Home > The Stepsisters(7)

The Stepsisters(7)
Author: Susan Mallery

   She paused, mostly because she didn’t know what the thing was at all.

   Krissa’s crying turned to sobs and Ben had to brush his eyes. Daisy thought longingly of being strong enough to cuff her husband on the back of his head—an immature and unhelpful wish, but one that was heartfelt.

   She shooed Lucky and Sheba off the bed, then sat down and held open her arms. Both kids flung themselves at her.

   “Your dad is going to be staying nearby for a little while,” she said, furious that they were winging this rather than deciding what to say in advance. But that was how Jordan rolled—create a problem, then leave her to clean it up. “You’re going to see him all the time. Once he and I talk some things out, we’ll go back to how it was.”

   As she spoke, she glared at him, silently daring him to contradict her. He only shrugged.

   “Are you getting a divorce?” Ben asked.

   “No. Goodness, no. We haven’t talked about that at all.”

   Which was true. They hadn’t talked about anything.

   “You’re going to stay right where you are,” she continued. “Going to school, hanging out with your friends.”

   “You’ll be here?” Krissa asked earnestly.

   Daisy kissed her. “I will.”

   “And Esmerelda?”

   Jordan stiffened at that question.

   “And Esmerelda,” Daisy confirmed. “This is just for a little while. Like I said, you’ll be seeing your dad a lot. And you can always text him on my phone.”

   Jordan approached the bed. “I love you guys. You know that, right?”

   The kids released her and stretched out in the bed. They looked at their dad and nodded. Daisy stood, motioning for the dogs to resume their places.

   It took another fifteen minutes of quiet conversation and reassurances for order to be restored. Krissa insisted on staying in Ben’s bed and for once, her brother didn’t object. Proof of their upset, Daisy thought bitterly as she and Jordan finally went downstairs. Once they were in the kitchen, she turned on him.

   “How could you just blurt it out without us talking first? Dammit, Jordan, they’re kids. This is not a problem they should be dealing with. I said you and I should talk, not that you should drop a bomb on our kids. We should have had a plan.”

   He drained his wineglass. “Sometimes life happens, Daisy. You’re the one always telling me how busy you are. I was just trying to help you get through your to-do list so I can get out of your way. No need to thank me.”

   The casual cruelty of his words shocked her. Jordan could be difficult, but he wasn’t usually so mean to her.

   “You were wrong and you know it,” she snapped. “You can try to distract me by being a jerk, but that doesn’t take away from what you did.”

   Instead of fighting back, he gave her a half smile. “I’m wrong so much around you that I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t.”

   “So none of this matters to you? We’re all a joke?”

   The smile faded. “You have no idea what I’m going through here. You don’t know what it’s like dealing with you and your life. I’m last on your list every time. The only joke around here is me and you go out of your way to make sure I know it.”

   With that, he walked out. Stopping him wasn’t an option because she couldn’t speak. Or breathe. Or understand what had just happened.

   He wasn’t a joke—he was her husband. They were married and she had no idea why he was acting this way. Something was wrong—she got that—but she had no idea what.

   She sank onto a stool by the island and poured herself another glass of wine. She was tired and sad and scared and a thousand other emotions she didn’t want to name. She had work in the morning and for the first time maybe ever, she didn’t want to go.

   Esmerelda walked into the kitchen. “He’s gone?”

   Daisy nodded. “He told the kids.” She felt her jaw clench and consciously relaxed.

   “I thought you were going to come up with a plan together.”

   “Jordan isn’t a fan of my plans.”

   Esmerelda stepped close and put a reassuring hand on Daisy’s shoulder. “You’re strong enough to handle this.”

   “I don’t feel very strong right now.”

   “That doesn’t matter. The truth is, you’ll get through this because you have to. Your children need you.”

   Daisy knew at the very least, she had to fake holding it together. The alternative was to start screaming and that wouldn’t end well. “Why do you always know the right thing to say?”

   “I’m blessed with wisdom.” Her humor faded. “Daisy, I worry about you.”

   “I’m fine.” A lie, but what choice did she have? She was the one they all depended on. As her housekeeper had pointed out, holding the family together had always been her job. She forced a smile. “I mean it. You’re right. We’ll get through this.”

   “Good. Can I get you something to eat?”

   Food was the last thing on Daisy’s mind, but she knew she needed to pretend normal for as long as she could. “Yes, please. Let’s go with the pork chop. That sounds delicious.”

 

 

three


   Sage did her best to ignore the dull ache in the small of her back as she drove home from work. Standing on her feet all day was no big deal, but doing it in four-inch heels was more of a challenge. Ten years ago, she hadn’t given it a second thought, but she was closer to forty now than thirty. An incredibly depressing thought, so one she told herself to ignore.

   She glanced around as she waited at the light, noting that while it was still chilly March in the rest of the country, in balmy Los Angeles, it was seventy-five and sunny. She’d missed this, she admitted. Paris was exciting, but could be so dreary in the winter, and Italy, while stunning, wasn’t home. At least not since her husband had asked for a divorce. She was back—a total failure in every aspect of her life—but at least she was back where the sky was a perfect blue and being emotionally shallow was expected rather than frowned upon.

   She drove into the neighborhood she and her mother had moved to all those years ago after Joanne and Wallace had divorced. The solidly middle-class homes were only a few miles from the refined enclave that was Bel Air, but they were light-years away in class and comfort. Bel-Air-adjacent, she and her friends had always joked.

   The house had been part of Joanne’s settlement. Wallace had come into the marriage with family money that Joanne hadn’t been able to touch, but he’d been a successful internist, and his salary and part ownership in the medical practice had been fair game. Joanne had used every tool at her disposal to get not only the house, but as much alimony as she could guilt him into paying. Joanne had resented the divorce and the fact that Wallace had continued to provide for Sage, despite the fact that she wasn’t his daughter. He’d covered her ongoing tuition at the private school she’d attended during the marriage and had put aside some money for college. That money had funded Sage’s move to Europe the summer she turned nineteen.

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