Home > The Stepsisters(3)

The Stepsisters(3)
Author: Susan Mallery

   “You live in Rome?” Krissa’s disbelieving tone made it sound as if her almost-aunt had a pied-à-terre on Jupiter. “That’s in the EU.”

   “It’s very beautiful there.” She glanced at Daisy. “I came home a couple of weeks ago. My mom was dealing with a cancer scare.”

   And just like that, all Daisy’s mad deflated, leaving her feeling small and mean-spirited.

   “I’m sorry,” she said. “If you’d like a recommendation for an oncologist, I can get you some names.”

   Something flickered across Sage’s perfect face. “Thank you, but it turned out just to be a scare. She’s fine now.”

   She reached the end of the long driveway and stared up at the big house.

   “It looks the same.”

   The inside was different, Daisy thought. They’d updated the kitchen and family room. The master bedroom and bath had also been redone, a remodel completed when Wallace had moved out, allowing Daisy and Jordan to live in the big house. Not that she was going to discuss any of that with Sage.

   “The neighborhood hasn’t changed much,” Daisy said as the car came to a stop. “There have been a few tear-downs but mostly we like to keep things as they are around here.” She unfastened her seat belt and drew in a breath.

   “Thank you for stopping. You didn’t have to.”

   Sage frowned. “Of course I stopped. I wasn’t going to just leave you there, on the side of the road.”

   Information Daisy found surprising. Until thirty minutes ago, she would have absolutely assumed Sage would drive by without a second thought.

   She helped Krissa out of the car. “Thank you again.”

   Sage waved and pulled away from the house, while Daisy helped her daughter up the stairs leading to the double front doors.

   Once out of the rarified Sage-infused air, Krissa seemed to fall back into whatever flu had claimed her. She sagged against Daisy and wrapped her arms around her belly.

   “I still don’t feel good.”

   “I know, sweetie. Let’s get you to bed.”

   She was about to dig out her key when the front door opened. Esmerelda, the housekeeper-slash-nanny-slash-glue that held them all together, waved them inside.

   “What happened?” She reached for Krissa and pressed a hand to her forehead. “I knew you would get what your brother has. You threw up, didn’t you?”

   Krissa’s eyes filled with tears. “In the car.”

   “That’s not good.” Esmerelda hugged her close. “Poor you. You’re home now and I’m going to take care of everything.”

   Krissa leaned against her, the tears slowing.

   Esmerelda glanced toward the front door. “Where’s your car?”

   “On the side of the road. After I pulled over when Krissa threw up, it wouldn’t start again. I need to call the dealership.”

   “Then who drove you home?”

   “Sage.”

   Esmerelda had started working for the family long after the divorce, but even so, her brown eyes narrowed and her mouth thinned.

   “The stepsister?”

   Her tone indicated she had as much love for Sage as for cockroaches.

   “She stopped to help out. Under the circumstances, I was grateful.” Confused, but grateful.

   “Mommy, I—”

   That was as much as Krissa managed ahead of another wave of vomit. Esmerelda was nimble enough to get out of the way and the marble floor would mop up easily, so Daisy hoped that maybe her luck was changing.

   She reached for her daughter. “I’ll get her cleaned up and settled. If you could bring up some ginger ale, please.”

   Esmerelda nodded, already texting to ask one of the daily housekeeping staff to clean up the mess. Daisy made a mental note to tell the bookkeeper to give everyone a bonus that week, what with all the extra laundry and the kids throwing up everywhere.

   Daisy had barely taken two steps when Sheba and Lucky came racing down the stairs. They made a beeline for Krissa, sniffing frantically. Lucky gave her a worried look, before glancing at Daisy, as if seeking confirmation that something wasn’t right.

   “She’ll be fine,” Daisy assured the yellow Lab. “Just like Ben.”

   By the time Daisy had cleaned up her daughter and gotten her into a nightgown, Esmerelda was waiting in Krissa’s bedroom, the covers on the bed pulled back and a mug on the nightstand. Daisy fluffed the pillows behind Krissa. Lucky climbed onto the foot of the bed, as if prepared to guard her against all comers.

   “Do you think you can sip a little ginger ale?” she asked.

   Krissa nodded.

   As she took a few shallow drinks, Daisy studied her daughter’s flushed face. The bug seemed to last about forty-eight hours. Hopefully she would start to feel better in the next day or so.

   Krissa handed back the mug and slipped down onto the pillows. “I’m tired.”

   “I bet you are.”

   Daisy gently smoothed her hair off her forehead. The color, a deep, dark brown, came from both her parents, but her hazel eyes had been inherited from her father, as had the shape of her face and her mouth. She had Daisy’s sturdy build, something she would resent later in life.

   At least Krissa was able to talk and say what was wrong. Daisy remembered the terror of the first time her oldest had gotten sick. Ben had spiked a fever at four months, sending her into a tailspin of fear and panic. Telling herself to suck it up and be strong hadn’t made a difference.

   Jordan had handled the situation like a pro. He’d confirmed what to do with the pediatrician, then had given Ben Tylenol and a sponge bath. Within a couple of hours, his fever had dropped and he was sleeping comfortably.

   “But I’m a nurse,” she’d said, feeling inept and useless. “I should have handled it.”

   “You’re a new mom. It’s normal to panic. When it happens again, you’ll be fine.”

   He’d been right. Ben’s next fever hadn’t thrown her at all. But that first time had been a nightmare. One she wouldn’t have survived without her husband at her side. They’d had it all together once—where exactly had it gone wrong?

   She turned to her housekeeper.

   “If she can keep the ginger ale down, give her the children’s Tylenol in twenty minutes. It will help with the fever.” She smiled at Krissa. “Esmerelda already put out the baby monitor. Just call if you need something and we’ll come running.”

   Krissa managed a faint smile. “No running in the house. It’s the rules.”

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