Authors: Susan Ward
The Half Shell Series
Copyright © 2015 Susan
All rights reserved.
For Rachel. The closest I could get to ending the
story the way you wanted me to. I hope you enjoy, baby girl
“Some secrets are meant to be kept forever. What no
one ever tells you is that secrets hurt you and never the ones you lie to. They
are your solitary hurt and shame. The people you withhold them from go on with
their lives. They live. They fuck. They love. They are unharmed by your silence
and the words you haven’t yet shared.” ~Chrissie Parker
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance
to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
stare at myself in the full-length mirror and make a face. Whoever said black
was slimming is a liar. But then there is no way to hide this. I run my hands
over my month seven baby bump. It’s been forever since Neil’s been home and I
don’t know what he’s going to think about this.
I turn sideways. Crap, it would be nice if I
big, and I could still manage to pull off a little bit
of sexiness. Shit, we haven’t had sex for five months. I attempt a provocative
stance and expression. I crinkle my nose. Nope, I’m all waddle and belly these
I make my way from my bedroom down the hallway,
checking the rooms as I pass. Perfect, even though not completely done even
after two months here. I need to paint Kaley’s nursery, but at least the
recording studio downstairs is finished, thanks to Jack. Neil is going to love
that. The kitchen is almost together, and the living room is done.
I stare out the wall of glass and smile. A pretty
nice homecoming for Neil, even if I’m going to be a less-than-spectacular
sight. He’s going to love it here.
I make my way carefully up the short rise of
stairs to the foyer, noting that I really need to put a banister here. Who
builds a house and doesn’t put a banister and a rail on an upper landing? It
may look dramatic, but it’s a nightmare. Someone is always accidently dropping
off into the living room.
I laugh. It is definitely a weird house. Neil
will probably think it’s strange, but it is so
. It is exactly the
kind of house I want to raise Kaley in.
I grab my purse from the console table, go into
the garage, hit open the door, and then climb into my black Range Rover. Thank
God it has four-wheel drive. The driveway definitely needs improvement.
At the end of the drive, I stop and check
traffic. I pause for a moment to look left. Devil’s Playground is only a short
hop up there. Smiling, I go right toward the highway. I slowly maneuver down
the narrow one-lane tree-lined road, the forest so thick here that the sun is
completely blocked, and keep a careful eye on the moss-covered boulders.
I merge onto the two-lane highway to the city.
How funny it is that I used to be afraid of the mountain pass, so afraid I used
to make Neil drive it for me, and now I drive it every day.
Twenty minutes later I pull into the Santa
Barbara airport and park at the loading curb. I start to unbuckle my seat belt,
and then wonder if it would be better to wait here. I don’t look as fat when
I’m sitting. Grabbing my purse, I pull the key from the ignition and climb out
of the car anyway.
I walk through the nearly empty Spanish-style
building that acts as the terminal. I exit onto the patio and sink onto a bench
close to the entrance from the runways.
I check my watch and my leg starts to jiggle anxiously.
Any time now, Neil. I’m more than ready to see you. My gaze floats around the
patio. There are a couple of other women here. I wonder if they’re waiting for
their husbands, too. It’s a nice feeling, waiting on Neil. I smile.
People start entering from the runway, and I
struggle to stand up. I anxiously search the small line of arriving passengers.
My heart jumps against my chest. Green eyes, smiling, and looking for me.
Neil drops his bag, scoops me up in his arms, and
gives me a passionate embrace. “God, I’ve missed you,” he whispers between
“I’ve missed you, too.”
He steps back as if seeing for the first time the
dramatic change in me. The color in his eyes darkens.
“How’s my baby today?”
I sink my teeth into my lower lip to hold back my
emotions. Then he leans forward, kissing my belly, and I give him a gentle push
away from me.
He looks at me, a teasing glint in his eyes.
“I thought you were asking how I was. I can see
how it is. You’re completely obsessed with Kaley and have totally forgotten
He slips his arm around my waist and whispers in
my ear, “Nope, I just can’t greet you the way I want to here.”
I flush, and we start walking out of the airport.
I can tell when someone in the terminal recognizes Neil by how they stare, and
I ease close into him in that
this guy is mine
kind of way.
He tosses his bag in the back of the car as I
climb into the driver’s seat. “You want to drive?” he asks, surprised.
I nod. “Yep. I am taking
house for the first time. I’m driving.”
He climbs into the passenger seat, buckles his
safety belt, then I pull from the curb. We drive for a while in silence with
him just staring at me.
“You look so beautiful, Chrissie. I’m so glad to
“Beautiful, huh? I’m enormous, or haven’t you
“You’re beautiful, Chrissie. Stop it. I wish I’d
been here with you. Seeing the change all at once brings it home how much I’ve
missed with you already.”
I focus on the road, fighting back my tears.
“Well, you’re home now. You can make up for it.”
He leans in and kisses me lightly on the
shoulder. “I plan to. I don’t care what you have on your calendar. We’re not
leaving the bedroom for a week.”
I laugh and turn onto the mountain pass.
Neil frowns. “Where are we going?”
He stares at me, surprised. “You bought a house
on the mountain?
picked a house on the mountain?”
I nod. “Don’t say it that way. I wanted the
perfect home for us and I found it. Up here.”
Fifteen minutes later, I’m slowly making my way
down our driveway. Neil’s expression is priceless. He’s savoring being in the
forest, but looking at me like I’m crazy.
I stop before the Spanish-style structure hugging
the side of the mountain. There is not another house in sight, the acres around
us are lush natural forestland, nothing but indigenous plant life here, but
everywhere there’s blue sky and a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean. It’s
so quiet. The only sound is us and the comfortable quiet of the forest.
Neil stares. “You bought this?”
I keep my expression carefully neutral. I can’t
tell if he’s happy, disappointed, or confused. I climb from the car and unlock
the front door.
I kiss him. “Welcome home.”
I step into the entry foyer. I point.
“I don’t have a railing or banister yet,” I say,
dumping my things on the table. “That first step is a big drop if you go the
wrong way. I need to fix it soon. Jack fell down it yesterday.”
Neil laughs, then freezes and stares. He sinks on
the red painted concrete floor of the landing, his legs dangling over the side.
He’s just staring.
His eyes widen. “Jesus Christ, Chrissie. I can’t
afford a house like this.”
“Too late. We already bought it. You told me you
didn’t have to see it. That it was my choice. I bought this.”
“Chrissie,” he says in an exasperated growl.
“Rich-girl you are. Rich-boy I am not. I can’t afford this house.”
“Oh, stop. We’re married. Whatever we have
belongs to the both of us, and that includes this house. I love this house.
We’re not moving from here.”
I grab his hands and pull him onto his feet and
kiss him on the cheek. I point at the door on the far side of the living room.
“That goes downstairs,” I explain. “There are
guest bedrooms. And Jack helped me convert some of the space into a recording
studio. You have everything you need to work from here.”
His brows lift. “You did that for me?”
“I did that for us. Our entire life, everything
we love, all is here. We don’t ever have to leave the mountain unless we want
I pull him with me to the wall of glass and his
eyes widen even more as he looks out.
“This house is us, Neil,” I say. “It’s you. It’s
me. It’s where I want to raise Kaley.”
“Chrissie, what did it cost?”
I ignore the question.
I point to the left. “Over there is a trail to
Devil’s Playground. And look, there is Judgement Rock, the edge of the earth,
and we can see it from our living room. We can hike there every day once I’m
able to go uphill again. And there, you can see the beach. And I can see Hope
Ranch and the islands and downtown. From every room we can see the Pacific.
Everything we love is right there out our back window for both of us to see
every day. It’s
, Neil. Perfect. I walked into this house and I never
wanted to leave.”
He turns me, taking me in his arms and his lips
start moving on my flesh. “It definitely has everything. Does it have a
I laugh. Between kisses and touches I start
pulling him through the kitchen toward the master suite.
“Neil, we have everything. It couldn’t be more
perfect if we had it custom-made.”
funny how someone can envelop your life without even being near you. I haven’t
seen Alan since
and yet I know in certainty I will see
. It was there in his eyes the last time he stared at
me. A strange look, one I still can’t decipher
completely. But tucked in
the shadowy black depths of his gaze there were other things I understood without
effort. The unrelenting connection between us that I have felt from the start.
The love. The shared history, and the sense of unfinished things between us.
It is good that at the moment during Jack’s party
when I had to choose right or left—Alan or Neil—the crossroad came unexpectedly
and there was only a flash of a second to say what I wanted. I didn’t think. I
didn’t command. My mouth spoke, finding my words on its own.
I’m glad I chose Neil, though I’m not really sure
why I did. Perhaps it was the way he was staring at me. The hurt. The
comprehension. The forgiveness. And the unconditional love. Unconditional love
is a seductive thing. Perhaps it was just because he was with me. Perhaps it
was because I loved him more in that flash of a second than I loved Alan.
Or perhaps it was because events moved with Alan
one step faster than my mind and heart could keep up with, just as they always
seem to do. I still don’t know why he came to Jack’s party. Not really. Did he
come because he loved me? Was a second chance with him within reach? If I had
grabbed onto it and held onto Alan—I don’t know if that was even what he
wanted—would we be together somewhere, someplace?
I don’t know for sure, and today it doesn’t
matter. So typical of me with Alan; messy uncertainty about everything. Or
perhaps I should say typical of just me.
All I know for sure is that we will cross paths
again. It will be unexpected. In that moment I will love him and he will love
me. The other parts of our lives will not matter. For a second we will love and
then spin away.
Bullshit, Chrissie. Don’t turn your history with
Alan into romantic make-believe in your journal. Your affair with Alan wasn’t
all moonlight and roses. And you did a shitty thing to him that day. Your grand
From Here to Eternity-
type delusion is guilt-ridden nonsense and fantasy.
It’s a fantasy born of regret, and it is time to
put it in a lockbox and tuck it away. A nice dream that will never be. The
quiet of the mountain is at times too quiet. It lends to too much thinking. Thinking
about the past. Alan. Loving him. Walking away. The way he stared at me that last
day. And it makes the truth—that I am being dishonest with Neil and with Alan—also
an inescapable thing.
I am too young for regrets. I’m only twenty-four.
I love my husband in a very real and peaceful way. My life is good, very good.
All that I could ever want it to be. But I still have regrets and I have hurts
and I have secrets that I cannot make go away.
Secrets, just like when I was young. Only they
are different now, because they are adult secrets. Unlike those from my
childhood I shared with Alan, this secret is meant to be kept from him forever.
Some secrets are meant to be kept forever. What
no one ever tells you is that secrets hurt you and never the ones you lie to.
They are your silent hurt and shame. The people you withhold them from go on
with their lives. They live. They fuck. They love. They are unharmed by your
silence and the words you haven’t yet shared.
They don’t know the pain you are forced to live
in. The regrets. The sorrow. The longing. The shame. The fear. A secret kept
forever is a burden you carry alone.
But it would be nice to share this regret. To
have someone help me carry the weight of doing such a terrible thing to so many
people I love.
But I can’t tell Alan.
And it wouldn’t be fair to tell Neil.
So it will exist here in the comfortable quiet of
my home on the mountain, and the truth of
is not something I will
ever speak. The truth isn’t always a good thing. It’s better for us all