“I know,” he said. “Believe me, I know. It’s why I married you, you know.”

It wasn’t quite what she wanted to hear, but she stifled her disappointment and allowed him to continue.

The creases in his forehead deepened, and he rubbed them hard. He looked so burdened, so tired of his responsibilities. “I just wanted someone who wasn’t going to be sad,” he said. “Someone who would be present for the children, someone who wouldn’t—”

He cut himself off, turned away.

“Someone who wouldn’t what?” she asked urgently, sensing that this was important.

For the longest time she thought he wasn’t going to answer, but then, just when she’d quite given up on him, he said, “She died of influenza. You know that, don’t you?”

“Yes,” she said, since his back was to her and he wouldn’t see her nod.

“She died of influenza,” he repeated. “That’s what we told everyone—”

Eloise suddenly felt very sick, because she knew, absolutely knew what he was going to say.

“Well, it was the truth,” he said bitterly, surprising her with his words. She’d been so sure he was going to say that they’d been lying all the while.

“It’s the truth,” he said again. “But it wasn’t all of the truth. She did die of influenza, but we never told anyone why she fell ill.”


“The lake,” Eloise whispered, her words coming forth unbidden. She hadn’t even realized she’d been thinking them until she spoke.

He nodded grimly. “She didn’t fall in by accident.”

Her hand flew to cover her mouth. No wonder he’d been so upset that she’d taken the children there. She felt awful. Of course she didn’t know, couldn’t have known, but still . . .

“I got her just in time,” he said. “Just in time to save her from drowning, that is. Not in time to save her from lung fever three days later.” He choked back bitter laughter. “Not even my famed willow bark tea could do the job for her.”

“I’m so sorry,” Eloise whispered, and she was, even though Marina’s death had, in so many ways, made her own happiness possible.

“You don’t understand,” he said, not looking at her. “You couldn’t possibly.”

“I have never known someone who took their own life,” she said cautiously, not certain if these were the words one was meant to say in such a situation.

“That’s not what I mean,” he said, almost snapped, really. “You don’t know what it’s like to feel trapped, stuck, hopeless. To try so hard and never, ever”—he turned to her then, and his eyes were flashing fire—“break through. I tried. Every day I tried. I tried for me and I tried for Marina, and most of all for Oliver and Amanda. I did everything I knew how, everything everyone told me to do, and nothing, not one thing made it work. I tried, and she cried, and then I tried again and again and again, and all she ever did was dig herself deeper into her damned bed and pull up the covers over her head. She lived in darkness with her curtains drawn and the lights dimmed and then she picked the one goddamned sunny day to go and kill herself.”

Eloise’s eyes widened.

“A sunny day,” he said. “We’d had a bloody month of overcast skies, and then finally the sun came out, and she had to kill herself.” He laughed, but the sound was short and bitter. “After everything she’d done, she had to go and ruin sunny days for me.”

“Phillip,” Eloise said, placing her hand on his arm.

But he just shook her off. “And if that weren’t enough, she couldn’t even kill herself properly. Well, no,” he said harshly, “I suppose that was my fault. She would have been quite good and dead if I hadn’t come along and forced her to torture us all for three more days, wondering if she might live or die.” He crossed his arms and snorted in disgust. “But of course she died. I don’t know why we even held out hope. She didn’t fight it at all, didn’t use even an ounce of energy to fight the illness. She just laid there and let it claim her, and I kept waiting for her to smile, as if she were finally happy because now she’d succeeded in the one thing she wanted to do.”

“Oh, my God,” Eloise whispered, sickened by the image. “Did she?”

He shook his head. “No. She didn’t have even the energy for that. She just died with the same expression on her face she always had. Empty.”

“I’m so sorry,” Eloise said, even though she knew her words could never be enough. “No one should have to go through something like that.”

He stared at her for the longest time, his eyes searching hers, looking for something, searching for an answer that she wasn’t sure she had. Then he turned abruptly away and walked to the window, staring out at the inky night sky. “I tried so hard,” he said, his voice quiet with resignation and regret, “and still, every day I wished I were married to someone else.” His head tipped forward, until his forehead was leaning against the glass. “Anyone else.”

He was silent for a very long time. Too long, in Eloise’s estimation, and so she stepped forward, murmuring his name, just to hear his response. Just to know that he was all right.

“Yesterday,” he said, his voice abrupt, “you said we have a problem—”

“No,” she cut in, as quickly as she was able. “I didn’t mean—”

“You said we have a problem,” he repeated, his voice so low and forceful she didn’t think he’d hear another interruption even if she tried. “But until you live through what I lived through,” he continued, “until you’ve been trapped in a hopeless marriage, to a hopeless spouse, until you’ve gone to bed alone for years wishing for nothing more than the touch of another human being . . .”

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