Angela Richards put her glass down on the smoked-glass top of the kitchen table, barely able to meet her husband’s incredulous stare. Mark’s question bounced back and forth in her head until it throbbed. She knew he was right. Every fiber in her body screamed at the absurdity of her decision. But it was family—a totally dysfunctional family—but a family nonetheless.
When she’d walked away from her mother, her sister, her niece, ten years earlier, she swore all the way from D.C. to New York that she would never go back. That she would never allow them to inflict that kind of pain on her again. She’d broken her self-imposed promise once when she’d returned to put her grandmother to rest and stand stoically at her grave site. Now it was to keep vigil over her ailing sister, Gayla.
Mark pushed away from the table and paced the black-and-white tiled floor while stroking his goatee. This was the room where decisions were made, Mark mused, not in the bedroom, where passion could be confused with reason. It was here in the kitchen where he and his wife cooked, cleaned, shared meals and their dreams, where they planned their lives.
Until now they’d always found a means to meet halfway, no matter what their issues may have been. But today, there was no compromise, and the table that separated them barely represented the rift that had sprung up between them like a leak in a sinking boat.
“Answer me, Angie,” Mark suddenly shouted, halting his pacing.
The boom of his voice snapped her to attention. Her reluctant gaze found his stony one.
“Make me understand why you would go back there. After everything they’ve done to you.”
“My sister is sick, Mark,” she mumbled. Even to her own ears she didn’t sound convincing.
“When was the last time Gayla did anything for you, Angie? Where was she when you had pneumonia? . . . Busy,” he answered for her. “And when you had the operation for that fibroid a few years back, where was your family then? Occasionally on the other end of the phone.”
She sat there, staring at her hands as he continued his verbal assault.
“And how many times have you lain in my arms crying about how it had been growing up in that house, how you felt like a servant instead of a member of the family? Angie, how many school functions did your mother miss? How many birthday parties? You had to practically drag yourself out of your own sickbed to make arrangements for your grandmother because Gayla ‘just couldn’t handle all the pressure.’ ”
He stared at her for a long, hard moment, his sandy brown face flushed with his ire. Angie watched the pulse pound dangerously in his temple.
Mark pulled in a deep breath and stepped to the table. Bracing his palms on the smooth wood top, he leaned toward his wife.
“I love you, Angie.” He reached out and covered one of her clenched fists with his open hand. “More than life itself. I’ve seen how broken you were inside and the time and strength it took to get you where you are.” Slowly he shook his head. “Going back there . . . will negate everything you’ve worked for—we’ve worked for.”
She fought back tears, shielding her face with her free hand.
“Baby,” he whispered. “You’ve got to know that.”
Angie finally looked into her husband’s loving gaze, saw the depth of the concern and sincerity there. She also felt his pain.
“Mark, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain it, explain why I believe in my soul that going back to D.C. to take care of my sister is something I must do. And not for Gayla or my globe-hopping niece, Tiffany—not even for my mother, but for me.”
“I’m coming with you,” Mark said adamantly. “I ca—”
“No.” Gayla squeezed his hand and looked unflinchingly into his eyes. “I’ve got to do this on my own. And we both know that.”
Knowing from the determined look in Angie’s eyes that this was a battle he couldn’t win, Mark resignedly lowered himself into a chair opposite her. Silently holding her hands, he prayed that this wouldn’t be the trip that crushed her spirit for good.