My Darling Bride: Chapter 4

EMMY

It’s barely seven in the morning when the wailing starts. Dragging myself out of bed, I rub my eyes and pad out into the hall. I pass Jane’s room and peek in. Snoring softly, my sister has a sleep mask on, ear plugs in her ears.

In the next room, Andrew stirs and stretches his arms. “Better get her before she wakes up the whole neighborhood,” he says with a crooked smile.

“I will. You have an early class?” I ask, lingering at his door as I tug my robe around my sleep shorts and shirt.

He scrubs his jaw. “Meeting a girl at the library. She’s been taking notes in philosophy. I haven’t.”

“Hey, NYU isn’t cheap.” His tuition (sixty thousand a year) weighs heavily on my shoulders. “Keep those grades up.”

“All right, Ma. I promise.”

“Not your mama.” I cross my arms and pretend to glower. “But I am your elder by eight years.”

Wearing pajama pants, he’s chuckling under his breath as he gives me a jaunty wave and disappears into his bathroom, then pokes his head back out. His mahogany curls frame an angelic face with dimples. He looks exactly like our dad, yet they have completely different personalities. “If Kian shows up, call me.”

I groan. He says it every morning, as if I’ll forget. “Don’t worry about that. Besides, the building has been warned.” All twenty-five residents. I went door to door to make sure everyone knows to never open the door for him. “No one will buzz him in.”

He glances at my throat, nose flaring. The bruises have faded, but it’s as if he’s picturing them the day I came home, over a week ago. I’ve since blocked Kian’s number, and he’s only shown up once. Through the speaker box, I threatened to call the police, and that did the trick. The last thing he needs is bad press.

He sighs. “Maybe you should have filed a report.”

“And have a media circus outside our apartment? Reporters taking pictures and following me? Dragging up what happened with our parents? Yes, there’d be support from people, sure, and I appreciate that women are believed these days, but there are also assholes who’d exploit every facet of our past. So, no. He won’t come back. Not if he wants to play football.”

His expression hardens. “It’s what the fucker deserves.”

My head dips as I stare at the hardwood floors. Something snapped in Vegas, like a rubber band that had been stretched too thin. He hurt me.

“You aren’t getting back together with him, are you?” His eyes search my face.

A panicky feeling tugs at me. “Of course not. Go. Shower. I’ll make coffee and breakfast.”

Leaving him, I walk down the hall to the nursery. Painted a soft lilac color, the furniture is white French country. I lean against the doorjamb as Londyn struggles to push up to sitting, her cry changing to coos when she sees me. She manages to stand by gripping the wooden rail of the baby bed. Delighted at her accomplishment, she squeals loudly enough to wake the family in the apartment below us. At nine months, she is freaking adorable.

I tug her up and press my nose to her head, inhaling the sweet scent of her skin as joy ripples over me.

“Good morning, baby girl,” I murmur as I sway with her in front of the window, where the sun is starting to peek over the Manhattan skyline. The city is coming alive as the first rays of sunshine reflect off the skyscrapers and brownstones. The tranquility is layered with the rumbling of the subway and the honking of yellow cabs. It’s like music to my ears compared to the vastness of the desert.

“Bu, bu, bu.” She watches a bus screech to a stop at a red light and points.

“Yes, the bus is going too fast, but it stopped. Everyone’s got somewhere to be.” I rub my hand over the tufts of wispy blonde hair on top of her head. “How was your night? Any dreams?” I love talking to her, and I’ve read all the baby books. Communication is key in helping her develop language skills, and she’s going to be a little genius.

She grabs my hair and tugs. “Daaa.”

I rub our noses together. “Yes, my love. You want a fresh diaper?”

After changing her, I sweep her up in my arms and head to the kitchen of our apartment. Located in Manhattan and bordering the East River, it’s over three thousand square feet and takes up the top level of the six-story Bradford Building. It’s not posh or fancy—in fact, it’s old and needs updating terribly—but the apartment has been in my family for five generations, counting Londyn. My grandmother was born here. My great-grandfather helped build it.

A shadow creeps into my thoughts. When Gran passed away, she left us a hefty second mortgage. My teeth worry my bottom lip as I prepare Londyn’s milk, then sit with her at the table.

After I’ve fed and set her up on the floor with some toys, it’s another half hour before Jane walks into the kitchen. My hair is more platinum, while hers is honey colored. Like me, her eyes are a bright green, slightly tilted, and thickly lashed. Taller than me, she’s the kind of beautiful that makes you blink to make sure she’s real.

My eyes snag on a family photo framed on the wall across from the kitchen table. My father stands with an easy smile on his face, although he was never easy. My mother gazes down at Jane, her expression blank. Gran holds baby Andrew. It’s the last photo of all of us.

Grief blooms like a rose in my chest. You’d think I’d be better after a year of Gran being gone, that I would have been prepared for it, since she’d been dealing with a series of strokes, but the sorrow crushes me over and over. I blink tears away and swallow thickly. After her first stroke, six years ago, I took over caring for her and also made sure Jane and Andrew had what they needed. Andrew was fourteen, Jane fifteen. I was twenty-two, fresh from college, and in charge of everyone. My world shrank as I focused on my family.

Jane gets her coffee, then plops down at the table.

“Morning,” I say as I set down creamer for her.

She douses it in her coffee, her eyebrows lowering.

“You had a late night,” I murmur. She didn’t get home until two in the morning. “You could have texted.”

“I wanted to see friends. We had dinner and drinks, then went dancing. Not a big deal.” She pauses. “I feel your eyes on me. Don’t judge me, Emmy. You aren’t raising a baby alone. I needed a break.”

“You aren’t alone,” I say as I study the tightness around her mouth, the bend in her shoulders, as if she’s curling in on herself. We have seven years between us, and that space has only widened since she had Londyn. I don’t know how to stop it. She used to smile more, used to laugh. Two years ago, her modeling career was blossoming, with exotic destinations and layouts in high-end magazines. Then she got pregnant. The final nail was her boyfriend dumping her. Gran died right after.

Her bottom lip trembles. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I should have texted. Forgive me?”

“Of course.”

“I’m glad you’re back. I felt so . . . lost when you were gone.”

I rub her shoulder. “I’m back. We’re gonna be fine.”

She chews on her lip, then says, “Look, Emmy, I’ve been thinking . . . even with both of us working, this apartment is sucking us dry. Each month, it’s hard to make the payments. We could sell, then cover the mortgage and make money.”

“What? No.”

“A bill collector called me while you were in Vegas.”

My hospital bills. They aren’t terrible—thank God for insurance—but it’s still money I’ve been putting elsewhere.

I’m not a quitter. Gran left us the apartment with the understanding that I keep it. “I’ll call them back and take care of it. We can’t sell, Jane. This is our home. If we did, we’d have to find something, and housing is expensive everywhere.”

She waves her hands around. “The stove doesn’t work half the time, we need a new water heater, and the electricity bill will skyrocket this summer. I miss Gran, too, but she isn’t here. She’s gone.”

My hands clench. “I can’t give up our home.”

Andrew waltzes in, grabs a plate of eggs and a bagel, then stuffs half of it in his mouth. “Yo, did I interrupt NATO negotiations?” He darts his eyes between us.

“No,” I say.

“Morning, Tiny,” Jane says, calling him by his childhood nickname.

“Aaaa, aaaa, aaaa” comes from Londyn as she holds her hands up for him.

He picks her up and dances with her around the room. “At least Londyn adores my company,” he says as he puts her down in front of her toys, then takes my hand and laces our fingers together. “Your turn, Ma. Let’s salsa.”

Setting down my coffee, I try to follow his lead but can’t keep up with his beat. “I recall a time when the only dance you knew was the pee-pee dance. Who’s teaching you?”

He waggles his eyebrows. “The girl at the library. She’s a dancer.”

“Stripper?” Jane snarks as she nibbles on a protein bar.

He dances us close to her and pops her on the arm. “No, dumbass. She’s in a show.”

“Don’t say ‘dumb a-s-s’ in front of you-know-who,” I remind him.

He swings me out, dances back, then dips me until my hair trails the tile.

“Help, Londyn. Your uncle thinks he’s Patrick Swayze,” I call out.

She claps her hands. “Eeee, eeee, eeee.”

Andrew bows. “And my job here is done. All the women are smiling.”

Jane sticks her tongue out at him. “You never dance with me.”

He pours himself a cup of coffee and clinks his cup with hers. “Next time I’ll teach you how to moonwalk. You can’t do it, and frankly, it’s embarrassing. For a model, you’re very uncoordinated and, dare I say . . . clumsy.”

I giggle. “Oh, the drama. Those are fighting words. We better give them some room, Londyn.”

Jane points a finger at Andrew. “You’re a turd. I walk a catwalk like I was born on top of it.”

“Anyone can strike a pose.” He throws his shoulders back, puts his hand on his hip, then struts across the floor with big steps. He stops and levels us with a haughty, squinty look.

I smirk. “Blue Steel. You’ve got it.”

Jane snorts. “You wish you were me. Oh, I forget, you’re too short to be a model, Andrew.”

“I’m six foot!” he calls. “And I never wanted to be a vapid model.”

“I’m not vapid, you Neanderthal,” she snaps back, “but I am taller.”

“By a quarter of an inch,” he retorts. “I’ve grown. Come on, let’s see who’s taller. Put your back to mine, and let Emmy measure.”

“Your head is bigger. Big, fat, ugly head,” she calls out.

I roll my eyes. “Children, please. Stop or I’ll put you both in the corner.”

“All right, Ma,” Andrew murmurs, and I push him back, laughing.

The doorbell rings, and Jane jumps up. “That’s the sitter. I’ve got a meeting with my agent today. Maybe it’s about a job.”

When she leaves to let Sasha, an older woman who lives downstairs, in the apartment, Andrew follows me out into the hallway.

“Emmy, look, I can drop out of school. NYU isn’t going anywhere.”

He must have heard us talking.

I cross my arms, drawing an obstinate line. “I went to college, Jane had acting lessons, and you’ll get your turn. Plus, you help out with Londyn.” He watches her at night if neither Jane nor I are here.

“What about a school loan?”

“You’re only nineteen,” I insist. “School debt like that will follow you the rest of your life.”

“I’ll quit.”

“No, Andrew, stop saying that. You’ve dreamed of NYU for years.”

He sighs, his face uncertain. “You had heart surgery, then picked back up with two jobs. It makes me feel like shit.”

“It was minor surgery.”

“No, it wasn’t. You could have died, Emmy. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever been through.”

“Oh, sweetie. People as young as me rarely die of A-fib. I’m going to be fine.”

Atrial fibrillation is a rhythm disorder caused by irregular heartbeats in the upper chambers. When the too-fast pounding in my chest and shortness of breath started a few years ago, I thought it was just panic attacks or PTSD from my childhood. It wasn’t. After getting an official diagnosis, I tried meds, which worked for a while, but then I stopped. What followed was me at the bookstore doing my job, when my heart started pounding out of control, as if I’d run a marathon. I tried to breathe slowly and soothe myself like I’d been taught, but nothing worked. My chest wouldn’t stop roaring like a train. My head swam, and I stumbled into a bookshelf and passed out. They rushed me to the doctor, and a week later, I underwent mini-maze surgery.

I give him a fierce hug, tell him that everything will be okay, then shoo him out the door. Later, I go to my room and sprawl out on the bed and rub my face.

Yes, I’m running out of options when it comes to keeping the apartment, but at the top of my worries is the fact that I stole a car.

Every time the doorbell rings, I imagine it’s the cops. Yesterday, I was alone when someone knocked on the door, and I forced myself to look through the peephole. I expected NYPD, but it was the neighbor downstairs selling cookies for her school. I was so thankful that I bought ten boxes.

I chew on my lips. Yes, I gave Andrew valid reasons for not filing a report against Kian, but I’m also scared that going to the police station will only end up in me being arrested for theft; then I’ll be sent to rot in some desert prison in Arizona. I’ll never get to see my family.

Last night, my dreams featured me in a cell in the middle of the desert, naked and freezing as I slept on the bunk. Millions of scorpions crawled on the floor, up the walls, and over my face. That’s when I woke up, screaming, as I tossed covers in every direction to fight imaginary scorpions.

Obviously, my meandering subconsciousness worries for my future as well, and if dreams come true, I’m screwed.

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