I exited through one half of a double door and ran directly into Neil waiting in the hallway. Even after five years of all the joys and heartbreaks our life together had given us, his smile still swept me away like it had on the first day we"d met. In his arms, Olivia squirmed and fussed, until she saw me.
"You were wonderful, darling," he said, leaning in to kiss my cheek as Olivia situated herself between us.
"No, no, no," she babbled sternly, pushing Neil"s face away from mine. She was going through this phase where she didn"t want Neil and me to kiss, ever.
Children were so weird.
The headset woman directed us back to my dressing room, where I changed into the tight black jeans and oversized pink cashmere sweater I"d arrived in. As I pulled my boots on, I watched Olivia methodically jerk diaper after diaper out of my alligator leather Birkin, wondering when Neil would notice what she was up to. But he was too lost in his own thoughts.
"Hey," I said softly. When he looked up, I asked, "Are you okay""
Talking about Emma would probably always be hard for him, but it seemed more so recently. The book coming out and the interviews I"d been giving about it had him a little more shaken up than usual.
"Hmm"" He snapped back to reality. "Oh, yes. Fine. Everything"s fine."
"Did you take that second Xanax today"" I asked casually, not trying to sound overly concerned. He"d been hospitalized for two months at an inpatient psychiatric facility following a suicide attempt the year before. Emma"s death had almost been his, too, and in some ways, he was still recovering.
He shook his head. "No, really, I"m fine. I haven"t felt that I needed it."
I pulled up the zips on my calf-length boots and stood. "Good to know. I feel really guilty that this is so hard on you."
"It isn"t," he insisted, stooping to gather up the diapers Olivia had strewn across the floor. "Truly, it isn"t. I love that you"re writing, again. It seems as though it helps you."
"It really does. It helps me to sort my thoughts." It would be nice if I could drum up enthusiasm for it without requiring some major tragedy to get the creative juices flowing. "But I"m going to be glad when the release stuff is over."
"What time is your signing tomorrow"" he asked, handing me the bag.
I slung it over my shoulder and reached for Olivia"s hand to hold so she could toddle along beside me. "Eight to nine-thirty. I"m debating just staying in town after and meeting you at the airport in the morning."
When we reached the elevators, Neil scooped Olivia up in his arms; she couldn"t be trusted not to bolt the moment the doors opened. "You don"t sound terribly enthusiastic. Is it the signing you"re dreading, or the trip""
"I"m not dreading the trip." Not all of it. Olivia had never met my family before, and I wanted them to get a chance to know her. And I wanted her to grow up knowing that not everyone lives in a thirty-five thousand-square-foot house and travels by private jet. Neil had never even been grocery shopping on his own until we moved in together, so he was hardly up to the task of keeping her grounded.
"I"m just kind of dreading the whole class reunion thing," I told him as we stepped into the elevator and the doors closed.
"This, again"" Neil rolled his eyes. "You"re not seriously still worried about this."
"I can"t help it," I protested. "What if I go back and nobody talks to me because they think I"m" I don"t know. Full of myself" Like I think I"m better than everyone""
"Are you going to act full of yourself or like you"re better than everyone"" he asked, his mildly condescending tone enhanced by his posh English accent. Sometimes, I felt like I was being scolded by the male version of Mary Poppins.
"Obviously, I"m not. But it"s a small town. People talk. And I know I would have been a little intimidated and envious if one of my friends had moved to New York and become some rich asshole."
"Language," he reminded me, reaching up to cup Olivia"s ear.
The not-swearing was the worst part of raising a child.
"Sorry. Some rich"apple"core." Not my best. I cursed under my breath.
"Doing splendidly as always, darling." Neil smiled. "Are you coming with us or going to the office""
"I"m going to work." For once. Lately, everything else in life seemed to get in the way of work. For most people, it was the opposite.
"You are coming home tonight, though, aren"t you""
"Oh, absolutely. I have to pack and stare at myself in the mirror and freak out because nothing fits me the way it used to." I really didn"t need to lay it all out like that. He knew the routine by now. "But I"ve got to get back to work."