The Thinnest Air – Minka Kent

Anyone who claims chocolate cake is better than sex has never had the privilege of Andrew Price between their legs. The snow-dusted Eiffel Tower stands tall outside our hotel window, and most of our bedding lies in a tangled mess on the floor. This . this is a honeymoon. Andrew climbs over me, his lissome runner’s physique sheened and glowing, and when he kisses me, I taste myself on his tongue. He likes that I’m adventurous, carefree. Correction—loves. He also loves that I’m almost half his age, wielding a libido that hasn’t yet peaked and a body made for bringing the schoolboy fantasies of his divorced, middle-aged mind to life. Running my hands along his muscled torso, I smile. I love him. I love him a million times more than I ever thought I could possibly love another human being, and I don’t expect anyone to understand, least of all my sister. Greer is convinced we’ve got some sugar daddy arrangement, that it’s all for money and show, but she couldn’t be more wrong. I can understand Greer’s concerns.

In the past six months, Andrew has paid off my student loans, bought me a car, and placed an entire privileged world at my fingertips. But she isn’t there at night, witnessing the tenderness in his touch, the lingering kisses. She’ll never know how it feels to lock eyes with Andrew Price from across the room and feel the ground shake beneath my unsteady gait. He does something to me. Something no one else ever has. With him I’m loved. I’m safe. And that’s how I know it’s real. The fancy cars, lavish dinners, and closet full of couture are nothing more than niceties. If he lost everything tomorrow, I’d still be by his side, dressed in rags and loving him nonetheless. “More champagne?” He climbs off me, heading toward the minibar, and I miss his warmth, his subtle, musky scent. He’s my addiction, one I fully embrace with eyes wide shut because when you love someone, you trust the process.

You fall hard. And you don’t look back. That’s what makes it so intense, so magical. Rolling to my side, I bend my knees and rest my head on my hand, admiring my perfect husband and quietly appreciating how every square inch of him officially belongs to me now. No other woman can touch him the way I can. No other woman can make him feel the way I do. And he knows that. “Yes, please,” I say, my heart fluttering when his stare lingers on my body. He appreciates me, appreciates that I’m his. Before Andrew, I was always drawn to men my age, mistaking their arrogance for confidence.

Andrew isn’t arrogant. He’s successful, self-assured. But he isn’t entitled. He simply knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to go after it. I’m so glad he wanted me. He fills two glasses to the top and returns to bed, bubbling flutes in his hands. “You’re going to love me forever, right?” My lips curl into a teasing grin to disguise the seriousness of my question. I take a sip, letting the airy froth sit on my tongue for a moment. I want to remember this. I want to feel everything, imprinting this into my memory for always.

“No matter what?” Andrew takes a sip, his amaretto eyes locked on mine. “What kind of question is that?” He presses his lips into my forehead, exhaling before cupping my cheek in his hand. “You’re my wife, Meredith. It’s you and me. Forever. You’re stuck with me.” Now is when I choose to ignore the fact that I’m his third. He claims his first one doesn’t count. They were young and fresh out of high school. Since they were divorced by the time he graduated from college, there were never any children involved.

Andrew says he barely remembers that time in his life, and he always seems to struggle to remember her name, squinting as if he has to think on it. He was too busy studying and boozing it up at Notre Dame, opting to play rugby in his spare time rather than take his young sweetheart on cheap, collegetown dates. Erica came next, though I try not to think of her if I can help it, and I sure as hell won’t let her ruin this beautiful moment. She detests me. But the feeling is mutual. “Say that again.” I roll to my back, keeping my flute upright and draping the sheets between my legs. “Say what again?” “Wife.” I take a sip, hiding the grin I haven’t been able to lose since he kissed me in front of three hundred and seventy-six of our closest friends and family. Andrew takes the spot beside me, dragging his palm along his dimpled chin as he smirks.

“You’re my wife,” he says, taking his time. Staring up at him, I study his chiseled jaw and boyish good looks. He has the eyes of a much younger man, but the salt and pepper at his temples is a sexy bonus. And he’s crazy smart. He can talk about stocks and bonds and equities and securities in a way that intimidates even the top brokers in his field. “You’re the hottest thing I’ve ever seen,” I say, reaching my hand to his face and dragging my fingertips along his perfect lips. “I can’t believe we’re married.” Seven months ago, I didn’t know Andrew. Six months ago, I was waiting tables at a café in Denver when he came in with a group of men, all in dark business suits and solid ties. I took his order first, and his hand grazed mine when he passed me the menu.

He smiled. I smiled. Everything else faded away for a single, endless moment. “It happened so fast, didn’t it?” he asks, tucking one hand behind his head as he stares at the ceiling, basking in afterglow. “Guess I couldn’t stand to let you get away.” I knew Andrew was going to be different from the rest when our first date didn’t consist of burgers, beers, or baseball. He wore a suit and tie when he picked me up. When we arrived at the restaurant, he approached the hostess stand, confirming our reservations, and when we ordered our meals, he knew exactly which wines would pair with mine. During the entirety of our date, not once did his eyes wander to a single passing beautiful woman. He held every door.

Used “please” and “thank you” when appropriate. Didn’t utter a single word about any of his exes. And not once did he check his phone in my presence. In the hours leading up to our date, I was worried we wouldn’t have anything in common. From what I gathered via a tiny bit of social media stalking, he was a single father with two children. He worked in finance. And he didn’t spend much time online, his last Facebook post being four years ago. Breath. Of. Fresh.

Air. After dinner, Andrew whisked me off to a symphony, fetching me wine at intermission and waiting for me outside the ladies’ room without complaining once. When my left high heel broke as we were walking to his car that night, I found myself with a twisted ankle. That’s what I got for borrowing my roommate’s cheap shoes. But rather than slip his arm around me and let me hobble back to the car and ending the date on an awkward note, he carried me in his arms like a groom would carry his bride. People gawked at the scene with their old-money stares and sour faces, but Andrew didn’t pay them any attention. His only concern was me. When he took me home that night, he helped me to bed, got me ice and aspirin, brought my phone and plugged it in to the charger, and then he stayed until I fell asleep. That’s the kind of man Andrew Price is. And I’ve yet to find a single twentysomething-year-old man with half the class as the man who captured my heart when I least expected it.

He’s everything I never knew I wanted. Everything I need. Rolling closer, I rest my cheek on his chest, listening to the steady, constant thrum of his heartbeat and inhaling the indulgent scent of his bare skin as my body submits to a wave of exhaustion. I’m spending the rest of my life with Andrew Price. And that makes me the luckiest girl alive. CHAPTER 2 GREER Day Two “Harris.” I pound on his door until my knuckles grow numb, inspecting the bloom of red on my skin that nearly matches my chipped manicure. It’s 7:00 a.m. on a January morning, the sun still hiding behind the horizon and a thicket of shiny Manhattan high-rises.

The wind is relentless, the cold unforgiving. I’m sure he’s still nestled warm in his bed, but my flight leaves in three hours and common courtesy is a luxury I don’t have. “Answer the damn door. I know you’re home.” This would be a hell of a lot easier if I still had a key, but last year I decided we needed to set boundaries so we could move on emotionally, which meant I had to move out. It isn’t normal for two people who’ve been broken up for years to still live together, to still sleep in the same bed like some sexless married couple and attend their friends’ weddings as each other’s plus-ones. But aside from everything that’s happened over the past decade, Harris is still my best friend, my confidant, and one of the few people I actually like on this narcissistic, egocentric excuse for a planet. And maybe a part of me still loves him more than I’m willing to admit out loud. A muffled voice sounds on the other side of the door, and within seconds, it’s flung open. Harris’s tortoiseshell glasses are crooked on his face, and he smells like stale bedsheets and a hard sleep.

“What? What is it?” He squints at me, dragging his palm along his barely there five-o’clock shadow. Creases from his pillow mark his cheek and forehead. “You didn’t answer your phone.” The tiniest part of me is irrationally insulted by his unavailability. “I was sleeping. It was off.” “There’s been an emergency. I’m leaving for Utah.” My matter-of-fact delivery is a ruse that he’ll probably see through, but it’s all I can do to keep from falling apart on the outside. Showing emotion isn’t my forte.

I’d rather suffer through a thousand pelvic exams than shed a single tear in front of another person. Besides, tears aren’t going to find my sister. His sleepy gaze comes into focus as he drags his hand through his messy onyx hair. “Utah? What, is it Meredith?” “Yes.” My arms fold. “Meredith is missing.” Saying those words out loud for the first time almost knocks the wind from my lungs. To think them is one thing. To say them makes them real. She’s been here for everything, always.

The highs and the lows. My biggest cheerleader. And now she’s not. “What happened?” Harris lifts a brow, then squints, as if he’s about to watch a train wreck unfold. “She was supposed to pick up Andrew’s kids from school,” I say, gaze focused on his bare feet. “Never showed. Her car was found in the parking lot of a grocery store, the driver’s door open and her purse and phone on the passenger seat. No sign of a struggle. She just . disappeared.

” “Shit.” He tucks his chin against his chest, rubbing the back of his neck. “Anyway, I was just coming to tell you I don’t know how long I’m going to be away, so you’ll have to take over the shops for a while.” I hate to put this on him when our business is in dire straits, but we don’t have a choice. A decade ago, Harris and I were fresh out of grad school, up to our noses in debt and finding it nearly impossible to land jobs in the face of the Great Recession, so we maxed out every credit card we had and opened a tiny coffee shop in Brooklyn. Two years later, we opened another in Chelsea. Then one in the East Village. Today we have five altogether. It was insane and exhilarating and stressful and still somehow blissfully wonderful because we were doing it all together. The two of us.

Side by side. But times are tough. Competition is stiffer than ever, with new coffee shops popping up all over the place, run by social media-savvy millennials and started up with bottomless loans from their well-heeled parents. This past Christmas, some new place called the Coffee Bar opened just around the corner. The owner invented a whole special menu of holiday movie–themed drinks inspired by films like Home Alone and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. BuzzFeed ran an article on them, and it went viral practically overnight, with people lining up for blocks just to try a “Keep the Change, Ya Filthy Animal” latte, which was nothing more than a glorified pumpkin spice latte with salted caramel. Or a “Cousin Eddie’s Full Shitter,” which was an iced mocha with an extra shot of Turkish espresso. None of the drinks were inventive by any stretch of the imagination, but we couldn’t compete with a viral sensation. Our December profits sank by 40 percent, and they continue to fall with each passing day. We were looking at shutting down at least three stores over the coming months until Meredith offered me a loan.

I didn’t want to accept the help. But I also didn’t want to lose my livelihood. Or Harris, whose current expression resembles that of an eyewitness to a fatal car accident. “All right. Yeah. I can handle everything here. Just keep me posted, will you?” he asks. I pause, lingering outside his door. He never cared much for Meredith, though he never explicitly said that. It was just in the little digs he’d make here and there, making fun of her for her social media addiction, her affinity for tabloid articles, and wearing too much makeup and too little clothing.

He mostly hated that she was overtly sexual, but that was on principle. Raised by two Harvard-educated women’s studies professors alongside three older sisters, Harris was a staunch feminist. “Jesus. I hope nothing happened to her.” His gaze falls, his words barely a whisper. Funny how all those old misgivings no longer matter once shit gets real. “I’ll keep you updated on everything,” I say, if only because I imagine I’m going to need his rational demeanor to keep me sane until I find her. He was always good at that, always good at putting things in perspective and talking my anxious ego down from the ledge. “Just . keep your phone on from now on, please.

Even in the middle of the night. I’ll only call when I need you.” The moment I turn to leave, the warmth of his palm clasps my wrist. “Greer,” he says, head cocked to the side. His touch is a comfort I can’t allow myself to enjoy, not under these circumstances. “I’m sorry.” “Sorry?” I lift a brow, looking him up and down. “For what? She’s not dead; she’s missing.” He says nothing. “And I’m going to find her.

” I’ve never said anything with so much conviction. “I know you will. Look, I’m here if you need me.” He pulls me into his arms, crossing a line he drew years ago. Being in his arms again is a momentary catch in the midst of a never-ending fall. He still loves me; I know he does. Just as I’ll never stop loving him, he’ll never stop loving me. His proposal to go our separate ways came after years of placing our relationship on the sidelines as we gave everything we had to our business. All our time. Our energy.

Our passion. At the time, we were too far deep to see it, and by the time we noticed, we were too far gone. We’d lost our spark, settled for comfort over excitement, and we deserved more. At least that’s what Harris said. The breakup took months, but it came as no surprise. I have my own issues, and Harris is a complicated man. It was always something I liked about him. He’s deep. A thinker. They don’t make them like him, at least not in mass production.

There’s a melancholy sweetness and an air of sadness swirling together as I breathe him in the way I always used to. Part of me wishes he were coming with me to Utah, but someone has to stay back and keep the business going. The two of us leaving for an undetermined amount of time isn’t an option. “Call me when you land,” he says. “I’m going.” I pull myself away from Harris and grip the purse strap over my shoulder, turning to leave after giving him a parting glance. The unfamiliar gnawing of helplessness and uncertainty threatens to sink into my bones, but I draw in a deep breath, stride toward the elevator, and head toward my waiting cab. I’m going to find my sister.

.

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