A/N: Warning for strong language in this chapter. Tempers are high, folks.
My mind drifted as I hummed to the radio and stroked my paintbrush over the canvas. After I finish this, I’ll check on Joshua – Watcher, I can’t believe he’s three already – then I’ll clean the bathrooms, and then…I was pulled from my thoughts by the ringing of the doorbell.
I put down my brush and quickly washed the paint from my hands before going downstairs. I smiled and opened the door. “Shirley! What a wonderful surprise.”
“Hey, sis.” We hugged and then I ushered her into the house. “I thought I’d pop in for lunch if you’re not busy.”
“I would love for you to stay for lunch!” Smiling, I lead the way into the kitchen. “Let’s see what I can whip up. Sit down, sit down! Tell me how things are going.”
Shirley laughed and sat down at the table. “You’re starting to sound like Mom. Did you know that?”
“Really? How do you mean?”
“The way you talk. I was here just last week, but you make it sound like I haven’t been here for ages.”
I rolled my eyes. “I don’t sound like Mom.”
“Yeah, you do, but that’s not a bad thing. Mom was happy and so are you. I’m really glad things are so great with you. There was a time I thought Houston was going to break your heart, but you’ve been disgustingly happy for four years now.”
Thinking of my husband brought a gentle smile to my face, but I changed the subject, “Hey, I asked you how things have been. I expect answers. Are you seeing anyone?” I hadn’t heard of Shirley dating anyone since Camille. There was nothing wrong, per se, about being happy alone, but I could never see my sister being happy as a lone wolf.
“Everything is great. I’m doing well at work. I know that the Chief is grooming me to take over after he retires.”
“Really?” I said as I flipped a grilled cheese. “That’s fantastic!”
She grinned. “I know. He officially told me that, when the time comes, he’s going to pitch me to the board. I told Camille yesterday – “ She stopped suddenly and muttered, “Shit.”
My mind raced to catch up with why she had stopped. When it got to “Camille,” everything came to a grinding halt. “What?” I turned away from the stove, slapping the sandwiches down on the table. “You did not just say Camille.”
“Of course not. I said…Emile. That’s what I said.” She sighed. “Hadley, it’s not what you think.”
“Oh really? Because it sounds like you’re somehow falling for her bullshit again.” I was not a person who swore, but I just could not believe that my sister would let herself be duped by the same woman twice. “She is no good for you, Shirley.”
“Hads, would you just listen? I ran into Camille months ago. She’s married and has a baby now. We’ve just been talking and hanging out, that’s all.”
I took one of the grilled cheeses and picked at it in agitation. “I just can’t believe you would even speak to her after what she did.”
“It’s been five years, Hads. I’m over it. As it turns out, Camille is actually a really good friend. I think you might actually would like her.”
I scoffed. “Don’t push your luck, Shirl. I’m your sister, and she hurt you. I’m required my law to hate her for eternity.”
Shirley rolled her eyes. “Yes, Hadley.”
After Shirley had gone, I still found my mind on her. I just knew that this “friendship” with Camille was going to be trouble. How could it not be? Feelings like my sister had had for that woman – a woman I’d never even met, I might add – didn’t just go away.
I was still distracted when Houston came home from work. “You’re home late,” I murmured absently as he kissed my cheek.
“Look Huy, if you are so. fucking. worried. about Loralee’s upbringing, then maybe you should actually spend some time with her!” I hated raising my voice, but Huy had been nagging me ever since he got home this evening about everything. My name, my job, my parental skills. Everything he could possibly find wrong, he was picking at it tonight.
“What kind of mother are you?” He shouted. “You refused to take your own husband’s name. You work nights – time you should be home with our daughter. You hardly cook and you just hired a maid. Isn’t keeping the house your responsibility?”
“You are just unbelievable, you know that? You spend almost no time with your daughter, but you think you know how to parent her better? Newsflash, Huy. This isn’t 1660; cleaning house and making you a pot roast is not part of my job description.” I flew down the bedroom stairs, and Huy came after me.
“Where the hell are you going?”
“If I don’t get some space, I’m going to say something I might actually regret. How about you actually go hold your daughter?” I grabbed my keys and slammed the front door hard enough to make the glass rattle.
So angry I was seeing red, I jumped into my car and just started driving. I seriously can’t believe the gall! How dare he call me a bad mother? How dare he? I fumed as I drove and it wasn’t until I had parked that I realized where I was going; I was outside Shirley’s house. I’d only been here once to drop her off.
I thought about turning around and going back – I was really in no condition to be here, not with the state of my marriage and my complicated feelings for Shirley – but I got out of the car instead. I felt drawn inside. I only felt happy when I was with Loralee or with Shirley.
I walked up to the door and knocked. I smiled weakly as she opened the door. “Hey.”
“Camille,” she said in surprise, “what are you doing here?”
I shifted on my feet. “Huy and I had a kind of explosive fight and I just needed to get out of the house. I can go, if I’m imposing.”
“No! Please, come on in. What happened? Are you okay?”
I stepped into the studio and got my first look at the interior. It really was a nice place, though not something that I imagined as Shirley’s style. “What always happens, only worse. I guess he got chewed a new one at work today, because he came home already in a foul mood. He just blew up at me, calling me a horrible, absentee mother. Which is really rich, coming from him.”
Shirley drew me down to sit on the sofa. “Camille…I know you don’t want to, but I think you need to consider the possibility of divorce.”
I felt tears sting my eyes. I hadn’t brought myself to think the word before this moment. Divorce. It stank of failure. “I want a stable home for my daughter. My parents got divorced when I was a kid and it was awful. Mom was always bouncing to one man or another. I hardly saw my father.”
Shirley paused and then spoke slowly, measuring her words. “I can appreciate that, but…does this seem stable to you? What kind of message do you think this will send to Loralee once she’s old enough to remember? Because this isn’t going to get any better with time. Even if you did everything he wanted, he’d still find something wrong, and you’d be miserable anyway. It would be better to have one single parent than two parents in the house who do nothing but scream at each other.”
I looked sadly out of the window, more conflicted than I had ever felt. On the one hand, I knew that Shirley was right. My marriage had been over since before it even started, I just hadn’t acknowledged the gigantic red flags. But on the other hand I had the plan I had built for myself from the time I was a teenager. I was holding onto it deep down and I didn’t want to give up that dream of a happy family.
Sensing my distress, Shirley pulled me into her arms. “It’ll be okay, Camille. You don’t have to decide anything tonight.”
I sighed softly and leaned into her. It was the first time I’d been in her arms in over five years. It was a purely platonic gesture, but still. It felt good to be held.
Finally, I sniffed and pulled away. “So, tell me how things are going with your sister. You said you were going over there for lunch a couple of days ago.”
“Oh, well, Joshua is just adorable…”
We talked late into the night and not even the horrible blow out with Huy could keep my mood down. Not when I had Shirley to make me laugh and loosen up. Although, perhaps I could’ve stood to be a little less relaxed.
Because, when I woke up, I wasn’t in my bed.