I’m only halfway down the hall to my room when I hear the Tripps’ door open again. Turning, I see Carey come out, wiping her face, and jog in the opposite direction down the hall.
It’s already eleven, but there’s no way I’m sleeping after the madness of the book signing, the fight in the hotel room, and Carey’s tearful departure. I haven’t seen her since, and she’s not answering her phone. I’m guessing Melissa is doing one of her long, indignant soaks in the bathtub, but I’m pretty sure I know where I can find Rusty.
Indeed, he’s bellied up at the hotel bar, with a half-empty glass of beer in front of him and his face turned up to the television screen overhead.
“You a …” I look at the teams and need a beat to decipher what BOS means on the scoreboard. “A Red Sox fan?”
He shrugs and takes another pull of his beer. “I prefer football, but it’s July.”
I’m not sure how July relates to football because my closest relationship to sports was being dragged to my sister’s softball games. It’s easy enough to decide that if I haven’t cared about football for twenty-nine years I certainly don’t have to start tonight. With a raised brow, I silently ask if it’s okay for me to take the barstool next to his, and order a scotch and soda.
“How’s Carey-girl doing?” Rusty asks.
My stomach experiences a weird cramp. “Don’t know. She left your room after I did and took off in the other direction.” I thank the bartender when he puts my drink down in front of me. “She’s not answering her phone.”
Rusty shakes his head and stares down at the dwindling foam in his glass. “I told Melly to treat her better. It’s almost like she can’t help herself, she just takes all her stress out on me and Carey.”
I take this as a sign that he’s willing to be open. “Do I have permission to speak freely?”
He eyes me warily and then his shoulder ticks up in a casual shrug. “Sure.”
“You’re not exactly helping,” I say.
He pauses with his beer midair and pins me with a look. Rusty is usually the nicest guy you’ll meet. But right now, as he continues to watch me with an even intensity, I’m a little afraid.
Finally, the air leaves him in a resigned sigh, and he sets his beer back down in front of him.
“I guess that’s fair.”
I let myself exhale. “Then why do you leave it to Carey to handle?”
“I know I’m a flirt. I’ve always liked female attention, but now it’s like I can’t go to a bar without getting a phone number.” I almost tell him that the black card in his wallet might have a little something to do with that, but I let him continue instead. “Do you know what it’s like to have numbers slipped into your hand left and right, when your own wife won’t pay attention to you?”
“I’ve never been married, so …”
“We used to do so much together,” he says, “but the more famous we get, the less I actually see her.”
“Have you tried talking to Melissa about all this?”
He laughs into his beer. “You’ve been pretty sheltered from Melly’s temper so far, but imagine her reaction if I told her something like that. You saw how she reacted today.”
“Why does Carey stay?” I’ve asked her this myself, of course, but her answer was so odd and unsatisfying—Melly needs me.
Rusty’s answer is a world away from Carey’s: “A few reasons. For one, she needs the insurance, and even though Melly can be pretty terrible a lot of the time, she helps her with that and some of the appointments.”
I realize this isn’t the first time appointments and insurance have been mentioned, and it triggers my curiosity again. I should let it go. Carey would tell me if she thought it was any of my business.
“And?” I ask, prompting him to continue.
“And Melly would ruin her.”
I pull back, confused. “What does that mean?”
He turns his face to me, and I gather this isn’t his first beer of the night. He’s got a ball cap pulled down low over his eyes, but his gaze swims, watery and unfocused. Gin blossoms are beginning to bloom beneath the skin around his nose.
Rusty Tripp gives me a wry smile and finishes the detonation he started earlier tonight: “It’s all Carey, always has been. The design, the original brand, the window displays. Carey did all of that. She’s the one who came up with the small-spaces designs, and I’d build them. It’s still that way. Why do you think you can’t do any actual engineering? We can’t have someone else knowing how the sausage is made.” He hiccups and thumps his chest a couple of times. “Melly would be screwed if Carey ever left, and she hates her for it.”
EXCERPT FROM New Life, Old Love
Chapter Four: There’s No Vacation from
Relationships are a lot like houses: without a good foundation, they’ll crumble. When a light bulb goes out, you don’t buy a new house, you change the bulb. When the faucet drips, you don’t start mopping the floor before you fix the leak. In other words, no matter how much digging it takes, it’s important to get to the root of a problem.
Rusty and I met when we were basically kids. We didn’t have the store yet—didn’t even have the idea for one. In fact, we barely had two nickels to rub together. What we did have was a whole lot of passion, and zero experience communicating.
We didn’t know what it looked like to fight in a healthy way. I’d get mad at Rusty for leaving his socks on the floor, and he’d storm out. He’d get upset with me for making a mess in the kitchen, and I’d yell and cry. Whenever we fought, I thought, This is it. Happy couples don’t fight. I guess we aren’t happy, so I guess we’re breaking up
But here’s the secret: of course happy couples fight! Two strong minds coming together are never going to agree on everything, and it’s healthy to express those feelings. But what we had to learn was that it was the way we were expressing our feelings that wasn’t healthy. Shouting doesn’t make anyone feel better. Storming off doesn’t fix any problems.
In some ways, we had to learn this all over again when the Comb+Honey brand took off. Pressure adds stress, and stress breaks down the communication process. Even though I’d long since learned that when I’m hurting I have to tell Russ what I’m feeling, sometimes when we’re busy, we forget to prioritize our relationship.
We came back to that, consciously, when we first started writing this book. We talk every night. We write each other letters sometimes. I know I have to tell Russ when something bothers me, or it’ll fester. I can’t let it build up. And sometimes, that means we have to be vulnerable with each other. It takes a heck of a lot of trust.
Before I’m steaming mad, I simply say, “Russ, I felt dismissed back there,” or he can say, “Melly, I’m starting to feel smothered by you,” and we know each other well enough to know we wouldn’t bring it up if it wasn’t going to become a problem down the road.
That trust takes time. But when you love each other, it shouldn’t be scary to be vulnerable and it shouldn’t be hard to compromise.
I’d like to share with you what we like to call SACRED HEALING. We use it every day of our marriage, and it hasn’t failed us yet!
When you have something you need to communicate, those words are SACRED:
1.STOP when you register something’s wrong.
2.ADMIT that you have an issue to discuss.
3.CALMLY express your feelings.
4.REFLECT on why you’re feeling this way.
5.ENGAGE with your partner to actively fix the issue.
6.DEVOTE time after conflict to returning to a loving state.
And when your partner is saying something SACRED, it’s your job to be the leader of the HEALING:
1.HEAR your partner’s words.
2.ENGAGE with questions for clarification and understanding.
3.ACKNOWLEDGE that what they’re saying is important.
4.LOOK BACK on your own role in the conflict.
5.INITIATE discussion without anger or defense.
6.NEGOTIATE a solution with pure intentions.
7.GROW as partners and individuals by fixing the problem as a team.
The pool is mostly empty at this hour. A group of rowdy teenage boys here for some kind of sports competition—judging from their matching duffel bags—are splashing and wrestling down at the other end, but it seems my red face and pathetic sniffling effectively signal they should keep their distance.
I’m not usually happier alone, but I am right now, vacillating between embarrassment over the way Melly talked to me and anger at myself for letting her. As crazy as it sounds, I’m genuinely sad about how tonight went down, because despite everything, I care about Melissa. She’s lost her temper with me before but never like that, never in front of other people, and always about the job, or out of frustration about things around her. In all the time I’ve worked for her, she’s never questioned my character or accused me of being disloyal.
I wipe my face again, wishing I were more furious and less hurt. Wishing I had stood up to her instead of letting her see me cry.
You and Russell humiliate the fuck out of me in front of two hundred people and now you want to shut me up with food?
Carey has just tried to take credit for my fucking life’s work …
I’d been so grateful when she’d finally made James leave, but she wasn’t finished.
I have given you so much, and this is how you repay me?
Melly, I would never—
Are you calling me a liar?
Try that again, and I will replace you in a second. Do you understand? You’re not special, Carey. Don’t forget that.
Rusty just stood there; his eyes were soft with pity, but he didn’t dare contradict her and risk getting something else thrown at his head.
SACRED HEALING, my ass.
And then there’s James. I want to thank him for trying to stand up for me, but I’m still too mortified that he had to witness that debacle to imagine ever talking to him again.