“Mia, I swear to god if you’re not home in fifteen minutes…” I threaten her coldly through the phone.
“You’ll what dad?” Mia snaps. “Cut me off? Throw me out? Pretend I don’t exist? At this point, I think I’d find that preferable.”
I take a deep breath and swallow back the anger at the words my teenage daughter spits at me. This attitude of hers has gotten out of control. “Amelia Grey, I am not playing around with you anymore. It is your mother’s birthday and you will be here to celebrate with her. Get your rear-end home right now.”
“If Christian isn’t good enough to come, than neither am I,” she says bluntly, and then I hear a small click as the phone goes dead and she’s gone. I immediately dial her number again, but it goes straight to voicemail and as I hang up to prevent myself from leaving my 16 year old daughter a long, angry, expletive filled voicemail, I lean against the wall trying to compose myself. Today is supposed to be about Grace. All she wanted was to have our family together for her birthday and I’ve now driven two of our children away from this dinner.
No, Christian has. I think darkly, my mind immediately shifting back to him seated across from her in the restaurant the other day. It always comes back to this. Christian and his involvement with Elena Lincoln. He’s picked her and her fucked up lifestyle over his family, I can’t be held responsible for that. I will not have him around my daughter while he’s still involved with that woman, and I will not let him walk back through the door until he takes responsibility for the choice he made in that courtroom.
I feel a stab of pain at that sentiment, knowing that deep down that’s not really what I want. I want him here too… I want to hear his stories about how he’s built his company and all of the things he’s seen and done over the past two years. I want him here for holidays and Sunday brunch… I miss Christian just as much as his mother does, but I can’t just accept what he did. He lied to his whole family, to a court of law, and he betrayed everyone who loves him. His lies have threatened my law firm, have started a silent cold war amongst all of our friends and Elena Lincoln, destroyed our friendship with Andrew Lincoln, and nearly shattered the girl who loved him.
My throat tightens thinking about Anastasia and I quickly reach over for one of the scotch glasses on the desk next to me and pour myself two fingers of the amber colored liquid. Once I throw it down, I take another deep breath and make my way out of my office and into the dining room where Grace, Elliot, and Kate are waiting, ready to eat.
“Did you get ahold of her?” Grace asks, the worry apparent in her voice.
“She not coming,” I say shortly. “Let’s eat.”
“What do you mean, she’s not coming?” Elliot asks, and I shoot him a warning look, but he ignores it and pushes me further. “Where is she?”
“She’s staying with a friend this weekend,” I reply as concisely as possible, because frankly, that’s all I know. “I’ll deal with her when she comes home, but for tonight… she won’t be here. She’s refusing to come.”
“Then call the police,” Elliot says, “Report her as a runaway.”
“And have your sister brought back here in handcuffs on your mother’s birthday?” I ask him and he looks over at me, conflicted for a moment, and then frowns. When he doesn’t say anything more, I take a deep breath and then start sawing into the filet of salmon on my plate, pouring my frustration into the violent movement until the serrated edge of my knife is scraping against the china.
“You know, you could just call Christian and ask him to come over,” Elliot says, quietly. My teeth grind together as I silently, but very purposefully shake my head. “I know why Mia’s not here, Dad. It’s because you blew up at Christian and now he’s not here and so she doesn’t want to be either. She misses him, Dad. We all do.”
“No we don’t,” I say emphatically.
“Yes, we do,” Grace chokes next to me and I feel a fresh slice of guilt and pain cut through me when I look over at her and watch her set her fork down on her plate and break into tears.
“Mom,” Elliot says, getting out of his seat and wrapping his arms around Grace. “Please, don’t.”
“All I wanted was to share my birthday with my family,” she sobs into her napkin. “ With my children. With the son I haven’t seen for more than a few seconds in almost two years. But instead…”
She chokes out another sob and as Elliot holds her more tightly into his chest he shoots a dark look at me.
“Don’t worry, Mom,” he says, though he looks at me. “I’ll call Christian.”
“You will do no such thing,” I say flatly.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Elliot says as he stand up. “Do you really have your head so far up your ass that you can’t see how this feud you’re in with Christian is ripping this family apart? My whole life you taught me that family is the most important thing in the world, but the first time this family is faced with any real kind of adversity, you’re willing to just watch it slip through your fingers. You can fix this, just pick up the fucking phone and call Christian.”
“I don’t need you to tell me how to take care of this family, Elliot,” I say, getting out of my own seat now.
“Maybe not. But you sure as hell need someone to tell you how to be a fucking father,” he says, and as the impact of his words hit me, he storms out of the room.
“Excuse me,” Kate whispers uncomfortably as she gets out of her seat and hurries out of the room after Elliot. I lower myself back into my chair, picking up the napkin that has fallen to the floor and toss it on the table. My wife is staring at me across the table with an almost incredulous look in her eyes as she slowly shakes her head back and forth.
“This is where we are,” she says. “This is what your pride and your stubbornness has done to our family.”
“Grace, you know that I…”
“I don’t want to hear it, Carrick,” she interrupts me. “I’m so tired of hearing your excuses. I can’t take it anymore. I never thought you’d be the kind of man who would make me choose between my marriage and my children, but I can’t keep pushing Christian away for you.”
She holds up her hands to silence me again. “I’m not going to do this with you right now. It’s my birthday, so if you’ll excuse me… I’m going to go and spend it with the one child you haven’t managed to drive out of our lives.”
She gets up from the table and stalks out of the room, leaving me alone. I sigh and slump back into my chair. No matter what I do, I always seem to be the bad guy. All I wanted to do was to help my son, to have justice for the atrocious things that were done to him by the woman I brought into his life, because after everything that’s happened, that’s still the part I can’t seem to get past. Everything that happened to him, happened because of me and as hard as I fought for him, it wasn’t enough. The truth is, Elena Lincoln took my son from me a long time ago, without me even noticing, and I couldn’t bring him back. And when I tried, it blew up in my face and has destroyed my family.
Because I failed to see what was happening right in front of me, my son is lost to me and my family hates me.
So maybe I am the bad guy. Maybe I am letting my family be ripped apart because I won’t let go of what happened, but I can’t in good conscience go back to the way things were without a little give from Christian. How am I supposed to just invite him back into our lives when he still openly and proudly maintains a relationship with Elena Lincoln? How do I look past what he did when he is completely unapologetic for the things he’s done? To forgive him without his acknowledgement of his wrongdoings would be to accept that we not only failed to put a child molester behind bars, but that we still continue to protect her because we’re all protecting him from what he did.
I swallow back the lump in my throat and leave the dining room, circumventing the family room where I can hear Elliot and Grace talking. I don’t want to do anything to further ruin this night for her, so I lock myself in my office and pour myself another drink, leaving my wife to spend the rest of her birthday with her son, alone.
When I finally go to bed, Grace is still awake. She’s sitting up in bed staring into space and when I see her, I step into the room, and very cautiously close the door behind me.
“Do you remember when we bought Christian his first bike?” she whispers.
“Yes,” I nod.
“He spent so much time trying to learn how to ride it. It was so frustrating to him that he couldn’t just get on it and ride away the way Elliot could. He didn’t like being left behind.”
“Christian’s always looked for shortcuts,” I say bitterly, but she shakes her head.
“He’s never been patient and he’s always been stubborn, something he gets from his father. He used to stay out in the street until after dark practicing riding his bike…” Finally, she looks up at me. “And you were out there with him. No matter how long he wanted to try, no matter how many hours he would stay out there, no matter how many times he failed, you stayed with him. You gripped onto the back of his seat and ran along beside him until he asked you to let him go. When he fell, you kissed his bumps and scrapes and told him that being good at something doesn’t mean you never fail, it means you never give up.”
“I remember,” I tell her, and she reaches up and wipes a tear from her cheek.
“What happened to that man, Carrick? What happened to the man who put his family before anything else? What happened to the man who knew that to love a child meant to love them unconditionally? What happened to the man who stayed out in the street until it was dark trying to help his son learn how to ride a bike?”
“I haven’t stopped loving him, Grace,” I say, diverting my eyes as I shrug out of my dinner jacket. “I’ll always love him, but that’s not enough this time. I can’t just forget about what he did.”
Her head falls and tears roll down her cheeks. I cross the room to sit on the bed next to her, but when I reach out to take her into my arms, she pushes me away.
“Don’t,” she says, sharply. I look back at her, confused by the hostility in her voice, and she takes a deep breath and sits up straighter in the bed before she speaks again. “I’ve seen a lawyer, Carrick.”
“A divorce lawyer,” she clarifies and, suddenly, I feel winded.
“You’re… you’re thinking of divorcing me?” I ask. Her eyes begin to glimmer again with a fresh wave of tears, and she nods.
“My family means everything to me, Carrick, and that includes Christian. It’s my job to love and to protect my children and I’ve failed at that. I won’t fail at it anymore. You see his continued involvement with Elena Lincoln as a lack of remorse, but all I see is that our child still needs our help.”
“He’s not a child, Grace,” I say in a low voice.
“He’ll always be our child, Carrick. And you if you don’t understand that, then I’m… I think it’s better that we separate. I can’t do this with you anymore. I won’t abandon my children for you.”
I look at her, feeling a thousand thoughts and emotions tugging at me, pulling me in different directions, but I can’t hold onto any one of them long enough to verbalize the conflict I’ve been trying to work through for almost two years to my wife. She lets out a harsh, incredulous breath through her nose and then shakes her head before turning her eyes away from me again.
“I’m tired,” she says. “I think it’s better that you sleep in the guest room tonight.”
“Grace…” I argue, but she shakes her head again.
I stare at her for a moment, imploring her to say something more, to ask me to talk this out with her, but she doesn’t. She crosses her arms and looks back at me expectantly, waiting for me to leave. So I do. I get up from the bed and slowly walk to our door, pausing for a moment to allow her the chance to change her mind, but when she doesn’t say anything I step into the hallway and close the door softly behind me.
I’ve lost Christian. I’ve lost Mia. I’ve lost Elliot. Now, I’ve lost my wife.
I can’t lie to myself any longer… I am the bad guy.