The sound of a key in the lock made my heart slam in my chest. I’d said he wouldn’t even know I was at the apartment. That wasn’t exactly the truth, but I hadn’t intended on being parked in the foyer either.
I pressed my palms into the hardwood beside me. I wasn’t ready to see him. God, I wanted to see him. It couldn’t have been more than a few hours since I’d left him in his study, but it felt like weeks. I missed him already.
The doorknob turned in slow motion, my eyes riveted to it, breath held. After one look at the petite frame clad in dark jeans and a jade sweater standing in the doorway, I exhaled a lungful of air.
“Vivian,” Muriella said, sweeping into the room, shoving the door shut behind her. She glowered at the luggage, and then her expression morphed into one of pain.
The minute she sank down to join me on the floor, her tiny arms slid around me, and I buried my head against her chest.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered against my hair.
“He told you?” I mumbled into her sweater.
“Don’t hate me,” Muriella said, and my head popped up, our eyes meeting. Her mocha ones were tormented, and I tried to reassure her with mine that I could never hate her. Muriella was my best friend, my sister, my family. Just like I was nothing without Daniel, I couldn’t function without her either. “He told me earlier today.”
I gave her a watery smile. “I should have figured that.” Then I gestured toward my stuff.
She vehemently shook her head no, long hickory-colored locks flying. “I told him if he was intent on doing this, he was completely on his own. There is no way I’d ever help him destroy his life. Yours either.”
I let out a long breath and dropped my head to her shoulder. “I made him give me a week to find somewhere else to go.”
“Forget that. You’ll come live with me,” she insisted, steely determination behind her words.
“I can’t. It’s too close to him.” I squeezed my eyes shut, wondering how in the hell I was ever going to make myself leave. It was the only place I’d ever felt at home. “He bought me an apartment. Can you believe that shit?”
“I’m giving you a free pass on your language, just for today,” she admonished, but she didn’t mean a word of it. Bless her, she was trying to maintain a little bit of normalcy for my benefit. She was forever scolding me for my language, which we both knew was never going to change. “He wants to take care of you.”
“Then why is he doing this to us? You don’t buy an apartment and load up the bank account of someone you’re breaking up with. And I swear I didn’t see it coming. But I should have, should have seen some sign. I honestly thought we were good. Better than that,” I finished, sounding as deflated as I felt.
“I don’t know what’s going on. When I asked him, he shut down. But I’m scared, V. This afternoon, his eyes looked like they used to, before you came to us. There was nothing in them. They were just…cold.” Muriella appeared mystified by the change in the man we both cared for.
We were quiet for a minute, reflecting on how to fix our family and where it all went wrong. Daniel had to have known this would not only affect the two of us as a couple, but Muriella as well. He wasn’t an emotional man, but he felt something fierce for her. I was furious with him for putting our M in the middle of this. It wasn’t fair to make her choose sides or even feel she would have to. I knew he needed her. If push came to shove, I’d give her up. But I was hellbent on keeping us all intact.
Muriella amazed me. Though she was only six years older than me, her wisdom was that of someone far more mature, yet she managed to keep a lightness about her. Her determination not to let the past completely rule her was inspiring. That was one reason she spoke with no accent whatsoever despite her Nicaraguan origins. She wanted to blend in with her surroundings, disassociate from what she’d left behind, and she did.
I pointed my chin toward the mountain of stuff. “So you don’t have any idea where my pajamas could be?”
Muriella snickered. Where I’d found the strength to joke at a time like this, I wasn’t sure. But there wasn’t time to fall apart, even though I felt like all that was keeping me from going over the ledge was my fingernails. The breakdown was imminent, but I couldn’t let that happen until I had exhausted all efforts to get Daniel back.
“I have no idea,” M said, taking my fingers in hers and squeezing.
“Then looks like I’ll be wearing something of Daniel’s,” I said, preparing to stand. “Let’s get off this floor. My ass is numb.”
We rose, but Muriella grasped both of my biceps, her expression worried. “Vivian—” she started, but I shook my head.
“Not now, M.” She was here for me. That was what I needed. I wasn’t ready to talk.
“We’ll eat. I’ve got roast chicken in the warming drawer downstairs.”
She was already tugging me to the front door so we could go to her apartment on the floor below. I followed for a second before planting my feet. “Come with me to change.”
We reversed course, going to my bedroom. Once we were in the closet that only this morning I’d shared with Daniel, it was like a punch in the nose seeing all his things there while mine were gone.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I whispered, closing my eyes. It smelled like him. The pain that tightened my chest was almost more than I could bear.
“Vivian, you are the most determined person I have ever known. Far more than Daniel, and that’s saying something. I can’t explain why difficult things happen, and I only have my experience to draw upon, but there is light after the darkness. God will never give you more than you are capable of handling. We will get through this,” she promised, and though I knew she was right, I had my doubts. Muriella had an unwavering faith. Mine wasn’t as strong, not by a long shot. I was more of a why in the hell is God doing this to me kind of person. She saw things as part of a bigger picture.
I leaned my forehead against hers. “Keep telling me he’ll come back.”
“I never said that, V,” she said softly, her voice pained. “Only that we would get through this together.”
I gave her a wry smile. “I’d be perfectly okay with you bullshitting me right now to make me feel better.”
“No, you wouldn’t.”
“You’re right,” I conceded, appreciating the honesty between us. We didn’t keep secrets, and we didn’t tell lies. “Let’s go eat.”
She brightened at that. “Aren’t you going to change?”
“Yeah. I got a little shell-shocked coming in here.” I shook it off, drawing on the strength of my best friend.
I quickly changed into a pair of Daniel’s old sweatpants and a T-shirt. It was some comfort having on his clothes, more significant than I expected.
I slung my arm around M’s shoulders and guided her out to the bedroom. “Will you stay with me tonight?”
She frowned and shot me a look of irritation. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t even ask me that.”