“That’s not going to happen,” Bruce said heatedly.
Rachel just smiled. “Do you plan to hold me captive?”
“No.” Bruce couldn’t believe it had come to this. “You don’t mean it. Rachel, tell me you aren’t really going to walk away.”
A sad, defeated look came over her. “I can’t continue like this. All the fighting and stress isn’t good for the baby and it isn’t good for me. Jolene is anxious to be rid of me and I don’t have the energy to fight her anymore—not when I have to do it alone.”
“Okay, you’re right. I made a mistake,” he said. “Maybe I should’ve taken a more active role in this…this conflict between you, but I was afraid if I intervened it would only aggravate the situation. I don’t know…”
“Well, I know,” Jolene yelled. “Get Rachel and that baby out of here.”
Bruce’s patience had reached its limit. He pointed to the hallway. “Go to your room. Rachel and I need privacy to talk this out.”
“No.” Jolene stamped her foot. “You can’t keep me out of this. I have a right to my say, too.”
“Go to your room! Now.”
His daughter seemed about to argue, but then shrugged and marched out of the room.
Bruce waited until Jolene had disappeared before he spoke again. “Let’s talk about this.”
Rachel’s eyes revealed pain and disappointment. “I’m not sure what there is to talk about. I can’t live like this, Bruce. I love you and Jolene, but I think we can both say we made a mistake.”
“No.” Bruce refused to see their marriage that way. Okay, he’d admit it; he’d made more than his share of blunders. He should’ve done more to reassure his daughter and to support his wife. Perhaps he’d been naive to assume that Jolene would be as thrilled about Rachel’s pregnancy as he was. He’d hoped she’d be excited. That seemed a vain, foolish hope now….
“What if we went to family counseling?” he said desperately. “We could see someone at the clinic or…or Pastor Flemming or—”
“It’s too late. And as you told me before, Jolene won’t go anyway.”
“I’m leaving, Bruce,” Rachel said simply. “Please don’t try to persuade me otherwise.”
That had been his intention, but seeing the determination in her eyes, he knew it would do no good. “Where will you go?” he asked, feeling defeated.
“A friend offered me a place to live until I can make other arrangements.”
“A friend,” she repeated.
“For how long?” he asked. “How long will you be gone?”
She took her time answering. “I don’t know yet.”
She shook her head.
“A month?” She couldn’t possibly intend to stay away an entire month. He couldn’t bear it.
“I…I can’t answer that.”
It hit him then that she might not ever come back. The realization stunned him. “This…this is what you want?” he asked.
Tears filled her eyes. “I never dreamed it would end like this.”
“Me, neither.” He sat up straighter. “Will you keep in touch, let me know how you are, where you are?”
She didn’t immediately agree. “Okay,” she finally said. “I’ll phone you.”
In other words, she wasn’t willing to give him her contact information. Still, if that was all she’d offer him, he’d take it. The alternative was too harsh to even think about.
“I’ll leave in the morning,” she said, and started to walk away.
Bruce caught her hand. “Give Jolene time. Please. She’ll come around.”
“No, I won’t.” His daughter’s voice rang down the hallway.
Despite the seriousness of the moment, Rachel smiled. “She’s always had the best hearing of anyone I’ve ever known.”
Bruce smiled, too, remembering the early days of their marriage when they’d self-consciously tried to hide the fact that they were lovers from his daughter. In retrospect it had been ridiculous. They weren’t fooling anyone, certainly not Jolene.
“I’m sorry, Bruce,” she whispered.
“I am, too.” It occurred to him that she might need help. “You’ll call if you need anything, right? You’ll keep in touch?” he asked again. He’d go mad if she didn’t. He couldn’t believe he was actually letting her walk out the door, not knowing where she intended to live or how long she’d stay away. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not to Rachel and him.
“I’ll be in touch,” she promised.
“Can I hold you?”
She considered his request, tears brightening her eyes, then slowly nodded.
Wrapping his arms around her, Bruce held her close, savoring the feel of her in his arms. “I don’t know if I can let you go,” he whispered into her hair. “Don’t,” he said again. “Please don’t do this.”
Her shoulders buckled in a sob. “This isn’t what I want, either, but I don’t see any other alternative.”
“We’ll make it work,” he said urgently. “We can.”
“I thought we could, too, but I was wrong.” She disentangled her arms and stepped away from him. “Like I told you earlier, I’m afraid all this stress is hurting the baby…. This is something I need to do for me and for our child.”
“Please don’t make this any harder than it already is.”
Although it felt as if his chest was about to cave in, Bruce nodded. “All right, go if you have to, but know that I’ll be here waiting when you’re ready to come back.” Reaching out, he stroked her cheek and a tear ran down her face onto his hand.
Leaning toward her, Bruce kissed Rachel goodbye. His heart pounded with fear that this might be the last time he ever kissed his wife.
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