1 Sam The slice of skin was angry and pale-it looked almost sickly, framed in ridges, the flesh obscenely puffy around it. My dirty little secret, exposed for all to see. I'd never taken my rings off, not since Harry put them on my finger. I loved and hated them in equal measure. The band was made of clean, unmarked platinum. The guy at the shop had told us it would last forever, while I stared at shiny things on royal-blue velvet and Harry pulled out his Amex. Platinum was as pure as love, and it didn't take a single bit of upkeep, not like silver or white gold. My finger traced the inside, and I could see the words without even looking. Etched into the interior, etched into my brain: For my darling, Sam. From your darling, Harry. Should his cheesy inscription have been the first sign? Diana had laughed when I told her he always called me "darling," asked if Harry was some guy out of the 1950s-and I guess I would have to hold back an eye-roll if she or Margaret said that Brandon or Lars almost exclusively referred to them as "darling." But to me, it had never sounded like some bad actor playing at Cary Grant. Harry's words were so easy to love, his voice somehow gruff yet smooth, strong as whiskey. My darling. My Sam. The engagement ring was even nicer. It had scrollwork and a bunch of tiny diamonds, a whopping stone in the middle. I'd always thought of myself as the anti-diamond type-they seemed way too traditional-but when push came to shove, the butterfly wings had beat in my stomach just as they had for all those other women. I did draw the line at something absurdly overpriced-no Cartier, thank you very much-and ostentation wasn't Harry's style, either. Still, he'd paid extra for Canadian diamonds because they were supposed to be cruelty free. Wanting , and wanting badly, was one of Harry's many effects on me. Not just his love but everything-meeting him had stretched out my world like taffy. All these things I'd never known I could dream of were suddenly open to me. I was trading my shitty railroad apartment and its sounds of cars whizzing by-urban waves-for the luxury condo with Manhattan views that Harry kept around just for crashing in the city. I was getting my first real facial-one gifted to me by Harry shortly after we were engaged. I was honeymooning at the Four Seasons in Anguilla. I'd always been more of a backpacker, a rough-and-tumble traveler, but sitting on an Adirondack chair parked in bright white sand, one hand in Harry's and the other wrapped around a seventeen-dollar pi-a colada, it was impossible to object. Who would, when it came down to it? Standing in front of my dresser, I let the rings clank into the ceramic dish, the one my mom had gotten me to hold them especially: Harry + Sam. May your love bless you forever. One year. That's how long it took to change me, our union marking my body like a warning, turning the skin of my finger pale. Three months of engagement. Seven of marriage. Two of being apart. Diana, a self-branded self-destructive, always the one among the group to suggest a third glass of wine or a side of French fries or one measly cigarette on the patio, had understood why I hesitated to take my rings off. I'd met Diana about a year and a half ago-she was sitting at the bar at the place on Tenth Avenue I used to go after work. She'd introduced herself and suggested we pair up to take full advantage of the two-for-one old-fashioned special. We had, and we'd killed more than one round of strong drinks, and over cigarettes purchased on impulse from the deli next door, I'd told her all about the crush I had on Harry. She'd gotten it then, and she got it now. Margaret, a semi-neurotic copywriter I'd worked with on and off for years, and by far the most practical of our little trio, had been much pushier. I needed to take off my rings, take a "step toward acceptance," as she put it. On this trip, at least, we were going to put our pasts behind us, as much as we could. I turned away from the dresser, the shitty fiberboard model I'd picked up in IKEA that had served me over nearly a decade in New York, one of the few items that had made the trek from my old place to Harry's. On the bed, my suitcase lay open, sundresses, sweaters, and underwear spilling out. I must have packed the thing five times. I knew I was probably putting way too much pressure on this trip, nothing more than a long weekend of wine and-let's be honest-more wine, up at a cabin in Saratoga Springs. It was just Diana, Margaret, and me-it didn't matter what I wore at all-still, it was my first time leaving the city since Harry had left me. Well, my first time except for that once. It was going to be brilliant, so help me. Like Margaret said, I was going to take the first step toward acceptance and leave my past behind. I glanced at my watch, snakeskin leather and an oversized gold face-another gift from Harry, for my birthday last year. Diana and Margaret should be arriving any minute. I flipped the lid of the suitcase, and, pressing down hard, zipped it as best I could, then dragged it off the bed. I pulled the duvet up, covering Harry's imprint in the bed. They didn't tell you that about memory foam-it doesn't forget, never ever ever. It captures bodies, forces you to look at the person you thought you knew, day in and day out. I rolled the case down the hall and past the nook I'd taken to using as my home office, my desk piled to the brim with unpaid invoices and contact sheets from one of my projects, already two weeks overdue to my client. When I'd taken on the assignment several months ago, art direction for the launch campaign for a new wedding-planning app, Harry had been here. Diana and Margaret didn't even know each other. Everything was different then. My phone buzzed. It was a text to the group chain, lovingly titled Sgt. Diana's Lonely Hearts Club in all our phones. From Diana: I made a snap decision and stopped at the shop for a couple more bottles of vino before going to Margaret's-running ten late, but you know it's worth it-I have a feeling we're going to be getting messy I laughed. We certainly would, if Diana had anything to do with it, and getting messy with them felt a lot less shameful than doing so on my own. I shrank into a cardigan, zipped up my boots, and grabbed my handbag. I should make my way downstairs, maybe stop for a coffee at the deli, wait for them outside. On impulse, like a sharp, quick tug, I turned away, traipsing across the apartment, my boots click-clacking against the unswept hardwood, back to the bedroom. The rings still sat in the dish, glimmering. Like a cat, I snatched them, slipping them into the pocket of my linen dress. Secret rings, tucked away where no one could see. It can't hurt, I told myself, perhaps a little desperately. At least it can't hurt anyone but me. Diana was leaning against the SUV, phone in hand, when I got downstairs. In the pinky late-afternoon light of the city, her silver hair gleamed against the rest of her dark brown strands. She was nearly half-gray, though she wasnÕt even thirty-five. She was wearing a black dress and black leggings-she almost always wore black, and it had the effect of accentuating her rather abundant curves and making her uncolored hair even more striking. With creamy skin, a strong nose, hazel eyes, and lips always painted red, Diana looked like a Renaissance woman, someone Botticelli would have painted. She glanced up and beamed like she always did upon seeing me. "I have good news and bad news," she said in lieu of a greeting. "Bad first." "Such a masochist," she said. "Okay, so I just realized I completely forgot the OJ for mimosas." "The good news?" Diana grinned. "That means we can have Prosecco for breakfast and not even feel bad about it." I laughed, and Margaret hopped out of the driver's seat, walking around to hug me, too. She cleared her throat: "I've already told Diana I'm instating a rule for the trip-one glass of water between every drink-we are not driving four hours to be hungover every day. I want to go on a hike, damn it." Diana pulled Margaret in for a half hug, squeezing her tight. "Don't you worry-we will have all of the wine, all of the water, and all of the nature. The three aren't mutually exclusive." "You know I'll hold you to it-don't think I won't," Margaret said with a smile. She ran a hand through her shoulder-length hair, cut blunt at the ends, similar to mine (a cut that Diana, a social worker at a therapy practice on the West Side, now referred to as the "cool-girl agency bob"), though Margaret's was straight and mine was more curly. In another life, Margaret had been an actress, or had tried to be, at least, in her first several years in New York, but to me, it was hard to imagine her anywhere but at an ad agency. She adjusted her jacket, the red leather one she always wore, shaking the fringe on the sleeves. Margaret glanced at her phone, then back at us. "I have it all mapped out," she said. She was a planner, the type to set a meeting for things that could be a conversation, to walk into a room gracefully and get us right down to business. "If traffic is manageable, we'll be in the Adirondacks in four hours." Diana raised her eyebrows-how far we were driving on this trip had been a point of contention from the beginning-but then quickly forced a smile. "Just enough time to hit every song in my playlist." "You've thought of everything," Margaret said, and I sensed it, just the tiniest bit, the tension. Diana had first pitched the idea of a trip, but Margaret had suggested we go to her friend's place farther north instead of trying to find a rental. There was a hot tub and a firepit overlooking mountain views, and her friend, who'd just had a baby, wasn't using the place at all. It was free, to boot. Hard to argue with. Margaret may have done most of the planning, but Diana had a way of taking charge-it was just her style. After all, Diana was the one who made us a trio. Only a few days after Harry left, Margaret and I had gone for drinks at that spot on Tenth Avenue-she told me she was in the middle of a messy separation with Lars, and I was absolutely blindsided by Harry leaving. After a couple of hours, Diana walked in. She was a regular there, but I hadn't seen her in at least a year-I'd stopped going out so much once I'd gotten together with Harry. It had felt almost predestined as she told us that she and Brandon, her husband, were separated, too. Apparently, he'd become jealous and obsessive and controlling, and she'd had enough. Diana started the group text, suggested we commiserate together, turned us into a pseudo-support group. Without them, I don't know how I'd have gotten through the last two months. Now Diana clasped her hands together, the two Cartier Love bracelets she always wore clanging on her wrist. "What are we waiting for? Let's do this. Come on," she said. "I'll help you with your bags." As we shut the trunk, Diana's eyes found my hand, taking in the sliver of skin where my rings used to be. "So you took Margaret's advice?" she asked. "Embracing acceptance or however she put it?" I reached for them, grasping the rings like a security blanket. "Don't tell her, but they're in my pocket. I'm not wearing them, though, and that's a start." "It is, indeed." We packed into the SUV like the little peg people my sister, Emma, and I used to amass in The Game of Life, and made our way toward the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the highway that would take us out of the dirty sunny city and up toward Saratoga Springs, our home for the next four nights. Ten minutes into our journey, my phone buzzed. It was probably my mom, checking in, or my pushy client, arguing about the extension I'd asked for. Or maybe, hope against hope, it was Harry. His text from Saturday was so woefully incomplete. Just three tiny words, words that had given me more hope than they should have: I miss you. It wasn't him. It was her. Ten digits, never saved into my phone, but it didn't matter-I knew who it was all the same. For fuck's sake, please just leave us alone. 2 Margaret With every mile on the odometer, I felt it, the past, Lars, and everything that had happened fading into the background. It was poetic almost. The open road. Leaving my problems, quite literally, behind. Every bit of road more space from Lars, who'd been sleeping on our couch for the last six months as we figured out how best to separate, who only Tuesday had come stumbling home with a busted, bleeding lip. From a sidewalk trip or a bar scuffle, I didn't even know anymore. He hadn't been the Lars I fell in love with in a long, long time. My hands held the wheel at an even ten and two, and the cruise control was set to exactly five miles over the speed limit. A car zipped around me, going near eighty, and my phone vibrated loudly. I ignored it. Diana turned the music down. She'd been in charge of the playlist the whole time, no ifs ands or buts about it, but I could hardly argue with her selections. It was good driving music, a virtual course in female virtuosos: Diana Ross and Nina Simone, Fiona Apple and early Britney Spears. "You sure you don't want a break?" she asked. "You've been driving for almost two hours. I know I'm an exemplary navigator, but I trust you can handle the position." "I already told you," I said. "You're not on the rental agreement. It cost an extra fifty dollars a day." Diana smirked. "I won't tell if you won't. We might have to buy off Sam's silence, but I hear she comes cheap." "Hey," Sam said. "Just because I'm the broke millennial." I held back an eye-roll. We were all millennials, technically speaking, even though Sam was thirty to my (very nearly) thirty-six. Besides, Sam was anything but down and out. From how she'd described Harry, they were doing quite well indeed. There was also the fact of his cheating. Unlike me, she'd come out great once the divorce was official. "You're sure?" Diana pressed. "I love driving, you know, and it would give you some time to relax. I had an easy day at work. My last two clients cancelled." "I'm sure," I said, hoping to put it to rest. Though I was certainly more rule-abiding then Diana or even Sam, I wasn't only worried about Enterprise finding out we'd broken our agreement. I'd never told Sam or Diana that I'd been in the passenger seat when Lars had slammed on the breaks, careful not to hit a cyclist who'd pulled in front of us on our way to the beach. He'd been right to do it, and the doctors, as well as the internet, had confirmed that the digging in of the lap belt, straight to my uterus the day after we'd found out I was pregnant, had nothing to do with the things that happened to us after. Still, that was the first thing that had gone wrong, the first domino among a string of events that had kicked off all the other stuff, causation or not. It was hard to wonder what would have happened to us if we hadn't gone to the beach that day. It was hard to resign myself to the passenger seat again, put another human in control of my life. I'm sure Diana, if she knew the full story, would call it PTSD, being a social worker and all. Only she didn't know the whole of it. I'd told them that I couldn't give Lars children, nothing more. I often wondered if they'd look at me differently if they knew the truth in full. Excerpted from The Perfect Escape by Leah Konen All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.