Ahead of the Curve
From the imagination of Chase Shivers
January 11, 2017
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Chapter 8: Broken
Darren, Male, 53
- Narrator, retired, father of Gwen and Victoria (Vic)
- 5'11, beige skin, 195lbs, cropped greying brown hair
Audrey, Female, 15
- High school student, daughter of Duncan and Theresa
- 5'9, pale skin, 135lbs, light-green eyes, straight auburn hair over her shoulders
Gwen, Female, 15
- High school student, daughter of Darren, sister of Victoria
- 5'5, beige skin, 130lbs, shoulder-length wavy black hair
Victoria (Vic), Female, 14
- Eighth-grade student, daughter of Darren, sister of Gwen
- 5'3, beige skin, 115lbs, wavy neck-length light-brown hair
Joyce, Female, early-80s
- Wife of Herman, grandmother of Audrey, mother of Theresa
- 5'6, beige skin, 115lbs, bobbed salt-and-pepper hair
I was up the next morning feeling determined. I'd passed the hardest part, I hoped, in talking to my daughters. Starting the conversation had felt like a mountain. Dealing with the aftermath seemed more like a serious hill. Not a minor trek, to be certain, but not quite on the same level as getting things kicked off. It had helped to have Vickie taking it well. And even with Gwen's hostility and revulsion, the fact that she'd come out to talk with me by the pool late the night before was a concession in my favor and showed she wasn't completely beyond reach.
I made coffee and sliced up some oranges to eat while I read from my news app. I didn't have a juicer, and made a mental note to order one. I'd enjoyed the fresh-squeezed in Buffalo.
A text from Audrey had awaited me when I checked my phone. She told me she loved me and that she missed me. She also said that Vic had sent her a text asking to talk. Audrey wanted to know what to say. I sent back a long message conveying my love and told her that I'd said Vickie should reach out to her, and that they were free to talk about whatever they wished. Thirty seconds after I pushed 'send,' a photo of Aubrey blowing me a kiss arrived. I cringed a moment, realizing we were already taking a risk with our texts, it didn't help to chance one such photo being seen by the wrong person. Still, I smiled when I saw her face. I missed her greatly.
Neither Gwen nor Victoria were up by the time I made breakfast. I whipped up some eggs and toast for myself, not bothering to make food which would be cold and unpalatable to teen girls who weren't likely to stir in time to eat it hot.
Vickie was up before her sister, which wasn't much of a surprise for many reasons. Usually, the younger girl got up first and somehow always seemed to be alert and functioning regardless of the hour. Gwen, however, was a reluctant riser, and I figured it would probably be after noon before I even saw her. “Morning, Sweetie.”
“Morning, Daddy,” Vic replied.
I loved that my fourteen-year old still called me 'Daddy.' Even though it sounded somewhat little-girlish, it let me cling on to the belief that my girls were still too young to have adult concerns. Of course, especially after what I'd revealed the night before, any such beliefs were dashed hard and without a chance to return. That made me appreciate Vickie's words all the more.
“Not yet,” she replied, sitting next to me on the couch, carefully easing her broken leg up onto an ottoman.
“Everything okay?” I asked, noting her downward-facing eyes.
“Yeah, just thinkin',” she replied, but didn't elaborate.
I knew Vickie well enough to know she would talk to me when she was ready, so I let her sit in silence while I pretended to read the news. Inside, I was nervous. Even after passing the rough reveal the previous day, there was still a lot to talk about. A lot of minefields still lay ahead. And not just with my daughters. I hadn't exactly left the conversation with Joyce and Herbert on a good note, and the ramifications of that would soon have to be faced.
I made Vickie oatmeal with blueberries and cream, then brought her the bowl so she could eat on the couch. As she ate, I asked, “Anything you'd like to talk about?”
Vic shrugged, taking a mouthful of oatmeal and chewing it a moment, then she said, “Gwen isn't happy with this.”
“I know,” I said quietly. “She's upset. She has a right to be.”
Victoria nodded, then said, “I should be too, right?”
“I wouldn't blame you, Vickie. This is a big shock to everyone. I am so sorry this is affecting you both. I didn't want that.”
“But,” my daughter replied, “you had sex with her anyway.”
“Did you know Gwen would be upset?”
“When I started thinking about what this meant... yes,” I answered meekly.
“So you upset her on purpose?” Vickie asked, looking at me.
“No, not on purpose, I just... Look, I didn't really think all this through. I should have. I didn't. And... I'm sorry. If I'd have thought about things like this before... before I fell in love with Audrey... Oh, I don't know,” I said in exasperation, “I don't know what might have happened. You and Gwenny come first, Vickie. Always. You come first to me, and I'm sorry I didn't think this through.”
“Too late now,” Vickie replied quietly.
“I guess so. Too late to undo it, yes, but...”
“Would you?” my youngest daughter asked. “If me and Gwen wanted it to end, would you stop it?”
“I, uh, I...” What did I say to that? Would I even consider such a thing? I had to, right? If my daughters, the two most important people in the world to me, before and after Audrey, demanded that this end, what choice did I really have? “I want to say yes, Vickie, but... but it's not so simple.”
“I know that, but if Gwen or me said to stop it, to break up with Audrey, you would.” It wasn't a question.
I could only stare blankly. This was not the daughter I thought this conversation would come from.
I heard movement and realized that Gwen had been listening. She stepped into the living room and stood staring at me a moment, visibly angry. She growled, “End it.”
“Gwen—” I tried to explain.
“I said end it, Dad!”
I looked at Vic for support, but her expression was muted and the girl made no move to interject on my behalf. “Gwen... I can't just end it like that. It's complicated.”
Gwen stewed, crossing her arms. “I don't like this one bit. I don't want you dating someone my age! It isn't fair and it isn't right. You're fucking this all up for us!” She stormed out of the room and I hung my head, defeated.
“Sorry, Daddy,” Vickie said softly. “We talked last night. I knew she would say that...”
I couldn't respond, crushed.
It seemed I was at a decision point, one I had feared as a worst case situation, but I'd never really expected to have to choose between my daughters and my young girlfriend. How would I even go about it? How could I do that to Audrey?
How could you do this to your daughters? My inner voice chastised me and I realized how thoroughly selfish I'd been. It wasn't like I'd started dating someone appropriately-aged and was not spending time with my girls. That would have been a breeze compared to what was going on. Audrey was fifteen, Gwen's age. I knew the risks, both legal ones and those domestically with my daughters, even if I'd chosen to ignore or underestimate them. I'd chosen to be with Audrey, and I'd known, deep down, what sort of chaos that threw my home life into. I knew it might not go well with Gwen and Vic. I never, though, expected that I would have to choose my daughters or my lover.
I had no choice, and I knew it.
I started crying, holding my head in my hands.
I never cried in front of my daughters, not since their mother had died. I rarely felt the need, but on the times when I cried, I hid myself in my bedroom and kept myself there until it passed.
Vickie watched me, I knew, but I couldn't stop the tears. I have to tell Audrey we can't be together. Oh, God! I felt a horrible hollowness at how it was going to hurt Audrey, how she would be without someone she depended on emotionally. Her father was dying and I couldn't be there for her! Oh, God!
I ached and hurt for myself and for Audrey. That, too, was selfish, given that Gwen was hurting, too. But in that moment, full of anguish and anticipating an excruciating conversation with Audrey, I couldn't think of anyone else.
“Sorry, Daddy,” Vickie said again from a distance. “Sorry...”
I sniffled but my voice was thick and I couldn't so much as acknowledge her words. My head rose slowly and I tried to offer her a fake smile, but I could only frown and let the tears flow harder.
I saw movement again, and I looked up just in time to see Gwen turn from where she had been hiding behind the dividing wall. Her eyes were full of tears, though she tried to turn away fast enough to not be seen. She disappeared towards her bedroom, and I heard the door close gently behind her.
Gwen's tears just made me feel more awful.
- - -
I lost most of the day wallowing in my anguish. I tried several times to rise but failed each time, even as my bladder threatened to burst. Vickie came and went, checking on me, on me!, from time to time, hobbling on her crutches, balancing well enough to rest her hand on my shoulder as if to let me know that things would get better.
It was hard to believe that. I still had to talk to Audrey, and I just couldn't believe that I had to tell her our relationship was over. I burst into tears again at the thought of her crying upon hearing my words.
Vickie brought me my phone in the early evening and said, “You've missed a few calls, Daddy.” She didn't need to tell me who they were from.
I sniffled and wiped my nose on the tissues Vic had brought me, then leaned back on the couch. I felt awful, achy, my head thick and sluggish. How could I even thank Vickie for being kind to me when my throat was so constricted. I managed, “Tas” and she seemed to understand.
I held my phone as Vickie shuffled away, the crutches making a thud each time she moved forward. I hadn't seen Gwen in hours. I assumed she was still in her room.
I took several deep breaths and tried to get this horrible moment over with. I brought up my screen and saw three missed calls from Audrey, as well as a couple of texts. The first one said, “I love you, Darren.” The second said, “Called you twice. Can we talk?”
There was a voice mail. I hit the button to listen.
“Hey, Darren,” Audrey's voice sounded strained, “maybe you're out or something. Sent you a text and called when I got home from school. Hope you are okay. We need to talk... Love you, Darren.”
I managed to get up to pee and felt like my legs belonged to someone else. I returned to the couch and sank heavily onto the cushion.
My hands shook as I sat with my finger hovering over the call button on Audrey's contact screen. I struggled, trying to will myself to hit it. It was like trying to run against the winds of a hurricane. Every time I thought I could do it, another hard gust knocked me back. At least my tears had stopped, for the moment.
My finger dropped and the call attempted to connect. I stared at Audrey's picture a second, then put the cell on speaker.
“Hey, Audrey,” I said, my voice thick and scratchy.
“What's wrong?” she asked quickly but reservedly.
“I, uh... I... I talked to my girls...”
“I know,” she said, much more quietly.
“You, uh... you do?”
“Vickie called me an hour ago...”
“What did she say?” I worried that my daughter had already broken Audrey's heart by telling her what had happened. I started to become furious. That was my responsibility! Mine! But part of me also hoped it was done so that I didn't have to be the first one to break such horrid news.
“She told me that Gwen hadn't taken it well, and,” Audrey paused, and I could actually hear her throat tightening, “that you have to end it with me...”
I couldn't speak. I heard Audrey begin to cry. “Oh, Audrey... Oh, Audrey... Oh, God...”
“Darren... I... I'm so sorry this happened. I should never—”
“No! No, don't be sorry. Please, don't regret what we had. Never regret it.”
“I don't!” she exclaimed, exasperated, “I just never wanted anyone to be hurt!”
“Me either,” I said, “but someone did get hurt, and that's not okay. I'm the one who's sorry,” I said, distraught, but feeling a touch stronger just by having Audrey to talk to, “I'm the one who was selfish. I knew this was a risk. I knew I was doing something which might hurt my daughters. I'm sorry that you're getting hurt now. I never, ever, ever wanted to hurt you or them, Audrey. I love you so much...”
“I love you!”
We cried together a few minutes, not really knowing what to say.
“So... so now what?” Audrey asked, quieter, her crying stemmed for the moment.
“I don't know. I'm... I'm not willing to just stop talking to you, Audrey. I can't do that. But... we can't think about each other the same way as before.”
“This sucks so much,” Audrey said, plaintive.
“I know. I hurt so much right now.”
“Me too. God... God...”
“We'll get through this, Audrey. I promise you, we'll get through this.”
“It doesn't feel that way right now,” she replied, sobbing. “I miss you so much! I wish you could just hold me. I feel cold...”
“Oh, Audrey... I'm so sorry...”
She started crying hard again, then sniffled and coughed a couple of times, then said evenly, “I think I should just go. I need to just go.”
“Audrey... I love you.”
“I know,” she said, and then hung up.
That missing I love you from the end was the worst part of it all. It felt like a gunshot to my stomach. I told her I loved her, and she didn't say it back. She was preparing to move past that time in our relationship. I felt sick and cried harder. There were few tears, my well long-since run dry, but the anguish was as harsh and heavy as it had been all day.
- - -
I must have fallen asleep, somehow, on the couch. I woke in the night to find a blanket over me. I blinked open, oblivious for two or three sweet seconds before the crushing weight of the day thundered in. I didn't cry. I was beyond that, I suppose. But nothing felt good. Nothing at all.
“Hey, uh... Dad.” Gwen's voice.
I looked up in the dark living room, a single light turned low to produce a soft, orange glow. I saw that my oldest daughter was resting on one of the oversized chairs, her feet up on the footstool and a blanket pulled up to her chest. Her eyes were puffy and had dark circles under them.
“Hey,” I managed weakly.
“Hungry?” she said quietly.
I shook my head.
“Dad, I'm sorry,” Gwen said. Her voice sounded sincere, but I was in no state of mind to much care.
I knew it was a kind gesture, but I just couldn't acknowledge her with anything more than the slightest tilt of my head. I wasn't mad at her. Hell, I understood Gwen's point of view better than she would have believed. That didn't make it any easier to deal with her right then, and it didn't stop a small measure of unvoiced anger from being pointed at my daughter.
The room was quiet, just the light whoosh of the conditioned air through the vents breaking the silence. I lay there, unable to say anything to my daughter, unable to move. I heard her shift once, but Gwen didn't get out of the chair. A while later, I heard her snoring. A part of my mind was able to recognize that Gwen was trying to make peace by sleeping out in the living room with me, but it did nothing to make me feel the slightest bit better.
- - -
A couple of days passed with little said between me and my daughters. Gwen went back to school on Wednesday without complaint. I mostly sat on the couch in a thick depression. Vickie brought me soup for lunch, not an easy task while hobbling with crutches. I ate little.
I heard nothing from Audrey. I didn't try to contact her.
A call from Joyce came in on Friday. I answered it with, “Yeah?”
“Uh, Darren?” the woman said.
“Yeah?” I repeated.
“Hi. Listen, Herbert is out for lunch with a friend, can I come over? I'd like to talk to you.”
“Not really in the mood for visitors, Joyce,” I replied.
“I know,” she said gently, the opposite of her usual tone, “I think you and I should talk, though.”
“Just let me come over. Five minutes, no more. I promise.”
“Fine. Door's open.” I said, giving in. I hung up the phone and clicked the button on the security remote which unlocked the front door.
Joyce came in a minute later, “Hello?”
I heard Vickie answer her from the kitchen, “Oh, hi Miss Joyce.”
“Hello Vickie! How is the leg?”
“Okay, I guess,” I heard my daughter reply, “I just wish it would heal faster.”
“I bet. Say,” Joyce said, “I came to speak to your father a moment.”
“He's in the living room.”
I saw Joyce come into the room and I didn't bother to do more than nod at her. I'm sure I looked like a train wreck. I hadn't bathed in days, my hair was overdue for a cut, and I was wrapped in a blanket, sitting askew on the couch and leaning heavily on the cushioned arm.
“Hello, Darren,” Joyce said, sitting lightly on the edge of a chair. Mercifully, she didn't mention my appearance. “I'm so sorry this is hard on you. I know how you must be feeling.”
“No you don't,” I said in a growl.
“Oh, I imagine I do, but that's no matter.” Joyce leaned forward a bit. “Is there anything Herbert or I might do?”
I shook my head and said nothing. I knew she'd start offering rationalizations I didn't care to hear.
“She's just fifteen. Chances it was going to last... well, those weren't good.”
“You don't know that,” I said, defiantly, “you don't know that.”
“You're right, I don't.” Joyce tried a different tact. “She's so far away. It would have been tough.”
“She's moving in with you in a few weeks. We could have gotten there.”
Joyce looked down at her hands, saying, “Perhaps...”
“Look, Joyce, I mean no offense, but why are you here? To poke me? You and Herbert weren't happy about me and Audrey. I get it. I'd really appreciate not being patronized.”
“I didn't mean to, Darren. Honestly.” Joyce leaned back in the chair. “I came over to tell you that Duncan's condition is as bad as feared. His doctors have confirmed that his outlook is on the low side. They don't expect he'll make it more than another month.”
“Goddamnit,” I growled, sick at the thought of Audrey having to go through such a horrid moment. Without me!
“Yeah,” the woman said quietly, “are, uh, are you planning to go see them when... when it's over?”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. “No.”
“I think you should,” Joyce replied. When I started to protest, she interrupted and said, “I know right now this stings, but I also know that my daughter and granddaughter are going to be hurting real bad, Darren. This is bigger than you and Audrey and you know it. You were a good friend to them before, even ignoring your relationship with my granddaughter. I think they would appreciate a good friend when the time comes.”
It left me feeling both helpless and hopeless. Go see them when Duncan dies? How? How could I even face Audrey again, knowing I'd do so as 'just friends.' Even considering that moment made my stomach turn over. I said nothing in response.
Joyce rose and turned towards the entranceway. “Think about it, Darren. It's going to happen before long, and I think you will regret not going to them in a moment of need. Get past this hurt slowly, you will, but remember how much you are still needed, especially when things go as badly as they are now certain to do soon.”
With that, she walked out of my sight and I heard the door close behind her.
I sat in silence, barely able to think about what Joyce had said.
Vickie pivoted into the room and sat on the couch. She stared at me a moment, then said, “That sucks, Daddy.”
I nodded, my mouth dry.
“You should go.”
“I know,” my daughter said, “you miss her and you can't get over her. I know, Daddy. But Miss Joyce is right, too. If it was me, I'd still want you to come to me, even if just to know you still care about me.”
And there it was. Of course, I still cared about Audrey. Hell, I was still in love with her. Just because our relationship was over didn't mean those feelings dissipated so easily. I cared about her deeply, and even if it would be difficult, I should show Audrey, and her mom, that they meant a lot to me.
There was still Gwen to deal with though. What would she say? Would she assumed ulterior motives and scold me for not following through on her demands? Would she throw a fit and refuse to go to school until I relented and stayed home? I had no idea, but I knew my daughter well enough to expect that any of those actions could happen.
“Maybe,” I finally told Vic, “maybe.”
She eyed me closely, then said, “Mind if I watch a movie?”
I shrugged and closed my eyes, trying to find sleep before I dwelled too much on all the things swirling in my mind.
- - -
Gwen came to me later that night. I'd managed to fall asleep on the couch. She woke me with a hand on my shoulder. “Dad?”
“Hmm,” I said, dry-mouthed and achy.
“Just me,” Gwen said. I opened my eyes to see her crouched down in front of the couch, her face close to mine, “Can I talk to you a minute?”
“Yeah,” I leaned up and Gwen stood, then she sat beside me on the cushion in the middle.
“Vickie told me about Audrey's dad. That really stinks.”
“It fucking sucks,” I said without thinking.
“She said Joyce wants you to go visit, when he dies.”
“You should go,” Gwen said, looking down.
“Gwen, it's not that easy,” I replied.
We sat in silence, the sound of our breathing barely audible. I asked, “Why, Gwen? Why are you okay with me going, knowing what this has been like for me?”
She sat staring at her hands, then replied, “I guess I didn't want you to stop being friends with her, just... just... I don't know, Dad. I just don't want you to have her as your girlfriend, that's all.”
“It's not that easy to compartmentalize emotions, Gwen. I can't just be friends and not still want what we had, too.”
Gwen's voice was light and small. “Do you still love her?”
“Yes,” I replied weakly.
Gwen became quiet again, then said, “I still think you should go. Maybe... maybe I could go with you?”
“Go with me? Why?” I wondered if this was some elaborate way for Gwen to miss school. It wouldn't be the first such scheme from my clever daughter.
“I dunno. For support?”
“For you,” she said. “So, you know, you don't feel like everything sucks just because... because of it all...”
I watched Gwen's face, studying it for clues as to her motive. It was a hard-earned habit from years of my eldest daughter's scheming. I saw nothing to give away anything terribly useful. “Maybe. I haven't said I'm going yet.”
“I will?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
Gwen nodded slowly. “Yep?”
“Why do you think that?”
She managed a small smile. “Because you love Audrey, and because it's the right thing to do for someone you care about.” Gwen rose to her feet, then leaned over and kissed my cheek, pausing just a moment to be sure I felt the sincerity. Then she left the living room at a slow walk.
End of Chapter 8
Read Chapter 9