19,453
07.03.2019

I TUCKED MY KIDS INTO bed at Dody's, giving Paige her requisite twenty good-night kisses. Jordan wanted one kiss, and it had to be on his left cheek. I was tired after my day of working with a new organizing client but was also looking forward to seeing Des. It had been days since I'd seen him for more than a few passing minutes. He'd been working nights at the hospital.

Dody offered to keep an eye on the kids since she was staying home tonight. She'd invited Anita Parker over to watch a documentary about Area 51. So once my munchkins were in their beds, I was off, hoping to end up in Des's.

I strolled down the street toward the Pullmans' place, listening to the crickets and smelling a faraway bonfire. What a lovely little street this was. Bell Harbor was a wonderful place to visit. It was a shame my new sweetheart and I didn't live here all the time.

I got to Des's place and walked in without knocking. He was standing in the kitchen, staring out the window toward the lake. He turned, and his annoyed expression gave me a chill. Maybe I should've knocked?

"Sadie, hi." He gave me a nod but no smile, and the chill turned frostier.

I pointed at the door with my thumb. "Um, should I have knocked?"

He frowned. "What? Oh, no. Of course not. Hey, you want a drink?"

I wanted to walk out and come in again to start this moment over. "Ah, sure. What are you having?"

"Scotch." His tone was defiant, as if daring me to contradict him.

"Are you OK?"

He stared at me, but I felt unseen. Then he huffed a big breath and shook his head. "God, sorry. It's been a shit day. Come on in." He set his drink down and came around the counter to hug me. He was tense in my embrace, but he pressed his cheek against my hair, saying, "I'm glad you're here."

I leaned back and looked into his face.

Brows furrowed, lines etched, he didn't look happy at all. "Are you?" I asked.

He nodded, once, with another big sigh. "Yes. You're the best thing that's happened to me all day. Come on, get a drink."

I let him pull me into the kitchen. "No scotch for me," I said. "That stuff is vile. Do you have any wine?"

He opened a bottle and poured me a glass, filling it much higher than was socially acceptable. I tried to make small talk, which he largely ignored, not even laughing at my story about Dody trying to rollerblade with Fontaine. "So tell me about this awful day," I finally said.

"No." He shook his head and took another long pull from his drink. "I know we talked about seeing a movie or something, but would you mind if we hung out here, maybe watched some TV?"

"No, that's fine."

He tugged my hand, leading me over to the couch. We sat down, and he picked up the remote control, flipping rapidly through channels.

He was acting so peculiar I wasn't sure what to do. He obviously didn't want to talk, and he didn't seem to be paying much attention to the channels. I sat in silence, waiting for him to unload whatever was on his mind.

I sipped my wine, he gulped his scotch.

We watched one inane show then another, but I could tell his mind was light-years away.

"Des," I said when he changed the channel again. "I don't know why you're upset. You know I'll help if I can. But it's not very fair for you to keep me wondering if you're mad at me."

He looked over as if surprised I was there. "I'm not mad at you, Sadie. Not at all. It's got nothing to do with you." He got up and poured himself another drink.

His words stung. Even if I wasn't the object of his bad mood, to say it had nothing to do with me wasn't true. I was here. That made me a part of it. I stood up and set my wineglass on the table.

"I think I'll head on home."

He came back out of the kitchen. "No, no. Don't go home." He pulled me loosely into his arms. "Seriously, I want you to stay. I'll cheer up."

I squeezed him around the middle. "You don't need to pretend to cheer up for me, but seeing you all grumpy and sad brings out my maternal instincts."

"Maternal instincts?" His face suffused with color, and I realized it was quite possibly the least sexy thing I ever could've said. He stepped back and turned away, running a hand through his hair.

"Did Tasha tell you why Stephanie and I got divorced?" he asked, facing away from me.

Now it was my turn to turn colors. I hadn't admitted what Tasha and I discussed. It didn't seem necessary, and I thought if he wanted to talk about it, he'd bring it up. Maybe that's what he was doing now.

"Yes."

He pulled his drink from the kitchen counter and returned to his spot on the couch, slumping down against the cushions.

I joined him, sitting gingerly on the edge, and waited for him to talk.

When he did, his voice was flat. "We probably would've gotten divorced sooner or later anyway. If it hadn't been that, it would've been something else. Stephanie wasn't one to consider anyone else's needs." A humorless laugh, another gulp of scotch. "That being the case, I figured she wasn't cut out for motherhood, and maybe that's why she did what she did."

He looked at me, his gaze intense. His voice was nearly a whisper. "I don't love her anymore, Sadie. I haven't in a long time, so I don't know why this is bothering me so much."

I reached over and squeezed his hand. "Why, what is bothering you?"

"I found out today Stephanie just got remarried. And she's having a baby. Due anytime." He drained his glass. "You know how I found out?"

I couldn't imagine. I shook my head.

"The insurance company called to verify her address because she's still got me listed as her emergency contact. Can you fucking beat that? She's got time to find another guy, get married and have a baby, but she can't get around to updating her goddamned insurance policy."

"Are you sure? Maybe the insurance company made a mistake."

He shook his head. "I made a few calls. It's true."

I was without words. What could I possibly say to something like that? I didn't even know how I felt, so I couldn't imagine what was going through his mind. All I knew was I wanted to make him feel better. I moved closer and took his empty glass, setting it on the table. I slid into his lap and wrapped my arms around his shoulders. He leaned into me, burying his head in the curve of my neck. I could feel the tension coursing through him.

"You know the real bitch of it?" he said quietly, not lifting his head.

"What's that?" I kissed his temple.

"She told me after we got married how she never wanted kids. And I tried really hard to be OK with that, for her sake. Now it turns out she just didn't want mine."

My heart shattered into a million aching pieces. How could one person do that to another? Especially someone as wonderful as Des. I hugged him tighter, knowing words were empty and not what he needed. I kissed him instead, and then I kissed him again.

So many times before, he'd led me to his room and shown me I was beautiful. I was desirable and deserving. But tonight I did the leading, the consoling, the reassuring. Without saying a thing, I proved to him that she was wrong, and he was worthy.

"What do you think of my new painting? I just finished it." Dody stepped away from the easel so Paige, Jordan, Fontaine, and I might admire her creativity. Personally, I couldn't tell a Picasso from a pistachio, but this looked like something spewed from a blender onto the canvas.

"Wow, Mom. Those are some bold strokes," Fontaine said.

"Thank you. I call it Piranha Eating Ravioli."

I squinted. I'll be damned. That's what it looked like.

"Mommy, there's a man coming to the door," Jordan said, pointing at the window with his plastic helicopter.

A black car I didn't recognize was parked in the driveway. An instant later came a knock on the door and the inevitable barking frenzy of Lazyboy and Fatso. They galloped around crashing into furniture until Dody shooed them away.

I opened the door to find a mousy little man with thick glasses and a turtleneck sweater, even though it was the middle of summer.

"Hello?"

"Mrs. Turner? Mrs. Sadie Turner?"

I nodded.

He handed me an envelope, then walked back to the car without another word.

I flipped it over and my stomach plummeted. The return address indicated it was from Richard's attorney's office, Kendrew, Graham & Vollstedt. Or as I tended to think of them, Fook, DeWife & Howe. My hands trembled. I wasn't expecting anything from his lawyer so this could not be anything I wanted to read. I walked to the deck to get away from the kids. Dody and Fontaine followed.

I ripped it open, too nervous to sit down, but after reading a few lines, my legs buckled and I sank to the wicker chair.

"What is it, darling?" Dody whispered.

"Richard is taking me back to court," I said in stunned surprise. "It looks like he wants the house back and joint custody of the kids."

"Can he do that?" Fontaine's voice was an octave higher than normal.

I kept reading the document, flattening it against my lap since my hands wouldn't stop shaking. "According to this, if I understand it correctly, he's claiming that I have abandoned the house and exposed the children to an undesirable environment."

"That's ridiculous," Dody hissed. Fontaine flushed and turned away.

Suddenly pieces to a puzzle that had been bumping around in my subconscious for weeks now began to take shape. A picture emerged. That's why Richard had been so friendly, offering to check on the house and to pick up the kids from Bell Harbor. The longer I stayed away from Glenville, the better chance he had of proving I'd abandoned my own house. That must be what he'd told my neighbors. That son of a bitch. That's why he was interested in my relationship with Des. Not because he was jealous. He was looking for ammunition! It must also be why he'd dropped the issue of Fontaine staying at the cottage. I should've known. A lifetime of prejudice wouldn't go away so easily. That vile, despicable piece of shit. Richard wanted to kick me out of my own house and steal my children!

"Dody, I need to make some calls. Could you keep an eye on the kids for a while?"

"Of course, darling. Take all the time you need. I'm sure we can work this out."

I ran upstairs and called my attorney, Jeannette. She was out of her office so I left a detailed message with her assistant. Then I tried Penny but got her answering machine. I considered calling Des next. He'd help me. He'd know what to do. Just the thought of him calmed my nerves. Last week, when he confided in me about his ex-wife, it seemed our relationship turned a corner.

For a month I'd been pretending what we had was casual, but it wasn't. I was in deep, very deep. Des was a part of my life now, and I didn't want to contemplate saying good-bye to him at the end of the summer.

I was sure he felt the same way. Nothing specific had been discussed, of course, but I felt it in his touch, the tenderness in his eyes when he smiled at me. Somewhere between the sake and the sex, he'd fallen in love. And so had I.

I started to dial his cell but disconnected before it could ring. He was working. This wasn't the time to tell him about Richard's scheming.

I texted him instead, asking him to come over for dinner. He responded, sending a message that work was crushing him. He'd try to stop by but couldn't make a promise.

I smiled at his note, disappointed I might not see him but happy he was not the type of man to make promises he could not keep.

Fontaine came tap, tap, tapping on my door. "How are you doing? I've been downstairs plotting. I have some money saved up. It's all yours if you want to hire a hit man."

His words snapped at me like a rubber band on the wrist.

"I'm pissed, Fontaine. I'm so pissed I can't even think straight! How dare he?"

"I know! The custody thing seems nonnegotiable," he said. "I mean, between his work schedule and womanizing, he hardly has time to see them now." Fontaine stepped over to my closet and started sorting through the clothes out of pure habit.

I punched at a pillow on my bed. I knew it was childish, but I didn't care. "Not once! Not once during the entire year of divorce proceedings did he mention joint custody. It doesn't make sense why he wants that now."

"Do you suppose he misses them?" Fontaine leaned against the closet doorframe.

I huffed in disgust. "I don't care if he misses them! He never spent any time with them when we were married, but he wants them now? What the fuck?"

Fontaine looked down at his well-trimmed nails. "I'm sorry I'm a part of this. You've never admitted it, but I know he doesn't like me being here. I'm really sorry."

I hopped off the bed and hugged my cousin tightly. "That's stupid. You don't have to be sorry for anything. You have been fantastic with the kids and they adore you. Not to mention that you're more discreet than Dody. She's the one who wanders around in her underwear. She's probably what he's referring to."

Fontaine's smile was wan. "Maybe. But I can move back to my house, if you think it'll help."

"Don't you dare. I need you more now than ever. Besides, I'll be moving back to Glenville soon. Maybe this is a sign I should go now."

"I think it's a sign you should move here."

I looked the other way. "You sound like Dody and her psychic." And Penny. And my heart.

"Can't help it. I want to pimp your organizational skills to all my clients and make a ton of money off you. Have you talked to Des?"

"No. He's at work."

"I mean about moving here."

Oh. That. I shook my head. "I'm not sure what I'd say. We haven't made any future plans together, you know?"

"But there's a chance he could stay here, right? Isn't that what the recruiter woman was all about?"

I nodded. "I've wondered about that, honestly. But Des hasn't brought it up and I didn't want to be presumptuous. Besides, there's no sense in scaring him out of town before I've decided what I'm going to do."

Fontaine rolled his eyes. "He's a smitten kitten, you big dope. Tell him how you feel before he signs up for some job in Nova Scotia."

"Let me deal with this Richard thing first, OK? Then I'll figure out what to tell Des."

Des texted me later, saying he could come over for dinner but had work stuff to deal with after that and had an early shift in the morning.

When he arrived, Beth was already there, helping Jasper in the kitchen. The kids were playing Monopoly with Fontaine and me, and Dody was gambling online. Des looked scruffy and exhausted. I knew the minute I saw him that tonight was not the time to dump my Richard woes on his shoulders. We could talk tomorrow. After Des rested, he'd be sympathetic and loving and give me all the support I needed.

Paige ran to him as usual. "Hi, Des. Hey, you've got style, just like Fontaine."

"What?"

She reached up toward his chin. "Whiskers."

"Oh, yeah," he said absently.

Jordan brought him a freshly colored picture.

"Thanks. Is that a…cow?" Des asked.

Jordan shook his head. "It's a rocket."

Des turned the picture, looking at it from another angle.

"It's very modern." I tried to lean in for a kiss, but he held up his hand.

"You don't want to get too close to these clothes. I didn't dare go home to change or I'd fall asleep."

A twinge of tension radiated between us. Something was off balance, and it wasn't just my anxiety over Richard's letter. I wondered if Des had gotten more news of his ex-wife. Maybe her baby had been born? I couldn't read him and didn't dare make any guesses. I'd been so off-kilter all afternoon I couldn't be sure of anything, except I was glad he was there.

"Come and eat!" Jasper called from the dining room.

Like a herd of noisy buffalo, we gathered around the table. Dody sat at one end, sassy in a red leather vest that Uncle Walter had bought at a Liza Minnelli charity auction. Paige and Jordan flanked Des, leaving me to sit across from him. Fontaine and Beth sat on either side of Jasper at the other end.

"I want to move up my birthday party," Dody announced once everyone had loaded their plates and started eating.

"Why? These carrots have ginger butter, by the way," Jasper said, passing the bowl to his left.

"I'd like Harry to be there, and he'll be out of town for my actual birthday."

"I thought you weren't that interested in Harry since you found out he's afraid of heights," Fontaine said, popping a piece of broccoli in his mouth.

Dody shook her head, her jewel-encrusted headband catching the light. "I can't hold that against him. I was surprised is all. I'd made arrangements for us to go sky diving and then he wouldn't do it."

"Remind me to thank him for that! Honestly, Mom. Can't you slow down?" Jasper said.

"Why should I? I don't have much time left."

Des dropped his fork with a loud clatter.

All eyes went to him, and his cheeks flushed. "Sorry," he mumbled.

Jordan picked it up and handed it back.

"I mean, who knows how much time any of us have left, right?" Dody said. "In fact, just the other day Anita Parker spilled hot coffee in her car and nearly drove to her death right off the parkway bridge."

"That's morbid, Mom."

"It's just practical. People die every day, so none of us should waste one little minute. I, for one, am going to kick up my heels while I've got some kick left." She stuffed a forkful of noodles into her mouth. "I was thinking the second weekend of August for the party."

"Mom, that's in ten days," Fontaine sputtered. "I can't pull everything together in ten days, even if we could get the invitations out tomorrow. That doesn't give people enough time."

"If they can't come, then they can't come. But everyone loves my birthday parties, so I'm sure they'll try. We don't have to do anything too fancy. You and Sadie buy a few supplies and Jasper can make a cake. What else is there to do?"

"We need a theme! There's decorations, music, seating. We can't do something ordinary. People have expectations when they come to one of my parties." Fontaine was not going for it, but Dody was insistent.

"It's my party and if you don't have the time, then I can plan it myself." She took a bite of salad.

"Nobody wants you to plan your own party, Dody," I said. "It's short notice is all."

"Well, I should get to have it when I want it. Shouldn't I, Des?"

Des was bringing his fork to his mouth in rapid bites. Now he glared up at Dody as if her question insulted him.

"It doesn't matter what I think, Dody. This is your decision." He went back to shoveling in the food. He was acting so odd. He must be really exhausted.

Dody gazed at him for a second, an odd expression passing over her face but disappearing as soon as it came, making me wonder if I'd seen it at all. She turned to Jasper. "You can take care of the food, can't you?"

"Um, I guess. I'll have to take the night off work."

"I'll help too with whatever anybody needs," Beth said.

Dody smiled and patted Beth's hand. "Thank you, dear. Now, see? It's all settled."

"Nothing is settled!" Fontaine barked, pushing his plate away.

Jasper chuckled. "Don't get your panties in a bunch, Tim."

Fontaine huffed and crossed his arms. "Puh-leeze don't call me that. You know I hate that name."

"Why is that, Fontaine?" Beth asked innocently. "Tim is such a nice name."

Jasper chuckled again.

"It's not funny!" Fontaine scowled like an angry kitten.

"It's a little funny," Jasper contradicted, nodding.

It was a little funny. We all agreed.

Fontaine puffed out his bottom lip in a pout, and Jasper kept talking, explaining to Beth. "You see, when Fontaine was little, he was, like, freaky petite little. So when he was about ten…"

Fontaine jabbed him with an elbow. "I was eight!"

Jasper laughed. "OK, when he was eight, he sprained his ankle, and he had to go to school using this old crutch Mom had saved, right? This tiny little wooden crutch." Jasper gestured with his hands, demonstrating the tininess and doubling over with laughter.

I bit back my own smile.

"So the kids at school started calling him Tiny Tim. Everywhere he went, they were all, like, 'God bless us, every one. It's Tiny Tim. Bah, humbug.' And it stuck. For years they called him that. Tiny Tim!"

Murmurs of laughter circled the table. Even Fontaine's lips twitched, and he took over the story from there. "But when I switched to a new school in seventh grade, I told everybody my name was Fontaine."

"Thinking they would tease you less for that?" Des's doubt was genuine.

Fontaine had the audacity to look smug at his own cleverness. "I told my classmates I was working undercover with the FBI, trying to bust up gangs and organized cheating and stuff. Remember, those were the 21 Jump Street days." Fontaine finally smiled.

"That's not the best part, though," Jasper interrupted, thumping his hand down on the table. "Tell them how you sprained your ankle in the first place. Really, this is the best part." He could barely contain his amusement.

Fontaine's smile broadened. "I fell down the stairs trying to walk in Mom's stilettos."

Dody smiled at him lovingly as we erupted with laughter. "I should have known right then."

As Beth and I cleared the dinner dishes, Dody and Des went out on the deck. Watching them through the window, I could see they were having more than a frivolous exchange. Des's hands were clenched as he leaned toward Dody. She looked all feisty too, with her hands on her hips and her jaw firm. Uncle Walter would say she had her Irish up. Whatever Des was selling, she wasn't buying.

"What are they talking about?" Beth asked, coming up behind me.

"I don't know. He's been strange all night. I think I'll find out what's going on." I went on the deck to find Des rubbing his temples with both hands.

"You can't put me in the middle of this, Dody. It's not fair to anybody."

Their conversation stopped abruptly when I appeared. They looked guilty, like my kids when I find them hiding in the closet with a bag of cookies.

"Put you in the middle of what?" I asked.

Des's face went blank. "I didn't like how she put me on the spot about her birthday party."

"Seriously?" That bothered him more than when she asked if he was circumcised? Or how old he was when he lost his virginity? This birthday party thing seemed pretty minor compared to that.

"Yeah, well, it's not my call to make. Listen, I've got an early shift in the morning and I'm beat. I'm going to head on home, OK?"

"I'll let you two say good night." Dody put her hand on his arm. "I'm sorry we disagree on this, Des."

"Yeah. Good night, Dody."

She went inside. The uneasiness stewing in me all evening began to bubble faster. This was not about her birthday party. And it wasn't about being tired. After last week, I thought we were past keeping secrets. Plus I was desperate to talk to him about Richard, but that would definitely have to wait.

"I'm sorry if she's bugging you."

"Look, I'm just…tired, OK? I've got lots of work stuff going on and I can't make decisions for her."

"Decisions for her?"

He hugged me fast and stepped away. "Never mind. I'll try to call you tomorrow, OK?" He practically sprinted through the house and out the front door, waving silently to everyone in the family room.

I went inside feeling queasy and needing answers. I found Dody standing near the dining-room table, staring at nothing.

"Dody, what the hell was that about? And don't try to pretend it's about your birthday. Something else is going on."

I had never seen Dody cry. And she was determined I wouldn't see it now. She blinked back tears and forced a smile.

My heart froze in place.

"Beth, dear, could you take the little ones upstairs and help them get into jammies? I need to talk to my big kids for a few minutes."

Everyone stopped talking. The air crackled with tension, warning each of us this was not one of Dody's whimsical announcements about taking up archery or entering the Miss Gorgeous Geriatric Pageant.

Beth nodded, scooting my kids from the room. The rest of us sat back down at the dinner table.

Dody stared at her hands for a minute before speaking. When she looked up, her eyes were rimmed with unshed moisture.

"Thank you, children, for such a lovely dinner. I'm sorry changing my birthday party has caused such a ruckus. That's what I was trying to avoid. But it seems I need to tell you all something." She breathed in. She breathed out. Seconds passed that felt like an eternity. "It seems I have a little bit of cancer and I want to have my party before I begin any treatment."

The air in the room turned toxic and heavy. I clutched at Fontaine's hand. Did she say what I think she said?

"What does that mean? A little bit of cancer?"

"It's some kind of duck filter something or other. I can't remember the name exactly. Oh, wait. I wrote it down in case I forgot. The paper is in my purse."

Forgot? She forgot? Who the hell forgets what kind of cancer they have? The room spun and shrunk as we waited for her to rummage through her bag. She pulled out a powder compact, a lipstick, and a cowbell, setting them on the table before producing a tattered slip of paper.

"Here we go. It says here I have infiltrating ductal carcinoma." She reached under her arm and pressed. "It's around here someplace. But the doctor tells me, in the scheme of things, this isn't one of the really bad cancers because they can treat it."

"All cancer is bad, Mom," Jasper gasped.

"Well, yes, of course, but it isn't the worst kind. With surgery and some chemo, I should be as good as new." Her lips trembled, betraying her optimistic words.

I didn't know what to say. None of us did. I thought Richard trying to steal my house and my kids was awful news. This was as bad.

Dody filled the painful silence with her usual sunny optimism. "So now you know. But don't you dare start treating me like some invalid, because I feel fine. And I'm going to stay fine. It's simply amazing what they can cure nowadays, so I don't want to make a big deal out of this. And I don't want to tell anyone outside of this room until after the party. Do you hear me?" She shook a finger at each one of us. "No one else knows. Except for Des, of course. He took me in for my biopsy. Sadie, I'm so grateful to him. Be sure to tell him that."

Tinier and tinier the room contracted, the walls collapsing toward me. He took her for her biopsy? How long had he known?

"When was your biopsy, Dody?" I asked.

"Three weeks ago. That must be when I lost my earring in Des's car. But I only got the results yesterday." She dropped the slip of paper back into her purse and opened the compact. She began to powder her nose, casually, as if she hadn't made the most dramatic announcement any of us had ever heard.

"Three weeks? Mom, why didn't you tell us?" Fontaine exclaimed. Jasper stared at her as if she were already a ghost.

"Because I knew you'd worry, and there was no point. Until we had the results there was nothing to talk about. But Des was so helpful. You really do get the movie star treatment when you bring your own doctor for a biopsy, let me tell you. I felt like Shirley MacLaine."

This was just sinking in. He took her for the biopsy? Des had known about this for three weeks and never said a word to me? How could he have kept this a secret?

Fontaine began to inundate Dody with questions while we all tried to absorb this unfathomable news. At last she held up both hands.

"Please, darlings, I have another appointment with my doctor the day after tomorrow. I'll know more then. And if you want to come with me, be my guest."

Fontaine's chair scraped against the floor. He stood up and walked over to the window, biting on his thumbnail.

"This isn't a tragedy, all of you. Do you hear me? This isn't the end of my life, and it certainly isn't the end of yours. But if you don't throw me the biggest bash this side of Lake Michigan, I might die just to come back and haunt you."

"This isn't a joke, Mom," Jasper whispered.

She patted his hand. "I know it isn't, dear. But if we stop laughing then the terrorists have won. So stop moping and start planning my party."

Time hung suspended while we exchanged disbelieving looks. Then Fontaine turned around, cleared his throat, and folded his hands behind his back. With the gravity of a judge he said, "I assume you'll want to invite all the usual suspects?"

Dody smiled. "Of course."

"And you'll want a big, obnoxious cake and lots of booze?"

"Definitely."

"I can arrange that."

Powered by the beauty of pure, raw denial, we started discussing party plans instead of treatment options. That would come soon enough. But right now Dody wanted to talk about balloon bouquets, mariachi bands, and if the silk dress Walter had bought her in Thailand might be too dressy for this party.

All the while we faked our acceptance, I was thinking of Des and how he'd kept this a secret from me for three solid weeks. That was unforgivable.

I tucked in Paige and Jordan that night, giving them kiss after kiss until they told me to stop. Dody's announcement had changed everything, suddenly bringing my life into focus. Family counted most. Being surrounded by the people you loved is what made life…well, life. None of the rest of it mattered. Suddenly I didn't care if Richard took that stupid house in Glenville. It was full of crap I didn't need and ugly memories that only held me back. But he wasn't going to steal away one moment of my time with my children. For that, I would fight him with everything I had.

Once the kids fell asleep, I checked with Fontaine to make sure he'd be around if they needed anything and then I walked down the street to Des's house. I was so angry with him for not telling me about Dody I was numb with it. I felt gullible and betrayed. Hadn't he said to Tom and Tasha he was no good at subterfuge? Sure seemed like he was! If he was so good at keeping secrets, what else might he keeping from me? Tears burned like acid in my eyes. This was a terrible day.

The lights were on at Des's so I knew he was still awake. He'd said he was tired and going to sleep. Guess that was a lie too.

I knocked rapidly on his door. When he opened it, I poked him in the chest. Hard.

"You knew? You knew for three weeks she had cancer and you didn't tell me?"

He stepped back, but I followed, jabbing at his chest again, harder this time. "How could you not tell me?"

He held up his hands in defense. "Sadie, we weren't sure it was cancer until yesterday. And ethically, it wasn't my information to share."

"Ethically? That's a load of shit, Des. You think it was more ethical to keep her family in the dark?" I tried to jab him again.

"Stop that!" He deflected my hand. "I didn't have any choice. I wanted to tell you, but she made me promise."

"Of course you had a choice! You could have told her no. Keeping something a secret is the same as lying."

Even I didn't believe that, but I was eager for a fight.

His jaw set stubbornly. "God damn it, Sadie. That's the second time you've accused me of being a liar. I respected Dody's wishes, and if you have a problem with that then take it up with her."

"But you're a doctor. She would have listened to you. Now we've wasted three weeks when we could have been planning some kind of treatment."

"Yes, I'm a doctor. But I'm not her doctor." He turned around and walked to the couch. He sat down heavily. "Look, I tried to help her out by taking her for the biopsy when she asked me to, and the oncologist she's seeing is one of the best. But there's not much more I can do for her. I'm caught in the middle of a situation I shouldn't be any part of. I didn't sign up for this."

My anger nearly gave way to tears. "None of us signed up for this. And I have a completely legitimate reason for being upset."

He sighed. "Yes, you do. Just not at me. At least not about that."

A puffer fish inflated in my gut. "What does that mean?"

He rubbed his forehead. "Sit down here a minute."

"I don't want to sit down."

He wouldn't look at me. What could he possibly say to make this day worse?

He ran a hand through his hair.

Something in his expression filled me with the worst sort of dread.

"Sadie, I know the timing of this sucks. But there's something I have to tell you."

I knew I didn't want to hear it. No matter what it was, I wasn't going to like it.

"I've had a job offer. A really phenomenal job offer. In Seattle. They want me to start as soon as possible."

Seattle. As in Washington? God, that was pretty fucking far away from Bell Harbor.

"For how long?" I heard myself whisper.

His eyes were dark and heavy when he looked my way. "Permanently."

The earth tilted on its axis and nearly knocked me to the ground. Permanent was a very long time. Permanent was longer than my marriage lasted.

"So you've told them yes?" The voice was mine, but the words were coming from nowhere. My brain had shut down. Breathing took all my concentration.

"It's a great job, Sadie. I'd be a fool to pass it up."

I nodded, my throat closing shut. I should have known this was how things would go. I was the fool to think this would end any other way. I wanted to be furious with him for lying, for leading me on. Only he hadn't.

And even if he had, none of it mattered now. My life would soon be consumed by a custody battle and helping out with Dody. I wouldn't have time for this silly, pointless fling anyway.

Des looked away. "I wish I could be here for you right now, Sadie. I really do. It's just not going to work."

I don't remember walking home. I'm not sure if I said anything else before stumbling out his door. All I know is I ended up back at Dody's, sobbing into my pillow. My heart galloping as if I'd run the race of my life but lost inches from the finish line.

Des was leaving, Dody was dying, and Richard was trying to take my kids. Everything inside me felt loose and unattached and covered in spikes.

Hours later, after my first round of tears had been shed, I climbed into bed with Paige. I breathed in the sweet, soft smell of her skin and prayed with all my heart that she would never, ever fall in love.

❮❯