“Lark? Where are you?” I yelled as I let myself into her house after banging for five minutes. I was so pissed and frustrated with her, and I knew I needed to get my temper under control before we saw each other or it would be a massive fight. She knew how important it was to me that I get things on track with Thornton, and she knew I was expecting her to pick up Jude on time. There were times when I had to wonder what the hell went on inside her head.
It was quiet in the house, but her car was in the driveway, so I was sure she’d fallen asleep and missed her alarm. She’d been behaving so erratic lately, and I didn’t know why but I was sure it had everything to do with my parents and the threats my father had levied at her about which she hadn’t told me, based on my son’s slip of the tongue.
We were going to have a long talk shortly. Jude had no details regarding what went down between Lark and KC, and I wasn’t about to pump my own kid for information. I would, however, push his mother for every goddamn detail. We had to formalize a game plan because I knew for fucking sure my father already had a big one in place. We’d fight my mom and dad tooth and nail against whatever they were going to try to pull to get Jude. We weren’t going to lose our son.
I walked back to her bedroom, finding the bed empty. Lark wasn’t on the couch, and as I’d walked into Jude’s room, I saw she wasn’t in his bed either. I glanced around her room seeing nothing amiss, so I tipped open the bathroom door because there was a light on inside. That’s when I saw her, still fully clothed. Oh, God!
It was gruesome. Blood was all over the white tile, having stained the grout a deep maroon, and the bathtub looked as if she was painting it brick red. Lark’s arms had been carved with a razor blade lying on the floor beneath her index and middle fingers which were extended on her left hand as if the blade had just fallen from her grip. I immediately touched her neck to feel for a pulse, but I wasn’t surprised I didn’t find one. Her skin was so cold to the touch it sent a shiver down my spine. I hurriedly ran to her room to call nine-one-one from the landline.
While I remained on the line with the dispatcher to await the police, I called Rory from my cell. “I thought you had a date right about now?”
“Aurora, come over to Lark’s now. She’s… fuck, it’s bad,” I told her before I hung up.
I surveyed her bedroom for any clue as to why she’d taken such a drastic step. I knew for a fact she loved our son. There was no reason I could fathom as to why she’d taken her own life. I racked my brain, but nothing made sense.
I hurried to Jude’s room and quickly looked around, finding two envelopes I didn’t see when I first walked passed the door. One was addressed to me; one to Judah. I knew the police would take them, but I wanted to see what they said first, so I opened mine.
I’m sorry I took the coward’s way out. I love you. I’ve always loved you though I know you’ll never love me. Believe me, that’s not why I decided it was better if I wasn’t around for you and Jude.
I’ve perpetrated a horrible lie on you for a long time, and it’s time I come clean with you, Kenny. Judah isn’t your biological son, and your parents want to take him from us so they’ll demand a paternity test during the proceedings. When that test comes back, and he’s not yours, I… Well, I don’t know what to do anymore. I have no idea what you’ll do, and I won’t see you fall apart because of what I’ve done.
I’m a terrible person for doing this to you, but I can’t handle all the guilt and lies anymore. I thought about taking him away, but I knew you’d find us. I just couldn’t face you anymore knowing how I’ve lied to you for all these years and what my lies cost you. I messed up your life so horribly, and I can’t live with myself another day.
I don’t know who Jude’s father is because I didn’t get his name. Yes, like your father accused, I’m a whore, but I love my son, as do you. Please, please take care of him. I have no one else to depend on. I’m not good enough for Judah, but Kennedy, you are.
Make sure he knows I loved him.
I read it three times, and when I heard the sirens, I shoved it in my pocket, quickly opening the envelope with Jude’s name on it.
Baby boy –
I love you. Listen to what your father tells you because he’s a wise man and loves you very much. I made a mess of things, and I just wasn’t strong enough to fix it.
I will always, always love you, as will your dad. Don’t take anything for granted. Love with your whole heart. Talk to your dad about things that bother you because he’s a good man.
I’m so sorry to leave you, but I know you’ll be in very loving hands.
I love you always and forever,
I took the note back to the bathroom and tented it on the sink. I tore up the letter she left for me and the envelopes, flushing them down the toilet as I heard the doorbell ringing. When I knew all the evidence was gone, I went to the door and opened it, seeing police and paramedics. I let them in and directed them to the bathroom. When I saw Elijah and Aurora behind them, I pulled them into Lark’s kitchen.
“Go to my house. I left Jude with Thornton. Don’t tell Jude what happened. Just take him home with you so Thornton doesn’t have to be there to deal with all of this crap. I’ll explain it to you when I can,” I whispered.
“I’ll go,” Eli responded, hurrying out of the house.
“Sir, who are you?” an officer asked me.
“I’m Kennedy Catrelle. Lark is my best friend and the mother of my son,” I responded. Only I knew Jude wasn’t mine, and it would stay that way for the rest of my fucking life. I didn’t understand why she’d chosen the suicide route, but it was too late to ask her. I’d worry about it later because I had a son to protect. That was my only thought at the moment.
Rory was trying to hold me, and I didn’t want to be touched. “Aurora, don’t, please. Go home and take Judah with you. I’ll pick him up tomorrow sometime. I need to get a handle on some shit before he finds out about this,” I demanded.
Cops and paramedics were swarming the place, and I heard an argument outside. “Sir, you can’t come in. This is a potential crime scene,” I heard. That was news to me.
“Yeah, well if it is, you’ll want to talk to me because I’ve been with Kennedy all evening. Let me in, or I’ll call my lawyer.” I heard the hard bite in Thornton’s voice, and at that moment, I wanted him. Hell, I needed him.
“Let him in,” I called. I saw Rory stiffen, but I wasn’t going to be deterred. When he walked into the kitchen, he pulled me from my chair and wrapped his arms around me. “Jude’s fine. Your brother-in-law just picked him up. I fed him dinner earlier. Kennedy, I’m here for you, and I’m not going anywhere,” he whispered.
I broke down. I felt safe enough in Thorn’s arms to do it, and I couldn’t help myself. He held me as people moved through the house, talking amongst themselves in hushed tones. When the gurney was pushed by the kitchen with a black, zipper bag strapped onto it, I completely lost my small hold on my composure, dry heaving into the sink. Thorn rubbed my back, reassuring me he was still there, and I appreciated him for it.
Lark, with all her idiosyncrasies, dark moods, and demanding nature, was a lovely person at heart. She’d flake out from time to time, and I’d keep Jude at my place to give her space to handle whatever was going on in her life at the time, but she was a good mother. She loved our son with everything inside her, so for her to do something so drastic and final? I was simply stunned.
Hours later—I had no idea how many, Thornton took me back to my house after he locked up Lark’s place. I needed to call her family to give them the horrific news, and I prayed they didn’t know Jude wasn’t mine because they’d take him from me. That was something I just couldn’t allow.
Thorn reached into my pants’ pocket, finding my house keys. He opened the door and led me inside. “How about some water and ibuprofen?” he asked.
Oh, as if that was what I wanted. “Do me a favor and go to the liquor store. Bourbon sounds about right,” I announced without thinking. It was the first thing that popped into my head, and I could almost feel the burn in my throat… the burn I’d missed a lot over the last three years.
Thorn walked over to me as I stood in my kitchen leaning against the counter, and he turned me to look at him, staring intensely into my eyes. “Sure. How about I get a handle for myself and we can fall into those bottles together. I guess Jude will be fine on his own, right?”
I snapped out of my fog of shock. “Where is Jude?”
“Rory and Elijah have him, remember? I’ll make you coffee, tea, or food, but I’m not going to let you throw three years of sobriety out the window. Give me your phone,” he ordered. I handed it to him without argument.
“Who’s your sponsor?”
I sat down at the table, craving the alcohol to make it all go away. If I could get numb, I could get through it, and then I’d pull out of the spiral, I was sure. I just need it tonight.
“Hello. It’s not Kennedy, it’s Thornton Marsh. You’re Franklin? Good. Could you come to Kennedy’s house? There’s been… Well, it’s a mess, and he needs you. Trust me, if I knew how to handle it, I would, but he needs you more than he needs me right now,” I heard through the fog.
“That’s not true. I need you,” I whispered, meaning every word.
My thoughts were spinning in my head because I couldn’t begin to comprehend why Lark had betrayed me by lying about our son and then leaving it to me to break his little, pure heart. I thought we were best friends and co-parents, and I had her to thank for my path to sobriety. I believed she and I were on the same page regarding how we wanted to raise our son. She’d kept things from me I could never imagine in my wildest dreams. What else had she hidden from me?
I felt a gentle kiss on my forehead, and I opened my eyes seeing Aurora sitting on the bed next to me. Her eyes were bloodshot, and I could tell she was as freaked out as me. I reached up and touched the hand she had on my cheek. “Rory, how’s Jude? Does he know? How the hell am I going to tell him?” I asked as another raft of tears began to fall.
“He’s with Eli. They went out for breakfast. He doesn’t know anything, Kennedy, but he’s asking a lot of questions. I was going to call Mom and Dad, but your watchdog told me, no, not to call them. I’m sorry, but you’ve got to start… Well, there are a lot of things to do,” she stated, quietly.
“Watchdog?” I asked.
“Thornton. He refuses to leave until he speaks with you, and he wouldn’t allow anyone to wake you. He told me not to call Mom and Dad until you were awake and had your coffee. I had to bully him to let me in this morning. The only person he’s allowed in the house without an argument is your sponsor. I can send Marsh away, Kennedy. If you don’t want to deal with him right now, I’ll get Eli to make him leave,” she complained. I remembered how things had proceeded the night before, and I was so fucking grateful to hear he stayed.
“I know you don’t want it, but I’m going to make you something to eat. Franklin said he’d be here as soon as he could, but I think it’s best if you eat and go to bed. I know you’re in shock, and I’m sure you’re exhausted as well. Now’s not the time for you to get sick, Kennedy. Stress wreaks havoc on the immune system,” Thornton informed. I immediately wanted to tell him to fuck himself, but my stomach rumbled, reminding me I hadn’t eaten lunch because we were going for sushi on our date, about which I’d been nervous.
“Fine. Just a small plate, please?” I asked. He heated up some meatloaf and made me a sandwich, just as I loved. He had grilled some mixed veg for Jude, and there was some left, so I had a bowl of that as well. When I finished eating, he took my hand and led me back to my bedroom, rummaging through my dresser until he found my pajama pants and a t-shirt.
“Here. Go get comfortable. I’ll hang your clothes if you pass them out the door,” Thorn offered.
I was on automatic pilot because I did exactly as he’d demanded without a word. I really wanted a drink—a tall glass of bourbon shaken with lots of ice, so it was freezing cold—but I could see he wasn’t going to let me have it. I decided I might as well go to bed since the next few days… weeks… months… years… were going to be unlike anything I’d ever handled in my life. I’d barely made it through losing Thorn. Now I had to help my son deal with losing his mother. I couldn’t even imagine how the fuck to handle it.
Thorn turned down the bed, and I climbed in, settling myself before he stepped away, moving to the door and turning to me with a tender smile. “I’ll just be right down the hall if you need me. Try to get some sleep, Kennedy.”
“Wait, please? Will you lay with me for a while? I don’t want to be by myself,” I whispered.
Without hesitation, he shed his shoes and climbed into bed next to me. “C’mere.” I moved closer to him as he leaned against the headboard. He situated my body with my head resting on his thigh. When his hands found my hair, I immediately relaxed. I fell asleep with the gentle stroking of his fingers on my scalp, just as he used to do when I was stressed about something in college. It brought me comfort then, and it didn’t fail me now.
“That’s one of the things I love about him. He’s a caretaker. I need a shower, and I need to talk to Jude. Can you call Eli to bring my son home?”
She nodded, but she looked apprehensive. “What?” I asked as I climbed out of bed.
“Kenny, I love you, but I’m not sure if it’s good for you that Thornton’s here. Given the history of all this…”
I chuckled. “It’s right he’s here, Rory. You have no idea what the man’s capable of doing, once he sets his mind to something. Please remember, I fucked him over. If he’s here, please just leave it alone.”
I went into the bathroom and stripped off to shower. I heard the door open and close, and I smiled. “I’ve got coffee, though you have the crappiest coffee in the world. I thought I taught you better,” Thorn complained.
“You’re still a coffee snob?” I asked as I washed my hair.
He laughed. “Of course, I am. I’m happy to see you know how to clean a bathroom after all these years. Tell me what you want me to do, Kennedy. I don’t want to overstep boundaries, but I’m here for you, and I’ll do anything you need,” he offered unselfishly.
I stuck my head out from behind the shower curtain. “Can you hand me a razor?”
He reached under the bathroom sink, knowing me too well, and handed me a new safety razor. I thanked him and grabbed the lather from the shelf in the shower, adjusting the mirror suction-cupped to the tile. “I need to call Lark’s parents. I guess I should talk to Jude first, but I don’t have the slightest idea how to explain it to him,” I said as I shaved my throat with shaking hands, trying not to slit it.
“Kennedy, I can call Lark’s parents if you’d rather not handle it. I mean, I don’t know what I’d say, but I can figure it out. Regarding Jude, well, I’m no expert with children. I’m not sure if I’d actually tell him the truth about how she died right now. He’s just lost his mother, and I don’t know if telling him it was by her own hand is the best idea. Do you… Did you have any inkling she was contemplating anything of the sort?”
I finished shaving and washed my face. After, I turned off the water and saw a towel shoved at me through the gap. I took it and wrapped it around my waist before I ripped open the curtain and looked at Thorn. “You don’t have to—this is so fucked up. You don’t need to be here and deal with this shit, Thorn. Damn her for doing this.” I was so hurt and pissed at her for what she’d done, I could have screamed.
“I’ll go if you don’t want me here, but I… We’re not done, Kennedy. I’m… You’re… Fuck it. I still love you, and I want to be here for you and help you in any way you want or need. You tell me what you want me to do,” he offered without looking up.
I was so fucking grateful to have him here I couldn’t help myself. I pulled his chin up, seeing the tears in his eyes. I leaned forward and kissed him gently in gratitude. He kissed me back, but he didn’t deepen it. He knew I just needed his support, and that was what he was offering. I’d never been more grateful in my life.
I brushed my teeth, and when I left the bathroom, he followed me out, sitting on the end of the bed. After I dressed in a navy shirt and gray slacks, Kennedy stood and wrapped me in his arms, holding me tightly. “Tell me what you need. You know me. I’ll take care of you and Jude, Kennedy.”
I took a deep breath of him, feeling his scent course through my body. It was my home. He was still my home. “Could you make sure Rory called Elijah to bring my son home? Also, I’ll give you Lark’s keys. Can you arrange for Jude’s things to be brought home? I guess her parents will deal with the rest of her things. I own the house, and it’ll be Jude’s at some point in time. I don’t have… Fuck, I’m not sure how this is all going to work out. I’m a little lost right now,” I confessed quietly.
“We’ll figure it out—together,” he offered as he kissed my cheek and walked out of the bedroom. I couldn’t even think, but he could. He’d help me, I knew it.
To be continued…