Authors: L. Alison Heller
L. Alison Heller
New American Library
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published by New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, May 2013
Copyright © L. Alison Heller, 2013
Readers Guide copyright © Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2013
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REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA:
Heller, L. Alison.
The love wars/L. Alison Heller.
1. Women lawyers—Fiction. 2. Mother and child—Fiction.
3. Manhattan (New York, N.Y.)—Fiction. I. Title.
Designed by Alissa Amell
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
To GWR, for everything
hank you to the wonderful Elisabeth Weed for believing in me and for being wise and fun in equal measure. And also to Dana Murphy and Stephanie Sun.
The excellent Kerry Donovan—working with you is so darn enjoyable that I feel like I’m getting away with something. (And I suppose I am because of how much better you’ve made this.) Thank you so much for working your magic in such a collaborative, affirming way. Thanks also to everyone at New American Library: Kara Welsh, Michele Alpern, Anthony Ramondo and Jesse Feldman.
To my smart early readers for their on-the-money comments: Alice Peck, Diane Simon, Jacqueline Newman.
For friendship, sustenance, letting me use your home as an office, lending an ear, sound advice, lovingly caring for my kids or otherwise helping me accomplish this dream (and, in some cases, all of the above): Alejandra Lara, Joanna and Kevin Constantino, Lori Dyan, Anne Joyce, Suzanne Myers, Michele Brown, Donna Karlin, Conrad Tree, Sabrina Eliasoph and Laura Dave. (Also, to One Girl Cookies DUMBO for great coffee, and an incredibly inviting writing space with too many treats.)
To my colleagues and clients from the matrimonial world, past and present, for friendship, humor, humanity and teaching me so much about law, life and New York.
Thanks to my family: the amazing Grandma Kay and the memory of Grandpa Lester. The generous and sharp Edith Roberts.
Samantha Heller, the best sister/reader known to woman, for being so supportive in all matters generally and this book specifically. Also, big hugs to the Heller-Bhattacharyya clan—Raj, Kannon and Dashiell—for your open-door policy with what I’m sure will remain the nicest and most convenient writing nook I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.
The fiercely loving Sue Ann Heller, my constant sounding board on this novel and all else. Your faith in me is a gift, as is your ability to help me digest life. And to Charles Heller—one of the most eloquent writers (and thinkers) I’ve ever known—we miss you every day.
And, of course, to Zoe, Gigi and Glen. Z&G, you’re the magic in my life and I’m beyond grateful for you both. (Note, though: when I open my computer, I’m not trying to get you to play with me. Truly.) To Glen, thank you for all: your support, pride, solidity, laser-sharp smarts and for always, always being the funniest person I know. Even when it’s the hour of savages at the Cheesecake Factory, you can still crack me up about it. And that’s saying something.
Promises and pie crust are made to be broken.
n opened three-pack of pastel-colored sticky notes triggers the fight in the kitchen. Our brawling, which has already swept through several rooms of the house, focuses on the small things: loose wedding photos; extra toilet paper rolls; the ordinary ceramic soap dish bought in happier times. Never mind that I’ve never set eyes on any of the stuff we’re fighting about, or that I’m not actually part of this couple (or any other, for that matter). I’m here solely for the battle, to guard against, as my boss Lillian delicately put it, any “
hell hath no fury
burning and slashing shit.”
Now, though, we’ve taken a sharp veer into the surreal. The kitchen—gleaming white marble countertops and floor tiles, six-burner stove, massive central island—should be the set for some celebrity chef concocting culinary masterpieces. Instead, it’s where Stewart Billings is desperately trying to smuggle sticky notes into a garbage bag filled with his “personal items,” those things he’s allowed to take when he’s booted out of this six-story town house (Central Park adjacent) later this afternoon, pursuant to the terms of the prenuptial agreement he signed seven years ago. The rest of us, two lawyers and his soon-to-be ex-wife, Liesel, watch him with various degrees of disbelief.
“Stewart. Sticky notes down,” Liesel says, walking forward with her palm extended.
“But I bought them,” he says, wiping his nose with his sleeve. “I remember doing it. I was deciding between these and—”
“Stewart, please. Have you ever really
anything?” She presses her fingers against her palm, opening and closing them like a fourth-grade teacher commandeering a contraband video game.
I try to catch the eye of Erika, the other lawyer, but she is suddenly typing feverishly on her BlackBerry, wholly consumed.
Stewart blinks at me, fixing his features in a puppy dog pout. We’ve been at this for several hours, long enough that he’s pegged me as the softy. Not that I have any real competition in this group.
Before I can respond, Liesel cuts in. “Megan is my lawyer, Stewart.”
“Molly.” I offer my third reminder of the day. “My name is Molly.”
“Whatever. She’s here to protect me from you, you idiot.” She waves a hand at me. “Tell him.”
I pause, trying to come up with a politic response for Liesel.
“Hello?” Liesel snaps her fingers in my direction. “Speak. Tell him you’re here to protect me.”
“I’m here to make sure the move goes smoothly.” I am mortified at the squeak in my voice. “Why don’t you split the sticky pads, maybe each take one and a half?”
Liesel snorts. “Thanks, Pollyanna, for that crackerjack legal analysis. Stewart, I’m warning you. Put them down.”
Stewart, displaying a bravery I have not yet seen this morning, defies her, clutching the sticky pads with one hand and continuing to root around the drawer with the other.
I walk over to Erika and lower my voice. “Maybe one of us should run out to get another packet of notepads? It might help move things along.”
Stewart, hearing me, drops the notes on the counter. “It’s not about the sticky pads. It’s the principle of this whole thing.” His
voice descends from a wail into a forlorn whimper. “The principle of this whole, incredibly fucked-up thing.”
Oh Lord. Is he crying? Without thinking, I grab a tissue from my pocket and offer it to him. Luckily, Liesel misses my lapse into empathy; she’s too busy staring at Stewart with frosty disdain. “Which incredibly fucked-up thing?” She flashes a harsh smile. “That you slept with your trainer? Or that your gravy train’s ending?”
Unsurprisingly, Stewart does not look soothed.
When his sniffles become impossible to ignore, Erika finally looks up from her BlackBerry. “Stewart.” She frowns, taking his arm and leading him out of the kitchen. “Let’s go calm down.”
Liesel stalks over to the kitchen island, flicks the sticky notes in the open drawer and slams it shut. “I’m going upstairs.” She throws the words over her shoulder, not bothering to look at me.
“But what about the rest of—”
Still walking away from me, she cuts me off. “I’ll be in the cat room. Don’t follow me; strangers upset them.”
The cat room? I don’t even get a chance to ask before Liesel exits the room and heads upstairs, her feet pounding a percussive BOOM on each step.