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{You can read the entire story as I write it here; I’ll add a chapter each week, after I post to Instagram.}

Jude hadn’t asked her to stay. Eden hadn’t asked to go home. But, by some unspoken agreement, he drove her there anyway.

Amy Ellis answered the door after one knock and barely blinked before pulling her daughter into a hug.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Hi, sweetie,” was Amy’s soft reply. “I’m really happy to see you.”

Eden’s smile was weak and the older woman squeezed her hand before leading her into the house. And, deeper, into the kitchen.

She slid a steaming mug towards Eden before filling the other chair at the little breakfast table. “I wasn’t sure you’d ever come.”

“Neither was I.” Eden blew a wisp of steam away, momentarily blurring her mother’s face.

“So, why have you?”

“I–” She was about to lie. To say something ridiculous, like she didn’t know or that it was a whim. Or a mistake. None of those were true. She gripped the mug harder, hoping the heat would thaw her fingers.

Amy scanned her daughter’s face. Eden wondered what she was seeing. The child she’d been? The woman she’d become? The pieces of herself that she’d lost in the years between?

It was those holes that had driven her to her mother’s kitchen. The gaps that Jude had practically heard widening in the silence that had followed his confession.

Eden turned the mug, one full rotation, before saying, “You knew about Noah.”

“Yes.”

“And you didn’t tell me.”

“And I didn’t tell you.”

“Why?”

The corners of Amy’s mouth drooped. “Because he didn’t want me to. He wanted to tell you himself. Despite the fact that you refused to give him the chance.”

The next sip of tea was cool and Eden wondered if her touch had chased away the heat. “I should have come home. You should have made me come home.”

“Eden,” her mother said with a solemn laugh. “Both of us know I haven’t been able to make you do anything for a very long time.”

The mug left a ring of condensation when she spun it again. “No. But apparently, that didn’t stop Walter from trying.”

Amy almost dropped her own cup. “Wh-what do you mean?”

“Jude told me, Mom. About Walter and college and Allie. About the deal he made. About how he agreed to take care of Allie and the baby so I could leave.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Oh.”

Amy seemed to shrink in her chair, defeat written in the lines of her shoulders. “I tried to stop him. I tried to stop them both. It was just so awful. The entire thing. It was good you got away, Eden. Not that I’m glad you stayed away for so long. That still breaks my heart. But you leaving like that, when you were supposed to? When we all knew it was the only thing you really wanted? I’ll always be thankful to Jude for that. Always.”

“It wasn’t the only thing I wanted, Mom.”

The women’s eyes met. Stormy blue to a suddenly weary, worn-out color.

“I know,” Amy finally answered. “I mean, I wasn’t sure, but I saw the way you looked at him back then. The way you looked at each other.”

Eden knotted her fingers together, squeezing past the point of pain. “Jude won’t tell me who Maddie’s dad is.”

“No, he wouldn’t.”

“But you will.” Eden expected the words to come out harsh, demanding. Cruel. But they tilted the other way, towards desolation. A still-mending heart begging for answers.

“You know I can’t do that.”

“I know that Jude protected me, Mom. I know that he did something so ridiculously selfless to make sure I got away when you did nothing at all.”

“Wai-”

Eden cut her off, “I’m not here to accuse you. I don’t…I don’t want to rehash that day. Not now. But I need to know. I need to understand the thing that started it all. Jude won’t tell me and I can’t ask him. Not again. Especially not today.”

“What good will it do, knowing?”

“Good?” Eden looked at Amy, an ache digging its way behind her eyes. “It won’t do any good. I’m not looking for good, Mom. I’m looking for answers. Reasons. Things to plug the holes that have been causing me to slowly leach away over all these years. I’m…I’m….”

“Yes?”

Eden took a deep breath before finally saying, “I’m looking for a way to stay.”

Amy was silent for a moment before saying, “How will knowing who Maddie’s father is help you stay?”

“Because I need the whole picture, Mom. I feel like I’m going crazy. Every time I talk to someone I find out some new detail, some little fact that I was completely blind to. And every time it happens I feel like the ground beneath my feet shifts again.”

Eden could hear the panic creeping into her voice. She took a deep breath, hoping to keep the swell at bay. “I’m used to uncertainty. I’m used to things falling apart around me. I’ve seen entire towns washed away by floods and families decimated by war. I’ve spent the past fifteen years documenting more destruction than most people see in a lifetime. I know, Mom, what it’s like to go to bed at night not knowing if the street outside will be there when I wake up. But this?”

She spread her hands out, her fingers stretched like she was trying to capture everything that had happened in that kitchen long ago. And all of the moments that had spiraled out of control since.

“I might not have been here, Mom, but this has never stopped being home. This has never stopped being the constant in a life that is so fucking scattered. Except,” Eden stopped, releasing a choked laugh, “except I was such a fool. I thought I understood, I thought I knew what this place was. I thought I knew the history and the reasons and the people that lived here, now matter how much it hurt too much to think about them. It was painful, but it was real. At least I thought it was. But then a secret slipped out, then another, and now I can barely find solid ground.”

Amy looked at her. Sadness and sympathy – and maybe even regret – swirled in her eyes.

Eden didn’t let herself turn away. No more escaping. “I don’t want to leave,” she forced herself to say. “But I’m terrified to stay, especially without knowing the whole story.”

Amy sat in considered silence for several minutes, her attention never falling from her daughter’s face. “If I tell you this, you must promise me one thing.”

It took her less than a second to answer, “Okay.”

“You never speak a word of this to Maddie. Allie has agreed to tell her when she thinks the time is right. So has Jude. But she cannot hear a whisper about it before then, understood?”

“Yes.”

“Fine.” It came out on a heavy sigh. “Fine. But I’m talking to Allie first. This is her secret, Eden. I get why it’s important for you to know, but I need her to agree before I tell you.”

Amy left the kitchen, cell phone in hand, and Eden heard soft mummers from the living room before her mom returned.

Eden almost expected some delay tactic or even an excuse. But Amy started talking before she landed in her seat. “Walter was strict. I had an idea before we got married, but it wasn’t until I saw how he behaved with Allie day after day that I really understood how inflexible he was.”

Eden bobbed her head, memories of Walter’s lectures and rules rising to the surface. “He hated that I swam in the lake with the boys.”

“He hated a lot of things,” Amy muttered. “I was able to protect you from a lot of it, but it was different with Allie. She was his daughter, never mine. His to parent, his to discipline. And that poor girl…well, she was in desperate need of fun. Not just with you and the boys, but fun of her own. And when Walter went away on his fishing trips, I loosened the reins a bit. Let her go out, put on some makeup. Act like a teenager.”

“See some boys.”

“Go on dates.” Amy practically winced saying it. Eden stiffened in her chair. “That summer Allie had a crush on one of the kids from the high school one town over. I can’t remember where she met him. At a friend’s house, I think? A cousin of somebody or other. Anyway, I thought it would be good for her to go out, to have some fun and make some friends of her own. I didn’t realize….”

When Amy’s gaze drifted far away, her mouth frozen half-open, Eden prompted her. “Mom?”

“The thing they don’t tell you about parenthood is the amount of sheer luck involved. I think if people knew – really understood – how easily parenting can break you, how you can do everything in your power to keep your children safe and yet one utterly benign decision, one attempt to do something right can still go so horribly, horribly wrong through a simple matter of circumstance…. Well, I’m not sure everyone would still do it.”

“Mom? What are you trying to say?”

“I let her go on a date, Eden. I let Allie go on a date when Walter was away because she wanted to so badly and I thought to myself, hey, what’s the worse that could happen….”

“What was the thing that happened, Mom?” Eden already knew the answer, but there was no turning back now.

“That boy,” her mother spit out, “raped her.” Amy sat rigid in her chair, tiny tremors making her fingers shake around her mug. “He put something in Allie’s drink at that stupid party, dragged her off to a room, and raped her. She doesn’t remember many of the details, thank God, but she remembers enough to understand what happened. And Maddie is proof that he didn’t use a condom.”

Holy shit.” Eden’s throat constricted around the words. “She knows who it was, though, right? She pressed charges? Tell me you pressed charges.”

Amy dropped her chin before shaking her head. “Allie was terrified to tell us. We didn’t know it had even happened until she told us she was pregnant. Walter was so furious and I was devastated and Allie, bless her, was so terrified….” Her voice died on a rasp. “By then, it didn’t seem like there was any point. It would have only made everything worse for Allie. She decided – we all decided to move on and do the best we could dealing with the situation.”

Eden could barely see through the rage clouding her vision. No shock or sadness that she’d felt since arriving home came close to matching the fury pounding in her veins.

“So not only did you practically abandon your step-daughter, but you allowed her rapist to go on with his life as if he hadn’t done anything wrong?”

“Eden-”

“No. No.” She waved off Amy’s protest. “I don’t even know what to say to you right now. I don’t even know where to begin.”

Amy’s attention remained glued to the table, her body still visibly shaking. The impulse to run was making Eden’s feet burn but she couldn’t, not yet. “Did Jude know? When he agreed to marry Allie, did he know the whole story?”

“Yes.”

“You’re sure?”

“Positive.” Amy’s voice was quiet but certain. “It was part of the reason he offered to help in the first place.”

“Because he’s a good man.” Eden said it softly, more to herself than her mom.

“Because,” Amy answered, “he loves you so much he’d do anything to help your family, even if it meant he couldn’t be part of your own.”

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