“I can’t fix this,” he admitted bleakly. His voice was quivering in a way that would have killed his pride if he had been able to hear it. “I don’t know how to.” He looked strangely defenseless with his messy hair and his disheveled clothing, but she steeled herself against his vulnerability. While she was happy that he now knew the truth, the simple fact of the matter was that she couldn’t trust him with her heart. It had never been safe with him, but she hadn’t known it until he had so ruthlessly rejected her two years ago. Yes, he was now filled with regret about the mistake he had made immediately following his accident, but he still had no explanations or apologies for the behavior that had driven her out in the first place.
She did not know what to say to him, did not know what she wanted from him anymore. Just the day before she had idealistically and unrealistically imagined that if they tried to get along, their relationship would improve and they could build on that. Of course, they both had Kayla’s best interests at heart and wanted to provide stability for her, but Bronwyn deserved better than a second-rate marriage, with them staying together only for the sake of their daughter. Right now Bronwyn also honestly believed that Kayla would be better off if their marriage was severed sooner rather than later. It was better than raising their baby in an atmosphere of mistrust.
After all, this was the man who had thought nothing of kicking her out of their home after discovering that she was pregnant with his baby. The same man who had left her to fend for herself when she was at her weakest. He had also accused her of the most heinous of acts and no amount of guilt now could make up for his many sins. Any relationship that they tried to salvage from this wreckage of a marriage would be based on a foundation of guilt and misguided obligation.
“I don’t think it can be fixed anymore, Bryce,” she said reluctantly, moving toward his desk and sitting down in the huge leather chair across from him. He flinched and averted his face briefly before turning his head to look at her once more.
“So what do you want to do?” he asked tonelessly.
“I don’t know,” she admitted helplessly. “I think we would all be better off if we, you and I, were no longer together. Let’s face it, after two years of separation, the next logical step is a mere formality.”
“You want to leave,” he said matter-of-factly. “Again.”
“I didn’t exactly want to leave the last time, Bryce,” she reminded him pointedly. She was small-minded enough to enjoy seeing the barb hit home. “I just don’t think this situation can be redeemed. Too much has been said and done to go back.” He scrubbed a tired hand over his face before tilting his head back and shutting his eyes. After a few moments of silence, he opened his eyes and looked back at her with his piercing eyes.
“What do you plan to do after you leave?”
“I’m going back to university to finish my studies.”
“Won’t it be difficult to be a full-time student when you’re a single parent again?” Her mouth gaped in surprise at the wholly unexpected question.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I assumed that I was no longer a single parent.” His eyes flickered with something akin to relief, and Bronwyn’s surprise very quickly turned to horrified comprehension. “You thought I was taking her away from you?” He nodded in response to her shocked question.
“Whatever you may have done to deserve it, Bryce, I won’t deny you your right to be a father to Kayla. Even though you once tossed away that privilege as cavalierly as you would a pair of old socks.” Another direct hit. “And don’t get me wrong here; I am not doing it for you! Kayla needs you in her life.” He nodded again, this time more confidently.
“So you want to finish your studies?” he prompted after clearing his throat awkwardly.
“I’ll have to find a decent place to live and a job to pay for—”
“That won’t be necessary,” he inserted hurriedly. “The job, I mean. I’ll pay for your studies.”
“The only money I’ll ever want from you will go toward the upbringing of your daughter, Bryce. I can take care of myself!”
“This from the woman who was practically on her last legs when we found her? You will not run yourself into the ground again. I can, and will, take care of you.”
“I am not your property; you have no right to speak to me as if I were,” she said, seething, and he swore in frustration.
“Okay, can we compromise on this?” he asked meekly after what looked like a colossal effort to rein in his temper. “I have a suggestion.” She waited silently for him to continue, her arms folded defiantly over her chest as she prepared for battle.
“You and Kayla stay here.” He lifted a silencing hand as she started to protest. “No, wait, just listen. You and Kayla stay here, and that way, she and I would be able to see each other all the time. You find that job to pay for your studies, and you’ll have built-in babysitters for Kayla in both Celeste and me. You won’t be run off your feet, studying, working a part-time job, and caring for a demanding toddler. You also won’t have to worry about rent and food.”
“What’s in this for you?” she asked suspiciously.
“Like I said, unrestricted access to my daughter,” was his simple response. “And enough time to get to know her better.”
“What about us? Our marriage?” She broached the subject warily, and he averted his eyes down to his clenched hands again.