Home > The Stepsisters(9)

The Stepsisters(9)
Author: Susan Mallery

   She closed her eyes again and tried to relax. She knew the house next door. Her friend Adam had lived there back when they’d both been in school. She had no idea what had happened to him.

   She opened her eyes and studied her neighbor. He was about her age, with blond hair, like Adam’s. Only it couldn’t be him, could it?

   The man glanced up and caught her staring at him. He smiled.

   “Hello, Sage.”

   “How do you know who I am?” She supposed her mother could have told him but Joanne wasn’t the type to be friendly with the neighbors.

   “I’ve known you since we were thirteen.” He pressed a hand to his chest. “You’ve forgotten me. I’m devastated.”

   It couldn’t be him, could it? “Adam? Is that you?”

   He smiled. “Bingo.”

   She grinned. “Bingo? Did you just say that?”

   “It’s my word when I’m surprised.”

   “You need a different word.” She shook her head. “I can’t believe it’s really you.” She took in the broad shoulders and chiseled face. “You look different.”

   “And you’re exactly the same.”

   She sipped her water. “If only. So you still live at home?” That was sad. Hadn’t he ever wanted a life?

   Adam smiled at her. “No. I bought the house from my mom after my dad died and she moved to Vegas. Of the two of us, you’re the only one still living at home.”

   She had no idea how he meant to deliver the words, but they landed like a slap. She offered him a tight smile as she grabbed her glass and stood.

   “And here you are, back in the neighborhood,” she said as lightly as she could. “It was really great to see you, Adam.”

   “Sage, wait,” he said, coming to his feet. “I didn’t mean it like that. Please.”

   She waved as she walked to the sliding glass door and stepped inside.

   Once she’d locked the door behind her, she hurried to her room and sank onto the bed. She wasn’t a failure—she wasn’t. Nor did she care what someone as ordinary and stupid as Adam thought of her. She didn’t care about anyone. She never had. It was safer that way. And being safe was the most important thing of all.

 

* * *

 

   By Saturday, Ben and Krissa had both recovered from the stomach flu. They rose early and started the morning with a loud rendition of Marco Polo in the pool. By the time Daisy had dried them off, fed them and walked the dogs, it was time to get Ben to soccer practice. Jordan would be meeting them at the practice to take both kids for the day.

   Daisy did her best to act casual, as if splitting their time between their parents was no big deal, but on the inside, she was a mess. Her stomach churned, she was tired from not sleeping and from one second to the next she wasn’t sure if she was going to start yelling at everyone or burst into tears.

   Most days she didn’t mind the chaos of her life, but lately it was getting to her, no doubt the result of Jordan leaving her. She didn’t know what his absence meant for their marriage. Worse, she had no idea why he’d left or what it would take to get him to come back. So far they weren’t even talking. All communication continued to occur through texts, a practice that unsettled her, although not enough to make it stop. She supposed a part of her was terrified of what he would say if they actually did start having a conversation.

   Which made her a coward, she thought, walking down the hall toward the kids’ wing. Something she could live with because the alternative was knowing exactly what her husband was thinking and she had a bad feeling there wasn’t going to be a “them” anymore.

   Where had it gone? Once they’d been so good together. She remembered when Ben had been almost five and had wanted to play soccer. Daisy had confessed to Jordan that she didn’t know the first thing about the game.

   He’d immediately taken her out into their big backyard and had taught her the basics. They’d continued practicing together for several weeks until she was good enough to play with her five-year-old. Jordan had been sweet and loving and supportive. Where had that man gone?

   “You about ready?” she asked as she stepped into Ben’s room. He was dressed for soccer and holding a backpack.

   “Did I pick the right stuff?” he asked, sounding worried. “Dad said to bring clothes for after practice.”

   Her stomach lurched. It had already started—the changes in their routine. What next?

   She pushed worry away and smiled at her son. “I’m sure you did fine, but I’m happy to check. The thing is, kiddo, you’re going to be what? Twenty minutes away? You can swing by if you forgot anything.”

   He visibly relaxed at her words. “You’re right. I forgot.”

   “That’s why you have me.”

   She looked inside the backpack. He’d put in athletic shoes, socks, jeans, underwear and a clean T-shirt.

   “Perfection,” she told him, ruffling his hair. “Let’s add a couple of bottles of water so you stay hydrated. Remember, if you start to feel woozy or lightheaded, tell Coach. I let him know you’re getting over the flu, so you might not be a hundred percent.”

   “I’m not going to faint, Mom.” His tone indicated he found the concept both interesting and horrifying.

   “Best if you don’t.”

   They went downstairs to where Krissa was in the family room, both dogs stretched out beside her as she carefully tied a large hat on Sheba. Lucky already sported a black bowler hat on his head, giving him a jaunty look. When he spotted Daisy, he gave her a long-suffering look that seemed to say, “Kids. What are you gonna do?”

   Daisy smiled at her patient dogs before calling Krissa. “Let’s get going.”

   Krissa carefully kissed each dog on the nose, then got up and walked toward her brother.

   “Mommy, is Daddy going to remember we need to eat lunch?” Krissa asked.

   “I’m sure he will, but you are welcome to remind him.”

   “Okay. Can we go somewhere fun?”

   “That’s between you two and your dad. I’m sure he wants you to have a good time so if you have somewhere special in mind, you should ask.”

   She collected two bottles of water from the refrigerator and put them in an outside pocket of the backpack before opening a drawer and pulling out a cell phone. She waved it.

   “I’m trusting you two with this.”

   Krissa’s eyes widened. “The family cell phone?” Her tone was reverent.

   Being given the sacred family cell phone was a big deal. Daisy had resisted the pressure to let her kids have their own phones. She and Jordan had agreed that twelve was plenty old enough to get a phone and their children weren’t going to be allowed to have their own social media accounts until they were fourteen.

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