The Good Daughter
Make a wish.
And just like that, wishes sprang to mind. One, two, three.
But it wasn’t Kit Brennan who was supposed to be making wishes. It was Cass’s night. The Brennan family had gathered to celebrate Cass’s thirty-sixth birthday at Kit’s childhood home in San Francisco’s inner Sunset district.
There were ten at the table in the Edwardian-period dining room with its high ceiling and elaborate wainscoting, the lights still out, the last of the happy birthday song dying away. Kit. Her parents. Her sister Meg and her family. Her brother, Tommy, and his wife, Cass, whose birthday they were celebrating.
“Make a wish, Cass,” Mom said from her seat at the head of the table. She’d become painfully thin in the last month but looked happy tonight.
“Make a wish, Aunt Cass,” Meg’s eleven-year-old daughter, Gabi echoed, crowding in close to Cass, unable to contain herself, the flickering candlelight reflected in her shining brown eyes.
“Make a wish, babe,” Tommy Jr. said, patting his wife’s back. “Before your cake catches fi re.”
Cass Brennan crinkled her nose and tucked a long blond curl behind her ear. She’d married into this family eleven years ago and they’d immediately made her one of them. “Not too worried,” she said lightly, even with her candles ablaze. “I’ve got two of the city’s finest firefighters here.”
Dad lifted his hands. “I’ve retired, hon, and we don’t know how good Tommy is. Better make a wish and blow out those candles.”
“Come on, Aunt Cass,” Gabi shouted, trying to be heard above the good-natured laughter. “Wish for a baby. Wish hard!”
The laughter immediately died.
Tommy’s shoulders squared aggressively. “We don’t need a baby.”
“Yes, you do, Uncle Tommy,” Gabi argued. “You’ve been wanting a baby for a long time!”
“Time to wish for something else. Like a vacation. Or winning the lottery.”
Cass flinched, as if struck. Tears slowly filled her eyes.
All pretense of happiness was gone. Kit could feel Cass’s grief, was sure everyone else felt it, too. The endless sorrow hung in the dining room, heavy, aching, a tragic specter weighting the room.
Tommy reacted first, his strong jaw—Dad’s jaw—tightening, his blue eyes snapping. He didn’t do this. Didn’t break, grieve, mourn. Not in public. Not even in front of his family. He clapped his hand impatiently on Cass’s slender back, between her shoulder blades. “Come on, babe. Blow out the candles.”
The edge in his voice brought Cass to life. She gulped a breath, leaned toward the tall coconut cake with the fluffy icing, staring at what was left of the candles, formulating the wish before blowing
out the flames in a broken rush of air.
Everyone clapped and the kids cheered. Meg rose and rushed to get the knife and delicate porcelain dessert plates. Jack asked if anyone wanted coffee or tea. Mom wanted tea and Jack headed to the kitchen to make it, and all the while Dad was talking loudly, carrying the small stack of presents from the sideboard to the table, making a big deal about which present Cass would open first. Everyone was talking, busy doing something, but Tommy.
Tommy sat stiff and silent and grim in his chair at the corner of the table. Kit refilled water glasses but kept an eye on her brother. She knew Tommy well, could tell from his expression that he was angry, resenting Cass, maybe everyone, for making him into the bad guy. Because that’s what he was thinking, feeling, that they’d all turned him into the villain in the story, and he wasn’t the villain. He was just being honest. Practical. After six years of trying unsuccessfully to have a baby, Tommy was done.
He didn’t need a baby. He wanted peace. He needed to stay sane.
As Cass cut the cake and Meg assisted by passing the plates around, Kit wondered what Cass had wished for. Was it a baby? Or was it for Tommy to want a baby again? Because their marriage
was suffering. Both of them were suffering. Kit wasn’t even sure a baby would solve everything anymore.
She suddenly ached with wishes of her own . . .
For Mom’s cancer to go into remission.
For Cass to have her baby.
For Tommy to be happy with Cass again . . .
Later, after cake and presents, Meg’s three kids cleared the dishes from the table, taking them to the kitchen to scrape and stack while Jack and Dad headed outside with Tommy to look at Tommy’s new car, which was really an old car, a 1960 Cadillac he bought on Craigslist for next to nothing and was determined to restore himself.
“Just us now,” Meg said, sitting back in her chair with a soft, appreciative sigh. “The girls.”
Kit was glad, too. She was tight with her sisters, and they were all close with Mom, so close that for the past ten years the five of them had taken an annual girls-only trip together, calling it the Brennan Girls’ Getaway, spending a long weekend or week at the family beach house in Capitola.
On their getaway they’d eat and drink, talk, read, sleep. It was a time to let their hair down, a time to celebrate family, and hopefully a time to feel safe, although the last couple getaways had been tense because of friction between Brianna, Kit’s fraternal twin, and Meg. Cass had missed the last getaway, too, back in May, as she’d been in the middle of an IVF cycle and her doctor wouldn’t let her travel so close to the egg retrieval.
Mom shifted in her high-back chair and focused on Cass. “How are you?”
Mom wasn’t making polite conversation. She was genuinely concerned about Cass, and now that Tommy was gone, this was a chance for Cass to open up . . . if she could. No one was sure that she could, or would. It’d been almost three and a half months since she’d miscarried and this miscarriage had been the worst . . . not just for her, but the whole family. It was her fourth miscarriage, and it’d happened later than the others, this time at twenty-four weeks, just when Cass had let her guard down. Just when she’d started to get excited about the baby.
The entire family had grieved with Cass. All of them had been so happy about the baby, and then their hearts were broken. But this time Tommy didn’t want their meals or phone calls or visits. This time Tommy announced that he and Cass wanted to be alone, and he asked that the family give them space and privacy to deal with the loss their way, in their time.
Kit’s baby sister, Sarah, who lived with her husband and children in Tampa Bay, had been on the phone immediately with Kit and then Meg, hurt, even outraged that Tommy would push them away, but Mom and Dad backed Tommy, insisting that his sisters respect Tommy and Cass’s need for space. As Mom reminded them repeatedly, having children, or not having children, was part of marriage and no one’s business but Tommy and Cass’s.
Of course the Brennan sisters couldn’t ignore Cass, not when they knew she was hurting so much. Without consulting each other, each of them quietly sent Cass private e-mails and text messages, letting her know she was loved. Tommy could refuse meals and visitors, but he couldn’t expect his sisters not reach out to Cass. They loved Cass, and they told her so, repeatedly. Cass didn’t answer all, or even most, messages, but later in December, just before Christmas, she sent her sister-in-laws a group message thanking them for their amazing support and constant love. She hadn’t had sisters, only two younger brothers, and she told them that she felt incredibly lucky to be one of the Brennan girls.
“I’m good,” Cass said softly now, two spots of color in her cheeks. “Well, better than I was in October.” She paused, studying the blue, white, and gold pattern on her dessert plate with the half-eaten slice of birthday cake. “October was bad. And November.” Her full mouth quirked and one of her deep dimples appeared. “To be honest, December wasn’t much better either.”
Kit knew Cass had been in a very dark place and yet there had been nothing any of them could do for her then. There was really nothing they could do now. Kit hated feeling helpless. “We’ve been worried about you.”
“I know. And I was kind of worried about me, too,” Cass admitted on a strangled laugh, pushing back the same wayward curl that had slipped out of her ponytail. She had long loose curls and big blue eyes like an innocent shepherdess from a Mother Goose nursery rhyme. In reality she was a labor and delivery nurse at a hospital in Walnut Creek specializing in high-risk deliveries, and far from helpless.
“Are you doing better?” Mom asked, a deep furrow between her eyebrows. Mom had been a nurse, too, before she earned her master’s degree and became a hospital administrator.
Cass toyed with the lace edging her white linen napkin. “I don’t know. This last time broke something inside of me. Here I had this beautiful, perfect little boy . . . and my body rejected him.
“Cassidy!” Meg choked, horrified, glancing toward the hall to make sure none of her kids were listening. “Don’t say that. You’re not responsible. You can’t blame yourself.”
“But I do.” Cass looked up, the grief clouding her eyes. “How can I not? He was twenty-four weeks old. Thirty-six percent of babies can survive premature birth at twenty-four weeks. Instead
my body—” She didn’t finish, pressing a hand to her mouth to keep the words in, but her eyes were enormous with sorrow and pain.
Kit slid out of her chair to wrap her arms around Cass’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “So very, very sorry.”
Cass covered Kit’s hands with hers. “I want him back. I want to save him.”
“It’s not fair, is it?” Kit murmured.
“It’s not,” Meg echoed. “Nor does it seem fair that people who shouldn’t have kids pop them out, and those who should have them struggle.”
“I think about that all the time,” Cass said.
“Did you have a name for him?” Mom asked.
Cass nodded. “Thomas. After Dad. Thomas Joseph Brennan.”
“Your own baby Tommy,” Mom said, understanding.
For a moment no one said anything and then Gabi ran into the dining room with a plastic plate from the kitchen, asking if she could please have another slice of cake since her piece had been small. Meg cut her a sliver. Kit asked if she could have another sliver, too. It was good cake. Meg was an excellent baker.
After Gabi left, Mom circled her teacup with her hands. “You won’t ever forget your Tommy,” she said quietly. “I know I’ve told you this before, but I’ve never forgotten the babies I lost. There were three between Meg and the twins. I never knew if they were boys or girls. Back then they didn’t tell you those things. I wondered, though.”
“What did Dad do when you lost them?” Cass asked, brow furrowing.
“Told me he was sorry. That he loved me.” Marilyn paused, looking back, remembering the years of being a young wife and mother. “That I would conceive again. And then he’d go to work.
Escape to his beloved fi rehouse. To his boys.” Her voice held the barest hint of bitterness. “He was lucky. He had somewhere else to go. I was here alone with a toddler.”
The clock in the living room suddenly chimed nine. It caught them by surprise. No one knew when it’d gotten so late, and it was Sunday night, a school night, too. Meg said she’d need to get the kids home soon. They lived in Santa Rosa. And once Meg and Jack left, everyone else would go, too. Tommy and Cass to Walnut Creek. Kit to her small house in Oakland.
“I’d try again,” Cass said in a rush when the clock stopped chiming. “I’ve met with a new specialist, a doctor who thinks he can help me, but Tommy has said no. Says he can’t go through that
Kit opened her mouth to speak but then thought better of it. She wasn’t married. Had never been married. Wasn’t her place.
Instead Mom said carefully, “Maybe he just needs more time—”
“It’s our eleventh wedding anniversary this year. I want a baby.” Cass’s voice dropped, deepening with emotion. “I don’t want to wait. I can’t wait. I’m ready to be a mom now.”
“Have you two considered using a surrogate?” Kit asked, feeling Cass’s desperation and aware that her brother didn’t want to adopt. He’d wanted a son to follow in his footsteps, just the way he’d followed in his father’s. The Brennan men had been San Francisco firefighters for six generations, all the way back before the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, and Tommy Jr. was proud of this legacy. Maybe too proud.
“Tommy says the Church is against it.”
“The Church doesn’t support IVF either,” Meg pointed out.
This was greeted by uncomfortable silence, which stretched until Meg added, “Maybe it’s time you and Tommy revisited the idea of adopting—”
“He won’t,” Cass said shortly. “It’s our baby or nothing.”
Meg gestured impatiently. “But when you adopt, that baby becomes your baby.”
“I know, but Tommy won’t even discuss it. He wants—” Cass broke off as the front door opened and the men’s voices could be heard in the hall. She pressed her lips together, frustration and resentment in her tense expression. “Let’s just let this go. Okay?”
But in the car, driving home, Kit played the evening over in her head. The cheerful dinner conversation where everyone made an effort to be light, kind, funny, and even Meg and Jack seemed to put their differences aside for the night. The fluffy coconut cake on the heirloom. The dimmed lights. The golden glow of the birthday candles. Her dad’s big baritone singing “Happy Birthday.”
The bittersweet chorus of “make a wish” . . .
Hands flexing against the steering wheel, Kit thought of the wishes that had come to her. Wishes she’d make if it were her birthday . . .
For Mom to live.
For Cass to have her baby.
For Jack and Meg’s marriage to survive this rocky transition.
And for Kit herself? What did she want personally? What was her heart’s desire? That was easy. She was selfish. Wasn’t wishing for world peace or clean water for Third World nations. No, she wanted love. Marriage. Babies. She wanted to have her own family. She’d be forty in a couple weeks. It was time. The clock was ticking.
And yet, if she only had one wish . . . and if that one wish could come true . . . what would she do?
She’d save Mom, of course.
The oncologist was astonished that Marilyn Brennan had lasted this long, but couldn’t imagine her making it through the spring. It was January 8 now. That meant Mom had what? February? March? Maybe Easter? Easter came late this year, mid-April. Would Mom be with them then?
The thought made Kit’s insides churn. She wished she hadn’t had that second sliver of birthday cake. Wished she was already home in bed instead of still driving at ten o’clock at night.
Kit’s phone rang. It was Meg, her oldest sister. “Home safe?” Kit asked, answering.
“Just got back a few minutes ago. Sorry we left you with all the dishes.”
“Not a big deal. Dad helped. Gave us a chance to talk.”
“Seemed like it. But it’s hard to tell with Dad. He doesn’t ever complain.”
Meg sighed. “He doesn’t like to burden us.”
“I know. But I almost wish he would. It’d make me feel better. Make me feel as if I was helping him somehow.”
“Maybe it’s a good thing you didn’t help him. Now you can help me.”
“I’m upset. I’ve been upset ever since leaving the house.”
“No. Cass. Tommy. The whole baby thing.”
“It’s a mess, isn’t it?” Kit said.
“I’m worried about them. I can understand why Tommy doesn’t want to do the IVF anymore, but his stand on adoption is ridiculous.”
Kit changed lanes to let a faster car pass her. “I agree.”
“He’ll lose Cass if he’s not careful.”
“Now’s the time for them to explore all their options if they want to become parents. But I don’t think Tommy wants to be a parent at this point. I think he’s decided that he’s okay without kids.”
Dad had said something similar to Kit while they washed dishes. Apparently Tommy told Dad tonight that he was ready to move forward and just get on with life as he’d come to terms with Cass’s infertility and he was good without kids. “He’s worn out,” Kit said. “He needs a break from the focus on making babies.”
“Which is great, but Cass is a labor and delivery nurse. She wants a baby of her own. Needs to be a mom.”
Kit understood. She loved kids. It’s one of the reasons why she’d become a teacher. She’d been in the classroom seventeen years now, the last sixteen at Memorial High, a Catholic school in east Oakland, not far from San Leandro. She’d recently been promoted to head of the English department, which would look great on a résumé, but wasn’t much of an honor if you knew there were only three English teachers at Memorial. “What do you think about them using a surrogate?”
“I don’t have a problem with it,” Meg said. “Do you?”
“I don’t think anyone in the family does. I wish they’d look into it. It’s expensive, but Cass and Tommy already have the frozen embryos.”
Remembering her conversation with Dad, Kit rubbed at her brow, easing the tension headache. “I just can’t see Tommy ever agreeing to it. I don’t know if it’s a control thing, or a society thing, but Tommy’s against taking any more extreme measures to make a baby.”
“Adopting isn’t extreme. I’d adopt, if I couldn’t have kids.”
“I would, too. Let’s just hope Cass can convince Tommy to reconsider all their options.”
Monday was Kit’s least favorite day of the week. It was hard to rally Monday morning after a weekend away from school. She knew her students felt the same way, and so she made a point of making each Monday morning’s lessons interesting, trying to hook her students’ attention quickly, painlessly. Or as painlessly as possible considering that most her students were sleep deprived and school started early.
Fortunately, as the head of her very small department, Kit was able to pick the classes she wanted to teach and she chose to teach everything—from basic freshman English to the very advanced
AP British lit. It meant she had six different preps but she liked it that way, as the varied curriculum held her interest and allowed her to teach far more novels, poetry, and plays every year than she’d be able to teach otherwise.
Kit loved books. Reading was her thing. But being a teacher wasn’t just about sharing great books with young, bright minds. It was also about managing, controlling, organizing, disciplining, advising, as well as assuming extra duties to keep the school’s overhead down. At Memorial, the faculty all had duties outside their classroom. Yard duty, cafeteria duty, extracurricular jobs, adviser jobs, coaching positions. Teachers wore many hats. Kit was spending her lunch hour in her classroom wearing her Drama Club adviser hat now.
Kit had founded the Drama Club her first year at Memorial High and for the past fifteen years it’d been one of the school’s most prestigious clubs, putting on wonderful, if not extravagant and exhausting, productions every spring.
But this year she was beginning to think there wouldn’t be a production. The club was small, with just a half-dozen students. Her die-hard thespians, the most talented kids she’d probably ever worked with, had graduated in June, and she—and the club—missed those nine kids. The seven students who remained in the club had only managed to recruit one new freshman, and the eight club members couldn’t agree on anything.
“You’re running out of time,” Kit said from her desk, raising her voice to be heard over the rustle of paper bags and crumpling plastic and conversation taking place at the student desks. “You don’t meet again until next month, and then it’s auditions. So you really need to discuss what kind of production interests you and get some consensus. If you can’t agree, then I think it’s time you accepted that there won’t be a spring show.”
“What kind of show can we do again?” one of the sophomore girls asked.
Irritation beat at Kit. She hadn’t slept well last night, had woken late, and had dashed to school without breakfast and was starving right now. Her gaze fell on her sandwich. It was looking bruised inside its plastic baggie but it made her mouth water. But she couldn’t eat it here, in front of them. She might get grape jelly on her white blouse. She might need to answer a question. She might choke . . . and these kids, helpless as they were, might let her die. Or worse, they might try the Heimlich maneuver on her.
Better to go hungry.
“You can do virtually anything,” Kit said, hiding her exasperation with a wry smile. They were just teenagers, after all. Fourteen-, fifteen-, and sixteen-year-olds searching for identity, meaning, and clear skin. “Remember the list you brainstormed last month? You could choose a comedy, musical, drama, a series of one-act plays . . . it’s up to you. Perhaps you’d like to take a vote?”
Alison Humphrey, the current president of the Drama Club, and the only senior in the club this year, came to life. “We’re going to vote now,” she said decisively. “It’ll be anonymous. Write down on a slip of paper what you’d like to do for the spring production, fold the paper up, and pass it to the front, and then we’ll tally the votes. Okay?”
The classroom door opened while the students were scribbling down their preferences. It was Polly Powers, one of Memorial’s math teachers and Kit’s closest friend, in the doorway and she gestured to Kit.
Kit left her desk and stepped out into the hall.
“Aren’t you going to be stuck in there all lunch?” Polly asked.
“Looks like it. They can’t agree on anything.”
“My little thespians.”
Polly rolled her eyes. “No wonder.” She didn’t get theater, or theater kids. Thought they were weird.
And perhaps they were, but Kit liked that. “How was lunch? Anything interesting happen in the staff room?”
“Lunch was boring. Fiona stayed in her room, too.”
Fiona Hughes was one of the science teachers, and Polly and Kit’s close friend. The three of them hung out together a lot. “Why?”
“Chase is being a dick. She was crying. Didn’t want anyone to see her.”
Kit frowned. Fiona and Chase had only been married for eighteen months but it’d been difficult from the start. “What’s he doing now?”
“I don’t know. The usual. But she needs some cheering up. Think we need to take her out after work. Have a drink. Are you free?”
“Yes.” Kit peeked into the class, saw that Alison was now recording the votes, and turned back to Polly. “Let’s head out soon as the staff meeting’s over.”
They met at Z’s Cocktail Lounge in Alameda after the school staff meeting ended. Z’s was one of their favorite places to go since it was far enough from Memorial High that they didn’t risk bumping into other teachers or parents, and quiet, as Z’s was bar that only locals knew about. The outside was nondescript and drew little attention from the street. Inside, it was small, cozy, and upscale with just a few tables along the walls, the stools at the bar, and the requisite piano.
“I don’t think I could do it again, not knowing what I know now,” Fiona was saying now, her Irish accent pronounced as she pushed her empty beer glass around on the table. “It’s too hard, this blended family thing. I was so naive thinking I could make it work. Thinking that we could all get along.”
This wasn’t new news. Kit and Polly were aware that Fiona, a Dublin native and brilliant science teacher had been struggling for awhile. The problem was the kids. His kids. She’d never been married before, but he had, and he came into the marriage with three children, two teenagers and a pre-teen. Fiona knew that the kids had been scarred from a bitter divorce and a poisonous mom, but she’d thought that with patience and love the kids would warm up to her. They hadn’t.
“I’m trying so hard,” Fiona added, blinking back tears. “I honestly couldn’t try harder.”
Polly couldn’t contain her frustration any longer. “That’s the problem,” she said tartly. “You’re too good to them.”
“No,” Fiona protested, but unconvincingly.
“Yes!” Polly slammed her fist onto the table, making the glasses bounce. “They’re little shits, especially the youngest, Alexander. They’re trying to break you and their dad up, and they’re winning. It’s time you fought back. Turned the tables. Taught those brats a thing or two.”
“Polly!” Kit choked on smothered laughter. She’d taught with Polly for years now, and loved her sense of humor, but to call Fiona’s step-kids brats and little shits?
Polly shrugged. “I’m right,” she said, successfully catching the eye of the waitress and indicating that she’d have another round. She’d already finished two strong key lime daiquiris but was by no means drunk. Polly could hold her liquor. “Those kids totally manipulate you, Fiona, just as they manipulate their dad, their mom, and everyone around them. It’s time you turned the tables. Put them in their place. Taught them a thing or two.”
Fiona’s forehead wrinkled. “But wouldn’t that just give them more ammunition?”
Polly rolled her eyes. “They’re already armed and dangerous. You’re the one that’s vulnerable. You have to stop playing nice.”
Kit’s phone suddenly vibrated from within her coat pocket and quietly Kit retrieved her phone and checked the message under the table.
It was from Sebastian.
Kit’s heart fell. She didn’t enjoy being mean. She was the proverbial good Catholic girl, and she’d grown up to be a good Catholic school teacher, but Sebastian Severs would not take a hint and his frequent, flirty texts were driving her crazy. Tonight’s text was just like the others:
Hey Gorgeous, you’re a sorceress and you’ve got me under your spell! Let’s get together Friday night and make some magic happen.
Kit shuddered rereading it. There were so many things wrong with the message—and Sebastian–that she didn’t even know where to begin. She should have never given him her cell number. Why hadn’t she realized that once you gave a man your number, he could, and would, haunt you for the rest of your life? But then, why had she thought that meeting men online was a good idea, either?
She couldn’t imagine what had possessed her to join Love.com back in September—
No. Not true.
She knew exactly what had possessed her.
In September, three months after the end of her ten year relationship with Richard, a relationship that had probably stalled out eight years ago, Kit did some serious, if not panicked, soul searching, and concluded action was needed. Desperate action. She was closing in on forty—the big birthday was January 28th– and Kit couldn’t wait for love to find her. She’d have to find it for herself. And so after watching a late night TV commercial promoting Love.com, she signed up for a year membership since she had no idea how long it’d take to find true love.
At first it’d been exciting pouring over profiles, exchanging messages, setting up the first few dates. But it only took a few dates to realize many men weren’t truthful on their profiles. They either used photos from ten or twenty years ago, or padded their height while decreasing their weight, but weight and height discrepancies weren’t a serious issue. The personalities were. Or lack of.
Kit had never thought of herself as particularly difficult to please—after all, she ended up living with Richard for ten years—but her dates from Love.com were invariably uncomfortable. Some were boring. Others made her uneasy. And then there were the few that were plain humiliating. But Kit, Irish-Catholic from a sprawling opinionated family, was made of stern enough stuff that she attempted to endure all, determined to at last find the Real Thing. The Real Thing being love, marriage, and babies—and preferably in that order.
But after three months of online dating hell, Kit no longer craved True Love. She just wanted to be left alone.
And so in December after a particularly horrifying date, Kit closed her account at Love.com, and her profile promptly disappeared. But the damage was done. A dozen different men had her number and email address. And while most of those dozen men had moved on to greener, fresher, pastures, there were a few like Sebastian, who couldn’t.
Kit suspected it was time to change her number. Such a shame since she loved the order of the digits. It’d been her cell number for twelve years now and the numbers looked good together. They suited her. But difficult times called for difficult measures.
Resolved to take action, Kit forced her attention back to the conversation.
“Now I’m supposed to go home and make dinner and smile and act like everything is okay,” Fiona was saying. “But I can’t. Everything isn’t okay and I’m sick of acting like it is.”
“Then don’t go,” Polly answered.
Kit frowned. Polly wasn’t helping. Of course Fiona had to go home. Fiona was married. “You can’t avoid going home, but you can, and should, talk to Chase. You have to make him understand how you feel. Does he know how unhappy you are?”
“I’m sure he does,” Fiona answered. “All we ever do is fight.”
Kit and Polly exchanged swift glances again. “But does he understand why you’re righting?” Kit persisted, having just gone through a six-month roller coaster ride with Meg when her oldest sister derailed her marriage by having an affair with her boss because she felt unloved at home. “Guys aren’t like us, Fiona. They don’t read between the lines very well. You have to let him know that the kids are wrecking havoc on your relationship.”
Fiona’s blue eyes flashed. “He knows, but he just makes excuses for them. Says that they’ve been through a lot with the divorce and that they’ll eventually grow out of it. But it’s his fault that they treat me like rubbish. He doesn’t set any boundaries with them. Doesn’t insist that they respect me,” she added, her Irish accent growing thicker. “But then, of course he knows everything about kids because he’s a father. I’m just a teacher. He forgets that I spend eight hours a day with kids, and have for the last ten years of my life!”
Her words died away but the pain and bitterness in her voice hung in the air, mingling with the mournful minor chords of the piano.
Times like these, Kit was glad she wasn’t married. Marriage was not easy. And after months of uninspiring dates, Kit was no longer sure men were the answer. If anything, men were the problem.
“You know this isn’t about you, Fiona,” Kit added with a rueful twist of her lips. “He’s compensating. Feeling guilty for leaving their mom. For breaking the family up—“
“So better to break my heart! Better to let his children tear me apart because I had the audacity to fall in love with their father!”
Kit slapped Polly’s arm. “Shut up. We don’t need Fiona in jail. She’d lose her green card. Get sent back to Ireland. And we don’t want that, do we?”
“No, Polly agreed. “Fiona is the only one who can drink me under the table. I like that about her.”
Fiona laughed. Kit was relieved to hear her friend laugh. It’d been awhile which was tragic since Fiona had a wicked sense of humor.
“You and Chase just need some time to yourselves,” Kit said, finding it hard to believe that it was only two years ago that Chase, a San Francisco investment banker spotted Fiona in a bar in the Marina district, and fell for black haired, blue-eyed Fiona on the spot. There had been an immediate connection between the two and things moved quickly between them after that. “But I know it’s hard when there are always kids around.”
“Which is why we’re going away this weekend,” Fiona answered. “I’m trying to hold on to that. Otherwise I think I’d go mad.”
Polly frowned, confused. “Is it already Martin Luther King weekend?”
“It is,” Kit said, sitting back as the cocktail waitress delivered a tray of drinks to their table. “And you and I are going to the beach house in Capitola this weekend.”
“That’s awesome,” Polly sighed. “I’d completely forgotten.”
Fiona glanced at the pint of beer set before her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t order another one.”
“Neither did I,” Kit said as another glass of chardonnay appeared at her elbow.
“You didn’t,” the waitress said. “They’re compliments of those guys at the table over there.” She pointed to a small table not far from the front door where two men sat smiling at them.
“Wish they hadn’t done that,” Polly muttered, as the waitress walked away. “I don’t want another drink, and I definitely don’t want to talk to any men right now.”
“Me, either,” Kit agreed.
“And I’m married,” Fiona chimed in, stealing a peek in the direction of the men at their table. “Even if unhappily.” She scrutinized the two men. “But they’re not bad looking.”
Kit glanced over her shoulder, sizing up the pair, noting that they both wore blue dress shirts and were drinking beer. “How can you tell? All I can see are the back of their heads.”
Abruptly Polly pushed her untouched cocktail glass away. “Sorry. Not to be a party pooper, but I need to get out of here. You two mind if I call it a night?”
“Not at all,” Kit said, reaching for her wallet. “I’ve got grading to do.”
“And I guess I have to face the music, too,” Fiona added, with a quick glance at her watch.
They paid the bill and gathered their coats and purses and headed for the front door but one of the men rose from the table and intercepted them. “Polly?” he said, putting a hand out towards her.
“Jon?” she said, blinking with surprise.
He nodded. “I thought that was you. Wasn’t sure. How are you?”
“Good. Really good.” Polly turned to introduce Kit and Fiona. “These are my friends, Kit Brennan and Fiona Hughes, and we teach together at Memorial.”
“You’re teaching now? No more pharmaceutical sales?”
“No. Got my credential a number of years ago.” She looked at Kit and Fiona, and explained, “John and I used to work together at Pfizer. First job right out of college.” She glanced back at Jon. “You still with them?”
“Yes. Doing well there. It’s been a good fit.” Jon gestured to his table. “Would you like to join us? I can grab some chairs.”
Polly grimaced. “I’m sorry, but it’s late, and Fiona’s husband is expecting her—“
“Do you have a second, Polly?” Jon asked, interrupting her. “I’d really like to talk to you, to apologize—“
“It’s not necessary, Jon.” Polly was blushing. “That was years ago.”
“Maybe. But I’d feel better if I could apologize. Can we just step outside?”
Polly nodded and went outside with him, and Fiona slipped out, too, needing to get home, leaving Kit to hover uneasily by the table, aware that Jon’s friend was sipping his beer and watching her.
Unable to avoid the inevitable she turned and smiled tightly. “Hi.”
He smiled back. “I’m Michael Dempsey,” he said, stretching out a hand.
“I’m Kit,” she said, shaking his hand.
“Have a seat,” he offered.
She took Jon’s chair, not knowing what else to do.
“You didn’t touch the drinks,” Michael added.
Kit glanced at the table she and her friends had just left. Their three drinks were still sitting there. All three glasses were full. “We were just getting ready to leave when they arrived,” she said, feeling extremely awkward. Michael Dempsey had to be somewhere in his mid to late thirties. And he wasn’t bad looking. In fact, he was rather good looking, in an athletic sort of way, with his tanned skin and thick, wavy, light brown hair. His eyes were a light blue and almost the exact color as his cotton dress shirt. “Do you work with Jon?”
“No. Just friends.” He smiled at her, and little creases fanned from his eyes. His teeth were very straight and white. “Do you work with Polly?”
It struck her that he knew he was attractive and that he’d worked his charm—and that particular smile–on countless women before her. “You know her?” she replied, answering his question with a question.
His smile grew, as if he recognized the ploy. “No. But Jon was just telling me about her. He speaks very highly of her.”
“She’s amazing. She’s one of my best friends.”
“So you are all teachers.”
“Yes. We—“ and Kit broke off to gesture to the table where she, Kit and Fiona had been sitting just a few minutes ago—“all teach at the same school. A Catholic school in Oakland.”
“We didn’t know each other before we started working together but we’ve become really close. I’ve known Polly almost seven years, and Fiona for the past three.”
“You girls go out a lot?”
“Just once or twice a month. Keeps us sane.”
“You always come here?”
“Usually. It’s familiar, and convenient, since Polly lives close by. What about you?”
“I’m still new to the area. First time here. But I like this place. It’s mellow. Has a good vibe.”
“It does.” Kit looked at him more closely, wondering if it was fair to be prejudiced against him simply because he was good looking. Or was she prejudiced because he was good looking and he knew it? Either way, she wasn’t sure she liked him. “Where did you move from?”
“I’ve moved around a bit with work, but I’m from Houston.”
“I thought I heard an accent.”
“No. So what do you do?”
“Work in the oil business.”
“You’re with Chevron,” she guessed.
He nodded. “Just got transferred here a month ago.”
“San Ramon, but I live not far from here as I’m close to offices and operations in Richmond and San Francisco.”
“What do you think so far?”
“Still finding my way around. But I like being close to a city and you’ve got all the professional sports, too.”
“My dad and brother love that about the Bay Area, too, although my dad roots for the San Francisco teams while Tommy has become an A’s and Warrior’s fan.”
“Who do you root for?”
“Niners. Grew up watching Montana, Young and Rice make history. Loved Jerry. Loved Ronnie Lott. They were incredible. And then the Niners fell apart and sucked for awhile—“
“A long while.”
She shrugged, feeling cocky. “But they’re back. We’re in the playoffs. And I think we’ve got a good chance against the Saints this weekend.”
“So who is your favorite player?”
“Patrick Willis, middle linebacker. He’s a playmaker. He makes things happen.”
“I have to say I’m impressed by Alex Smith this year. He’s proven himself to be quite a quarterback—“ he broke off as Polly appeared at the table with Jon right behind her.
Kit could tell from Polly’s expression that she wanted to go, and quickly. Kit got to her feet. “It was nice to meet you,” she said to Michael. “And good luck settling in. I hope you’ll like living here.”
Kit glanced at Polly as they walked silently to her car. Polly wasn’t happy. “What was that about?” Kit asked her. “Why did Jon want to talk to you? What was so important that he needed you to step outside with him?”
“He wanted to apologize for a shitty thing he did a long time ago.”
“What did he do?”
They’d reached Kit’s car and Polly faced her. “He took credit for something I did, and then stole my biggest account from me, earning him a big fat bonus and a promotion, when both should have been mine. Schmuck.”
“And he feels bad now?” Kit asked, unlocking the car doors.
“He is a schmuck,” Kit agreed, as they both climbed into her car.
“I know.” Polly was silent a moment as Kit started the engine and merged with traffic. “Worse, we were seeing each other back then. He was supposed to be my boyfriend. I thought he was the one.”