“How was your health after her birth, Bron?” he asked again, alerting her to the fact that he had noticed her earlier evasiveness on that matter.
“It was . . . I wasn’t . . .”
He maintained steady eye contact, and she bit her bottom lip before shrugging and giving him the brutal, unvarnished truth. “I was often sick. I was weak after giving birth and didn’t get enough rest after taking Kayla home from the hospital. I was up at all hours, feeding and changing her, and then I was back at work. I never fully recovered and couldn’t afford health care for myself since all of my money was assigned to buying food and clothes for Kayla. I ate leftovers at work whenever I could and the odd sandwich when I couldn’t. It sounds worse than it was, Bryce.”
“So when you got the flu . . .” He left the statement unfinished and she nodded.
“Yes, it raged out of control because my immune system had taken such a beating in the past. The day Rick found me, the only reason I was at work was because Gerhard would have given my job to someone else if I’d missed one more day, and I wasn’t getting paid for staying at home. I couldn’t afford the doctor and had been fending off the flu with cheap over-the-counter stuff.”
“Bron,” he began.
“I know it was irresponsible, Bryce. I know that I had a baby to take care of and I could have gotten seriously ill or worse—”
“You were seriously ill,” he interrupted, but she continued as if there hadn’t been an interruption.
“But I was taking care of her the only way I knew how; I was keeping her fed, healthy, and happy. I needed to work, you understand? I’d made arrangements in case anything happened to me; I made sure that the authorities would know to call you, for Kayla’s sake. I wouldn’t have left her alone. I knew that you’d take her if I wasn’t part of the package. I knew that you’d love her and take care of her.” He seemed at a loss and frowned down at his plate before sighing tiredly and scrubbing his hands over his face.
“God,” he groaned wearily. “How did we ever get to this point?” He reached over and stroked one long finger down the side of her face. “Eat, sweetheart. I never want you to go hungry again.”
“I’m . . .”
“Please?” She couldn’t resist the naked pleading on his face, and she smiled before nodding and lifting her fork, her appetite restored. He remained quiet for a while longer, breaking the silence to tell her an amusing story about taking Kayla into the office the previous day. He peppered the story with wry humor, and she found herself laughing more than she’d laughed in a long time. Eventually they started talking about other things—university and work—and for a short while, it felt as companionable and comfortable as it had been in the past.
Is she asleep?” Bryce asked when Bronwyn joined him in the den after putting Kayla down for the night. She nodded in response to the question and tried not to let the intimate domesticity of the scene unnerve her too much. He was sprawled on one of the huge comfortable sofas that Bronwyn had begged him to buy when she had first seen it, four years ago.
“Yes, she was still going on about ‘Nebo’ when she dropped off.”
He smiled faintly at that.
“I don’t think she’s going to forget about today too quickly,” he murmured, fingering the rim of the glass of scotch he had poured for himself, indicating a glass of red wine on the little table beside the sofa. “Wine?”
Not wanting to refuse and end the comfortable atmosphere between them just yet, she nodded and curled up on the opposite end of the large sofa, tucking her feet beneath her.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if today turned out to be her first real memory?” He smiled faintly at her dreamy question.
“It would be a happy one for all of us,” he agreed. He tilted his head to look at her appraisingly, and she met his eyes with a laugh.
“What’s your first memory?” he asked, and she giggled.
“Chasing a butterfly around our backyard, tripping over the puppy and falling down, hard. According to my Gran, I was three when it happened. She remembered because it was at my birthday party and I made such a fuss because I thought I’d hurt the dog. Apparently I insisted that we take him to the ‘doggy doctor’!”
His eyes crinkled at the corners.
“What about you?” she asked him, still smiling at her own memory. “What was your first memory?” The smile faded from his eyes to be replaced by a somber frown as he shrugged.
“I don’t remember.”
She laughed at that. “It’s your first memory. By its very definition you should remember it.” He looked uncomfortable and refused to meet her eyes. Realizing that something was wrong, she tried to catch his eye.
“Bryce?” she prompted, waving her hand to get his attention and not expecting much in the line of a response from him. If this followed the old pattern of their marriage, he would freeze her out and retreat back behind the walls that seemed to have been specifically designed to keep her out. It amazed her now, how little she actually knew of the man and merely brought home the fact how much was still wrong, how much would always be wrong, with their relationship. She was just resigning herself to watching him get up and leave when he unexpectedly spoke, still not looking at her.
“My first memory is of my father. He’s shouting at me and angry because I’d accidentally dropped his wristwatch into a toilet bowl. Can’t really blame him—it’s a gold watch. Of course, I wasn’t aware of the significance of that at the time. I was three as well. I know because that was the same day I broke my arm . . . so there are records of the date,” he said it almost absently, and Bronwyn’s brow furrowed.