Chapter Twenty One
Megan picked her way through the dark house, Rufus in her arms. Her ankle was no longer swollen, and it hurt only when she put too much pressure on it. It was three in the afternoon and it looked like it was seven at night. She was all alone, for the first time since arriving to the mansion. This had been a surprise, and a gift, from Darlene, who had left knowing that Megan would be the only one in the house, alone to steal things. She rolled her eyes at the thought and looked around. Megan had only been living in the house for a week, and despite knowing the layout of the house, she was unaware of where certain amenities could be found, starting with light switches.
When she found herself in the library, she fumbled for the switch and found a button. The fireplace roared to life. Megan's fingers hovered over the switch, intending to turn it off, but the heat drew her near. The fire glowed softly in the dark room, seducing with warmth and cheer. A chair placed adjacent to the fire was comfortable and well worn. She dropped into it, settling Rufus in her lap and sat by the firelight for a while.
The house was dark when Sam came home from the office. He turned on the hallway light and walked toward the library to put down his briefcase. When he opened the wooden door, he found Megan perched in his favorite over-stuffed paisley chair, a book in her hand and her dog in her lap. She looked over the edge of the pages and smiled up at him as he set his briefcase down by his oak desk.
"Hi Sam!" she murmured softly, stretching her feet toward the fire.
"Well, look at you being all comfortable," he greeted her with a smile. He walked over and sat in the brown laze-boy across from Megan. She dog-eared her book and placed it on the table next to them as he pulled the lever to extend the foot rest.
"It was cold," she murmured in self-defense, stroking Rufus' head. Sam smiled.
"Where is everybody?" Sam loosened his tie.
"Marshall Gliteman called and invited David and Eric to go fishing. Darlene ran off around noon, probably to have lunch with Amanda." Megan stretched her toes out toward the fire and breathed a sigh of relief when they were surrounded in heat.
"You weren't invited to go fishing?" Sam teased with another easy smile. Megan smiled back and shrugged her shoulders.
"Well, he invited me also, but with an injured ankle, and the boredom of standing around waiting for fish to bite all day, I declined. Why on earth would you want to fish in this weather?" She indicated the snow falling from the sky outside. Sam laughed.
"It's called, ice fishing, dear. They put a hole in the middle of a pond and stick a line down there." He leaned back in the chair and sighed in relief. His back was hurting him today, and he hadn't sat down in hours.
"That sounds boring, and cold," she quipped, wrinkling her nose and shivering for effect.
"There is a certain satisfaction in it," Sam assured her. She only rolled her eyes.
"I was just amazed that Darlene left me alone in the house," she admitted dejectedly. Her words brought a serious feeling into the room, like a cloud covering the sun. Sam shifted in his chair uncomfortably and stared at the fire for a minute.
"My wife can be very difficult at times," he said, barely above a whisper. His eyes were still trained on the dancing flames. "Did David ever tell you about Darlene?"
"Nothing important," Megan grumbled unhappily.
"Let me give you some insight to her then."
Sam's eyes didn't leave the fire, but it seemed like he was looking beyond the flames, to another time. Megan leaned closer to him, as his voice was very soft as he spoke.
"When we found out that Darlene was pregnant, she was very excited. She couldn't wait to have a little girl to dote on. I didn't care if the baby was a girl or a boy, but she did. She wanted to have a daughter to dress up, to throw a coming out party for. She wanted to be the mom with the prettiest little girl. She didn't exactly get her wish." Sam paused and Megan thought she saw his face convulse in renewed pain. "She was pregnant, with David and his twin sister, Sarah." Megan raised her eyebrows in astonishment. She hadn't known that David had a twin. She knew, however, that something terrible had happened to the little girl. Both Sam's grave mood and the fact that the girl wasn't around clued her into the fact.
"Twin?" she murmured, trying to imagine David with a sister.
"Yes, his twin. The birth was hard on Darlene. After nearly forty-two hours of labor, David was strong and healthy, but Sarah wasn't. The doctors told us that David had taken most of the nutrients and Sarah had not received much of anything. She was so tiny she could fit in the palm of my hand." Sam finally tore his eyes away from the fire and looked down at his palm, as if his little baby girl were lying there. "They said she wouldn't live through the night. She did, and then she lived through the week, and a month. After three months, they let us take her home from the hospital. Darlene was thrilled. She had her little girl and a son." He sighed and looked back at the fire. "A year later, it was apparent there was something not quite right with Sarah. David had said his first words and he was walking. Sarah didn't even sit up. When she was four months old, we had found out that she couldn't hear or see from her right side. It was devastating, but we adapted." He was lost for a moment in his recollection. "We adapted. We began to learn sign language, in preparation for our daughter's life. By the time Eric was born, Sarah and David were three. David was a curious and rambunctious little boy. Sarah had learnt to walk, but she was mostly deaf in her left ear also. We took her to several doctors all who said she should be taught sign language, only Sarah didn't learn it. To this day, we don't know if it was because she couldn't, or if she just didn't want to. After Eric was born, Darlene developed uterine cancer. Unfortunately, we could have no more children."
He paused, gazing into the depths of the fire. "When Eric was two months old, Sarah tried to pick him up out of his crib. To do this, she'd climbed up onto the table next to the crib. She had him in her arms when I came into the room and she was standing on the very edge of the table. I called out a warning to her, as she could still hear some sounds. She turned to look at me, and she fell." He closed his eyes in pain and pressed a hand to his face. "I tried to catch them, but I didn't make it across the room in time. Eric fell on top of Sarah, he wasn't hurt. Sarah landed on her neck, it was broken instantly." He looked at Megan with a terrible agony in his eyes. "She was dead by the time the ambulance arrived. Darlene was devastated." He did not have to tell Megan how much pain he had been in, was still in, she could see it on his face. "Even though Sarah had been disabled, Darlene had planned on helping the little girl through society, making her a strong individual. She had planned the parties, and the gatherings, even though they wouldn't take place for years. To have her little girl literally ripped out of her arms, it destroyed some part of her heart." He seemed to come back to the present and stood awkwardly. "I'm going to get some cocoa, do you want some?" His eyes were wet, and his normal smile was missing, replaced by a blank face, one that showed nothing of the anguish in his eyes.
"Okay," Megan replied. She could see that the excuse was only so that Sam could escape the room and be alone in his grief. She watched the man walk out of the room and wondered if she had ever noticed that grief in Darlene. There weren't many times when Megan was willing to subject herself to Darlene's scrutiny, so she had not had time to study the woman as much as she wanted. Who would have known that Darlene had been willing to go through heaven and hell for a little girl who couldn't hear or see very well?
Just as Megan was starting to lose hope that Sam would return, he came into the room carrying two mugs of steaming hot chocolate. He placed one on the mahogany table next to Megan and sat down again.
"Where was I?" he asked tiredly, as if the memories physically wore him out.
"Sarah died and Darlene was devastated," Megan reminded him gently and then sipped the hot cocoa. When the rich flavor washed over her tongue, she sighed in pleasure and savored the sweet taste.
"A year after our Sarah's death, our close friends, the Adams, had a daughter, Amanda. Mariah and Darlene were the closest of friends at the time, so Mariah asked Darlene to be Amanda's Godmother. Darlene was thrilled, she finally had a little girl to take care of. I don't mean to say that she didn't love her sons, or that Amanda could ever replace Sarah, but Darlene had planned her life around a daughter, and she was so disappointed. She kind of took Amanda in, taught her everything she had planned to teach Sarah. Mariah had never planned on being a mother and didn't like it much, so she didn't mind that Darlene took over. When David was eighteen, he asked Amanda to his senior prom. She was a freshman at the time. Amanda had liked him for years, so she was ecstatic. Not to mention that Darlene was already imagining them getting married. She could see the day that Amanda would become her real daughter, replacing the one she lost. So when they got engaged," Sam shrugged.
"Engaged?" Megan choked on her cocoa. She swallowed roughly and stared at Sam with wide eyes. "Did you say, engaged?" she gasped when she could take a breath.
"You didn't know," Sam sighed dejectedly.
"I didn't know," she agreed, setting her cocoa down and breathing slowly.
"They were engaged for exactly three months and then it all ended."
"I don't think David was actually in love with her and I think Amanda was just trying to make Darlene happy. She saw herself as one of Darlene's children already."
"I can't begin to imagine the pain she must have felt," Megan whispered.
"Once again, Darlene lost what she wanted most. She never recovered, not really," Sam said regretfully. Megan felt a stab of pity for Darlene, and wondered why David had never told her.
"Eric never wanted to date her?" She adjusted Rufus and placed a kiss on the sleepy dog's head.
"Amanda and Eric hated one other. It was a childhood rivalry for Darlene's attention that they never got over. Darlene actually turned toward Eric after David left for California, but he assured her that there was no possibility of him ever liking Amanda." Sam sighed and looked up into Megan's emerald eyes. "My wife has been hurt, unintentionally, by her sons. She can't come to terms with it, and I'm not sure she ever will. She had so hoped to have Amanda as a daughter and to see you with David…" he trailed off, shrugging. Megan picked up her cocoa and took a sip to calm her before speaking again.
"I'm not what she wants for him," Megan admitted, staring into the cup of cocoa that she grasped tightly in her hands. She was ashamed to find that her voice was shaky and that a sob was captured in her throat.
"You are a beautiful young woman, body and soul. I think that if my wife could forget her anguish, she could accept you, because despite what she sees, you re everything she wants for him. I want you to understand that her anger isn't truly personal, it may be directed at you, but it runs deeper than even I know. She is trying to cope, trying to accept that David is dating you, even if you don't think she is. Her heart has been set on Amanda for so long that she has trouble accepting defeat." Megan wanted to deny the words he said, but she couldn't. Darlene had gone through too much to be hated, but she had done so much to Megan that she couldn't be forgiven easily either.
"It doesn't really matter," she whispered, hoping that she wouldn't begin to cry. "David doesn't love me, and there really isn't a chance for him to." She watched her last marshmallow float around the mug, the only stoic soldier to have survived the heat of the liquid. She felt like that spot of whiteness, floating in a region she couldn't navigate or control.
"Why would you say that?" Sam asked and there was an edge to his voice. Megan looked up and met his blue eyes. "Will you tell me the truth, Megan?" he asked. For the second time, Megan felt that Sam knew something. She gazed into his deep eyes, so like David's, and wanted to spill her soul.
"I don't know if I can," she whispered, agonized.
"You are in love with my son," he prompted, watching Megan's eyes widen and a denial rise to her lips.
"I wouldn't say 'in love,'" she said, panicked. "Maybe I'm falling for him, but not in love." Her muttered words brought a smile to Sam's lips.
"Alright, you are 'falling' for my son. He isn't practically falling for you."
"No," she murmured mournfully.
"He won't fall for you?" Sam asked disbelieving.
"He doesn't know I exist in that way," she stated, gazing out the window at the falling snow. "Do you know that I'd never seen snow fall before I came here?"
"Why doesn't he know you exist?" Sam pressed, ignoring her attempt to change the subject.
Tears filled Megan's eyes, but she refused to let them fall. She would not cry over David. She would not! He was her best friend, nothing more. He had made that clear many times. He made it clear when he danced with Amanda and let her walk out with Corbin. He was not in danger of falling in love with her, because he thought of her as a sister and the sooner she realized that, the better she would be for it. She squeezed her eyelids closed until the threat of tears subsided. When she blinked her eyes open, Sam was gazing at her with a pitying look.
"Because I'm just his best friend," she admitted. "I'm not even his girlfriend." She couldn't look at him while she confessed the lie.
"You aren't?" Sam asked, and there was no surprise in his voice. Her head whipped up and she stared at him.
"You knew," she gasped.
"Not really, but I suspected."
"I suppose you want to know the truth then?" she asked, looking like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
"That would be appreciated," he said wryly.
"You have to promise not to tell Darlene," she instantly demanded. "I am doing this for David, and if I tell you, which I really shouldn't, I want to know that we can continue going on as we have."
"I won't tell on you." His smile is enough to make her believe him.
"David asked me to pretend to be his girlfriend for one month. He had told you guys that he was dating a girl and he hadn't bothered to tell you it was a lie, or to just lie again and say he broke up with her."
"He lied about dating?" Sam asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Oh, he dates. He just never has a serious girlfriend because he doesn't take girls seriously."
"He takes you seriously," Sam commented.
"He is my best friend and I am his. He doesn't think of me romantically."
"I think he could," Sam said with an encouraging grin.
"Maybe someday, but not now. Now, he's too wrapped up in his carefree life."
"Carefree? I left him to a branch of my business!"
"He is very serious about his job, Sam. I assure you that he doesn't fool around with it. He has respect for what was given to him, but work only takes up the hours of seven to six in a week day. He has plenty of time to fool around with his newest fling." Her voice was bitter, but she didn't know how to make it less so.
"I think we let him be too free as a young man," Sam sighed.
"He's responsible though, and kind." Her mind jumped over memories of him from back home. The time he showed up at her house with flowers after her bad break-up. The day he took her ice skating because she had never gone. The way he had smiled at her after hitting his head while ice skating and being raced to the hospital. The day they went to beach and buried David in a giant hole. How he had tried to drag her into the hole with him. The way his arm wrapped around her when he hugged her, as if he wouldn't dare to let her go because he needed her. She realized with a start that what Sam said was true. She wasn't falling for David, she had fallen. The more she thought of it, the more that she realized that she had fallen ages ago, but she had tried to pretend that a friendship was all they had. She had fooled herself for a long time.
"Except when it comes to unintentionally hurting you. I'm sure we could have done something to raise him better," Sam tried to make her feel better with a half smile. Megan smiled up at him, suddenly happy.
"I think you did a wonderful job raising him," she practically glowed.
"What?" he asked, trying to understand her dramatic change of attitude.
"You're right," she whispered.
"Right?" he asked.
"I'm in love with David." The words were a declaration and an admission at the same time. She looked hopeful, but crushed.
"So I've told you," he said, propping his feet closer to the fire.
"Now you have to help me," she suddenly giggled.
"Help you?" he echoed.
"Help me make him fall in love with me!" Her hopeful face was too beautiful to deny. He watched as a glow came into her eyes and a smile flitted across her lips.
"I don't know how to do that," he admitted. "But let's give it a try."
Ah-ha! So a somber past for Darlene and Sam. Perhaps we will understand Darlene slightly better from now on? And, another ally!