Read The Good Daughter Online

Authors: Jane Porter

Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women

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BOOK: The Good Daughter
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“Never mind. Let’s just forget this—”

“She’s my rock, Kit. Mom has been everything for me.” Sarah drew a short, sharp breath. “When things get crazy with Boone, I call her. When I need her, she comes. When I need someone to talk to, Mom’s there. Mom is a saint—” She broke off, and Kit could hear her breathe over the line, inhaling hard, exhaling just as hard. It was like a fish pulled out of water. She was gasping for air. Fighting to breathe.

“She
is
a saint,” Kit said softly, gently, surprised but not shocked that things had escalated so quickly. Losing Mom was absolutely devastating, and Sarah was the baby. Sarah had been Mom’s little girl the longest. But then, from the time she was born, she’d been everyone’s favorite. Sarah was that lucky girl who’d been born beautiful and grew up into an even more stunning woman. Tall, slim, golden, she didn’t favor her sisters. No red or auburn hair for her. No freckles. No pale skin that wouldn’t tan. Sarah was decadent. She shimmered through life, all amber, honey, and bronze. Tommy had once teased her that she was so
pretty she must have had a different father, and Dad had rolled his eyes, but Sarah had cried.

“How can she leave us?” Sarah whispered, her voice pitched low. “I need her, Kit. I need her more now than ever and yet Boone won’t let me talk about it. The kids won’t let me talk about it. Somebody has to let me talk about it. Somebody—”

“You can talk to me,” Kit said, knowing she’d once been a good listener, and the family peacemaker. But lately, she wasn’t as patient, or as tolerant, as she used to be. Lately, she didn’t enjoy endless discussions and pointless conversation. How could she, when they would all soon lose Mom? “And you should talk about Mom. There’s no shame in that, Sarah.”

“Thank you.” She hiccuped on the other end of the line. “And I’m sorry about jumping on you.”

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. I’m just so mad. And sad. I want to be there in California. I want to be close to her, like you and Meg are. Instead I’m stuck here in Florida, with another season of baseball about to start. I hate it. I’m so over baseball running our lives, ruling our lives. And now I’m planning a cruise Mom might not even be able to go on.” Sarah’s voice was hoarse. “Earlier today the travel agent asked if we wanted travel insurance for the five cabins in case something came up and an emergency interrupted our trip, and I just lost it. Had to hang up. Because we do need the insurance, but let’s face it, all the insurance in the world won’t matter if she’s gone.”

K
it was back in her classroom early the next morning even though it seemed like she’d only just left. Sometimes she felt as if she lived at Memorial High School, and the teacher staff room was her sanctuary.

She was in the staff room now with Polly and Fiona during the brief morning break between third and fourth periods. It was their daily ritual. Five minutes to rush in to the staff room, exchange quick greetings while Kit refilled her coffee cup and Polly zapped her green tea and Fiona turned on the kettle for yet another cup of Irish Breakfast tea.

“I have a terrible headache,” Polly said, opening the microwave to retrieve her steaming cup.

“Need Advil?” Kit offered.

Polly shook her head. “Already took some a half hour ago. Just need them to kick in.”

Kit glanced at Fiona, who was unusually quiet this morning. “You okay?”

“Fine.”

But Fiona didn’t sound fine. She looked blue. “How did it go last night when you got home?” Kit asked her.

“Not so good,” Fiona answered, turning off the white kettle and filling her cup with boiling water. “Chase was distant. Barely said two words to me. I think he was upset that I’d stayed out so long.”

“But you were home by six-thirty—”

“I know. But I should have called him, warned him. He thought I was just out pouting.”

Kit tried not to take sides, but she’d had it with Chase right now. “I think he’s being a little hard on you.”

“A little?” Polly snorted and then winced. “God, that hurt. But honestly, Fiona, if he doesn’t want you avoiding going home, then he might want to make it more pleasant for you
at
home.”

The warning bell rang, and as Kit headed back to her classroom, keys jingling in her hand, it crossed her mind yet again that maybe she was lucky. Lucky to be single. Lucky to have no one at home waiting for her, angry with her, demanding an accounting
of where she’d been and who she’d been with. Because at forty, she didn’t feel like answering to anyone anymore. She was an adult. Mature. Responsible. She enjoyed having freedom. Enjoyed her autonomy.

It was a good thing she’d closed her account at Love.com because she didn’t need a man in her life right now. She wasn’t all that interested in being a wife.

Perhaps her little house didn’t need men’s shirts and shoes filling its closets. Maybe what her house needed was a nursery.

Maybe all she wanted was to be a mom.

T
hursday night Kit was at home sitting on her couch researching adoption on her laptop instead of grading papers that needed to be graded. If she didn’t tackle the essays now, she’d be doing them over the weekend in Capitola. Unfortunately, she didn’t feel like grading papers tonight. She was curious about how adoption would work for a single woman and so far she wasn’t particularly encouraged. Many organizations wouldn’t even look at her application if she filed as a single woman. Others might if she’d be willing to adopt an older child, or a toddler with special needs.

Kit didn’t want to adopt an older child. Or one with special needs. She’d waited a long time to be a mom and she wanted an infant. A baby of her own.

She was glad when her phone rang, diverting her attention. She didn’t recognize the caller. It was an out-of-state number. “Hello?”

“Kit?” It was a male voice, and slightly familiar.

“Yes?” she said, closing her computer and placing it on the coffee table.

“Michael Dempsey. We met at Z’s in Alameda Monday night.” He paused. “I’m a colleague of Jon’s. You were with your friends.”

Kit knew exactly who he was but was so stunned he’d gotten her cell number that it took her a second to speak. Being a teacher, she had an unlisted number. How did he track it down? “Yes, hi,” she said finally. “How are you?”

“Good. And you?”

“Fine.” She heard the reserve in her voice and wondered if he heard it, too. “Great,” she added, struggling to think of something to say. “How did you track me down?”

“I have my mysterious ways.” He laughed. “Especially when it comes to beautiful women.”

The compliment struck her as slightly cheesy and she flashed to Sebastian Severs. But there the similarity ended. Sebastian was of medium height and medium weight and had slightly thinning hair. Michael Dempsey was tall and handsome, with blue eyes and a hint of a Texas drawl. Sebastian made her skin crawl. If she were honest, Michael’s smile made her pulse race a little. “You do remember I’m the redhead…the one with freckles on my nose.”

“Just a couple of freckles. And I love redheads.”

Kit’s mouth dried. Wow. Not as cheesy this time, just brazen. He was certainly putting himself out there.

“Nothing to say?” he teased her.

She glanced at the TV screen, watched Steven Tyler’s eyes close as he got lost in a song. “Um, no.”

Michael laughed, pleased. “Good.” She could feel his smile across the line. “And I was calling, Kit, because I hoped you were free Saturday night,” he continued. “I’d love to take you to dinner. As you know, I’m still new here, don’t yet know my way around, but I’ve looked up a few places, and thought maybe you might even have a suggestion.

He’d caught her completely off guard. She’d pretty much written off men in December after that horrific date and she wasn’t feeling the need to begin dating now. Hot men like Michael
Dempsey didn’t call out of the blue and ask her out for dinner. “I’m heading out of town this weekend,” she said, grateful she had a real excuse. She wasn’t good at rejecting men. “Polly and I are going to Capitola for a few days.”

“Capitola? Where’s that?”

“On the coast. Just a few miles south of Santa Cruz.”

“I’ve never been there.”

“It’s beautiful. My family has a beach house there. It’s been in the family for three generations now.”

“Sounds fun. Can I tag along?”

Something in his tone made her flush. “You’d hate it. We give ourselves manicures and pedicures and watch sappy old movies.”

“Not sure about the sappy movies, but I can give a good pedicure.”

It created an uncomfortable picture in her head, Michael bent over a woman’s foot, painting toenails. “Seriously?”

“I had a girlfriend that injured her hand and so I’d paint her nails for her. Made her feel better while she healed.”

“That’s amazing. My ex-boyfriend would rather have cut off his arm than do that.”

“Guys get hung up on gender and job descriptions.”

She didn’t want to like him, but he was intriguing. “They can, can’t they?”

“So when do you come back?”

“Monday night.”

“Monday?”

“It’s a three-day weekend. Martin Luther King holiday.”

“That’s right. So what about the following Saturday? Or is that already booked, too?”

Kit hesitated. She didn’t know him, wasn’t entirely comfortable with him, had little interest in dating him, or anyone. And yet, what if he was a good guy? What if he was the right guy? Adoption agencies didn’t love single woman, much less women in their
forties. Was she really in a position to shut him down? “I think I’m free.”

“You think?” he repeated.

She heard the slightly belligerent note in his voice and wondered if she’d heard him wrong. “Let me check my calendar.” She checked the iCalendar app on her phone, and as she expected, her schedule was wide open for the following weekend. “I am open,” she said, wondering why she couldn’t, wouldn’t, just tell him no. She’d gotten off Love.com for a reason. She’d gotten burned, and burned out, dating. She didn’t have to go to dinner with him just because he asked. But Kit had never found it easy to say no. From birth she’d been the soft one. The one determined to please. “I’m free.”

“Great. Will you save Saturday night for me?”

“I’d love to,” she said.

“Great. I’m looking forward to Saturday.”

“Me, too,” she fibbed, and hated herself the next second for being not just a liar, but a pushover.

“Have fun this weekend,” he said.

“I will.”

“But not too much fun.”

She laughed. He laughed with her. They hung up.

Kit lay back on the couch and stared up at the ceiling, filled with self-loathing.

This was the reason she’d stopped dating.

This was why she’d pulled her profile from Love.com.

And this was exactly why that guy in December took advantage of her. Because she let him.

Just like she let Richard take advantage of her for ten miserable years.

Kit chewed on the inside of her lip. Thank God Brianna wasn’t here. Brianna would have a fit. Brianna never got taken advantage of because Brianna was the one who did the exploiting.

You’ve got to learn to set boundaries,
Kit told herself.
Have to learn how to tell people no. Back off. Leave me alone.

But she couldn’t. She didn’t know why. For whatever reason, she felt as if she owed everyone something.

Horrible, Kit thought, and rather alarming. Especially as she was an adult now. A forty-year-old woman.

Four

F
riday noon and Kit was counting the minutes until freedom. There were 184 of them. Essentially three hours. Three hours until school was over and she’d be on the road to Capitola with Polly.

Three hours until Kit could spend three blissful days at the Brennan family beach house in Capitola. Three days without bells, taking attendance, collecting assignments, or yard duty. Three days to sleep in, stay up late, and curl up with a good book. A book she wasn’t required to teach.

Heaven,
she sang to herself, stabbing yet another leaf of her wilted Caesar salad with her plastic fork. But first she had to survive her lunch hour, which had never been an hour at Memorial High but forty-two minutes in which she usually graded papers while choking down a soggy salad or sandwich. Today lunch was more frustrating than usual because Bob Osborne, the computer science teacher, had decided to join the half-dozen teachers sitting
at the wooden lunch table in the staff room rather than at his desk.

Kit would have preferred it if he had stayed at his desk.

Bob was a noisy eater and she was trying to ignore the whistling, wet sound he made as he ate his sack lunch at the far end of the table, but it was impossible. He was loud. Worse, he ate with his mouth open.

The quintessential Catholic school computer science nerd, Bob was ruddy-faced, balding, and heavyset, particularly in the hip area, which was never a good look on men, but he was a bachelor and didn’t know better. Kit had come to view him as an original. She’d come to find his mustard shirts, his claret ties, his baffling mix of plaids and prints charming. She told Polly he was eccentric. Encouraged Fiona to see the best in him. But the chewing sound he was making right now…that wasn’t charming. But Kit couldn’t, wouldn’t, say anything to him. It would be far too rude.

It wasn’t easy, but she forced her attention back to the essay before her. Unfortunately, it was an incoherent essay, with no thesis or conclusion and endless padding of random thoughts to reach the required word length. Depressed by the student’s lack of effort, Kit made notes throughout, marked it with a D, and added a “see me” note on the bottom near the footer, before moving on to the next one.

The faculty room door opened with a bang and Polly entered the staff room at a run.

“I hate cafeteria duty,” Polly gasped, peeling the plastic off her Cup Noodles and then the paper top, so she could fill the foam container with water. With a glance at the clock on the wall, she thrust the cup into the microwave and hit buttons. “I hate the noise. The smell. The greasy food. It honestly makes me want to hurl.”

Polly was a reformed vegan who periodically toyed with a macrobiotic diet when she wasn’t doing a juice fast. Fried anything
offended her organic sensibilities. But her healthy lifestyle didn’t stop her from enjoying a good drink, or three.

BOOK: The Good Daughter
8.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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