Authors: Bernadette Marie
She smiled and nodded. The entire Keller family had always made her feel right at home, even after she and Carlos had divorced.
She took a deep breath and soaked in the feeling of Carlos’s hands on her. She missed him, and that, on top of everything that was happening to her, wasn’t helping her steady her emotions. Instead, his nearness and the heat of his body were stirring up feelings she had no right to have, not anymore.
“I’m okay now.” She reached her hand toward his chest, but he didn’t let her go.
Carlos’s eyes scanned over her slowly. “You’re sick. You should let me call Curtis and have him come look at you.”
“No.” She shook her head. “You’re not calling your brother to come and check up on me. I’m fine. I’m just coming down with something. All the better reason for me to go home before I get this little man sick.” She looked back down at the baby sleeping in the family bassinet. The sadness inside her stirred again. What she wouldn’t give to hold her children and watch them sleep with Carlos by her side once more.
Carlos steadied his eyes on hers and then stepped back. “If you need me, you call.”
“Let Matt know what happened.”
Madeline nodded. Once she had turned to Matt for comfort—whom was she going to turn to now that he was gone? “Thanks for meeting me out here with the kids.”
“Sure. Oh, by the way, Mom says there’s still room for two more at the table on Thanksgiving. You and Matt are welcome to come.”
“Thank her for me, will you? I think I’ll just have a quiet Thanksgiving at home. I’ll bring the kids by on Thursday morning after we watch the parade.”
“The parade. Still your most favorite thing on TV?”
“And it always will be,” she said, smiling, thinking about the time Carlos had maxed out every credit card they had to make sure she witnessed it live on the streets of New York. That was a lifetime ago, she reminded herself. Too bad she’d fought him over it instead of realizing the sentiment behind it.
She touched his arm as she walked past him, and then hurried out to her car where her children waited for her. Their smiles took away the pain she’d been feeling. Even when everything around her seemed to be shattering, she still had her children.
Panic suddenly filled her, and she fought back the emotions that were clawing at her. She wondered how long she had left to be their mother.
Carlos waved as the car disappeared down the long drive. The pain that ripped through him each time they passed off the kids was back. It had been five years. He’d thought it would get easier, but it never did.
They’d had a family together. That was supposed to be forever.
As he walked back into the room, Regan stirred awake. “Did I fall asleep?”
“Yeah. Tyler graduated from college yesterday, and now he’s getting married.”
“Smart—ass.” She laughed as she sat up. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep while she was here. That was rude of me.”
“That’s what she said.”
“Liar, she’d never say a mean thing ever.” She looked down at her son and smiled. “He’s so perfect.”
“He really is. When will Zach be home?”
“He’s finishing up a meeting with John Forrester. He’ll be home in an hour or so.”
“Will you be okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Go if you need to.”
He shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. “Kathy’s making a special dinner tonight.”
“Things are going well between the two of you?” Regan tucked her feet under her and smiled up at him.
“Yeah. It’s been long enough. It’s time for me to move on, don’t you think?”
“Only if you’re ready.” Her voice was soft and all too knowing.
He had to be ready. It still hurt to watch Madeline live a happy life without him. He was dying inside, and he needed to find that kind of love again. “I’m ready, Reg. It’s been five years. I’m tired of wondering what happened to my perfect marriage. She moved on. She remarried. I need to fall in love, and I need to move on.”
“And you’re in love with Kathy?”
“I didn’t say that.” The word
twisted his gut. “I’m just willing to feel it out. I like her a lot.”
“She’s a nice woman.”
“Good, I have my little sister’s blessing.” He bent to kiss her on the cheek. “Take care of my little man. Uncle Carlos will come back out tomorrow.”
“You’re worse than Mom,” she called after him as he left the room.
“Bite your tongue,” he hollered back.
The drive back from Regan and Zach’s was long and loud. The kids had been with their father for the week. Even though she’d spoken to them each night, they all had their own set of stories they wanted to tell her, and all at the same time.
Clara had aced her spelling test. Christian scored twelve points in his basketball game. Eduardo had only two hundred and forty-five days until he could drive. She smiled at him and shook her head.
“That’s only if your father and I agree to it.”
“He’ll agree. I’d be able to help out. Just think about it, Mom. I could get everyone to school and back and forth between your house and dad’s house. Really, Mom, I’m only thinking about you.”
She reached across the car and laid her hand on her son’s arm. These were the moments she had to fight for. “Son, you are the most thoughtful thing.”
“Kathy says that by the time he’s got his license, maybe she’ll be in the market for a new car,” Clara offered.
Madeline swallowed hard. Kathy. She could feel the tears stinging her eyes behind her sunglasses, and she forced them back.
She was more than familiar with the name. Clara had taken to the woman, and the boys thought she was nice enough. In her heart, she knew she should be happy for her ex-husband, but she just couldn’t be.
She’d been the one to remarry less than a year after they’d divorced. Even worse, she’d married his best friend and ruined that relationship. Now she was alone, and Carlos had finally found happiness. She deserved that, she decided. Karma was a tricky thing. You might have thought what you did was right, but in the end you end up alone and dying.
“Mom, are you okay?” Eduardo reached his hand to her shoulder.
“I’m fine, sweetie.”
“You’re spacing out. Want me to drive?”
“You can drive me home in two hundred and forty-five days,” she said, feeling the tension in her shoulders build as they turned into their neighborhood and drove into the driveway.
Matt’s car was gone, and she wondered how long it would take for one of them to notice that so was everything else Matt owned.
It took exactly sixteen minutes.
“Mom! Where is the Wii?” Christian called from the family room.
Madeline squeezed her eyes tight and took a deep breath as she stood over the sink in the kitchen.
“It’s gone. It’s all gone! The Wii, the games, the guitars!” He ran through the door to the kitchen. “Mom, even Matt’s chair is gone. I think someone broke into the house.”
Clara was right on his heels, and Eduardo flew down the stairs from his room when he heard the chaos.
Madeline sucked up her courage and straightened her spine. When she turned, three sets of dark eyes watched her. “Why don’t you all sit down? Let’s talk.”
They didn’t say another word. Madeline knew they could see the pain in her face. She’d explain everything about Matt, but until she had a solid path toward treatment, she wasn’t about to mention the cancer.
She sat down at the kitchen table with her children and set her clasped hands on the top. “Matt moved out.”
They said nothing, but their eyes were open wide. Clara began to cry.
Madeline swallowed hard. “He’s asked me for a divorce. I have the papers and I just have to sign them.”
Eduardo reached across the table and touched her hand. “Mom, why? Did we do something wrong?”
Heaviness filled her chest as she looks into her son’s apologetic eyes. “Oh, no, honey. This has nothing to do with you at all. He loves you. He was most worried about all of you.” She patted his hand and reached for Clara’s. “Matt and I, well, we’ve just grown apart. After your dad and I got a divorce, we seemed to need each other. I just don’t think we ever loved each other like a man and wife should. We loved each other like friends.”
Clara flew from her seat and into Madeline’s arms. The strength that she’d been holding on to collapsed, and she sobbed with her daughter against her chest. The softness of Clara’s hair brushed against her cheek, and the strawberry scent reminded her how young her children still were. How precious. How innocent.
Eduardo stood and walked to his mother and sister. He wrapped his arms around both of them. Christian sat strong across the table and watched, as she’d known he would. He was the strong and silent one. He’d break down in his room with the door shut. When he did, she would go to him.
And when it was time, she went to him.
She’d gone to each of them. She’d kissed and hugged them and tucked them all into bed. Even at fifteen Eduardo hadn’t protested.
With the house quiet, Madeline closed the door to her bathroom and locked it. She ran the bathtub as full and as hot as she could. Then she took the pamphlets she’d received from the doctor’s office out of her bag. As she sank into the hot bath with bubbles and candles surrounding her, she read about the cancer that was eating away at her body.
Her doctor had told her that her chances for survival were almost one hundred percent. But it was the word
that had her nervous. She’d supported breast cancer research with donations and by walking in charity events. She’d even known a handful of women who had gone through it, including her boss. Never in a million years did she imagine she’d be going through it. Worse yet, she was going through it alone.
There was no reason to alarm her children. Until she had to, she’d keep it from them. Matt was gone. The end of her marriage only needed finalization from the courts. He’d even told her he was planning to take a job in Kentucky to put some distance between them. So certainly, she wasn’t going to call him and tell him.
She closed her eyes and began to sob.
The one person she knew she’d be able to count on would have been Carlos. But then she recalled all of the stories her children had come home with. Each and every one of them had Kathy’s name attached to it. He’d moved on. It was only a matter of time before Carlos found happiness and remarried. It had always surprised her he’d stayed single for so long.
He’d take care of the children if he had to. They seemed to like Kathy a lot. Perhaps she’d be a good mother to them if she…
She didn’t want to think about Matt, cancer, or Carlos anymore. She dropped the pamphlets on the floor next to the tub and dropped her head under the water, waiting till her lungs burned with the need for oxygen before she came back up. It didn’t help clear her thoughts of Carlos.
About the Author
Bernadette Marie grew up obsessed with pens and notebooks, each one filled with lists and ideas for stories. Not much has changed. This wife and mother of five sons has a passion for writing stories about falling in love, finding love where you left it, and strong families.
Bernadette Marie is an accomplished martial artist who holds a Black Belt in Tang Soo Do and she is a chronic entrepreneur. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and Colorado Romance Writers.
Visit her website at
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Photo: © 2009 Damon Kappell/Studio 16