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Stephan came over every day to spend time with the girls after school. He would help them with their homework and then have dinner with them. I was a little envious of how they were so willing to share so much with him when I had to practically beg them to tell me how their day was. I tried to avoid him as much as I could. I couldn’t stand having him in my house but I had no choice since Gemma and Leni wanted to spend time with him and I was not about to let him take them out and worry about where they were and what they were doing the whole time.

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“You’re going to come to my recital tomorrow night, right Stephan? I’m gonna have my first guitar solo.”

“Of course I will, Leni. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. You’re so talented, I’m really proud of you.”

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From where I was in the kitchen I heard Gemma groan in annoyance. It was an all too familiar sound for me so I knew she was unhappy about something.

“Geez Leni, would you just call him Dad already? It’s insulting to call him Stephan while you call Clay ‘Dad’ all the time! What is wrong with you?”

“What is wrong with you Gem? Why does it matter to you? Stephan understands that it will take me some time to think of him as my Dad so why don’t you just give me a break!”

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Stephan tried to settle them down but they both got up from the table and stormed off into opposite directions, most likely retreating to their respective bedrooms.

I was baking a batch of cookies for Jackson’s school’s bake sale the next day when he entered. He knew I heard the whole thing as I gave him a knowing look.

“Those girls are something, huh?” He chuckled. “Do they always fight like that?”

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“Most times.” I replied.

“They’re great though. Thanks for letting me come over Dani. I know you could easily make things difficult for me and I’m thankful you’re giving me a shot at getting to know my daughters.”

 “No problem.”

“Those cookies smell great.” He said.

“They’re for a bake sale at Jackson’s school.”

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“Jackson is Felix’s son, right?”

“Yeah.” I said.

“So, how is Ethan? Does he have a wife? Kids?”

“No, he and Bentley are confirmed bachelors. They live together in Willow Creek close to Phoebe and her family.”

“Well that’s good. I’m glad everyone seems to be doing well. Especially you. You know, you still look like the same girl I first saw at the gym. Those bright green eyes of yours were captivating. You had me then and there.”

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I blushed for a moment as I remembered that day when I first laid eyes on him too. I wanted to kick myself for not introducing myself and getting his number and was so thankful when I ran into him a few days later. But then how could I forget that our meeting wasn’t by chance, but a part of a plot hatched by him, his sister and his accomplice to try to get revenge on me. Stephan messed with my head then and I wasn’t going to let him do it now by bringing up the past.

“It’s getting late and the girls have gone to bed so you should get going now.”

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He looked disappointed that I stopped him in his tracks. “Alright. Good night Dani.”

When he was gone I went to my bedroom where Clay remained the entire time Stephan was there.

“Is he gone?” He asked.

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“Yes he just left.”

He avoided Stephan as much as he could too but his reasons were different than mine. Every time they were in the same room an argument would take place. Rather than upset Gemma and Leni by picking a fight with Stephan, Clay decided to keep a distance whenever he came over.

“Good.” He continued. “There’s something I want to talk to you about.”

“Oh? What is it?” I asked.

“Our wedding. Let’s get married this Sunday!”

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“What…? This Sunday…? That’s just a few days from now Clay. We don’t have enough time to plan…”

“I have everything taken care of. We already had everything set up before Leni got sick so all I had to do was rebook the caterer and the bartender.”

“That all sounds great babe but… now is not the best time…”

“Why? Why is it not the right time? Because of Stephan?!”

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“Well, kinda. Things have been so tense since he came back and…”

“Tense for who? Not us! I don’t like that he’s coming around here but his presence doesn’t affect our relationship so why should it stop us from getting married as planned?” He paused and then stared at me for a few seconds. “Is there something you want to say to me Danielle?”

“No, of course not! Look, I was just worrying for no reason. You are right. There’s no reason for us to wait any longer and certainly not because of Stephan. Let’s get married on Sunday.”

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I really was happy about marrying Clay but there was this nervous feeling in my gut and I wasn’t sure what it meant. All I knew was that it had to do with Stephan. Unresolved feelings maybe? I wasn’t sure. But I knew I had to sit down and talk with him. So on my day off the following day I called Stephan over to meet with me. I didn’t expect him to arrive early so he ended up meeting me in my bedroom while I was writing.

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“Working on another bestseller?”

“I hope so. This writer’s block is killing me. I’ve been working on the same paragraph for days now. When did you get here? I didn’t hear you come in.”

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“Felix let me in. He still doesn’t trust me.”

“Can you blame him?” I said as I stood up and moved away from my desk.

 “I don’t. I did some things in the past that were unforgivable, and I understand that now. It’s no wonder why you don’t trust me with the girls. I may have been too aggressive since I’ve been back but it’s just that Gemma and Leni are all I have in the world now and I don’t want to lose them just like I lost you.”

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I never looked at the situation from his point of view. It probably hurt him a lot to know that I had moved on and he didn’t have me anymore. He really had no one else aside from the girls. I saw this kind of thing every day on my job. It’s hard for a criminal to be reformed when there’s no support or encouragement to do better because everyone associated with you thinks you’re going to fail. “Stephan, trusting you again is going to take some time. I can’t say how long but it will take time. I know you’re trying to change and I’m glad that you are. I never hated you, not once. I just hated the things you did. And I’m not going to lie, I was concerned about you being a bad influence on our daughters or you putting them in harm’s way because of your past and the people you dealt with but now I see that you really love them and you’re trying to do right by them so I’m going to cut you some slack… just a little though.”

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“Thanks. You know… I am really sorry for causing you pain and for lying to you so much. You’ll never know how much I regret that my choices in the past ruined my future with you Danielle.”

“Stephan…”

“I just want you to know that.” He moved to hug me and surprisingly I allowed it. I don’t know what came over me.

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Maybe I wanted to hug him too. Maybe I missed his touch. Maybe I missed the scent of his cologne…

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Maybe… wait a minute! What was I doing?! I immediately pushed him away.

“Sorry… I… this is wrong!”

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“Why? Why is it wrong? You feel it too, don’t you? It feels right being in each other’s arms and I know you agree with me.”

“No… no, I don’t feel the same way! I’m engaged! Clay and I are getting married on Sunday.”

He stared at me for a few seconds, a mixture of hurt and disappointment. “What?!”

“It’s true. Clay and I are getting married soon. I love him. I want to be with him.”

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“I know you still love me Danielle.”

“Yes, a part of me will always love you but…”

“No buts! You love me! Deny it all you want, Blondie can never make you feel the way I can. Don’t marry him Danielle, marry me! We can be a family again – you, me, Gemma, Leni. The four of us together again, wouldn’t that be great? Don’t ruin this chance by making a mistake Dani. Don’t marry Clay!”

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“Stephan…” I was at a loss for words. I wanted to tell him he was wrong, but was he wrong? Then and there I realised that I was not sure of what I wanted anymore. I always imagined growing old with Stephan and raising our girls together. But when he left and Clay stepped in my future changed. Clay helped me raise them. Clay was the one by my side. I started seeing my future with him. This was so complicated!

Sunday had arrived and I was alone in my bedroom getting ready for my big day. Everyone was waiting on me to join them in the ballroom where Clay and I would be exchanging vows. This was supposed to be a happy day but I felt confused and nervous. I remembered my first wedding day and how sure I was of my decision to marry Stephen and confident that we would be together for the rest of our lives. Now as I was about to marry Clay, there was a knot in my stomach.

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I looked at my reflection in the mirror. I was wearing my second wedding dress that my daughters helped me to pick out. I could hear laughter coming from the other side of the house. The guests had started arriving and I knew it would only be a matter of time before someone came looking for me. I thought about my parents and I knew if they were still here they would tell me to follow my heart.

I smiled as it finally hit me. The answer was clear and I knew what I had to do. I was going to follow my heart…

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