For Better or Worse

By: Lauren Layne

Chapter One

FOR AS LONG AS Heather Fowler could remember, living in Manhattan had been The Dream.

The one she talked about as a precocious eight-year-old when her mom’s best friend, turned chatty by one too many glasses of the Franzia she chugged like water, asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up.

At eight, Heather hadn’t been exactly sure about the what in her future. But she absolutely knew the where.

New York City.

Manhattan, specifically.

The obsession had started with Friends reruns, and had only grown as she’d moved on to her mother’s Sex and the City DVD collection, which she’d watched covertly while her mother had worked double shifts at the diner.

People in New York were vibrant, sparkling. They were doing something. Important things. Fun things.

She wanted to be one of them.

By the time Heather was in high school, The Dream was still going strong.

While the overachievers had dreams of going to Mars, and the smaller-thinking ones had aspirations of getting to the mall, for Heather it had always and only been NYC.

Her mother had never pretended to understand Heather’s dream. Joan Fowler had lived her entire life in Merryville, Michigan, with only two addresses: her lower-middle-class parents’ split-level and the trailer she’d rented when her parents had kicked her out, four months pregnant.

And while Heather had wanted something more for her mother—something more for herself—than hand-me-down clothes and a two-bedroom trailer that smelled constantly like peroxide (courtesy of her mother’s hairdressing side job), Joan had always seemed content.

But to Heather’s mother’s credit, Joan had never been anything less than encouraging.

If you want New York, you do New York. Simple as that.

And so Heather had.

Though it hadn’t been simple. There had been detours. College at Michigan State. A tiny apartment in Brooklyn Heights with four roommates that, while technically located in New York City, wasn’t quite the urbane sophistication she’d pictured.

But Heather’s resolve had never wavered. In one of her college internships, a mentor had told Heather to dress for the job she wanted, not the one she had.

Heather did that, but she’d also broadened the idiom: Live the life you want, not the one you have.

In this case, that meant saving up enough to cover rent that was more expensive than she could comfortably afford. Yet. More than she could afford yet. Because Heather was close to a promotion from assistant wedding planner to actual wedding planner. She could feel it.

The apartment was going to help her get there.

An apartment in zip code 10128, just east of Central Park.

She’d done it. She’d achieved The Dream, or at least part of it.

And it was . . .


It was two a.m., and she wasn’t even close to anything resembling slumber. Heather’s eyes snapped open after yet another failed sleep attempt. Her nostrils flared in an unsuccessful bid for patience before she turned and banged her palm against the wall over her Ikea headboard.

She’d purposely left the walls of her bedroom white because she’d read it was soothing. The curtains were also white, as were the area rug at the foot of the bed, the flowers on her table, and the lamp shades.

White is soothing, white is soothing, white is soothing . . .

She waited. And waited. There was a pause, and Heather held her breath.

Then: Bum ba-dum bum bum bum . . .

White wasn’t soothing enough for this shit.

Heather fought the urge to scream. Was the music actually getting louder? Was that even possible?

Apparently. Because whoever lived on the other side of her bedroom wall either couldn’t hear her banging or straight-up didn’t care.

Heather closed her eyes and tried to tell herself that it was peaceful. Tried to pretend that the mediocre pounding of the drums and the squeal of some sort of guitar was a lullaby.

Her eyes snapped open again. Nope.

Heather threw back the covers—a fancy new white duvet for her fancy new place—and shoved her feet into her slippers as she pulled a hair band off the nightstand and dragged her messy dark blond curls into a knot on top of her head. She slid on her glasses, threw on a gray hoodie that she didn’t bother to zip, opened the front door of her apartment, and made the short journey to the door of 4A.

The building was old, hence the thin walls, but it was also recently renovated, hence the modern-style doorbell, which Heather pressed firmly with one manicured finger.

And again, when there was no answer.

And again and again and again.

She pressed it until her finger started to cramp, and until—


The door jerked open, and Heather was suddenly face-to-face with a male chest. A shirtless male chest, replete with rippling abs and pectoral muscles that she’d seen the likes of only in magazine ads or on billboards. An upper body so spectacularly shaped that it was downright tacky.