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Authors: Emily Giffin

Tags: #Psychological, #Life change events, #Psychological Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Single mothers, #Fiction, #Fiction - General, #Triangles (Interpersonal Relations), #American Contemporary Fiction - Individual Authors +, #Stay-at-home mothers, #General, #Pediatric surgeons

Heart of the Matter

BOOK: Heart of the Matter
2.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Heart of the Matter

Also by Emily Giffin

Something Borrowed

Something Blue

Baby Proof

Love the One You’re With

Emily Giffin

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

HEART OF THE MATTER. Copyright © 2010 by Emily Giffin. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

ISBN 978-0-312-55416-3

First Edition: May 2010

10      9      8      7      6      5      4      3      2      1

For Sarah, my sister and lifelong friend


Deepest gratitude to Mary Ann Elgin, Sarah Giffin, Nancy LeCroy Mohler, and Lisa Elgin for their unwavering generosity from page one. I couldn’t do it without you and could never thank you enough.

I owe so much to my editor, Jennifer Enderlin, and my publicist, Stephen Lee, along with everyone at St. Martin’s Press, especially Sally Richardson, Matthew Shear, John Murphy, Matt Baldacci, Jeanne-Marie Hudson, Nancy Trypuc, Mike Storrings, Sara Goodman, and the whole Broadway and Fifth Avenue sales forces. Because of you, I feel lucky every day.

I am indebted to my superb agent, Theresa Park, and her team: Emily Sweet, Abigail Koons, and Amanda Cardinale. You are the consummate professionals, yet you make the journey fun, too.

Thanks also to Carrie Minton, Martha Arias, Stacie Hanna, Mara Lubell, Mollie Smith, and Grace McQuade for their support; to Allyson Wenig Jacoutot, Jennifer New, Julie Portera, Laryn Gardner, and Brian Spainhour for their input; and to Dr. Christopher A. Park and Joshua Osswald for their insight on matters of medicine and tennis, respectively.

I am grateful to my readers for their warmth and enthusiasm, and my friends for their good humor and love.

Finally, a huge, heartfelt thank-you to Buddy Blaha and my entire family, for more reasons than I could ever name.

And to Edward, George, and Harriet—you can come up to my office and interrupt my writing anytime.

Heart of the Matter



Whenever I hear of someone else’s tragedy, I do not dwell on the accident or diagnosis, or even the initial shock waves or aftermath of grief. Instead, I find myself reconstructing those final ordinary moments. Moments that make up our lives. Moments that were blissfully taken for granted—and that likely would have been forgotten altogether but for what followed. The  before snapshots.I can so clearly envision the thirty-four-year-old woman in the shower one Saturday evening, reaching for her favorite apricot body scrub, contemplating what to wear to the party, hopeful that the cute guy from the coffee shop will make an appearance, when she suddenly happens upon the unmistakable lump in her left breast.

Or the devoted young father, driving his daughter to buy her first-day-of-school Mary Janes, cranking up “Here Comes the Sun” on the radio, informing her for the umpteenth time that the Beatles  are “without a doubt the greatest band of all time,” as the teenaged boy, bleary-eyed from too many late-night Budweisers, runs the red light.

Or the brash high school receiver, full of promise and pride, out on the sweltering practice field the day before the big football game, winking at his girlfriend at her usual post by the chain-link fence, just before leaping into the air to make the catch nobody else could have made—and then twisting, falling headfirst on that sickening, fluke angle.

I think about the thin, fragile line separating all of us from misfortune, almost as a way of putting a few coins in my own gratitude meter, of safeguarding against an  after  happening to me. To  us. Ruby and Frank, Nick and me. Our foursome—the source of both my greatest joys and most consuming worries.

And so, when my husband’s pager goes off while we are at dinner, I do not allow myself to feel resentment or even disappointment. I tell myself that this is only one meal, one night, even though it is our anniversary and the first proper date Nick and I have had in nearly a month, maybe two. I have nothing to be upset about, not compared to what someone else is enduring at this very instant. This will not be the hour I will have to rewind forever. I am still among the lucky ones.

“Shit. I’m sorry, Tess,” Nick says, silencing his pager with his thumb, then running his hand through his dark hair. “I’ll be right back.”

I nod my understanding and watch my husband stride with sexy, confident purpose toward the front of the restaurant where he will make the necessary call. I can tell, just by the sight of his straight back and broad shoulders navigating deftly around the tables, that he is steeling himself for the bad news, preparing to fix someone, save someone. It is when he is at his best. It is why I fell in love with him in the first place, seven years and two children ago.

Nick disappears around the corner as I draw a deep breath and take in my surroundings, noticing details of the room for the first time. The celadon abstract painting above the fireplace. The soft flicker of candlelight. The enthusiastic laughter at the table next to ours as a silver-haired man holds court with what appears to be his wife and four grown children. The richness of the cabernet I am drinking alone.

Minutes later, Nick returns with a grimace and says he’s sorry for the second, but certainly not the last, time.

“It’s okay,” I say, glancing around for our waiter.

“I found him,” Nick says. “He’s bringing our dinner to go.”

I reach across the table for his hand and gently squeeze it. He squeezes mine back, and as we wait for our fillets to arrive in Styrofoam, I consider asking what happened as I almost always do. Instead, I simply say a quick prayer for the people I don’t know, and then one for my own children, tucked safely into their beds.

I picture Ruby, softly snoring, all twisted in her sheets, wild even in her sleep. Ruby, our precocious, fearless firstborn, four going on fourteen, with her bewitching smile, dark curls that she makes even tighter in her self-portraits, too young to know that as a girl she is supposed to want the hair she does  not  have, and those pale aquamarine eyes, a genetic feat for her brown-eyed parents. She has ruled our home and hearts since virtually the day she was born—in a way that both exhausts me and fills me with awe. She is exactly like her father—stubborn, passionate, breathtakingly beautiful. A daddy’s girl to the core.

And then there’s Frank, our satisfying baby boy with a cuteness and sweetness that exceeds the mere garden-variety-baby cute and sweet, so much so that strangers in the grocery store stop and remark. He is nearly two, but still loves to cuddle, nestling his smooth round cheek against my neck, fiercely devoted to his mama.  He’s not  my favorite, I swear to Nick in private when he smiles and accuses me of this parental transgression. I do not have a favorite, unless perhaps it is Nick himself. It is a different kind of love, of course. The love for my children is without condition or end, and I would most certainly save them over Nick, if, say, all three were bitten by rattlesnakes on a camping trip and I only had two antivenin shots in my backpack. And yet, there is nobody I’d rather talk to, be near, look at, than my husband, an unprecedented feeling that overcame me the moment we met.

Our dinner and check arrive moments later, and Nick and I stand and walk out of the restaurant into the star-filled, purple night. It is early October, but feels more like winter than fall—cold even by Boston standards—and I shiver beneath my long cashmere coat as Nick hands the valet our ticket and we get into our car. We leave the city and drive back to Wellesley with little conversation, listening to one of Nick’s many jazz CDs.

Thirty minutes later, we are pulling up our tree-lined driveway. “How late do you think you’ll be?”

“Hard to say,” Nick says, putting the car into park and leaning across the front seat to kiss my cheek. I turn my face toward him and our lips softly meet.

“Happy anniversary,” he whispers.

“Happy anniversary,” I say.

He pulls away, and our eyes lock as he says, “To be continued?”

“Always,” I say, forcing a smile and slipping out of the car.

Before I can close the door, Nick turns up the volume of his music, dramatically punctuating the end of one evening, the start of another. As I let myself in the house, Vince Guaraldi’s “Lullaby of the Leaves” echoes in my head where it remains long after I’ve paid the babysitter, checked on the kids, changed out of my backless black dress, and eaten cold steak at the kitchen counter.

Much later, having turned down Nick’s side of the bed and crawled into my own, I am alone in the dark, thinking of the call in the restaurant. I close my eyes, wondering whether we are ever truly blindsided by misfortune. Or, somehow, somewhere, in the form of empathy or worry or a premonition deep within ourselves, do we feel it coming?

I fall asleep, not knowing the answer. Not knowing that this will be the night I will return to, after all.



Valerie knew she should’ve said no—or more accurately  stuck  to no, the answer she gave Charlie the first dozen times he begged her to go to the party. He had tried every angle, including the “I don’t have a daddy or a dog” guilt trip, and when that got him nowhere, he enlisted the support of his uncle Jason, who was longer on charm than anyone Valerie knew.

“Oh, come on, Val,” he said. “Let the kid have a little fun.”

Valerie shushed her twin brother, pointing toward the family room where Charlie was building an elaborate Lego dungeon. Jason repeated himself verbatim, this time in an exaggerated whisper as Valerie shook her head, declaring that six years old was too young for a sleepover, especially one outdoors in a tent. It was a familiar exchange as Jason habitually accused his sister of being overprotective and too strict with her only child.

“Right,” he said, smirking at her. “I’ve heard that bear attacks are on the rise in Boston.”

“Very funny,” Valerie said, going on to explain that she didn’t know the boy’s family well enough, and what she  had  gleaned of them, she didn’t much like.

“Lemme guess—they’re loaded?” Jason asked teasingly, pulling up his jeans, which had a way of sliding down his spindly frame, exposing the waistband of his boxers. “And you don’t want him mixing with  that kind?”

Valerie shrugged and surrendered to her smile, wondering how he had guessed. Was she that predictable? And how, she wondered for the millionth time, could she and her  twin  brother be so different when they had grown up together in the same brown-shingled house in their Irish-Catholic neighborhood in Southbridge, Massachusetts? They were best friends, sharing the same bedroom until they were twelve when Jason moved to the drafty attic to give his sister more space. With dark hair, almond-shaped blue eyes, and fair skin, they even  looked  alike, often being confused for identical twins as babies. Yet according to their mother, Jason had come out of the womb smiling, while Valerie emerged scowling and worried—which was how things remained throughout their childhood, Valerie the shy loner, riding on the coattails of her popular, outgoing, older-by-four-minutes brother.

And now, thirty years later, Jason was as happy as ever, an easygoing optimist, flitting from one hobby and job to the next, utterly comfortable in his own skin, especially since coming out of the closet just after their father died during their senior year in high school. A classic underachiever, he now worked in a coffee shop on Beacon Hill, making friends with everyone who walked through the door, making friends wherever he  went, just as he always had.

Meanwhile, Valerie still felt defensive and out of place much ofthe time, despite all of her accomplishments. She had worked so hard to escape Southbridge, graduating at the top of their high school class, attending Amherst College on a full scholarship, then going to work as a paralegal at a top Boston law firm while she studied for the LSAT and saved money for law school. She told herself that she was as good as anyone, and smarter than most, yet she never truly felt a sense of belonging after leaving her hometown. Meanwhile, the more she achieved, the more she felt disconnected from her old friends, especially her best friend, Laurel, who had grown up three houses down from Val and Jason. This feeling, subtle and hard to pinpoint at first, culminated in a complete falling-out one summer during a barbecue at Laurel’s house.

After a few drinks, Valerie had made an offhanded remark about Southbridge being suffocating, Laurel’s fiancé even more so. She was only trying to help, even suggesting that Laurel move into her small Cambridge apartment, but she regretted it as soon as the words were out, doing her best to suck back the comments and apologizing profusely in the days that followed. But Laurel, who had always been quick-tempered, summarily wrote Valerie off, spreading rumors of her snobbishness among their old circle of friends—girls who, like Laurel, lived with their high-school boyfriends-turned-husbands in the same neighborhoods they’d grown up in, frequented the same bars on the weekends, and worked the same dreary nine-to-five jobs their parents held.

Valerie did her best to counter these accusations, and managed to fix things on a surface level, but short of moving back to Southbridge, there was really nothing she could do to return to the way things once were.

It was during this lonely time that Valerie started acting out in ways she couldn’t explain, doing all the things she’d vowed never to do—specifically, falling in love with the wrong guy, getting pregnant  right before he left her, and jeopardizing her plans for law school. Years later, she sometimes wondered if she had subconsciously tried to sabotage her own efforts to fully escape Southbridge and create a different kind of life for herself—or perhaps she just didn’t feel worthy of the Harvard Law School acceptance letter she hung on her refrigerator along with her ultrasound photographs.

In any case, she felt caught between two worlds, too proud to crawl back to Laurel and her old friends and too embarrassed by her pregnancy to maintain her college friendships or forge new ones at Harvard. Instead, she felt more alone than ever, struggling to make it through law school while caring for a newborn. Jason understood how tough things were for her during those early months and years of motherhood. He could plainly see how overwhelmed she was by constant exhaustion and work and worry, and had endless respect for how hard his sister worked to support herself and her son. Yet he couldn’t understand why she insisted on walling herself off, sacrificing any semblance of a social life except for a few casual friendships. Her excuse was lack of time, as well as her devotion and singular focus on Charlie, but Jason didn’t buy this, constantly calling his sister out, insisting that she used Charlie as a shield, a way to avoid taking risks, a way to avoid more rejection.

BOOK: Heart of the Matter
2.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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