back to the apartment that day—both Grainne and I in a daze; we were practically sleepwalking—my mind began to rapidly fill up with plans. I would, after the divorce, get an apartment in the city again. The Upper West Side. I would run in the park, like I used to when I was a bachelor. On Friday nights I would order a pizza and on Saturday night Chinese. I would read lots of books and listen to music and be myself again. It would be just like that song. It would be just like starting over.

So I did it, I left.

I passed Helmers, then crossed Washington. I passed Maxwell’s.

But he didn’t do it. The other Jeff stayed.

I turned the corner at Hudson. The apartment was now just a block away. Kids played in Elysian Park and, as I always did, I tried to block out the sound.

I crossed the corner at Tenth Street.

I could see the building, its red brick turned almost orange through the years. I looked up and saw our big window on the fourth floor. The blinds were open and the air conditioner was still in, the one I always dreaded taking in and out every year (afraid it was going to slip from my grip and fall to the sidewalk). Grainne’s Jetta was parked at the curb. A different Jetta, owned by a different Grainne. I heard in my head the only words Jeff had told me that morning in terms of preparing me for what I would find when I got to the apartment. He said, “She’s home.”

 

The lobby was just like I remembered it: a long hallway with five doors, all of which were covered in full-length mirrors. Two huge faux-Persian rugs ran the entire length of the lobby, and on the walls were 19th century etchings showing Hoboken as it used to be. In one, a man walked with a woman carrying a parasol. The caption read: Hoboken, 1860. Baseball, supposedly, had been invented in the park on the corner. The building was named after it: the Elysian.

I hit the button for the elevator. The building was from the ‘20s and there had always been problems with it when I lived here: pipes bursting, the tub leaking, no hot water, no cold water, no water at all. When the elevator arrived, I got on and pressed the button for the fourth floor. The inside was just as I remembered it. It felt like no time had passed; I was coming home from running errands and Grainne would greet me with a smile and a kiss.

I got out at the fourth floor and took Jeff’s keys out of my pocket. It took me a few seconds to remember which key went with what lock. Finally I figured it out, inserted the key, and turned it.

“I’m home,” I said, my voice echoing down the hallway.

“Okay, sweetie,” Grainne called out. It sounded like she was on the couch. That’s where she usually was, either watching TV or sitting there with her laptop sitting on a TV tray, her ersatz office.

I walked slowly down the hall, breathing in the smell of the apartment. The scent of the place was exactly as I remembered it. In the mirror at the end of the hall, my eyes looked sunken and tired. With another step I could see the edge of the dining room and beyond it, through the big windows overlooking Hudson, the buildings on the other side of the street. To the left I spotted a sliver of kitchen with its Tuscan-yellow paint job and the plates on the wall Grainne had bought in Mexico before we met.

“Where are you, sweetie?” she called out, sensing I was stalling in the hallway.

Even though I wanted to see her, I was scared and nervous. I couldn’t put it off any longer. I turned the corner and there she was.

Grainne was sitting on the far end of the couch, surrounded by The New York Times and a bunch of manila folders stuffed with work. She was wearing jeans and an orange T-shirt. Her hair was short, just like when we met; black bangs hung over her brown eyes. She looked gorgeous and I wanted to cry.

“How was breakfast?” she asked.

“Fine,” I said, hoping she didn’t expect me to elaborate since I didn’t know who Jeff had told her he was with. Why hadn’t we rehearsed?

“How were the pancakes?” she said with a grin.

“How did you know I had pancakes?”

“It’s what you always have.” She got off the couch and enveloped me in a hug. “Or am I wrong?”

“No,” I managed to squeeze out before she kissed me.

After she grabbed me I didn’t know how to reciprocate. In the last six months of the relationship, once we knew it was falling apart, things like this didn’t happen. By the end we were just roommates. I folded my arms clumsily across her back, hoping she couldn’t tell how bad I was at this, how I’d forgotten how to hold her.

“You even smell like syrup,” she said.

She let go of me and sat back on the couch. Her laptop was open on the end table. In the background a CD that I owned and had just come out was playing; this Jeff must have bought it, too.

“What’s been going on around here?” I asked.

“Just trying to put the finishing touches on this presentation.”

The manila folders were stuffed with color printouts held together with black binder clips. On top of the folders were a few red pens and blue and yellow highlighters.

I sat down on the couch, my arms feeling chilled after the walk from the diner. Grainne went back to her work. I just sat there, looking around the room that hadn’t changed since the divorce.

“God, this is boring,” Grainne said a few minutes later. “I need a break. Do you want to go with me to the store?”

“Sure.”

“Wow,” Grainne said, surprised. “You never want to go to the store. Are you okay?”

I just smiled and said, “Never better. Let’s go.”

She grabbed her purse and we headed downstairs. On the way out of the building we ran into some neighbors. They lived on the second floor, were about our age, and didn’t have kids. They were nice and we occasionally saw them socially.

“We haven’t see you guys since the Fourth,” the husband said; I think his name was Mark. “We’d love to have you over for dinner next week.”

Grainne looked at me for approval.

“Sure,” I said.

Why not?

 

We pulled into the parking lot of ShopRite. I grabbed a shopping cart and we then went through the store methodically, up and down every aisle. Grainne led the way, dropping items into the cart every couple of feet. After she put two gallons of milk in the cart, she asked, “What do you want for dinner?”

“How about pasta?”

“What kind?”

Grainne cooked a lot of things that I liked, but the first thing that came to mind was orecchiette with sausage, carrots, and peas. Whenever I missed her, that pasta was one of the things I missed. After I mentioned this, her eyes lit up. I felt like kicking myself for leaving that look.

“Perfect,” she said. “I have carrots at home, from making your muffins, but let me round up the rest.”

After another twenty minutes we were done. The cart was full of staple items for the week, as well as what we needed for dinner. We paid for the groceries, wheeled our cart out to the Jetta, and I put the half-dozen bags in the trunk while Grainne started the car.

It would have sounded to anyone else like a boring way to spend an afternoon, but I couldn’t believe how warm I felt bathing in the domesticity. I hadn’t spent a Saturday like this in a long time. As we were pulling out of the parking lot, I thought of Central Park. I wondered what the crowds would be like today, or whether or not I would have had a good run. It was the same itch I’d had when we first moved to Hoboken. The whole world seemed to exist across the river. I felt exiled here, shut off from everything. After the divorce I was sure that moving back to New York would erase this feeling. It did, but I then discovered something else to miss: the life I’d carved out with Grainne in New Jersey. Without her, and the things we did as a married couple, I felt exiled, shut off.

“Do you want to stop at Sparrow to get some wine?”

“Sure,” I said. “Maybe a nice red? It’s getting chilly out.”

“Yeah,” Grainne said. “My dad told me about a new kind of wine we should try.”

“Sounds good.”

“And while we’re there, can I run to the drug store? I need a few things.”

“Sweetheart, there’s no place else I’d rather be.”

Grainne looked at me skeptically, as if I were being a smartass. I was telling the truth.

 

By the time we got home and found a parking space it was almost dark. The air was cold and there was a breeze. This reminded me of meeting the others that morning at the Malibu Diner. It’d only been a few hours ago, but it seemed farther away than that. I wondered, for a second, how the other Jeff was doing back at my apartment on Seventy-third Street. I also tried to picture the other one, with Zachery in Montclair, but pushed that thought from my mind. Instead, I carried the groceries while Grainne fished her keys out of her purse. Once inside the building she stopped for the mail, while I pressed the button for the elevator with my elbow.

“Anything interesting?” I asked.

“Just some bills.”

As we rode up to the fourth floor, I looked at the assorted envelopes in her hand. I could see the logos and return address of two insurance companies, our bank, and a card someone had mailed addressed to us both.

Grainne opened the door to the apartment and held it open for me. It all felt so natural. Our years together came back in a flood of memories. I walked past her, toward the kitchen, depositing the bags on the counter.

“You want to help me with dinner?”

“I don’t know about that,” I said. I was never a very good cook and she knew it. She must have been teasing. “But I can provide moral support.”

“That’s just as good.”

Grainne unpacked the groceries, keeping what she needed for the pasta on the counter. As she did this I uncorked the wine and poured two glasses. I handed a glass to her and then sat on a wooden footstool placed against the wall near the fridge. I used to always do this. I’d come home, Grainne would be making dinner, and I’d sit on the footstool—with a glass of wine—and tell her about my day. It had been over a year since I’d seen her; I had a backlog of days.

“You’ll never guess who I ran into the other day at Garden of Eden.”

“I have no idea,” I said, meaning it.

“Mary,” she said.

“My mom’s friend from California?”

“No, our marriage counselor. Remember?”

I’d thought of her just that morning as I’d walked from the diner to the apartment.

“What did she say?”

“Nothing much.” Grainne stopped peeling a carrot and turned to me. “It was kind of awkward, actually.” She then turned back to the sink and continued peeling. “I didn’t know what the protocol was. Like, should I say hi? Should I just ignore her?”

“What did you do?”

“I said hi.”

She finished peeling the carrot and moved on to another.

“Did she ask you anything?”

“She did, actually. I was prepared just to make small talk. Ask about that husband of hers that did the oil paintings. Remember that one from her office, of the tree with all the branches? But instead she asked about us.”

“What did she ask?”

“Oh, what you’d expect, I guess. Did we ever have a child? Were we still married?”

“What did you tell her?”

The peeling paused yet again; it was a dumb thing to have said.

“I said no on the child, obviously.” Grainne stopped speaking, and began to breathe heavily. But then she straightened out and continued. “But I told her that yes, we were still married.”

I took a sip of the wine; it was good. Her dad really knew his stuff.

“Was she surprised?”

“About which?”

“Either, I guess.”

“Well, she knew about the kid thing, obviously. We were always honest with her, you remember that.”

“Yes, honest,” I said, looking into my wine. “But—what about us?”

Grainne turned to me. She traded the peeler for her own glass of wine and took a sip.

“Yeah, she did seem surprised actually.”

“Why?”

“I think you know why.”

This made me wonder just how close Jeff had come to making the mistake that I’d made. Often in the past year I’d regretted what I’d done; sorry and full of remorse that I’d shattered this life. I then wondered if Jeff ever regretted not shattering it. There were so many ways to be sorry.

Grainne put her glass of wine down on the counter and went back to preparing the dinner. Once the carrots were peeled she cut them into discs. After that she took a box of frozen peas from the freezer.

“Remember the time you used edamame instead?”

She grinned. It was nice having history with someone.

“That was good, wasn’t it?”

She set aside the peas to thaw and then began to mince a clove of garlic using a mezzaluna. I took another sip of the wine. It was good and I was getting a buzz. It made me want to have a cigarette, but I didn’t see ashtrays anywhere. I figured Jeff had quit. Good for him.

“After dinner,” Grainne was saying, “do you want to watch a movie? A new Netflix arrived.”

This brought back memories. Most weekends this is what we did: we’d watch movies. Occasionally we’d play a game, getting out Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit. Once a month or so we’d go into the city for dinner and maybe a show, and less frequently we’d go to a party or meet another couple for a meal. But for the most part, on weekends, we made or ordered-in dinner and then watched a movie. It struck me that that’s also what I did in my brownstone on Seventy-third Street. I’d created a whole lot of pain in order to lead mostly the same life.

“What movie is it?”

“It’s called The Three. Something about a serial killer and a detective and split personalities.”

I grimaced and Grainne noticed.

“Don’t get mad at me. You’re the one who put it in the queue.”

I got up from the footstool and stood behind her. I snaked my arms around her waist and nuzzled my mouth behind her right ear, kissing her neck. She smelled just like I remembered: wonderful. I said, “Not exactly.”

“Stop it,” she giggled, “that tickles. And I’m holding a knife. Someone could get hurt.”

“That’s a mezzaluna, it’s not a knife. It’d be very hard to mince someone to death.”

“Seriously, Jeff, please. Just let me make dinner?”

I stopped kissing and stepped away, thinking I’d done something wrong.

“And maybe after dinner,” Grainne said, grinning, “we’ll go to bed early and won’t watch the movie. Okay?”

“Okay,” I replied.

“Good, now go do some writing or something and let me finish this.”

She then took from one of the bottom cupboards a huge pot she always used for pasta and begin to fill it up from the sink. After this she grabbed a red container of sea salt that looked like a can of Pringles.

“Okay,” I repeated, and then took my glass of wine down the hall, to the extra room I used as a study.

 

I walked down the hall slowly, the sound of Grainne making dinner getting more and more faint with every step that I took. When I entered the room, I was amazed to see it was still painted the light yellow we’d hated since the day we moved in. Our landlords, who’d lived here before us—they’d rented the apartment when they couldn’t sell it—had two kids, and this extra room had been the nursery. We’d always talked about painting it something more masculine but always put if off. The room also had dingy white carpeting, another thing we always said we wanted to remove but obviously never did.

I sat down at the desk. Everything looked exactly as I remembered it: the cheap Ikea desk, the MacBook, the silver desk lamp that looked like an antique but had been bought new at Pottery Barn. The cheap desk chair hurt my back seconds after I sat down, the way it always did. We made decent money, so why hadn’t Jeff—after all these years—bought a better chair?

I opened the laptop. A number of windows were open, most of them websites like Amazon and The New York Times. But one of them was Gmail. This piqued my interest since I didn’t have a Gmail account. I couldn’t help but look at the screen, scrolling through the messages. All of them were recent and had been sent by luke@yourefamiliar.com. That address didn’t mean anything to me. I clicked into the Sent messages and scrolled down to the bottom of the screen, finding the first message in the series. It was dated just a few days ago.

The email said:

Luther,

Sorry if I was grouchy when we met at Treble. I’m obviously not responding very well to this situation and I don’t really know how to act. This all seems very strange. But what we talked about helped, and I’m going to try and remember what you said. I’ll try not to bother you with more questions about what’s going on, but I can’t make any promises. And in terms of the plan we discussed, I’ll keep that in mind but only as a last resort.

Thanks again,

Jeff

Luther wrote back later that day, telling him not to worry, that it was going to be okay. He’d help in any way that he could. He also added a postscript that said, simply, Call me Luke. Below this was the following signature:

Luther Blissett
CEO and Founder
You’re Familiar, Inc.
www.yourefamiliar.com
A website for all of you

I read a few of the other emails, but none of them seemed to make much sense. Jeff was worried, and Luke tried to calm him down. Frustrated, I did a Google search for Luke Blissett. The only things that came up were assorted junk and a number of Facebook profiles that I was pretty sure weren’t for the Luke Blissett I was looking for. Then I remembered Jeff’s initial email, calling him Luther instead of Luke. I did another search, this time on “Luther Blissett.” The top result was from Wikipedia. I clicked onto the page. This was the first paragraph:

Luther Blissett is a multiple-use name, an “open reputation” informally adopted and shared by hundreds of artists and social activists all over Europe and South America since 1994.

“What the fuck,” I said out loud. In the kitchen I heard Grainne open and close the oven, probably taking out the bread.

The rest of the Wikipedia page didn’t make much sense, so I clicked back to Google. The third listing was for something called the Luther Blissett Manifesto. I clicked on the link. It wasn’t much of a page; just a couple of long paragraphs that made about as much sense as the Wikipedia page. The manifesto was broken into two parts: MEETING UP WITH A DANGEROUS CHARACTER: LUTHER BLISSETT and LUTHER BLISSETT. NOTES ON THE NATURE OF THE CONSPIRACY. I glanced through each of the sections, but it all seemed like situationist gibberish. Phrases like “linguistic cross-fertilisation” and “authoritarian codification” were peppered throughout. The last sentence of the first section jumped out at me:

Luther Blissett is not a ‘teamwork identity’ as reported by the journalists; rather, it is a MULTIPLE SINGLE: the ‘Luther Blissetts’ don’t exist, only Luther Blissett exist. Today we can infuse ourselves with vitality by exploring any possibility of escaping the conventional identities.

My eyes scanned the text, trying to tie the Luther Blissett concept to whoever or whatever was sending Jeff those emails, but I couldn’t make sense of any of it.

“Sweetie?” Grainne called out from the kitchen and I jumped. “Can you come set the table?”

I hesitated before answering, wanting more time to try and figure out what was happening.

“Jeff, honey, are you there?”

“Uh—yeah,” I shouted. “Coming.”

I closed the laptop, left the room, and then began to set the table so I could have dinner with the woman who’d divorced me the year before.

 

During dinner I was edgy and distracted. I kept thinking of Luther and those emails. Who was he and what did it all mean? As we were finishing our salads, it hit me that the website listed in the email signature had been mentioned last week by one of the Jeffs. During that first session with Dr. Schwartz, he said it was a social networking site for split personalities. Feeling torn and splintered, I wondered if that’s just what I was: a remnant of a bit of sanity now long lost.

I contemplated telling Grainne who I was and what I thought was happening to me. Spilling the truth about the other Jeffs, even the one who’d died and the one I’d tried to kill back in California. I then wondered if Jeff had already told her. Was she, somehow, in on it? In one of Luther’s emails he’d mentioned her, saying something about You may need her help. How much you choose to tell her is up to you. But if I told her about any aspect of this, it would have forced me to tell her about the Jeff in Montclair, the one with the child. She would claw at me for details and I’d had to give them.

As I was thinking all of this, Grainne looked up and smiled. She had a leaf of baby greens stuck in her teeth and I told her so. She then grinned shyly and began to dig it out with a fingernail. It was just about the least romantic thing you could imagine, but I thought it was wonderful. This made me forget about trying to explain or tell her anything. I just wanted to enjoy the night.

After dinner we didn’t watch the movie, we played Scrabble. For most of the game I stared at Grainne instead of my letters. She beat me easily and by a large margin and I couldn’t have cared less. It was lovely to just sit there with her. It reminded me of the early days and nights between us, when things were good.

“You didn’t put up much of a fight,” she said as we were putting the game away.

All I did was grin and say, “No, I didn’t.”

We’d continued to drink while we were playing. Even though right after dinner I was dying for a cigarette, by the time we were halfway through the game the craving had subsided. As I was brushing my teeth, I was glad I hadn’t smoked. It was always an awful feeling to taste ash instead of toothpaste.

From the dresser in the extra room I pulled out a pair of blue pajamas. I felt self-conscious going to bed in just my boxers, which was how I usually slept. Before heading into the bedroom I checked my breath and tried to comb what little hair I have left by raking my right hand over my head.

“Pajamas?” Grainne said when I walked into the bedroom.

“Well, I figured, you know—it’s getting colder.”

“But you always wake up in the middle of the night hot.”

I just shrugged and got into bed. It was strange how much she knew about me. Somewhere out there the Grainne who divorced me still had this information in her head; so many wasted bits of her brain being used by information she’d now never need.

“Listen,” Grainne said as she began taking off her jewelry and putting the pieces into assorted places: the rings into a box, the earrings onto a stainless steel tree. “I’m sorry if I was short at dinner.”

“Short?” I said. My mind raced through the meal. I thought it had been fine, but maybe there’d been something I missed.

“Forget it,” I said. I pulled the covers up to my neck and was already hot.

“It’s just, I’ve missed you the past couple of weeks.”

Her Jeff had been spying on me from the Wakefield; I had no idea what he’d told Grainne in order to get out of the house.

“Well, you know,” I said, hoping she would again fill in the blank.

“Yes, I know,” she said, helpfully. “Work work work.

“You know how important it is to me.”
“Yes, but Jeff, you’re not indispensable. Don’t take this personally—there are other people out there who could do your job.”

There were certainly two I could think of.

“But that’s what I’m afraid of, Gran. The second they realize you’re dispensable, guess what?’

She rolled her eyes. “I know, I know. They’ll dispense of you. You tell me that all the time.”

There was silence. She and I had had this conversation at least a half-dozen times when we were married. How many more times had the other Jeff and her had it? Ten? Twenty? Would they just keep going on in this pattern?

“Anyway,” I said, ending the conversation. I used to use the word anyway as a segue to a new topic but, somewhere in my thirties, I began to use it simply to signal when I was done talking. Grainne could tell. As soon as I said it, she turned her back to me and began taking off her clothes. When she got to her bra I had to turn away.

On the nightstand there was a paperback by Raymond Chandler. Short stories, not a novel. Trouble is My Business. I picked it up and flipped to the contents page. At first glance I thought the last story in the book was called “Rewind” but, on closer inspection, noticed it was actually “Red Wind.” I turned to page 162 and began reading. There was a desert wind blowing that night.

I was just getting into the story when Grainne said, loudly, “Hey, wait a second.”

I looked up and saw her wearing a gray flannel nightgown I’d never seen before. She was putting lotion on her elbows but had stopped, staring at me instead.

“What—what is it?”

“Your wedding ring.” She pointed to my left hand with the bottle of lotion. The lotion smelled like almonds. “It’s gone. I just noticed.”

Shit.

“Oh, I—don’t know.”

“You had it on this morning before you left for breakfast.”

She put the lotion down on her nightstand and crawled into bed. This gave me a few seconds to think.

“I guess I—it must have slipped off.”

“Where, at the diner?”

“Yes, the diner.”

“I want you to go back to that diner first thing tomorrow and see if someone’s found it.”

“That’s a good idea,” I said. “I’ll do that.”

Grainne had just given me the excuse I hadn’t yet thought of: how to get out of the house early tomorrow morning and meet the others back in Central Park. True, I’d need an extra excuse since walking over to the Malibu would only take ten minutes and heading to Central Park and back would take two hours. But that was the other Jeff’s problem.

As Grainne reached for her own book, I saw it. Sitting on her nightstand, alongside a digital thermometer, was the notebook. Grainne had bought it to fill with charts and dates and times, a journal for keeping track of when she was ovulating so we would know when to have sex. In the end she never scribbled on a single page since, as soon as she told me what the notebook was for, we had a long talk that culminated in a big fight. Even though we’d discussed having kids when we were dating, by the time we got married I’d changed my mind. Grainne tried to talk me into it until she finally realized she couldn’t. In the end she decided she wanted a child more than she wanted me, and I just couldn’t—or wouldn’t—change my mind.

Ever since then I’d regretted the decision and that I’d managed to lose her and then let her go. During those first few months in the brownstone on Seventy-third Street, once the novelty of being on my own had worn off—it was fun at first, I won’t deny that—a deep loneliness had set in. The kind of loneliness I’d had before and tried to cure by getting married. It dawned on me as the summer ended that maybe I’d made a huge mistake. By fall I knew I’d done the wrong thing, that I’d fucked up.

Looking at the notebook—this one I could see had been filled out; pages were dog-eared and the cover showed marks from wear—I decided not to make the same mistake twice.

I turned to Grainne and she turned to me. She had a novel in her hand and a look on her face that conveyed that she wanted to get back to the novel. I said, “Come here.”

She leaned over and gave me a quick kiss. I stopped her from leaving and kissed her some more, wrapping my arms around her and pulling her toward me. Grainne seemed confused.

“Do you know what this means? The notebook—tonight. My cycle. It’s time.” She seemed scared but was also grinning; a combination that made you feel alive. “Not that it’s a guarantee, but it’s a pretty good chance that—”

“I know,” I said, slipping my hand under her nightgown.

“You’re sure?” Her voice was like a rainbow: it contained all of her emotions.

I just nodded, a tear in my eye. I turned to switch off the light and when I did I caught a glance at the clock on my bedside table. It was only 11:59; not even midnight.

Grainne laughed and said, “It’s about time.”

 

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