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Jane Green is a bestselling author of popular novels. She has been featured in People, Newsweek, USA Today, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan. She lives in Connecticut with her family.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The sheets are drenched. Again. Andi takes a long time to wake up, drifting in and out, aware she is hot, then freezing, then finally, when she moves into a state of consciousness, wet.
Opening an eye, she looks at the clock—4:02 A.M. It’s always four in the morning, these nights when she awakes, when she cannot get back to sleep. She turns her head to see Ethan, his back to her, his body rising and falling in deep sleep.
In the bathroom, she pulls the wet T-shirt off, slides the PJ bottoms down, and pads naked into the closet, pulling a dry T-shirt and boxer shorts off the shelf. But that leaves the sheets. Warm and wet.
The linen closet is in the hall, at the other end of the corridor, where the girls’ bedrooms are. Andi knows she shouldn’t open their door, shouldn’t check up, but she is being a mother, she tells herself. This is what mothers do. A stepmother may not have the same rights, but she is trying, has tried so hard to turn this into a proper family, and that includes treating the girls as if they were her own.
How she wishes she had children of her own. Still. Even though she is in her early forties, on a good day she could surely pass for thirty-six.
Every month, she keeps her fingers crossed that this might be the month, this might be the month a miracle happens. Every month, she swallows her disappointment and hopes for the next time.
She pushes Sophia’s door open gently to see her, fast asleep, the bald teddy bear that she cannot sleep without, now lying on its side, on the floor next to her bed, Sophia’s hand curled out toward it, as if she is waiting for the bear to jump back in. Andi stands in the doorway and smiles, feeling a wave of love for her stepdaughter. Her daughter. And Sophia is her daughter.
She was eight when Andi and Ethan met, and instantly fell in love with Andi. Sophia now tells people she has two mothers, no differentiation in her head between Andi and her real mother.
That first family date, they had gone into the city, dim sum in Chinatown, then walked down to the ferry and taken it out to see the sea lions around the bay. Sophia had grabbed Andi’s hand, skipped alongside her, and when they sat down for ice cream, she climbed on Andi’s lap and leaned into her, like a much younger child, as Andi stroked her hair, thrilled.
Emily, on the other hand, at twelve, had sulked the entire day. She had squinted evil eyes at Andi, and when Andi had attempted to engage her, asking her questions about school, attempting to share some of her own stories about going to school in New York, Emily had just grunted.
“What is she?” she had sneered at her father, at one point, with a savage gesture toward Andi. “Your girlfriend?”
“She’s my friend,” Ethan had said. “That’s all.” Which wasn’t true. They had, by that time, been sleeping together for seven weeks.
* * *
On their first date, Ethan talked about his children nonstop, which was, as far as Andi was concerned, an unexpected bonus.
They met through Match.com, a continual embarrassment to Andi. But where else did anyone go to meet people? she wondered.
She had done a series of evening classes with what she thought was a masculine bent—Fundamentals of Investing, Estate Planning 101, and Beginner’s Best Barbecue. (Which was a dud. What red-blooded American man, she realized, as she sat in an empty classroom, would admit to not being able to barbecue?)
None produced so much as a date. There were, admittedly, random times she would meet men, or be flirted with in a coffee shop, but they never led to anything permanent.
At thirty-seven she realized, with a shock, she had to be proactive. Sitting back and assuming, as she always had, that she would be married with a large group of smiling kids wasn’t the natural order of her life, and unless she took the bull by the horns, she was possibly going to find herself single, frighteningly, for the rest of her life.
It wasn’t as if her life wasn’t full. Her twenties were spent working in interior design, for a small store in Fairfield, Connecticut, where she had grown up. As she approached thirty, her mother suggested she get a real-estate license, and although Andi enjoyed selling houses, it was what she had to suggest to the homeowners they do, in order to sell their houses, that was her true passion.
Andi loved design. She saw how the addition of new rugs and curtain panels, and moving furniture could transform a home. She started offering her services as a “home-stager”—someone who would come in and beautify the interiors, for minimum cost, in order to sell. Soon she had a warehouse filled with furniture she would rent out to her clients, and reams of fabrics from which she could have curtains, or pillows, or bedspreads quickly made.
It wasn’t long before it was her primary business.
Her mother got sick after that. Breast cancer. She fought hard, and won a reprieve, for a while. She assured Andi that moving to California with Brent, the man Andi thought she would marry, was absolutely the right thing to do.
Even when the cancer returned, spreading to her bones, then finally to her liver and lungs, she insisted that Andi stay in California. She knew that Andi had found a peace on the West Coast she had never found at home.
It was true that one week after landing in San Francisco, despite having spent her entire life on the East Coast, Andi knew that at heart she had always been a West Coast girl, through and through.
The sunshine! The warmth! How laid-back everyone was! San Francisco! The Pacific Coast Highway! The redwood forests! The wine country!
The list was endless.
Brent married someone else: in fact, the woman he had started sleeping with almost as soon as he began his new job in San Francisco, and Andi stayed, staging homes all over the East Bay.
Match.com was fun for a while, then disheartening. She always prepared for a date, terrified he wouldn’t like her, that somehow, although she was blond, and green-eyed, and girl-next-doorish, they would be disappointed.
All of them wanted to see her again, but she rarely wanted to see them. Until Ethan. He seduced her with his open face, his wide smile, his easy charm. They had met for drinks, which had become dinner, and when he left to go to the bathroom, Andi had watched him walk through the restaurant with a smile on her face. He has a great butt, she found herself thinking, with shock.
He had been divorced three years. His little one, Sophia, was great, he said, but Emily was harder. His eyes had welled up as he talked about Emily—how much he loved his firstborn, how difficult this had been for her, and how he would do anything, anything, to bring her some happiness.
I will help you, Andi had thought, her heart spilling over for this sensitive, kind, loving man. One date led to two, led to them sleeping together, led to Andi realizing, very quickly, that for the first time in years, she could see herself spending the rest of her life with a man. With this man.
She could see herself building a life with him, having children with him. He was clever, and creative, and hardworking.
Ethan was supposed to have been a banker, he told her soon after they met. Or have run a large corporation. He was supposed to have done something that would make his parents proud, not to have started a landscaping business in school—merely to pay off his loan—a business that became so successful, so quickly, he had decided to devote himself to growing it once he had left school.
He’d started mowing lawns himself, paying a cheap hourly rate to Carlos and Jorge, who had recently made the arduous trek from Mexico.
“I was a clean-cut college kid with good ideas.” He dismissed Andi when she said how talented he must have been. “And I was willing to work hard. That was all. I’d show up with some men to mow a lawn and start chatting with the homeowner, asking the wives if they’d ever thought of planting a lavender bed next to the path, or the husbands if they’d ever considered a built-in barbecue, or fire pit.”
“I bet they always said yes.” Andi’s eyes sparkled in amusement.
Ethan just grinned.
He took on a mason, and by the time he had graduated from Berkeley, he had four full-time crews working for him.
When he met Andi, he had six. Now he has ten, plus a thriving landscape-design business.
Andi couldn’t have imagined a more perfect man for her had she tried.
* * *
He cooked her dinner at his house in Mill Valley; during the appetizers she silently redesigned the whole place. She would remove the 1950s windows and replace them with French doors spilling out to a gravel terrace with olive trees and lavender.
The kitchen wall would come down, opening up into one great big kitchen/family room, a place where kids would be happy, a giant island with a host of kids lined up on stools, tucking into pancakes she would be happily flipping as the children laughed.
They would be, she thought, a great combination of the two of them. Would three children be too much to ask for? Five in total? She shuddered at the thought and reduced it to two. A boy and a girl. The boy dark, like Ethan, and the girl a towhead, much as she had been.
She tuned out Ethan for a while, so caught up in the fantasy, so convinced this would be her future, she couldn’t think of anything other than how to create the house she had always wanted for the family she would now have.
Coming back to earth, she noticed there were photographs all over the house. Ethan and his girls, all of them laughing. Gorgeous girls, dark-haired, dark-eyed, who clearly adored their father. Andi had picked up one of the photos, Emily hanging around her father’s neck with a huge grin, at around ...
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