When he gave their wedding toast, he said they wouldn't have met if not for Facebook. Molly twisted her mouth into a joking scowl and he winked at her, handsome in his suit, with his hair mussed just right. She turned the unfamiliar weight of the wedding band on her finger, around and around, and watched his face all aglow.
It was true, the Facebook thing. Mostly. It was a meet-cute story, Hollywood style, and secretly she liked it that way even though sometimes she had to roll her eyes. He loved it though. Reveled in it, really.
The way he told it, it was fate. The way she told it, it was coincidence. The two words had some overlap. Or maybe, for some, they meant the same.
Well, the story is that he friended her on Facebook by finding her through a friend. They had never met in person. Dating for the 21st century. Eventually the mutual friend talked Molly into a blind date. Only in theory, she protested, because Molly had already seen his profile picture.
She had studied it for twenty minutes before getting into the shower for the date. He had dark hair and eyes, long lashes that were almost girlish. He really wasn't her type, she thought, but then again. It had been so long since her last relationship that she couldn't remember what her type was.
If it sucked, she could always pretend her mom was in the hospital.
He was shorter in person. She had built him up in her head as some tremendously tall giant, but in reality he was barely taller than her. She was glad she hadn't worn high heels. But, well, it was just coffee.
It was nothing too remarkable. It wasn't an instant connection, but it wasn't terrible either. They stood on her street corner afterwards, in the fading sunlight, and he kissed her gingerly on the mouth.
"Well anyway," she said in lieu of a goodbye. "I'll see you around."
He shrugged his shoulders and smiled awkwardly. "Sure."
When Molly walked into her apartment, her roommate asked how the date went.
"Okay." Molly sat down heavily on the battered couch. "I don't know…it was okay."
"Are you going to see him again?"
"I'm not sure." She kicked off her heeled boots, stuck her feet up on the coffee table and wiggled her stockinged toes. "Maybe."
He joked that he had to chase her for three months before she came around. It didn't seem that funny at the time, only in retrospect. She dodged his phone calls for a few weeks before she wondered if she was being too harsh on him. The date hadn't gone badly and he was sweet enough.
The second date went better than the first. They met at the farmers' market, walked around the cramped stalls of vegetables. She bought a selection of kale and he wanted a jasmine plant. It was only early June, but the day already felt like midsummer, with all its lazy anticipation.
"You're quite persistent," she told him over lunch.
He raised an eyebrow. "In some circles, that's called obstinacy."
"So you're attracted to stubborn assholes," he said as he popped a cherry tomato into his mouth.
"Did I say I was attracted to you?" she asked, teasing in a haughty voice, though the blush in her cheeks gave her away. She was, she supposed, and it surprised her a little.
He reached across the table and twisted one of her copper curls around his index finger. "You didn't need to."
Their relationship progressed slowly, like the slow arc of the summer. After three weeks, she spent the night, scrutinizing his face as she slipped out of her clothes. He drew her flimsy blouse off over her head and she shook out her hair, loose from its ponytail. Sweat was already beading on her neck.
"What?" she questioned, uncertain. His silence made her defensive.
The house creaked and moaned its nighttime ailments and he shook his head, eyes still on her body, moonlight spilling in from the open window.
"I kind of can't believe you're here," he confessed at last, reaching for her.
Molly felt her heart give a startled kick. She moved towards the bed, standing before him, his face level with her breasts. She smoothed a palm across the top of his head and bent to drop a kiss against his crown.
"You're beautiful," he added, tilting his face upwards.
She kissed his eyes first, then the bridge of his nose, and finally his lips. "Thank you."
"Really, I – " he drew away and his gaze bore into her. She felt small and big at the same time, felt a wash of warmth effuse her body. "I…" he trailed off.
"Thank you," she said again, and this time he was quiet.
He proposed over Thanksgiving, in the middle of meal preparation. Her brother was coming and a group of friends and her step-mom was flying in from Florida. He was supposed to be mashing potatoes and when she walked back into the kitchen, he was looking at something in the palm of his hand.
"Baby, did you finish the potatoes?" she glanced around for the bowl, wanting to prod their consistency.
"Hey," he said.
"What?" she asked, noticing the bowl on the table. She reached out to grab it.
When she turned around, he was down on his knee in front of her, holding out a ring. She dropped the bowl of potatoes and they splattered all over the kitchen. She fleetingly wondered how they were going to clean it up and have new potatoes by the time the guests arrived.
"Molly." His voice shook. "Will you marry me?"
She took the proffered ring, turned it over in her fingers. His face was now so familiar she could draw it in her sleep, find him in her dreams. She thought about the nightmare she had the other night, wandering lost and lonely. She would never be that way again.
"Yes," she told him. "Yes."
When he stood and swept her into his arms, her head was dizzy and she buried her face in the crook of his neck. She breathed in the smell of him, mingled with laundry detergent, and she thought again, Yes.
It really wasn't the life she thought she was going to have. Not if someone had asked her at her wedding – "Where do you see yourself in ten years?" She wouldn't have said, "A house in the suburbs. Two kids and a goldendoodle. Giving up my career to raise the babies."
No one goes into it saying those things anyway.
They had both changed in the years that went by, for good and bad, in sickness and in health. The kids were great, for the most part. Some days she wanted to leave them at the babysitter's and never go back. Some days she saw them playing in the backyard and had to go out and scoop them up, in that instant, tell them she loved them more than the moon and sun and stars combined.
They smelled like baby shampoo and soft bananas and carried a milky sweetness. Molly saw both her and her husband in their chubby faces. It was so strange to look at Alice and realize they shared the same chin.
She tried to tell him that night, when he staggered in late and collapsed on the couch. "Alice is looking more and more like a grown-up every day," she said wistfully. "I can see myself in her."
He looked over at her, exhausted. "Oh?"
She wanted to tell him more about the children, about the four-leaf clover Ian found in the front lawn, but there was something in his face that made her close her throat around the words.
"How was work?" she asked instead.
"Oh, you know." He shrugged and tugged his tie loose. "The usual."
She didn't know, but she nodded anyway. It was all she could do.
He didn't really go into detail about work much. She went with him to the annual events: holiday parties and company barbecues. When they went, she felt plastic and fake, smiling her hard cheerful smile. The company picnics were a little better than the holiday parties because the kids were with her and she could spend her time distracted by them instead.
"Your husband really makes us proud," one of the myriad of co-workers said to her once.
She brushed hair out of her eyes and focused on trying to get Ian to eat a carrot. "I'm so glad." She could hear the strain breaking in her own voice and was surprised when the stranger didn't react.
Instead he stooped down to ruffle Ian's hair. "Little guy. He's the spitting image of his father."
Ian's mouth fell open and Molly took the moment to shove the carrot in. "Yes, he wants to be just like Daddy. Right, Ian? Just like Daddy."
When Ian ran off to play with a friend, she located her husband in the crowd. "I think we should leave soon."
He had Alice on his hip, holding her while mingling. "Really? But they haven't even cut the cake yet."
"Cake cake cake cake cake," Alice chanted.
Molly looked at him, unsure of who he was in that moment. Someone she didn't recognize or couldn't or…who was he, this person she slept next to every night? Who was the person she married and where had he disappeared off to? She hadn't seen him in years.
"Let's stay for some cake," he said and gave Alice to her. "Oh, I should go talk to Henry."
"Cake!" Alice demanded.
When the news broke that the CEOs and CFO were being charged with accounts of embezzlement, she was shocked in a quiet way. The knowledge settled into her bones and stayed there. Her husband was mysteriously silent about the whole affair, protesting that he had no idea. He cooperated with the investigation. She found him humming under his breath while he read the newspaper.
The mother of one of Alice's friends cornered her at a neighborhood birthday party. "Did you have any idea?"
"None," Molly admitted. "He doesn't like to talk about work at home."
"Oh, my Dan is the same way. Says he wants to leave work at work." The mother rolled her eyes. "Can't believe that you would know nothing though."
"Not a peep," Molly said firmly.
Later, as she helped Alice pipe icing onto a cupcake, it occurred to her that she was living her life in the 1950s. It was strange that it didn't feel so weird to her. It should have upset her stomach, turned it over. Instead she sucked in a deep breath as she put delicate sugar stars on the cupcake.
"Did you know?" she blurted out in bed that night.
He put down his book. "Know about what?"
"I'm not stupid."
"No, of course not. I don't think…" He didn't finish the thought. "Moll, believe me, I had no idea."
She didn't, though.
The idea came out of the blue one morning, just as she was eating a bowl of granola on the deck. Sun was beginning to burn through the early-morning mist. She had ten more minutes of quiet before Alice's alarm went off and the chaos of the day began.
She hadn't thought about it before. It had appeared in her periphery a few times, but she had never thought it feasible. But this time the idea came and it latched on.
As she lay next to him at night, she touched his shoulder. Her fingers were light, but he shifted and made a small, sleepy noise. A wave of sadness came over her, lapping at her knees.
"I could leave, you know," she whispered, her voice a sliver in the dark.
He didn't even stir.
"I miss you," she said the next evening.
He turned toward her, expression hidden in the shadows. She imagined him puzzled. It was one she knew well. If a camera crew dropped in unexpectedly to film their family, they would think that her husband had been perpetually confused by her.
"I'm right here," he said and reached out a familiar hand for her.
She let him stroke her hair for a while. "Yeah," she breathed. "I know."
He kissed the side of her head and went to sleep. She watched his chest rise and fall and wondered where he had gone and how could she ever tell him what it was that she missed. That the person she wanted was the person he had been.
"I'm still in love with the person I married," she said, a soft admission. "But I don't know who you are. I don't think you're my husband."
The revelation made her world tilt, but when she woke up in the morning, it was the same. Funny, she thought as she got dressed, she had almost expected everything to disappear.
She walked around the neighborhood while the kids were at school. She circled the familiar houses from the last ten years, traced her steps. There was the park, the grocery store, the neighbors. Molly wasn't sure when she had grown tired of it but she thought she had been tired of it for a long, long time.
Maybe she would move to Seattle. She had always wanted to go to the West Coast. Or maybe the south of France. Get out of the country, go tour Europe. Attend wine tastings in Napa Valley.
She pictured holding up a glass of wine to her nose, the heady pungent sweetness of grapes, and sighed.
Ian noticed first. Unsurprising, really. She kept dropping things in the kitchen, forgot the simplest tasks. He asked for the ketchup and it took her three tries to bring back the right condiment from the fridge.
"Are you okay, Mom?" he inquired, a picture of concern.
She set the ketchup bottle next to his plate. "Of course, sweetie. Eat your dinner."
Molly overheard him later when he and Alice were washing the dinner plates. He didn't bother to lower his voice, a brash act that made her wonder if she was meant to hear.
"Do you think she's sick or something? You know, crazy?"
Alice elbowed him in the side. "She's fine. Stop worrying so much. Mom's totally okay."
She could have told him she wasn't crazy. But actually, Molly realized she didn't know. Maybe she was. She didn't feel crazy, but maybe that was it.
Maybe craziness was something that snuck up on you.
That night she thought of leaving. Of getting up and walking out the front door. The urge was almost overwhelming. She gripped the side of the bed to keep from standing. She couldn't sleep until 4 AM and her mind was buzzing so loudly she thought he would hear it.
But still, he slept.
When he came home from work, she was sitting at the kitchen table.
"Hey," he said.
"Hi," she returned. "We have to talk."
He looked old all of a sudden. There was gray in his hair, sprinkled in, and the corners of his eyes were crinkled. She watched his movements, slower than they used to be, and there was a heaviness in her chest. She swallowed.
"What about us?" He stood still.
She pictured him that night when they first had sex, conjured up the memory of his body. How she felt when he first slid his hands across her waist. How his eyes had looked wet in the dark, but she didn't want to ask. She remembered that kick of her heart and how she carried it with her for a long time afterwards. Maybe she had carried it with her until recently, when she finally put it away.
"That this is it for us," she said.
And that was when he sat down.