“You married a lemon, Elizabeth,” said Grandma Verda, as if that explained everything.
Interesting concept. I’d never compared my ex-husband to a piece of fruit before. Unless you counted the time I likened a certain appendage of his to a banana. “Assuming that’s true, even lemons can be satisfying. With a little water and sugar, you have lemonade.”Grandma Verda wrinkled her nose. “You add sugar to a bad lemon and all you get is a nasty aftertaste. And Marc Stevens is about as rotten a lemon as any I’ve ever seen.”
We were sitting in my office at A Taste of Magic, the bakery I co-own with my best friend, Jon Winterson. When I’d arrived at the crack of dawn, I’d found Grandma Verda, hot pink sneakers and all, waiting for me.
I kept my voice light. “But Grandma, when I married Marc, you thought he was perfect for me.”
“That was ten years ago. I didn’t know. He was still ripening—he could have turned into an orange. Oranges make decent husbands.”
“I see.” Well, not really, but her train of thought was interesting. Maybe someone should write a guide on how to know you’re marrying a lemon. I mean, you get an instruction manual in three different languages when you buy a toaster, so why not when you’re committing your life to another person?
I liked that idea. It could be given out after the I dos and right before the kiss. Hmm. On second thought, it should happen before the I dos. That way, either party can hotfoot it out of the ceremony before it’s too late.
Even so, I don’t think it would have changed my mind. I’d been pretty set in my decision to become Elizabeth Stevens.
“You were too good for him. I knew that much.” Grandma Verda sipped her tea. “I don’t know why you agreed to do it.”
She wasn’t talking about my ill-fated marriage any longer. This subject was one I preferred not to discuss. “I’m fine. Really. It’s not that big of a deal.”
I’d just told my first lie for the day, and not even an acceptable one at that. While I tended to be an honest person, there were two things in life I figured all women had the right to lie about: chocolate and headaches. Neither of which was the case here. And I never lied to my grandmother. Well, hardly ever. It didn’t sit well with me that I just had.
She stared at me with her never-miss-anything blue eyes. You know how when the quiet stretches on too long you feel forced to talk? To fill in the gap, I said, “I’m sure I’m not the only woman in the same situation. Besides, I’m just baking a cake. It’s not like I don’t do that every day, anyway.” Crap. I was overexplaining.
“Uh-huh.” She smacked her teacup down, a wave of Earl Grey sloshing over the side. “Let loose, Lizzie. You’ve been holding back for a year under a blanket of ‘I’m sorry,’ and ‘I’m fine,’ and ‘It’s no big deal.’ Tell me how you really feel.”
Her words hit me dead center.
I sopped up the tea with a paper towel and ignored the pressure in my chest. “What do you want me to say? That I’m crushed Marc left me for his blond Barbie-doll receptionist? That my marriage fell into the worst stereotype ever? Okay, yeah—it sucked. But it was a year ago.”
Last year was supposed to be “our year.” Marc and I were finally going to start a family. I’d wanted a baby for a long time, but he’d kept giving me reasons to wait. Only, instead of having a child, he’d decided to marry one.
My eyes welled with tears. One blink and the charade would be up. “I’ll be right back, Grandma. There’s something in my eye.” Second lie for the day. My grandmother might be tough, but she was still eighty-five years old. She didn’t need to see her granddaughter cry.
In the restroom, after the tears subsided, I turned the cold water on full blast and splashed my face. I was pale. Too pale. And the dark circles spoke of too many sleepless nights. I put a little color back by pinching my cheeks. As I stared at the woman in the mirror—a stranger—I realized it was time to quit deluding myself. I wasn’t okay. I hadn’t been for twelve long months. And what I had to do today might make me ill.
Scratch that. What I had to do today could kill me. I could