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The Object of Your Affections

The Object of Your Affections, February 2019
by Falguni Kothari

Graydon House
368 pages
ISBN: 1525823531
EAN: 9781525823534
Kindle: B07BW8PJMV
Trade Size / e-Book
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"An engaging and entertaining friend drama..."

Fresh Fiction Review

The Object of Your Affections
Falguni Kothari

Reviewed by Bharti C
Posted March 17, 2019

Women's Fiction

THE OBJECT OF YOUR AFFECTIONS by Falguni Kothari is a story based in New York City. The main characters Paris, Naira, Neal are an interesting trio. The main themes of the story are friendship, surrogacy and co-parenting.

Paris and Naira are best friends from college, though almost estranged at the start of the story, who are reunited when Naira returns to see another friend in New York. Paris a successful lawyer, is married to Neal Singh Fraser, a jewelry designer and mogul. After college, Naira got married and settled back home in Mumbai. After nearly a decade of heartbreak, loss, and grief, she returns to New York to change and move on from her life in Mumbai.

Paris and Neal are going strong in their marriage except for their differences on parenthood. Which is where Naira comes in the picture.

THE OBJECT OF YOUR AFFECTIONS has engaging characters who have an Indian connection by birth and extended families. This touch adds vibrancy and is a strong presence in the story. I was hooked on the characters of this story - their flaws and passions were pretty engaging and entertaining. The story unfolded and ended nicely for me. As an Indian, I could identify and feel for the various characters of the story. It just made the reading more exciting. Falguni Kothari is a new to me author and if this is how other stories are I am looking forward to discovering her other books soon.

Learn more about The Object of Your Affections

SUMMARY

Two best friends rewrite the rules of friendship, love and family…and change everything they thought they knew about motherhood

Paris Kahn Fraser has it all—a successful career as an assistant district attorney, a beautiful home in New York City, and a handsome, passionate husband who chose her over having a family of his own. Neal’s dream of fatherhood might have been the only shadow in their otherwise happy life…until Paris’s best friend comes to town.

Naira Dalmia never thought she’d be a widow before thirty. Left reeling in the aftermath of her husband’s death, all she wants is to start over. She trades Mumbai for New York, and rigid family expectations for the open acceptance of her best friend. After all, there isn’t anything she and Paris wouldn’t do for each other.

But when Paris asks Naira to be their surrogate, they’ll learn if their friendship has what it takes to defy society, their families and even their own biology as these two best friends embark on a journey that will change their lives forever.

Wry, daring and utterly absorbing, The Object of Your Affections is an unforgettable story about two women challenging the norms…and the magic that happens when we choose to forge our own path.

Excerpt

The things we did for love.

“Did you know that the global wedding industry is worth three hundred billion dollars? The US stake alone is fifty- five billion?” I waved my phone displaying the appalling data in front of my husband’s face.

The stats had gotten worse in the two and a half years since our own wedding.

Neal, as usual, didn’t share my outrage at mankind’s fol¬lies, so he shrugged as if the matter was of no consequence to him—which it wasn’t—and with infinite patience he brushed my hovering hand away from his face and continue to do un¬speakable things to my mouth.

We were attending our fourth wedding of the year. Fourth! And, I’d been invited to half a dozen baby showers over the past ten months—two of which I hadn’t been able to avoid.

As if squealing over fake fluffy bunnies wasn’t bad enough, such events were filled with busybodies who wanted to know when I was going to deliver some “good news” of my own. Seriously, the next person who asked me that question was going to end up in the city morgue. On an autopsy table. Exactly what was the correlation between pregnancy and “good” news, I had no clue. As if not being pregnant was “bad” news? Aargh! I could scream.

I’d bet that when Neal and I gave them our special news, they wouldn’t care for it either. Our families were going to go ballistic when they heard that we were considering gestational surrogacy when I was perfectly capable of bearing children.

Well, physically capable, at least. Mentally and emotionally? The jury was still out.

Since Neal had more faith in our mothers than I did, he was welcome to explain it to them when it was time.

“Homo sapiens. Bat-shit crazy lot,” I mumbled from the corner of my mouth, trying to keep my lips still as Neal worked on them, while going nearly cross-eyed as I recounted the zeroes that were peppered across the wedding industry article in Reuters. “And never satisfied with their lot in life.” Maybe it wasn’t billions but millions.

Nope. Eleven zeroes tacked behind the cardinal number three. My hope for humanity plummeted to earth. If that didn’t prove beyond reasonable doubt that Man itself was the natural disaster devastating the world, I didn’t know what did. What kind of senseless, overbred animal spends that kind of money on a fantasy ceremony solely created to propagate an even bigger fantasy, that of a perfect union and its glory-ever-after?

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t against the institution of marriage. I fully approved when compatible people tied the proverbial knot or cohabitated in a mutually beneficial fashion.

Like my adoptive parents—the second set, as opposed to the first abominable pair—who’d been an excellent example of a square peg in a square hole kind of couple. Mr. and Mrs. Samuel and Lily Kahn had been harmoniously well matched on all fronts until the Judge’s death separated them four years ago.

A second great example was my own marriage, which, though not of the square-peg-square-hole variety, was nothing short of marvelous—on most days. I’d married an amazing man who stroked my brain as vigorously as he stroked my emotions…and other interesting carbon-based assets. I’d absolutely hit the jackpot in the supportive husband sweepstakes. So, it behooved me not to screw things up and tread carefully with the surrogacy plans. Do not dictate. Discuss.

Neal and I had narrowed our list of potential surrogates down to two women and then reached a stalemate. Neal preferred Martha who came highly recommended by his close friends in California. I liked her too—our interviews had gone well—but she lived simply too far away. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the scheduling and travel nightmare for both Neal and I every time we had to make it to a doctor’s appointment. If it were up to me, I’d Skype in for the ultrasounds. But my husband wanted to actively experience the entire gestation since it would be the only one he’d—we’d—have. The other candidate was from Connecticut, just two hours away by car. We could see her every weekend if we wished. However, we hadn’t clicked quite so well with her as we’d done with Martha. Le sigh. It would be so much easier if our surrogate lived in or around New York City, but compensated surrogacy was illegal in New York State thus not an option.

Well, no point in stressing over it right now as we weren’t making any decisions this weekend. Better to put everything away and bask in my husband’s masterful strokes instead.

Neal’s touch was liquid cool on my face, arousing even when he didn’t mean to stimulate, as it moved across my eyes and cheeks, brushed over my chin and throat. Though he didn’t look it, the dear lad was dead on his feet from a sixteen- hour flight—hence the one-word responses, grunts and shrugs at my attempts at marital repartee. Or, was he still brooding over our impasse about the surrogates? Time-out, Counselor. Repetitive.

Either way, my husband was simply too sweet for not succumbing to a jet-lagged stupor after his whirlwind business trip to Asia. Instead, he’d rushed home from JFK, dumped his travel suiter, taken a hasty wake-up shower, loaded our wedding weekend bags in our metallic blue Tesla, picked me up from the courthouse only to dodge traffic for the next two hours on the I-87 North until we reached the vineyard in time for my college friend Lavinia’s wedding rehearsal dinner. After all that dashing around, he was still on his feet taking care of my needs. Mind you, I had asked nicely for his help in putting on my war paint. Neal was just so much better at makeup than I was. So, yes, I would recommend the state of wedded bliss—or even unwedded togetherness—to anyone who’d had the good fortune to find herself (or himself) a Neal Singh Fraser.

In summation, I wasn’t against marriage. What I objected to was the hoopla surrounding the ceremony. The wanton waste of time, money and resources in the planning and execution of said hoopla. How could anyone with an ounce of empathy justify spending such garish sums of money on a frivolous party when there were children starving in the world? When scribbling names in front of a marriage registrar in city hall—or the like—worked just as well as an elaborate exchange of vows in front of a priest or officiator? What difference did it make if two souls merged into one entity in front of four people or four hundred? The object of the exercise was to legalize a couple’s commitment to each other, wasn’t it? But no, some people weren’t satisfied until a three-ring circus supplemented their nuptials, even when they knew, deep in their hearts, that sooner or later another even bigger circus would herald their uncoupling. Point in fact were the hundreds of embittered divorces and child custody battles filling up the dockets in family court. I’d been six when I was dragged into one such abominable battle between my first set of adoptive parents, so I knew firsthand what happened when love died and marriages fell apart. It was that kind of wanton waste I objected to. Not that I expected Lavinia and Juan’s upstate New York lovefest to end in divorce. Or my own marriage. I didn’t.

Shtup. Did I?

Neal sidestepped to the vanity and suddenly the embossed yellow leaves on the maple-colored wall tile were brought up close. We were inelegantly squashed inside a bathroom that was tinier than my office at One Hogan Place—a space the formerly taciturn Lily Kahn had pronounced to be the size of a matchbox. As the crusaders of justice and the wielders of morality, assistant district attorneys deserved nicer offices, Lily had once emailed Manhattan’s District Attorney, my boss, and cc’d me on it. My adoptive mother had morphed into one opinionated meshugenah since the Judge’s death. It was another thing driving me batty these days—Lily’s battiness.

Her growing obsession with horoscopes, while incomprehensible at best, was getting to me. Last week, it had portended a change in my personal and professional life according to Lily. And today, I’d been asked to join a task force that was being set up between the DA’s office and the United States Attorney’s office, jointly, to look into a human rights violation case. That took care of the professional change. The personal shift could either mean a bairn or a divorce trying to procure said bairn. Double shtup.

After a lightning exchange of brushes, Neal repositioned himself before me. He settled one hand on top of my head to hold it steady, and with his right hand, he began to trace my full, shapeless lips into a discernable form. My mouth molded into a natural goldfish moue that needed special care. Indeed, my mouth and what came out of it warranted close attention. Consider the offer carefully, laddie. Your freedom depends on it, was my daily counsel to the perpetrators of crime. I’d do well to heed my own advice for the decisions I—oops, Neal and I—had to make.

“Quit fidgeting, hen. We’re almost done. Close yer mouth. And no, don’t frown so. And don’t press yer lips together just yet,” Neal instructed in his lilting Scottish brogue that never failed to capture my attention. More, the deep commanding baritone demanded immediate compliance.

I froze on the closed toilet seat and tilted my face up to look into my husband’s loch-blue eyes. Fringed with thick sooty lashes, those eyes combined with his voice produced gooseflesh all over my skin even though he didn’t mean to stimulate me. Was it any wonder then that I’d given in to Neal’s mad vision of our own wedding? I still felt ill whenever I recalled—fondly, mostly fondly—the sheer wantonness of our three-day festivities. The truth was that I found it impossible to say no to this man when he was in the mood to charm.

“Now press.”

I pressed my lips together as Neal plied his expertise on shaping them. God! But I loved him—all six feet two inches and one eighty-eight pounds of Scottish-Indian stubbornness. I loved being married to him. And yes, I’d loved getting married to him, exchanging vows and rings and kisses under the ballroom chandelier of his family’s residential castle in Scotland. Our wedding might have been a self-indulgent waste of resources but it had come from a place of love and pride, and no one was in debt because of it. We’d made promises to each other in front of all the people who’d mattered to us—correction, everyone except the two people I’d loved and counted on the most in the world back then had blessed our union. My perfect day of joy would be forever tainted due to their absence.

At least, the Judge had had a legitimate excuse for missing my wedding, being dead and all. But my best friend and maid of honor, Naira, had bowed out at the last minute. Her husband’s business had been in trouble. Kaivan the Criminal had gotten his comeuppance the Indian media had claimed, and still Naira had stuck by him like a good little wife. Her choice had broken us for a while—I was a prosecutor, for God’s sake, I didn’t stand by criminals. And then he’d died.

Things were slightly better between us now. We messaged each other off and on, and I mostly understood her stance, her choices—especially now that I knew just how much I would do or endure for Neal. But I still felt acid well up inside me when I remembered just how awful I’d felt on my wedding day. How alone.

Neal cocked an eyebrow at me, divining my mood dips as expertly as he was reshaping my lips. “Are ye practicing your apology to her in your mind then? Is that why yer nervous?”

My back and shoulders went taut. “Why should I apologize? She’s the one who got all bent out of shape because I pointed out the truth.”

“And I suppose ye would let people get away with bad- mouthing me to yer face, aye?”

“If it was the truth,” I began but stopped when Neal raised a second brow high. Another stalemate. I let my shoulders droop. “Fine. I’ll be…nice.” I didn’t do apologies. Mainly because I didn’t make mistakes or speak out of turn.

Neal was right though. I was nervous about meeting Naira. It had been four years since we’d seen each other in person. Two days ago, I’d received a message from her after weeks of iMessage silence: Hopping on a plane to NY. See you at Lavinia’s wedding.

What the hell kind of message was that?

“Stupid weddings.” I pressed my phone to my stomach, willing the awfulness to abate. I was a mess at weddings— about weddings. I was better at marriage.

Because it served no purpose to get upset about the past or the state of the world, I made a concerted effort to shut a mental door on all my current grievances pertaining to weddings, best friends, starving children—any children, for that matter—and the task force. All that could wait until Monday. This wedding would not.

Sexy times with my amazing man should not.

Said amazing man skimmed his sexy finger down my nose and tapped its slightly upturned tip—yup, I’d been born disdaining the world—as he scrutinized my face.

“Ye look bonny. Now get dressed so I can start on yer hands.” He’d offered to paint henna designs on my hands.

Neal was a globally coveted jewelry designer, a metal artiste and an honest-to-goodness lord—he was fourth in line to a Scottish baronage—and as such an expert on beautiful things and luxury lifestyle. He pulled me to my feet and nudged me out of the miniscule bathroom to get on with getting dressed. I stopped in the doorway to thank him with a kiss but he’d already turned to face the tiled vanity and was putting my makeup bag to rights.

My pout swelled into a laugh as I watched my husband recap bottles of glitter and gold, click-shut eye shadow palettes, wipe faux-hair brushes with tissue and pack each one of the items into their designated pockets in my cosmetic bag with ferocious care. For a man who dabbled in paint, pencil shavings and liquid metals for a living, Neal did not handle mess well. He tolerated my slovenliness without batting an eye though, and it was one of the million things I loved about him. One of the zillion things I hoped would never change between us.

I hugged him from behind, pressing a kiss on the nape of his neck, careful not to mess up the fashion-plate paint job he’d done on my face, complete with intricate swirls of a bindi design in the middle of my forehead. It shone like a piece of jewelry embedded into my skin. The women at Lavinia’s three-ring circus were going to hate me—they always did when Neal did my makeup.

My thank-you left a perfect bow-shaped pink kiss on his bare skin.

“There now, my gorgeous-ship. You’ve been branded as mine like the Fraser sheep on your family’s farms.” I wasn’t a possessive person by nature, but with Neal all bets were off. I continuously did things against my better judgment with Neal, for Neal.

We were going to have a bairn together! If that didn’t explain how weird my life had become with him, I didn’t know what did.

Amused, his gorgeous-ship twisted around to shoot me a smug grin. Shirtless and barefoot, he still managed to look sophisticated and sexy. He was turning me on, probably why his smugness didn’t irritate me. And gauging from the height of the tent in his pants, my lingerie-clad state was affecting him too.

Neal had been away at the Hong Kong gem and jewelry trade fair for the past week and we hadn’t even hugged properly when he’d picked me up from work this afternoon, much less ravaged each other like we usually did after one of his business trips. And, today was our third engagement anniversary. It was our marital duty to put everything aside and celebrate with monkey sex.

“F**k henna hands and wedding rehearsals. Let’s f**k.” I slid my hands up his hair-roughened chest to his shoulders, my intent as clear as the day was bright.

Third engagement anniversary. We’d been together for more than three years already. It baffled me that we’d lasted this long, considering we’d come together in an explosion of instinct and not intellect. After a mere six weeks of dating, Neal had impulsively suggested we get hitched on the night I’d taken the bar and in my post-exam fugue state I’d grunted, “Why not?”

I’d changed my mind the next morning, after guzzling down a gallon of coffee and sense. And lost them marbles again, a couple of months later, when I’d been giddy with excitement that I’d passed the bar on my first try. We were married within a head-spinning six months of my reproposal. Best impulsive decision of our lives.

Neal’s hands came to rest on my hips. “Didn’t ye say this weekend is dedicated to yer college friends?” “Doesn’t mean I need to be joined at the hip with them.” I pressed my lips to his jaw. “However, you and I can be.” I nudged his hips with mine. “We’ll claim that you were jet- lagged and I was exhausted. Unless, you have your heart set on spending the night flirting with my friends?” I tweaked his ear playfully, confident of his answer.

“Dally with strangers or shag my wife? Now that’s an impossible choice.” Neal’s lips kicked up in a sexy grin as he took the phone from my hand and set it aside. He freed my hair from the clip holding it up and out of my face. My bra was next, unhooked and tossed over his shoulder. Released from their lacy cage, my boobs thanked him by perking right up.

I giggled when he swung me up in his arms, and tension drained from my body as he carried me into the barn-style bedroom only slightly larger than the bathroom. It felt roomier though, as evening light poured in through the casement windows that showcased the lovely Hudson Valley and its river. The vegetation was slowly turning to gold outside. Unlike Manhattan, where the trees had only just begun to blush. Fall in New York was breathtaking. The vivid, fiery colors; the perfect weather—bright and crisp and spicy with the taste of pumpkin lattes and sangrias on your tongue. How could I have resisted falling for Neal in New York in the fall?

Careful not to jostle the outfit and accessories I’d laid out in one corner, Neal lowered me to the double bed. The coverlet was cool but its textured roughness felt surprisingly good against my skin. I sighed as pleasure spiked and washed away the last of my anxiety.

I pushed down my panties and kicked them off as Neal divested himself of his dress pants. We were naked in seconds, and then he was on top of me, crushing me with his large, warm body, my mouth with his. I bowed up and moaned as he slid into me, flesh to flesh, stretching me. Every nerve inside my body snapped like an electric charge. We’d starved for each other for a week, been separate entities for seven fricking days. We didn’t need priming. We needed to devastate. Quick. Desperate. Now! Climax came quickly for both of us. Spent, we lay there, breathing hard in the aftermath, hugging, laughing, still joined and shuddering with aftershocks. Perhaps a little disappointed that it was over so quickly.

Neal pushed up on one arm, but he didn’t get off me. I didn’t want him to. Not yet. He began to rain kisses on my face. He nipped my jaw, teased my ear, licked my collarbone.

“Better?” he asked, his voice gruff with satisfaction, his face ruddy with love. The scar on his chin, the one he’d gotten in a ski accident years ago, before I knew him, was stark white against the dark red skin where I’d sucked him. The rest of him glistened and I felt my pores open too. His blue-blue eyes watched me with humor and a good dose of fatigue. He was the one tired and he was asking whether I was feeling better. Because he knew Naira’s text had upset me.

Love gushed through me, quicker and stronger than my climax. I was glad I’d taken the time to just be with my man, to take care of him. I ran a hand through the jet- black thickness of his hair, which tended to curl just above his shoulder. In three and a half years, he’d become as familiar to me as my own face. Every freckle, every scar, every hair follicle, so very dear. I’d missed him so much this past week, especially with everything that was happening at work. With Naira. With the surrogacy. He was always so encouraging and supportive. He loved me. It was such a wonder that he loved me at all, much less when I was a witch to him. “I lo… ACK!” I began in a whisper and ended up shrieking as the room phone screeched into existence. My heart, beeping with affection a second ago, slammed against my chest with the impact of a judge’s gavel. Wildly, my eyes sought out the culprit—a quirky 1980s-style phone on the nightstand that ought to be in a museum, certainly not for use anymore.

“That is possibly—No! That sound is several decibels worse than the FDNY sirens,” I yelped. “It’s the sound the hounds of hell would make if they’d been forced to skip dinner.”

Neal stretched out an arm to reach the nightstand—he didn’t have to stretch far—and answered the phone with a brisk “Hullo!” that belied the laughter rippling through his body. Obviously, he didn’t think anyone had deprived Satan’s hounds of their kibble. With a wink and an, “Och, aye. Here she is,” he pressed the phone’s receiver to my ear.

It was Karen, Lavinia’s pregnant maid of honor. It figured.

“Paris! Is your cell phone on silent? I’ve called and called and left a dozen messages. Are you okay? Not about to pass out for the night, are you? Because Lavinia will kill you if you do. Are you ready to partay? We’re all already here.”

Yup. I was in hell. In college, I’d run myself ragged trying to graduate summa cum laude in journalism and philosophy with a minor in Latin while making it my personal mission not to miss a single night of partying. Every month like clockwork, I’d collapsed from sheer exhaustion, sometimes passing out right in the middle of whatever I was doing, and would sleep for two days straight. What did it say about me that my friends didn’t think I’d matured since then?

“We’ll be down in fifteen minutes,” I said coolly. Karen disconnected the phone without another word apparently satisfied that I was awake and lucid.

I passed the receiver back to Neal. “I should’ve said I had work to finish tonight. Or, you could have brought back a disease from Asia. Yes! We could both be infected by something sinister and avian right now. Something nasty and contagious. Damn it! I’ve been trained to think on my feet. Why didn’t I think of it?” I wondered if it was too late to try the excuse.

Neal laughed heartily—I often amused him with hyperbole— sending our joined bodies aquiver again. Now, I was truly sorry I hadn’t thought of an excuse in time. I needed more than that quickie with him. But I also wanted this night with my friends. It had taken seven years for us—all of us including Naira—to come together since graduation. It was like a homecoming.

I also couldn’t let Lavinia down. Not for her wedding.

“Ye can’t ditch the lass. She came to our wedding and clocked in full attendance.”

If I’d ever been in doubt that my husband could read my mind, those words cleared it up. But I wasn’t programmed to give in without a fight—the reason I was a damned good prosecutor.

“The only reason Lavinia came to our wedding was because you paid the air and hotel fare for my friends and family. And arranged for corporate discounts at various hotels for those interested in a Scottish holiday after the wedding. Why wouldn’t she have come?” I argued.

He’d offered Naira the same red-carpet arrangement and she’d still not come. Aargh. Don’t rehash the past. It’s done. Finished.

“Paris.” My name didn’t sound nice as an admonishment. Sometimes, I disappointed him with my quick criticisms and judgments.

“I didn’t mean it negatively. But fine. I take it back.” Arguing simply for the sake of having the last word never served any purpose. “I love you to the moon and back. You know that, right?” I took his face between my hands and kissed his mouth, quick and wet. An apology. I kissed him again and again worth several apologies. “Your eyes are red. If you’re tired, I can go by myself.”

The nonred part of his eyeballs twinkled green and blue and purple in the slanted sunlight. What did I tell you? Wicked charmer. “I slept on the plane. I’m fine for a bit. But, I’ll probably need to crash after meeting yer esteemed friend.”

He planted a soft kiss on my shoulder, then taking care not to hurt me, he rolled off and sat up on the bed. Even so, my body curved in response to his movement and I gasped as grief welled up inside me. No matter how many times we came together and drew apart, or how, in anticipation of the disengagement, I readied my body for separation, clenching it tight, or scolded my heart to behave itself, I still felt hollow when he left me. Like he’d abandoned me. Cast me out. Rejected me. Have I mentioned I have issues? Obviously, we couldn’t stay joined together like a pair of incestuous conjoined twins forever, but my body didn’t seem to understand it. Knowing this, knowing me, loving me, Neal never withdrew without a heads-up like that kiss on my shoulder.

We resumed our dress-up dance then, swirling around the room like a pair of professional ballroom dancers. Mid- October temperatures had cooled the room even without air- conditioning and the sweat dried off our bodies quickly. Deodorant took care of the rest. I rice-papered my face, and it was enough to repair my makeup. Last, I slipped a pair of emerald-cut diamond earrings onto my earlobes while checking my appearance in the mirror above the TV unit.

Neal stood behind me, adjusting his tie. His dark suit complemented my copper-and-blue brocade jacket that I wore over a pale blue summer dress.

We were always a study in contrasts, whether in or out of clothes. I was tan to his fair, voluptuous to his lean; a frugal vote to his extravagance. His mixed-race heritage and my evidently South Asian DNA had blessed us with bold looks and hardy genes. I liked how we fit—not totally in sync but complementary like the set of decorative vases on the console table by the TV. I adored who we were, together and separately. I valued the person I’d become from loving him.

“Here, let me help.” Neal took the two-inch thick smaragdine diamond bracelet from my hand. It wasn’t hard to clasp shut, even one-handed, but my mind had been elsewhere and I’d missed the clasp’s opening twice now. “The henna would’ve flattered it, but I enjoyed these hands on me better,” he said gruffly, closing the bracelet around my wrist. Then he kissed the back of my hand.

The bracelet was a Sotheby’s certified Neal Singh Fraser classic. He’d given it to me on our first wedding anniversary. I’d accepted it reluctantly not wishing to hurt his feel ings. Make no mistake, I loved my bracelet. Took delight in it more because Neal had made it himself. Not just designed it or hunted the planet for the perfect stones to set in it, but also fashioned it with his own hands like an old-fashioned goldsmith and not with the help of machines or hired artisans. I couldn’t imagine how he’d done it or how long it had taken him to cast and shape and finesse the train of interlinked pink-gold rings. Each ring in turn was alternatively pavé set in smaragdine—Neal’s brand’s signature emerald green color—and white diamonds. I marveled at his talent. I did. But owning expensive pieces of jewelry did not sit well with me no matter the sentiment attached to it. It was a frivolous indulgence just like a circus wedding. And I disapproved of it.

It wasn’t the first piece of jewelry Neal had given me but it had become the last. Maybe that’s why I was partial to it. A few weeks after our anniversary, I’d told him that such presents made me feel uncomfortable instead of happy, and I couldn’t enjoy them as he meant me to. He’d stopped giving me expensive trinkets after that. Instead, he planned special things for us to do on our special days in addition to donating large sums of money to Right is Might— our NGO of choice and the reason we were together.

Neal understood my soul. He cared about the betterment of humanity. He might not be as politically driven as I was, but he cared. And that was another one of the zillion things that made him amazing.

“Henna my hands tomorrow,” I said by way of compromise.

My husband liked to pretty me up, and I indulged him when I could. It was what marriage was about, wasn’t it? Knowing each other’s peccadilloes and loving that person anyway? Working out a compromise where one could? Like I’d compromised my stance about not ever having children, and he had compromised his by having only one, and with a surrogate.

Then, before I got too analytical or anxious again, and before Karen sent out a search party for us, I took my husband’s hand and dragged him down to the wedding rehearsal dinner, where unsurprisingly Naira didn’t show. My best friend had become adept at breaking her word.

“No amount of rehearsing prepares you for marriage,” I told Lavinia later that night as part of my bridesmaid’s duties. “You have to wing it just like you do everything else in life.”

How I was going to wing being a mother though, I had no f**king idea.


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