Good On Paper
Natalie Shay never imagined a day like this would come. She did what she was supposed to do: graduate college and marry her handsome, popular college sweetheart. With the ink still drying on their divorce papers, Natalie tries to move on from an ending she thought would be happy.
When she feels a spark with her stubborn, charming best friend Aidan Costa, Natalie's life becomes even more unrecognizable. Aidan has been her best friend for years, stood beside her when she got married, and has a notorious aversion to relationships. As confusion and denial overwhelm them, their spark grows.
Held back by a secret he has been keeping his whole life, Aidan decides to ignore his feelings for Natalie. Natalie's discovery of his secret pushes them past the boundaries they've carefully constructed around their friendship.
For Natalie, this could be a second chance at her happily ever after. But when a person from Aidan's past reappears, everything he has built with Natalie is threatened.
Such a simple task. Pick up the pen and sign your name on the line. A few strokes and my name will join his.
Paper bound us, and paper will cement our ending.
Three years ago, on our paper anniversary, Henry handed me a roll of toilet paper. On it, he’d written "I love the shit out of you' in brown Sharpie. Add that to the long list of signs I ignored.
“Mrs. Shay? Do you need a moment?” The attorney we chose has a voice like gravel and kind eyes. That had surprised me. Before him I thought all divorce attorney’s were callous, hardened to the emotion spilling out in front of them. My parents’ attorney’s had dull, lifeless eyes. They were immune to the theatrics playing out in front of them.
A deep breath fills my chest, passing slowly through my lips on its way out. I look up into eyes crinkled at the corners. Mr. Rosenstein, our attorney, is dressed in a starched white shirt, navy suit, and plaid bow-tie. He may work in New York City, but his outfit says genteel Southerner. Clearing my throat, I manage to push words past the lump that has formed. “I’m OK. Thank you.”
I pick up the pen, it’s coldness a sharp contrast to my heated palm. My thumb reaches, covering the end, and I both hear and feel the click. The sound is thunderous, somehow louder in volume than any of our fights.
How did it come to this?
It’s a silly question. I know just how it happened. Epic showdowns decreased in ferocity until the air between us held only silence. Hearts that beat red faded into an unassuming, neutral shade. Eventually we became spectators in the demise of our marriage.
The pen scratches across the paper, my hand making the familiar loops. I dot my i and cross my t, imagining it as a headline.
Natalie Shay has just signed her divorce papers.
This was a monumentally bad idea.
I should’ve said no when Henry suggested it, but of course not. Isn’t that one of the reasons I left him? His personality was so big, so overwhelming, so infiltrating that I lost my voice. It’s hard to stand up and breathe when there are waves keeping you down, and that’s what Henry became. Wave after wave, big ideas and thoughts and criticisms, rolling over me incessantly. I was choking on my desire to be myself. It was either stay and die, or run. I chose.
Out of habit, or maybe guilt, I agreed to meet him after I signed the papers. My hand dips into my purse, closing around the small box. I’ve done that one hundred times since I placed it there this morning. I wore the contents of the box on my left hand for four years and I never touched it as many times as I have today.
Henry is late. He’s probably mentally preparing for this moment. He’ll come in swinging, expecting a recrimination of all the ways this is his fault. He’s a natural-born arguer. I used to joke that he missed his calling as a litigator. In every joke there is an element of truth, and what I was really saying hid behind my joke.
Please stop arguing with everything I say.
Please stop listing the reasons why acupuncture is a sham when I just told you how good it makes me feel.
Please stop trying to make me feel small.
My eyes are on the door when Henry walks in. We’ve been separated for five months, and still my heart jumps up, settling into my throat. He looks good. Softness settled into his middle a couple years ago, but it’s gone now. My departure kickstarted a new fitness regimen. Out of boredom? Or is there someone new already? The thought makes me uncomfortable.
Henry scans the small coffeehouse, spots me, and though his eyes light up in recognition, he doesn’t smile. He comes my way, saying excuse me over and over as he squeezes his large, tall frame through tables of seated people.
When he reaches me, I open my mouth to say hello, but his words are faster. “Did you choose a table at the back just to watch me bump into people?”
His voice is smooth, his volume normal, but his words are cutting.
I choose to ignore him. There is no use pointing out that I chose the high-top table so he would be more comfortable. “Hi. How are you?”
He sits on the stool opposite me and props his elbows on the table. His shirtsleeves are rolled up to reveal muscular forearms. In college he threw footballs and pretended to benchpress me.
“I’m good, Nat. Did you sign?” He settles his chin into his cupped hands and gazes at me. His expression is neutral, and stupidly I wish there was emotion there. Where is the anger? Where is the sadness?
“Yep,” I say curtly, reaching into my bag. Suddenly I can’t wait for this to be over, for him to be gone. “Here.” I slide the box across the small space. He takes it, careful not to brush his fingers against mine. Tears swim in my eyes, and I pray they don’t spill over. Why am I crying? We're finished. It’s what I wanted. I initiated it.
My gaze sweeps the room, seeing but not really seeing the long line of people waiting to order. The feel of his stare on my face makes me want to melt into a puddle and seep into the ground.
“Natalie, I—” he pauses, his voice softened by a tinge of regret. “I’m not sure what to say. I don’t know how to do this.”
“Me neither,” I whisper, swiping at my eyes.
“Thanks for giving the ring back to me.”
My right hand reaches for my ring finger, rubbing the bare flesh. “It was your grandmother’s.”
Henry stands, pushing the stool back under the table. “Well, I, uh… I’ll see you around. Call me if you need anything.” He turns, stops, then shakes his head and laughs disbelievingly. “Nevermind. You won’t need anything. Logan is here to pick up the pieces.”
Leaning left, I see what Henry’s talking about.
Logan is early. Logan is always early, but on a day like today, he probably hustled in from Brooklyn after school was over.
“Shay,” Logan nods at Henry. Calling him by his last name is a relic from college.
“Kade.” Henry’s voice has dropped an octave. He looks back at me, his glare full of meaning, silently hurling his accusations at me, as if they haven’t been flung a million times before.
Henry turns and walks out, bumping into people as he goes.
I look at Logan. His eyes are on me, his gaze soft. He comes to me, folds my head into his chest, and blocks me from view while I fall apart.