Rhys and Derek have been together for nine years and married for seven, but have started the process of divorcing. Rhys is keenly aware of and wholly accepts the blame for torpedoing his own marriage by having a meaningless one-night-stand with a stranger. Derek had been clear from the beginning that he could and would not tolerate cheating; after all, a marriage is built on trust. Despite their mutual understanding that their formerly blissful marriage is beyond salvaging, it’s not quite as simple as signing on the dotted line and being done with one another. Finances dictate they continue to share the house they bought together, they have two inseparable cats, and their daughter is getting married in a few short months.
For the sake of appearances and saving their daughter the unnecessary stress of dealing with her fathers’ separation as she throws a wedding together in three months’ time, Rhys and Derek decide to play happy husbands until the ceremony is over. That means three more months of sharing a house when they can barely stand to be in the same room. It also means sharing a road trip from Illinois to Washington state on account of Rhys being deathly afraid of flying—perhaps because an accident in combat flight training left him with part of his lower leg amputated. On the advice of a good friend, Rhys suggests both of them just…stop working so hard at being miserable during their drive to the wedding. When they realize that simple shift in thinking helps them get along, and leads them back into the same bed for untamed sex, playing happy husbands seems to be a lot easier. A repeat performance is not in the cards, however, and all the betrayal and regret come roaring back.
Rhys will never forgive himself or forget that he is the one that threw it all away. Despite a few moments where he and Derek seemed to be able to look beyond the months of misery after Rhys came clean about cheating, fixing broken trust is a far bigger task than just learning to live with it.
I’m not sure what my expectations were for this story, but I like that Witt includes some pretty tried-and-true tropes (road trip, broken relationship, kids) and works them a bit differently than expected. The road trip, for example, starts out like a promising way for our two MCs to patch things up. Rhys and Derek go so far as to be able to share the same space and physical intimacy without too much trouble, courtesy of a little alcohol. The broken relationship is a star feature of the story. We start with a clear picture of just how deep the hurt goes from page one and it continues from there (until Rhys’ idea to just stop being so actively miserable works temporarily…then it’s right back to Misery Town, population two). Their daughter is the catalyst for the road trip and, of course, their happy husbands routine doesn’t work quite as they planned—the daughter is also the deus ex machina that lets this story have a happy-for-now-ish ending.
Personally, I really enjoyed the focus on the relationship. The chapters are told from alternating first person POV with the narrator’s name at the top of the chapter. Mostly, this was successful, but there are times when no one is using names and it’s “I” and “he” and I would have trouble remember which character was speaking. Despite that, this first person narration really reinforces just how damn sorry Rhys is that he ever gave into a moment of weakness and had sex one time with another man. And the same is true for Derek, who constantly questions why Rhys would ever cross the red line of cheating when their marriage was otherwise the best thing that ever happened to them. Both Rhys and Derek are mourning their relationship and I ate that up.
That said, the one thing that really stuck in my craw is how even when Rhys finally explains why he cheated, that reason is never fully explored. Witt makes it absolutely, positively crystal clear that Rhys and Derek were 200% committed husbands even when they went through rough patches. Witt also focuses a lot of on-page attention to the fact that Rhys broke Derek’s trust and Derek feels like he can never trust Rhys again. But Witt fails to provide any deeper insight into Rhys’ moment of weakness beyond what amounts to a one-line explanation about Rhys’ emotional state during a marital rough patch (which is when he had extramarital sex one time). That was a huge disappointment for me; I felt like neglecting a deeper explanation of Rhys’ cheating left Derek as the “golden” one and Rhys as the “tarnished” one.
Perhaps this feeling that Derek has done no wrong and Rhys can do no right is supposed to be mitigated by the writing. As a reader, I had tremendous sympathy for Rhys because we constantly hear his inner monologue of guilt and grief. I also had tremendous hope for Derek because his inner monologue is often questioning why Rhys would ever cheat and how much of a good thing their marriage was. These themes are laid on super-thick…but nevertheless, the lack of these two husbands exploring why Rhys cheated on-page (it may have happened after the happy-for-now ending, but that hardly counts) felt like a hefty oversight to me.
Despite that shortcoming (or perhaps in part because of it), I was turning pages like crazy to see if and how Derek and Rhys might work things out. Witt keeps the reader on their toes because when the road trip comes to an end and the two soon-to-be ex-husbands arrive at Destination Wedding, things look pretty bleak. The manner in which Witt finally engineers a way for these two to come to terms with what’s happened in their relationship is also tender…and completely relatable, I think. Weddings and special family gatherings bring out a lot of emotions in people and Witt uses that to good effect in the emotional roller coaster Rhys and Derek are on. The ending, too, is satisfying insofar as we get a happy for now (plus a little epilogue, so maybe it can just be called a happily ever after).
If you are into established couples going through some serious angst, or sets ups that are akin to enemies to lovers (Derek and Rhys don’t actually fight, but there are scenes where they do come across as just-so-done-with-you that it feels a bit like enemies-to-lovers at times), you’d enjoy this story a whole lot.