My One and Only

By: Kristan Higgins


“STOP SMILING. EVERY time you smile, an angel dies.”

“Wow,” I answered. “That’s a good one.”

The man with the negative attitude sat at the bar, looking as if he was living a bad country-and-western song—no woman, broken truck, dead dog. Poor slob. “Listen,” I said. “I know it’s sad, but sometimes, divorce is just the euthanization of a dying relationship.” I patted his shoulder, then adjusted his white collar, which was just a bit off center. “Sometimes our hearts just need time to accept what our heads already know.”

The priest sighed. “Listen to her with that ridiculous line,” he said to Mick, the bartender.

“It’s not ridiculous! It’s great advice.”

“You’re evil.”

“Oh, my,” I said. “You’re taking it harder than I thought.”

“It’s true. After all my hard work, you swoop in and ruin everything.”

“Father Bruce!” I said, feigning hurt. “There was no swooping! How cutting!”

The good father and I were at Offshore Ale, Martha’s Vineyard’s finest bar, a dark and charming little place in Oak Bluffs and a favorite place for locals and tourists alike. Father Bruce, my longtime friend and the immensely popular pastor of the island’s Catholic church, could often be found here.

“Now come on, Father,” I continued, sliding onto a stool next to him and tugging my skirt so as not to flash him. “You and I are actually a lot alike.” He responded with a groan, which I ignored. “We shepherd people through life’s hard times, guiding them through an emotional minefield, the voice of reason when reason is lost.”

“Sad thing is, she believes it, Mick.”

I rolled my eyes. “Stop being a sore loser and buy me a drink.”

“Marriage ain’t what it used to be,” the priest grumbled. “Mick, a bourbon for the shark here.”

“Actually, just a Pellegrino, Mick. And Father, I’m going to strike that last moniker from the record.” I smiled generously. Of course I was a shark. All the best divorce attorneys were.

“I take it you lost again, Father?” Mick said, adding a slice of lemon to my sparkling water.

“Let’s not discuss it, Mick. She’s gloating as it is.”

“I’m certainly not gloating,” I objected, reaching over to move another patron’s beer, which was in danger of being knocked into Father B.’s lap. “I have nothing against marriage, as you will soon see. But in the case of Starling v. Starling, these two were doomed from the day he got on bended knee. As is one in three couples.”

Father Bruce closed his eyes.

Though on opposite sides of the divorce issue, Father B. and I were old pals. But today, Joe Starling, a lifelong parishioner in Father Bruce’s parish, had come into my office and asked me to begin divorce proceedings. There’d actually been a race to my door, and Joe won. He was…let’s see…the ninth parishioner in the past two years to do so, despite Father B.’s best efforts at weaving together the fraying bonds of matrimony.

“Maybe they’ll have a change of heart,” Father Bruce suggested. He looked so hopeful that I didn’t remind him of one hard fact: not one of my clients had ever backed out of proceedings.

“So how’s everything else, Father?” I asked. “Heard you gave a killer sermon last weekend. And I saw you power walking the other day. Your new heart valve must be working great.”

“Seems to be, Harper, seems to be.” He smiled—he was a priest, after all, and had to forgive me. “Did you perform your random act of kindness today?”

I grimaced. “No. It was a senseless act of beauty.” Father Bruce, viewing my soul as a personal campaign, had challenged me to, in his words, “offset the evil of your profession” by doing at least one random act of kindness each day. “Yes, yes,” I admitted. “I let a family of six go in front of me at the café. Their baby was crying. Does that pass?

“It does,” said the priest. “By the way, you look nice today. A date with young Dennis?”

I glanced around. “More than a date, Father.” Wincing as John Caruso accidentally-on-purpose bumped into my back, I pretended not to hear his muttered epithet. One grew used to such slurs when one was as successful as I was. (Mrs. Caruso got the condo in the Back Bay and the house out here, not to mention a very generous monthly alimony payment.) “Today’s the day. I plan to present the facts, make a convincing case and wait for the verdict, which I completely expect to be in my favor.”

Father Bruce raised a bushy white eyebrow. “How romantic.”

“I think my view on romance is well documented, Father B.”

“One would almost pity young Dennis.”

“One would, except the boy has it made, and you know it.”

“Do I?”

“Please.” I clinked my glass against Father Bruce’s and took a drink. “To marriage. And speak of the devil, here he is now, all of four minutes early. Will wonders never cease.”

My boyfriend of the past two and a half years, Dennis Patrick Costello, was…well. Picture every fantasy you’ve ever had about a hot firefighter. Uh-huh. That’s right. Eye candy didn’t even begin to cover it. Thick black hair, blue eyes, the ruddy cheeks of the Irish. Six-two. Shoulders that could carry a family of four. The only fly in the ointment was a rattail…a long, anemic braid to which Dennis was senselessly attached and which I tried very hard to ignore. Be that as it may, his physical beauty and constant affability always gave me a little thrill of pride. There wasn’t a person on the island who didn’t like Dennis, and there wasn’t woman who didn’t break off midsentence when he smiled. And he was mine.