Chapter 24

Just Give Me a Reason

Shortly after Freya’s first birthday, we found ourselves back in Britechester for Jamie and Athena’s wedding. That was definitely not something I’d seen coming.

But I was happy for them, even if I could feel my own bitterness simmering underneath. I would never have what they clearly had.

It was nice to see all my old university friends again, though. I hadn’t really kept in touch with Cierra, Ivan and the others since we graduated.

Katherine felt awkward being there, obviously. Not only was she surrounded by former students, but everyone knew our story by now. And her old house was just across the canal from here.

I saw her wiping a tear away, but I ignored it. I didn’t want to draw any unwanted attention to her.

Instead, I was catching up with Ivan. We even laughed about how I’d once tried to hide that I slept with Katherine. He told me that the second he had asked at the festival, the guilty look on my face had confirmed everything.

Jamie and Athena were both straight edge health nuts, so it was an alcohol-free wedding, but I still managed to have a pretty good time sober.

Katherine came over and told me that she would like to go for a brief walk. Just to have a look around her old neighbourhood. Athena heard her, and gave me a worried look.

I had a flashback to the look Athena gave me in the library a few years ago when Katherine had asked me to meet her in her office. But I shrugged and told Katherine to do whatever she wanted.

She left and Athena sat down next to me.

“I think she wanted you to go with her”, she said quietly.

That hadn’t occurred to me at all.

I lost myself in conversation again as Katherine headed towards her old home.

When she reached the house, she ran into Antony, who was just about to leave. And he wasn’t alone. But they had already seen her, so she had no other option than saying hello.

Antony happily introduced her to his girlfriend Amber.

Or rather fiancée. They’d gotten engaged a few weeks before. Amber cheerfully showed off her enormous diamond ring.

She congratulated them, and Antony even politely asked how our daughter was doing. He and Amber seemed genuinely happy and in love.

Katherine said goodbye as quickly as she could without being rude.

When she came back to Jamie and Athena’s house, she was visibly upset. She told me what had happened.

I was not impressed. I felt like she was asking to be hurt by going anywhere near her ex-husband or his house. We traveled home mostly in silence.

When we got back home that night, Katherine was still sad.

I wished Freya wasn’t with my parents for the weekend. I badly needed Katherine to be distracted by something so I could have a drink. And I was still angry with her.

I thought she was stupid for going back to the house. I told her so.

The fight was inevitable.

I told her that I’d been embarrassed when she left me alone at the wedding to go visit her ex. I didn’t tell her that part of me had both feared and hoped she’d get back with him.

She said she just wanted to see the house again, she didn’t know Antony would be outside. She would have preferred that he hadn’t been there so she didn’t have to meet little Miss Perfect.

“So now you’re upset that he finally moved on, despite the fact that he tried to mess with you for months during the divorce and you’ve been with me the whole time?”

“I don’t think I’m being unreasonable, Eric. I’m perfectly capable of hating his guts and mourning something I lost at the same time.”

“So what are you going to do about it, Katherine? Go win him back?”

“Eric, you’re not listening to me, I just told you how much I hate him!”

“It just makes me sad being surrounded by happy couples when you and I are obviously not doing great! Is that really so strange?”

I couldn’t stop myself. I was angry, bitter and uncomfortably sober.

“Maybe you should have thought about that before you got yourself knocked up by a student.”

The slap wasn’t hard but it took me by surprise.

Katherine seemed just as surprised at what she’d done. I grabbed her wrist and pinned her down.

Never hit me again”, I growled.

She just glared at me, defiantly.

We looked at each other, both breathing heavily. For the first time in over a year, we felt the same way at the same time – even if the feeling was rage.

Katherine pulled me down and kissed me, hard. I felt how her anger and frustration finally mirrored my own.

They say that love and hate are two sides of the same coin.

Turns out that rage can feel remarkably close to passion.

Afterwards, we fell asleep in each other’s arms for the first time since Freya was born.

It was the beginning of the end.

After that night, things slowly changed. Katherine would get up at dawn and go for a run before work. She got fitter and more confident, stopped seeking me out for reassurance.

We also welcomed Cooper into the family. His owner had come to the clinic, asking if I knew anyone who could take him, and I’d immediately called Katherine to ask if we could keep him. She said yes, surprising me. She was never a dog person.

Getting Cooper definitely helped me. After our night of rage, Katherine had been avoiding me. And while it was kind of a relief that she no longer tried to touch or even talk to me, it also made me even lonelier than before.

Katherine would be out jogging when I woke up, and I would run with Cooper late at night. This way, she’d already be sleeping when I came back so I could have a drink and be alone with my thoughts before going to bed.

The clinic was going well. We were consistently making money, and I even considered getting rid of Lloyd and getting a nurse instead. His work wasn’t quite up to my high standards.

The seasons passed uneventfully. Katherine and I actually got along much better now that we no longer tried to make the relationship work. We made polite smalltalk, mostly about Freya or various household chores, and we rarely argued.

While Katherine and I grew further apart over the months, I became much closer to my daughter. It had started slowly, like when she was about eight months old, and I realised that her eyes had turned out green, exactly like my own. Shortly after Jamie and Athena’s wedding, she’d taken her first real steps and I was so proud I felt like my heart would burst.

The first time she called me “dada”, I cried.

The older she got, the more she looked and acted like me.

She was developing a nose that I recognised as mine – and my father’s. I would even see my mother in her features. She loved animals, especially Cooper, and could constantly be found hugging and petting him. It reminded me of the old pictures of Maggie and me on my parents’ walls.

In everything but our relationship, Katherine seemed to thrive. Her administrative talent and obvious intelligence had gotten her promoted to senior manager in no time, and she’d become interested in stocks and trading. She seemed mostly content.

On an average weeknight, we almost looked like a real, normal family. Things were fine. Not perfect, but I figured I could live like this. I even made an effort to drink less. For Freya’s sake.

On family-oriented holidays like Harvestfest, however, the distance between us was especially noticeable. I hadn’t realised how much effort Katherine had been putting into our relationship until she simply stopped trying.

Freya was not a fan of awkward silences, though, and made sure the focus was on her whenever Katherine and I got too caught up in our own thoughts.

It was hard not to smile when she stirred up trouble only to then play innocent. Even Katherine would laugh at her antics.

It was impossible not to adore Freya, and I could barely remember why I had struggled so much in the first year or so. What had been wrong with me? She was my daughter, she felt like a part of me.

Katherine and Kailani had become like sisters. I’d come home to find them chatting on the couch at least twice a week. We had tried having dinner with them a few times, but Colten and Kailani’s well-functioning relationship made me and Katherine look so much worse.

So instead Kailani came to our house, and sometimes she’d bring her own toddler, but Colten was usually home from work early to take care of both of their boys so she could come alone.

I always made a lot of noise coming in if I knew Kailani was there. I didn’t want to accidentally overhear Katherine complaining about me. I’m sure she did, based on how often she looked a bit guilty when I walked in.

But I was also glad that she had a friend to talk to. And whenever Kailani was here, it meant that Freya and I got to have dinner by ourselves.

In her eyes, at least, dada could do nothing wrong.

And I loved spending time alone with my biggest fan.

Being a dad gave me a new appreciation for things. I loved the raw beauty of Brindleton Bay, which was much more interesting than the suburbs of Newcrest where I grew up, but it excited me even more to see it through Freya’s eyes.

The night before Winterfest, I took her out for a little walk, bundled up in warm clothes. We looked at the snow falling quietly in the dark. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

This was the first winter Freya had been old enough to really appreciate snow, and her excitement was infectious. I felt like I had been taking snow for granted until now.

She giggled and tried to catch the falling snowflakes with her little hands, and I hugged her tight. I didn’t know it was possible to love someone this much.

Winterfest morning was beautiful. Everything was covered in fresh snow and Brindleton Bay looked like a postcard.

My parents had come all the way from Newcrest to spend Winterfest with us, and I was excited to see them. It had been a few months since their last visit and they weren’t getting any younger. I wanted Freya to spend as much time with her grandparents as possible.

Katherine and I played our roles perfectly. I didn’t want my parents to worry, so I never discussed our relationship with them, but I think they suspected that things weren’t great. They were always very kind towards Katherine, but never seemed especially fond of her.

They adored Freya, though. My father didn’t even take off his coat before tossing her into the air to make her laugh.

My mother wanted a family portrait. Katherine immediately volunteered to take one. Months later, when it was all too late, I would think back to this day and wonder if she had kept herself out of the picture on purpose.

But during Winterfest, I thought nothing of it. I was busy spending time with my family.

Dinner went well. I updated my parents on the clinic, but Katherine and I mostly told them about Freya. How many words she knew by now, all the funny things she had said and done since their last visit.

Katherine and I both had a lot of practice putting on a performance to make things seem normal by now, but I wondered if my parents sensed that we were trying a little too hard.

It made me happy and a little bit envious to see the obvious love between my parents, even after over 25 years of marriage. I hoped they would set a better example for Freya than Katherine and I did.

My father was entertaining us with some of the most outrageous divorce lawsuits he’d seen in his career.

Katherine and I weren’t married, and I had often wondered if it would be better if we simply broke up, stopped pretending. But I knew exactly what would happen. She would take Freya with her, and I would at best get to see my daughter half the time – if I was extremely lucky. I couldn’t risk that.

I had considered asking my father what rights I would have, but I knew there was no good solution except staying with Katherine. Even if I could somehow keep Freya to myself, she would just lose her mother instead. I couldn’t do that to either of them.

Once more, I pushed away any thoughts of leaving Katherine. I had to keep going. For my daughter.

For Freya.

A few weeks after Winterfest, I woke up in the middle of the night. At first I wasn’t sure what woke me up, but then I heard Katherine in the bathroom.

It sounded like she was crying, trying to be quiet. I put my arm on her pillow. Still warm, she couldn’t have been gone for long.

Then I noticed that she’d left her phone behind. The screen was still on, and my curiosity got the better of me.

She had been chatting to Kailani. I only had time to read Katherine’s last message as I heard her blowing her nose in the bathroom. It simply said:

“Thank you both, but I can’t do this anymore. I’m leaving him.


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