Later the following morning Celia stumbled out of the bedroom to find Ian and Matt talking quietly in the living room. Ian looked up noting her red swollen eyes and disheveled hair. Instead of acknowledging her he stood up and walked into Katrina’s room.
Matt scowled at Her from his seat on the couch. Despite his promise to Ian, Matt couldn’t help himself as he asked “how could you do this to him? He loved you. Would do anything for you.” Standing Matt looked at her his hostility electrifying the air around them “didn’t you ever love him?”
“I don’t have to answer to you,” she retorted through clenched teeth. Instead of saying she was sorry she wanted to defend herself. Make it not her fault but his.
Frowning Matt opened his mouth to respond when Ian came out carrying Katrina. “Matt,” talking sternly forestalling whatever comment Matt was about to make “can you take Katrina downstairs for a while?”
Nodding he took his niece smiling into her brown eyes. He looked up to say something then thought better of it as he observed the cold hard stares being passed between them. When Matt left Ian asked “what do you have to say for yourself?”
Shrugging she looked away unwilling to admit fault, not to Ian and definitely not to herself. In the face of his unwavering gaze she muttered “nothing absolutely nothing.”
“Humph,” Ian snorted “that’s a first,” he mumbled. He had expected her to protest how none of this was her fault but her silence was unnerving. He could feel her disapproval like a wall against his senses. “Contrary to what you may believe I don’t hold you completely at fault. It takes two to make a relationship work. When one or both stop trying things fall apart. I need to know if you want to make this work.”
Looking up in shock and dismay she wondered if she had heard him correctly. Was he giving her a second chance? Did she want a second chance? Did she want this provincial life? Did Ian really mean what he said? Was he willing to share the blame? How much of the past would he hold against her?
Her continued silence spoke volumes turning Ian nodded his head in defeat. He wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. Wanted to believe that if he hadn’t been so busy, had been more responsive to her needs she wouldn’t have need to go to that professor. While his back was turned he felt her hand on his shoulder light as a butterfly then was gone.
“Ian I …. I want to tell you that I want this but I can’t. I don’t want to be a mother or like the idea of being someone’s wife. I had dreams of being something more …. more important.” Crossing her arms she braced herself for his anger for his avalanche of emotions to overtake her.
Swiping at his eyes Ian turned to look at her and despite her words and the things she had done he still loved her. Still wanted her but he couldn’t have her. She needed things he couldn’t give her. She had ill prepared to become a parent, they both were. Having Katrina just complicated things didn’t cause the issues they were having. Clearing his throat “what about Katrina?” He couldn’t help but think of the ugly scene she had caused in the hospital. He wanted to be fair but if she didn’t want to be a mother he would fight for custody of Katrina to protect his child from that kind of neglect.
Smiling sadly Celia sighed “until I figure out who and what I am she’s better off here. I know I’ve said some terrible things but I know you’ve been the better parent.”
“Celia what are you planning to do? Where are you going to live?” Ian asked concern for her overwhelming his own pain.
“You’re to sweet.. Don’t worry about me. I know how to take care of myself. I almost forgot how living here.” A smiled played upon her lips as she moved towards the bedroom door. Stopping “I’ll come by when I want to see Katrina otherwise she’s all yours.”
“Celia please don’t do this,” Ian cried moving towards her “I love you. Despite everything I love you. Katrina needs you. Needs her mother.”
Wiping tears away “Katrina needs someone who loves her. Not me. I….I don’t know if I’m capable of love. You deserve so much more than I can offer. I’m sorry Ian really I am.” Opening the door and closing it behind her. She sank to her knees crying. She did what needed to be done. She made the difficult choice, one that would set Ian free. She didn’t deserve the happy-ever-after ending not after what she did. In the back of her mind she wondered if this was what her father had done. Left because he had committed the unforgivable and the only option he had left was t leave. Her daughter would be alright. Better than she had been growing up. At least she would have people who loved her. A family who wanted her. She had nothing to offer her but a legacy of pain, misery and a long line of broken homes.
Ian stared at the closed door leaning his head against it he listened to Celia’s quiet sobs wishing there was something he could do to help. Tears slid down his nose at his own helplessness. Torn between wanting to throw a fit at the unfairness of it all and just giving in and letting her have her way. Turning from the door he blindly made his way down the stairs. Gene stood up at the sight of the pain stricken face of his son. Without a word he enveloped his son in his arms. He knew without a doubt that his son’s heart was broken. It was confirmed a moment later when Celia came downstairs with her suit cases.
Stopping by the door she turned towards Gene saying briefly “thank you for all you’ve done for me. I’m sorry I wasn’t more appreciative of all your help.”
“Celia please,” Ian choked out sobbing softly as he watched her leave “don’t do this…”
“I’m sorry,” she shook her head as she turned to leave. “If I don’t go now I’ll only hurt you worse later.”
Patting Ian on the back Gene moved to help Celia with her things. Walking to the cab he told her “if you ever need anything don’t hesitate to ask.”
“I’m sure I’ll be alright,” she assured him.
Grimly he accepted her decision “I hope that professor knows what he’s getting.”
“The professor has nothing to do with this. I’m doing this to set Ian free. Without me he might find someone who will appreciate him the way he deserves.”
“Celia he loves you….”
“I know but he deserves better, more than I can ever give him. I’ll only bring him pain.” She got into the waiting taxi.
Gene held the door open leaning in “Celia don’t do this,” he echoed Ian’s words.
“I’ll be ok,” she repeated determined to resist his entreaties.
“Isn’t there anything we can do to change your mind?” Gene asked heart aching for his son.
“No this is my decision,” briefly she touched his hand “it has to be this way.”
“Remember what I said if you need anything let us know.” With a heavy heart Gene shut the taxi door and watched it drive away.
The months that followed were a blur. Ian couldn’t focus on school and was failing most of his classes. Coming to the realization that he needed a change Ian dropped all his classes and quit. It was too painful to go to class everyday and see Celia walk by. No smile or wave to acknowledge his existence. His heart would plummet each time he would see her smiling up at someone knowing that was how she used to look at him. He envied her ability to move on with her life while he was stuck in a never ending loop of misery. The only bright spot he had was when he came home and saw his daughter. All smiles looking up at him. Hearing her sweet little voice calling him Dada.
Only at night would he give in to the endless well of tears. How could Celia just leave them like that? Katrina deserved to have both parents. He wanted Katrina to know her mother but after six months he stopped hoping that Celia would come to see her daughter. He wondered if she would come for their daughter’s first birthday. Would it even be important to her? He sent her an invite but he hadn’t heard if she was coming or not.
Coming home early after he made the decision to quit college he walked into the house to find both of his parents watching Katrina content on the floor playing with her blocks. “Mom, dad,” Ian began. Everyone looked up and smiled as Katrina squealed in delight “Dada”.
“Son is something wrong?”Gene asked sensing his son’s volatile emotions.
“I dropped all my classes,” at their shocked faces Ian continued “I’m sorry … I tried but I was failing everything. I couldn’t concentrate and seeing Celia….”
Aimee glanced over at Gene before saying “if that’s what you want. It’s ok with us. We will support you no matter what.”
“Thank you mom that means a lot.” Ian blinked wishing the tears that threatened to release would cease altogether. It was time he took control of his life instead of letting things just happen to him.
Gene looked up at him nodding his head in acceptance “what are your plans now?”
Eyes shifting over at his mom knowing she wasn’t going to like what he did. “I applied at the fire station to become a firefighter. It’s something I’ve always been interested in, saving people. I have the physical qualifications and the skills required.”
“Ian no it’s too dangerous” Aimee protested staring in shock and horror at her son. “What would happen to Katrina if something were to happen to you?”
“She’d be well taken care of mom,” Ian sighed unable to hide all his irritation he felt.
“It’s too dangerous. I forbid it,” Aimee cried forgetting Ian was not longer her baby but an adult capable of making his own decisions.
Squeezing her hands Gene suggested “sweetheart why don’t you take Katrina up for her nap. I’ll talk to Ian…”
Nodding Aimee got up saying “talk some sense into him.”
Waiting until she had gone upstairs Gene looked at Ian for a moment “well you’ve heard what your mother has to say on the subject. I do agree with her that it is a dangerous line of work. Have you considered what would happen if you were injured or killed in the line of duty?”
“I have dad but to be honest there are dangers in any line of work. I’ve always wanted to be a firefighter. I think I’d be good at it. I like to be active. The idea of being in a 9-5 job bores me to tears.” Ian explained to his dad looking him straight in the eye.
“Expect your mom to be a nervous wreck whenever you leave for work but she will come around. What we both want is for you to be happy. If this will make you happy then I’ll stand behind you 100%,” Gene told him without hesitation. “If you’re doing this just to get attention or to become a hero in Celia’s eyes…”
“No dad she has nothing to do with my decision to become a firemen. Going to college was to please her. I thought it would make her happy. I realize now I was doing a lot of things to make her happy but none of it made me happy. I wanted to become a firemen when I graduated high school. It’s not a whim or an attention seeking craze but something I’ve given a lot of thought too.”
Gene watched his son as he talked animatedly about being a firemen. The way his eyes lit up and his whole demeanor became less sluggish, more confident like the person he used to be. “I’m satisfied. I’ll help you anyway I can. Including calming the storm your mom will be causing when she finds out. You know she still thinks of you as her baby.”
“And will continue to do so until the day I die,” she said from the stairs. “It’s a mother’s prerogative.” Walking over to join Gene on the couch. “I see you’ve made your decision.”
“Mom my decision was made before I came home. I start training on Monday,” Ian told her wincing at the frown she gave him.
“Aimee dear why don’t you and I go out for supper? Just you and me,” Gene suggested hoping the unexpected date night would help deflect most of her moods.
Leaning his shoulder “your just trying to distract me. You’re not as sneaky as you think you are.” Smiling up at him “but I love you anyway.” Getting up she said “just let me change.” Smiling mischievously at Gene she added “you should too. If your going to bribe me with a date night your taking me to the best restaurant in town.” Turning to Ian she said “I love you son and I’m going to worry about. It comes with the territory of being a parent. You’ll see when Katrina gets older. You never stop worrying. Even your dad worries. He’s just better at hiding it then I am.” Giving him a hug before going to her room to change.
Chuckling a little Gene shook his head “she never ceases to amaze me.” He turned to follow her when Ian put a hand on his shoulder a troubled look on his face “what’s the matter son?”
“You and mom are so good together. I wish….I want that too,” he hung his head adding “the one relationship I had failed so miserably.”
“Son as you know I had a few relationships before your mother and even then it wasn’t easy. Every relationship is going to have some hardships to overcome. Relationships require a lot of work and dedication to weather the storms. Celia may not have been the one…”
“I know dad but what if she was? I can’t stop thinking about her? What if I let the love of my life walk out of my life?”
Putting a hand on Ian’s shoulder Gene asked “have you opened yourself up to meeting anyone else? I know you don’t want to believe Celia is never coming back….”
“I know dad but I can’t” Ian shook his head frustrated at how easy the tears still came “I’m not ready.” Looking into his dad’s deep brown eyes seeking comfort “I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready.”
“You will be. Maybe not today or tomorrow but one day you will be. You’ll know it when it happens.” Gene squeezed Ian’s shoulder before moving towards his bedroom. “Don’t forget to feet your brother.”
“Don’t worry Matt won’t let me forget,” Ian laughed as he went upstairs.
Waking early Ian stretched as he got out of be. For the first time in months he got out of bed actually looking forward to the day. It was the first day of training and he was happy for a change. Coming in to check on Katrina he got a huge grin from her. His lighter mood rubbing off on her. “Daddy loves his little girl,” he cooed snuggling her. Delighting in her crystal clear giggle “I can’t believe my baby will be a year old next month,” he mumbled to himself as he dressed her for the day. Running his fingers through her baby soft hair. Thankful that she didn’t have her mothers hair color even if she did have her facial features. “I hope your mama comes. I’d hate for her to miss your first birthday.” Ian kissed his little girl on the cheek then turned to go down stairs where his parents were waiting to take charge of her.
“Good luck Ian,” Aimee told him as he left putting on a brave face for his benefit.
“Thanks mom,” he said going back to give her a hug “love you.”
Aimee clung to him a moment catching Gene’s eyes she laughed letting him go “have a good day son.”
“I will mom,” he raced out of the house eager to start his day.
“Celia, did you hear?” Samantha asked coming up to where she was studying.
Shaking her head “heard what?” Celia asked as she tried to concentrate on her paper. Samantha was always dropping by with the latest gossip that Celia only listened to half of what she said.
“Ian Bennett dropped all his classes,” she announced pleased with herself and the news she was delivering. Turning to Celia “isn’t he your ex-boyfriend?” he eyes glittered with interest.
Nodding Celia stood up and gathered her things. She was followed by half a dozen interested eyes as the others watched her absorbing Samantha’s announcement.
Entering her room Celia tried to reach Ian but her calls went unanswered. Sending a text she went to change for her date. She couldn’t hep but wonder how Ian was doing since she was last at home. Snorting a little she wondered when she had started thinking of Ian’s home as hers. But in her mind it was the only home she ever had. At times like this she missed the steady sure love the Bennett’s offered.
That evening as she sat through the most mind numbing movie she ever had the misfortune of watching she decide she didn’t want a second date with Stephen. She thought dating from the brain trust would provide her with the intellectual stimulation she desired but so far all she was was bored. She wanted some excitement. Someone who could get her blood pumping. Maybe she should give John a chance. John had been asking her out for a couple of months so far she had strung him along on dreams of her changing her mind. It was time to let him think he had finally won her over.
Giving Stephen a kiss on the cheek good night she deftly avoided agreeing to a repeat of the nights snooze fest. The following morning as she walked to class she heard someone run up behind her. Smiling she knew who it was before she saw him. “John what a pleasant surprise?”
“It is?” a fleeting look of confusion creased his face before he caught himself “of course it is.”
She wrapped her arms around his waist smiling brightly up at him “I’m always surprised to see you.”
Grinning he said “how about you and me getting together later tonight, there’s this party….”
“That sounds like a lot of fun,” she gazed up at him thinking how easy it was to snare him hook, line and sinker.”where’s the party so I can meet you there?”
As she suspected John was a lot more fun then Stephen ever could be. She was at a party amongst the most popular on campus. She was enjoying herself despite the fact John as all but ignoring her. Towards the end of the night everyone was in various stages of drunkenness or high on something. it was exactly what Celia wanted to get her mind off the one person she wanted and couldn’t have. No one she had dated had filled the hole in her heart that Ian had left her with. He had been the perfect mix of spontaneous fun and intelligence she was looking for and doubted she’d ever find again. She had to figure out how to live without him.
The day after the party she lay in bed moaning softly from the headache pounding between her eyes. Movement on the other side of the bed had her wondering what she had done the night before. She had wanted a bit of fun but not this much fun. At least she hoped it had been fun and it was safe fun. Sitting up she shoved the stranger in her be to wake him up. When he moved and she could see his face she was somewhat relieved to find the man was John. At least she knew who she had slept with. “John get up,” she shoved again eliciting a moan but not much movement. Sighing she let her head flop down onto her pillow. Closing her eyes to the harsh sunlight filtering through the curtains. Drawing up the willpower she dragged herself from the bed. Grabbing clothes as she went to shower.
Standing beneath the pelting shower head she let the water massage her tired and aching head. How much had she drank last night? She hadn’t thought it was that much? Did she try something else? As much as she racked her brain she couldn’t remember what she did or took the night before. All she came up with was it might not have been the best idea she ever had. Like leaving Ian and voice in head said. Why couldn’t she just find someone or something to help her forget her biggest mistake?
Walking back into her room John was still passed out in her bed. She had a feeling he was going to be difficult to get rid of. Looking for her books to do some studying she found an unopened envelope. Glancing at it she realized it was from Ian. Shaking her head she almost tossed it in the over flowing trashcan when she abruptly decided to see what it said.
Smiling as she opened it, half hoping it was a letter telling her how much Ian loved her. With growing anticipation she ripped the envelope open. Smiling as she pulled the card out. As her eyes scanned it her smiled faded as she realized it was just a birthday invite for Katrina’s first birthday. Has it really been that long? She had last seen Katrina when she was 4 or 5 months old. Setting the invitation aside she wondered if she should go.
The day of the party was filled with excitement and anticipation. Ian hoped Celia would be there for their daughter. He wanted to see if she had figured out what she needed, if she was ready to come. He wanted Katrina to know her mother. Now that she was a year old she would soon be walking, talking and asking questions. Ian wanted to be able to tell her that mama loved her but as it stood he wouldn’t be able to. How could he say that about someone who hadn’t seen their daughter in months?
Ian had gotten the day off to celebrate his little girls birthday. A friend from work had offered to help him decorate for the party. He knew it was silly since it was only going to be him, his brother and grandparents but he wanted it to be perfect. While his parents went to the airport to pick up William and Amelia Ian set out to decorate for the big event.
Beth smiled at him “calm down Ian it’s her first birthday not her sweet sixteen. She’s going to love it no matter what and if your luck she won’t head but the cake.”
“I know but I want it to be perfect,” Ian said as he nervously rushed around doing one thing after another.
Shaking her head Beth smiled at him amazed that this ordinarily confidant guy was a basket case over his daughter’s birthday part. “Ian you don’t have to work so hard. Katrina loves you regardless of whether her mom comes.”
Stopping Ian stared at her “is that what I’m doing? Trying to make up for Celia’s absence by wanting everything to be perfect.”
Nodding Beth smiled at him “it’s not your fault that her mom is the way she is. You don’t have to worry about how Katrina feeling left out or neglected. She’s surrounded by people who love her. What more could a little girl ask for?”
“Her mother,” Ian muttered under his breath.
Matt came home as they were finishing decorating. Smiling he said “you’re hired.”
“I’m hired for what?” Ian asked a hint of confusion in his voice.
“To decorate for my 18th birthday party. You know that’s coming up soon,” Matt told him his eyes dancing. “I promise I’ll return the favor on your birthday.”
“How old are you Ian?” Beth asked.
“He’ll be nineteen,” Matt answered for him.
“Wow I thought you were older,” Beth said trying to cover up her disappointment.
“Some days I feel like I’m thirty,” Ian told her not understanding her sudden withdrawal.
“You act like it too” Matty added.
“Well I’ve got to go,” Beth said moving towards the door.
“Do you have to?” Ian asked “I was hoping you’d stay. After all the work you did, don’t you want to stay and have some cake?” Turning his violet eyes on her pretending to pout he pleaded “please.”
Laughing “ok you win but it’s only because I really like chocolate cake. Not because of you and your pathetic puppy dog eyes.”
“So Beth do you like my brother….”
“Matt” Ian said in a tone that Matt recognized but chose to ignore.
“Your brother is a good friend,” Beth told him not wanting to get into this conversation.
“Oh,” Matt acknowledged somewhat disappointed “but would you consider dating him if you weren’t friends?” Looking at his brother he continued despite the look of death Ian was giving him. “You see Ian needs a girlfriend and since he won’t go out and find one I thought being the good brother I am I’ll help him out.”
“Matt we work together. It’s never a good idea to date someone you work with,” she smiled trying to take the sting out of her words “besides I’m too old for him.”
“You’re not that old,” Matt protested.
“Twenty-two. That’s too old to be dating a kid,” she told him firmly.
“I’m not a kid,” Ian said from where he stood “I’m a fireman, a father not a kid.”
“Ian I didn’t mean it like that….” Beth tried to back pedal after sticking her foot in her mouth.
“No you were very clear” Ian said dismissing the subject. Stuffing his feelings aside had become a habit not just a necessity. It was time for him to realize that girls his own age weren’t interested in a guy with a kid and anyone older just saw him as a kid. Why would Beth be any different?
Turning towards the door as it opened Ian smiled as his grandpa came in. William looked good for his age, he just turned seventy-two last month. “Grandpa,” both Ian and Matty said together moving to give the older man a group hug.
“You’re both looking good,” William smiled at them “where’s my great-granddaughter?
“Just waking up from her nap,” Ian told him. “I’ll go get her.” He passed the sour looking Amelia on his way past. He doubted he’d ever do anything that would please her.
“Mom” Aimee moved to divert her attention.
Not one to be easily distracted Amelia zeroed in on Beth asking “who is this young woman?”
“A co-worker of Ian’s” Matt supplied.
“I’m Beth,” the girl introduced herself.
“You’re a firefighter,” Amelia stated more than asked. Beth nodded in agreement. “Are you Ian’s girlfriend?” she asked.
Shocked Beth shook her head. “Mother” Aimee protested “she’s a friend who helped decorate.”
“I was just asking,” Amelia muttered “how was I supposed to know. She could be carrying my next illegitimate grandchild.”
“Oh mother. Why must you always spoil things?” Aimee asked in exasperation.
William came up holding Katrina “there’s nothing illegitimate about this little girl. She has the Bennett red-gold hair.” He looked at Aimee “I’m sorry for the things Amelia said. She really can’t help it.”
Catching the note of sadness in his voice Aimee looked at William in concern “what’s wrong?”
“She has Alzheimer’s my dear. It’s wrecking havoc with her personality and memory. I suspected something was off about her for a while but I never thought it was this.” William looked fondly at his wife for the past twenty years.
“If you need help” Aimee offered staring at her mother.
“I know but we’ve discussed it and when the time comes we have a facility lined up to take care of her needs. We don’t want to burden you or anyone else with this. It’s really for the best Aimee. As the disease progresses she’ll require more specialized care. Unfortunately she isn’t responding well to drugs and that time will come sooner than we would like.” William sighed then smiled down at the little girl in his arms “but we’ll discuss this later we have a birthday to celebrate.”
Gene came up and wrapped his arms around his wife. Aimee looked up at him “you knew?”
“I suspected something after their last visit. I suggested he take her in to see if something was wrong. It took him this long to get her to see a doctor.” Squeezing her tight “so you see I wasn’t keeping anything from you. I didn’t know for sure until dad said they were coming and needed to talk to us.”
“Gene what am I going to do?” she cried “I liked the person she had become but now she’s becoming more and more like the person I hated growing up.”
“All you can do is love her Aimee. She can’t help what’s happening to her. Just remember that. We’ll talk to the kids later tell them what’s happening,” Gene gold her.
“Gene?” Aimee said turning up at him “when mom goes to live in that care facility we should have William move in here with us. He’ll be lonely without her and it’ll give Katrina a chance to know her great-grandfather.”
Kissing her cheek “I love you,” he said squeezing her against him.
Standing outside Celia watched the small gathering to celebrate her baby’s first birthday. She had every intention of going inside until she saw the pink haired girl. It hit her like a ton of bricks that she was too late. Ian had moved on. She had let him get away. Heart pounding loudly in her ears, she ran from the porch. Stopping long enough to put the present she brought in the mail box.