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Daphne Mitchell has always believed in cause and effect, right and wrong, good and bad. The good: her dream job as a doctor; Owen, her childhood sweetheart and now husband; the beautiful farmhouse they're restoring together. In fact, most of her life has been good–until the day Owen comes home early from work to tell her he's fallen head over heels for someone else.
Unable to hate him, but also equally incapable of moving forward, Daphne's life hangs in limbo until the day Owen's new girlfriend sustains near-fatal injuries in a car accident. As Daphne becomes a pillar of support for the devastated Owen, and realizes that reconciliation may lie within her grasp, she has to find out whether forgiveness is possible and decide which path is the right one for her.
Macbeth: Canst thou not minister to a mind diseas’d,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain,
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of the perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?
Doctor: Therein the patient
Must minister to himself.
—WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Macbeth
You can never know the truth of anyone’s marriage, including your own.
—NORA EPHRON, I Remember Nothing
The cancer is back. I’m sure of it. What else could explain why I haven’t heard from him?
I called Owen’s cell twice in the hour I sat at the airport in Philadelphia and once before that, from my hotel. Be patient, Daphne, I think. I pull the newspaper out of my bag and try to flip through it but I can’t focus. The words are slippery. My eyes jump from headline to headline. New campaign finance legislation introduced. Silver screen legend dead at the age of ninety-six. Strong storms expected in the Midwest.
The flight attendant gets on the intercom to tell us that we’re beginning our descent into Raleigh–Durham. Two different places, I think. I don’t know why it irritates me so much every time I hear it, but it does. People don’t live in Raleigh–Durham any more than they do in New York–New Jersey or San Francisco–San Jose. Two. Different. Places. I fold the paper in my lap and close my eyes. He’s just busy, I say to myself like a mantra—he’s just busy, just busy. No news isn’t always bad news. Minutes later, the plane’s wheels hit the ground and I pull the phone from my bag. No messages. I call him again. No answer.
I shove the newspaper into my bag. The woman next to me—skinny, smelling faintly of coffee and the mint gum she’s been chewing since takeoff—is sitting obediently with her hands clasped over her lap, her eyes pinned on the seat belt sign, waiting for it to ding and tell her it’s okay to get up. I look out the window and tell myself to stop overreacting—he’s just busy—and remind myself to breathe.
It’s normal for Owen and me to ignore each other’s messages during the workday, but this day is different. Kevin, who’s fourteen and one of his favorite patients (really his favorite patient, not that he’d admit to having one) is getting the results of his latest scan. Owen’s done everything he can to treat the leukemia, all of the traditional methods and then a clinical trial. The test is due back today. If the blood work still shows evidence… I stand up in my seat and smile at the woman next to me, who’s still frozen in her seat even though the people three rows up are starting to get off the plane.
I could tell that he was anxious when we spoke last night, him at home and me in my room in Philadelphia, where I was staying for an annual medical conference I always dread. I hesitated whether to even bring up his birthday, which is today, because I knew he wouldn’t want to acknowledge it if Kevin’s scan was bad. Are you nervous? I finally asked. He cleared his throat and muttered that he was. When he didn’t elaborate, I changed the subject, saying that I’d pick up takeout from his favorite Mexican place and that we could just eat it whenever he got home. He said that sounded fine (his code for that he didn’t really care) and then asked how my talk had gone. I made a bad joke about there being a drunken rush for my autograph at the cocktail reception, and he laughed politely.
I told him that I loved him. I wished him luck. I said good night.
Three hours later, I look out our kitchen window at the sun setting behind the pine trees that line the edge of our property. I know that I am lucky to have such problems, but I can’t help feeling like there’s something wrong with the fact that it’s seven p.m. and I still haven’t spoken to my husband on his birthday. I picture him in one of the hospital conference rooms with Kevin and his parents, whom I’ve never met, of course, but whom I feel like I know well. I picture the boy’s mother with a crumpled tissue in her hand. I picture the boy, his thin frame lost in an oversized Duke sweatshirt (he was a fan long before his health brought him here for care), and I sit down on the wood floor next to Blue, the Newfoundland we adopted two years ago. Our pre-baby baby, I joked. I scratch the top of her head and wonder how soon he’ll be back, whether I should put the takeout in the oven to warm it up.
I decide to set the table at least, placing Owen’s present in the middle like a centerpiece. Inside the box is a gift certificate for the two of us to go on a paddling trip later this spring on the Outer Banks, which, despite the fact that we’ve lived in North Carolina for ten years, is a place we’ve never been. I was able to make a reservation with a touring company without specifying a date, which is good, since pinning down a weekend when Owen can take off work is never easy.
It will be good for us. Canoeing is our thing—sort of. Owen even proposed on a canoe six years ago, which, now that I think about it, might actually be the last time I held an oar in my hands, but it’s part of our history. We met when we were twelve years old, at summer camp in western Massachusetts, and our friendship began on the day that we sat across from each other in an old metal boat on the lake. Though it was almost twenty-five years ago, I still remember how it felt to be there, my skin seeming to glow from the summertime film of dirt and sweat that I can feel just thinking about it. Owen and I were buddies, that’s the very best way I can describe it. We compared bug bites, raced each other during Capture the Flag, and sang the goofy songs that the counselors taught us to pass the time during hikes (“Fried ham, fried ham, cheese and bologna…”). He called me Daph and I let him, even though I had recently decided that because I was almost a teenager—twelve and a half, almost an adult, really—that I would answer only to Daphne.
The following summer, we shared a tentative slow dance at the August banquet and then we kissed. It was quick and sweet and meant that the one photograph that I had of him, in a dirty T-shirt and the soccer shorts we all wore that summer, was granted a permanent spot in the front of the Velcro wallet that I’d started carrying in my book bag. We wrote letters throughout the fall. My family lived outside of Boston, and he was farther west, near Springfield. He doodled at the bottom of the spiral notebook pages where he signed his name—blocky graffiti letters, Owen + Daph. Of course, we were in middle school, so by Christmas break, the letters were sporadic on both of our parts. That spring, my father’s job got us transferred to Northern Virginia. Owen became a memory, and a good one.
Thirteen years later, I was standing in line at a sandwich place on Ninth Street just before the start of my residency when I noticed a handsome guy with a mop of wavy dark hair wearing the very same Duke tee that I’d bought for myself at a bookshop hours earlier. When our eyes met, he squinted, and then he shook his head in disbelief. “This is going to sound really weird, but did we go to summer camp together?” he asked, abandoning the guy who was reaching across the counter to hand him his turkey on rye. “Are you Daph? Daphne Mitchell?”
He was about to start his residency, too.
We found a bench somewhere and ate our lunch. Mustard spilled down my shirt and we both pretended not to notice. We moved on to afternoon beers in a dark pub where somebody kept playing Joni Mitchell on the jukebox and we discovered after a few drinks that we both remembered the words to “Fried Ham.” The next week, we found time in our packed orientation schedules to share a walk across campus, and under the archway of an old stone building, we had our second kiss, all those years since the first.
What were the chances that we’d both end up here? In Durham, North Carolina? After all of these years? We kept saying it, over and over again, to each other, to our parents, to anyone who asked how we met. There was eventually an apartment together, and five years ago, a wedding, and now the farmhouse, which we fell in love with last fall despite its iffy foundation and the cracks in its windows. It is slowly coming together. Everything is falling into place.
The laundry is folded. The floors are swept. I am answering emails and halfheartedly watching a TV cooking competition when I see Owen’s headlights finally bouncing up the long driveway. I close my laptop and head into the kitchen, where I pull one of his favorite IPAs out of the six-pack that I bought on my way home from the airport. I’m pulling the top off of the bottle when he comes in the side door. He looks exhausted.
“Hey.” I smile. Blue beats me to him and I gently nudge her away with my knee so that I can wrap my arms around him. I press my head to his chest and he kisses my cheek. “How was your day?” I ask.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call,” he says, his lips vibrating on the top of my head as he speaks. “I had my phone on silent all day.”
“It’s okay,” I say, running my hand up and down his back. The news isn’t good. “I’m guessing that you don’t want to celebrate?”
“Actually,” he says, taking the beer from my hand, “Actually, the scan was good.”
“What?” I take a step back and put my hands to my face. “He was clear?”
Owen smiles. God, he looks so tired. He nods. “Crystal clear.”
“Owen! That’s such good news!” I squeal. “We need to celebrate! His family must be so happy. Have you been with them all day?” I don’t want to dampen the mood but I can’t help but ask: “What took you so long to get home?”
He walks to the kitchen table, where he puts down his beer and runs a finger along the top of the box that holds his present.
My stomach flutters. I don’t want to fight tonight. Lately we’ve been arguing a lot. Well, not arguing, but bickering, picking at each other, starting little fires about nothing—whose turn it is to pick up the dry cleaning, the way he refuses to rinse the peanut butter off a knife before he puts it in the dishwasher. I’ve stalled on having the talk we need to have though I know why it’s happening. I want to have a baby. Owen’s still not ready. We’ve been talking about it for months—or, more accurately, I’ve been talking about it. A few days ago, just before my trip, I brought it up again, reminding Owen that I am turning thirty-seven in a matter of weeks. Thirty-seven! He brushed it off, in the way that he always does, and the tension’s been building ever since. I could feel it every time we talked while I was on my trip.
“Daph,” he says, turning to me.
“I’m sorry,” I start. “I know that things haven’t been great. But it’s your birthday and—”
“Daph, please.” He runs his hands through his hair. “We need to talk.”
“Owen, come on. It’s your birthday,” I say again. “And we have great news about Kevin. The other stuff can wait.” I go to him and start to put my arms around him again but his body goes stiff. He’s never brushed me away before. “Owen?”
He rubs his palms up and down his face and then I watch the way his eyes survey the room. He starts to say something but then he stops.
“Owen, what is it?”
“Daph, I…” He looks at me for several seconds before he speaks again. “Daphne, I met someone.”
“Daphne, there’s someone else.”
How could anyone know Owen Monahan like I do? His dark hair has been graying at his temples for years. His eyes are the same shape and silvery green color as his mother’s. His favorite candy is Snickers, and when I remember, I stock bags of the fun-size bars in our freezer. He is a lifelong Red Sox fan, and the ticket stub from his first game at Fenway, where Bruce Hurst pitched, has been in a frame on his dresser for as long as I’ve known him. He is afraid of spiders but not of blood scans, reduced white cell counts, or poking around a person’s body for tumors. I know his hands—the scar on his third knuckle (an oyster-shucking mishap), raggedy hangnails. I know that he doesn’t dance, even after several drinks. He uses a black office-supply binder clip instead of a money clip or wallet. He watches old comedies like Airplane! when he’s stressed. He worries that his father isn’t proud of him.
We have roots, a history.
“What do you mean, someone else?” I can taste the bile in the back of my throat. “What do you mean, Owen?” The room is spinning.
He shakes his head as if this isn’t going how he’d expected it to go. How did he expect it to go? “Let’s sit down,” he says.
I collapse into the left side of the sofa, my usual spot. Twenty minutes ago, I was emailing Annie, inviting her and Jack to dinner next week. Owen sits down next to me—right next to me, in the center of the couch—and I recoil as if he is a stranger and not the person I love more than anyone or anything on earth. He pulls back, giving me space.
“Tell me,” I say, my ears ringing. “Tell me what you mean.” I’m certain we can both hear my heart pounding.
As he starts to speak, tears well in my eyes and the room goes blurry.
“I don’t know how to say it, Daph,” he’s says. He won’t look at me. He’s talking into his lap. It’s all so clinical, the way that he reveals the details.
It happened in January. He met her at the hospital. She’s a social worker in his division.
“So right after Christmas, then?” I say, my voice rising with each word. “After we went up to my parents’ house and invited your parents to join us and the six of us sat around my mother’s dining room table, eating pie and talking about whether we should hire someone to tile the guest bathroom? I assume you’d met her, your…relationship had started?” My skin is tingling. I feel like I’m going to be sick.
“I-it’s not like that,” he stutters.
“What’s her name?” I say, barely able to catch my breath.
“How long have you been seeing her?” I wail. My voice is shaking so much. My heart is beating in my ears.
“I’m not seeing her, Daphne. I just—”
“You just slept with her.” When the words come out of my mouth, the reality of what’s happened really hits me. I grab a handful of his sleeve and start shaking him. “Owen, how could you?” How is this possible? How is this happening? “Owen, how? How?”
“I know, Daphne, I know,” he says, his voice soft, as if it will cushion the blow. He circles his fingers around my wrists, attempting to calm me, and I snatch my hands away.
“You know?” I wail. “You don’t know how this feels! I can’t believe this!” I press my hands to my face, as if by not seeing him, I can make the whole thing go away. “How could you do this, Owen?”
“I’m so sorry.”
When I look up at him, he’s shaking his head like he’s the one who’s been hurt.
“And she knows about me? Your wife?” I’m sobbing. I use my sleeve to wipe my nose.
He rubs his hands over his mouth.
“Owen, answer me!”
“She knows about you,” he says through his fingers.
I can’t believe this. How? How is there a she? I don’t understand what this means, why he’s confessing it now, but I can’t bear another second of it. Not now.
“Get out,” I say. “I need you to leave the house right now.”
“Daphne, can we—”
“Go, Owen!” I say, fighting to keep my voice steady as I stand and point toward the door. “Get out now.”
For a long time after I hear his car reverse down our long gravel driveway, I just sit there on the couch. Surely this isn’t real. How could Owen—my Owen—cheat? Owen is not a cheater. He’s my husband, my best friend, the person who makes sure the doors are locked before we go to bed at night. He is upright, beloved by his patients and their families, the better one out of the two of us who rolls his eyes at me when I gossip. He is steady, solid, my north star, the thing I can always count on. There is no way that Owen would do this.
Sometime around midnight, I consider calling my mother. I’m sure she’s up watching Letterman as always, but this will kill her. Owen is the son she never had—she literally tells him that, squeezing his shoulders. When we visit, she bakes his favorite brownies and checks with us beforehand to find out what type of cereal is his current preference. She leaves him voicemails. You don’t need to call me back—I’m just calling to say hello! On the rare occasion when I vent to her about some argument we’re having, she’ll say, in her antiquated stand-by-your-man sort of way, “Oh, honey, Owen works so hard, cut him some slack.” As if being an internist at a cutting-edge medical practice is just something I do to pass the time until Owen gets home from the hospital. I suppose that’s easy to forget now, given Owen’s heroic cancer slaying. I suppose a lot of things are easy to forget, but not the events of this night.
I think about calling Lucy, my younger sister. I start to call Annie, my best friend. Instead, I stumble to the bathroom and I vomit, through the sobs, over and over again, because the only person who could make me feel better right now is my husband, and on so many levels, I don’t know where he is.
It is so unoriginal.
She’s twenty-six, ten years younger than me.
Bridget Batton. That’s her name. It’s sickening. It sounds like the name of a bobble-headed local TV weather girl. Not even—it sounds like the name of a bobble-headed local TV weather girl in the dumbed-down comedies that Owen loves. I wish that she was a weather girl, or a silly actress, or a department store perfume spritzer, or a professional cheerleader, or anything other than what she is, which is a social worker at the hospital who counsels the pediatric cancer patients whom Owen treats. You would think that someone whose career is based on compassion wouldn’t sleep with other women’s husbands, but I guess the Mother Teresa parallel only goes so far.
I held out all night from looking her up online, knowing how badly it would hurt me, but on my way into work this morning, as I was standing bleary-eyed at the coffee shop where I picked up an extra-strong espresso drink, I gave myself permission to do it. The second I came into the office, I sat down at my desk, still wearing my coat, and pulled up the Web page for Owen’s department. So that’s her, I thought, analyzing her orthodontically perfect smile, her high cheekbones, the long straight brown hair not so unlike my own. This is the woman who had sex with my husband.
The Google search was severely productive. Bridget Batton got her master’s in social work at Columbia University, which, according to the US News & World Report website, is one of the top-ranked programs in the country. Like Owen (and unlike me) she does triathlons, and her online race results show that she’s accustomed to placing in the top ten for her category (which is the impossibly young sounding 25–29 age group). She is originally from Austin, Texas. I have always secretly despised women from Texas because every single one I’ve ever met has had long, long hair and long, long legs and a teeny-tiny Barbie doll wardrobe. Bridget is not an exception. In a sorority photo I found online, she’s wearing a minidress and cowboy boots and actually pulling it off.
But that’s not the worst image. There’s another one of her, this one from a 2009 edition of a local New Jersey newspaper, and in it, she has her arm around a sweet-looking, bald thirteen-year-old boy. The article details the boy’s ongoing leukemia treatment and how Bridget, his counselor, helps him get through his thrice-weekly chemotherapy by reading Harry Potter with him, quizzing him before his Spanish tests, and even getting his favorite athlete, a receiver for the New York Giants, to surprise him at the hospital. The author of the article seems to be nominating her for sainthood, and reading it, I forget for a minute that the woman whom the boy’s mother declares is “a godsend, a lifesaver” is also the woman who my husband… I feel sick. How can a person like her do the thing that she’s done? How could Owen?
Without thinking, I pick up my phone and start to call him. I need him to tell me that this was an awful joke and that a marching band and a television camera are going to barrel into my office any minute now and reveal that this was all a prank and we’ve won a Caribbean vacation. His voicemail comes on—the generic message, nothing too personal, which is probably a good thing. Hearing his voice might kill me.
I glance at the clock—it’s 7:45. Is he at work? At a hotel? Curled up in bed, running a finger along her shoulder? But he said it was just one time. I press the button to end the call. What is there to say?
There’s a knock on my door—ba-dum-dum. Annie’s knock.
“Come in.” Phlegm catches in my voice as I say it.
“Good morning!” she sings, and then, “Oh, God.” She closes the door behind her.
I rub my fingertips under my eyes. I was able to pull on some work clothes and brush my teeth before I left home but that’s as far as I got. “I haven’t slept.”
She raises her eyebrows. “I can tell. What’s wrong?”
“Do you have a minute? My first patient’s not for another twenty.”
“Mine’s in five,” she says, checking her watch. “But it’s okay. What’s wrong?”
I take a deep breath. The tears start welling up before I can spit it out: “Owen cheated on me.”
Her hand goes to her chest. “What?”
I put my head in my hands, and the next thing I know, her arms are around me. She smells like cinnamon and talcum powder, like the good mother of three that she is.
“Some woman he works with,” I say, clutching her shoulders.
“Oh, Daphne,” she says. “Oh my God!” I can hear it—the immediate fury in her voice—and I know that it’s not just because I am one of her closest friends, and until thirty seconds ago, Owen was, too. A few months after Annie started working here, we were having a glass of wine together after work when she told me how her mother ran off with an old boyfriend when she was twelve. She has no tolerance for infidelity.
“I know.” I swallow hard but the tears keep rolling down my cheeks.
She reaches and plucks a tissue out of the box on my desk. “I mean—” She shakes her head. “Owen?”
“I just can’t…”
“I know.” The tears keep coming. I swipe them away, quickly. “I can’t believe I’m still crying. I cried all night. I can’t stop.”
“I don’t understand this,” Annie says, shaking her head. “Just three weeks ago…” She points a thumb over her shoulder, as if gesturing back to the Saturday last month when the four of us went to dinner—she and Jack, me and Owen—and then back to their house for drinks afterward when they needed to relieve their sitter. It was the kind of perfectly uneventful, wonderful night that you can only have with good friends, sipping our drinks in our socks in their family room, reaching into the bowl of chocolate-covered almonds on the coffee table that Annie had improvised to serve for dessert. “I had the longest talk with him that night about all of us renting a place at the beach together this summer,” she says, shaking her head.
“He mentioned it on the way home, too,” I say. And then after we got home, we had sex in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs. This was not like us lately. It was not married sex. It was—was it because of her? Was he thinking of her?
- "Lewis gets it just right in her examination of how tiny cracks can shatter in a marriage that gets 'cemented in the fable' of what being together is supposed to be."—Publishers Weekly
- "Lewis' newest novel is an emotional roller coaster of a read, but in a good way. As fans follow the protagonist's story and journey through one of the hardest moments of her life, they will find themselves feeling every emotion with her along the way - hope, anguish, rage, sadness and love all emerge. It's a testament to Lewis' great writing and is an absolutely fantastic read."—RT Book Reviews
- "Kristyn Kusek Lewis defines heartbreak with deep understanding and compassion in Save Me. I swung from hope to rage, and back again as I followed Daphne through the shattering after effects of infidelity. Lewis portrays neither angels nor demons, but the aching reality that marriage can become, along with the possibility of grace that love offers."—Randy Susan Meyers, author of Accidents of Marriage and The Comfort of Lies
- "Kristyn Kusek Lewis has written a novel that is as thought-provoking as it is thoughtful. From its heartbreaking beginning to its heartwarming end, SAVE ME had me asking myself, 'What would I do?' over and over - and over again. Absorbing, compelling, and a pleasure to read, this book is a page turner."—Taylor Jenkins Reid, author of Forever, Interrupted and After I Do
"In SAVE ME, Kristyn Kusek Lewis takes what might have been a familiar story and puts it on a different trajectory, to a much more compelling end. It's a book that leaves you thinking about the choices the characters made, and whether or not yours would have been the same."
—Sarah Healy, author of Can I Get An Amen? and House of Wonder
- "Fans of women's fiction about enduring female friendships will relate to debut author Lewis's vivid and genuinely written protagonists. A good choice for readers who enjoy the novels of Kristin Hannah and Patricia Gaffney."—Library Journal
- "Kristyn Kusek Lewis's How Lucky You Are is a moving, thoughtful story about what happens when friends become family and stay close despite all odds. It's an honest, empathetic novel of love, commitment, and female friendship with characters I didn't want to let go."—Meredith Goldstein, author of The Singles and Boston Globe "Love Letters" Columnist
- "Charming and achingly real. . . I'm certain it will become a book club favorite."—Sarah Jio, author of The Violets of March and The Bungalow
- "Wise and compulsively readable. . . If you've ever had a best friend or been a best friend, this is a book for you."—Meg Mitchell Moore, author of The Arrivals and So Far Away
- On Sale
- Dec 30, 2014
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Grand Central Publishing