Between You and Me(4)

By: Jennifer Gracen


“Did you call him to say ‘Merry Christmas’?” Tess asked.

Caught, Charles II scowled and sipped his drink.

“I thought not.” She gentled her voice to soften the blow, but looked her father right in the eye as she said, “You blew that relationship sky-high two years ago. You attacked him and Abby both. You did that.”

“There were two of us in that fight,” Charles II reminded her, an angry edge to his voice. “But everyone always holds only me responsible.”

“Dad—”

“And they had their big, elaborate wedding,” Charles II barreled on, “and I was shunned! Not even invited to my own son’s wedding, purposely kept away, unwelcome. That was disgraceful.”

She was tired of this argument that always remained unresolved. “I’m not going to get into all this with you now,” Tess said. Her tone was mild, but her words were firm. “I refuse. It’s Christmas.”

He nodded curtly, lips pursed, but grunted, “Fine.”

Tess knew he wouldn’t push it with her then, not with the room filled with extended family on such a major holiday. Since the heart attack last year, at least he’d softened that much. “I’m sorry you’re upset. Just be happy for them. Send a nice gift when the baby’s born. Who, by the way, will be your fifth grandchild.”

Charles scowled. “Pierce will likely keep me away from that child, you know.”

Tess sighed. He was right, of course. But she said, “Maybe by then, if you try and are truly invested, you can attempt to make things better with Pierce somehow.”

Her father snorted derisively. “That stubborn ass will never have it. He holds grudges; it’s one of the few things we have in common. And now he’s going to be a father?” Charles II huffed out a laugh. “Good luck to that baby.”

A split second of ire made her stomach twist. Her younger brother was a good man, in spite of what her father had said, done, or still thought. “Merry Christmas,” she said, and turned her back on her father to cross the room, back to the safe haven of her older brothers.

She shook off the irritation as she walked. Starting his usual crap on Christmas? His problem, not hers. Pierce had completely shunned him, as he’d said. Charles and Dane still talked to him, showed up at family occasions and the like, but both had withdrawn considerably. She was the only one of the four siblings who still tried to maintain a good relationship with their difficult father. Times like this, she wondered why. Why was she still being the dutiful daughter after all these years? She did love her father, but she didn’t like him. It’d been a habit she hadn’t been able to break, borne from a sense of duty, even though it led to frustration more often than satisfaction.

As she retook her seat with her brothers and sisters-in-law, someone turned on Christmas music, likely a member of her father’s household staff. A classical arrangement of “Silent Night” played softly, Charlotte let out a high-pitched peal of delight as her father lifted her over his head once again, the adults around them smiled and laughed, voices of others rose in a low but merry cacophony. Charles smiled broadly and dropped tiny kisses all over his baby’s face, and she squealed and wiggled in delight. A pang hit Tess’s heart, and she suddenly felt tears sting the backs of her eyes. She looked around at the heartwarming scene . . . she thought of her own dreams for a family . . . God, she wanted that. She didn’t want to spend another Christmas aching and wishing for a child of her own.

Something clicked inside her, soft but sure. Now. Do it now. Go for it. What are you waiting for?

Adrenaline and excitement and a deep sense of knowing all whooshed through her, almost leaving her breathless.

“I’m leaving,” she blurted out.

Charles and Lisette hadn’t heard her, but Dane and Julia’s heads swiveled to look at her. “What?” Dane asked, as if he hadn’t heard her correctly.

“Why?” Julia asked, her hazel eyes narrowing to study Tess. “Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m fine. But I’m leaving. As in, leaving New York,” Tess said, only formulating the plan as the words poured from her mouth. She’d been thinking of it for weeks, but something now prodded at her, pushed up from inside, and flooded out. “I’m going away for a while. I need to go. So I am.”

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