Home > The Road to Rose Bend(7)

The Road to Rose Bend(7)
Author: Naima Simone

   Because this. Was. Hell.

   “So, tell me again why you packed up, left your husband and returned here with no plans, no means of support?” her father demanded, setting down his knife and fork on either side of his plate and apparently forgetting about his perfectly cooked, medium-rare steak.

   “And pregnant,” her mother added, her silverware clutched in tight fists. Her gaze dropped down Sydney’s torso to the table that blocked her stomach. Then, as if she couldn’t bear the evidence of Sydney’s transgression—divorce, single motherhood, she didn’t know—her mother jerked her scrutiny back to Sydney’s face. “Sydney...”

   Okay, here we go...

   In spite of the circumstances, and her doubts, when she’d first arrived at her childhood home, Sydney had been happy to see her parents. It’d been three years since they’d last visited North Carolina. And that had been because her father had been on his way to Charleston, South Carolina, for a medical conference. As strained as their relationship was, she loved them. And until setting eyes on them again, she hadn’t realized that she’d missed them.

   Initially, her parents had been shocked to see her on their doorstep. That shock had quickly melted into confusion and then the expected disappointment when Sydney informed them of her divorce and her pregnancy.

   Yes, she’d anticipated their displeasure, but witnessing it had still been a strike to the chest. She should be used to it by now, letting them down. And not because of her rebellious behavior as a teen. No, she’d failed them years before then.

   When she’d refused to save her sister’s life.

   “God, I could use wine right now,” she muttered, staring a resentful hole through the water glass in front of her plate.

   “This isn’t a laughing matter, Sydney.” Dr. Luke Collins scolded her in the same tone he’d used when he’d caught her sneaking back in the house after curfew. Most times, she’d felt like a difficult patient for whom her father had struggled to determine the correct diagnosis. Instead of what was causing her cough, though, he couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t just act right. “That’s always been a problem with you. Everything’s not some careless joke. People are hurt by your rash decisions. Daniel, his parents, not to mention your child.”

   God, there was so much to tackle in those few sentences. But she focused on the last part first. “Trust me, Dad.” Hah! her brain crowed. Trust me. Good one. “My decisions about filing for divorce and having this baby weren’t rash. I understand your shock because you’re just finding out about Daniel and me, but we’ve been done for six months. If I’m being truthful, a while before that. Some marriages don’t work out. And unfortunately, ours was one of them.”

   “Then why are you having a baby with him?” Patricia Collins demanded, an eyebrow arched high.

   Because of a self-sabotaging mixture of loneliness, why-the-fuck-not sex and Moscato. Somehow, she doubted her mother would appreciate that answer or consider it a good excuse.

   “It just happened,” she said, inwardly cringing at the cliché reply. Dammit, she sounded like the irresponsible teen they’d known rather than the capable woman she’d become.

   “It just happened,” her mother repeated, that eyebrow arching higher. “Not rash at all.”

   “What do you want me to say, Mom?” Sydney leaned back in her chair. “That one night my ex-husband and I had ‘one for the road’ sex that resulted in an unplanned child?”

   “Sydney,” Luke snapped.

   She sighed, briefly closing her eyes. How quickly they’d fallen back into old patterns—the stern, censorious parents and the recalcitrant child. This...dysfunctional dynamic was part of the reason she hadn’t returned to Rose Bend in eight years. And why her parents’ visits to North Carolina had been sporadic at best. The middle ground they’d once shared no longer existed. So, they constantly fought over the scraps. She’d come back here with hopes that the unconditional acceptance and love they withheld from her, they could give to her baby. Her parents were capable of it. She’d witnessed it.

   Lifting her lashes, she shifted her gaze to the framed pictures on the far wall and focused on one in particular.

   Carlin.

   Her sister couldn’t have been older than ten, and it must’ve been one of her healthier periods. In this image, the cancer that had plagued her since she was a toddler hadn’t sunken her skin or made it appear sallow. Her eyes were bright, shining, not fuzzied by the pain or medications. Her cheeks were full, her little body slim but not fragile—not bones draped in damn near transparent skin.

   Yes, the picture captured a happy moment in Sydney’s older sister’s short life.

   What kind of woman would Carlin have been if she’d survived? Brilliant. Charming. Kind. Loving. Oh no doubt, Carlin would’ve been successful, perfect—the kind of daughter her parents would’ve been proud to brag about, to shower with their unconditional adoration. Carlin would’ve been a great woman...

   If only Sydney had given her the chance.

   “I don’t understand why you and Daniel can’t work it out,” Patricia said, and when Sydney glanced back at her mother, she just managed not to look away again from the quiet pleading in the dark brown depths of her mother’s eyes. “No marriage is easy, Sydney. It requires work. And now you have more of a reason than most to try.” Her gaze dipped down Sydney’s body again. “A baby deserves two parents. Stability is as important to a child’s well-being as love. You and Daniel could give that to your son or daughter.”

   “And what about love for each other?” Sydney countered softly. “What kind of stable environment would it be to raise a child in a loveless home? You don’t think he or she wouldn’t notice that? Wouldn’t be affected by that?”

   Forget that her dignity, her very person, would die a slow death if she remained in a marriage that suffocated her independence, her voice. Her choice. What kind of example would that be to a child? To a little girl, especially?

   But she didn’t vocalize those thoughts. Not when she would be accused of thinking of only herself, her needs.

   Mercenary.

   That had been the word Daniel had flung at her, along with selfish. She was willing to sacrifice their child’s future for her own.

   Of all his accusations, that one tormented her the most. When she’d rejected his proposal to remarry, he’d called her selfish, and it’d dug beneath skin and bone, excavating old hurts and insecurities. For years, she’d been proud of how she’d matured. She wasn’t the rebellious girl she’d been when she’d left home all those years ago. But with one hurled insult, Daniel had relegated her back to being that teen. Still... His words wouldn’t have shaken her, if somewhere, in the darkest corner of her heart, she didn’t already question herself.

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